Hunter: Nathan Brown
September 16th, the official first day of hunting season for Nate. He is on a public land elk hunt with archery equipment in the Gila mountain range of New Mexico.
Upon arriving at camp just before midnight, Nate and Christian unpacked their gear, set up the tent and met their guide, Wes Armenta. Wes has a history with chasing bugling elk dating all the way back to when he was 13 years old and if Nate were successful in his hunt, the elk would mark Wes's 200th successful elk harvest.
Day 1 of 10 was a sleepless night, not only because of a "hunters 1st-morning" excitement level but also we were hearing elk bugle all around our camp. With the elk still bugling and after hiking 1000ft before daybreak, we started calling. Even though we could hear 2 bulls fighting a hundred yards away in the timber and several others bugling in the opposite direction, they managed to all go unseen as they ascended to their morning beds. Like many hunters, we left them undisturbed knowing they'd probably take the same path coming down in the evening. However, we were wrong...not about the elk's natural tendency to come off the mountain but about the idea that we were the only ones hunting them. We were hunting public ground and we quickly learned that we weren't the only ones hunting the heard. There must have been 3 ATVs, 4 off-road trucks, & and a pair of mules sitting at the base of the mountain when we arrived that evening to chase those elk again. Not only was the presence of hunters disturbing but the bugling and fighting turned out to be a freak deal because once the temps began to rise, the elk activity decreased.
So off we went. Averaging just over 8 miles a day in the thick Ponderosa Pine infested, Mesquite coated mountains Where we found everything but elk. Our mission was to get as far away from human pressure as we could. The Bulls were only vocal in the first 30 minutes before and after sunset. Abnormal temperatures were soaring into the 90's almost every day and wouldn't drop below 70 at night.
Though we were off the beaten path and often on the tail end of bugles each morning, we couldn't seem to catch a break. The elk were always ahead of us and thermals never cooperated long enough for us to get out in front of the heard.
Day 7 and 48 miles later, we've only had a couple encounters with two young 5x5's, a cow and some turkeys. It was crunch time and after not hearing anything all morning the thought of not tagging out on a good bull was starting to become a reality. Then it happened. Only 1.5 miles from our camp we hear him. It was more of a faint and higher pitched bugle than we were hoping to hear but we all agreed to investigate it by getting closer. Unsure if we were wasting our time on another young bull and after already logging 2 miles we began another 2-mile hike to where we last heard his bugle. Wes begins to cow call, "Mew. Mmewwww..." Shortly after the second call, Wes gets interrupted by a loud roar! It was on.
The bull was near and in hot pursuit of an estrous cow. They zigzagged through the pine thicket as if it were an elementary obstacle course. After a couple of short glimpses of feet and brown flashes, we finally see the cow...she is heading straight for us. The bull runs her right by us before stopping 27 yards away. It was then that we could tell it wasn't another youngster but instead was the heard bull we were hearing each night from camp.
Nate drew back his bow and didn't have to wait long before the perfect broadside shot presented itself. He made a great shot and the bull only ran 100 yards before bedding up.
The high fives and hugs were short-lived because we were now in a race against time. A weather system moved in that morning and was threatening to wash away any blood trail we thought we might have. Luckily, it held back long enough for us to recover the bull and begin the quartering process.
Even though we lost several pounds, smelled worse than a high school boys locker room, and had to pack out several hundred pounds of meat off a mountain during a rainstorm, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.
Many hunters go their whole lives without having the opportunities we had on that mountain which is why we always remain humble and appreciative for the blessings poured upon us that day. This elk was truly an accomplishment and testament to hard work paying off. I know there will be people back home questioning our actions and protesting the very idea of being a hunter-gatherer, but while they are casting their judgment and hate, I will be dreaming of my next opportunity while eating a super delicious slice of elk backstrap dipped in BBQ sauce.