You’ll never forget the first time you hear an elk bugle. My first time was just before daybreak September 15, 2019. It was the start of my hunt of a lifetime that I would get to share with my 13 year old son.
After months of research I decided that unit 16D in New Mexico would give me a good chance of getting a good bull. I talked to several outfitters and decided to hunt with Andy Salgado of H&A outfitters . After 3 years of not drawing a tag Andy told me I should put in for unit 15. Drawing that tag on my first try was the beginning of my luck.
After not getting a pass through on a quartering away Gemsbok I decided to use a 250 grain cutthroat vs a 150 grain cutthroat bringing my taw up to 650 grains. Which I think was a deciding factor in my hunt.
Stepping out of the truck on that cold rainy morning and hearing that first bugle was something I had been dreaming of for years. We made a game plan and took off after that bull. I wasn’t as physically prepared as I wanted to be but who is. That first little climb kicked my ass. I had to slow down and take my time. I was determined to get there. I did but it was too late. The bull had already gone by our intercept point.
That’s when another bull bugles to the west. Now we are between two bugling bulls. If that doesn’t give you an adrenaline rush it’s time to check for a pulse. We start working in on the bull to the west. Not only is he closer, the wind is perfect. As he continues to bugle it sounds like he is stationary. Possibly another hunter? I catch a glimpse of something and a quick look through the binoculars confirms it’s an elk rear end. The rain is really starting to come down. My guide turns to me and asked the dumbest question I’ve ever heard. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great guide. “Do you want to go back to the truck since it’s raining so hard?” Are you kidding me? Hell no I don’t want to go back to the truck. We finally work our way to about 70 yards and a cow busted us. Sean thinks it’s a 330ish bull.
After a nice lunch and changing into dry clothes we head out for the evening hunt. Sean points out a very tall, steep, and intimidating mountain. Let’s climb up there and see what happens. Before we get started there’s a bugle to the north. Winds swirling but let’s give it a try. Those pesky cows get spotted first. Sean sets up behind me and does his best impression of a bull raking a tree with intentions of stealing some cows. A bull is heard but never seen as he goes over the ridge with cows following him. Cresting the ridge Sean makes a few cow calls. He wants that cow but not enough to come back for her.
Let’s go up this side of the mountain. It’s a little steeper but we’re already here. There’s a nice game trail to follow that angles up the side of the mountain which makes it a lot easier. Just as we start up a bugle echoes around us that originated from the top of the mountain. Several more bugles are heard as we make the slow arduous climb. Well at least for me it is. Wyatt and I both agree our guide is part mountain goat. At least he acts like we are doing good and doesn’t get way ahead of us. The trail leads up to a saddle. Just as we get to the top our mystery bull unleashes a bugle that you could feel reverberate in your chest. Breathing uncontrollably, bow in my sling, arrows in my quiver, release aid in my pocket I couldn’t be anymore unprepared. The bull graciously allows me time to get composed and on que I can see his whale tails coming above the brush. I immediately think I’m shooting this bull before I even see anything else. He stops to rake a tree and if he continues on his current course he will go through an opening to my right. Being short I will not be able to get a shot over the crest of the hill. Very cautiously I take 2 steps up the hill. Satisfied with the thrashing he gave the bush he starts to walk into the open and I draw. Having already gotten the yardage to a nearby tree from my guide I quickly estimate the yardage at 30 yards. I have noticed he is “slightly” quartering towards me and I hug the shoulder as close as I dare and release the shot. My initial thought was “too far back, gutshot”. Sean assures me that it went in right behind the shoulder. My arrow hit a pencil size twig at about 10 yards and I’m positive it glanced my arrow into the guts. Evidently shooting an elk is a sign for the clouds to open up and dump gallons of water. Any hopes for a good blood trail diminished with every minute it rains.
Wyatt had high hopes of videoing my hunt with our Cannon XA11. Due to the rain it was left in camp and he was using my iPhone. Our number one priority isn’t getting the shot on camera. You’ll never hear us say “are you on him”. He was too far below the crest of the hill to see the elk so he didn’t get the impact on camera. He did get me taking the shot.
Still thinking I shot too far back and got guts we look for my arrow. Finding the arrow would shed some light on the shot placement. After several minutes of looking it can’t be found. The guide suggests it might still be in him. While he starts trying to unravel the tracks I decide to take a walk in the general direction the elk ran. After about 100 yards I see 2 rag horns off to my left. Thinking they might be messing with my bull I circle around towards them. As I come around a small pine I see antlers and my bull down. Cautiously I sneak up and give him a poke to make sure he’s done.
As we are breaking down this elk another elk bugles from the ridge behind us. The guide makes a bugle with his mouth and this elk comes right to us. He stops at 40 yards only because he doesn’t want to jump the fence.
That was quite possibly the best first day of elk hunting in history. Being able to share it with my son made it all the more memorable. I know I’ll never be able to top that day but it’ll be fun trying.
I have to thank my sponsor: My wife Dr. Dana Dalton. Without her love and support none of this would’ve ever happened.
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