New Mexico Bull Elk

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New Mexico Bull Elk

What a hunt!  We parked the truck and hiked over a ridge at 6:45 am. At 10,200 feet we could see the entire basin so we decided to do some glassing.  Mark raised his binos and said “bingo”; the first place he looked there were several cows and a nice 6x6 bull a little over a mile away.  It was 7:06 am.  I tried bugling to him and he responded along with several others throughout the basin.  Now, we just had to figure out how to get to him.  It was 700 hundred feet to the bottom of the ridge we were on so we climbed down, crossed a creek then climbed back up to where we thought he was.  It took us about an hour and a half to get back up to 9,800 feet.  I tried calling to him for a while; he responded several times but no luck; he wouldn’t come in.  It was about 10:00 so we stopped for a water break and had a snack.  Neither of us slept well the night before so minutes after we sat down under some aspens we were asleep.  I awoke to the sound of something walking through the leaves and when I looked up there were two coyotes standing about 15 yards away looking straight at me!  I called to Mark until he woke up and he was able to see them as they went back down over the side.  I could see a few more behind them too.

               We were awake now and decided to head out so we hiked down into a drainage past a water hole.  There was still snow on the northern facing slopes and we could clearly make out some sizable bear tracks.  We climbed back up the other side to see if we could circle around a glass the southern slope where we thought the elk were bedded when we heard a bugle behind us.  We could see a cow elk lying in the snow on the hillside.  We set up the spotting scope to glass the hillside and heard another bugle only 300 yards or so away.  I started calling and he really got fired up.  Mark belly crawled across the opening and got as close as he could to the other side, about 230 yards.  The bull was on the other ridge behind the trees and we couldn’t see him but we saw dozens of cows as they moved along the hill side.  I thought for sure Mark was going to get a shot.  We just couldn’t get the bull to come out of the cover and show himself.  I decide to sneak to Mark’s left and get as close as I could to call so that maybe the old bull would think I was sneaking around to take his cows and give Mark a shot.  Then, suddenly we saw several bulls and cows running along the hill side.  It was hard to pick out a single elk in all the movement but I could see two smaller bulls and one that looked to be a 5x5.  I had no way of communicating with Mark because he was 100 yards away but I could see he had his gun up.  He had one of the smaller bulls in his sights, a 3x4, and decided to pass, but before he could check out the others they started moving again.  The herd moved on down the ridge.  By this time it was 12:15 so we sat down and had some MREs for lunch.   

After lunch we decided to follow the herd; we had heard the bull bugle a few more times on the next ridge over.  So, we climbed to the top of the next ridge only to realize we had one more drainage and a steep ridge to climb.  When I say steep I mean REALLY steep and snow covered.  It took us over an hour to go down and back up. Now we were on the same ridge as the big heard bull and down wind, things were looking promising.  We hiked about a mile until we thought we were as close as we could get without spooking them and I started cow calling.  The old bull bugled immediately and then another bull bugled from our left that sounded even closer.  Mark dropped his pack and sat up against an aspen so that he had a clear view of the meadow that we anticipated he have to cross.  I dropped back about 50 yards or so and started cow calling.  I would call a few times then move so that I sounded more like a group of cows.  I was moving back around to Mark’s left. I looked and saw that he had his riffle pointed in the direction of the meadow, then BOOM!  The elk came in looking for the herd bull and gave Mark a perfect broad-side shot.  He went right down!  He was still trying to move so I yelled at Mark to put another shot in him.  He was on the ground so it caused Mark’s second shot to be a bit high but it did the job.  He only went 15 yards.  The first shot was at 126 yards and it was a perfect double-lung shot.  It was 3:15.

We skinned him, quartered him and hung the meat as high as we could in the trees so that we could come back the next morning to pack him out.  The lows were in the upper 20’s to lower 30’s at night so it would be fine to leave, as long as a bear or coyotes didn’t find it.  He took the back straps and tender loins with us which weighed our packs down considerably.  My topo map showed a road only .3 miles to the north so we thought this would be a piece of cake.  But, to our disappointment, the road was closed.  The main road was 1.4 miles to the north as the crow flies over rough terrain and once we made it to the road we would have another 3.2 miles to walk back to the truck!  Remember, this is hiking at around 10,000 feet elevation!  The hike back to the road was brutal.   We tried to take the most direct route to the main road; we had to hike down a long drainage then back up a long slope to the road.  We saw a vehicle up on the road but couldn’t get up there in time to flag him down.  Once we got to the top, I saw some reflectors and at first I thought it was someone’s camp or a gate but it was a bicycle.  Then I saw a tent so I said “is anybody home” and from inside the tent we heard “yea”.   He stuck his head out and told us he was biking through, headed south and decided to pitch his camp. Imagine his surprise to have a couple of guys walk up on him in the dark, in the middle of nowhere.  He told us we were almost to the road so we walked a little further, found the road, put our packs and gear under a tree and started for the truck.  We planned on coming back once we got to the truck to retrieve our gear and the meat.  We hadn’t gone far when we saw headlights behind us.  It was a couple of hunters and they gave us a ride to the truck…THANK GOD!  It would have been well after midnight before we got to the truck had they not come along.  We told them about the biker and they told us they had spoken to him earlier and that he was biking from Canada to Mexico!  That explained the big bags hanging off his bike. But, when told them where we'd killed the bull they thought we were loco!  Apparently, that was a lot further from the road they would venture.

We decided that there would be no way we could pack the meat out in one day by ourselves because the closest we could get was two miles away.  This area is a primitive area with only a few main roads, all off-road access is on foot or horseback.  So Mark drove into Colorado to the nearest town so he could get a cell signal and called a buddy who showed up about 9:00 am the next day to help us.  We were able to walk along the closed road but it was still a four mile round trek that took a little over 3 hours.  After two trips we finally got the elk packed out at 5:00 PM.  There isn’t one part of my body that isn’t sore today!  But…Lord willing…I’ll do it all again next year!


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