September 04, 2023
As the smoked cleared, the anticipation was crippling. Pulling the extra loads from my hip pouch, I started the process of reloading the CVA Paramount muzzleloader that sat rested in front of me. Dejected, I saw the bull standing seemingly undisturbed in the same spot. The reloading process quickened substantially.
New Mexico holds an allure for hunters of all kinds. The hunting is exceptional for mule deer and antelope and the elk hunting is renowned as a thing of mystery. State management is strict and tag draws are infrequent for hunters, but for those who are lucky enough, holding a coveted tag can mean the hunt of a lifetime and the opportunity at a trophy bull that leaves onlookers ogling.
From start to finish, my New Mexico hunt was a learning experience—mostly due to the coveted tag that was for the muzzleloader season. Luckily I had a drawn the tag with Chad Schearer of CVA and host of Shoot Straight TV, a seasoned veteran who has hunted New Mexico multiple times and traveled the world with a muzzleloader in hand.
Logistics and planning play a big part in a trip like this. Flying with an elk is a pain, flying with two elk and camera gear only complicates that issue. But that’s part of the adventure. Our plan, after meeting up to sight in the .45 caliber Paramount muzzleloaders from CVA—which proved to be extremely accurate to upwards of 300 yards—was to meet in Billings, Montana where I would jump in the truck with Chad, and we’d make the long haul to camp in northern New Mexico.
With a truck bed full of coolers, packs and muzzleloaders, we bumped down the highway watching the mile signs slowly pass. For those looking to travel to hunt elk out West, your journey may look very similar to this, as the ability to take coolers and be in control of your gear from start to finish only serves to make the process simpler.
The drive time also will allow you to finish e-scouting, familiarize yourself with regs and boost your anxiety as you doubt your truck bed full of gear includes that one item you hold so dear to success—it usually is there upon your arrival, don’t worry.
After 14 hours of highway travel, we pulled into our hunt area astonished at the scenery. The typical low-land deserts spotted with ponderosa pines wasn’t where we had ended up. Instead, high mountains littered with thick timber and covered in a low fog and drizzly rain greeted us. I’d say welcomed, but it was disheartening. The country was beautiful, but the weather and the terrain weren’t exactly what we had hoped to see.
“Chad, you went north instead of south. I think we’re in Alaska,” I joked as we assessed the situation. “Sure does look like it,” he joked back.
Whether or not the weather would cooperate was the least of our concern, we were here to hunt elk and that was what we were going to do.
ON THE HUNT
The first night ended early after we inventoried gear, prepped for the morning and had dinner with our outfitter for the trip, Ty Goar of TG’s Trophy Hunts. Going into a foreign area with a hard-to-draw tag, it’s always nice to have the expertise of a guide—if you’re heading West for your first hunt or a going to a new area, hiring a reputable guide will greatly increase your odds of success.
The following days were spent tromping around public land looking at bulls and watching other lucky hunters attempt to notch their tags. Rain, fog and hail only proved to dampen our spirits more as we couldn’t catch a break. We were into elk, but nothing fit the bill of what we expected to see on our New Mexico journey.
With days slowly ticking away, we kept at it, covering miles both on foot and in the truck to ensure we gave the full unit a fair shake at producing. At every turn, we seemed to run into another hunter who had the same plan. What’s more, the hunt was in early October, a time where mature bulls had split from the cows and started to work their way down to migratory regions in the low country. Some were still bugling and rutting, which provided a great show and boost in spirit, but most were the younger bulls that had not had their chance during the previous month.
The morning of the third day saw our luck change. After leaving a herd of elk to not blow an opportunity for other hunters, we returned to the truck to change areas and glass some new country. On the road to the new hunting spot—whether it was my mind playing tricks or I spotted an elk, we may never know—but I called for our guide to stop the truck. A few minutes later, over a mile away, Chad picked a bull out of the aspen trees where I’d thought I’d seen animals. (That’s a win in my book.) Then more appeared. The three bulls were grouped up and relaxing after spending September rutting hard. One bull sported long main beams and great mass, a mature animal that I was willing to make a play at.
