CLOSE CALL IN NEW MEXICO
Even with all of the preparation for this hunt, nothing could have prepared me for the events that were about to take place. It was a shock, to say the least, and almost resulted in the loss of my trophy Elk while bowhunting at a private ranch in New Mexico.
A Hunt Cancellation
This hunt began with my Quality Hunts business partner and friend Joshua Treadway sending me an email about a hunt cancellation. He knew I wanted to go Elk hunting and had been looking for a ranch with an opening in the fall of 2017. Since it was late August with September quickly approaching I had all but given up on hunting Rocky Mountain Elk this year. I wanted to find a place with a consistently high success ratio and an opportunity to harvest a respectable bull. I had been to New Mexico and bow-hunted for Elk before and came home empty-handed. This time had to be different.
I had just returned from British Columbia, Canada two weeks prior to Joshua informing me of this new hunt opportunity, so this left me little time for preparation. To make matters worse, I had difficulty returning home due to a hurricane that had just made landfall in Houston, Texas where I live and work. Fortunately, I would be a passenger on this trip which made things a little easier since I didn’t need to get my truck ready for the long 12-hour drive. This left me time to focus on work, washing clothes, packing and practicing at ranges up to 70 yards with my Mathews Halon 32. I was very methodical about making sure that I shot every day for at least 30 minutes. I had recently changed to a different type of broadhead with great success and wanted to make sure this would continue. If I didn’t get an Elk this year, the cause surely wouldn’t be because my broadheads weren’t flying correctly. Someday in the near future, I will manufacture and hunt with my own broadhead design but not on this hunt.
My journey to New Mexico began with meeting Joshua at his house then leaving at midday and traveling halfway to our destination. After getting dinner and a good night's sleep in a hotel, we proceeded to the ranch where our Elk hunt would take place.
Upon our arrival, we met the staff including the ranch manager, the cook and our guides for the next five days. After being shown to our room I quickly unpacked and shot my bow a few times so I could rest assured that everything was still in perfect working order. Then came dinner with a glass of wine, a nice hot shower and straight to bed to get a good night's sleep so I could be rested for my first day of Elk hunting in the morning. We had an early wake-up time of 4:30 am.
Morning and Cool Temps
When morning came I quickly got dressed, had a cup of coffee then loaded my pack and bow in the Polaris Ranger. The weather was a cool 43 degrees as we took off on the hour-long ride to where we would be hunting. We arrived 30 minutes before dawn and walked to a meadow where we found ourselves in the middle of an Elk herd. There were a few small bulls and one average size bull with several cows. As I moved closer I kept looking for something larger but soon realized the wind had shifted, and we quickly backed out. As the day progressed we moved to several new areas looking for Elk but with no luck in finding them.
Day 2: Kept Moving, Glassing, and Calling
As day two arrived the weather was much warmer, and the Elk had stopped bugling. This made it very difficult to almost impossible for us when trying to locate the Elk. All we could do was keep moving from one location to another while glassing and calling. Over and over we bugled with no response. With late morning temperatures on the rise, we headed back to the lodge for lunch and to discuss a new plan. After much thought, we decided to go up on top of the mesa where the temperatures were a little cooler. There was a lot of Elk sign but we only heard one distant bugle as the sun dropped below the horizon and day two ended.
Day 3: Cold and Bulls Were Bugling
Much to my surprise when I woke up on day 3 the weather was much colder and the bulls were bugling again. This was great news for me but didn’t mean much to my hunting buddy Joshua as he woke up in the middle of the night with food poisoning. This meant he wouldn’t be hunting that day.
When I went to breakfast I discovered that our cook and ranch manager had called my guide to let him know a herd of Elk had crossed the road by her house about 5 am.
My guide Daniel and I choked down a piece of toast and some coffee then loaded in the Polaris Ranger and took off to find them. Although we couldn’t see the Elk we did get them to return our bugle which gave us a direction. We threw our backpacks on and took off up the mountain. I’ve been told my entire life that it’s impossible to run down an Elk herd if they are in front of you. Never say never!
Daniel and I stayed on the herd for a few hours that morning and finally caught them. We knew we had to be close so we slowly and quietly proceeded.
Black Bear and A Herd of Elk
All of a sudden Daniel froze and said “Black Bear”. We had stumbled on a Bear only 20 yards in front of us. The Bear was feeding and unaware of our presence so we made a slight noise to get his attention. When he spotted us he immediately ran off, so we continued on the trail towards the Elk.
