Friday, October 6th. 2006
I loaded up my hunting gear and food in the pick-up and Dad and I were on the road a little before noon. After arriving at my Dad’s house (in Chama), we unloaded our gear and Dad got his house “up and going.” Because Kevin had left his horses and trailer from when we scouted last week, they were running loose on my Dad’s place. I caught the horses and put them in a pen so they would be easy to catch in the morning. I hitched up the horse trailer and got everything as ready as I knew how for the next day. Kevin and his son Timmy arrived late afternoon. We brought the horses up to the house and saddled them to get things like the gun scabbard, saddled bags, etc. adjusted on the saddles. It’s easier to do it in the daylight than in the dark at 4:00 AM. After that we all loaded up and went into town for our customary pre-hunt Bar-Be-Q supper meal. After supper we drove out to the designated camping area on the Humphries Wildlife Management Area to see if there were any other hunters camped out. To our surprise, there was not a sole there. After that we went back to Dad’s house, we talked about how the weather might effect the hunt, because it had been raining off and on (more on than off) for the last couple days and tomorrows forecast didn‘t look too good either. There was a 60% chance of rain on Saturday (opening day) and a 75% chance on Sunday, and then the system was supposed to start to slowly move out of the area.
We made plans on exactly when and where we wanted to be. Kevin had marked our trail on his new fangled GPS and assured me that he could get us where we wanted be no matter how dark it is.
I set the alarm for 3:45 AM., and I fell asleep listening to the rain on my Dad’s tin roof.
Saturday, October 7th. 2006
Opening day of a five day Elk season! It was still raining but not too bad, just a steady gentle sprinkle.
I got up when the alarm went off, woke up Kevin and Timmy, brushed my teeth (what few I still have), started a pot of coffee, and brought up the horses. We got the horses saddled and loaded in the trailer, went in the house and got a cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito, and were on our way at 4:45 AM. It stopped raining about the time we left Dad’s house.
It took us about 30 minutes to get to the parking area on the “Humphries Wildlife Management Area” and when we got there, my heart fell. There were at least three different guides with horses already saddled up and ready to go. One guide had seven horses the other two guides had five horses each, and every horse had a rider. Everybody was leaving as we started unloading our horses. The first thought I had was, “everybody will beat us to the place we want to be and will either spook the Elk or start shooting before we can get there.”
As it turned out, when it got light enough to shoot, there wasn’t anyone in the area we were in. I don’t have a clue where everybody went, but we were right in the middle of a large amount of Elk, and they weren’t (tee hee hee).
We tied the horses up on top of a ridge overlooking a large open valley. When it was light enough to shoot, we eased down the top of the ridge to a point overlooking herd of about 45 to 50 Elk in this big open valley. There were about 10 bulls that looked to be 5X5”s, maybe that many bulls that were smaller, and about 20 to 30 cows and calves. Oh, did I mention there was a very nice herd bull in amongst the cows? Well, there was! He would have scored somewhere around 300 Boone & Crocket points. Very nice indeed! Problem was, he was about 600 yards from us, out in the middle of this open valley and he had all those cows to warn him if anything got to lookin’ funny. He was too far away to try a realistic shot.
I saw a small stringer of trees that went out into the open some 30 or 40 yards and I tried to sneak closer to the herd bull by way of that stringer of trees. Didn’t work! A cow saw me and took off and the whole herd went with her. They went up a header draw that lead in to this big open area.
Out in the middle of this open valley was a small mound with a couple trees on it. Because there were bulls bugling all around us, I reasoned that maybe there might be a few elk in the area that would take the same route as the herd mention above. So, I took off out to the mound and got set up to where I could see a long way in just about any direction.
