Full disclosure: This hunt will include trail cameras, private land, range finders, draw tags (outfitter pool) and worst of all, marginal writing. If any of these offend, please redirect yourself to the nearest yoga thread! The pics will only be screen shots from the video we took. I was trying to film the hunt and didn’t take the time to take still pictures on top of the video. End disclosure.
I hunted (draw) with an outfitter in NM in 2011. It was a great hunt even though I ended up with an un-notched tag. We became friends, and he suggested I start putting my son, Luke, in the Youth Draw.
In early April of this year, we found out Luke had drawn his 3rd choice so we were going to New Mexico! The plan was for me to drive down early and scout with Brian. Luke and my wife would head down the day before the hunt (to limit his time away from school, football and hockey). After the hunt, they would fly home while I would drive back with a truck full of meat and antlers (hopefully).
In late August I got a call from Brian offering me a chance to bow hunt elk. He had a couple of landowner tags remaining. It did not take long and I was planning my own hunt. I adjusted my holiday schedule and started getting ready.
Shortly before I left for my hunt, Luke ended up breaking his leg at a football game! As devastated as he was, he was determined to be ready for his hunt. He would have 4 weeks to prepare. He had surgery the next day, and into a hard cast a couple of weeks later. A friend suggested we use something called the ‘iwalk 2.0’. This is a peg leg type device and allows him to walk with his hands free (unlike crutches). With that all taken care of, I could get back to getting ready for my hunt.
I left for NM on September 15 with a truck full of gear for 2 hunts, 3 people, and enough empty coolers for a lot of delicious elk meat! Regrettably, I went to a friend’s BBQ on the 14th and got home much later, after celebrating much harder than one should the day before a long trip. Slow start aside, I got in 19+ hours of driving on the 15th, stayed overnight at a friends in CO, and was in camp late afternoon on Sunday, the 16th.
After getting to camp, partially unpacking and shooting my bow, Brian suggested we go out and do a quick scout/hunt. We end up seeing about 50 elk total, most from long range. Best bull we saw was a 300 class 6 pt at about 70 yards. We backed out and knew we had a plan for the morning! Maybe I should have listened and brought my bow!
We are ready to go well before first light and are heading to the area we got close to the 6 pt. We ran into a smaller 6 pt. and with me not being a true ‘trophy’ hunter, we decided he would do nicely. With it being the first morning, me being extremely out of shape, and Brian and I working out the bugs of the first hunt of the trip, we never ended up closing the distance. By the end of the morning, we had heard approx. 10 bulls and saw 3 ‘shooters’ (the 6 pt. from the night before and 2 nice 5 pts).
We went to check some trail cameras and on the way, I saw my first tarantula up close! Really cool and much larger than any spider I’ve seen at home in Manitoba!
With the incredibly high temps, we were hoping action at waterholes would be high. I liked the idea since my physical conditioning was more suited for waterhole hunting!
We were not disappointed! One waterhole had a couple of great bulls on it, and even a few bears! We decided to sit there for the evening hunt.
We were set up early and could not sit in the blind due to the wind. We decided to sit off of the waterhole a ways and planned to work into it if we heard any elk. We saw a bear early in the evening. Later, a small 4 pt spent some time at the waterhole. I may have tried for him had I been alone, but Brian suggested we try for a larger bull since we were only on day 1!
Another early morning start. We headed to the same area we hunted the morning of day 1. We heard at least 6 different bulls, but only saw a smaller 4 x 5.
Back at camp, we found out 2 hunters had missed opportunities at 300+ class bulls. Camp mood was a mix of disappointment over the misses, but excitement that guys were getting close. There were 6 hunters in camp and they sure seemed like a great group.
With the continued heat and the pictures of the bulls at the waterhole still on my mind, we headed back there for the evening. The wind was right for us to sit in the blind so we settled in for a long sit.
Midway through the hunt, we had a beautiful muley buck come in. He was in full velvet and if I’d have had a tag, it would have been a 22 yard shot! Lucky for him, I didn’t and after 15-20 minutes, he wandered out of my life.
About an hour before dark, a small 4 x 3 bull elk came in and put on a great show! After taking a drink, he worked his way to a wallow about 10-12 yards from us and spent the next 45 minutes pawing, rolling, and raking his antlers in the mud. When he first came in, my first thought was how slick and clean he looked. When he left, he was a completely muddy mess!
