Part 1:THE HUNT
A Waterfowl Combo Platter On the North Platte River With WyoBraska Waterfowl
by dan wennerlind
Hunting the North Platte River of Nebraska for late season greenheads has been on my list to do for a long time now. However hunting late season honkers in Wyoming had not been….until now. Outfitter Jason "JJ" Randolph of WyoBraska Waterfowl is based out of Torrington, Wyoming- walking distance for some, from the Nebraska border and based along the North Platte River in eastern Wyoming. This gives JJ the luxury of hunting both Nebraska and Wyoming where he has several outstanding waterfowl leases within a mile of the infamous North Platte River.
My compadre Rick Janes and I made the short trek up from the Denver area to meet with JJ and finally get a chance to experience one of his exceptional waterfowl hunting adventures in late December. In fact JJ’s camp is only a short 2 ½ hour drive from the Denver International Airport where he has most of his clients fly into from out of state. We arrived around 8pm and met JJ at the Frontier Mart gas station, a few miles from his home in Torrington, Wyoming, to get the agenda for the next day’s hunt as well as purchase our daily non-resident Wyoming hunting license for a whopping $20.00!
JJ quickly filled us in on the plan for the next day. We would be hunting a cut corn field that JJ had been holding off on hunting for the past 3 weeks, even though it had been holding a couple hundred honkers each day. JJ was excited as he stated that over the past weekend they saw a major influx of new Canadas pour in from Montana with the recent cold spell and the field had now been holding over 1,000 geese daily, over the past week. It was time to reap the harvest. That was one of the big things I could tell that JJ prides himself in, was not overhunting his leased areas. JJ stated that he likes to rest each spot for a week or two if possible between hunts to assure his hunters have a very successful experience throughout the long 3 month season.
We met JJ and one of his regular clients, Ken Markin, at the Pineapple Café at ten to six the next morning for a nice hot breakfast, after our stay at the Holiday Inn, where JJ recommends all of his hunters stay. The food was great and the fellowship even better. It had been 8 years since I had spent time in the field with JJ down in SE Nebraska during an action packed spring snow goose hunt. I was sure it would be tough to top that day. We harvested over 50 snows that day, all over decoys on the water. A day I will always remember…
Now it was time to make some new memories as we all piled into the trucks and headed for one of JJ’s best goose fields, a few miles east of town. We pulled into the field along a frontage road that ran alongside the south bank of the North Platte River. I was already excited as there were several thousand geese roosting on that stretch of the river, that we could see from the road. This was an area JJ stated was a refuge zone so the birds would stage there all winter long without being bothered by hunters.
Once we pulled up to JJ’s 5 man pit I could tell there had been a lot of work preparing for the hunt as the pit came fully equipped with individual propane heaters for each hunter and our own opening in the pit with a bar stool for each. Thus we were not crammed in there like a bunch of sardines, like I have experienced in past hunts. In fact once we got settled in I felt like this may be the most comfortable pit blind I have been in to date- overlooking a spread of 120+ full body Canada goose decoys. Before JJ could get back from parking the truck we already had a lone honker lock up and set in. With no hesitation at all, his attempt to land a few yards from my end of the pit and was stopped short with a single shot- we were on the board! JJ’s yellow lab AZ made a great retrieve and the day was off to a great start.
Once JJ returned, we all got settled in and JJ gave us a little of the background on our location. All of JJ’s best leases were located along different sections of the North Platte River- that are located just outside of the refuge boundaries, including his best river spot that we were planning to visit later in the day that directly abutted the refuge boundary line. JJ also shared with us that normally he has excellent mallard hunting to go along with the incredible Canada goose hunting, making for an exceptional combo duck and goose hunting adventure. Usually JJ stated, his hunters shoot ducks in the morning and geese later in the day. It is very common for JJ’s hunters to harvest a limit of Canada geese (4 in WY or 3 in NE) and 5 mallards most days throughout the season unless the weather pushes the ducks east, down the river and out of his area. JJ said that happens once or twice a season when a cold spell hits, but they always come back he laughed. Unfortunately for us, with the recent cold spell the weekend before, most of the ducks did push out for the time being and we were only able to hunt the numerous Canada geese still hanging strong on the river. That was fine with us though, as there are not many states in the country where a hunter can harvest 4 Canada geese a day along with having the opportunity to hunt from November through mid February.