That’s when I heard him, it had to be a big herd bull bugling and grunting not very far from where I was. I waited and listened and he seemed to be coming closer and closer. Then it seemed that he wasn’t getting any closer, but he was still tootin’ and a grunten.’ After a while, I just couldn’t take it any longer and started to sneak toward him. I went about 200 or 300 yards to the east before I spotted him. He was about 6 or 7 hundred yards away from me and just at the edge of this large open meadow. He was chasing cows trying to get a good smell and chasing off smaller bulls and was not paying any attention to anything else. He was huge!!! I could see that he had a lot of cows with him. I mean a LOT of cows! There must have been as many as 6 or 7 satellite bulls that were respectable 6 by’s, probably as many as 20 or maybe even 30 smaller bulls ranging in size from spikes up to 5 by’s in amongst all the cows. Did I mention that the herd bull was huge? Here is how I judged how big he was - I was looking at him through a 6 power scope, and when he was turned away from me I judged how many times you could fit the width of his rump inside his rack ......... at least two maybe two and a half. When he was standing broadside to me, I judged how tall his rack was by comparing it to how tall the bull was at the shoulder. There would have been at least 18 inches above his back if his rack were sitting on the ground. This guy was huge, I’m telling ya! His rack was very symmetrical. Each side of his rack was a carbon copy of the other side. Six points to a side. This guy would no doubt make the record books, If I were to guess what he would score, I would say around 375. Like I said he was huge!
Problem was, like before, there was no way I could get any closer with out going across a lot of open space. I tried but it wasn’t long before the cows started getting nervous. Now here is where I did something dumb! I got down on the wet ground in a prone position and took as steady of an aim as I could. I put the cross hairs about a foot over his back and fired once at him. I missed. Of course, all the Elk took off, but they were going around the mound I mentioned earlier, so I took off running back to the mound, hoping to get another shot. That didn’t happen because I slipped and fell face first into the mud while running flat out. I landed really hard and my gun took a hard hit as well. The barrel was plugged with mud, the scope had a lot of mud on it, and the stock had a lot of mud on it. So, I just watched the Elk run off. I probably couldn’t have gotten another shot anyway.
Kevin and Timmy brought the horses down off the ridge while I cleaned up my gun as best as I could. When they got to me, they told me that they figured there were at least 100 Elk in that herd, maybe more. I agreed.
After cleaning some of the mud off my gun, I figured that the fall had knocked the scope off too bad to continue hunting, and it was starting to rain again, so we called it a day. We rode out to the truck, and when we got there, one of the guides (the one with seven horses) was loading up his horses. They only had one tag and had filled it with a scrawny little 5X5 bull. They said that it was the only Elk they had seen all morning. They wanted to know if we had seen anything and if so where. We told them that we hadn’t seen a thing, and we had been all over the area and hadn‘t seen much sign either. (I didn’t want to tell everybody where the Elk were, let them hunt for them like we did.) After they left we eat our lunches, loaded the horses up and headed back to Dad’s house.
When we got to Dad’s house I cleaned up the .06 and by then the rain had let up for a little while. I set up a target at 25 yards and checked how bad my scope was knocked off. Pretty bad! It was about 3 inches low and about 2 inches to the left at 25 yards. No telling how bad it would have been at 2 or 3 hundred yards. I re-sited my scope to where it was 3 inches high at 25 yards, hoping that it would be dead on at two hundred yards, maybe even a little high.
It started to rain again so we decided not to go back out. We hung out there at Dad’s house, made new plans for the next day, had supper and went to bed around 9:00 PM.
Sunday, October 8th. 2006
The alarm went off at 3:45 AM. It had rained all night long and was still raining. Raining pretty hard, in fact, so hard I decided not to go hunting. We all slept in, had a lazy sort of day. Sometime around 3:00 PM., the rain stopped. The hunt area I drew out on is split between the Humphries and the Rio Chama. The Rio Chama is a lot lower in elevation than the Humphries and is usually a pretty good place to go late in the year after the snow has made the Elk go to lower country for better foraging. I also knew that there is a small resident herd of Elk in that area. I got the bright idea to run down to the Rio Chama area and hunt the rest of the afternoon on foot. We could always get the horses later if needed.
We drove out to the Rio Chama, parked the truck and started hoofing it looking for any sign. Mud, mud everywhere! Stuck to my feet so bad that at times I probably was 7 foot tall. Anyway, we did find a few fresh tracks but come dark, we hadn’t seen nor heard any Elk. We loaded up and went back to the house, had supper, made our plans for the next day and called it a day around 9:30 PM.