After visiting with the other guides the evening before, a discussion came out about a giant bull that had been seen on an earlier hunt. The area had been left alone and it was decided to try to go after him again. They showed me a trail cam photo they had and I couldn’t believe I was going to be going after such an incredible animal the next morning.
In the pre-dawn darkness, we began walking a ridge taking us to the last known location of this bull. We could hear bulls bugling - at least 4 of them - and paused waiting for better light. As luck would have it, the first bull we saw was the one we were after. He was working along a ridge in front of us with some cows. We decided to quietly work towards him and try to cut him off. At this point, he was 435 yards from us.
Due to the landscape, we lost our visual almost immediately. Fortunately, the bull would occasionally call and let us know the direction to head. The elk had gone over a steep drop off at the time we expected they were ready to bed down. Since it was getting quite warm and late, there were large gaps between the bull’s calls. But it was going to get very thick once we dropped off the ridge and we wanted to confirm his location before committing to our final approach.
We heard a bugle and locked in to where we needed to get to. We were able to close within 100 yards a few times, but soon the bull tired of us, moved off and shut down. Rather than risk stumbling into him, we decided to back out and come back in the afternoon to catch the group when they began to move for the evening.
We worked our way into the area early in the afternoon. For the first time during the hunt, we were dealing with very strong winds. It was a good direction, but made it difficult to hear and pinpoint location.
At 5:20, we heard a faint bugle and began moving in. After a short time, we saw a couple of cows and a 5 pt in front of us at about 300 yards. Even though there was potential for the giant from this morning to be in the area, I believe in the adage, ‘don’t pass up a bull you would shoot on the last day at any time during the hunt’, so we moved in on the bull as soon as he wandered over a ridge and out of sight.
Just as we were about to crest the ridge the bull had walked over, we heard him crash off to our right. Apparently, he had decided to come back to our side slightly downwind of where we were. The good news was, as the thundering hooves were still fading, we heard another bugle to our left! A quick turn and we were back after elk!
We moved along the top of the ridge, not needing to call since the bull was being quite vocal. In a short time, we located the bugler…a 4 pt bull. While we were glassing him, we heard a bugle, but it wasn’t coming from him. There was another bull further down the ridge. We decided the 4 pt. would get a pass and we moved on.
We had only moved about 100 yards and Brian locked up. I looked in the direction he was staring and there was our target bull, with only 200 yards between us! There was pretty decent cover, and he was by himself raking a tree. With the strong wind in our favour, we made a plan to walk right up to him and shoot him. After 3 steps, we noticed a cow about 20 yards to the left of him…and she was staring right at us. One cow had completely foiled our plan. We decided to hold tight to see what they would do. She continued to stare. He was oblivious to us but knew she was staring at something.
We waited for 30 minutes or so, and decided we would run out of light if we tried to make a move. So rather than risk blowing him out of the area, we waited, and whenever the cow would look away, we would slink slowly away from them. By dark, we were out of their sight and worked our way back to the truck. Just being that close to a great bull made it an incredible night!
We were feeling pretty good when we got back to camp, then we heard there were 3 more opportunities today! One bull was hit, but questionable, while 2 more were missed. As an outfitter myself, I could feel Brian’s pain! At least spirits were high and the guides were definitely putting elk in front of the hunters! They backed out on the wounded bull and planned to go out first thing to pick up the track.
I’ll start off by saying the bull hit yesterday was recovered relatively easily in the morning. I was lucky enough to help pack it out. All the meat was good and the first bull of the week was in the cooler!
We hunted near the area we left the big bull last night. We heard some elk bugling, and by now we were familiar with the call of the big bull. They were not him, but since we couldn’t locate the big boy, we worked in on these. We ended up seeing 2 nice 5 pts chasing each other around a group of cows! They were plenty good enough for me, but we needed the group to move into heavier cover before making a plan. Once they decided to move, it happened quickly and we couldn’t keep up. We did end up encountering a small 4 pt, but decided to pass on him. We heard one more bull and worked hard to close the gap. Once we located him, it turned out to be a 3 pt so we called it a hunt backed out.
We went to go lend a hand to the successful hunter and his guide. It started raining while we were packing and continued to rain hard all day. It made us lazy and we got out later than we planned. We were going to try a new area since we felt we had pressured the big bull enough.
