Growing up in the Bay Area, I didn’t have much of a hunting background. Sure, my grandpa grew up in rural California towns, but he had since gone on to chase his dream of providing for his family in a different way than he saw on the chicken farm he was raised on.
After years of scouring the internet, looking for answers, and trying to decipher rather cryptic laws and regulations from California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife – I did exactly what the interwebs told me to do – Put my boots on the ground and got going. What a time that was being outdoors walking for miles upon miles with a bow, shotgun, or rifle – I learned a lot, but not enough.
That’s when I stumbled upon Bitterwater Outfitters and their renowned Hunting School. I decided after three or four seasons of being unsuccessful at hunting big game (I shot a few ducks and stuff), that it was time to give it a try.
If you are looking to learn how to hunt, maybe even just to expand your knowledge a bit – I can’t give the Bitterwater Outfitters Hunting School a better recommendation. Here’s just a quick bit about Bitterwater Outfitters before we get into the Hunting School they have – It’s important to see the quality of operation they are running before you decide to spend a weekend there.
The operation that owner Clayton Grant has going in the small, but not too remote, town of Shandon California is truly second to none. Take one look at their website and you’ll see the opportunities are almost endless.
If you book a hunt, or better yet – a weekend at their hunting school, you’ll be greeted at the end of a winding road through hills and valleys by their renowned Bison statue that welcomes you to the home ranch. As you drive up the driveway you’ll see cattle, horses, and maybe a wild pig or two if you are really looking.
When you finally come to the end of the long dirt driveway, you’ll surely see an office, a bathroom, a skinning station, and a covered concrete pad with a fire pit, fridge, and tables. It’s a great little area to make camp, either in tents or in your car. Don’t worry though, they also offer trailers to stay in or their higher-end camp cottages.
Just over the hill from camp is a shooting range that you can use to sight in your rifles or just do some target shooting as well.
The range is good, it’s not indoors and doesn’t require a fee – it’s a basic ranch set up but it has the ability to reach out beyond 500 yards. It’s always stocked with targets and a stapler for you to use, as well as a covered shooting bench with sleds available. Did we mention they also have a moving pig target? Yes, one of the cooler features we’ve seen from a hunting operation – a pig-sized target that moves side to side at the push of a button. Make sure you take advantage of the shooting range and the moving target station.
Overall, it’s a great place to wake up to the morning sun peeking over the hills and illuminating the horses as they eat their morning breakfast. As far as accommodations – you can’t go wrong with any of their options here.
You can hunt just about anything out at Bitterwater Outfitters. From wild pigs, Tule Elk, all sorts of different kinds of rams, European bloodline pigs (no license needed by the way), varmints, dove, deer, turkey, and even audads – you can hunt at Bitterwater Outfitters. Some of the hunts would require a bit of a drive from the ranch, so make sure you plan accordingly, but it’s hard to find a place where you can hunt just about anything – let alone have such a good opportunity.
It’s important to know that Bitterwater has a unique situation in which they offer true fair chase hunting, as well as an exotic game ranch that serves as a beginning or first step hunting opportunity for first-timers and new hunters.
If you are looking for meat in the freezer, it’s hard to say no to the ranch with shot opportunities guaranteed on European pigs, bison, water buffalo, and a variety of rams. If you are looking for a challenge with no guarantees and boots on the ground hunting – they have that as well in all of their traditional fair chase opportunities.
I’ve found that bringing kids and first-time hunters and giving them guaranteed success is a great way at moving the hunting heritage forward, all while I then go chase pigs on their 50,000-acre free roam ranch.
Now that you understand what Bitterwater offers – let’s get into the real stuff here. It’s true, they have a great operation for hunters of any skill level – great guides and great opportunities. Their hunt school is unlike anything I’ve seen or been a part of.
Hunting Lessons at the Bitterwater Hunt School
The experience you’ll have while learning to hunt here is second to none. After scheduling your weekend of hunting lessons with owner: Clayton Grant, you’ll show up to the ranch the night before or even the morning of. I definitely recommend getting there the day before and getting your area set up and double-checking you have all your gear.
On the morning of your first session, you’ll be greeted by none other than a legend in his own right – Randy Parker. When my cousin and I signed up for the classes, Clayton was very blunt in saying that Mr. Parker very well may be the most knowledgeable hunter and outdoorsman that you will ever meet. After five minutes in class with Randy – you’ll know that he was telling you the truth.
After getting to know each other a little, Randy was ready to dive in. My cousin and I were the only ones in the class, making it a really personal experience. After getting a binder with all sorts of content in it, you’ll be taken through every element of learning to hunt. Things like…..
Learning Hunter Safety
You’ll notice right away that Randy is an advocate of safe hunting and firearm handling. Whether you are a first-time shooter or you’ve been shooting or hunting your whole life, this is an excellent portion of the hunting school. Randy will go over in-depth everything you need to know, and anything you could ever want to know.
One of the most notable portions of the class was right here in the Hunter Safety portion. Randy did talk about firearms and the different types, he talked about how to use, handle and carry your firearms – including how to safely carry through obstacles and objects. Randy also talked about making sure you are in the right location and have the ability to get in and out of an area safely – but he also told us – to call if you ever need help. Having someone who is willing to help you as a new hunter is invaluable.
Learning Tracking and Identifying Animals
Randy does a tremendous job at teaching you how to identify animals that are legal to shoot (not just the ones in California), and how to track these animals as well as others. Using the whiteboard in conjunction with the binder filled with information – we were able to learn how to identify the different tracks animals make and the many different features they have.
