Beginner's Luck in New Mexico
Hunting elk is something I've dreamed about ever since I can remember and it finally came together this year. A friend and I put in for the New Mexico draw. Using our first choice in a "easy to draw" unit, we were lucky enough to pull our tags.
We headed west from Wisconsin on the 29th of August and arrived to our unit mid-day on the 30th. We set up camp on top of a major ridge and spent the next day scouting and preparing for our hunt. Action was really slow for the first 3 days of the season, with lots of 4 wheeler sightings and limited fresh elk sign. However we did manage to bump into a nice 5 point on the evening of the 3rd day. We were only a few hundred yards from camp and headed to a point to glass from when my buddy whispered excitedly "Kurt!"....I knew at that moment that he seen something and i looked up to see the bull bust from some oak brush 15 yards in front of me. A hard pill to swallow, but a lesson learned none the less. He was broadside with his head burried into the oak brush, and if I would have been hunting my way up to the glassing point instead of walking to the glassing point with bow in hand it would have been a slam dunk.
We made it to our glassing point and studied some of the lower country to get an idea for some new turf to head into.
The next day we broke camp and headed to lower elevation to get closer to water and cover some different ground. The first morning from our new camp produced no fresh sign and after looking at our maps we decided on an area up the mountain to try to work into for the evening hunt. My buddy and I split up and slipped up the ridgeline to look for fresh sign and hopefully get into the elk. My night was uneventful but when we met up again after dark he asked if I had any bandaids. His hand was all bloody and he said he cut himself. While I started to frantically look for bandaids he told me that the blood wasn't his....this went back and forth for a little bit because I honestly didn't believe him that he had killed one. After some high fives and hearing about how it all went down, we grabbed our packing gear, extra lights and knives and headed up the mountain to where he had taken his shot. We picked up blood and followed the bloodtrail a short 40 yards to his first bull.
It was a long night spent quartering, packing, and hanging the quarters so the next morning we slept in and then spent the mid day around camp. Eric felt that he had found a really well used funnel where he shot his bull. We hadn't heard any bugling and the amount of fresh sign we were coming across was sparse so I decided to head back to the same spot he had killed his bull for my evenings hunt. I started the trek towards his spot early in the afternoon but stayed down low on the ridgeline to wait for the swirling mid-day winds to settle down.
About 3 1/2 hours before last light I started up the ridge and heard a faint bugle a short while later. I kept moving carefully up the ridge and was doing my best to keep the wind in my favor. I come into a patch of open timber and spotted a cow about 150 yards ahead of me. I immediately checked the wind and it was sliding uphill....the panic button was officially pushed when a bugle ripped down the ravine towards me. I had to sidehill away from the elk to keep from blowing them out of there and within seconds of getting the wind into my favor the bull pushed his small herd of cows down into the exact spot I had just spotted the first cow from. When I first seen the bull my heart skipped a beat. He was a 6x6 with long sweeping beams and for a whitetail hunter from the midwest I can honestly say that I had never seen anything like it. He worked his cows and was ripping out bugles repeatedly now.
One of the cows started to slip towards me only to be cut off by the bull. I ranged him at 72 yards and gave a few cow mews. He turned his head and screamed a bugle at me and then just slid downhill in pursuit of his small harem. At this point my stomach was in knots, my throat was parched, and my mind was spinning at a speed beyond explanation. I had come on this trip in hopes that I would just be able to get close to some elk and the situation I was in had me smiling uncontrollably.
With the pungent odor of elk lingering in the air and the bull still bugling at his harem the herd slid out of sight just down hill from me. I beat feet across the draw and up the next point to try to get above them and close the distance. As I neared the top of the point and was slipping towards them the wind hit the back of my neck and I knew it was over. The bugling frenzy immediately stopped and I didn't hear him bugle until he was a half a mile away and headed well up the mountain. I didn't manage to get him but I was instantly addicted to elk hunting, and I can honestly say that it was the most fun I've ever had with a bow in hand.
The next evening brought me into the same area. As I neared where I had run into the herd the previous day I slowed my movement to a snails pace. I heard something crunch through some oak brush a short ways ahead of me and after looking and listening for quite some time I seen the sun glint off of tall antlers ahead of me up the ridge. This evening I had waited for the wind to completely die down and the thermals were working in my favor. He worked across a small opening 55 yards ahead of me and then back across the opening in pursuit of two cows. I slid into a position that gave me good shooting lanes and was just over a small break in the terrain and let out a few excited cow mews followed by a spike squeal then waited.....nothing. After 10 minutes or so I slid up hill 15 yards and seen movement through the heavy cover ahead of me. Two cows were leading the way followed by the bull. I had just enough time to kneel and range a couple of trees. The cows were coming on a game trail that would pass by at 5 yards. As the second cow passed by at spitting distance I drew back only to have the cow spook. She didn't know what spooked her but she knew she had seen something.
The bull held up near a tree that I had ranged at 30 yards while the one cow came straight at me. The bull was in a small shooting lane and was facing straight on, as the cow closed to within 2-3 yards I centered my 30 yard pin a touch over where the bulls neck joined his chest and squeezed the trigger. My arrow flew true and I seen the fletchings dissappear into his chest cavity. He made two bounds to my left as I grabbed another arrow out of my quiver. I looked back up and seen him collapse 15 yards from where I had hit him. As I watched him take his last few breaths I completely came unglued, the long summer spent training and shooting relentlessly had just paid huge dividends with a clean kill on my first elk.