I’m just back from a great hunt in the upper Rio Grande area of the San Juan mountains.
This was my first hunt in unit 76. I had always heard a lot about this unit and we had made several scouting trips during the summer. Some local guys won’t hunt anywhere else. We saw elk every day up here.
This was one of the coldest hunts I’ve been on and perfect elk hunting weather.
This is Table Mountain near the Colorado Divide at 12’400 ft.
We followed the rim glassing the terrain below for elk.
We found a herd that day but they busted us and the other guys weren’t comfortable with a 400+ yard shot under the circumstances.
I was out of position.
We had snow each day for 5 days. At first it would melt but it didn’t take long before it got cold and stayed. My face is still windburned.
Ridin’ the Storm Out
12,000 ft not far from the Continental Divide. The guy on the left has a balloon protecting his rifle muzzle. I was able to hunt a nice blue grouse after taking this picture since my tag had already been filled at this point. Biggest grouse I ever got.
I kill at least one elk each year but on the same hunts my two companions have hit a bit of a pitching slump.
It’s not for lack of trying. These guys don’t know the word quit. One fellow who has killed many elk used to be the go-to guy for killing elk in our camp but has hit a dry spell in recent years. The newest addition to our crew had never killed one – that is until now.
Fresh trail from a herd of 8.
By nightfall this herd would number only 7.
His first elk.
Five years ago this young man asked if he could come along on an elk hunt and volunteered to help carry out anything we killed. We killed 2 nice bulls that year and he was hooked.
This week he got his first elk and what an elk! This one was as large as any of the very largest elk we have taken in the past 25 years. This elk’s head is the size of a horses head.
He’s using a Browning A-bolt with his own 160gr Barnes TSX handloads.
Bringing out an elk quarter on a sled. Thankful it was downhill.
The cold ride back to camp in the truckbed didn’t seem so cold. Anytime you can finish up without using headlamps it is a luxury.
Racing to skin a forequarter before it freezes.
Between storms the snow made both hunters and elk much more visible.
White camo is used here in an effort to try to reduce ones visible profile to the extent possible.
The chuckwagon at 11,400 ft.
This is a remarkable old vehicle. The only other vehicles moving in these conditions were either wearing chains or were 4WD’s with Radial TA’s.
Each year we begin our hunts with much of our meat and meals frozen so that it more-or-less thaws gradually as the week wears on, keeps other items cool, uses cooler space more effectively, and reduces the volume of ice we need to haul. This year after the first night the only things left unfrozen were items in coolers. Most trips we are highly concerned with keeping the elk cool but this time around entire elk quarters froze solid overnight.
My brothers dwelling at the 11,400 ft camp.
He insisted he was comfortable and refused offers to move into the Apache with us.
The elk I killed was much smaller than that of our youngest hunter.
I have some rifles that are more accurate from the bench than my old Browning 7mag lever action, but this is the rifle I am most confident and comfortable with. This is the rifle I’ve carried for decades and the one that got selected for the trip. This old rifle has always delivered when it mattered. It really came through this time.
This year I killed my elk on the 2nd night of the hunt. We were hunting at a lower elevation that day. I’d spotted a single elk on a hill at 350 yards but I could not get the shot I wanted. Standing and bracing on an aspen was way too unstable for a shot at that distance, but if I got low then the animal was obscured by brush. I knew I didn’t have much time. If I sat with my elbows braced on my knees I could see the top of the animal. It was facing away from me.
I took what I guess you could call the ‘JFK’ shot. Back of the head, no wasted meat. I’m sure the animal never heard the shot. I wish they were all like that.
The 160 gr Nosler partition essentially scooped out the cranial cavity clean.
The sun came out as we were leaving. This creek crossing had some pucker factor for me. Even though it was running water, it was cold enough that the surface was still freezing over between each vehicle. Because of the icy road on either side you sort of slid down into the creek then gunned it to get momentum to climb up the steep ice on the other side.
This unit was not crowded. Probably because it was a limited unit. Other camps did not seem to be having the success we did. Some blamed the full moon.
Next year we'll probably hunt elk in an early season. We are considering a muzzle loader hunt. That goes a bit away from the core skills of our group. We usually have success on DIY hunts by scouting, climbing to high altitudes, and penetrating deep into public land areas. We would have a lot to learn about hunting in September.
I don't think any of us will ever forget this year. So ends another great season. I become more grateful for each seasons hunt opportunity with every passing year.