Posted by Darrell under: Whitetail Deer.
Thad and Jeff (my good friends) both took nice bucks over the Thanksgiving holiday. They were hunting near Austin, Texas where Thad lives. This was Jeff’s first buck and his first archery deer! Thad is a relatively new hunter, but he has become a hunting machine. Congrats guys!
Boy, I wish I could have been there with them.
Posted by Darrell under: Whitetail Deer.
Ok, for those of you asking - here are the Iowa bucks from this year. I hope to post a couple more pics from my friend Chris soon…..
This is buck #1. He is a monstrous deer, well past his prime. He weighed a ton and we guessed him to be in excess of 7 years old. 8 of his 10 points were broken off! He spent some major time this year fighting off the younger bucks that were trying to move in on his territory.
This was buck #2. He was younger and had a nice looking 10 point rack (except for the 2 broken tines).
Posted by Darrell under: Whitetail Deer.
It wasn’t nearly as cold or windy today. In fact, it got up to the mid 40’s. It felt like we were in the tropics. Anyway, you could call today “Dana’s Day”. He was the star of the show and Chris and I were the spectators.
Dana always claims to be a “meat hunter”. The size of the rack doesn’t matter as much as putting meat on the table. Since he doesn’t buy store bought meat and eats only what he kills, putting meat on the table is pretty important for him. Well…. today I got to see a “meat hunter” catch a great case of buck fever!
The morning began with Dana lined up on a giant buck that was tending 9 does. The only problem was that he was 200 yards out (which is a long ways for a shotgun). Anyway, Dana had plenty of excitement really early and although we didn’t close the deal on the giant, I had a great time just spectating. To give you and idea of what a healthy case of buck fever can do to a guy, I’ll just tell you that we had to return to our hunting locale to retrieve Dana’s gun (somebody completely forgot it!).
Our next hunt was also pretty cool. Dana and I were drivers and Chris was blocking. Since I don’t have a buck tag, I’d decided not to shoot a buck unless it was a real monster (in Iowa you can party hunt which means you can shoot a buck even if you don’t have anymore tags as long as someone in your party is willing to tag it for you). I didn’t want to use anyone else’s tag unless it was a monster.
I had a nice 8 point at 20 yards that I let walk. I don’t know why but I really enjoy letting deer walk. The fact that I know I could have taken it and didn’t is as rewarding as actually taking it (I know, its weird). Chris almost got that buck, but after offering himself to me, he wised up and lived to see another day.
On the next hunt, I was one of the drivers while Dana was a blocker. Dana was in the same spot where he got his buck on Saturday AND where he got his buck last year. Anyway, we saw lots of deer while driving. I had a 8 point and a 6 point and a doe at 60 yards. Again, I chose to let them go. Dana closed the deal on a big bodied 7 point. His “meat hunter” instincts kicked in and another deer was down.
We had lunch and headed out to the Danker place. We saw 17 deer on this farm and 3 bucks. I had one of the bucks and 8 does at 200 yards. He wasn’t the biggest buck I’ve ever seen and I let him walk. Although, realistically, if I had decided to take him, the 200 yards separating us would have made it difficult.
Dana had these same deer run across a corn field to him (about 800 yards). The hung up below a terrace about 300 yards from him. From my vantage point, I watched as Dana did his best imitation of a worm and crawled up to the backside of the terrace where the deer were. He popped over the terrace and took a huge doe. It was pretty cool to watch.
He jumped 8 more deer, including a big buck (one I would have gladly shot) before we made it out of the field. I got to watch those 8 deer cross into the section North of me. If only I could have been a mile to the north. Oh well.
We spent the last hour actually still hunting. It was almost like back home, except I was on the backside of a terrace watching a brushy ditch. Nothing. Then, on the way back to the house we saw a monster buck. He was one of the deer that the locals all talk about. He was grazing peacefully in a bean field about a 1/2 mile from where we had spent the evening hunting. That is hunting.
Here are the tallies for the day:
1 Buck (huge shooter), 9 Does
1 Buck, 3 Does
Chris’s New Lease
3 Bucks, 5 Does
Dana got a 7 point buck
3 Bucks, 14 Does
1 Giant Buck
42 Total Deer. 9 Bucks. 2 DEAD DEER (1 buck, 1 doe).
Many of you reading these posts probably wonder how we can see so many deer and harvest so few. As hard as it is to believe, these deer are hard to kill. You can see deer 2 or 3 miles away and you are limited to hunting with slugs. Seeing a big buck and getting to within slug range are 2 different things.
