Having only this year gotten into predator hunting and having no success while in a stand, when the opportunity to take a class from Rizzo came up I jumped at it.
Sure I've hunted this and that and sure, I've seen coyotes and 'other' predators while out hunting, I was never hunting them at that time. Their is a HUGE difference between seeing a coyote while out traipsing through the desert and calling one in on purpose while actively hunting a coyote.
The price for this clinic was $135 and IMHO could be a lot more and be well worth it. At $135 it is a steal and anyone that says, "Why take a class on hunting coyotes?", just has know idea on what they are missing out on. I will not go into details of the class as that would be inappropriate I will say Rizzo will teach you plenty of things you didn't know no matter how long you've been a hunter. I've been a hunter for a long time but that said I never hunted predators before this year, some of that basic hunting will always come into play no matter what it is you are after. I was glad to learn that my basic hunting skills that I had to develop and learn on my own were good. I was glad to learn that a lot of the hunting stuff that I 'thought' I knew was also correct and I have been able to put most of that into play while out in the desert. I also learned a ton of new bits of information specific to predators and how hunting them is so much different then anything else. I also learned that the predator hunting TV shows will only give you a distorted and incorrect view of predator hunting when it comes to Arizona and that's all I will say on that matter.
The first day was all in the class room and Rizzo had a nice selection of skulls displayed, lots of calls and his 2 main weapons used. On another table were plenty of animal pelts of many different kind of predators. A nice way of saying, "Why, yes, I did kill all of these and this why you are here, because I can help you do this too!". The amount of experience Rizzo has is incredible and if Arizona had the camera friendly terrain of other states he'd be on TV, or at least he could be. Now without going into the information of the class I will only talk about Rizzo as a teacher. Their are lots of bad teachers out there, lots of OK teachers and a few teachers that can draw you in no matter the subject. A mark of a great teacher and one that truly knows what he is talking about is the ability to summarize his own Power Point slide and then speak for another 10 minutes on that slide and then another 10 minutes telling you stories that explain more in-depth the information on that slide. I am sure Rizzo could have gone on for an hour per slide as we sitting in the chairs go into a state of information overload. Never stumbled on his words and was very clear on what he was telling us. All things that have worked for him. Not because they worked once or even twice, but because they have worked throughout his time as a predator hunter. All things that have taken countless stands to learn, saving us novice predator hunters from making the same early mistakes he did.
The second day was out in the desert and luckily it wasn't too cold not too windy (at first). Started out with some more talking and then off for a short hike around the area. As a few volunteers picked out potential stands and were we told as to why such stands were either good or not so good. I didn't volunteer as I am one of those guys that plays it out in my head and absorbs as much as possible. I learned why the few stands that I have done before coming to this clinic didn't work for a number of reasons. Some of them were actually good terrain wise but due to a number of other reasons they were in fact no good. Can't kill them if they aren't there... Try doing a stand on a hill used as a back stop of a shooting spot! Didn't know that until I went dove hunting later in the year and guys started to show up and and target shoot right into the hill I had used as a stand earlier in the year...
After the hike was more talking and more focus on calls and a demonstration of most of them. A short conversation on weapon and round selection and then off for the fun, skinning a fox! Not for the faint of heart but unless you've never hunted before this might not before you. Death stinks but that dead fox smelled better then any quail I've ever ripped in half... This was one of the best parts of the class IMO as the only thing thing I've ever skinned has been a rabbit and that was for meat and not about the fur. Rizzo went over the few different ways to skin a fox. Special attention was made to how to skin it for market should that ever be a goal. Rizzo also demonstrated the process of cleaning up a skull (at least how he would like it prepared should you ask him to clean it for a mount).
Then on to the fun part, the shooting. For this we asked to bring up a 22lr if we had one. Lots of 10/22, a few AR's and my good old Mossberg 44US(c) bolt action. Sights on most of the 22's were with scopes, a RDS and only a few iron sighted 22's, mine being one of them. We had 3 targets to shoot at, 2 coyotes and a bobcat. Each target was made from a plywood cutout with a reactive steel 'vitals' area to let us know if we had a hit or not. The targets ranged around 25 to 50 yards (at least I think). We were set up in a stand with our 22 and 3 targets, with the FoxPro blaring some call were we asked to engage the 3 targets at our own pace. I won't lie, I missed the far target on the 1st shot I took at it. With the position I was sitting in I found myself muscling the gun a little too much (and I am still not quite sure where the POI is to the POA with this 22?) but this was good as this was, I do believe the purpose of that far left target. To show you what you must be able to do to be successful when that bobcat jumps out basically behind you. Until you do it, you won't know and this was a good way to drive that home. I do similar reality checks with my brother before taking him out hunting with me.
Next up was the 'Snap Shooting' practice. Again with the call going (and I want to add it has gotten pretty windy at this point) Rizzo kneeled next to us and this time we were to have our rifles in a 'low ready' type of position and wait for him call out target, fast to the gun, aim and fire. In thick shrub and with moving predators the idea is you will not have a lot of time to shoot, so what do you need to work on, getting on target fast and making an accurate shot. I want to say I went 100% on this even though I forgot my left from my right at one point, a classic move I do.
Last was the 'Competition' portion of the shooting, a fun way to end the day. Load up and from the stand, engage each target working from right to left and back, only hits count and you could only move on once you hit the target. Every one did well but that far left target was for a lot of folks, a deal breaker. I, being something of a competition shooter am used to this kind of stuff and to my credit, have won a time or two (in the division I was shooting). Rizzo yelled HUNT and with my WWII Mossberg bolt action 22 I cleared the CoF in 16 seconds going 6 for 6. I shouldn't have won with my bolt action gun but I focused on each shot for what it was, the only shot that mattered at that time. You have to focus on that shot before you can worry about the next. My prize for working that bolt, a bobcat skull which now adorns my desk as I type this.
All in all this class was a great way to talk my wife into going up to see her Grandma
and the information is invaluable. Their are things that Rizzo talked about that I don't know if I would have ever thought of or figured out. Well worth my time and money just for that. I know that know I am excited as ever to get out and predator hunt and know the things I was doing wrong, thanks Les Johnson...
Now it's up to me to use what I've learned to put some fur on the ground.
Just an aside on Rizzo as a firearms instructor. He was 100% about safe gun handling during the shooting portion of the class and emphasized the importance of knowing ones target and back stop at all time. Should I ever get the extra money and time I will be hitting Rizzo up for a Shotgun class as I've read and AAR from a guy I shoot with that absolutely loved it, and beat me in a Shotgun match (think I came in 2nd to him, damn you Berd
I am off to buy Rizzo's predator hunting book and a few more calls he didn't have available in class.
If you can, don't miss out next year.