Frothy breath. Blowing hard. The scent, so close, hanging in the light of the cool mountain dawn. Steam rising off his back like a cold river on a summer morning. And then I actually wake up. Wide awake. The covers drawn around me like I might hug a yearling cedar. But far to the West in the high plains of New Mexico where the bull elk are just starting to rut, screams so loud and clear stream through the room and I feel as if I might never meet sleep again.

You see, this is a big week for me—the first elk hunt of my life. It is Wednesday, October 2. Friday morning I fly out before the sun rises above my temporary residence in South Carolina. Connecting in Dallas, then landing in Denver, I’ll rent a car for a three-hour drive into northern New Mexico, prime elk country. Or at least that’s what I hear from other hunters, and see in my dreams and imagination.

Preparation began weeks ago. Living at sea level, I have run just a little farther each day, and tried to drink a little less each night. Thanks to JJ Reich at Federal, my Remington 700 in .300 Rem. Ultra Mag sent round after round of Federal Premium Trophy Copper ammunition into targets 100, 200, and then 300 yards out. Finally a gallon jug of water at 350. “Them’s good bullets, shoot real straight,” said my friend of the Tennessee hills. I agreed.

Karl Findling of Oregon Pack Works was nice enough to send me a backpack, the Orion, to carry my essentials (and hopefully a whole hell of a lot of meat off of the mountain). He asked for my height and weight, waist size, and what size shirt fits me best. This was merely three days ago, and as I write this, the pack is in Memphis and should be here tomorrow. Thanks, Karl.

My father was nice enough to meet me halfway between home and here to deliver me his hard case so that my rifle could fly safely. That is my intention, anyway. You never know about airlines these days. The company (magazine) that is sending me on this trip couldn’t even hook me up with a case to test, or at least the advertising sales representative wouldn’t put forth the effort. But that’s neither here nor there.

Quite honestly, I have no idea what to expect. Like I said, this is my first tango with the largest of the Cervidae family. Emails come from the ranch I’ll be hunting—the NRA Whittington Center—daily about cooler temperatures and bulls bugling the morning away, while my blood is boiling like high-pressure salted water. Often when I was younger, on the eve of taking the mound for a big game (pun definitely not intended), I’d dream of a rubber arm that could only throw the ball halfway to home plate, skipping through the dirt—and sometimes the batter would even hit it on the long hop. Nerves, I guess. But perhaps I’ve grown past these terrifying delusions the way any boy evolves into manhood. All I feel now is excitement.

While I have killed my fair share of whitetails (the good ones hang on my wall in southern Tennessee), I’ve never considered myself a trophy hunter, strictly speaking. I like to get my meat before the horns. However, with that said, I would love to bring a huge bull back with me, as long as the meat is the first to arrive. I’ve lived on elk meat for a full winter, back when I was living poorer off a bus boy’s wages in northwestern Colorado. Delicious. Tender. Somebody who knew somebody that worked at the Three Forks Ranch needed to unload a freezer full. We obliged.

But this time I’m setting out on my own (not entirely, I’ll have a guide throughout the hunt) to bring back the victuals that will get us through this winter and well into the spring and summer—and perhaps longer still.

I’m already thinking of tenderloin and back strap sizzling on the grill, the dense smoke drifting into the cold North Carolina night (not a typo, I’m relocating soon) when I drizzle a little more marinade onto the meat. Nothing but a little olive oil, and salt and pepper of course. My girlfriend calls from the house that the vegetables are done—she’s good at these things. And would I like another drink before dinner? I would. But this is way too much to think about before I’ve even arrived or pulled the trigger. Only time will tell…

For more information on Federal Premium ammunition, visit

Karl Findling at Oregon Pack Works has some really cool stuff to offer. Visit

Image by Hunter Worth

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