The forecast for tonight is snow. They are calling for 4 to 6 inches which has us all excited. I’m hoping for a monster buck tomorrow, but regardless, this has been a great hunt here in Iowa.
Here is a picture of Dana and his deer:
Posted by Darrell under: Whitetail Deer.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
It was another bitterly cold day. When we started out at 7:00 am it was 17 degrees with 20 mph winds out of the south. I don’t know what the official wind chill was, but I’ll tell you it was COLD!
The day began with me shooting at and not getting a doe. I ranged it at 148 yards and thought I’d drop it with no problem. I was wrong. The time I spent sighting in my shotgun seemed to be all for nil. I had it set dead on at 150 yards, which made the Hornady 300 grain sabot slugs I’m shooting about 3 inches high at 100 yards and 6 inches low at 200. I followed this up with 2 beautiful misses in a row. I was shooting at a doe at what I thought was 200 yards. The problem is that I have difficulty with perspective when a deer is standing in a corn field.
I aimed at the top of her back and thought each of the shots would be on. I had, earlier, ranged a spot in the fence at 180 yards. I thought she was standing 20 yards beyond that. I was wrong. I found later that she was about 70 yards beyond the spot I had ranged, which put her at 250 yards. I found clumps of hair at 250 yards. My slug must have shaved it off her belly as there wasn’t a single spot of blood and she didn’t act hurt.
A couple misses in a row sure doesn’t do anything for your psyche. Especially when you have a police sniper along for the hunt. Anyway, I was beginning to doubt 1) my gun, and 2) my general hunting ability. Fortunately, the deer here in Iowa were again much CALMER than they were at this time last year. They are running, but not nearly as fast or far.
On the next hunt I was set up as a blocker. The spot I set up on was about 70 yards away from where I set up and got my buck last year. I was down in a brushy bottom and the drivers were walking in from the east. They were starting about a mile away so I was prepared to be waiting a while.
After about 30 really cold minutes I heard some noise back to the west of me (directly behind me) and a huge bodied buck went shooting by me on the outside of the brush and he angled down into the brushy bottom I was watching. To be honest, I never saw his rack. I saw that he had one, but I couldn’t see how nice (or not so nice) it was. The thing I was focused on was the size of this deer’s body. It was huge. Looked like a horse with horns!
I picked a spot in the brush at about 60 yards in front of me and waited for him to step into my crosshairs. When he did, I squeezed the trigger. He hunched down and I knew that I hit him. You can just imagine my surprise when he turned and came running at me full speed. I didn’t even have time to put him in my scope. I just raised pointed and fired. He was so close that I actually had blood and tissue blow back on me from the shot. I’ve never shot a deer that close before. Especially one that looked like he was intent on killing me. Everyone was kind of shocked to see this buck laying dead within 5 feet of where I was sitting!
He turned out to be an eight point. His rack was in bad shape, with several of the points wore down or broken and one of the brow tines broken completely off. He probably weighs just shy of 200 lbs field dressed, so I’ll get lots of good venison from him. He was the only buck I saw on this hunt, but apparently there was another big one with a massive rack that went some other direction than towards me.
The next hunt was also eventful. We hunted the ranch timber and I was one of the drivers, along with Dana. I walked the south side of the timber while Dana worked the North side. Dana had deer in front of him for much of the drive. A buck and a doe went right towards Mike. Unfortunately, Mike’s rear sight had fallen off his gun and so he was in trouble. A different doe and a buck came back towards Dana and I and we heard Andy fire her (yes, Andy is a girl) muzzle loader. It was a 200 yard shot and she missed. She felt confident taking a 200 yard shot because she practices a lot and her husband is a sniper who routinely takes 1000 yard shots.
After lunch we headed over to the Danker farm. I was a blocker once again and found myself posted in the middle of brushy draw. After a few minutes a doe came into the doe on my right side and behind me. She came to within 15 feet and then took off like she was shot out of a cannon. Apparently, I was standing right in the spot where she wanted to go. Later, another doe came out of the draw about 100 yards to the west (behind) me and across a field. I couldn’t see it, but I heard it bust out of the brush and I ran to the top of the hill. I shot her at about 100 yards from behind. The shot I took is generally referred to as a Texas Heart Shot (which means right up the hiny hole) and she dropped. No meat was ruined and I had my second deer of the day.