Shortly after leaving the truck, we heard bulls on the far side of a high ridge. When we crested the ridge, we looked out into a flat and saw a large group of elk with a great bull and a second very good bull trying to move in on the cows. With these elk pre-occupied with each other, we were able to get to 97 yards. The bulls were screaming and I was vibrating as I really thought this was the night it would happen.
Unfortunately, the down side to landowner tags is the boundaries. These elk were across a fence line we couldn’t cross. We watched them get close, then slowly move away. The terrain was perfect for us to move in, except for the darn fence! Just before dark, we tried calling them across, but there were too many real cows for the bulls to leave them. Brian anticipated the animals would move onto the property to bed the next day, so we would come back in the morning.
When we got back to camp, we found out one hunter had a bull in range, but elk fever had him frozen and he never got a shot. Another hunter came close to a great bull, but it was obscured by brush.
We were on our way very early this morning to make sure we were in position by shooting light. We were walking in the dark and could hear multiple bulls screaming. They were close to where we left them. From the direction the calls were coming, we could tell they were on the right property! We had a strong breeze in our face and when we got to the top of the ridge, we pinpointed exactly where the animals were by their constant calling. We began working our way in as the strong breeze blew in our faces.
As we neared the bottom of the ridge, we could just start seeing the shapes of elk moving toward us. We were still a few minutes away from shooting light and I started looking for a place to set up. All of a sudden, we noticed heads popping up and looking in our direction. At this point, I noticed for the first time all morning, the wind was starting to die down and swirl. In less than a minute, the entire herd had moved several hundred yards off. We climbed back up the hill a ways to get a visual. The herd was standing in the middle of the flat. We thought we’d wait and see if they’d settle down and work their way in some direction toward us. After milling around for a short while they took off again. I am sure by noon they were in Arizona!
Very disappointing to have your ‘sure thing’ hunt over before shooting light, but that’s how it happens sometimes. We used the rest of the morning to scout more of the area. We got to a high vantage point and put the glass to work. We located a great group of animals with several bulls in it. There were at least 2 large bulls in the group and several raghorns. We guessed at least 35 head of elk in the group. Since they were not currently on property we could hunt, we put this group in the ‘potential’ file for another day.
Back at camp we visited with the other hunters/guides. There was an older, less mobile hunter that was predominantly sitting waterholes. He and his guide were commenting on seeing elk, but hearing even more over a ridge out of attainable reach for them. We all formulated a plan where we would hunt those bulls. We would hunt quiet, stalking into the calls. We didn’t want to call for fear of pulling any bulls away from the waterhole.
We set up for the afternoon and started hearing some bulls. Since the faint calls we were hearing were coming from the direction of the waterhole, we held tight. As we sat there, we could hear a bull going nuts in that direction…then all of a sudden, nothing. We made an educated guess that the hunter must have shot that bull. Since we didn’t hear any other action, Brian suggested we move to an area nearby that he had a good feeling about.
His gut was right and we had barely started walking/calling when a bull fired up from very close. Brian’s son Christian had joined us for the hunt and decided to stay put calling while we moved in. We had hardly moved ahead when I saw the bull coming across the field. He was looking intently for the cow we were imitating. The wind was perfect, I was hidden with an arrow nocked, and just waiting to range the bull once he stepped into the clearing in front of me. The shakes were definitely starting!!
The bull walked behind a cedar and I readied the range finder. Once he cleared the bush, I ranged and attach my release. I brought my bow up and started putting tension on the string. At that moment, the bull swung his head around and began staring me down. I contemplated drawing, but gambled against drawing and shooting at an alert bull elk at 60 yards. I hoped he would settle down enough to look away while I drew my bow, but after a 15-20 second stare down, he bolted and ran out of my life forever.
From our disappointment in the early morning, to almost closing the deal in the last ½ hour, it ended up being a great day! On top of that, we found out a 300 class bull had been taken and the hunter sitting the waterhole had shot a giant bull! With questions about the penetration and time of day, they were planning an early morning search and recovery. With a few hunters tagged out, there were plenty of guides available to help out
We decided to head to the area we had left our ‘potential’ herd. It was cool and overcast, and it was a slow start to the morning. Well after daylight, we finally heard our first bull. It got pretty busy after that as we had located the large herd and multiple bulls started sounding off. We set up and before I could get an arrow on the string, a small 5 ran in and busted me. I doubt I would have shot him, but I needed to freeze as I could hear other elk milling about.
