It started last October with Ryan's last hunt of the year being an antelope hunt, and his wife saying, "That's it? There's no more chances for an elk? What about out of state or something?" Big mistake. Ryan got the blessing to apply for out of state hunts. He tried to explain that he likely wouldn't draw, and would need to apply for several years in New Mexico before drawing a good unit, and that $750 would be coming back.
Well, he lied. The money didn't come back, he drew in year one. And I had to come with him (or just wanted to). Kim didn’t care how big of a bull he could kill, she just wanted more elk meat. But Ryan and I had dreams of big ole boys.
We poured over the maps for weeks, narrowing down our plans, backup plans and backup backup plans. There was no way we were going to be able to scout the unit ahead of time, and we were going to be limited on hunting time. I could not stay past the third day of the season, giving us just Thursday to drive 10 hours down there, Friday to scout and set up camp, Saturday and Sunday, plus part of Monday to hunt. I bought a one-way plan ticket home just in case Ryan decided he wanted to stay and hunt through the end of the season (Wenesday).
After cruising most of the roads in the unit on Friday, we set up camp at the base of a large, nearly barren mountain that had elk sign all over it, and very few people in the neighborhood.
There was no water on it, so we figured we could spot elk heading to or back from windmills and dugouts on the plains below.
Sure enough, as opening morning dawned, 3 miles from camp, we spotted a herd of elk nearly two miles from the top of our mountain. We could tell there was a bull in the group, but it wasn’t until the sun hit him and he was within 600 yards that Ryan knew he wasn’t an opening morning shooter.
We had dreams of much bigger boys than this small 5 point, and while part of me wanted him to take the bird in hand, I knew we had to let this guy go.
We burned prime time watching the bull and getting within 300 yards of the herd (just in case his antlers grew a little more). The rest of the day was much less productive, as we hiked and glassed our way around the rest of the draws on the mountain.
Around most of the flats, we were seeing these enormous grasshoppers that we were referring to as Boone and Crockett Grasshoppers. When I got home I looked these massive, chicken choking sized locusts up, keying them out (because I’m a geek and I had to know). Turns out their common name is almost as fun: Lubber Grasshoppers, brachystola magna.
We glassed a well that was at the mouth of a timbered draw that evening, and listened to some morons bugling until their faces must have turned red, who then hiked out of the area 30 minutes before sunset.
We spent a little bit of time glassing the following morning before picking up camp and moving to another mountain that was much more timbered. We wanted to target an isolated tank on some BLM land. We reset camp, and got to the tank just before noon, finding several sheds along the way, as well as several carcasses.
Ryan was now willing to kill any legal bull, as he felt he had given the place a chance to produce something bigger, but couldn’t possibly risk going home empty handed.
The tank had one stinky green carcass, presumably from the youth season two weeks prior, which gave us a little more hope. We sat in a small blind right next to the tank, straight downwind of it. The hours ticked by slowly, which I knew was killing Ryan, but this was a great spot and our best chance before I had to leave.
We saw 5 turkeys, 4 toms and a jake come in three times.
Then finally, we heard a squeaky little bugle right at dusk. 20 minutes later, I heard Ryan whisper, “there’s a bull to my right.” Just then, a raghorn trotted down the embankment to the stinky, green water tank, splashing a little in it. I told Ryan to get his gun up, and just then the bull looked up at us 15 yards away, with water dripping off his nose.
He started to trot back up and out of the tank, when I whistled at him while he was still within 40 yards. He turned slightly quartering away, looking at us, then Ryan fired, hitting him high behind the shoulder with a 220 grain A-Frame from his .325 WSM. The bullet exited his left front shoulder and the bull ran about 10 yards before staggering and falling.
While his head was still up, Ryan hit him again, just in case.
We did it! It was whirlwind run down to New Mexico. Not the bull we had dreamed of and possibly smaller than the one he turned down. But that didn’t matter, we were still excited about everything coming together as planned. Besides, no time to critique the hunt, we had to get that meat hung as dark was falling quickly.
We tried the gutless method for the first time, and I’m not sold on it. Still quarters were hung, and Ryan packed the straps and tenderloins out, plus the head and we got back to camp by 10:30. Dawn had us hiking back in, and instead of screwing around with two trips back to the water hole, we deboned the meat and doubled the loads, carrying a front and rear each. Although the total load was probably only 70 pounds or so, it was tough work. But, we were on the dirt highway by noonish, home by 2am, and at work the next morning. All in all a fun hunt.