July/August 2012 EBJ (Issue 72) - In 2009 my good buddy Chad and I drew two of the six nonresident tags in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico and came home with two bulls that any archery hunter would be more than proud of. Chad’s bull was 343 and mine was 320-class. In 2010, I put in for the tag again but Chad was unable to put in with me. I knew it was a long shot with terrible draw odds, but I couldn’t help not putting in for the tag because of what I had experienced the previous year.
It was August 28, two days before the opener and I was once again heading 900 miles south of my home state of Idaho with yet another New Mexico elk tag. Chad wasn’t able to go, but another really good buddy of mine, Jake, decided to take the journey with me. We took off full of excitement on our 17-hour drive. I was still in disbelief that I was holding another tag one year later. I told Jake if we could come home with a bull like the one I had taken last year I’d be a happy camper. It was a 10-day hunt and with only one tag to fill, I would have more opportunities at a big bull this go around, so I planned on being a little more choosy this time. I figured I’d set the bar at 340.
We arrived at our old campsite and set up camp with just enough time to head out for a short scouting trip. We located a few bulls that night but nothing special. The next morning we decided to head into some country with a few water holes. It was pretty slow being the prerut and the weather was hot and dry, so we thought we would take our chances at sitting over water for the first couple days. A couple bulls bugled at a distance, but shut off shortly after daylight and we were surrounded by a herd of playful cows at the waterhole. Just to sit there, though, at 15 yards from a herd of cows was enough to make my morning hunt enjoyable.
That night I took Jake up to the top of the mountain range where all the magic had happened the previous year. I sent him to a spot with hopes he’d find some good bulls to pursue in the morning. I decided with this warm weather I’d take another stab at a waterhole. I got into the waterhole with a couple hours of daylight left. When I got there, I found an old ground blind that someone had built years ago. As I was clearing up a shooting lane, a good sounding bull bugled not more than 200 yards from me, so I scampered to the old blind and set up. Within five minutes a big 7x8 bull came charging into the water like he owned the place. I sat there with an arrow nocked at 35 yards thinking, "Is this really happening on the first day?” The bull splashed around for a good five minutes, but I couldn’t get myself to send an arrow at him.
I guessed him to be 315-320, but with nine days left and not knowing what Jake had found, I passed on him and watched him leave as fast as he came in. That night I had three other nice bulls come in but nothing pushing 340. As the darkness settled in, I was on my way to find Jake to tell him of all the excitement I had encountered! Jake had also had quite an evening. He was in shock as to how many mature bulls and numerous bugles he had heard that night.
Over the next couple days we spent most of our time on top where Jake had got into most of the elk, but were unable to find much worth going after. We had a handful of bulls in bow range, but nothing worth notching my tag on so we kept plugging on.
The third day of the hunt, September 3, we took off walking from camp on an evening hunt. We were more or less scouting some of the lower country, but after finding nothing around that area, we found ourselves back on top in the same general area we had been hunting before. As we got almost to the top, we started hearing bulls from all directions. Across the canyon were two lone bulls, just feeding and not really acting like they wanted any companions, but they were definitely worth a closer look. We took off on a fast pace and got over there, but they were nowhere to be found. This turned out to be a good thing though, because this is what led us to the bull that I would soon be punching my tag on.
For a full account of Fred's adventure, go to page 38 in the July/August 2012 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.