by J Rude
1/2 of my first elk
This was the third year I have hunted elk in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. I chose this area for two reasons. One, it is close to where my father-in-law lives and second, the odds of drawing a tag in the area are very good if you are willing to hunt a cow elk. It is an archery and muzzleloader area only which reduces some of the hunting pressure. We knew the general area fairly well and we always see elk in large numbers. This year we took a different strategy for our hunt. We decided to focus on two smaller areas and spend more time scouting these smaller areas. My father-in-law is a wonderful person and while he was not hunting, he was more than happy to set up camp early and scout the area before I arrived. I have yet to harvest an elk and he wanted me to fill my tag as much as me (if not more so).
The first area we chose was a seemingly flat area that ran between two ridges. The elk were traveling between the two areas during the night grazing as they went. A day before the season opened we scouted the area from a peak which overlooked the area. After climbing to the highest peak of one ridge we were able see literally for several miles. That morning, right before sunrise, a small herd of elk moved from one ridge to the other in easterly direction. The area is typically windy and it was no different on this day. While I didn?t enjoy the wind, the elk would be traveling in our direction with the wind in our face and the wind also helped covered any noise I might make. We had decided that this is the area would hunt each morning of our 5-day hunt. The second area we would hunt was 10 miles away near the Arizona-New Mexico border. From scouting the area, my father-in-law routinely viewed elk coming out of the tree line to graze in the open. This is the area where we would hunt each evening. Opening morning could not have been more perfect. Almost everything went as planned. We scampered up the hillside to the top of the peak and started to glass the area. Within 20 minutes we spotted 6 elk grazing in an easterly direction coming towards the base of the ridge we were standing upon. My plan was for my father-in-law to keep glassing the area while I made my way through the trees to the edge of the tree line. Hopefully the elk would be making their way to my position. When I reached the edge of the trees I looked out and I was in luck. The elk were still out in the open and had not noticed me. Unfortunately, they were out of range of my muzzleloader and they looked as though they would continue grazing past me further east. With this in mind, I slowly backed out of the area into the trees and tried to circle around further to the east. When I did, I knew I was in a better position and got set up to take a shot. I was carrying a 50 cal Thompson Omega with a fixed four power scope. I was shooting a 300 grain Sabot with 100 grains of powder. I previously used more powder but my muzzleloader is more accurate with the lighter load. I must admit that I was concerned with whether this was enough of a load to cleanly bring down a large elk. My goal was to get within 100 yards but I didn?t know if this was realistic. As I looked through my scope, the elk were coming towards me but they were no longer grazing. They were obviously nervous and continuously looking around. A small group of cows were passing in front of me about 80 yards away but they were in a slight depression so I was only able to see their heads. I got comfortable waiting for one to come out of the depression towards me but they continued along and did not present me an opportunity for a shot. As they left, I was balancing my disappointment at not getting a shot with the excitement of the hunt. I was certainly going to come back here the next morning. That evening we went to other location but as it turned out, we didn?t see any elk. The next morning we followed the same routine. We again climbed to the peak of the ridge and started glassing the area. This morning we saw only one lone cow grazing her way to the base of the ridge. The wind was again in our favor as I worked my way down the ridge. When I got to the base of the ridge I couldn?t find the elk. Guessing that she had continued to graze in an easterly direction, I made my way back into the thick trees and, just like the previous morning, circle my way around to the east. I made my way to the edge of the spruce trees and peered around one large spruce tree hoping to find my elk. Much to my surprise, she was standing there looking in my direction. I immediately stepped back behind the tree and tried to catch my breath. I guessed that she was around 100 yards away. I then stepped out from behind the tree and leveled my muzzleloader. Through the scope she looked to be much closer than I initially thought. She was standing perfectly broadside and not moving. I took aim and fired. I felt as though I rushed the shot and was perhaps a little high. When the smoke cleared, I saw her legs in the air as she rolled over. She then tried to get up. I knew I hit her hard and tried to reload as quickly as possible. By the time I reloaded she had was not moving. I paced off the yardage as I approached and prepared for another shot if needed. It wasn?t, she was dead when I reached her. I was amazed at the size of this cow. Through the scope she looked fairly close but in reality she was approximately 130 yards away. My shot was in fact a little high but it didn?t matter. The sabot went through both lungs and exited in two pieces. I guess that answered the question if 100 grains of powder is sufficient. We were very fortunate to find a trail leading around the ridge that we could actually drive a 4-wheel drive (at around 3 miles per hour) up to the area. Despite driving right up to the dead elk, it still took us an hour to get the elk into the truck. In the end, we had to cut the elk in two. A local hunting guide who lives next door to my father-in-law estimated the weight of the cow to be approximately 650 pounds.
To some, killing a cow elk isn't much of an event. As it was my first elk, I will always remember it. The nicest part of the entire hunt was being able to have a successful hunt with my father-in-law.