Ya know it really was fun. I was determined to be comfortable on this hunt. A decent bed, cooked meals, a warm tent, hotwater made a big difference in my attitude and my ability to put forth the best effort. I can't get around like I used to, so the hikes were not long or very steep. I was fortunate that everything went quite well with no mishaps. I was into elk every day. I would have enjoyed some company on the hunt. It was just the way things worked out that I went solo. One of the advantages of going solo is that there are no distractions, so I feel "plugged-in" to nature and notice everything that goes on.Sounds like a fun hunt!
Simply awesome! Congrats.This was not just a do-it-yourself hunt on public land, but a do-it-by-yourself hunt as well. Scouting is a big part of my hunts so this adventure started with scouting. I live close to the Gila units and as long as I can talk the wife into doing the ranch chores, I can scout at my leisure. The monsoon rains down here are probably the most important aspect to elk hunting during the fall. This year we didn’t have much of a monsoon season. I started scouting for the rifle season the 1st week of September. It was very hot so my scouting attire was tee shirts and shorts and of course snake boots. I usually have close encounters with buzz-tails this time of year.
The first objective was to find water in areas that are conducive to rifle hunting elk. There are a few solar powered wells in the Gila but most of the water available to elk is in dirt tanks filled from run-off water. Locating full dirt tanks was a challenge. The bowhunters were out and I didn’t want to bother them, so I made sure no one was hunting a tank when I went to check things out. There really wasn’t that much rut activity until the 3rd week of September. The day after the fall solstice, the rut went nuts. The bowhunters were done on the 24th of September and no hunting season started until the 10 of October. With no hunters out, it was my opportunity to hit the scouting hard.
Out of around 18 dirt tanks I checked, only 5 had water and 4 were being visited by elk daily. Now that I had the water situation figured out it was time to find the other two sides of the triangle: food and shelter. Getting to a high spot in the dark where I could glass the areas around the tanks was a challenge to say the least. But it paid off in the long run. The herds were feeding in the pinion-juniper meadows and bedding down on the Northeast facing ponderosa slopes. The pinion was loaded with nuts and the juniper berries were really thick. The 2018 fire burn edge pockets had thick grass. The elk were having a real feast!
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The final stage to the scouting escapade was to locate some shooter bulls. This turned out to be biggest challenge. The elk were almost completely nocturnal and I wasn’t seeing any elk at all during the daylight hours. Eventually I did see a few satellite bulls that were moving around trying to grab a cow or two but they needed to grow a few years. I did hear some bugles from what sounded like some big ol’ herd bulls though. One bull started a bugle with a high pitch, followed by a roar like a red stag, and ended with 4 deep growls. A week to go before the hunt I formulated my game plan. I prioritized 4 different hunting areas. Three areas were within 3 miles of where I had planned to camp, while the 4th area was 7 miles from camp. T-minus 7 days and counting!
I arrived at the camp site two days before the season started. I used one day to set up camp. The 2nd day I used for scouting the area I planned to hunt on the opener. The evening before opening morning, I glassed two huge herd bulls feeding in a pinion-juniper park next to a ponderosa slope. That evening it was difficult to sleep but I thought my game plan was solid and I had a high degree of confidence. The alarm goes off at zero dark thirty and I am out of the cot fumbling around to make coffee. Game on! I didn’t quite get to my ambush point when I heard the first bugle, then another about 400-500 yards away. I hunkered down and here they come! Each bugle was closer but it was still too dark to see much. A cow poked her head out of a juniper, then what appeared to be a bull stepped out. They were about 100 yards away but it was still too dark to shoot.
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I patiently waited for more light. A cow walked up, made me out and the herd was out of there! A few minutes later I hear a distant bugle way up the slope. That was it for the morning hunt. That afternoon I setup on the meadow but the elk didn’t show. Just as quick as it had begun, the first hunt day was over. The morning of the 2nd day I set-up on the edge of a burn where the elk had lowered a fence travelling from a bedding area to feed. I had seen elk in there before. I sat against a pinion and waited for daybreak. Just before sunrise a bull started bugling on a wooded knoll about 800 yards away. In the stillness I tried to entice him with a cow call. He totally ignored the call and eventually quit bugling. I sat it out until about 9:00am then headed for camp for a nap. That afternoon I setup on the wooded knoll where the bull had bugled earlier. The knoll just happened to be 300 yards from a wallow. The bull was a no show and that was the end of day 2.
The area I had selected for the third day was my ace in the hole. It was way out there and only accessible by ATV or horse. There is a water tank at the bottom of a ponderosa slope with a large, deep wallow. A large, gently rolling meadow with sparse pinion and juniper was on the other side of the tank. A rifle hunters dream and full of elk! I had to roll out of the sack extra early that morning as travel time to the area was about an hour. I dressed in a hurry since it was 24 degrees in the tent. The coals in the stove had died out. It was a brisk ride out with the side by. As it was, I setup on the wrong side of a ravine as the thermals could have been against me. After I was settled, multiple bugles echoed about 300-400 yards away. As daylight approached the bugles became more distant. I gave a few cow calls. A spike came in, looked around and didn’t see a cow so he proceeded to the wallow and rolled around for about 5 minutes, took a drink and left.
I fell asleep sitting against a tree, then woke up at 10:00am and that ended the morning hunt. I returned for the evening hunt to find a bear sitting near the tank. A cow came in and didn’t care much for the bear so she put her nose in the air and trotted off. That was the end of hunt day number three. The plan of action for the morning of hunt day number four was to return to the same area. This time I would be high on a knoll overlooking the ravine that the elk used to travel between the tank and bedding areas. When I was where I wanted to be, bugles rang out all around me but it was too dark to see any elk. As I waited for daylight, the bugles gradually became more distant. I am in no physical shape to chase after bulls. There was no action after that. I headed for camp about 10:00am.
I tried to get some shut eye but the tent was too hot as it was 84 degrees in the shade. I tried to stretch out in the truck bed but was swarmed by flies and sweat bees. For the afternoon hunt I dressed in a T-shirt and BDUs. I returned to the same ambush point on the knoll and waited. About a half hour before sunset, half a dozen cows came by but saw or heard me swatting flies and trotted off. I didn’t see any herd bull with them. I rested the rifle on a branch and waited. A half hour before the end of shoot time a herd of eight came by. A large bull walked from behind a pinion and stood broadside. I had previously ranged that tree at 213 yards. I was shaking so much my crosshairs were all over the place. I settled in and sent the round. After the .270 barked the bull stumbled behind the pinion. The bull was not with the herd when they ran off.
I needed to find the bull fast as it was getting dark. I found the bull laid out no more than 20 feet from where he was hit. It was going to be a long, but enjoyable night. After it became completely dark, I heard bugles all around me. It was so still you could hear a pin drop. Several minutes later there were multiple splashes in the water. For hours, herd after herd hit the water. There was no moon yet. At one point I turned the lights off and looked up at the sky. The stars were so bright they looked close enough to touch. I had to pause a moment in awe and express my appreciation for the gifts I have been given.
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