New Mexico, 2007
After years of guiding hunters in New Mexico, my day had finally come. When I started checking the draw results I was in disbelief when the computer screen read that I was successful. Better yet, it was in the unit I have waited my whole life to hunt. I had guided many successful bowhunters there. Now, finally, it was my chance at one of those monster bulls I had chased around every fall. Before I was able to get too excited I had to check the rest of the draw results and see exactly how my schedule would work out for September. Guy Eastman was the only other hunter to draw the same tag; my month was laid out better than I could have ever imagined.
The end of August rolled around and there I was, trying to find some of the bigger bulls I had left the season before. The bulls in that unit tend to be very nomadic. Still, there is the exception of a couple of areas where bulls always seem to congregate. I hit those areas first. I was trying to find a couple of 400 class bulls I hoped might be back in the same places they'd lingered in during the previous season. I scouted the last few days of August and found them. On September 1st I started packing my bow and the hunt was on.
The rut had not started but the waterhole hunting looked to be good. Every hot waterhole I found seemed to be the ticket, but I always seemed to be a day late and a dollar short. The bulls were moving vigorously, getting ready for the rut, and it was hard to determine which waterhole they were going to be at on any given day.
After a few days they started gathering cows and being slightly vocal. That made things significantly easier and I soon started getting an idea of where the elk were going to travel as the rut progressed. The elk in that area tend to find one particular spot to do their breeding. Once that area is established, you will find multiple herd bulls coming together every night to determine dominance. It happens only during the middle and end of September and it is vitally important that you find the right area during the pre-rut.
Luckily, the elk were pretty predictable and it made my job much easier. Guy and Nate Simmons, his cameraman, were going to be showing up in a few days and I wanted to make sure I had the elk patterned for the prime time of the hunt. In the days leading up to Guy's arrival I passed on a few nice bulls, but did not get an opportunity at one of the big boys. I knew that as the days passed things would start heating up and I would get the opportunity I needed. Two days before Guy showed up I finally got close to one of the herd bulls and got a good look at what was I was after. The bull had unbelievable mass and a kicker on his right side. He was a definite shooter, but getting an opportunity at him was not going to be easy.
On September 10th Guy and Nate Simmons showed up at my camp and were ready to go. I explained to them how we were going to hunt and how we needed to set up a drop camp to put ourselves in the best position possible. After an eight-mile hike on opening morning they understood why we needed the drop camp.
We got in on some great bulls their first day, including the kicker bull I had seen before they arrived. They got great footage of that bull and a few others during the morning, but we were patient and made a plan for our evening hunt. Needless to say, they were pretty excited.
I asked Nate if he had ever filmed bulls that big before and he told me, “only in Yellowstone.” Guy and Nate were really fired up about the kicker bull, but little did they know there was a lone bull down the draw that went well over 400. That was a bull I had been trying to kill for a couple of years ï¿½ but never had the right hunter in the right place at the right time. The bull was always alone and hard to kill. He would not bugle, and very rarely put himself in a vulnerable position. He came in at night to breed hot cows. I had caught a glimpse of him while Guy and Nate were filming the kicker bull. He went up into the Junipers all alone and I thought I might have an idea of where he might come out that afternoon.
After setting up our camp during the heat of the day, we headed over to the drainage were the bulls were bedded. Guy and Nate set up in a blind on the nearest water. I set up down the fence line where I hoped the big loner bull might work his way down.
We had glassed the kicker bull with his cows coming out of the Junipers before we got set up, and Guy was banking on him coming down to water that evening. I, on the other hand, was hoping my bull was going to step out in front of me and give me an opportunity to make bowhunting history. With the sun quickly going down, I had still not caught a glimpse of my bull. I did, however, hear the kicker bull screaming his head off. I knew he wasn't heading in the direction of the water where Guy and Nate were set up.