The plan was to drop into the deep canyon, climb the other side and get on an old, overgrown logging road that would hopefully put us within range. After fighting tirelessly through the cat’s claw brush and overgrown aspens, the road felt easy to walk, though it was a maze of tangled brush and thorny aggressors.
With time on our side, as the bulls bedded comfortably in their aspen patch, we worked slowly as to not alert them of our presence. The wind stayed in our favor and after a lifetime of stalking through the brush and covering the big country, we slid into position at 180 yards. With sticks under the forend and my pack supporting the rear, the rifle was solid offering extreme confidence in the shot.
Wait, wait some more and then wait again, the never-ending plight of hunters. It was a patience game at this point, the country is thick and there were minimal shooting lanes. The bull we were after was incredibly comfortable staying tucked inside the shade of the aspens.
After what felt like hours, he worked towards a shooting lane. The crosshairs settled just behind the shoulder and the trigger broke clean. But as the smoke from the powder cleared, the bull was still there and acting unhurt. Just moments after he moved out of the shooting lane and out of sight, a massive thunderstorm rolled in only hindering our ability to solve the mystery of the shot.
Being pounded with hail, I staid glued to my binoculars to see if I could find the bull. Nothing.
We turned to the small screen of the video camera and were able to discern the bullet didn’t find its mark. A clean miss, and one that was so substantial, we opted to back out of the area to confirm the accuracy of the rifle before continuing the hunt.
Shooting the rifle back at the truck, it found its mark every time. Now the doubt sank in about my abilities, thinking that buck fever may had just ruined my opportunity to fill a tag on. Chad assured me misses like that happen with muzzleloaders and if a bullet comes unseated in the barrel from being banged and tossed around, you can have an errant bullet. I chocked it up to that and headed back in to find that bull again.
A SECOND CHANCE
Not knowing where the bulls had gone, we planned to get back into the area to hopefully have another opportunity. After another long hike through brush and steep country, we crested the top of the hill just above the aspen patch where the bulls had been previously. They fed a mere 40 yards away over the crest of the mountain. With the wind right, I worked forward to get a better shot angle. Once in position, I found myself clicking the safety forward as the big bull fed into a shooting lane.
At 34 yards, the report of the rifle was silenced by the devastating impact of the 285-grain PowerBelt ELR bullet. While I scrambled to reload—completely forgetting my streamlined process—the bull fell and I stumbled back to a seated position as well.
Overcome with emotion of the events that had transpired that day, and killing by far my best bull, I was thankful for opportunity and the success of a great hunt. We were far from done, though, and I jumped up to go put hands on the magnificent beast.
The first thing noticed was his tremendous size both in body and antler. His blonde coat shined brightly in the evening sunlight, a moment that will stick in my mind forever. After congratulations and photos, we broke out the headlamps and got to work with the knives, making sure to collect every piece of useable meat. The pack out was slow through steep and dense terrain, but the smile never left my face, nor the faces of my hunting companions.
Returning to camp late in the evening, we fought off the urge to celebrate and instead get some much-needed rest. After all, we had two days left of season and another tag to fill, but that’s a story for another time.
DRAWING A TAG
For those looking for an adventure, New Mexico offers a grand adventure if you can draw the tag. For this trip, we used WTA TAGS to help navigate the application system. For a minimal cost, WTA will send in your applications, navigate the entire process while picking the best tags to fit your hunting preferences and cover any up-front tag costs until you pull your tag. (worldwidetrophyadventures.com)
If you’re looking for a new muzzleloader for an upcoming season, the Paramount just may be a perfect option. This in-line rifle delivers optimum performance at extended distances. Set into a comfortable chassis-style stock that is fully adjustable, the rifle is able of producing high muzzle velocity and accurate groups at extended ranges. Barrels are made by Bergara and deliver great performance. The Paramount is available only in .45 caliber and the PowerBelt ELR 285-grain bullets are designed specifically for the platform. ($1290; bpioutdoors.com)