Later in the afternoon Andy nailed a doe with her muzzle loader. She played it pretty cool, but we could all tell she was really excited. She made a perfect liver shot and the deer just dropped. It was a good conclusion to a productive day. Here are the tallies from our hunts today:
3 Does, I did not recover one that was shot at 148 yards
1 Buck, (shooter)
8 Doe, I missed one at 250 yards (shaved hair)
I got a horse like 8 pt with 60 yard and 1.5 yard shots
4 Does, 2 bucks
4 Does, I got a nice big doe that was on full run at 100 yards with texas heart shot
2 Does, Andy took one with her muzzle loader
40 Total Deer. 5 Bucks. 3 DEAD DEER.
I meant to get pictures today, but never did (forgot to bring my camera). Hopefully, I’ll have some tomorrow, though. Iowa allows party hunting and so even once your tagged out, you can continue to hunt as long as someone in your party has unfilled tags (and doesn’t mind you filling them). So, it looks like I’ll be able to continue hunting.
I’ve jumped lots of pheasants, a dozen or more rabbits, and several coveys of quail. I might just switch over to hunting them tomorrow or Tuesday.
Posted by Darrell under: Whitetail Deer.
Saturday December 6, 2008
Today was first day of Iowa shotgun deer season. We awoke at 5:00 am to temperatures hovering around freezing and a NW wind of 20 to 30 mph. The temperature seemed to drop throughout the day and the wind never stopped. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time shivering today!
I was hunting with Dana, Chris, Mike, and Andy. Dana is my friend from Missouri and Chris and Mike are his Iowa relatives (and my friends, too). We were in the field from before daylight until dark. All told we saw 53 different deer, of which 11 were bucks. We did 11 hunts and the following are the tallies from those hunts:
1 Buck (shooter), 3 Doe
6 Bucks (3 shooters)
2 Buck (1 shooter)
53 Total Deer. 11 Bucks. 1 DEAD DEER.
The only deer taken by our group today was taken by Dana. He was in the exact same spot where he killed his buck last year. The buck he killed today had a large body but not much of a rack. In fact, he was deformed and Dana said he took him because he needed to be harvested for the sake of the gene pool. Regardless, we have meat for the freezer!
I saw 4 nice shooter bucks today, but didn’t ever have a shot. I could have taken a couple shots but decided that I’d wait for a shot I was more confident about. The deer hunting was a little different today than it was last year. Most of the deer, while moving, were not on a full out dead run. The deer that Dana shot actually died like it was supposed to without running an extra mile or two. In fact, I’d say the deer, overall, were much calmer.
Don’t have any pictures today, but hopefully I’ll have some pictures from a big one tomorrow.
Posted by Darrell under: Whitetail Deer.
This monstrous buck was taken by me at about 1:30 in the afternoon on opening day of Missouri’s 2008 Firearms Season. This is the biggest whitetail buck I’ve ever taken. When I first saw this buck poking his head out from the woodline my heart probably skipped a couple beats. Even at the distance and with the naked eye, I could tell that he was a good buck. When I pulled up my binoculars and got a decent look at him I was stunned. Even with all my trail cameras and scouting, I had never seen this particular buck before.
It took 2 shots to drop him. I took the first shot at 320 yards. After the shot he turned and ran back into the woods. A few moments later, several does burst out of the woods and headed across the field. They were at about 270 yards. Much to my suprise, this bruiser was right behind them. My first shot would have dropped a lesser deer. This one acted like it hadn’t even phased him and I was worried that I missed. In fact, I didn’t realize that my first shot hit him until I caped him!
My second shot hit him dead center in the chest just behind the front leg. It was 270 yards. I was shooting my Browning X-bolt Medallion .325 WSM. After the shot he ran about 50 yards and fell over dead. His antlers didn’t get any smaller the closer I got.
As you can imagine, I was (and am) quite excited. You don’t see deer like this every day in SW Missouri. We’ve been managing the property I hunt on for whitetail and turkey for the past several years. It seems that our efforts are starting to pay off. There were 3 large bucks taken off the property this year. I saw at least 10 other large bucks during the firearms season! Caleb, my son, got close to getting shots on two of those monsters. Maybe next year?
