Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Elk Adventure 2014

A few years...scratch that.. FIVE years ago, I achieved a life-long goal when I took a cow elk and last blog report, I talked about hunting.  Now, the cow elk was pretty cool, but I love bull elk antlers and so my next goal was a bull elk, even better if I could call one in and hear it bugle at me.  Elk license in hand, that's what we set out to do last week.  Here's my report.

Scouting, Friday:

My long-time falconer friend, Michael Melloy came up from ABQ to go hunting with me.  During scouting on Friday afternoon, we hiked up to some areas that Derek and I had located while turkey hunting back in April.  On the hike in, we bumped into- almost literally- a medium sized black bear that was feeding along the slope.  Mike had his camera out, I had my .40 S&W out.... we had a stare down until I played Bear Whisperer and said "Yo, what up, homey?" and he eased off (although we bumped into him again later).  Unlike April, we saw a couple of turkeys, too.  On the trip out, Mike spotted one small 4x4 bull sparring with a couple of cattle. He's not the elk I'm looking for so we just ignored him.

Bear on hillside

Day 1, Saturday:

Mike and I headed out in the early morning and watched a nice bull with some cows moving away from some other hunters.  We pursued, but we lost them in the timber.  The weather quickly got warm, so we just sat and glassed for a long time.  After awhile, a spike came up from the lower elevation, again probably pushed by other hunters and we followed him a little bit before deciding to head home and trying to trap a prairie falcon for Mike.

Saturday's view

There's an elk!  In that canyon 5 miles over....

Day 2, Sunday:

We did church and then after a solid "Mexican Steak" at Sierra Grande Restaurant, we were ready to explore some new country in the afternoon. We bid Mike farewell, as he had to return to his day-job, and Derek and I headed out. We hiked up a ridge and glassed both sides where I found a good bull about about a mile away across two canyons. The wind was not in our favor and it would be a brutal haul getting him out, so we decided against going after him (and back home, I confirmed that he was on private land).

Working the other side of the ridge, we found lots of rubs but not much fresh poo, and no elk. Saw a couple of mule deer and I heard my first coyotes. I have some new hearing aids that give me a lot of "sound" and I swear those coyotes were RIGHT THERE. Derek thought they were close, too, mabye just over a hill we'd just walked over, so we took a look but didn't spot them in the falling light.

Heading back to our ATV's in the dark, rocky, rough downhill, we got caught up in a herd of Longhorn mommas and calves also moving down the hill. I didn't know this herd and didn't want to get speared by a big protective cow with 6' long horns, so we moved to the side, over-shot our ATV's by about 3/4 mile, and ended up getting a ride back from the rancher.  It was tough walking down the ultra-rocky mountain in the dark- one of my least favorite parts of hunting- but we made it out alive. It was 10 pm when we got home.

Day 3, Monday:

I had a lot of work to do, including shipping a guitar and reorganizing some gear, and Derek and I were both tired from the previous evening, so we decided to take a break until Tues.  I got my work done and spent a lot of time fooling with Google Earth, finding the much desired topographic overlay that I'd been wanting for a long time.  Derek went to his first 4H meeting and all in all, it was a good break.  We spent the night at church, it being just a few minutes away from our destination on Tues.

The Mighty Assistant Hunter takes a break

Day 4, Tuesday:

With instructions from the rancher, Derek and I headed out to a new place, getting a good early start from our church vantage point.  Riding along in the dark down a new road, we only got lost a few times.  At the start, I'd noticed that Derek had his pack tied to the rear of his ATV.  I told him "I like to tie mine up front, so if it falls off I'll see it".  He thought it was snug so off we headed, me leading.  When we finally got to our destination and dismounted our steeds, I heard Derek's "UGH!!!" and sure 'nuff... the pack was gone.  We headed back and I left him to look in a meadow where we'd taken a few wrong trails while I headed down the main road.  About 2 miles later, I found his pack.  But, no big deal as the sun was just up and I was able to do some glassing of the nearby hillside on my way back to him.

We wisely GPS'ed the ATV's and then headed up the mountain.  Before long, to our surprise and delight, we found an old jeep trail leading up the mountain and we gladly took this road up.  About a mile up, Derek grabbed me and said "I hear a bugle!"  I bugled and cow called and Derek said I got a response, but we couldn't get the bull in and it went on downhill.  We hiked on up to the top of the mountain and glassed from several locations without seeing anything. Discouraged, we decided to head down.

Tuesday's office view
About a mile and half down, I spotted an inviting little glade out of the sun and decided to take a rest break.  As we plopped down, Derek said "try your call"  so I gave one little cow call on my Primos diaphragm and a bull exploded _right behind us_. We scrambled across the trail and I hid behind a boulder with Derek about 10 yards behind me against a tree.  We called again, including a short, weak bugle from me, and the bull in the woods answered back with a scream.  Derek whispered "He's coming!!!" and we sat still.  Suddenly, the woods echoed with a screaming bellow that sounded like a very angry Brahma bull. I wear 2 hearing aids and can't hear bugles unless they're close and, believe me, I heard that one!!! I heard the breath intake, the resonance, and _everything_. It was LOUD!!!! I saw a sudden dark spot appear in the trees not 10' from where we'd been sitting and there he was... not 50 yards from us.  He stayed in the trees, out of sight, so after a minute or so, I motioned for Derek to do another cow call on his Primos Hootchie Mama, which is a squeeze-type call. That did it. The bull erupted from the timber, heading straight for us.

Before the hunt, I'd said I wanted a 6x6 350 bull, but Derek and I discussed this earlier and decided that the closer to the road we were, the smaller the bull could be.  As the bull bolted toward us, I had just a split second to make a decision. In my scope, I saw 4 really good points, a good spread, and good height. Given the proximity to a road (1 mile!), this being the next to last day, the first bull in my sights, the fact that at this distance a quick kill was virtually guaranteed, and the fact that- cool as they are- you can't eat antlers.... I put the crosshairs right at the junction of the front shoulder and neck and let my .280 rip at the whopping distance of 30 yards.  The bull ran in a complete circle and dropped just behind some trees.  I looked back at Derek and his eyes were like saucers! We waited as long was we could stand (30 seconds, at least!) and approached the huge animal.  That's when I discovered that the bull was a solid 5x5 with tiny 6th points. No monster, but a perfectly respectable elk for a public land, Do-It-Yourself hunt.  Derek repeated over and over "Wow... he's BIG!"

First (and probably last!) bull elk

Loaded up and ready to go

Funny hoof 

My daughter and new son-in-law were at the house and graciously offered to come help pack out. SIL being a former packing house butcher, I eagerly accepted the help.  Derek and I quartered the elk and then went the mile to the ATV's and 4 miles back to the HQ to pick up Brianna and Quenten and my game cart.  Another mile hike up the hill and Q got to work boning the meat while I worked the elk's head loose from his body. We got back to the parked ATV's right at dark and made it to the restaurant for a greatly appreciated supper.  Back home, the meat went in our walk-in cooler for processing later this week.

Elk Packer Selfie

Whew.... that was tiring just typing all that!  What an adventure.  I'm happy to report that my knees held up great- thanks maybe to Tommie Copper and Pro-Tec knee braces, maybe thanks to more exercise over the summer?  Who knows.  I felt good.

I have two more hunting goals coming up: 1) I still want to take a duck with a prairie falcon and 2) I still have not taken any big game animal with my bow. Bowhunting mule deer in January, and hoping to catch a duck with my new falcon.

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