We Are The Draw
Women Elk Hunting: Loretta’s Elk Hunt 2019
Updated: Feb 19, 2021
2019 was a special year of hunting for Loretta and I, with a little luck Loretta was able to draw one of the premier elk hunts in the entire state of New Mexico. Unit 34 is located on the southern end of the Sacramento Mountains and wraps around the world famous Mescalero Reservation.
When the hunt finally arrived we found ourselves settling into excellent wall tent accommodations, and having a fantastic dinner with one of our premier outfitters in this area of the state. This camp has it all, the cots are all oversized and include pads, the floors are carpeted, the kitchen has everything including an oven and sink. There is loads of food to eat no matter what time of day you are looking for a snack. There are dug in private bathrooms, and a shower tent with on demand hot water. You simply couldn’t be more comfortable in a wall tent style camp.
This was an especially special hunt for us, as this was Loretta’s first elk hunt. She has only been hunting since we first started dating 8 years ago, and has successfully hunted mule deer, whitetail, axis deer, antelope, New Mexico Oryx, and Javelina, but this was her first elk hunt and to say that she was excited and nervous on this big game hunt is an understatement. Sleep didn’t come easy, and it seemed as if every minute took a full hour as we snoozed in and out of sleep all night. Take a look at our ''Women Elk Hunting (Loretta's First Elk Hunt)'' video below:
The Next Morning...
As morning finally arrived we were dressed, and out to the cook tent, to say the anticipation was high that morning is an understatement. As the wood burning stove crackled and popped in the corner we all sipped coffee and traded glances with the other hunters wondering if we would be the triumphant heroes of the day, or maybe it would be one of them. Not many words are spoken on mornings like this, but as the “good lucks” and “have fun’s” are passed around we all shuffle off to our different vehicles, and headed out into the deeper parts of the unit.
Morning found us hiking up a trail with our guide, as the grey gave way to all the different colors of the desert we hustled past a small watering hole that is pounded by deer and elk tracks on all sides. We pushed hard to get to the summit of the ridge before we missed the good light. With heavy breaths we settle in behind our optics and tripods and start straining to see the slightest amount of color, or with any luck possibly even hear a distance bugle. Overall the morning ended up rather slow, we were able to glass up a few cow elk a couple miles across the canyon, and a few other hunters hiking across the landscape. Once the sun was high above the horizon we decided to make a move to the back side of the canyon. As we crested the ridge we bumped a small herd of bulls, it was difficult to get a great look as they moved in and out of the cedar trees, but from what we could see they were young bulls, and nothing we would have been interested in anyways, but as it goes on a hunt even if it was the biggest bull in the world they slipped out before we would had a chance to make a move even if we wanted too. This concluded the morning, on the way out we walked past a couple of semi-fresh rubs and back to the camp. It was a slow morning for hunting, but it was nice to get past the anxiety that opening morning can bring.
Opening evening found us in a different area of the unit, this area was a slightly higher elevation and the cedar and junipers had given way to strips of ponderosa pine surrounded by an old burn covered in lush green grass, and low level shrubs sharply contrasting against the charred black logs and stumps scattered across the open hillsides. As we moved along the tree line we stopped often glassing across the openings into the edges of the other tree rows. As the sun began to fade we spotted our first elk of the evening. They were close enough for a shot if the right bull showed himself. As we settled into our hiding spot, we set up our tripods and started glassing hard. After a few minutes there he was, the bull came just high enough on the ridge to see the top end of his rack. He was definitely not a rag horn, but we were not sure if we were seeing a fourth and a fifth or maybe we were seeing a fifth and six. If it happened to be a fifth and six then this was going to be a bull we would take very serious. As we waited impatiently the moment of truth finally arrived, and the bull gave us our first solid look. He was a beautiful 5x5 and happy as he could be with his small group of cows. Loretta had been saying for weeks she was really wanting a 6x6 bull and being that it was opening day she decided to pass. We watched the bull as the sun set behind us and walked in the dark back to the truck and continued back to camp.
Day two found us with the outfitter as he was successful with his client the previous day on a great 6x6 bull. When we jumped in the truck he looked at Loretta and said, “are you ready to put some miles on those boots?” With a nervous smile and laugh Loretta said, “I’ll go wherever you want to go.” Little did we know 12 miles later, and nice little siesta in a bed of rocks and pine needles the sun would set on our second day. It had been fun, we saw a number of bulls and even heard some bugling in the evening. Loretta stayed focused on her goal, and continued to pass nice bulls for the duration of the day. With tired legs and feet, dinner was better than normal, the drinks were empty quick, and sleep was almost immediate for us both.