On the 800+ acres I hunt, the following deer have been harvested through firearms season: 3 mature bucks (8+ pts, 4+ years old), 3 button bucks (not intentional), 8 does. So, about 1 deer has been harvested for every 60 acres or so. I’d have preferred if we had not harvested any button bucks and if a few more does had been taken. However, I’m overall pleased with the results of 2008. We’ve still got a few weeks before archery season ends.
Posted by Darrell under: Whitetail Deer.
During Firearms season in Missouri (which just ended), a little over 200,000 deer were taken. The Missouri Deparment of Conservation has a nifty little online tool to use for checking the Harvest totals if you are interested.
Fortunately, my friends, family and I were able to participate in the harvest. We had a great season and I thought I’d post a couple pictures. The first is of my son Caleb and his doe from this year. It is the second deer that he has taken. I was with him, of course, and it was a great experience for us together.
This next picture is of my brother in law and his nice 8 pointer
Finally, but not least is this massive whitetail buck that my friend Dana took on a neighboring farm. When he sent me the picture I originally thought he had sent a picture of one of the IOWA bucks that we will be hunting together in a week or so. This is HUGE for a Southern Missouri deer.
Posted by Darrell under: Whitetail Deer.
My dad took his first deer of 2008 last week. Congrats to him! When I was younger, my dad was addicted to archery hunting. This was in the early days of compound bows and dad just loved them. At this time, over 20 years ago, I was an avid traditional archery fan and he was really into the much more modern and faster compound bow. He used to tease me all the time about how slow my 45# recurve was compared to his huge, heavy compound.
He would explain the benefits of speed and let-off, etc, etc and I would scarcely pay any attention. I was perfectly happy shooting a recurve and had no interest in compounds. Well, it is amazing how times change. I now really enjoy shooting a compound bow and citing all the virtues that my dad was sold on years ago (I still love shooting a recurve too).
Dad just got back into archery hunting after a hiatus of about 20 years. He was so busy working he just couldn’t take time for bow hunting and he got away from it. Now, with a little encouragement, he is back and loving it. Interestingly, though, I think my dad is still shooting the same bow that he shot 20 years ago. We tease him relentlessly when he shoots with us as it must take his heavy metal arrows and massive tips two or three times longer to make it to the target than our carbon fiber arrows (seems this way at least). We all swear we can see a significant arch in his shots from 20 yards and we tease that his equipment is probably collectible by now!
Anyway, he has taken our teasing good naturedly and assured us that when the time comes he can still make his shot count. “If it was good enough then, why isn’t it good enough now?” is his logic.
He obviously has gotten the last laugh. He has connected with and dropped a deer with his one shot so far this season. You can’t argue with those statistics! BTW, I did shoot my first archery deer of 2008 a few weeks ago out of the exact same stand from where he got his. Dad was watching and waiting on a nice buck when the doe came in and gave him a shot that he just couldn’t pass up (no bucks were present when I shot my doe). “Always Take the Bird In The Hand” was his response to my questioning. No venison eater can argue with that sound logic.
Congrats dad on a nice deer and a great shot - albeit with ‘ANTIQUE’ equipment.
Posted by Darrell under: Elk.
If you followed my account of day 1, you can just imagine how dissapointed I was to miss a big 6×6 on opening day. On the other side of the emotional spectrum, I was very excited to have seen so many elk and to have had an opportunity at a big bull.
I awoke at 4am looking forward to the very difficult hike in the dark to the finger which we would glass from. Caleb was completely worn out from the previous day and decided to rest up in preparation for day 3. Naturally, I was concerned that the elk would not show back up and was afraid that I’d spooked them the day before with my errant shot. We arrived in our spot before first light and rested for a few minutes before the first rays of sunlight became visible behind the mountain peaks. It was another glorious day in the mountains!
Unfortunately, though, our elk weren’t around. There were no elk on any of the burn peaks that we were glassing. I began wondering if I had missed the only opportunity I would get at a bull on this hunt. The forest was silent. The bugling elk of yesterday were long gone. Man, was I dissapointed.
