New Mexico Elk Hunting: 6×4=199?

What do a 42-year-old middle school principal and a 15-year-old bowhunter have in common? A passion for elk hunting with a bow!

It was the first day of September 2010, and the Iowa sun was setting fast, when my dad said, “Reed, you can’t shoot any better, you’re fine, we have to pack your bow, our plane leaves at 5 a.m.”

Being 15, I had a little anxiety about going on my first elk hunt. I released my last practice arrow into the vitals of our bull elk target at 40 yards. Finally, with that shot, I felt ready for my New Mexico hunt near the town of Cloudcroft, about 220 miles southeast of Albuquerque.

The next morning we boarded a plane, 1,374 miles from our camp in Unit 34, a premier elk unit there.

The 15-year-old Iowa bowhunter was thrilled to be chasing elk in New Mexico.

Day 1 At Elk Camp
I woke up, looked at the clock and it showed 4:23 a.m. I took a short shower, ate a quick breakfast, and met up with my friends and fellow elkaholics, middle school principal and part-time guide Ralph Ramos, owner of Ramos Hunts and Videos, and fellow bowhunter Jay Jarden.

The night before, the bulls were “on fire,” but this morning all was quiet. We headed out from our camp to a secret mountain that had in past seasons proved to be worth the effort to scale. Thanks to a run in with some cows and an inquisitive spike bull, I was reminded of the enormous size of elk compared to the whitetails I hunt near home.

The morning went fast, and after covering two mountains and brief encounters with cows and spikes, I was ready for a break and a mountain lunch. I had just sat down, tightened my shoe strings, and was munching away on a sandwich when a bull bugled. I could tell he was close, and coming — the hunt was back on!

Ramos sets up and starts cow calling. Jarden and I move up to see if the bull comes in, and my heart pounds a little faster now. We slowly advance, a few steps at a time, until I spot a tan colored rump feeding away that belongs to a — a — “it’s a bull,” I whisper to Jarden with excitement. A 5×5 to be exact with an impressive sun bleached white rack.

As we slowly make our approach, I suddenly caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Instantly I froze, and to my right, less than 40 yards away, was a cow and her calf! They start feeding away from us, and the bull soon follows them. The bull was no longer stalkable or even interested in Ramos’ enticing cow calls. Seeing this, Jarden and I slowly retrace our steps backwards until we make our way back to Ramos.

After briefly describing the whole incident to him, Jarden and I soon head off to a new spot, a spot where we had earlier heard another bull bugle.

The author notes some of the terrain required “mountain goat like” maneuvering.

Ramos fires off a bugle again and a distant bull immediately responds. We slowly make our way towards the fired-up bull. The stalk continues for nearly 30 minutes before we came to a clearing. We pause, both look at each other, and had the same thing on our minds. We had the wind in our favor and the bull was heading our way!

We quickly scurry across the clearing and start a gradual ascent up the other side of the canyon. We are about halfway up when I pause because I notic movement ahead. I see the rump patch of an elk standing there looking in another direction. He bugles and the bushes around him shake. He was less than 100 yards away!

Jarden and I look at each other. I instinctively nock my arrow and focus. We creep closer and closer. Soon, I can just make out a rack, and the rack didn’t belong to a little bull! Now, the bull is only 80 yards away. I count my steps along the way and keep looking ahead. Finally, I get to 40 yards and the bull still didn’t move, and he is looking away. I draw, the wind swirls, and the bull glares in my direction, pegs us, and scampers off! That’s bowhunting. We had a couple of other encounters later in the day, but things didn’t come together then either. Still, I am glad for all the opportunities we have this day.

Day 2 At Elk Camp
After much discussion that night, it is a unanimous decision on where to hunt the next morning. I am PUMPED! We are up and on our way at 4:45 a.m. Our spot, “The Hell Hole” has a bad name, but a good reputation for producing some real nice bulls. The reason it is called “The Hell Hole” is because you need to be half mountain goat to get in and out of there! It is steep, jagged, with deadfalls everywhere, and there’s only one way up! After getting about halfway up, the classic line of, “are we there yet?” rang in my mind. My knees ache; sweat lines my hat, but I know today is my day.