Day three on a five day hunt is always a pivotal moment in the hunt, although subtle the gentle nagging question of “I wonder if I am going to get one” starts creeping in. Without a successful morning you will be moving into the second half of the hunt, and this can leave an unsettling feeling in the guts of even the most seasoned hunter. Once we climbed back up the mountain from yesterday we were immediately back into the bulls, there was a bull on the front of the ridge that made us take a second look and would have been in big trouble if he wasn’t busted up on one side. We made our way to where we had seen the bulk of the elk the previous day, and set up to start glassing. It seemed that the elk had pushed further to the south than the day previous and the glassing wasn’t turning up as much as we had hoped. As we made our way down the mountain we set up and started glassing again for the evening. As the hours stretched out, we finally put some elk in the glass. We moved in for a closer look in the dense cedar and junipers and lost them in the sea of trees. We continued to move forward, and eventually gained enough elevation to see through the trees below us. There were elk moving through the trees below us, and eventually we spotted a nice bull, as the sun was setting, getting a comfortable shot was difficult as it seemed as though the sun was coming directly through the scope every time he would present a shot. This game went on for closer to a half an hour until the sun finally went behind the horizon. At this time we were back in close and the cedars made it very difficult to see much past 50 yards at anyone time. Out of nowhere we came around a tree and the bull was quartering towards us with his head down looking at us as he peeked under a limb. Loretta jumped on the gun, and made a quick shot but was unsuccessful threading the needle. The darkness surrounded us as we made our way to pickup and we were headed into day four.
We spent the beginning of day four confirming once again that Loretta was unsuccessful in her shot from the previous night, and the evening of this day was slower than the other days as well, we were able to glass up some elk, and made a move on a small herd that didn’t produce a bull. After hiking over 10 miles each of the last two days we welcomed a more mellow day and didn’t put near as many miles on our boots as we had been doing. By the time we made it back to camp the anxiety of heading into the final day was upon us. We were one of two unsuccessful hunters in camp at that point and all 6 of the others had taken their bulls and headed out of camp. The cook tent was not quite the lively place it had been in recent nights and dinner was rather quiet as the guides quietly discussed potential plans for the morning, and how to best stack the odds in our favor with extra man power to spread out and find the elk for both Loretta and the other hunter remaining in camp. Although tired sleep came slower that night, as we had not put on as many miles that day as well as the pit in our stomach that we were headed into the final battle of the hunt, and had one more day to make this dream into a reality.
The crisp air in the morning made it possible to see your breath as we exited our tent and headed for the cooks tent to warm up at the fire and get some much needed coffee. Today was do or die time and either they would write songs about our heroics or we would fade into nothing more than a good time in the woods with family and friends. Chris and Jeff, our guides seemed optimistic as we climbed into the truck and headed out. We discussed whether we were still looking for a special bull or if the bar had been lowered over night. Being that it was Loretta’s first elk hunt she really wanted to be successful and would like to take one of the younger bulls we saw if the opportunity presented itself. Instead of hiking to the top of the ridgeline like we had done multiple times during the hunt this time we stayed in the truck, covering ground and glassing fast all the different draws and thickets that we could as the morning progressed. We came close to taking a small 5x5 but he and his cows made the tree line as we set up for the shot.
Eventually Jeff called out that he had some elk, one was a solid bull, and he knew just how to intersect them. We jumped in the truck, hustled down the road diving off onto a two-truck and bouncing our way up to the end of the road. We immediately jumped out, grabbed the backpacks, shooting sticks and moved up the draw as fast as we could. We were now back in the trees, leading up to the base of another ridgeline. As we approached the first cow stepped into an opening above us. Oblivious of our presence she wasn’t spooked but slowly made her way through the trees on her way to the bedding area. As she made it further across the face other cows followed, by this time we were set on the sticks, Loretta was standing with the rifle set across the tripod style BogPod sticks. Chris called out the range at 375 yards and we all waited. Like the lead dancer in a ballet, the bull shows on que, he is following the same path as the cows in front of him. Loretta starts tracking him across the hillside waiting for him to clear the brush, as well as stop for the shot. As he stepped into the largest opening on the hillside, approximately about 8 feet wide, Chris chirped on his cow call with one snapping call that stopped the bull in his tracks. As his weight shifted off of his front legs traveling towards his back, the shot rang out, and Loretta had connected slightly in front of the shoulder. The bull stiffened in his tracks, while Loretta ran the bolt. Within moments the second shot rang out, striking the bull a little in front of the center of the body. This second hit shocked the bull and he was back on the move, he settled 10 yards further up the hill behind a large dead cedar. You could see his outline, but it was very hard to see a clear line of fire.
