My first experience with elk began 25 years ago when my best friends’ dad went elk hunting in Colorado and killed a cow. I remember being at my buddy’s house when his dad brought out some elk salami and offered me some. Being a growing teenager and an avid hunter, I eagerly tried it and I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. I joked with him that day that I needed to hunt elk because it tasted so amazing – these were big dreams for a teenager who had never even seen an elk in person.
22 years later, I had my first elk hunting opportunity. A good friend asked if I wanted to go elk hunting during Thanksgiving break, knowing that it might be the only time that I could make it work because school would be out. I have been in education as a teacher, coach, athletic director and administrator for over 16 years. While I can find ways to hunt locally, getting away to hunt out of state is not an easy task. I was born and raised in California, and if you know California hunting; elk tags do not know it for its access. The population is much smaller than other states, and draw process was something that I never really invested much time or effort in. With the support of my wife and the perfect timing during the school year, I was excited for my first opportunity to hunt elk.
Thanksgiving break 2014 was my first real opportunity to hunt the majestic elk that I had dreamed about since I was a teenager. That year we set off to hunt the southeast portion of Montana. Hunting elk was a new and utterly different experience for me. It was a much more tactical hunt, requiring us to glass a lot and make plans on sneaking in on the elk. I was fascinated with the chase and seeing so many elk, but unfortunately, we couldn’t locate a bull that we could harvest. I was hooked and continued to dream about when I would get another opportunity to chase these remarkable animals.
Fast forward three years to October 10, 2017 when I received an email from MTN Ops stating that I was their promotional winner for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation elk hunt in New Mexico. I couldn’t believe it – I was shocked and even wondered if the email was real. I emailed them back, and they confirmed that I won this amazing hunt. I was so excited that I would get the opportunity to hunt elk again, this was a dream come true. As soon as the shock wore off, I knew that I needed to get prepared for this hunt because it was only a few months away and I wanted to be ready for this unbelievable opportunity. It was time for me to hit the trails, ramp up my running, and put all the MTN OPS supplements to work so that I would be ready to go in December.
December 5th – up early and heading to the airport. I couldn’t believe that I was going on my dream hunt. I was super excited, nervous, and anxious to get to New Mexico. I couldn’t wait to get the chase on. When I arrived in Colorado to begin our drive into New Mexico, Jake Shaw from MTN Ops was waiting for me. I had the great pleasure of getting to spend my hunt with him and my guides. As soon as we met, we started to talk about this year’s hunting trips and how they had gone so far. I had never met Jake before, but we shared a common bond of chasing animals that we respect and the adventures we have in doing so that made meeting someone new feel like catching up with an old friend.
December 6th – early morning wake up, pack check, and 15-degree weather waiting outside. I was so excited and couldn’t believe this was happening. As soon as we stepped out of the house, one of the guides Gabe quickly located a nice 6×6 bull. My excitement and adrenaline were going through the roof. While he was a nice bull, we decided to try to find a group they had seen the days before with some outstanding bulls. We decided to move to a better vantage point that allowed us to glass a good portion of the property. After glassing for about an hour, we found the group of bulls they had mentioned. We watched the group of bulls feed and move in and out of trees for the next few hours. It seemed like an eternity, watching them and game planning. Setting up our tactical plan can be challenging during elk hunting.
We watched the bulls head into a group of trees that looked like their nap location, we glassed for a while longer to make sure they didn’t leave, and we began to make our plan to move in. We started to head toward the elk, but it seemed to take forever. The wind direction is critical when elk hunting, so for the next couple of hours, we would walk a little bit, check the wind, move forward, walk a little bit, check the wind and move forward. Through this slow and deliberate approach, we narrowed the distance between the bulls’ resting location and our group.
We approached the location where we thought the bulls were, my guide Marti asked us to stay back as he walked to the edge and looked over to see if he could find the bulls bedded down. As soon as he looked over the hill, he immediately found one of them. It was a very wide and old looking bull. At the time, we thought he was a 6×7. Marti did a quick range check and said the bull was around 220 yards away and that he should be able to give us a good shot when he gets up out of bed.
I was so pumped, we had a 6×7 bull just over 200 yards away. Our walk, wind checking, and tactics looked like they would pay off. Marti suggested that we hang out a bit so that we might get a look at the three other bulls that were resting in that area. He wanted to make sure we were going to shoot the most mature and highest quality bull we could get. We waited for about an hour and a half and I tried my best to stay calm and not get too excited. The guides did an excellent job preparing me for my shot by having me set up my gun and hold on a target around 220 yards away. This helped me to take my mind off of the bull and made the time pass more quickly. The guides told me that it was almost show time because the bulls would be getting up soon and we needed to be ready when they did.
Soon, another bull woke up and walked into the open area. As soon and we saw the other bull, Marti walked over to me and said this was the one he was hoping we would get a chance to shoot. When you glass bulls almost 3 miles away, you want to make sure you find the correct one. He asked me to look at the two bulls now standing and asked if I wanted to shoot the first bull we saw bedded. As soon as I saw them both, my response was “Heck yeah, let’s do this.”
We discussed our game plan and moved to a small opening where Marti set up the gun rest in a location that gave me an opportunity to get a shot. As soon as I placed my gun on the rest and pulled up the bull, he walked behind a big tree taking away my shot. Marti quickly had me get up and move a little bit to a slightly better location while the bull couldn’t see us moving. I set up the rest, placed my Weatherby 300, and waited for the bull to step out in the opening.
What seemed like an eternity, but was only a minute passed, and the bull stepped in the opening. I placed the crosshairs on his shoulder to have a good lung shot, I took a couple deep breaths, and as soon as I was settled, I pulled the trigger. The bull was hit and stunned. He jogged about 10 yards and stopped again. I loaded another round and placed it on his shoulder again and pulled the trigger. Boom, another hit, the bull staggered and I kept waiting for him to drop. These animals are tough. He staggered behind a tree, and we waited for a minute to see if we would step out again. We started to see some movement and he stepped out again; I placed one more shot, but he staggered and went down behind the tree. I was super excited, but wanted to make sure he was down for the count. We moved about 100 yards so we could get a better view of him and saw that he was bedded down and moving his head a little. I placed one final round in the chamber and finished the hunt.
As I waited to go see my bull, I thought about the amazing challenge that these animals present and the toughness that keeps them alive. I felt blessed and excited for the opportunity to harvest such an amazing animal. It was a dream come true. As we started to walk up to the animal, I shook Jake, Gabe, and Marti’s hands and thanked them for this wonderful opportunity. I couldn’t believe I had killed my first elk. When I picked up his horns, I was in awe that I had this opportunity and would be bringing elk meat home to share with my family and my boys. My boys were super excited to hear that I had killed a bull and they couldn’t wait to see it and have elk burger.
I would like to thank everyone involved in providing this amazing hunt and experience. I can’t wait to make some elk salami and share it with my best friend so that we can talk about and cherish the memories from years ago when he first introduced me to elk meat. A big thank you to MTN Ops and RMEF – I am truly grateful for everything, and words can’t express enough just how thankful I am to have these memories and a freezer full of elk meat. Until next time.