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For 6 years I have been putting in for the New Mexico Draw for an Elk tag. This past April, I finally saw the results I had been waiting so long to see. There it was in green “SUCCESSFUL” ….Wow, I was on cloud 9!! From that moment on, I was hitting the weights to be able to up the pounds on my bow, practicing and preparing myself emotionally for this amazing, long awaited hunt!
I’ll fast forward to the morning of Day 1. We met up with our friend Chad who also owns Gila Trophy Outfitters there in the Gila National Forest. He had a few days before he had to guide for an Antelope hunt and was nice enough to take us out and show us around and call to try and get me my first bull elk! It was just getting light out and we headed over to check a waterhole Chad knew they had been hitting. As we got closer, Chad drew his arms back toward me to stop and whispered to me “Nock an arrow!” My first thought was “Really? Already?? Yes!” My quiver clip had broke and my husband, Justin had been carrying my quiver full of arrows. Chad sent Justin around a side of a hill and put me in between two trees for cover, then went above me a good 30 yards and started to cow call at the three bulls leaving the water. Before I knew it, a very young but gorgeous 5×6 bull was headed straight to me! To 8 yards in front of me with just a cedar bush separating us! He couldn’t make out what I was but I was sure wondering if he could hear my heart pounding out of my chest!! Chad noticed he was looking me right in the eyes and let out a nice, sweet cow call. The bull backed up and walked a half circle around and gave me a perfect broadside shot in between two pine trees. With no time to range him, I drew back when he passed the first pine tree and Chad did one call to get him to stop and look…with a very sketchy guess, I estimated him in my head to be 25 maybe 30 yards and let my arrow fly. It hit just below him and to my surprise, didn’t spook him. I slowly turned to look at Chad and he motioned for me to nock another arrow, the bull still stood there! I glanced down and sadly remembered, Justin had walked off with my quiver full of arrows. Yes…the pit of my stomach hurt and with my movement, the young bull barked, jumped and he and the 2 spikes that were with him ran off. When we went to retrieve my arrow, we ranged it…he was 52 yards away! Boy was I off! He looked so much closer! Hard to believe that I totally could have been done at 7:40 am on opening morning!
The next 2 days brought us two more very close encounters. A mature bull (and from what I could tell he was about a 6×6) came in 20 yards directly behind my back with no way for me to turn and get a shot. He never came closer and veered off to his right and was gone. The little 5×6 came in again to about 10 yards and either busted me moving or winded me. Before I knew it, I could hear trees breaking as he took off with no shot opportunity again.
Labor Day weekend brought us more hunters and yes, campers. We moved our location to try for a different opportunity and the woods were thick with ATV’s and horses. The rains came and flooded the areas we had been hunting heavily and the very few bugles we were getting, just seemed to stop. Frustration set in and we were ready to sit on water holes and hope for better luck. We had learned of a water hole that was in the general direction we’d see the elk go each day, so we decided to take a risk and took our jeep up that rough and rocky road, it was so rough, we were worried about our trip back down. Once we made it, we got on foot to walk the rest of the way in. The minute we set out, the thunderstorms came and we had to turn back and try to get our jeep down before the rains flooded and washed out the only way out. I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure we were going to get the jeep out, but we did and we were truly grateful to get to dry land!
As the days passed, the bugles stopped and the elk sightings were gone. Justin had to head back for work and my brother came to be with me my last 3 days of my hunt. I just couldn’t stop or give up. There is just something about getting that close to those beautiful beasts that made me want to keep going and keep trying. I’d came to far to give up, I spent so many weekends scouting and I just couldn’t do it.
The next morning, my brother Mike and I were up early and could never get a bugle. That afternoon, we met another hunter named Allen that was coming in for the 2nd archery hunt in our same unit. He had spotted a herd we had seen early on with Chad, a bull that Chad thought was a good 380 in size. The next morning, my brother and I set out to try and locate them. We spotted them that morning, but there was no calling them back, they were heading to bed down for the day and escape the heat. At about noon, we decided to fill our packs with snacks and water and get on foot to try and stalk them and get on them one last time. Time was a key factor because I only had 1 and a half days to get this done.
After 14 miles of hiking, we lost sight of them and turned around and headed back. That evening, we never seen or heard them again. We went back to sit one of the water holes hoping they would show up or at least another herd in search of water. As the day came to an end, no elk showed up.
My last morning, we spooked a group of 4 mule deer and with my deer tag and that positive sign, we tried to put a stalk on the nice 4×4 buck that was leading that group. With the rain starting to hit us, we took cover and eventually lost them too. Later that morning, we ran into our hunter friend, Allen again and he offered to help us out on our last quest for that big bull elk. We all loaded up in his Polaris and decided to hang out at the water hole we kept getting rained out on. As the day came to an end, the only thing that came to that water hole was a group of cattle, they watered, hung out and left. Allen gave out a few bugles to try and locate, and off in the distance, we could hear a faint bugle, but nothing ever came, not even with his sweet cow calling. As the sun set and we headed back, we thanked Allen for his help and wished him lots of luck as he would take over pursuing that big bull.
The darkness came quickly and we got on the road to head home and wouldn’t you believe that we had to slam on the brakes, and why? The most beautiful majestic bull with 3 cows ran in front of us in our headlights! Even better, he ran back across and stopped in the lights to look back at us and within seconds….he was gone. I looked at my brother Mike and we both just smiled and shook our heads in pure disbelief!!
As the sun had set on my final evening elk hunt, day number fourteen proved to be unsuccessful. This was truly an amazing first elk hunt. I stuck it out to the last minute of my hunting light. So many close encounters, 1 miss, trying times and awesome memories. I am humbled by this experience and have learned so much!
My memories will keep me desperate to go back and do this again with more confidence and skill than ever before. If it doesn’t take another 6 years to draw a tag, just wait you Beautiful Majestic Bull….we shall meet again!! 😉