Monday, October 9th. 2006
The alarm went off at 3:45 AM. I woke up Kevin and Timmy, started a pot of coffee, and brushed my teeth. It had rained most of the night but wasn’t raining when I got up. When I went to go get the horses, it started to sprinkle. By the time we had the horses in my Dad’s garage ready to be saddled, it was raining pretty good. I told Kevin that we might as well lay off one more day, I didn’t want to get the saddles wet. He told me that he had to get Timmy back home tonight because he had to be in school on Tuesday morning and when he and Timmy go home they were taking the horses with them.
Oh great! I thought we had until Wednesday night. Well, it’s today or never. We loaded up the horses and headed out. The rain wasn’t getting any worse, it just wasn’t getting any better.
When we got to the parking area, there was not a sole around. They either filled out or got rained out. We unloaded the ponies and headed out at 5:00 AM. Come shooting time, I wanted to be on the East side of the valley where we had seen the big herd on opening morning. At 6:45 AM we were almost to where I wanted to be when we heard a bull bugle pretty close to us. We just stopped and waited until it got light enough to see while listening to several bulls bugle. It was still raining and it was foggy. About 7:00 AM., Timmy says “look there’s some Elk” and pointed out into the big open meadow. Sure enough, about a hundred yards from us was 6 or 7 cows munching away on the grass. We were still horse back, so I told Kevin and Timmy to ride real easy toward the tree line to the north of us about 30 yards. We did and it didn’t spook the cows, they watched us until we were in the trees then they went back to eating. We dismounted, tied the horses up and I sneaked back out to where I could see the Elk again. That’s when I heard him .............. again! I could tell that the “Big Guy” I had seen on Saturday was somewhere not far away. I could tell by the way he bugled and grunted that it was sure enough him. Just where the hell was he?? The valley was literally crawling with Elk. This was for sure the big herd we saw on Saturday. I tried to find him by glassing with my scope. My scope was getting fogged up on the end closest to my face and the other end was getting rained on. Couldn’t see a damn thing! I tried to clean the lenses with my finger, and that only made it worse, I unbuttoned my shirt and used my tee shirt to clean the lenses. That was better but wouldn’t last very long until it needed it again. I kept glassing the heard until I found him. Yep! It was him, the “Big Guy” and he was about a half a mile to the north of me. This time I could duck back into the timber and pull a sneak on him that would get me within shooting distance. I did this and every so often I would peek out of the timber and relocate him to make sure I was doing the right thing. It was working, he wasn’t moving very much and I was gaining ground on him. I was still having trouble keeping my scope cleaned off long enough to find him. When I had gone as far as I could in the timber, I stepped out beside a pretty good sized Cedar tree and started looking for him. After cleaning my scope several times I located what I thought was him. It was kinda hard to tell for sure because of the rain, and the fog was getting a little worse too. I waited a few minutes just listening and watching. Pretty soon the “Big Guy” starts to bugle and grunt some more. Yep that’s him! He is somewhere around 350 and 400 yards out, so I take careful aim about 2 or 3 inches over his shoulder and pull the trigger. That is exactly where I hit, about 2 or 3 inches over his shoulder, I know this because I saw the mud kick up just over his back. He jumps and runs about 10 yards to my left and stops. I jack another round in the chamber and try to get another shot. The scope has now fogged up from the heat of the first shot, so I clean it off again, find the bull and aim right behind his shoulder and pull the trigger again. This time he drops like someone hit him between the eyes with a 16 pound sledge hammer, well maybe more like a 180 grain slug out of a 30-06. I just watch him for a few minutes to make sure he didn’t get up again. He didn’t, so I start out toward him.
On my way out to him, I am amazed that although I was a little frustrated about the scope fogging up, I never got excited or had to deal with “Buck Fever” at all.
