November 14, 2023
Morning came crisp and clear over the Glass Mountains of west Texas. Charlie Russell pastels painted the region’s rolling hills, rimrock canyons, and cedar and oak-studded draws. The whistling bugles of rutting bull elk carried on the soft breeze as I sipped my coffee and organized my gear. It seemed to me that this was going to be a good day.
We were hunting a 50,000-acre spread about 25 miles east of Marathon. Many ranches in the area, from Marfa to Marathon and south to Terlingua, hold good herds of free-range, Rocky Mountain elk. Some believe the elk were always in these hills and canyons while others hold they did exist in the past but were gone by the 1880s. Today’s elk are likely descendants of animals brought into the state by local ranchers from other western states between the 1920s and the end of the 20th century.
The state of Texas does not recognize these elk as a game species and therefore they can be hunted year-round as an exotic. All are on private property and engaging one of several outfitters is the only way it is possible to hunt them.
My host was an old friend and safari compadre, Mike Holm, centerfire cartridge product manager for Federal Ammunition. Mike is a serious hunter and an avid shooter. He’s a great guy to share a hunting camp with and I had looked forward to this hunt for many months.
Last year, Hornady introduced their latest PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) variant in 7mm. I was one of the first to hunt with that new cartridge in 2022, on a pronghorn hunt in Wyoming. As I own two different 6.5 PRC-chambered rifles, I was intrigued by the new 7mm, and this long-action contender proved to be a more than capable performer. In my view, for the hunter, the 7 PRC will prove more versatile than its short-action 6.5 brother, due to its ability to handle heavier bullets in the 168 to 175-grain class.
Federal’s newest 7mm bullet for the PRC is a 170-grain Terminal Ascent. While their initial 7 PRC load used a 155-grain bullet, the heavier 170-grain pill only became available just weeks ago, and I was going to be one of the first to use it on this elk hunt.
The Terminal Ascent is Federal Premium’s top-of-the-line bullet, designed specifically for optimum long-range, hunting performance. At the same time, the bullet’s unique design allows it to penetrate deep at short range while maintaining optimum terminal effect at extended range at reduced velocity. A bonded-core design, the Terminal Ascent uses a lead core and a copper shank. It is claimed that its “Slipstream” polymer tip helps initiate expansion at reduced speeds and I have personally witnessed no evidence to the contrary. Combined with a high ballistic coefficient, the Terminal Ascent’s minimal drag optimizes its ability to perform as long range, but still create massive internal damage at shorter distances.
My rifle of choice for this hunt was a new model from Pure Precision, a custom maker out of Grand Junction, Colorado that makes some impressive wares. Their new SKLTN Stainless action, using a Remington 700 footprint, is an improved and lightened version of their earlier Summit, to which they fit a 22-inch Proof Research Sendero carbon fiber barrel. Barrel twist rate is 1-in-8 to optimize accuracy with the heavier 168- to 175-grain 7mm projectiles. The barreled action nestles within an Altitude carbon fiber stock. This rig is lightweight, accurate and capable of packing a serious punch. A perfect choice for a rough country elk hunt.
My guide Creed and I spotted what looked to be a good 5x5 bull as he topped a ridgeline 1,097 laser-ranged yards from our glassing perch on an opposing hill. Not having a spotting scope with us, we decided to take a hike to get closer for a better look.
We made good use of an oak-choked drainage for our stalk that ran uphill between the slopes the elk were occupying. The bull had gathered a harem of six cows. A steady wind in our face helped to mask our scent and any sounds we may have made on our slow but steady approach. About an hour after starting out we ended up within 109 yards of the bull before he spotted us.
At that point, we didn’t need binos to see that he was much bigger than we had initially thought. From that point, instinct took over.
Dropping my shooting sticks without deploying them, I whispered urgently to Creed, “Give me your shoulder and cover your ears.”
Resting the forend of the Pure Precision rifle on Creed’s shoulder, I lined up my scope’s crosshair just behind the bull’s shoulder and pressed the trigger. Upon impact of the 170-grain Terminal Ascent bullet the big, old monarch took no notice at all, wherein Creed and I both thought I had missed, although I could not fathom how. The bull and three of his cows ran toward the top of the ridge and then, before I could put another bullet into him, he turned abruptly downhill, stumbled and fell dead amid a clump of scrub oak.
Federal’s new 170-grain Terminal Ascent bullet had done its work, passing completely through the bull’s vitals and exiting on his off-side. I could not have hoped for better performance.
The bull will likely measure around 330, with eleven-inch bases. His rack is massive throughout the length of his main beams. A big, Roman-nosed old warrior, his teeth were worn down to the gumline and this was likely his last season as it’s doubtful he would survive the coming winter. I could not have hoped for a more worthy animal, nor better performance from Federal’s latest heavy-bullet load for the 7 PRC.