Yeti

Creating my own Novice Guide To Hunting The NM Gila Wilderness

dan.kirkpatrick

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Jul 9, 2010
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1,930
Location
mulino oregon
i will be coming in to unit 15 from the north i think,posibly from arizona ,if pie town has diesel,,i dont know if theres anything between there and reserve for diesel?ive got a colorado deer tag so ill be able to do a 2 fer 1 trip from oregon,,2700ish round trip.still need to confirm if pietown has diesel for sure yet.
 

hank4elk

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Joined
Jan 8, 2015
Messages
4,686
Location
SW NM
i will be coming in to unit 15 from the north i think,posibly from arizona ,if pie town has diesel,,i dont know if theres anything between there and reserve for diesel?ive got a colorado deer tag so ill be able to do a 2 fer 1 trip from oregon,,2700ish round trip.still need to confirm if pietown has diesel for sure yet.
None in PT,but Quemado has it and is more central to accessing unit. PM me. 15 is a ways from 16b...
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
Thanks to all who have added input. After I did my scouting and made contact with some locals down there, I've had to tend other things and let my hunt plans rest for a while. However, I've been considering a few things and doing lots of shooting when I can get the time:

1) Plan B - in case my primary area/plan doesn't work out. It's possible that maybe the elk or the weather will not cooperate or who knows what else might happen. So I'm keeping an eye open as I put together my primary plan to make sure I'm prepared to consider some other options in where and how I hunt.

Our primary plan isn't solidified yet but we are thinking we'll hike into the back country and have already made some contacts to arrange to pack out anything we kill. The other piece of this is to consider a vehicle friendly camp spot to facilitate an extra night on the way in and out. It would be nice to have the option of a good place to sleep and cook something substantial after a few days of freeze dried food.


2) How to plan for the weather in late October. Overall the stats on the Gila look pretty good because that area is pretty far south and historically dry during that time of year... but anything is possible so we need to be ready for the cold as well as the normal. I did find a good web source for some weather history. https://www.weatherforyou.com/reports/index.php?forecast=norms&zipcode=&pands=&place=gila+wilderness&state=nm&country=us&day=all,month&month=10

Meanwhile, NM has been fortunate to have quite a bit of moisture this year. The monsoon weather patterns really delivered, the fire situation is far better, and the worry of finding drinking water seems less risky.
 

hank4elk

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Joined
Jan 8, 2015
Messages
4,686
Location
SW NM
We had a dry last week, & now heavy rains today & thru week.
Could still be a good monsoon season in the Gila.
Oh,I recall a mz hunt mid Oct. when it never stopped pouring & flashing...
 

Jeronimo 56

Member
Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
Well, things have taken on a new flavor... my hunting buddy had a dirt bike crash and broke his ankle. He goes in for surgery in 2 weeks and will be 6 weeks on a knee scooter, then onto crutches or a walking cast just before the hunt starts. So any plans to go deep into the wilderness are now out of the question. So we are working with a local guy down there to put together a plan that allows my partner to hunt within a quarter mile of camp and allowing me to hike in and maybe setup a spike camp a mile or two in. Life can be interesting for sure...
 

come2elmo

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Joined
Aug 18, 2018
Messages
240
Location
South Texas
Well, things have taken on a new flavor... my hunting buddy had a dirt bike crash and broke his ankle. He goes in for surgery in 2 weeks and will be 6 weeks on a knee scooter, then onto crutches or a walking cast just before the hunt starts. So any plans to go deep into the wilderness are now out of the question. So we are working with a local guy down there to put together a plan that allows my partner to hunt within a quarter mile of camp and allowing me to hike in and maybe setup a spike camp a mile or two in. Life can be interesting for sure...
Man that totally sucks. I have a 16a tag and I have vowed not use the bathroom in the dark until November to cut done on the chances something like that lays me up.
 

dan.kirkpatrick

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Joined
Jul 9, 2010
Messages
1,930
Location
mulino oregon
that sucks,,looks like your lookin at solo diy if you go in deep,,im doing my november hunt in unit15 solo myself too,,dont plan on getting too deep as dropping a elk 1 or 2 miles from a road is a max situation if your solo.
 

Jeronimo 56

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Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
Happy hunting to the first archery season hunters starting Sept 1! I suspect you're enjoying some moisture down there in the Gila area. It's been raining here in northern NM on and off for a couple days and overall we've had decent moisture through the summer. Where I live is considered "High Desert" and this year has been unusually wet, although not any flooding in my area.

Can't wait for some reports on the Gila elk hunts, hope good things are happening down there!
 