It didn’t take long before we had geese in the air in every direction. JJ hit the calls and I tried my best to follow suit with him. We must have had 20 – 30 flocks in the air in every direction within a half hour of sitting down. It wasn’t but a few minutes later that we had a nice pair lock in and as JJ gave the “Take Em” call to Rick and I. We each pulled the trigger and 2 more birds hit the ground! Before JJ’s lab AZ could even get out to fetch
the birds another single locked up and came in on Ken’s side. Another easy 15 yard shot and we were all on the board. That was another thing I really enjoyed about hunting with JJ, when we had singles or doubles locked up he gave the shot to each of us and we all took turns. It was not a gang bang style hunt. Also, being a 5 man pit JJ only allows up to 4 hunters in the field on each hunt. Another very professional aspect of the hunt was that JJ did not carry a gun and neither do any of his guides. It is all about the customer!
After about 45 minutes we had another 7 birds in the bag, not one shot over 25 yards. We took our time and JJ was very patient to make sure each shot was perfect, so we did not cripple or lose any birds. All of the shots we took were clean and well within range. Another part of the hunt that was fun for me was watching JJ’s well trained retriever chase down the birds and handle to JJ like a pro. She never skipped a beat and ran as fast back with the bird to hand as she did out to chase the birds down. A true joy to watch in the field.
We dropped our last bird of the day at 9am sharp. The three of us had all taken a four bird limit. With 12 big honkers in the bag and each of us clear that we shot our own 4 birds, there were no game hogs on this hunt! After a few quick pics with the birds and the guys, JJ was quick to pack things up so the birds would continue to land in the field and allow the next group of hunters to have a great hunt.
An Exceptional Retrieve From Miss AZ- JJ's Awesome Yellow Lab. I Real Treat To Watch Performing In the Field
Now I could tell JJ was getting excited as we were now off on a quest to show us 3 more of his top spots. With all of the hard work and effort I could tell JJ puts into each spot year round, he was very proud of what he had accomplished. Our first trip was to one of JJ’s water holes. He had another 5 man pit blind built into a bank in between two 10+ acre sloughs located within a mile and a half of the Platte River. The nice thing about this spot was that JJ had electricity hard wired into the pit so there were electric base board heaters all along the inside of the blind, but more importantly JJ had 3 ice eaters hard wired into the blind as well, to keep open water available even during the coldest nights of the year. JJ said this was one of his top combo spots as they usually took ducks in the morning at this spot and Canadas in the early afternoon coming back to water. But again JJ was adamant that he never overhunts this spot either, so they always have roosting birds on both ponds when the water is open and ducks are in the area.
Note: All of JJ's pits are 5 man pits (4 hunters plus guide) plus a dog box and hunters are more than welcome to bring their own dogs with on the hunt!
The next spot we hit was JJ’s personal favorite and from what he told us, was his long time customers' favorite spot as well. In fact, JJ stated, many of the customers that hunt with him each year will not even hunt any of the other leases but this one, no matter what the recent bird activity has been like. This spot I could tell was a true waterfowling gem! With a short trip across the Nebraska border JJ turned off on a dirt road that led down to the infamous North Platte River itself. Parking a couple hundred yards from the river, we hopped into JJ’s mule (4 wheeler) that seated 4 hunters comfortably and made our way to the river. One of the main reasons this particular lease is so exceptional, other than hunting right on the North Platte, is that it is the very first piece of private ground downstream of the river refuge. Running only 40 yards across from bank to bank and sandbars running all through the middle of the river I could see why this is such a special spot. JJ had another 6man pit blind grassed into the bank and completely invisible to the incoming waterfowl. In fact I would have to guess that within 20 minutes we had over 10,000 Canada geese fly over the top of us and most well within gunning range and we weren’t even in a blind. It would have been an easy limit of geese at this spot as well that day. We were all very impressed with this location and trust me, on my next hunt with JJ I will be sitting in that blind!!!
From there we were off to JJ’s last location to showcase for the day. This time we went back over the border into Wyoming and headed to JJ’s favorite goose field. This is where JJ sets out his “Black Hole” of over 250 black full body and silhouette goose decoys. This field again, is located within 400 yards of another 7 mile refuge section of the North Platte and JJ said this is the main staging section of the river for the Canada geese. I also learned that JJ has the only two pits on the west side of that entire refuge section of the river, and he said there are usually 15,000 – 20,000 Canada geese that winter along this section of the river for most of the season and many mallards as well. Since the beginning of November this season alone, JJ said they had already harvested over 700 geese out of this specific pit . After our sightseeing trip was over I could tell that JJ truly had his act together. He has been guiding in this section of the river for over 15 years and with little area hunting pressure and the best leases in the area it was not hard to see why over 90% of JJ’s customers have been with him for over 8 years and why he has a 95% return rate over the past 3 years. Thus most all of JJ's hunters have their dates locked in a year in advance.