A short 50 yards farther I grabbed my guide by the shirt to stop him as I had finally spotted the herd. Unfortunately, they had spotted us too and took off down the hill and out of sight. Well, that was fun, but it was time to head down the mountain and regroup for the afternoon hunt.
A New Area
After lunch, my guide, Joshua’s guide and I piled into the Ranger and headed to another new area for my afternoon hunt. This particular hunt would prove to be wild and exciting but also very disappointing.
The drive was about an hour long over some very rough and rocky terrain. After stopping about a half mile from the waterhole I checked the wind direction, unpacked my bow, threw on my backpack and off we went.
The plan was to walk into a large meadow that had a waterhole near one end then set up and start calling. Hopefully, I would get a response and eventually coax a large bull Elk in for a shot.
It appeared as if this waterhole was actively being used by the Elk for wallowing and drinking on a regular basis. As we slowly approached from downwind we heard a bugle about 400 yards from us. Then we heard it again as the bull got closer and closer. I knew we had to quickly find cover and get set up for the shot.
THIS WAS IT, they were coming! But before we could get settled a large bull and several Cow Elk stepped into the far end of the meadow. They hadn’t seen us so I immediately ducked behind a few bushes while knocking an arrow, grabbing my rangefinder and waiting. After another very loud bugle, the bull Elk and a couple of his Cows ran across the meadow in a matter of seconds. As the bull approached the waterhole I asked my guide to range him and give me the yardage. His response was 68 yards. Just by looking I knew that was incorrect. I asked again and again for the yardage with no response.
Finally, I picked up my rangefinder and just as I did he whispered 43, he’s 43 yards. By this time the bull had charged into the water and was standing there bugling. I drew my 75# Mathews, took careful aim and released.
My Arrow Found Its Mark
After my arrow found its mark, he bolted about 80 yards into the meadow where he stopped. There were about 5 Cow Elk surrounding him at this time and they were not exactly sure what had just happened. His legs were weak as he was about to go down. All of a sudden the Cows barked and they all took off running.
Poachers On The Scene
While looking towards the Elk my guides and I saw movement in the timber across the meadow. To our amazement, we saw two trespassers/poachers who were trying to get a shot at “MY ELK”.
About that same time, the illegal hunters saw us and took off running as they tried to avoid getting caught. With the remaining 1½ hours of daylight we searched for my Elk, but with no luck.
The Long and Silent Ride
At dark, we took the long and silent ride back to the lodge. All three of us were in shock and in total disbelief over what had just taken place.
After arriving back at the lodge the ranch manager was apprised of the situation, so she called and reported the incident to the local game warden. Although it was doubtful the perpetrators could be identified and captured at this point; the ranch manager still made the call to document the incident.
The next morning Joshua was finally feeling well enough to begin hunting again. While he was hunting for a live Elk, I would be searching for a dead one. My day would be filled with an all-out search for my bull Elk.
After a quick breakfast, we packed a lunch and took off in the Ranger to begin searching at the last known location. The search went on for hours to no avail. No blood, no hair, no tracks, no Elk! After searching and analyzing the situation to death we met back at the Ranger for lunch. The day had gotten warm and we were exhausted.
When we finished eating I suggested that we search at the spot where we heard the last bugle. This bugle came after I shouted at the trespassers and after all of the commotion had ended. I had a hunch that maybe the poachers saw my Elk again and tried calling it closer for a shot. My guide went one direction and I went another. There was a long narrow clearing about 50 yards wide and 400 yards long. I took my time walking, listening and looking since this was our last hope for finding my trophy Elk.
Maybe Just Maybe!
After walking about 200 yards and seeing a lot of Elk sign, I decided to stop for a bathroom break. While standing there taking care of business, I heard one single solitary cry from a Magpie. For some crazy reason, I thought MAYBE JUST MAYBE!
So I headed directly across the open field and into the downed timber. As I weaved through the debris of downed trees I looked to my right and there was my Elk laying in the tall grass.
Relieved and Happy
I was in shock as words couldn’t begin to express how relieved and happy I was at this point. I whistled at my guide to bring the Polaris Ranger to where I was standing. I’m sure it was loud enough for the entire state of New Mexico to hear and maybe even all the way back to Texas.
Unfortunately, the meat was spoiled due to the warm temperatures and sunshine during the day, but I was able to save the cape for a shoulder mount to be displayed in my trophy room along with my other Super Slam species.
One Step Closer to My Super Slam
My intention was to return home with all of the meat but due to the poaching incident that was impossible. With that exception, this close call in New Mexico turned out to be a great trip with the harvest of my trophy Elk and getting one step closer to my Super Slam.
Thanks to Quality Fur Dressing and Quality Hunts for making this possible.