I hit the road after lunch on Friday afternoon headed for Ruidoso! After a quick 4 ½ hour drive I ended up north of Ruidoso Friday night checking out a spot that a MonsterMuley member had told me about. It doesn’t look that impressive on a map or on Google Earth, but I thought I would check it out anyway based on his tip. I was out of my vehicle at about 5:00 and by 6:00 I was already into elk. About 10 cows and calves and 2 spikes. I had brought my nice Nikon DSLR with a 300mm zoom lens since I wasn’t packing a rifle, but sure enough, the memory card that has been threatening to give out for a year or so now finally gave out completely and I was left with my little Canon Powershot SD1100 IS.
Here’s the first group of elk I came across. They were about 300 yards away and never did seem to indicate that they knew I was around. I watched them graze for about 10 minutes and then continued on.
The very next draw I saw another group of about 6 cows and calves and I circled around and over them. Some young bulls were bugling a little and I assumed that it was the spikes that were with that first group. I made a few cow calls and got some answers which I thought was neat. Where I hunt in Wyoming I’ve never actually heard a cow talking, I assume due to the heavy wolf predation. On the way back to the car in the dark I heard what sounded like a larger bull bugle a few times and I bugled back. He ended up starting to circle downwind of me and I decided to quit calling since it wasn’t going to do me any good and might make a more cautious bull for others.
I spent the night in my trailblazer and moved about 2 miles up the canyon to continue scouting the next morning. I found plenty of sign that elk were in the area and plenty of sign that elk had died in the area as well, I just didn't see any elk that morning.
Here was a skeleton of a cow that looked like it had been quartered out. Within 50 yards was another skeleton in the same draw.
Some really pretty country and I really enjoyed getting out and putting some miles on my boots, although I did end up with blisters again and am going to have to change something up or maybe even return the boots if I can’t figure something out. They are nice boots and seem to fit well, but when I climb I end up on my toes and the boot is so stiff that it doesn't bend and so my heel rides up and down a little bit and that's where I'm getting the blisters.
Here's a couple pictures I took when I was out walking around.
I moved to the other side of the unit on Saturday around lunchtime and hit the trail about 2pm. (actually my only time on a trail either day was walking back to the car in the dark) I had thought the other area I was scouting was pretty steep, but this area was STEEP with a capital S T E E P! I climbed over 1,500’ in elevation before I got a mile from the trailhead! I was seeing lots of elk sign but most of it was pretty old. When I got to the top I got really discouraged when I started to see horse poop. I had planned and selected where I was going to hunt based on the steepest roughest spots where I didn’t think I would have to worry about any competition from an outfitter on horses. I decided they must have a trail someplace up higher and be coming down the ridges or something. I was pretty dejected.
2 hours into my hike I decided that either I was not in near as good of shape as I thought I was or the terrain was way steeper than I expected and I decided that it was both. I was sweating profusely and having to stop and catch my breath every few minutes. I found a neat saddle between two ridges and ended up climbing up to a really nice overlook. I took this picture of it when I was on my way up.
I was dejected about the horses and the lack of current elk sign, but I figured I was at least getting my exercise. I decided that I would at least make it to the top of this point before calling it quits for the day.
Here’s a picture across the canyon. The area I was climbing wasn’t quite as steep, but it was pretty close!
I got to the top of that particular ridge, I was a little over 8,100’ and there was still plenty of room to keep climbing. There was a nice overlook and I sat down to rest and was surprised to hear a bull bugle. I got situated and started glassing and didn’t see anything for a while then spotted a cow, then another then a spike, then a raghorn, and finally ended up seeing about 20 head of elk on the ridge over from me. They were about 600 yards away and they were on the reservation. First I only saw some raghorns and couldn’t figure out which one was bugling. Finally I found the bull who was bugling, and he was still laying down in his bed. After watching them about 30 minutes to an hour they were pretty much all up and moving across the ridgeline. A few of the smaller bulls and some cows headed toward the wilderness area but the bigger bulls headed farther onto the reservation. While watching them I also saw at least 30 elk grazing on Sierra Blanca which is well onto the reservation (probably about 2 miles from where I was).
As I mentioned before, I had brought my Nikon DSLR with a 300mm telephoto lens specifically to take pictures of elk if I saw any. With the memory card on the fritz I ended up having to improvise with my Canon Powershot free handing through the spotting scope. Of course I forgot the piece that goes with my tripod to hook up the spotting scope to the tripod so I was holding the spotting scope on my backpack and taking the pictures through it with the Canon Powershot. I thought they actually turned out decent considering everything.
Here's an full frame picture before any cropping.
Here’s the biggest bull of the bunch, nothing spectacular, but a good solid 5x6. I figure somewhere around 280 – 290”. Would be hard for me to pass him up if I saw him in shooting range on opening day off the reservation, but I think I would.
Needless to say, my spirits were lifted considerably since I was actually into elk and legal bulls at that. Of course I wasn’t happy that they were on the reservation, but I figure that in the next two months their patterns will change and there is a good chance they will be moving around quite a bit. At least I saw some elk.
I decided to try to go down a different way and follow a ridgeline to the trail and didn’t want to be covering new ground in the dark so I picked up and headed down the mountain. It turned out to be a really good decision since I ended up hitting cliffs a couple times and having to re-route around them. As I started down I saw the answer to the horse poop I had been seeing. Wild horses!
Actually at first I thought they might be someone’s stock that was turned loose, but I talked with the guy at the campsite and he said there were quite a few wild horse in the area. That made me feel a little better that my plans were not going to be completely shot by some outfitters riding down the ridgeline that I was working so hard to climb up.
I made it to the trail just as it was getting dark and made it back to the campsite in the dark. My wife wasn’t feeling well back at home and my feet were hurting and I’d managed to wear a few blisters so I made an impromptu decision to go ahead and drive back home that night and skip the next morning scouting time. It took right at five hours to drive home and I was back home at 3:00am this morning.
Overall I felt like it was a pretty successful trip. I didn’t see a monster bull, but for spending just a couple days I felt like my time in person was matching up with the information I had received from others and what I was seeing on Google Earth and on my topographical maps. I wasn’t prepared for how steep it was, but it was very good to experience it to know that I will have to alter my plans a little to match up with realistic expectations of what I can accomplish. I had told myself that if I end up going without seeing any elk that I would break down and hire an outfitter so it looks like I’m still DIY for now on this one.
That’s it for now. Just two weeks until hunting season officially starts with my New Mexico antelope hunt. I’ll update on the status of that in another post.