Dwayne Norton’s First Elk Hunt
Editor’s Note: Dwayne Norton lives in Troy, Missouri, about an hour northeast of the arch in St. Louis. He’s been hunting deer for 35 years, and he's been a Mossy Oak pro for eight years. His favorite camo pattern is Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity, although he uses several different Break-Up patterns. In 2015, Norton fulfilled a lifelong ambition of going elk hunting.
My brother, Brian Norton, who lives in Girard, Kansas, and I always had wanted to go elk hunting together. We had been planning this trip for several years, but we first started seriously planning about 3-years ago. We got together with two other friends and picked a target date. But as we got closer to the time to leave, three of the four couldn’t go on the date we had set.
In April of 2014, my wife and I purchased a new house and moved and became good friends with our next-door neighbors. The wife, Amy McCarthy, liked to ride horses like my wife, and her husband, Kevin McCarthy, was really into guns and hunting like I was. In 2014, Kevin went on an elk hunt and had a terrible hunt. In February 2015, Amy asked me if I would help her organize a guided elk hunt for Kevin’s birthday, and she asked me if I would go with him. So, Amy and I started doing a lot of research. We called a bunch of outfitters and checked out many references. Finally, we decided to contact Cabela’s T.A.G.S., and we picked out an outfitter - Old West Outfitters of Quemado, New Mexico.
We decided to go with Old West Outfitters because:
- The shot percentage or the opportunity to take a shot at a bull was high. Their clients were taking really-big bulls, and their clients were seeing a high number of bulls each day.
- The references that we contacted said good things about their hunts. All the people we called were planning on returning to hunt with Old West Outfitters again.
- The tags that Old West Outfitters had were private land tags, so we didn’t have to go through a draw.
Amy gave Kevin this guided elk hunt for his birthday in March. Kevin builds long-range rifles, and I knew he would want the opportunity to take an elk at long range with one of the rifles he had built. I scheduled the hunt around my triathlon races. Last year I ran three triathlons, and the third of the three was a half Ironman. In 2015, I plan to run six triathlons. Three of them will be half Ironmans. Although Kevin had been on one elk hunt, I never had.
Quemado, New Mexico, has a population of about 300 people. We stayed in an old motel that Old West Outfitters leases for about 4 months that consisted primarily of a bed and shower - no TV and no phone. When I called 3 weeks before our hunt, I told the outfitter that Kevin and I were in pretty good shape. So, if they had some areas their other hunters couldn’t physically hunt, we could go to those places.
Kevin built both of the rifles we took to New Mexico for elk hunting. I was shooting a .300 Winchester Short Magnum, and Kevin was shooting a .300 Norma. Once there, when we sighted in, there was a metal gong at 800 yards, and we hit it with every shot. While we were sighting our rifles in, our guides showed up, and they were the two youngest guides in camp. My guide’s name was Robert, but all the guides had nicknames stitched on their hats. My guide’s nickname was Maverick, and Kevin’s guide’s nickname was Colorado.
I never hunted with someone as intense as Maverick. Every morning we prepared our sandwiches, packed our packs, went into the mountains and hiked for 12 to 20 miles. We covered a lot of territory each day getting to high ridges, setting-up our spotting scope, looking for elk and then going after the bulls. I realized after the first day, keeping up with my guide would have been impossible, if I hadn’t been training for triathlons. My gun weighed 18 pounds, and Kevin’s gun weighed about 22 pounds. We both learned that our guns might have been a little too heavy for the number of miles we had to carry them.
I saw numbers of elk on this hunt, but Kevin didn’t see as many as I did. In the first couple of days, I heard a lot of bugling. The fourth morning we started hunting really high up. While I was taking a break, Maverick was glassing. All of a sudden, he said, “There's an elk standing over on that mountain broadside to us. Grab your stuff, and let’s go.” Since the mountain we had to go down was mainly sand and dirt, we slid down the face of this mountain. When we reached the bottom, we started running through some trees. Every once in a while Maverick would stop and check to make sure the bull was still where he first had seen him. As we left the timber, there was a huge mound of dirt between us and the bull. We worked our way to the top of the dirt mound. When we peeped over the edge, we saw a dirt mound closer to the bull. So, we slid down the mound we just had crawled up, and we kept the second mound between us and the bull.
When we reached the top of the second dirt mound, we noticed a small tree had fallen down there. Maverick put his pack in front of the tree to rest my rifle on, and I rested the back of my gun on the trunk of the tree. My heart was racing, and I had trouble finding the elk in my scope. Maverick moved my gun and whispered, “You're looking in the wrong place.” Once I was settled to take the shot, Maverick ranged the elk at 500 yards. At the rifle range, I’d been accurate from 500 to 600 yards. So, I felt comfortable preparing to take this shot. I was lying prone, and I had a good steady rest and no wind. I looked at my laminated card that had my ballistic table on it, adjusted my scope to shoot dead-on at 500 yards and squeezed the shot off. The bull elk dropped in the same tracks where he'd been standing. The bull scored 345 inches even with a point broken off.
We were only about a 30-minute walk from the truck. However, because of the terrain, there was no way we could get the truck closer to the elk. After we took pictures, we went back to the truck and headed back to camp to get help to bring the elk out. We got the Polaris Ranger and drove it as close as we could to the elk. Then we started skinning, field dressing, quartering and carrying the elk out to the Ranger.
Unfortunately, Kevin was the only hunter in camp who didn’t tag out. Kevin had set his sights on taking a bull that would score 340 or better. Although he saw plenty of bulls and had the opportunity to take bulls that would score between 310 and 315, he passed on them, and other hunters in camp took them. He never saw the bull he wanted, so he had “tag soup.” On the third morning of the hunt, Kevin and his guide spotted three coyotes when they were driving back to camp. Kevin shot the first coyote at 1,644 yards. The second coyote was at 1,100 yards, and the third coyote was at 900 yards. We both had such a good time and saw so many elk that we have a hunt booked for 2016 with the same outfitters and guides. On this hunt, we’re going to try to put a mule deer and elk hunt together.
To learn more about hunting, check out John E. Phillips’ new eBook and print book, “Bowhunting Deer: Mossy Oak Pros Know Bucks and Bows.” You also can download a free Kindle app that enables you to read the book on your iPad, computer or Smartphone.
For information on making jerky from your deer to provide a protein-rich snack, you can download a free book from http://johninthewild.com/free-books.