By Terry Miller
I awoke to the sound of light rain on the tent roof. Little did I know the final day of my elk hunt would exceed my wildest expectations.
Although I’d hunted elk many times and was successful on most of them, I just couldn’t get the nice 6x6 I had my heart set on. I did manage to take some 4x5s, nice 5x5s and smaller elk for meat.
I decided to enter draws for controlled areas in Arizona and New Mexico. Mick Chapel, who operates New Mexico Professional Big Game Hunting Inc. in Quemado, N.M., assisted me in the draw process. I wasn’t successful in 1996, but in ’97, I got lucky and was drawn in my second attempt.
The hunt began Oct. 18. The weather was cold at night and very warm in the day, so the quality hunting time was limited to early morning and again just before sunset. We did see a couple of decent 6x6s, but I decided to let them pass in hopes of seeing an eve nicer one, even if that meant going home without an elk.
I was glad for the weather change on the last day, but hoped conditions wouldn’t get too bad to hunt. The day began with the normal hiking, calling and glassing without much success, but we did see elk moving and feeding in the changing weather. I again passed on a small meat bull. We continued to hunt in the rain, which later changed to sleet and snow.
Since the rut was over, the bulls weren’t bugling but would respond occasionally, which helped in locating them. We moved to another location and heard a calf calling, so my guide, Randy Holman, did some cow talk hoping to get a bull to respond. One bugled more than a mile away, but we didn’t get too excited. It was too far and too thick to stalk with any hope of success.
The calf was moving in our direction, so we continued to call. About every 10-15 minutes, the bull would answer, closer each time. The last time he bugled, we estimated he was still about a half-mile away.
Then, sleet, snow and fog set in, closing visibility to less than 50 yards. Our hopes of seeing anything was gone — or so we thought. About 20 minutes later, the wind kicked up, and the fog lifted like a curtain in a theater.
An elk was feeding in heavy brush on the hillside where we last heard the bull. We couldn’t tell what it was. Then Randy said, “Forget that one. “Look in the canyon bottom at the edge of the heavy timber. There’s your bull!”
The enormous elk was standing like a statue, looking in our direction, We didn’t dare move or try to call until we could see what he was going to do.
It was too far to chance a shot, so we waited. Twenty minutes later, the bull heard or saw the smaller elk I’d spotted earlier, relaxed and began to feed.
We seized this opportunity to make our move to close the distance. We used brush, trees and a canyon to make the stalk. When we got to the ridge across the first canyon, we glassed.
Randy spotted the bull feeding in heavy brush. We’d cut the distance by more than half, but could not risk getting any closer. I prepared for the 260-yard shot. I got a good rest and squeezed the trigger.
At the shot, the bull shuddered. When he turned, Randy said, “Shoot again!” I held for the dark mane under its chin and fired, this time dropping the animal.
It took some time to reach him, but when we did, we were overwhelmed with his size. We both felt he would score close to 400 B&C.
I finally had my nice bull, not a 6x6 but a way-above-average 7x7, which was far beyond my wildest dreams.
After taking photos, we had to get back to reality and get the field-dressing done and hike out of the canyon in very poor weather conditions.
The rain, sleet and snow pelted down and made hike very difficult. To add to the hard chore, the lightning and thunder put us in a very solemn mood.
After finishing the field-dressing and hanging the meat for the next day, we began the long trek out in the rain, sleet and snow, and managed to get the horns and cape back to the camp that evening.
We were exhausted and wet, but with the comfort of the campfire and help from our wives, the celebration and dinner in camp, we soon forgot about the hardship we’d just endured.
My wife of 40 years accompanied me on this hunt. She didn’t hunt, but enjoys spent the time in camp and the outdoors as much as I do. It was extra-special that she was there to share the joy and excitement of a hunt that truly not many have the opportunity to experience.