Soon, he barked and moved off. We were fortunate that there were so many elk around, making so many elk noises, that none of them heeded his warning! Shortly after he moved off, a real funky looking 5 x 5 on a 6 pt frame stepped out broadside at 40 yards. One small branch prevented me from drawing on him. I was hoping he would take a step further, but he ended up sensing something wasn’t right and moved off.
Bulls were still screaming, so we planned to move in closer. Two steps forward, and we have a small bull staring us down. We freeze, he stares, and bulls scream from beyond him. The staredown lasts far longer than we hoped, and we can hear the bulls behind him settling in to a more passive bugle. By the time he moves off, the bugling is very subdued and sporadic. We feel we have put the herd to bed and rather than run them off, decide to come back early in the afternoon and work them once they’re up and moving.
We arrive at our location early and wait for the bulls to start calling. We hear a faint call at about 4:30 and then a response. The first bull bugles again, but no answer. We decide to work our way in.
The calling is pretty infrequent until we get close. At about 200 yards we realise there is an open, shallow valley between us. We can hear him bugling and raking. We conclude we will not be able to pull the bull down, across, and back up the open valley. We decide to leave Christian on this side of the valley to keep him calling, while we sneak across. We get across and start up the other side while the bull and Christian scream at each other.
As we crest the ridge, we see the bull through the trees, and he starts moving off. We are not sure how we spooked him, but he is gone. When we get back to Christian, he explains a couple of cows had moved into the open just as we were entering the woods. He said they noticed us and turned uphill back toward the bull. We figured the cows spooked and what we saw was the bull following them out of the area. We could still hear him, but his was putting a lot of real estate between him and us.
We worked the area hoping other bulls from this morning were still around, but nothing responded to our calls. It was my last evening, but I was more than happy with how the hunt had gone and it was time to start heading back to the truck.
We were getting close to the truck as the sun went down. Suddenly, a nearby bull screamed from our left – which was directly downwind – and before we could react, we heard him take off. Before disappointment could set in, a bull lit up from a few hundred yards to our right – directly upwind of our location. I had one more chance!
We didn’t move very far and had Christian calling about 40 yards behind us. The bull was hot, immediately screaming back responses, but not moving very quickly. With a limited amount of daylight left, Christian decided to rattle – yes, rattle. He carries around two 5 pt sheds just in case the perfect opportunity arises…and this was it.
He had just started rattling when a 5 pt came charging in, catching us by surprise standing there looking stupid. He ran off and we ducked behind a small cedar. The main bull was still screaming, and definitely closing in. A small 4 pt showed up to our left and offered me a shot, but Brian said let him go, the big one’s moving in fast. I let my bow down and re-positioned for where I expected the bull to step out.
I had just settled when I saw 2 cows come through the trees about 12 yards from us. I had my release on the string and was waiting to draw. The cows saw something they didn’t like and started to retreat. As they turned, the bull screamed in our faces at about 15 yards. I could see the tops of his antlers so I came to full draw. He stood still, glaring from his cows, to where he had heard the rattling. It was the most intense moment I had ever imagined.
He needed to take about 2 steps forward and I had him. I saw his head start to turn and I prepared to squeeze the trigger. Instead of walking a half circle to turn around, he just swapped ends and only offered a moving ‘texas heart shot’. I don’t really practice those, so I had to let down.
The adrenaline dump was amazing. I didn’t get that bull, but did everything BUT pull the trigger. What a way to end the trip!!
Back at camp, during my last meal with the group, we discussed my plans for the next day. My travel plan for this whole trip was to drive down for my hunt, then fly home for a week, then fly back down, pick my truck up at the airport and drive to Luke’s hunt. When I told Brian what time I needed to be at the airport, he said ‘we have time in the morning, we can give it another shot tomorrow if you want’...
With the options available to us, and this being a bonus hunt, I wanted to hunt an area we had previously been. I didn’t feel it was fair to risk ‘educating’ elk in a new spot since there would be more hunters coming later in the season. We decided to go right back to last night’s area. At this point, Brian was 4 for 6, and the other hunter with an open tag had 2 more days to hunt.