Being that we knew he was wounded and without any of the cows to worry about as they had exited stage left, we instructed Loretta to try and thread the needle, the shot went out, but it sounded like a miss, with no loud thump or smack and the bull remained in his tracks. At this time the bull turned towards the top of the mountain, and offered one more quartering away shot as he approached the skyline. As it was happening quickly, the bull was moving through the trees, we all believed we heard the solid smack we were hoping for but as fast as the moment began it was over and the bull was out of sight. We all traded uneasy sighs and looks, as it is always an unnerving feeling to have a buck or bull not fall where you can see him. We were quite hopeful that he wouldn’t go far, but all agreed that we never did see a large amount of blood coming out of him after any of the shots. We all agreed that the best plan was to head back to camp, warm up the coffee and give the bull a couple hours. It was turning into a rather warm morning with bright blue skies, I have found in the past that warm conditions like this in an uncertain situation can be in your favor. After the longest two hours ever, we loaded in the truck and headed back to where the battle was waged. As we pulled out of camp, Chris stopped and asked the wrangler to get the mules ready and meet us at the base of the ridgeline as he was quite certain we were going to need them sooner than later.
As we climbed the ridgeline we had marked the dead cedar and knew that the bull had been stationary behind that tree for the longest of times, and we should be able to pick up the tracks and blood easiest there. Unfortunately we were wrong, although there were tracks we could not find a single drop of blood on the rocks, brush or dirt. The hill side was pounded with tracks and resembled what it looks like when a herd of sheep come through an area more than a single game trail working through the woods. We all scratched our heads, put Loretta in the lead with the gun, and slowly approached the top of the ridge where we believed we had last seen the bull. Once on top, the situation became even more bleak, as it was much more open on top than before, and well….we couldn’t see the bull. We all started spreading out, and very slowly and quietly started gridding the area. We had been at this for probably the longest 10 minutes of my life, when I came around a tree to see Chris, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I have no idea.” I was in the same boat and was rather sick to my stomach. All of a sudden like a gift from mother earth herself my eyes focused on something that seemed slightly out of place approximately 50 yards behind Chris, as I took a couple of steps closer, what seemed to be an odd shaped rock, started to look more and more like hair, It was a patch of hair on the back of the bull, laying under a cedar tree. As my eyes began to get more depth at what I was looking at, I almost screamed! There he was and he looked like he had passed! As I got the camera rolling, Chris being the joker that he is, got Loretta’s attention and was bringing her in close, at this time because of how Chris was acting she was quietly hurrying believing she was going to once again need to squeeze the trigger one more time on the bull. As I got in position with the camera we were now close enough for her to see for herself that our adventure had come to head. As the emotions of the event took over, the tears of joy softly rolled down her cheeks. She is not the most accomplished hunter in the woods, but she has taken a number of animals, this was different, she had never gone to the last day of a hunt, she had never had to walk away with the uncertainty of whether the shots were true or not, she had never put so much effort into the task at hand, and all of these feelings came to the front and center as she kneeled next to her bull. He wasn’t the biggest bull in the woods, and he wasn’t the biggest bull we had seen that week, but this one was hers, and she had earned it. These moments can be full of screaming and yelling, they can be full of back slaps, and high-fives, I have been part of that more times than I can count, but this time it was different, it was a very quiet moment surrounded by professionals doing what they do time and again, and my wife and I soaking in the feeling of a satisfaction, relief, and accomplishment of achieving a goal we had set many years previous to this. It was truly amazing to say the least.
Chris and Jeff went to work with their knives, and in short order the bull was completely skinned and quartered. Like clockwork Brandon arrived with the mules, and we on our way back to the trucks. As it is customary Loretta donned a pack frame with the skull and antlers and we were headed off the mountain. Hunting out west is an amazing thing to experience, hunting elk out west is really something in its own right, and we were fortunate to be able to experience this in our home state of New Mexico. Drawing a hunt is how we were able to make this dream a reality and really our preferred method as the ever increasing cost of landowner permits makes it less appealing. Needless to say, Loretta is hooked on elk hunting, she can hardly wait to get on her next hunt, and has since added a few more states to her Hunt Plan with shorter finish lines in the draw process to ensure that she is not leaving it all up to lady luck her in New Mexico and she will find herself back in the elk woods sooner than later.
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