Ladies Running The Vickers Dude Ranch

 

This past few weeks we’ve been torture testing Blaser, Sauer, and Mauser. And during our recent trip to Colorado in Lake City, we ran into a gentleman named Dan along a bluff he’d never visited that sat a mere 4 miles from his and his wife’s 2000 acre operation, the Vickers Ranch. 

Dan is one of those people you feel quick kinship with. Genuine, articulate, and present. In talking we discovered that he has a ranch nearby

“We’re over there” 

Dan pointed and emoted an invite in the general direction of the most beautiful hill in the area. What was us shooting as a trio in a valley, changed course.

Dan

 At The Vickers Ranch, Dan introduced us to Faith. His Wife.

Faith is the head guide and owner of a 7th generation mining operation and Dude Ranch in Lake City Colorado. Vickers Ranch is 2000 prime acres of the oldest and largest active gold mining operation still operating in Colorado.

After a casual introduction Faith and Hannah exchanged stories on the mountain where they tested gear and explored the ranch. We saw elk (lots of them), mulies, fourtneeners, lakes, and fish a plenty. But most of all we gained insight into an operation, a family, and lifestyle. For Hannah it was an opportunity to grow closer with Faith during a time Hannah feels disconnected from female mentors.

At the core of our conversations was a sense we had known each other forever. How Faith and Dan moved, the way they viewed game, and what they believed within ethics and the science of shooting resonated without anyone trying.

“These are the kinds of folks that show the human side of outdoorsmanship.” I kept thinking.

Among the many things that made Vickers unique, perhaps Faith stood out the most. It’s not often you find an elegant woman with a background in barrel racing, rodeo circuits, and snowmobiles who is as good or better a hunter than any other professional guide. The way she glassed, her knowledge over the herd, the weather, and the subtlety in her movement all spoke to a lifetime of experience. Perhaps best of all though, would have been her final trick in character development. Faith has a solidarity and charm that is not over-compensating for years of rampant sexism perpetuated within the sport. In her line of work, I can think of little I admire more than all that put together.

It was telling and frustrating to hear about the arrogance of men who were worried about a female guide. Whenever these situations come up, I watch Hannah’s face to empathize with what it must feel like to be judged before you’ve had a chance to act. Guilty until proven innocent. This is always a sore spot for Hannah, though she works to hide it.

Beyond the fact that Faith was a Sitka wearing, Smith & Wesson .460 XVR toting sweetheart part of what drew us together to write about the experience was the way she felt about the next generation of hunters and huntresses. 

Faith and Dan are excellent folks for any kind of hunter. But if you were to ask us where we would start a newer hunter on a life experience this operation sits high.

Next year, Hannah, Ted, and I hope to explore two options at the Vickers Ranch. Both are staples in the Vickers operation.

Self Guided Hunt, where Dan hikes the group in on horseback and we set up our own camp. This is on bureau land that is not far from the Vickers Ranch itself. This has appeal for us because Ted, Hannah, and I enjoy the hardship and discovery of a self-guided hunt.

Guided Hunt, where Dan and/or Faith are our guides. In this scenario we stay in their warm cozy cabins, get to eat nice meals, and we’d obviously have help with locating and harvesting game. From a storytellers perspective, I’d personally love to see Hannah and Faith take game together. 

Vickers Ranch Key Attributes

The Vicker’s Ranch is distinct in that it sits in a county that is 98% public land. The pictures speak for themselves, but don’t speak to the breadth of beauty and changing topography.

An active gold mine remains on the property and there are several bodies of water, including streams and ponds. All private, cool, crystal clear waters.

We love the fact that there are small cabins within striking distance of your daily hunting spots as well as an option to trek deeper into public land on horseback. This gives us the chance to develop a long-term relationship with guides that fit different chapters in people’s lives.

With a piano, an old jukebox and a long history of sepia, color, and black and white photos… you can sense the history of the ranch in the recreation room and dining hall.

Lastly, you couldn’t be any closer to a cool town with the hunting of the caliber that the Ranch contains. It’s literally 10 minutes from town but you'd never know it once you're on the their property. So if you want a change of scenery for dinner or you’re out there with some other members of the family, the property is unique in being able to accommodate a wider array of interests. 4.5 star shoutout to Climb Eatery there in town. Few and far between are restaurants that good in towns that small.

Gear

At the Vickers Ranch and near Lake City, we decided as a group to test a few things—Vortex Optics, Sitka, Blaser’s coveted Pro-Series R8, Sauer’s 100 Classic, and the Sig Sauer Tango 4 series.

Let’s start with what I can’t stop talking about.. the Blaser Professional R8 and their 4-20 electronically synced Infinity Scope. What do I mean electronically synched? I mean that when you're set to fire, the scope illuminates inside the reticle! We've all attempted to send a shot before, thinking the gun is good to go and for one reason or another we just end up flinching the gun and embarrassing ourselves or missing the opportunity. With this solution, there is no more of that... it's just one more feature Blaser has that sets themselves apart.

Faith and Dan had never seen a system like it. A straight pull, with a true return to zero, multi-caliber system, that’s electronically synced to a scope. What’s not to like?

Before I go too far, let me clarify my stance on how I approach rifles. It’s likely you’d hear me say this to a customer in store if they pressed me on what my favorites are.