Brian, Christian and myself got there good and early and I was feeling extremely blessed to have another opportunity to try and fill my tag. It didn’t take long and we heard elk bugling.
Here we go again!
We got some elevation and glassed at least 2 shooter bulls working their way up a ridge a couple hundred yards away. We waited for them to crest the hill, and we moved in to start calling. With Christian set up behind us calling, we got the bulls fired up! We had a nice big 5 pt come in quiet on the wrong side. He busted as I tried to move and draw on him. The other 2 bulls continued to scream at us and each other.
We were locked in our location since there were too many cows milling around. They would have busted us had we tried to move. After 30 minutes or so, we saw the herd bull (a great 6 pt.) move his cows up and over the next ridge about 100 yards away. We also saw the satellite bull follow.
Normally we wouldn’t push them any harder, but with this being the day after my last day, we figured why not? We continued chasing them but they were in movement mode and we got one last look at the satellite bull before we called it a morning.
As I was soaking in the amazing past 6+ days in elk country, Brian got a text saying the other hunter had shot a bull! So Brian ended up 5 for 6, with me being #6. A pretty good week for archery elk hunting. We began the long walk back to the truck.
Here we go again…again!
We parked the truck, took a short hike and before we could call, heard an elk bugle. I really could not believe there was an elk calling at this time, in this heat. It had to be a good omen.
We approached the elk and called lightly. He responded, but moved off. We moved in again, called, and he moved off. It appeared he was not in the mood for love or war, and we discussed our options.
We’re not sure what happened next, but all of a sudden we heard hooves everywhere, running in all directions. I told Brian something must have really spooked the herd and if they’re scattered, cow calling may work. He set up to call and I moved behind a large cedar.
He cow called a couple times and we heard cows respond immediately! Within seconds, 2 cows were trotting in and passed within 5 yards of my hiding spot. They were still in sight when the woods erupted with a loud bugle from in close. I looked up and saw a large 5 pt coming in. He caught the cows moving and turned to follow them. I drew my bow.
He stopped after a couple of steps, I was at full draw but could not shoot because of some branches in front of me. I slowly started side-stepping to bring him into view. I saw his backend after one step. The next step got me to the back of his rib cage. My third step revealed his shoulder and everything back. As I was settling the pin, he noticed me and did a 180, took two steps, and began staring at me. Here I was at the end of my hunt at full draw on a beautiful bull. 28 yards separated us. That, and a small cedar bush his two steps had taken him behind. I could see his antlers, head, neck…and rump. The cedar was less than 2 feet wide, but those 2 feet hid everything important to the elk at this point in time. Eventually he had enough, and my last, last, last chance at an elk on this trip left with him.
I made it to the airport with several minutes to spare!
Looks like a great hunt.
Nice to know Canada actually takes their border security seriously.
So, if references to rifle hunting offends, please look away!
Luke had been practising walking on his peg leg, as well as practising getting it on and off and into different potential shooting positions. He was ready, we just needed to find an elk for him.
I flew back to New Mexico, met up with Brian and we travelled to our new hunt area.
Brian and I headed out early to listen for elk. It didn’t take long and we could hear several bulls along the ridge tops in the distance. As we moved on down the road, we had a bull scream at us from inside of 50 yards! He was moving toward the other bulls. We were lucky it got just light enough as he climbed the opposite ridge to see him. He was a 330 class 6 pt. A great start!
We moved to a ridge to try and intercept him to see if he had cows. While on the ridge, we spotted another 300 class 6 pt in the valley. After a short while, we saw the larger bull again. He had no cows with him.
In the afternoon, we tried to approach the area from a different direction. Shortly after 5, bulls started calling. We tried to put ourselves near where we expected them to cross an opening. We guessed very well and had a huge bull cross with his cows within 70 yards of us. The herd bull was being harassed by at least 2 other satellites we never saw.
Excellent job, fabulous story telling and photos!
Now come on Luke! Looks like another great hunt coming!
We got into the same area as the night before, hoping to see if this group of elk was in a pattern. We accidentally got too close and ended up in bow range of the herd bull for the second time in two days. This time, we were able to locate the satellite bulls. One was the 330 class bull from the previous day, the other was a 340 class 6 pt that had broken off it’s left side just above the G2!
