So I was lucky enough to have a military member transfer a NM either sex elk tag in Unit 28 to me when he received orders to deploy. After coordination with him, my outfitter, and the state of NM, I received the tag a few months prior to the hunt. This is a tough hunt, very physically demanding. The unit typically has smaller bulls in its resident herd than nearby legendary Unit 34 but occasionally gets some really nice transient bulls that drop down off Unit 34 from Timberon.
I arrived on Friday and verified the zero on my rifle at a nearby range. Then I towed my RV up to the check station for the hunt unit. This unit is a little different than most NM units as it is on a military range so there is additional registration and coordination required through Ft Bliss and the range wildlife biologist. I proceeded down to Ft Bliss to renew my registration and returned to the RV to meet up with my outfitter, Justin Medina, the lead guide for NM's Arrowhead Outfitters. I've done several hunts with Justin so I had high hopes going into this hunt.
We woke up around 4:30am on Saturday and proceeded to the area he had chosen for us to hunt. We hike in about a half mile, then climb a fairly steep hill of about 1000'. We get to the top, glass for a few, and at that point I realize that nature was calling for me. I drop my pants behind a tree and am right in the middle of taking care of some personal business when Justin whispers "BULLS! 425 yards!" Talk about an inconvenient moment, eh?
I finish up and he tells me "heavy 5x5, he's the shooter, 425 yards... and there's a smaller 5x5 and a 5x6, but the 5x6 isn't very heavy." We watch them for a few minutes and he says, "That's a good bull, but I want to make sure there isn't anything bigger on the other side of the hill. Keep an eye on him and don't lose him."
Well, guess what I did? Justin was gone all of about 3 minutes when the bulls grazed into some cover and disappeared. I kept as sharp an eye as I could on the mostly bare hill behind them and above them to make sure they didn't head out, but either they bedded down or they totally gave me the slip. We're not sure which. Justin returns and I tell him what happened. We decide to wait them out. Surely they would move enough for a bathroom break or a brief noon graze then return. We waited an hour, and two more bulls ran down from the border with Unit 34 into the small wooded patch that our bulls were in. We got ready to shoot, in case the bulls spooked the other bulls, but they didn't appear. Some other hunters evidently saw these bulls because they set up about 500 yards from us, 90 degrees off equidistant from the wooded patch our bulls bedded in. Poor form on their part... Hunters, if you discover someone else already sitting on a spot when you arrived, hunt a different spot, please.
Well, at this point it was a waiting game. Everything was bedded down so we waited until 3pm for them to move with no success. I remained with my glass on their bedding area about 500 yards away and below us and Justin climbed back to the top of the hill to glass the surrounding hills. He returned and said he'd spotted about 20 bull elk, no cows, in a couple different herds on the other side of the hill. We waited until 3:30pm for our 5x5 and friends to move with no luck. Finally, we decided to climb back to the top of the hill, glass these bulls a bit, and glance back on our original ones occasionally. Ours never reappeared but we put the spotting scope and 15x Leicas on the other two herds and a solo bull enough to field judge them. Two herds... the first was four small bulls, nothing bigger than a small 5x5. The second herd contained 14 to 15 elk, with two nice bulls hunkered in with spikes, nothing larger than a small 4x4.
We didn't really have enough time to make a move on them that evening as it would have been close to an hour and a half hike to get to them, plus a group of three hunters were on a hillside about 1000 yards away from the 14-15 bull herd, similarly unable to reach them with the short remaining daylight. We considered the solo 5x5 bull that was only about 1200 yards for us, but after spending some time field judging him, we decided his rear tines (the "whale tale") left a good bit to be desired and he was a bit smaller than the 5x5 we were giving up on. With only an hour left of daylight and a steep hill to climb down, we headed back early.
The next morning we left at 0430 and climbed a hill that would give us a good glassing position for where we last saw the herd. We arrived on top just as daylight arrived and began glassing. Within 20 minutes, we located the 14-15 bullherd, but they had moved about a half mile North towards the border of the unit. (Afterwards, we discovered that a portion of the area to the north actually was huntable with Unit 28, even though it wasn't technically on the Ft Bliss range.)
We field judged them a bit, then decided that at least two bulls were worth harvesting. One 5x5 was a little smaller than the previous day's heavy 5x5 but the real gem was the alpha bull, what we thought was a nice heavy 5x6. After glassing around the other hills and deciding we didn't want to lose these, we decided to commit on this herd and dropped off our mountain.
We repositioned about 600 yards closer to them and located them again. They were inching closer to what we thought was the border and were now within 200 yards of the fenceline. We edged around the same side of the hill they were on as they grazed towards the back of the draw then Justin directed me down... "They're right there! 260 yards!" I repositioned a few yards in front of him and deployed my bipod on the hill and prepped my rifle. The first bull grazed across the ditch at the back of the draw and became visible to me from my shooting position. "Wait!", whispered Justin. "The big one is further back!"
Well, I waited. I waited as bull after bull walked out. I saw the smaller 5x5s and trusted Jason as he said he was sure that 5x6 was going to show himself. Sure enough, he did. He was the last one across the first of two ditches that split the back of the draw. As he climbed the small mini-ridge between the the two ditches, I put my Vortex 4-16x50 HS LR scope on him. Uh oh! Totally blurry. I twisted the scope to 8x and everything came into focus. I put the rifle on his shoulder and, when he stopped, I very gently squeezed the trigger on my Remington XCR .270WSM. The rifle went off and 160 grains of Nosler partition left the barrel at 2975FPS.
The bullet impacted the bull 270 yards away in the back of the right neck, somehow missed everything vital in the neck, passed through both lungs, bounced off something and exited behind the left shoulder, trashing a portion of the left shoulder. The shot felt good, but I didn't actually see him fall. In fact, after the bang, I didn't see him. The herd took up the side of the hill and stopped, turning to look all around. Then, they slowly paraded in front of us. Justin and I whispered back and forth, not seeing my bull in the group but still seeing a couple nice bulls.
"I really think I got him. The shot felt good", I told Justin.
Justin and I conversed. He thought I had hit him too... he had seen blood. We glassed every bull on the far side. The 5x5s looked good... As they moved across I was uncertain that my 5x6 wasn't in the group, but I didn't want to shoot again as I still felt like my bull was down.
Justin said "He's got to be down. Lets go."
We stood up and began walking. We searched for about 10 minutes where I shot him, and the ditch nearby... no blood. I began climbing the hill along the route our bulls had climbed and couldn't find any blood. I managed to stick a yucca needle through the side of my boot into my instep and sat down to remove it. Just as I was putting my boot back on, Justin announced he found him.
I hiked down and was in total shock... I hadn't shot a bull... I had shot a horse with antlers. This elk was well north of 700 pounds, and probably above 800 pounds.
The bull had traveled about 20 yards and as soon as it began to climb out of the eastern ditch, it had collapsed and died. We posed for pictures and began the cleaning and packing out process. 8 hours later, we were in the Ranger UTV headed back to the truck and back to camp.
I've done close to a dozen hunts with Justin. If you're looking for a quality outfitter who knows the southern NM area with competitive rates, I definitely recommend Arrowhead Outfitters. (Author's note: I'm a member of the US Air Force and receive no compensation for my recommendation. I recommend them solely based upon my good success rate, my enjoyment of his companionship and my experiences taking some real trophies.)