When I was about a hundred yards away from him, I look through the scope at him and thought to myself, “man, that is a real nice bull.” About that time here comes “The (real) Big Guy.” He trots across the open about a hundred yards from me, stops and looks at me while I look at him through the scope. He made the bull I had laying on the ground look like a school boy. For a couple seconds I was dumb-founded. What in the world happened? Then I instantly knew what had happened. The bull I took was a satellite and the Big Guy had slipped behind the only two or three trees in the valley somehow without me seeing him do it. Probably while I was cleaning the fog off my scope. The one I took had been exactly where I had seen the Big Guy earlier. With it raining, and the fog and the trouble with my scope, I just thought the one I shot was the Big Guy.
For just a split second, I thought about taking the Big Guy and somehow dealing with the fact that I would have an untagged bull to deal with. Would one of the other hunters that had been unsuccessful want him? If not would he tell the Game Warden on me? It just wasn’t worth it, so I just told myself that I had a very respectable bull and I hadn’t hurt the gene pool any. And I was happy with that decision, it will give me something to look forward to next year. I watched him for a bit longer until he winded me then he took off with the rest of the huge herd.
I went up to my bull and looked at him and almost had a heart attack. The way he went down, he buried two of his antler tines on one side in the mud and it looked like I had a 6X4 rack. I turned his head and was relieved to see that he was a very respectable 6 by 6.
I started to take care of the field dressing just as the rain started to let up. This year I tried a new way of dressing out my Elk. A method I had read about on a neat web site called “HuntingNut.Com.” The article is called “The Gutless Field Dressing Method.” Works pretty good too!
I didn’t want to pack out bones except the head. So, I removed both rear quarters and a shoulder then it became apparent that I could use some help. Oops, I had forgotten that Kevin and Timmy were waiting back at the horses for me. I left the Elk and started back to the horses and then it dawned on me just how far I had gone while sneaking up on this guy. About three quarters of a mile! Anyway when Kevin and Timmy could see me they started in my direction, so I turned around and headed back to the Elk. After we got back to the bull, we finished de-boning the meat, put all the meat in 10 gallon sized zip-lock bags and loaded all the meat into the saddle panniers on one horse.
By this time the rain had stopped and the fog was lifting pretty good so I had Kevin take a few pictures. We loaded the head on the second horse and hung our packs and rain gear on the third horse.
Then we started out. It was a long walk because it was in the mud, the kind that sticks to your feet and there is nothing you can do about it. It took a hour and a half to get in on horse-back in the dark, it took some three and a half hours to walk back out in the daylight.
As I get older, I think the mountains are getting taller or something. It just takes more out of me than it used to, that’s for sure. We were some tired puppy dogs when we got back to the truck.
Anyway, when we got back to the truck there were three hunters in the camping area. There also was a truck and horse trailer that belonged to a feller that packs out game as a side line of work, parked in the camping area too. We unloaded everything, and sat down to eat our lunches when I noticed one of the hunters had a rack sticking out of his pickup. I walked over to the pickup and looked at the rack. It was another 5 by 5. He said that he had taken it the afternoon before and had called in the professional packer to get it out for him.
I don’t know if I would want to eat the meat because he had killed it almost 24 hours ago and it still wasn’t in a cooler yet??
He ask if he could look at the bull I got, I said “sure” so he went to look at it. After he looked at it he said that he thought it was pretty respectable. I didn’t even tell him how I let a “really” big one get away. He probably wouldn’t have believed me anyway.
After a while we loaded the horses and headed out to my dad’s place, packed up all our gear and headed home. I dropped the meat off at a meat processor in Espanola then went home.
When I got home, Julie (my wife) met me at the door and wanted to see this bull, when she saw it, even she was impressed. I had held true to my word about not taking anything unless it was a better rack than the last one I got four seasons ago.
I went to bed that night a very tired but happy Elk hunter.
Friday, October 13th. 2006
Last entry in this year’s journal.
I had a bunch of work stacked up on me while I was hunting, and just today had time to finish up this journal.
I couldn’t help it, I sent my old hunting buddies, Ken and Charlie an email with a couple pictures so that they would know I had been living the good life.
The meat is in my brand new freezer, and life is good.
After my last hunt four seasons ago, I kicked myself for months and months over letting a monster get away wounded. I still think about it.
This year however, I will be haunted by the fact that I came this close to putting one in the record books. ................. It’s a lot better feeling this year.
I sure miss my old hunting buddy, Big John.