For the evening before the hunt, we wanted to avoid getting too close so we climbed a ridge overlooking most of the area. Unfortunately, we only saw the 330 class bull walking in a different direction than we expected. We never saw the herd bull or his cows. As we were leaving the area, we noticed several other vehicles scouting it out. We figured this may have moved the elk off of their normal patterns.
We met my wife (Shelley) and Luke at the hotel and got ready for an early start.
Luke was good on his peg leg, but slow. We decided to head out an hour earlier than normal so we could be in position at first light. On the drive to the trailhead, we passed another truck with hunters preparing. Shortly after passing them, a CO stopped us to check us out. All was good, but we had lost some valuable time! We pulled into where we planned to park, and 2 other pickups were already there! Not wanting to crowd anyone, we needed to quickly come up with plan B!
We headed to a new location, parked the truck and got Luke ready. Just as we were about to start our walk in, another pickup pulled up. We greeted them and they graciously told us they would move on. We started hiking in the dark with Luke wearing a headlamp to ensure he wouldn’t stumble and hurt himself. He had 2 grandmothers back home who would skin me alive if he got hurt on this trip!
As dawn broke we could hear an elk bugle. We gained some elevation and glassed. We caught the broken 6 x 2 moving through brush. We were working on a plan to move closer (he was 385 yards away), when a hail of gunfire erupted! We counted 5 shots, with many of them sounding like hits. We lost sight of the bull and found out later another youth hunter had taken him.
After the gunshots, we continued our hike. We heard a different bugle and started moving in. For the first time, I watched Luke walking in front of me. He would never complain, but I could see the struggles he was having. His practice back home had not included hills, loose shale or long grass and cactus!
We got on a rise and listened for more bugles. While waiting, I saw a bull moving from left to right. I didn’t recognise it as one we had scouted, looked like a 5 pt. Brian and Luke saw it just as it got back into the trees and we needed to make a decision. Brian asked Luke if he wanted to go after it, or see if we could get into one of the larger ones. Luke’s response was that he felt fortunate to even be on this hunt with a broken leg, and he would be extremely happy if he got any elk. It was on!
We moved in and out of the trees paralleling the elk’s movement. Twice I was waiting for the gun to go off, but Luke didn’t shoot. Later he explained the tall grass prevented him from seeing the entire kill zone, and he wanted to be sure of his shot.
Luke did try and help with the pack out, but the peg leg is just not designed for hauling heavy loads in uneven terrain. Brian, my wife and I got the elk out and by early afternoon we were all celebrating in the local restaurant.
So proud of him to work through this temporary obstacle. He missed the entire football season (except for the game he got hurt) and hasn't played a game of hockey (first game for him will be January 6!)
Happy New Year Bowsiters!!
Congrats to Luke. And congrats to you on a great thread.
Good luck, Robb
SBH - yup, still in Florida! We head home Friday. We missed a couple of -40 days, supposed to be around 35 F when we land in MB!! Excellent timing!
Medicinemann - He never blistered, but he did get a semi-permanent bruise at the point where the top of his cast (just below the knee) and brace contacted. Created a pressure point. The biggest issue was his hip. At home on solid and flat ground, he could walk fairly normal. Out there, the hills and long grass made him have to swing out wide with the peg leg. Bruising is long gone and hip was taken care of through his physio/rehab.
t-roy - almost forgot about the horseshoe!! Glad you caught that! The evening before the hunt we hardly saw any elk (compared to the day before and that morning). We were putting on the miles trying to find where all the elk went. In the middle of nowhere, Brian stops and notices this horseshoe. I am not a superstitious guy, but come on!! I figured it wouldn't hurt to pick it up and carry it around for Luke's sake. Even made sure to keep it right side up!!
Thanks for all the kind words, Luke got a kick out of reading them too.
On a serious note, Luke is a gym nut and has been taking me 3 times a week, already seeing some results. Once we're back on a regular schedule, things will step up a notch...hopefully!
Sounds like your week and mine were pretty similar, we chased allot of bulls and a couple exceptional ones during my hunt as well. Unfortunately I am not the writer you are, nor did I take allot of photos just got a few and the video on their Facebook page. In the end I didn’t get to shoot my bow but we had a great hunt during my week as well. (Just booked for this season as well and can’t wait to get back there this year.)