Finding a Place to Hunt
One of the more difficult things to learn in hunting is just figuring out where to hunt. Ask a few hunters and you’ll surely be met with looks of frustration, concern, or even anger. Turns out – hunters don’t like to give their honey holes to other hunters.
Randy goes through all things related to finding not just legal hunting opportunities, but also areas in which hunter success goes up. In our class, we learned what to look for on a map (paper and digital) and also what physical elements make for the best environment for game. Truly, I felt like the secrets of the world were being handed down to me – while no areas were specifically given, Randy helped provide us with the ability to find areas ourselves.
Learning Shot Placement
Utilizing the classroom whiteboard, as well as the content in our binders – Randy walked us through understanding shot placement on different animals in different situations and of course, because we are in California, with different ammunition types. We even tried to throw Randy off by asking about bow hunting, but he of course was able to explain just about everything related to bows, arrows, tactics, and shot placement for bow hunters as well.
Learning to Shoot
After learning all things firearm, animal, location, safety, and shot-related – it was time to hit the range. Randy reminded us that knowledge is good, and you need it – but if you don’t ever apply it, it’s worthless. So after the first day of class, Randy took us to the on-site range and got us set up to shoot.
I’m no stranger to shooting rifles, but it’s clear that Randy had a number of tips and tricks to help make me a better shooter all the way around. Part of the class is taking you from top to bottom – everything related to hunting. Randy explained shooting on a ballistic level, how bullet weight and other elements affect trajectory and impact, he explained first focal plane scopes and second focal plane scopes and their similarities and differences – honest, it was more than I could even take in. I wound up writing down most of what he had said, even though I felt like a proficient shooter already.
Of course, having a range that lets you reach out beyond 500 yards is cool – and Randy helped us take full advantage of it. Not only were we shooting beyond 500 yards consistently on target, but then Randy took us to the moving pig target – an incredibly hard thing to master.
After learning all things hunting-related in a classroom and then applying them to paper and steel targets, all students who are taking Hunting Lessons are given the chance to then hunt the following day with none other than Randy himself. After an early wake up from your tent, a trailer, or cottage (whichever you chose to stay in), you’ll jump on board a Polaris 4 seater side by side and be taken a few miles down backroads to another portion of the family ranch.
This is one of the unique opportunities that Bitterwater Outfitters provides for guests – a 1,000-acre game ranch that is filled with exotic animals to hunt. Due to the quality of game on the ranch as well as the quantity, there is an increased level of success, which is great for new and first-time hunters or even the seasoned hunter who is looking to fill his freezer. This “success” part had eluded me for a number of years doing the “boots on the ground” tactic that everyone told me I needed to do – which I believe is still valid and an important part of learning how to hunt. There are only so many youtube videos you can watch about how to gut and skin an animal though – before you have to actually do it yourself.
Having the opportunity to glass hills (through binoculars and a spotting scope), valleys, stream beds, and rock outcroppings and to actually be able to find game was just the most awesome feeling after over 100 miles of hiking the great outdoors with no success. Randy made sure to take every opportunity to teach us – whether it was a snake track in the soft dirt or identifying an animal in a hard-to-see area.
One of the things we loved was that there was no rush. Randy made sure to teach us every step of the way and let us search the entire property for hours looking for that perfect pig or ram to take a shot on.
Eventually, both my cousin and I took Texas Doll rams. Then the real hands-on work began with Randy taking the lead – showing and teaching us all the different elements of gutting, skinning, and quartering our animals. After placing our animals in the cooler, and setting up a time for a local butcher to prepare various different cuts of meat and then deliver them to us (5 hours away), our time of hunting lessons was coming to an end.
We had such a good time there at the ranch that we sent our animals to be mounted so that we would always remember how great it was. That ram still sits in my garage today as a reminder of all that I learned and the incredible memories made on that trip.
Are Hunting lessons worth it? I’d say it depends on where you go. As far as Bitterwater Outfitters is concerned – I would recommend it to anyone who is wanting to learn about, try out, or start getting into hunting. The operation they have, the opportunities, the guides, and everything about Bitterwater Outfitters is beyond amazing and top-notch.
Since my first trip and taking hunting lessons at the school there – I have been back with family, friends, and even clients from my business and their kids. I even took my wife out there one time, she went on the hunt with us one day, and then we went into Pismo for a day of shopping and all things she likes.
I have since returned to hunt – bison, wild pig, European pig, varmint, another ram, and bobcat (before the ban). Each time, I have left with memories I cherish – more knowledge, and lots of meat in the freezer.
If you want to check out the Hunting School at Bitterwater Outfitters, you can find more information here. Also, whether you are new to hunting, or have been at it for many years – don’t forget to check out the best online hunting stores to grab all the necessary gear for your next hunt!
About the author:
Matt is a Bay Area native who spends his weekdays in the world of Search Engine Optimization and then his weekends hunting and fishing. Born and raised in California among a family who didn’t hunt or fish, he’s had to learn things independently or through the help and guidance of a select few.
You can often find Matt hunting the public refuges around California for waterfowl during the winter months. All other times, Matt will be split between chasing deer, turkey, bear, pheasant, dove, and the occasional pig or two. Matt has a passion for seeing young and first-time hunters begin and grow into becoming true outdoorsmen.
When he’s not hunting or fishing, you can find Matt helping businesses grow their online presence via digital strategies and Search Engine Optimization as the Owner/Operator of Digital Oak.
Matt lives in Pinole, CA, with his wife, two future waterfowl hunting daughters, his Labrador “Bear” and French Bulldog affectionately named “Champ”.