San Diego Chapter Elk Hunting Story
Hunt Where The Elk Are!!!
By: Don Busson
If you want to shoot an elk or any other game animal for that matter, the odds are with you, if you are hunting in an area with plentiful game. Furthermore, if you are looking for trophy size animals, you need to hunt were trophy size animals exist. It all makes sense, and the elk hunting wizards will give you statistics on where the highest concentrations and largest elk have been harvested over the past several years.
My personal elk hunting experience does not compare with Jim Zumbo or some of the others of his ilk, but I have hunted elk several times in Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. Once I started hunting in New Mexico with Ray Milligan of Milligan Brand in 2000, I have not been back to Montana or Colorado to hunt elk even though I now live just outside of Durango, Colorado. The reason is that Ray and the Chama, New Mexico area have spoiled me. The first time that I hunted with Ray in 2000, the entire camp had filled their tags in a day and a half, and all were 6x6s or better. That hunt was in early November, there was snow on the ground, the elk were migrating from Sargent’s Wildlife Area toward the Jicarea Reservation, and the migration route was through the ranch that we were hunting. Since then the hunts have not been that easy, but there have always been elk and I have harvested a couple nice bulls.
In 2007, I hunted during the first New Mexico five day rifle season, which starts October 1. Ray organizes all of his hunts to start on Saturday with the hunters arriving at noon on Friday to sight-in rifles, get the safety briefing, meet guides and, in general, learn the lay of the land. You are in the field elk hunting at first light on Saturday. That first morning we started down low walking along the edges of the oak brush whenever possible and climbing the hills to glass meadows for elk. One of the benefits of hunting that first season is that even though the rut is over, some of the bulls are still bugling. You seldom go long without spotting some elk. When elk are spotted, the two questions you ask yourself are: is there a shooter in the group (as defined by your specific goals) and can we stalk within range? My guide was Pete and that first morning we were not disappointed in that we could hear elk bugling in the higher meadows and we were spotting elk; however, nothing that was suitable. I was looking for a nice 6X6 that would score 300 or better. We hunted until about 10 am that morning without spotting a shooter, and went back to camp for lunch.
That afternoon, we headed back to the woods with a plan to climb to a good observation point and setup for the afternoon hunt. You tend to do a little more walking in the morning whereas the afternoon is usually spent on a stand until you spot an elk that you want to stalk. In the afternoon, you are waiting for the elk to come out to feed from either the lower oak brush or from the denser forest up high. This style of hunting is much more productive than wandering through the brush where you will simply bust the elk out, not get a shot and run them to the next ranch. We saw elk that first afternoon, but again none of them were quite what I wanted. We returned to camp that evening for dinner and a good night’s rest. Upon our return, we saw the antlers in the back of two of the guides trucks as we pulled into camp. One was a 6X7 and the other a 6X6, both nice elk.
The second morning went much the same as the first morning. Rising early to a good breakfast, in the pickup about a half hour before sunrise, and in the woods at first light. Unfortunately, the results were also similar to the first morning, with 3 different groups of elk spotted in the meadows, but none were the nice 6X6 that I was holding out for. That afternoon, I switched guides, Pete was just guiding for the weekend and had a regular Monday through Friday job in Albuquerque that required he head out that afternoon. Dave Darr the head guide in that camp became my guide. Dave’s client had tagged out the first day.
The second afternoon we decided to try a little different strategy by going high to the top of the ranch against the ranch boundary where elk often cross the fence heading into even thicker forest on the next ranch. Fortunately, you can drive a good portion of the way to the top and only walk about another mile and 500 feet of elevation. All of the hunting in this area is between 8,000 and 10,000 feet so even a little exertion has the lungs working hard. As we climbed through the mixed aspen and pine trees, we were careful not to make any noise. It took us about 45 minutes to climb to the ranch boundary to the North. Then we moved along the boundary fence to the West to an area where Dave thought it was most likely that we would see elk approaching the fence to cross into the next ranch. We got setup and started our wait.
It was about 20 minutes to dark when we heard movement in front of us in the woods. We could not see the animals because of the thick brush, but from the sound they were large animals, most likely elk. We had expected the elk to appear to our flank rather than directly in front of us and the best shooting lanes were to either side. Eventually, the antlers came into view and they were the quality that we were seeking. Unfortunately, that was all I could see – lots of antlers but not the body of the elk. The brush was just too high. I tried to move side to get a view of the elk’s body, but the elk either saw the movement or winded us and headed back down the mountain through the woods. By then it was almost dark, so we headed back down the mountain to the truck and back to camp.
The next morning we decided to go high and hunt the same area as the evening before. With Dave in the lead, followed by me and the cameraman pulling up the rear, we headed back up the mountain in the dark before first light. As we started into the aspen and pine woods, an elk bugled to our front, and it sounded like he was not more than 200 yards, but we had a small knoll in front of us and could not see him. As Dave headed around the knoll to the right, the elk walked up on top of the knoll to the left and looked down at us from only about 10 yards. The jig was up, and he flipped ends and headed up the mountain. I quickly moved on top of the knoll while Dave chirped on his cow call, which brought the elk to an immediate halt. By that time, I was on the know and saw the elk at about 60 yards. In one movement, I shouldered the .300 WSM, pushed the safety forward, found the elk in the scope and pulled the trigger. He was hit hard in the chest, but stayed on his feet. I chambered another round and hammered him again. The elk hit the deck and did not move again
Eddie, the cameraman, caught the whole episode on film. We moved the elk to a flatter area and took pictures with the still camera. Then the real work began – field dressing the elk and getting it off the mountain and into a truck for transport to the butcher shop.
If you want a high probability elk hunt with a good chance at a large elk, try Milligan Brand. They have an 82% success rate for rifle hunters over a 20 year period. In 2007, when I took this elk, Ray and his guides helped their clients harvest 191 elk. I am convinced that this is the best free range elk hunt for the price in North America. You can get more information on Milligan Brand at www.milliganbrand.com.
What does 1x1, 2x1, 4x1 Mean?
Outfitters describe the amount of service they will render to a client in a numerical multiplication equation. Example: You book a 5-day hunt with 2x1 guide service. Each day is broken down into 2 "Prime" times, morning and evening. A 5-day hunt has 10 "Prime" times, and a 2x1 client (50% service) would be guided (1x1), a minimum of 5 "Prime" times. The other times he would hunt an area learned the day before, or set out on stand by the guide. Sometimes, especially with bow hunters, two hunters will hunt together and the guide would be with them all of the time. Of course the 1x1 (100% service) hunt (which costs the most) would put a guide at your service for the entire hunt. A 4x1 hunt would give you 1x1 guide service 25% of the time..