We spent a couple hours glassing and waiting and slowly moving from spot to spot in order to thoroughly glass the three major mountainsides that were visible from our position. The elk were gone! Butch, my guide, suggested that we climb up and over one of the mountains that we were glassing (the same one we had seen 50 cows and 3 bulls on yesterday). I told him I was definitely game. So, we began the long and tedious hike/climb. Butch told me that there was another burned mountainside on the back side and opposite the mountain we were climbing. It was several miles from any roads and was not visible from any roads so it would be highly unlikely that any adventurous hunters had hiked into this area and/or spoiled the spot.
Butch, was again right. There were elk on the opposite mountainside. We moved into position across from them and set up about 250 yards away. Several cows, a 4×4, and a 5×5 bull were grazing on the mountainside. The bulls were pretty quiet. We watched and waited, hoping that a big bull would come in. None ever did. I did get to watch all of the cows and a couple of calves bed down on the mountainside. They must have felt pretty safe because they basically bedded down right out in the open where they were vulnerable.
After assuring ourselves that no big bulls were close by, we began the hike back to the truck. We had seen a few elk and even some bulls, but it was a totally different ‘feel’ than the previous day. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I might have missed my only opportunity.
We went back to camp and rested for a couple hours. I made good use of the time by falling fast asleep. I awoke feeling rested and ready to go find some elk. Butch suggested that we go to a different area that he was familiar with and make a long hike and long climb to another remote burned mountaintop that wasn’t visible from any roads or trails.
The road that we took into this area was terrible with huge rocks and holes. I’m sure I hit the windshield with my face a few times on the drive in. We would be hiking about 2 1/2 miles from this “road”. I couldn’t help but thinking that the elk probably didn’t pay too much attention to the road as very few sane people would ever attempt to traverse it. But, it was Butch’s truck and he didn’t seem concerned in the least about the state of the “road” we were travelling.
When we finally parked the truck I felt like I had been in the ring with a heavyweight boxer. My body was beat up. I was eager to get out and begin our hike! After about 1.5 miles of climbing UP we heard the beautiful sound of a bugle. The sound was coming from below us and we begin making tracks toward it. I couldn’t help but think about if we didn’t catch up with it we were going to have to re-climb the mountain we’d been climbing on for the past hour and a half. It was sure taking a lot less time to go down the mountain than it took to climb up it.
We ended up in a beautiful wooded valley. It had nice grass and Butch informed me that it eventually led down to a big dirt water tank. He thought the elk might be working their way towards the tank. All of a sudden, Butch, dropped to the ground. I quickly followed. Than I watched in amazement as several cows came in just up the valley from us. They were completely obvlivious to us, even though we were basically out in the open. We had no cover at all! Yet, we sat there watching the cows and their calves play together. The bull continued to bugle periodically from somewhere behind them, although we could both tell that he was on the move.
We watched the cows and calves play for nearly 30 minutes. The calves would chase each other in circles and the cows would occassionally jump up and touch heads with one another. It was awesome to just sit there and watch. All the while, we could hear our bull moving away from this group of cows. Butch told me it was time to move and we again began quickly making our way towards the last bugle we had heard. The bull was moving away from us and moving fast (covering 200+ yards between bugles), so we had to really pick up the pace. We weren’t quite running, but were as close as you can be without actually doing it. Well, Butch wasn’t technically running, but I was in order to keep up with him.
We caught up with the bull. He was standing in a brushy area about 12o yards directly in front of us and a big cow was with him. We both dropped to the ground and Butch quickly set up his shooting sticks for me. I had a little trouble finding the bull in the scope because of the brush and since he was directly facing us. My only shot was straight on at his chest.
I waited a few moments to see if he would turn and show me a shoulder, but he never did. Butch whispered that I needed to take the shot because the cow was getting ready to run and he would follow. Just as the cow started to leap, I pulled the trigger on the bull. My shot, amazingly, was excellent. It looked like a solid hit and he went just a few yards before piling up dead. The .325 WSM did it’s job incredibly well.
My elk was down and I was thrilled. This, though, is when the real work begins. After taking pictures, Butch suggested that we field dress the elk rather than quarter it. He said that it was only about 1.5 miles from the road and he could drive up the mountain to retrieve it and we could then throw it in the back of his truck. I laughed because I thought he was joking. He wasn’t!
Butch field dressed the elk. I remembered hearing a story of a mountain man crawling inside an elk in order to survive a brutally cold storm. I could definitely see how it would be possible. These animals are huge. I still couldn’t imagine how we could get the truck up the mountain to where the elk was or how we could load it without a cherry picker.