Jeronimo 56

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Joined
May 7, 2021
Messages
42
No Reports yet but I do see that we are expecting record warm temperatures here in NM by the end of this week.
 

lbaldrid

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Joined
Jan 16, 2018
Messages
27
Location
South Dakota
I've seen a couple of posts on Instagram and Facebook of some really nice bulls coming out of the Gila during first archery. All of the pictures are showing lots of green! Sounds like great rains over the summer and most to all of the tanks are full of water and plenty of forage for the elk. Feeling really positive about running into elk in the second archery season!
 

Gila

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Joined
Jun 8, 2019
Messages
448
Location
New Mexico
I've seen a couple of posts on Instagram and Facebook of some really nice bulls coming out of the Gila during first archery. All of the pictures are showing lots of green! Sounds like great rains over the summer and most to all of the tanks are full of water and plenty of forage for the elk. Feeling really positive about running into elk in the second archery season!
Last year there was some green and forage, the elk were eating along burn edges. Most of the tanks were dry. This year has good green up. I have not checked the tanks but the monsoon season was good to us so more tanks will be full this season.
Hot and dry all this week so the bulls will be visiting wallows more often than usual. The flies are horrible. 16A and 16D should be excellent hunting.
 

lbaldrid

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Joined
Jan 16, 2018
Messages
27
Location
South Dakota
Last year there was some green and forage, the elk were eating along burn edges. Most of the tanks were dry. This year has good green up. I have not checked the tanks but the monsoon season was good to us so more tanks will be full this season.
Hot and dry all this week so the bulls will be visiting wallows more often than usual. The flies are horrible. 16A and 16D should be excellent hunting.
Hopefully it'll cool off a bit for second season. Good tip on the wallows. Not sure if I prefer flies over mosquitos.
I would venture to guess the week between the two archery seasons help the elk "calm down" a bit as well. My tag is for 16B but the reports I've seen for it have been good as well.
 

BrokenArrow

Active member
Joined
Mar 23, 2017
Messages
198
Location
SW CO
Well, here goes….
I am not going to talk about drainages, spots, or size of elk. I expect everyone that draws this tag to make it their own adventure. thats the best part of the whole thing. Its hunting, not killing.
If you are going to solo backpack hunt 16b be prepared to get owned by the wilderness. I’ve archery hunted 20 years and 43 years old. I put 107 miles hiking in. It will destroy the weak. Hands down the hardest hunt I've ever done. I have also guided 15 years with a personal sheep hunt included. Keep that in mind while reading this.

Hunting:
I will probably never draw this tag again and got lucky with the moisture. but, It was too green, even though i wanted the moisture for that area. I know what it feels like to be evacuated for fire conditions and it sucks. livestock, wild animals, and forest regeneration benefit greatly from rain. But, it made travel difficult. lots of locust bushes, overhead ferns, covered the constant blow down and limited travel to about 1mph at best. It was a 8 or 9 out of 10 in difficulty.
Saying that, I saw some large elk and passed on many bulls below my threshold. At most points I was 8-13 miles from my truck to get into elk that I wanted to pursue. There are elk closer, but maybe still 2-4 miles in.
Where you see trails on OnX, forget it. They are not there. Simply overgrown, burned out, washed out, deadfall locked, etc.... 85% of my travel was off trail. The trails that were there were outfitter made and extremely sparse. you're also in outfitter terrain if your on their trails and they don't really enjoy company.
Did I kill? No. I made the moral decision to pass on all the bulls i saw except 2. I chased a giant for 4 days. But, it was the only bull i was willing to put 5 trips of hauling meat/horns that would have been at point a minimum of 40 miles of loaded pack out. Don't forget the other 40 miles would have been unloaded just to get back to the kill. This equals = absolutely not. I do not trophy hunt. I take it all out. A different hunter could only have to haul horns and that would be a different hunt.

Overall Experience:
This wilderness is beyond redneck. Its a downright hoedown. Beautiful to folks that can see the value. To others its a waste of space. Let me explain that its for a very, very few that are either willing to deal with the suck or spend the money for horses or outfitter. Or, get 2-4 buddies to go with you. Thats much easier said than done.
Otherwise, the wilderness is spectacular. I had wolves howl at me for 45 minutes right next to camp. Another camp shot in the air to keep them off their kill. Bears are big. Lions do exist. I think it's the perfect balance and not for everyone.
Even with all the difficulties, I spent 12 days out there and didn't want to leave. I was in elk everyday, usually morning and evening hunts. I passed on a personal best ever bull at an average of 40y the last 3 days because i wouldn't have been able to get him out without spoiling in the heat. Because of that pass i got to see the rut begin and witness multiple spars with equal bulls and cow swapping all over the place in a very hidden valley. Best elk experience i could get.
On the way out, i spoke with an outfitter. He said they were watching me make some great stalks and asked why i didn't shoot. I explained the reasons above. He said, "I very much appreciate that. you are one of the very few i have ever heard say that in 30 years here. Do you want to guide 2nd archery?" Lol, I don't know if there is a gila test, but i would like to think I passed this one. Not to brag, but it was the hardest hunting decision i've ever had to make, not shooting a personal best.
What i can say is that i do have a bull and cow tag in Co still for this season. I will most likely get something much closer to my truck and put meat in the freezer with considerably less effort than any bull i saw in the Gila. This also affected my decision not to shoot.