I acted quickly, knowing I had little time with the fading light. Within minutes I had him in sight but just couldn't get in front of him. He pushed his cows through the junipers, and I knew they were heading down into the valley below to feed for the night. Rather than push him, I backed out and met up with Guy and Nate after they had gotten out of the blind. It turned out the loner bull had stepped out in front of their blind right before they got out, and started raking a tree. Legal shooting light had passed and Guy was not able to take a shot. It was quite humorous how the tables had been turned that evening.
The next morning we took off an hour before sunrise and moved into position. Guy and Nate decided to sit in the blind again because of the good possibility of a big bull coming in. The bulls were screaming like crazy. I decided to do it the old fashioned way by getting in front of them for a shot (either by luck or by calling the herd bull off of his cows). My chances were probably better on the luck end, but I was pretty confident in my calling.
After 30 seconds of aggressive cow calling, a massive bull came charging out of the junipers at about 300 yards, running down the draw toward my position. He was running at full speed screaming the entire way like nothing I had ever seen. Within seconds he had closed the distance. Instead of slowing down to find the cow, he charged right on by me. I was momentarily shocked and realizing that he had over ran me, I started mewing very softly.
After 100 yards he finally realized his mistake and slowly trotted back toward me. He was a huge six-by-six that I estimated scored around the 360. He was a beautiful old bull, but he just was not quite what I was looking for. He stood at 34 yards, looking straight in my direction. With drool dripping from his mouth he screamed as loud and deep as he could. It was truly one of the greatest moments I have ever experienced in my elk hunting and guiding career.
He paced back and forth for several minutes, trying to figure out where the lone cow call had come from. He was a great bull, but I knew that there was better to be had.
Meanwhile to my left, I kept hearing a very aggressive bull screaming in the juniper thicket. He was not very far, but I was so focused on the bull in front of me that I had no reason to pay attention to the other bulls. As the six point worked his way down the draw, I suddenly realized the bull to my left was approaching fast. Before I had time to think about it, he charged out of the trees and made a hard right; directly to my position. When I saw the kicker on his massive rack, I knew he was the one.
He trotted with his neck out-stretched and his antlers back; looking for the cow he thought he had left behind. He slowed and came to a complete stop at 42 yards, directly in line with where the other bull had stood only moments earlier. Without hesitation, I drew back and let the arrow fly. When it struck, he wheeled and charged as hard as he could up the draw, but I knew he would not go far.
I waited for Guy and Nate to come out of their blind before we started the tracking. Within 300 yards of the first blood spots we had found the bull. Nate and Guy were elated, because it was probably one of the largest bulls they had had an opportunity to film. I was in disbelief myself because I had seen many bulls of this caliber on the ground, but I had not actually been the one to take the animal. He was one of the most massive bulls I had ever put my hands on, and his rack had amazing character. In my part of the country, he was what we call a real “hammer.” After a lot of celebration, photos, and videos, my hunt was officially over.
Being able to take an elk of this magnitude with a bow is one of the greatest experiences that a hunter can ever have. I normally do not feel pressure when guiding a hunter, but with the tag was in my pocket, the pressure was unbelievable. The hunt made me realize how much I love to be in the field, and how much I love hunting elk during the rut with a bow.
I do not think that there are many other hunts that can quite compare to the thrill of a huge bull screaming in your face at close range. Ironically, two days after I had taken my bull, Guy ended up killing the big six point that stood in front of me two mornings previous. He was a great bull with unbelievable width and a tremendous all-around frame. It was truly one of the most successful archery hunts that I have ever had the privilege of being on. We did not kill the huge loner bull that I have been after for so many years, but at least I have another challenge to look forward to next September.
I would like to thank Guy Eastman and Nate Simmons for all of their help during the hunt. They were truly a joy to hunt with, and I look forward to killing some big bulls with them in the future.
About the Author:
Tom McReynolds owns and operates Black Mountain Outfitters Inc., and can be reached at www.blackmountainoutfittersinc.com or 602-705-4297.