Anyway, after we got the elk field dressed and tagged we hiked back down to the truck. It was well past dark by the time we made it to the truck. Butch had flagged a path on the way down. I still thought he was crazy as the path included trees that were quite close together and enormous rocks and boulders. I kept thinking that maybe he was playing some kind of joke on me. I was wrong.
Anyway, we returned to camp, driving down the worse road I’ve ever been on. Then after a good meal, Caleb, Butch and I returned to the mountain to retrieve my elk. The road was just as bad the 3rd time and I kept imagining breaking an axle on the side of the mountain and hiking the several miles back to camp. When we got to the end of the road, Butch true to his word, started following his flags back to the elk. I still can’t believe that he drove his truck through and over some of the obstacles that we traversed. I’d say that Butch has a lot more faith than I do.
We made it to my elk and I waited for Butch to unload a pulley system or a come-along or something with which to load the elk. He didn’t. He simply tied a short piece of rope between the two back legs and told Caleb to get into the back of the truck. Butch and I then lifted the two back legs up until we had them resting on the tailgate. At this point Caleb was told to grab the rope and keep on pulling. As Caleb pulled, Butch and I both bent our knees, reached under the elk, and locked our arms together. We would lift up with legs and as we inched the elk up, Caleb would pull it up into the truck. I would have never guessed that two guys and a kid could load a 800 lb animal into the back of a pickup truck, but we did and it wasn’t really that hard. Butch told me that him and his wife can load an adult elk into the back of a truck - by themselves. I believe him.
We all survived the ride back to camp. I still find the pack out of our elk hard to believe and I was there!
We slept in on day 3 and spent the bulk of the day working on the elk. While Butch caped and quartered it, Caleb and I de-boned it and washed the meat. I put it in coolers with ice and salt water. We drove back to the lodge in the afternoon and put the cape in Wade’s freezer. After showers, we made our way back to camp - secure knowing that the cape was well cared for. Wade and Andrea came out to Camp and had dinner with us - ribeyes and homemade Jalapeno poppers (which were amazingly good).
We got up early again and Butch fixed a big breakfast. Wade, Butch, Caleb and I were going bear hunting! We spent the morning moving and glassing for bears and the afternoon watching a waterhole where Butch had been seeing a big bruiser. Unfortunately, we never saw a bear. However, we saw several cow elk, over a dozen mule deer, and even some antelope - so the day was another great day in the mountains.
Caleb and I decided to pack up and start back home this evening. Caleb wanted me to take him to Carlsbad Caverns on the way home and I agreed that it would be fun. We took our time on the way home and we both enjoyed visiting Carlsbad. I spent the entire day after we got back processing the elk meat and I must say that it is some of the best meat I’ve eaten.
Our trip with Wade Johnson was a tremendous amount of fun and I can’t wait to hunt in New Mexico again. I will definitely use Wade Johnson and crew again in the future!
Posted by Darrell under: Elk.
We were up at 4 am. Butch, my guide for the week, woke Caleb and I and after a a quick snack we drove towards the area we would be hunting this morning. Butch had previously scouted this area and had seen a couple 300+ quality elk in the area. We began our hike about an hour and a half before first light and the moon was bright enough that we were able to go in without lights. The hike was intense. Caleb and I had not yet aclimated to the elevation and you could hear both of us breathing as we tromped along as quietly as our lungs would permit.
We were working our way towards a finger that would allow us to glass 3 different ridges that had all previously burned. This hike in the dark was somewhere between a mile and a mile and a half - which doesn’t sound like much. But, trust me, a mile in the mountains in the dark seems like a really long ways. Butch told us how the elk would work their way across these mountain tops on their way to the dark timber where they would bed for the day. We couldn’t be sure which of the three areas they would come across, so we were positioning ourselves somewhat in the middle. The idea was to have all three visible come daylight and to be ready to immediately begin glassing them. Then, if we saw some, we’d be able to take off towards the right mountain and intercept the elk on the way to their bedding area.
Butch said the elk would likely be moving and we would have to really hustle in order to be able to get set up for a shot while trying to intercept them. Made sense to me - at least in concept. It would be interesting to see if we could actually pull it off, though. I was still a little skeptical after hearing how few elk had been killed in the Gila so far this year.
