An Incredible Year

By Russell Cunningham

An Incredible YearRussell Cunningham
New Mexico, 2009, DIY, Public Land

In a way, this hunt started back in 1995, when Phil Treadwell and I were roommates at Texas Tech and roping partners for the rodeo team. We not only had roping in common, but we also were both very enthusiastic hunters. Our dream was to do a DIY, public land archery elk hunt in New Mexico. That was over a decade ago, but we talked about it every year since. After graduation, Phil moved to his ranch in New Mexico and has been ranching and hunting ever since. My career path got in the way, and I ended up going to dental school in Dallas with plans to be an oral surgeon. I was unable to take any time to hunt with Phil in New Mexico during my training, but we kept our plans alive.

I started practice with my father’s group in Austin and immediately began planning our elk hunt. Phil said he had room, so I convinced my partner, Curt Cain, to come along. Curt had just gotten a bow the year before and shot a nice hill country buck. He was hooked!

We put in for the draw and drew our second choice, a low priority unit. Phil told us there were not very many elk in the unit, so we were going to have to really work to find them. I knew when Phil said “really work” that we would need to be in the best shape of our lives. Phil has been very successful in roping and hunting, but his success has not come without effort. He has taken worldclass antelope, mule deer, elk, and mountain lion all with his bow while hunting DIY on public land! You can’t do all that without a lot of hard work.

After a short flight and drive, we were at Phil’s ranch. We found ourselves in the middle of thousands of acres of antelope country with the Gila Wilderness as a backdrop. This was a far cry from downtown Dallas and the traffic of Austin.

Phil said he had been scouting and had found a few bulls “bachelored up” in our unit. I could barely sleep, anxious about the hunt and wondering if we could keep up with Phil! We shot our bows a few times and went to bed. The alarm came quickly and we were off.

As we hiked in, Curt and I were wondering if we would ever get there. My legs were screaming at my lungs for more oxygen. We finally made it and began to see the brilliant sunrise and hear the bugling of a distant bull echoing throughout the canyon.

An Incredible Year

For a full account of Russell's adventure, go to page 20 in the January/February 2010 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.