It Ain’t Over, ‘Till It’s Over

My hunting partner, Steve Hingey, and I had been up every mountain and down every canyon in western New Mexico for the past 16 days. It was mid-September and the elk rut was getting into full swing — or was it? Due to unseasonably hot and dry weather it seemed that the earth had opened up and swallowed all the elk in the area. In reality, the elk were still around, yet almost all the action was occurring during the coolest part of the day — rather, make that,night.

On the 10th day of the trip, Hingey had happened onto a nice 5×5 bull that was trudging cross-country in a narrow-minded state of sexual frustration. Undoubtedly harboring hopes of finding an unclaimed cow, the bachelor bull found that his luck was about to take a turn for the worse, not the better.

A “Bird In Hand”

As Hingey hid carefully behind a ridge-top deadfall, the bull strolled past unconcernedly. Hingey had long-since decided that due to the extremely tough hunting conditions, his original plan “of settling for nothing less than a trophy” could wait for another year. So, when the “bird-in-hand” bull offered him a broadside shot, Hingey laid him to rest.

The author packs his elk meat and antlers out from the backcountry.
The author packs his elk meat and antlers out from the backcountry.

After the picture taking, boning and packing was complete, Hingey headed for Oklahoma, job responsibilities beckoning. “Well,” I thought to myself, “I probably won’t need any help butchering an elk anyway because with only three days of season left there isno way I’m gonna get one, right?”

The next couple of days were filled with hopes, hard effort andno close calls. I was hearing a few bulls bugling at night and I was getting up well before daylight, following them in the darkness, while hoping to make something positive happen at first-light. However, it seemed that as soon as the first hint of daylight appeared in the eastern sky, the bulls would dig a hole and disappear. And I thoughtwhitetails were escape artists!

Head For Home?

By nightfall of the next-to-last day of season, I was harboring the thought of packing up and heading for Oklahoma. I reasoned that,after 19 days of hard hunting, surely quitting one day early wouldn’t make any difference would it? One re-occurring rebuttal to that thought kept running through my mind …Quitters never win and winners never quit. Well, the truth of that couldn’t be denied.

As a last-ditch effort, I decided to load up my backpack and hike to a distant ridgeline, spending the night there. With a full moon as a helpmate, the undertaking seemed very possible.

Arriving at my destination about midnight, I quickly erected my one-man tent, threw my sleeping pad and bag inside and hit the hay. Sometime during the early-morning hours, I awoke to the barely discernable sound of a far-away bugle. Quickly alert, I listened intently. Shortly, the unmistakable sound of a bugle once again drifted to my ears — only this time, it was closer. Looking at my watch, I realized that daybreak was about an hour away. Climbing from my tent, I dressed, stuffed all my gear into my pack, grabbed my bow and headed out.

This is the "last day" 8x7 bull the author harvested in New Mexico.
This is the “last day” 8×7 bull the author harvested in New Mexico.

Chasing The Bull

Within one-half hour I was quietly sitting on the rim of a canyon that held the bugling bull that had so graciously awakened me earlier. Dropping into the canyon, I could feel the cool morning thermals in my face as I slowly waited for daylight. In a very short while, the world began to take form around me in the soft light of anothergreat day.

The bull had last bugled only a short distance up-canyon from me, when suddenly, I heard the sound of snapping brush and thudding hoofs. A herd of elk was about to travel right over me! Nocking an arrow, and melting against a tree, I scanned the passing forms for antlers. Cow after cow milled randomly past my location, luckily, upslope and upwind from my hide. Then I heard the deep, guttural moan of a lovesick bull as he approached. Easing my bowstring back to my face, I spotted antlers drifting through the brush. Settling my bow on an opening, as the bull stepped into it, I squealed softly.

As I drove home two days later, I glanced into my rear-view mirror at the big 8×7 rack that was strapped onto my horse trailer … and smiled.

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