What would i have done different:
1. Take my own stock. We are so busy in SW CO that no horses or mules were available to take down there. Just luck of the draw.
2. Hire an outfitter with a good reputation. I did have experience with a few outfitters out there. I would be open to discussing them in private messages.
3. Consider a drop camp if i knew the outfitter could make my pack out a priority and not dick around and take 72 hrs to pack out a bull.
4. Take buddies on the trip. Hard to get commitments.

I would probably consider other units well over 16b. Would I have the S$!T dialed next time if i do? Yes and it would be a very different experience. This unit will overwhelm you if you don't get things in line. Did I figure the unit out? Sure, for this season. Each year the elk will move and the unit is HUGE. Next year will be totally different hunting.
I have been successful in NM central north units 5 out of 6 years and saw bulls close to the same caliber. Much easier logistics by far. 16A or D had a lot of really good looking camps and some huge racks sitting in the back of razors. Can't say i wasn't more than a little jealous.

Good luck to all who hunt this year and draw this tag in the future.
 

lbaldrid

New member
Joined
Jan 16, 2018
Messages
27
Location
South Dakota
Well, here goes….
I am not going to talk about drainages, spots, or size of elk. I expect everyone that draws this tag to make it their own adventure. thats the best part of the whole thing. Its hunting, not killing.
If you are going to solo backpack hunt 16b be prepared to get owned by the wilderness. I’ve archery hunted 20 years and 43 years old. I put 107 miles hiking in. It will destroy the weak. Hands down the hardest hunt I've ever done. I have also guided 15 years with a personal sheep hunt included. Keep that in mind while reading this.

Hunting:
I will probably never draw this tag again and got lucky with the moisture. but, It was too green, even though i wanted the moisture for that area. I know what it feels like to be evacuated for fire conditions and it sucks. livestock, wild animals, and forest regeneration benefit greatly from rain. But, it made travel difficult. lots of locust bushes, overhead ferns, covered the constant blow down and limited travel to about 1mph at best. It was a 8 or 9 out of 10 in difficulty.
Saying that, I saw some large elk and passed on many bulls below my threshold. At most points I was 8-13 miles from my truck to get into elk that I wanted to pursue. There are elk closer, but maybe still 2-4 miles in.
Where you see trails on OnX, forget it. They are not there. Simply overgrown, burned out, washed out, deadfall locked, etc.... 85% of my travel was off trail. The trails that were there were outfitter made and extremely sparse. you're also in outfitter terrain if your on their trails and they don't really enjoy company.
Did I kill? No. I made the moral decision to pass on all the bulls i saw except 2. I chased a giant for 4 days. But, it was the only bull i was willing to put 5 trips of hauling meat/horns that would have been at point a minimum of 40 miles of loaded pack out. Don't forget the other 40 miles would have been unloaded just to get back to the kill. This equals = absolutely not. I do not trophy hunt. I take it all out. A different hunter could only have to haul horns and that would be a different hunt.

Overall Experience:
This wilderness is beyond redneck. Its a downright hoedown. Beautiful to folks that can see the value. To others its a waste of space. Let me explain that its for a very, very few that are either willing to deal with the suck or spend the money for horses or outfitter. Or, get 2-4 buddies to go with you. Thats much easier said than done.
Otherwise, the wilderness is spectacular. I had wolves howl at me for 45 minutes right next to camp. Another camp shot in the air to keep them off their kill. Bears are big. Lions do exist. I think it's the perfect balance and not for everyone.
Even with all the difficulties, I spent 12 days out there and didn't want to leave. I was in elk everyday, usually morning and evening hunts. I passed on a personal best ever bull at an average of 40y the last 3 days because i wouldn't have been able to get him out without spoiling in the heat. Because of that pass i got to see the rut begin and witness multiple spars with equal bulls and cow swapping all over the place in a very hidden valley. Best elk experience i could get.
On the way out, i spoke with an outfitter. He said they were watching me make some great stalks and asked why i didn't shoot. I explained the reasons above. He said, "I very much appreciate that. you are one of the very few i have ever heard say that in 30 years here. Do you want to guide 2nd archery?" Lol, I don't know if there is a gila test, but i would like to think I passed this one. Not to brag, but it was the hardest hunting decision i've ever had to make, not shooting a personal best.
What i can say is that i do have a bull and cow tag in Co still for this season. I will most likely get something much closer to my truck and put meat in the freezer with considerably less effort than any bull i saw in the Gila. This also affected my decision not to shoot.

