I’ve made no bones about it over the years — elk simply aren’t one of my favorite animals to bowhunt. I know. That’s a strange statement coming from a Colorado native, right? But bear in mind, I’m a prairie rat, not a mountain man. My bowhunting education was birthed on the sun-soaked plains chasing pronghorn and wide-racked mulies.
So why does the majestic wapiti linger toward the bottom of my “Favorite Critters to Bowhunt” list? First, they have my number and that fact alone often leaves me mumbling explicit adjectives when my mind begins to recall how many close calls I’ve had with them over the years. Sure, I’ve arrowed a few and enjoy listening to their deafening bugles rhythmically tease a frosty September morning to life, but apart from that, they generally piss me off. As I write this, I can vividly recall six different bulls over the years that I’ve had within 12 yards and wasn’t able to cut an arrow loose. Those of you who have paid your dues in the elk woods know exactly what I’m talking about. The wind switches at the last second (my personal favorite, by the way), the bull stops to scan for the challenger and his vitals are covered by some branches. If you can name it, it can (and does) happen. And to me, it happens a lot.
By this point, most of you are wondering, “Does he want some cheese with that wine?” You have also likely figured out that my New Mexico elk hunt isn’t going too well. Actually, it’s been terrible. I’d love to report that I’ve had numerous close encounters with hair-raised, eyes-rolled-back-in-their-heads bulls, but that would be a lie. After four days of hunting on a private ranch in New Mexico, I have yet to see a bull. Another reason as to why I struggle with getting swept away in the “majesty” of elk is that these 600-plus-pound creatures can be there one day and miles away the next. That’s the case here — the elk were thick on the ranch two weeks ago (I know because I saw the videos and trail cam photos), but now they’re gone. If I was hunting public land, I would move, but that’s not an option here on private property.
Do I blame the outfitter? Not at all. Foster and Kathy Butt, the owners of Gavilan Creek Outfitters, are some of the best people I’ve ever met. Their camp is nestled into the New Mexico landscape. It’s comfortable, and the food is terrific. Typically, with six archery hunters in camp, Foster, Kathy and their knowledgeable team of guides boast a 30-percent kill rate and can post a better-than-50-percent opportunity rate. Heck, we’ve even had a pair of guys in camp sling arrows, but neither connected.
The area of the ranch where I’m bowhunting just doesn’t have many elk on it at the moment. Yes, I’ve heard some bugles and seen a few cows, but the bull sightings for myself and the other bowhunters on this side of the mountain are few and far between.
This evening, I chose the comfort of a tree stand. Hey, I can dream about white tails while I lick my wounds right? Actually, Foster pulled the card on a Browning trail camera today and discovered a bull had hit the wallow where I’m situated in a Summit ladder stand over a time or two over the past few days. All the picturess were at night, but at the moment, that’s the hottest ticket in town.
I will keep grinding until the very end. I always do! When I don’t fill a tag, it’s certainly not from lack of effort. I have little to no cellphone service on this hunt, but will be climbing a ridge in the morning where I’m told I can get emails and calls out. I will do a big hunt recap and provide more information about Foster’s and Kathy’s operation when I get back in the editor’s chair on Thursday. Stay tuned.