Three years ago I was hunting in central New Mexico in the Santa Fe Forest and Wilderness Area. I had picked out my hunt site from a map that showed a trail going deep into the woods to a high peak. From the map, I saw that I could look down into several different parks (meadows) below the peaks.
Since I wanted to get away from the crowd, I put a quality pack on my back and hiked 4.5 miles in before I started hunting on this day. All along the trail I saw plenty of elk sign. Just before I got to the peak where I was going to look for elk, I cleaned myself up and tried to get rid of as much human odor as I could. Then I slowly and quietly walked a little farther to glass the parks for elk.
My goal was to hunt that afternoon. Even if I didn’t take an elk, at least I’d would know where to start the next morning. That evening I failed to locate any elk. Before I went to hunt, I had set up camp just inside a group of trees. So, as darkness approached, I worked my way back to my campsite. That evening I didn’t build a fire but ate and went to sleep.
I was awakened by elk bugling all around me at 4:30 a.m. Of course I couldn’t sleep, not only due to the bugling but also because I was excited knowing that I might have several bulls to hunt. In the dark, I got to a place where I thought I could call in a bull. At 6:30 a.m., I started calling.
When I call to bulls, I use several different types of cow calls to sound like a herd of cows instead of just one lonely, lonesome cow. I had gone back to the same place I hunted the evening before. As soon as I started calling, I saw four different bulls coming to me. I had set up a Montana Decoy Company’s decoy so that the bull’s attention would be focused on the decoy instead of looking for me.
I've found that when you hunt by yourself, you lose the advantage of having another hunter set up behind you and trying to call the elk past you. So, I like to use a cow elk decoy when I'm solo hunting for two reasons:
- The bull elk will assume that the decoy is one of the cows that’s been calling to him, and he'll be looking at the decoy as he comes in to calling.
- The bull won’t be looking me if I'm sitting off to the other side of the decoy, and more than likely will give me a broadside shot.
I felt really confident that I would take one of these four bulls, because I’d been training for this hunt – through strength and conditioning in my coaching job at the high school and through “Train to Hunt Competitions.” I shoot 3D archery contests too.
The first bull I spotted was 180 yards from me, coming straight to the decoy. As I was watching that bull, I was listening to two more bulls bugle that were coming in from behind me, but I never heard the bull I took bugle. The bull came in to the right of me and gave a light grunt. I turned around and looked behind me, and I could see the silent bull looking at my decoy. I was on my knees. I knew I had to turn a little bit to get a shot at this bull that was much closer than the other bulls. The bull jumped when he saw my movement. Then I mewed like a cow elk, and the bull stopped at about 40 yards.
When I released my arrow, the bull wheeled, ran 30 yards and dropped. I thought I heard the bull fall, but I looked at my watch and decided to wait 35 minutes before I went to him. When I reached him, I saw the arrow had gone through one side of the bull, and the broadhead was stuck in the opposite shoulder.
I knew I would have a hard time skinning, deboning and getting that elk back to my truck that was 4.5 miles away. However, luck smiled on me. Another hunter had been hunting bears close by. When I walked up to my elk, the hunter stepped out from behind some bushes thinking I was a bear. But he spotted me and the elk at the same time. We began to talk and discovered that he was actually hunting in the wrong unit, because he’d gotten lost. He stayed with me, helped me debone the elk and helped me carry that elk the 4.5 miles out of the wilderness to my truck.
I had 100 pounds of meat in my pack and the bull’s head, and the bear hunter put about 100 pounds of meat in his pack. We had to make many stops to rest before we reached my truck. At one of the stops when we both sat down on a log, we couldn’t get back up with our packs still attached to our backs. So, we rocked back and forth until we were finally able to stand up. After exerting that much energy just to stand up, we decided we wouldn’t stop again until we got to the truck. When we reached my truck, we saw his vehicle was parked right next to mine.
This elk hunt for the 5x5 bull that scored 311 inches was the most grueling I remember. However, we were able to get all the meat out in one trip. After we got the meat and the head in my vehicle, I slept for about an hour and a half before I returned to my campsite to break down my camp and carry it out.