June/July 2012 EHJ (Issue 131) - It was early August and I was planning five western big game hunts for the 2011 season. I had three hunts in New Mexico for pronghorn, Coues’ deer and elk. I also had a Nevada mule deer hunt and a Colorado Eastern plains mule deer hunt. The good news was that I had a lot of hunts planned, but the bad news was that it would not leave as much time as I like to scout before the hunts.
The pronghorn hunt was first and I ended up killing a very nice pronghorn in northern New Mexico. A few weeks later I was off to central New Mexico for my elk hunt. I knew the unit was a good one, but this area was in the midst of one the worst droughts in history and the reports of the elk being killed in the early season were not good. The only good news I was hearing was the rut was extremely late this year and we would be hunting the peak of the rut. Work obligations only allowed me a day and half to scout before the season opened. Truthfully, as I drove to New Mexico I didn’t have high hopes of killing a big bull.
I arrived on Thursday around noon, unloaded my gear, and was off to scout. That afternoon was quiet and I only found a few small bulls. My hunting partner, Jason Wrinkle, who also had a tag, joined me to scout the next day. As the sun began to rise, the elk bugled through the canyon and we spotted nine bulls all after one cow. The herd bull was a beauty and we estimated him at 340 with excellent tops and beam length, but a little weak on the bottom. There was another bull in the group that we thought would go close to 320. I decided that the 340 bull was one that I’d like to try and put my tag on the following morning when the season opened. We decided to back out and come back that evening and try to find him again.
That evening found us back in the same canyon and the bull was about 500 yards farther down the canyon and we watched him work toward water. We then decided to back out and not mess anything up for the morning. We still had about 45 minutes of light, so we decided to go glass one more canyon before dark. Jason was set up near the mouth of the canyon and I walked farther up the canyon to get a different vantage point. After sitting there not more than a few minutes, I glassed the largest bull I had ever laid eyes on. A 6x7 that had it all; width, incredible bottoms and even better mass that went all the way to the end of his beams. Neither of us had ever seen a bull that big on the hoof, but we estimated him at 350. I jumped up and ran down the hill to get Jason who had already spotted the bull. We watched him for about 20 minutes, took pictures through the spotting scope and backed out of the canyon.
After getting no sleep, 4:40 a.m. finally came and we were off to set up on a vantage point and glass for the big bull. As the sun came up we could see elk, but it was still too dark to make out the details. When it was light enough to see, the bull appeared right below us; he had not moved a 100 yards from the night before. Jason could see him perfectly at about 220 yards, but from my vantage point I couldn’t see him to get a shot. Just about then, the wind swirled to our backs and the elk moved out and into the next canyon.
I was sick that the bull might be gone and we would never get that close again. The wind was holding steady, so we decided to leave him alone that afternoon and go hunt the area where we found the first good bull.
The bulls started bugling early that afternoon and before we knew it, we were in the midst of at least a dozen bugling bulls. We were in some very heavy juniper country and we were in close; so close I could have reached out and touched a raghorn that came in. By late afternoon, we were pretty confident we had seen all the bulls in the group except one that I had labeled the "growler.” This bull really didn’t bugle, as he sounded more like a red stag than elk. It was getting dark fast and he was in the next canyon over, so I was literally running to get over to get a look at him.
It didn’t take long to find him on the opposite side of the canyon with his unique bugle. He was a beautiful mature 6x6 that I guessed would go in the 330-class. I ranged him at 280 yards broadside across the canyon. I had my back against a tree and my gun had a perfect rest on my shooting sticks. As he stood broadside and bugled, I took my gun off safety and thought about taking the shot, as he would’ve been the largest bull I’d ever taken. I then put my gun back on safety thinking that I really wanted another chance at the big bull from the morning.
We checked the weather that night and learned the wind was going to be out the same direction the following day, so we decided to go to the opposite side of the canyon and put the wind in our face. As the sun came up that morning, we only found two cows with a small bull. We decided we needed to start working our way up the canyon, as it was getting hot fast.
As we walked up on a ridge in the canyon, I looked over and saw a group of cows and Jason saw them at the same time. I didn’t see a bull, but I heard Jason say, "That’s him!” I immediately hit the ground and got a rest on my backpack. I had practiced all summer for this shot, but I was shaking like a leaf. I watched the bull’s manner and knew that I did not need to rush the shot.
We got up and moved down the side of the ridge to get closer. We looked over the ridge and the group was still there. I laid down and used my pack as a rest when I heard Jason say, "355 yards.” I had to get my breathing under control, as I was winded from the move down the ridge. After a few seconds it slowed and I squeezed the trigger. At the crack of the rifle, the cows ran up the canyon and the bull was slowly walking, so I shot again and anchored the giant.
As we walked up on the bull, we knew he was larger than we had estimated while scouting. We celebrated, high-fived and I stared at the bull for a while in amazement at how big he really was. Jason and I worked the rest of the morning getting the bull out. The bull was green scored later that afternoon at 378 B&C. We had missed the score in a good way…by almost 30 inches! I can’t say that happens too often for me.
That afternoon we found a bull that we had not seen while scouting or hunting. Jason put on a great stalk, made a fantastic shot and his bull green scored 370 B&C. We both killed the largest bulls of our lives and couldn’t have been happier! To take two monster bulls like this in one of New Mexico’s worst drought years was truly special.