We were in position by daylight and began glassing at first light. We soon saw cows on one of the burns and began quickly working our way towards them. We were able to set up about 200 yards from the first cows. I was absolutely shocked when bulls started bugling. I just didn’t expect it. I had been told that it had been an extremely quiet rut and we were well past the rut. Apparently, though, some cows came into heat late (phase 4 of rut) and the bulls were going crazy. Was I ever pumped!
Soon, we had bulls following the cows. First a small one. Then, a nice 5×5. And, finally a big bruiser of a 6×6. This was the elk of my dreams. Unfortunately, though he had been in a recent fight and the top part of one side was completely broken off and gone. Butch informed me that it had been broken off real recently, since this was one of the bulls he had scouted. It was incredible to be able to watch that bull through my scope at 200 yards and see him bugling that close up.
After watching this group of 50 cows and 3 bulls we heard a couple of bulls start fighting. And I mean they were really fighting. It was so loud that it sounded like they were right on top of us. Butch said “come on” and we found ourselves pretty much running through the mountains in order to get in to position to see these fighting bulls. If you’ve never ran in the mountains with a hundred pound pack on your back you probably won’t be able to understand just how hard it is to breathe. I probably sounded like I was dying as I panted for air.
The fighting stopped and one of the bulls started screaming. He was really lighting the forest up and it sounded like he was right on top of us. Turns out he was. As I’m running and panting for air, our guide comes to a screaching halt. His glasses go up and he screams “shoot the bull”. At this point, I hadn’t even seen the bull yet. But, I turn my head to the left (in the general direction of his binoculars) and sure enough a beautiful bull is hurling right towards us on the heels of a cow. I cycle a shell into the chamber and pull my gun up. The bull has stopped in some heavy brush only 80 yards away! I can clearly ee his vitals in a 6 inch wide gap between two big trees. Well, I can see this with my naked eye, but cannot for the life of me see it in the scope.
I had dialed my scope up to 14 power while watching the other bulls and in the ensuing melee of running for these elk I had forgotten to dial it back. That simple mistake likely cost me this elk. I adjusted my scope, found the elk in it, and gently squeezed the trigger. As I was in my trigger pull the elk turned away from me and I missed. I feel confident that if I had pulled the trigger even 1 second sooner my hunt would have been over right then and there. But, as fortune would have it, I missed.
You can imagine how devastated I was. While dressing for the hunt just a few hours before I was hopeful to just see an elk. Now, I had missed a beautiful 6×6. Sure, I could come up with all kinds of excuses. I was panting hard and out of breath. It was a super fast off hand shot. There was heavy brush. Try as I may to convince myself that it was OK, the fact was that I MISSED, and it wasn’t like I missed a 300 yard shot with bad crosswinds or something exciting like that - I missed a standing shot at an animal as big as a horse at only 80 yards.
Missing really messes with your psyche. I had to really concentrate to get past it and convince myself that I would nail my next shot. Caleb kept telling me that he couldn’t believe that I missed a shot like that and Wade just loved teasing me about it (in the good natured way that hunters will taunt their compadres).
I was happy that the miss was clean, though. I would have hated wounding the elk and spending the next few days trying to find an elk that may or may not die. So, if you are going to miss, a clean miss is by far and away the best kind of miss.
We decided to get out of that area and return the next morning. We didn’t want to do anything to further spook the elk. Butch was pretty sure that they were OK, since the one I shot at went right back to bugling again within 30 seconds or so of my shot.
We spent much of the remaining morning and afternoon scouting watering holes. We saw 3 cows leaving one of the holes which was really cool to see. That evening we set up on a ridge where we could see and glass for miles. We saw a couple cows and watched a 280 class 6×6 get up from his bed and head towards a ridge. He was about 600 yards away and the idea of taking a shot a him didn’t really cross my mind. New Mexico hunting hours are 3o minutes before sunrise until sunset, so shooting hours end while you can still see quite well. I was probably pretty quiet this evening because my focus was on tomorrow morning and finding those bulls again.
We had a great dinner that evening. Butch’s wife, Tonya, was the camp cook and she did an excellent job of keeping us well nourished. She would make a great dinner each evening and prepare a portable breakfast and lunch for us to pack each morning. Butch warned me not to expect to hear the bulls bugling again as it was likely an anomoly that we had heard them so much this morning. I went to bed concerned about seeing bulls again in the morning and about making my next shot count.
My next post will be about Day 2 of my hunt.