We finally make it to the top where the elk are bed. We quietly get on a trail and set up, Ramos starts calling, but after no response we move to the other side of the mountain and start glassing.

After a couple minutes we spot a small bull across the canyon, then see a herd of five bulls walking down the mountain across the canyon from us. We decided to give them a try so we haul it over to where we last saw them. We set up, then have Ramos start calling. The curious, younger bulls slowly start to trickle into our set up. Ramos keeps cow calling and moves backwards to pull the bulls closer. And soon we have all the bulls in our lap! But I have a problem — the bushes are so tall, I can’t see over them. I can hear and smell the bulls, but have no good openings for a shot. And once again the wind changes, and off they go!

Guide Ralph Ramos (left to right), Jay Jarden (he killed a bull later on in the hunt), and the author.

We took a brief break for a PowerBar, and talk about our close encounter. We then get right back after it. We follow a trail down along a saddle and it isn’t too long before we are in the elk again.

Ramos suddenly drops to the ground; a group of bulls are on a collision course straight for us! Ramos throws a couple cow calls at them. You know what they say — curiosity killed the cat, except in this case it might be the bull!

He continues calling, and I quickly set-up for a possible shot. Ramos ranges one of the bulls at 43 yards, and I quickly draw, focus my pin, release, and my arrow hits true! The bull stumbles off a few yards and then falls over, gets back up, and then follows the other bulls down and across the saddle.

Once everything calms down, we start looking for blood. Sure enough, we find some and it’s dark red, which probably means a liver hit. We do the logical thing and wait 1-1/2 hours. If it is indeed a liver shot, then time is your best friend.

We resume following the blood trail, which leads us up the side of the canyon, but the scrub oak bushes are so thick that we easily could have walked by him. After an hour of blood trailing, I start to lose hope.

Jarden Flashes A Signal
I then notice Jarden at the bottom of the canyon, only 85 or so yards away from me; he has his binoculars out and is intensely staring into a spot I can’t see. Then he put his binos’ down and looks at me and performs the weirdest hand jesters I’ve ever seen! (Almost like my old baseball coach telling me to hit the ball and steal second at the same time!) Anyway, I slowly, and as quietly as possible, maneuver down the hill. I finally get a few yards from him and ask, “What is it?” I am answered with a finger to the lips gesture. So I walk up to him and he whispers: “I spotted your bull, he’s bedded by a small drainage by a waterhole. I think we should just wait him out.”

Ramos, being the elk expert, agrees and says we should give him another hour. We all quietly back out of the area.

And then the torturous hour wait begins and I start to wonder what has happened. It looked and felt like a good shot. Finally, the hour passes and I am eager to get back to the bedded bull. We make our way to where we last saw the bull, one slow step at a time. I nock an arrow, and we slowly move in closer and closer. I count the yards off, one step at a time. Soon we are less than 30 yards from the drainage, and slowly I move over the knob for a peek.

I see a hind hoof in the air attached to a buckskin belly upturned on its side. I then stop, pull my arrow off my string, turn around, smile, and then thank God!

The author and his hard-earned bull elk.

The next emotions that fill me are more than happiness — my first elk! This hunt had been an amazing journey. I wasn’t leaving New Mexico bull-less! My bull is a basic 5×4, but has a kicker. I give him credit as a 6×4! Because that is what he had.

Later in the day, as we are packing my bull back to the truck — three mountain miles — I asked Ramos how many elk he has packed out. His reply is astonishing!

“Reed, I am now one elk away from hauling 200 out of these mountains!” he said.

Wow! So, being a good math student, the way I figure it is 6×4=199! I know the middle school principal would even agree!

Editor’s Note:

For information on going on your own elk hunt with Ramos, who guides through San Francisco River Outfitters, (, you can contact him directly at 575-642-3219, or Ramos also guides for mule deer, and for rifle and muzzleloader hunters as well.

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