Guide Mike White of the NRA Whittington Center glasses the surrounding country as day breaks in northern New Mexico.
Guide Mike White of the NRA Whittington Center glasses the surrounding country as day breaks in northern New Mexico.

This is part two of Josh Wolfe’s story detailing his hunt at the NRA Whittington Center. Read part one here.

I couldn’t believe my eyes—or ears—as he slowly grazed along to the tip of the point. We were finally closing on an opportunity at a good bull elk. From the point, he could only go down and would hopefully head out of Pevov Canyon, walking right through the meadow below us and out onto the plains to feed for the night.

However, 550 yards is a pretty far shot; at least for me. We needed to get to the point that separated us from the herd, which made it about a 250-yard shot instead and cut the distance they had to walk to end up right below us, being that the sun was slowly sinking. We shouldered and fastened our packs as we walked at a quick beat back toward the spine and then slightly back uphill to the next point. Ducking to the shadowed, leeward side, we stopped briefly to shed all but our essentials and come up with a quick plan.

We eased out to the point where we could see most of the herd. The cows were slowly making their way downhill while the bull hung back among the low evergreens, only his horns shining in the evening sun until finally, as if the bell of an imaginary alarm clock went off, they started making their way down into the canyon floor.

The bull followed, herding his harem. No lady left behind. They gathered at the tail of the canyon, bunching up as if they were about to run onto the field for a football game. Slowly, a few cows, then a few more, and then the whole herd emerged below us and a bit to the right.

“Wait until they get right out in the meadow below us,” Mike said. “It’ll be about a 220-yard shot, but you can do it. Just hold it right on his shoulder and squeeze the trigger.”

Lord, my hands were sweaty. I was feeling more pressure than I’ve ever felt in my hunting life. I was about to get a chance at what many consider the king of the cervidae family—the aforementioned meat on the grill, a huge rack on my wall. I was all nerves.

But as the big bull separated himself from the cows, giving me a clean shot, my tunnel vision clicked on and I was focused on a eight-inch patch of hide that held his vitals.

“Whenever you’re ready, I’m going to squeal to stop him,” Mike said.

“Okay.” Except I didn’t mean “Okay I’m ready.” I was merely answering. Mike squealed and the bull stopped dead in line with a small sapling in front of me. The entire herd was looking our way and I thought they might spook. But as I sat there, glancing at him through my scope as the slight breeze pushed the leaves of the sapling in and out of my way, they all finally relaxed and went back to grazing. The bull put his head down and took another few steps forward.

“Now,” I said, out of the corner of my mouth.

The author's bull, a 5x6, scored 313.
The author’s bull, a 5×6, scored 313.

Mike squealed again and this time not a fragment in the world stood between us. I braced myself harder against the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum and slid off the safety. Leveling it just behind his shoulder, I squeezed the trigger. He buckled at the shot but didn’t go down. The entire herd began heading towards the forest and he followed at a walk. Before entering the trees and disappearing, they all stopped to look once more for the loud report. As he pulled up behind the cows I scrambled over loose stone and found him in my crosshairs again. Boom!

He buckled once more and slowly trotted into the woods.

“Did I…did I get him?” I stuttered. I must have had one bewildered look on my face, but Mike and Logan were glassing hard into the dark timber. One by one we spotted the cows moving up the other side of the canyon along a ridge and I held my breath, hoping those magnificent horns would not be following. It seemed like an hour we stood there as the last of the cows made its way up and over. The bull didn’t follow.

He was a truly magnificent animal. If I’ve said that before I’ll say it 1,000 more times. Each time I think about how he looked on the hoof my blood pressure rises. Each time I think about elk steaks on the grill, my stomach grumbles.

When we finally hiked back to the truck and drove like hell to the canyon below, he hadn’t gone 100 yards from where the first shot entered his body. Four hours later, he was skinned, quartered, and packed out. Eight hours later, as the sun began to rise, I lay still, staring at nothing, replaying the events that had transpired as if the moment might never go away. And when I finally did sleep, it was much like the beginning when he walked into my dreams to stay forever.

Images courtesy Josh Wolfe

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