September 14, 2011
By Melissa Bachman
One of the greatest parts of an elk hunt is hearing a bull come screaming into range, but what about those times when there is no talking, not one peep? Well it happens to everyone, and I just came off a long New Mexico elk hunt where the bulls were silent. I was lucky enough to draw a unit 13 archery elk and mule deer tag with Black Mountain Outfitters for an early season combo hunt.
The first morning, things were really looking up. We saw two giants in the headlights on our way out to the public land we'd be hunting and before it was even light we were within a hundred yards of a heard of elk. Although we couldn't see just how good the bull was in the low light conditions, it was still great to know there were elk right in the area we'd be hunting.
Our strategy was simple, since the elk were not bugling we climbed to the highest points we could find to glass and try to spot a good bull off in the distance. This took a little patience, but we would walk from ridge to ridge, high point to high point scouring the area for bulls. Undoubtedly our hunt involved a ton of walking and hiking up some pretty rugged country, but the views were simply amazing.
One afternoon after a long hike to the top of a mountain we spotted a huge group of cows feeding off in the distance. As we waited a nice 5x5 bull was among them and actually let out a bugle or two. It was great to see a mature bull out pushing cows around and I figured each day would only get better so we let him and his cows stroll by as we glassed for more bulls in the distance.
I was super fortunate to have one of the best guides in the unit and in his 11-years of experience he had never seen bulls stay quiet for so long. From Sept 1-10 there had been almost no bugles or rutting activity. Last year they were fired up early, but with the super dry summer the bulls were not as healthy as normal probably causing the rut to be a little late. It also didn't help that we had non-stop rains every afternoon not only keeping the bulls quiet but also making it nearly impossible to get out of camp at times. We mounted a couple cameras on the truck and hit so many mud puddles and slid off the road that one of the cameras actually fell off! The rain also made it difficult to film and the lightning strikes got a little close from time to time. Sure, I won't melt in the rain, however take my word for it, cameras do!
The last morning we spotted a huge group of elk feeding along a ridge and decided to make a run for it and cut them off. We made it down a huge ravine, back up the other side and started slowly sneaking along. Within a couple minutes we could see cows feeding our way so we quickly setup and let them feed by us. We didn't do any calling, just positioned ourselves right where the elk were going. As the cows came closer we actually had a few bed down right next to us as we sat completely still on the ground.
Instead of seeing the big bull we had spotted earlier, a small 5x5 was running cows acting as if he was the toughest bull on the block. Unfortunately all that happened was this new heard had got in between the big group we were after, but it was still fun seeing the small bull parade around and stand broadside at 20-yards. If he had been the big guy surely an arrow would have been released, but instead my guide cameraman and I all watched with smiles on our faces as the group filtered through our area. By the time they finally made there way though the other group had bedded and we decided to try a new plan of attack for evening.
The new plan of attack didn't work out as expected and the rain fell hard and the bulls stayed silent. We did spot a big jack rabbit at 55-yards though and I decided that this guy would have to take the place of a trophy bull for now. Sure he was only a jackrabbit, but it was my first one with a bow and frankly it had my heart beating fast and my hands shaking! I made the long shot and was all smiles for the rest of the ride home! Maybe the rest of my season will have a little extra luck with my new rabbit foot :)
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.