What would i have done different:
1. Take my own stock. We are so busy in SW CO that no horses or mules were available to take down there. Just luck of the draw.
2. Hire an outfitter with a good reputation. I did have experience with a few outfitters out there. I would be open to discussing them in private messages.
3. Consider a drop camp if i knew the outfitter could make my pack out a priority and not dick around and take 72 hrs to pack out a bull.
4. Take buddies on the trip. Hard to get commitments.

I would probably consider other units well over 16b. Would I have the S$!T dialed next time if i do? Yes and it would be a very different experience. This unit will overwhelm you if you don't get things in line. Did I figure the unit out? Sure, for this season. Each year the elk will move and the unit is HUGE. Next year will be totally different hunting.
I have been successful in NM central north units 5 out of 6 years and saw bulls close to the same caliber. Much easier logistics by far. 16A or D had a lot of really good looking camps and some huge racks sitting in the back of razors. Can't say i wasn't more than a little jealous.

Good luck to all who hunt this year and draw this tag in the future.
Awesome recap. Sounds like a great adventure! Elk hunting is a lot of try, try, try and try again more than it is killing. Glad to hear you were in elk every day and had opportunities. Appreciate the honesty and recommendations for potential future hunts. Even though you were unsuccessful in punching a tag, I'd say the hunt was far from a failure!
 

Thomas11

Active member
Joined
Apr 22, 2013
Messages
207
Sounds like a great hunt! I have to ask though why would u go in that far if u already knew you weren’t going to shoot due to the logistics of getting one out? U said u passed a personal best? So it sounds like you weren’t going to shoot regardless? Just curious! It is gorgeous country and truly remote as it gets!
 

BrokenArrow

Active member
Joined
Mar 23, 2017
Messages
198
Location
SW CO
Sounds like a great hunt! I have to ask though why would u go in that far if u already knew you weren’t going to shoot due to the logistics of getting one out? U said u passed a personal best? So it sounds like you weren’t going to shoot regardless? Just curious! It is gorgeous country and truly remote as it gets!
Good Question.
As it was my first time in the Gila i had no way of knowing logistics. All you hear is that there are giant bulls everywhere and that it's super action packed. Well, that's not the case at all. Talking with locals and outfitters, it seems as the quality of mature bulls has gone way down in the past 5 years compared to what the internet tries to tell you. I second that observation. There are just as many "small" Gila bulls on Co public land every year that I've hunted as there are in 16B currently. Now, are there some real giants in 16B, yes. But they are so hard to get to that even outfitters are not willing to go the distance. there was no way of knowing that beforehand until i got there and saw it for my own eyes.
Another factor is that opening morning blew out all the "closer" elk in proximity to the trailhead. There was much more pressure than i thought there would be. one 300 and one 330 bull was taken on either side of my first camp, 4 miles in. All those elk herds retreated much deeper into the woods. The density of elk is not great in 16B. The herds were spread out very far as each drainage did not have elk. You had to glass like hell to find them. Being 8 miles in minimum meant much less pressure, but logistics as a solo hunter became too great to overcome for the reward.
I mentioned earlier internet sized bulls. To hit in this again, I want you to understand that the bulls there had very, very few cows compared to CO. Let's just talk sheer numbers. If CO has 270,000 elk then there usually is 32:1 cow:bull ratio. In NM in 16B there was sometimes a 2:1 cow:bull ratio. Meaning a 330 bull would have only 2 cows! The biggest bull I saw only had 12 cows. In CO a 330 bull wold probably have upwards of 40-50 cows easy. On top of low cow population, I saw only 2 fawns and a handfull of yearlings. Calf recruitment is horrible. One outfitter told me he watched wolves slaughter babies as they were dropped on the summer calving grounds. And i believe him. So, it was spoken about that the heyday of 16B is over. That the predators are destroying calf recruitment. I am no expert, but it seemed worse than anywhere i have ever seen.
Lastly, all that leads to stewardship. I did not want to waste a life of a "young" breeding bull. The genetics are unique down there. If i found an older (aka over-the-hill), larger (hornwise) bull i was willing to shoot. By the time I found that and worked out the logistics, it was too late.
Would i have shot, yes. Did, I want personal best, yes. But, once I observed the situation, it was just not conducive to feel like a good steward and maintain the quality of the wilderness there.
To summarize: The experience I gained there was the real prize. The killing of a bull was just a bonus.

PS: Water is also a real issue. I failed to mention this in the original post. Sometimes you are 1-2 miles from a reliable source. It's a 1/2 day chore in some places.
 
Last edited:

Valley1320

Well-known member
Joined
May 5, 2019
Messages
442
Location
East central NM
Thanks for the report on your hunt!!! Was interesting👍🏼I agree with what you said to!! We won't keep the quality elk we have if we keep shooting all the little ones.
 

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