I am a custom bolt action rifle guy. If you give me the chance, I will build a rifle on a J. Allen, MPA, or Manners stock and I’ll adjust the weight through barrel type/length, stock, and scope. I choose the action based upon how smooth I need the action to be and how much money I can spend. I am a pretty devoted Trigger Tech guy because I need the best break possible, but I am not a fanatic about cleaning the gun, so I demand that the triggers can handle dust and mud. Usually, I go with a Trigger Tech Special or the Diamond if finances and availability permit. I choose my scope based upon clarity, accuracy in dialing, weight, sight height and distance of cartridge and application. I use a FTW Bungee Sling for all of the setups above. Rings depend on weight needs.

With my favorites clarified, Blaser’s R8 now has me stuttering through statements that had previously become routine. Essentially I am in need of a caveat that wasn’t there before.

I will build a precision contoured hunting rifle unless we can talk about the R8 which I consider the strongest overall hunting solution on the market As Tommy Shurley says, “It is the only bolt fast enough to get both Coyotes." And It has more safety built in than any rifle I know of and has fantastic balance. It's German through and through.

But that’s not what seals the deal. The trigger is, of course, fantastic, which you’d expect at it’s price point. The safety is clever, especially with the way it “talks” to the gorgeous, crystal clear Blaser Infinity Scope (a red light appears in your reticle when you have the gun on fire). And for those that don't know it, Blaser stole Schmidt and Bender's top talent to build the scope several years back.

But here’s where she earns my heart; The R8 is a single system, capable of hunting in many different scenarios because it’s a multi-caliber solution. I don’t know of a finer system that brings more value and quality in that sense. I can use just about any caliber under the sun with a 60-second barrel change that returns to zero and I only need to own one gun that will last me a lifetime.

With one rifle to rule them all. 223, 6.5 creedmoor, 6.5 PRC (precision rifle creedmoor), 338 Lapua and at least 40 more are all in my potential toolkit. This is part of where it get’s hard to rule out the system for a consumer I’m speaking with.

If the base rifle starts at approximately $3,750 and an additional barrel systems start at about $1,250, then for every time I add a barrel the rifle’s overall cost is reduced as follows.

  • R8 Professional with 1 Caliber Included - $3,750
  • R8 Professional with 2 Calibers - $5,000* (2500 each)
  • R8 Professional with 3 Calibers - $6,250* ($2083 each)
  • R8 Professional with 4 Calibers - $7,500* ($1875 each)

 Think about that for a minute… you can use the same scope, rings, case, sling, mags, for every single one. Your muscle memory grows consistent across each caliber. Meaning you can train on a friendly caliber before any hunt without inducing flinch or wallet injury. I believe for most people that you're a better hunter if you lean into a solution like this. We don't see people train on friendly calibers as often as they should before a key hunt where they often use a magnum. It is my belief that a woman or man who becomes incredibly familiar with one tool in their lifetime will always outperform he or she that changes platforms regularly. Even with a lot of thought, I still make mistakes when I switch weapon systems. This means I have to train to iron odds for error.

Do note that some of these calibers require a bolt head change which would be about $400 per bolt head. ie 223 to 338 can’t use the same bolt face.) This still leaves the caliber change process at around two minutes.

So with all that, if you tell me you are in the market for a higher end hunting rifle you’ll hear me talk about this platform whether you shoot precision or your maximum range is 50 yards. The R8 makes too much sense not to discuss.

Personally, Hannah, Ted, and I all prefer the thumbhole version of the R8 Professional as seen in these photos because we can manipulate the firearm with one hand when moving through brush, in and out of a vehicle, or on hills. I also just find it to be really comfortable. That said, most people can’t work the bolt quite as fast on the thumbhole version as they can on the traditional contour. This is a result of having your thumb through the hole as opposed to over your trigger finger. 

Technical

The Blaser R8 is a straight-pull bolt action that locks by a 14-lug radial collet in a 360 degrees groove in the barrel. It is designed to handle pressures that significantly exceed the Mauser 98–type bolt-action rifles. The stressed parts of the rifle are made out of hammer forged steel and plasma nitrided to make the locking mechanism work. Compared to the preceding R93 rifle series for additional safety the barrel has been thickened at the critical part, the groove has been enlarged and the locking angle of the collets has been steepened. Further, the radial collet opens differently.

The Blaser R8 is a truly modular system built around an aluminum alloy receiver frame, offering differing stocks and barrels of varying length and thickness available in calibers from .222 Remington to .500 Jeffery. Scopes mount on the barrel (as opposed to the receiver) via a quick detach system that's easy to fall in love with. A sight/barrel assembly can be removed and replaced with no change in zero.

The Blaser R8 has a proprietary detachable box magazine/trigger unit. When detached it renders the rifle inoperable and safe. To avoid accidents with set triggers, Blaser offers the R8 only with a direct trigger. The compact detachable box magazine/trigger unit contributes to balancing the rifle, as the Blaser straight pull action is about 2.5 inches shorter than conventional bolt actions. For me this is important.

Within the magazine itself is a safety switch that renders the entire platform locked and safe. This feature is great for storage or shipping but the switch is set up in a manner that would not make it possible to confuse the weapon status on a hunt. I love this option as I would never ever have figued out why the rifle was locked unless it was shown to me. Making this a great backup safety if you have kids.

You can expect to shoot sub minute groups with this gun when using the right ammo.