The last thing I had to clarify with JJ was, being on the border of Wyoming and Nebraska, what do most of his hunters do for licenses being from out of state. Of course JJ laughed this was an easy one. He stated that usually those hunters traveling longer distances stay for a 2 - 3 day hunt. JJ has them buy a $60.00 (2 day) non-resident Nebraska license up front and then they buy a $20 daily Wyoming license as needed during the trip from the local gas station. That gives JJ the flexibility to move his hunters in between states to make sure they are where the birds want to be. And best of all, during most all of JJ’s hunts, his hunters are able to harvest a full limit of 5 greenheads and 3 or 4 Canada geese per day (depending on the state they are hunting that day). I had no question in my mind that after everything JJ showed us and told us was completely legit with the complete set up he had, along with the vast number of waterfowl in the area, this was truly a gem of a western region waterfowling Mecca!
So here was the big question on my mind going into this hunt, would JJ’s fall waterfowl hunting operation compare to his world class caliber spring snow goose hunting operation that I had experienced 8 years ago in Nebraska when JJ first came on board as an Official HuntTheNorth.com endorsed outfitter and the answer is an astounding YES!!! After our hunt with JJ there was no doubt in my mind that he had earned the right to be named
The HuntTheNorth.com 2013 Outfitter Of The Year!!!
Part 2: THE REVIEW
|OUTFITTER KNOWLEDGE / PERSONALITY: ||Score||5 / 5 |
|JJ has a very outgoing and fun personality. He is also extremely passionate about his lifestyle and it was very evident he truly enjoys his work. In addition to that, he has over 15 years experience as a full time, licensed outfitter and knows and patterns his game like no one I have met. In fact JJ pretty much layed out the entire day the night before and the hunt played out exactly like JJ said it would. With the extreme knowledge of not only the birds JJ hunts but this overall operation his is top notch all the way and made the hunt a true success!|
|QUALITY OF |
|Score||5 / 5|
After JJ showcased 4 different spreads for us on his private leases, it was very evident that this is a year round operation for him and he takes his work very seriously. From the hard wired electricity on his private duck pond with the 3 ice eaters that run non-stop when the temps dip below freezing, to the fact that each field had its own custom 5 man pit and spread of over 12 dozen decoys specifically designed to the needs of that particular spot, to the well trained retriever and expert calling this is a World Class caliber operation from start to finish!
|Score||5 / 5|
The opportunity to harvest a limit of birds was just the icing on the cake for me. However JJ was clear that he never over hunts his leases so they are productive all season long. Having all of his prime leases along the North Platte River ensures there are geese all winter long and having 2 water spots to hunt including his exceptional North Platte River location in his back pocket, I know the duck hunting can be as incredible as the goose hunting the majority of the season. We even saw a rare albino cackler goose mixed in with one flock (photo below).
|QUALITY OF MEALS |
3 / 5
The Holiday Inn located in the town of Torrington was a very clean and comfortable facility. JJ also has two top notch restaurants for his hunters to eat at before and after the hunt. The town of Torrington is also located within 3 miles of all of JJ’s leases so there is minimal travel time to and from the hunt. This was the only area where JJ did not score a 5 / 5 due to the fact that the HTN guidelines for onsite lodging rank higher than motel lodging options but that is just a formality at this point.
HUNT PACKAGES AND
|Score||5 / 5|
The pricing on all of JJ’s hunts is a standard set price of $275.00 per hunter, per day. This includes a full day’s hunt with an option of hunting both ducks and geese in the same day (the majority of the season) and the option of hunting both Nebraska and Wyoming (both of which have non-resident licenses over the counter for a minimal fee). For the operation that JJ offers we feel that the $275.00 per day is an excellent value. (Note: that price does not include lodging or meals).
|OVERALL QUALITY |
OF THE TRIP:
|Score||5 / 5 |
Overall we felt the entire operation from start to finish was top notch. Every aspect of JJ’s hunt was well put together and it was very evident that JJ not only knows how to hunt birds, but how to run a successful business by making his customers happy! An excellent hunt and a first class outfitter!
Overall WyoBraska Waterfowl Scored 28 Out Of 30 Giving Them An "A" Rating. We Would Not Hesitate To Refer JJ For His Spectacular Wyoming / Nebraska Duck and Goose Hunts!
|28 / 30|
Part 3: Booking Information
|Contact Information For: WyoBraska Waterfowl|
Outfitter: JJ Randolph
Address: 3960 Hwy 26/85 Torrington, WY 82240
Additional Hunts Offered
In addition to JJ’s fantastic fall fall duck and Canada goose hunts. He also offers:
- Nebraska Spring Snow Goose Hunts (Feb – March)
- Nebraska Spring Turkey Hunts (April – May)
For more information on any of these hunts be sure to give JJ a call ASAP as many of his hunts are pre booked each year from his repeat customers.
| more photos from the hunt...|
COPYRIGHT 2013 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED