New Mexico, 2009, DIY, Public Land
Nine years ago the federal government cut a check for over $100,000,000 to purchase the historic Baca Ranch. This land with the nine-digit price tag is now known as the Valles Caldera. The specs on this property (located in the heart of the Santa Fe National Forest in northern New Mexico) are staggering: 89,000 acres, over a quarter million feet of perimeter, and valleys at 8500 feet stretching to peaks over 11,000 feet elevation. As if its size and location weren’t enough, the government felt this particular piece of property was special enough to be classified as a national preserve. A quote from the National Park Service website puts it in perspective: “A national preserve is similar to a national park, but allows other human activities to occur, such as sport hunting.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Valles Caldera is in the same category as Yellowstone or Glacier, but after having the opportunity to hunt there, I can attest it is a property with major significance worthy of protection for public enjoyment - especially hunting - in perpetuity.
This public land hunt runs like nothing I’ve experienced. Hunters and one or two guests are required to show up for an orientation two days before the hunt. Ranch managers Mic and Dennis Trujillo talk about management of the ranch and emphasize safety. They also remind the group that ATVs, off-roading, shooting coyotes, and shed antler collecting are all prohibited. Each hunter then draws for assignment to an exclusive subunit inside the ranch. I drew number 6/8 and started my hunt sharing this roughly four-mile by six-mile area in the heart of the ranch with two other tag holders.
The day after the orientation is reserved for scouting. I believed I was in for a good hunt when I beat the one in triple digit odds and drew an unguided nonresident tag to hunt the last rifle season during the third week in October. That faith was confirmed on the scouting day as we tortured ourselves waiting for first light by listening to the sound of enraged bulls screaming back and forth at each other. One old bull in particular really got our imagination going with an especially girthy old call that sounded more like a croaky roar than a typical whistle.
When it was finally light enough to pull out the glass, we were treated to the sight of one seven-point and 13 six-point bulls. We counted 40 mature bulls that first scouting day and were thrilled by the amount of vocalization we were still experiencing so late in the season.
For a full account of Steve's adventure, go to page 40 in the June/July 2010 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.