Caribou Gear

New Mexico 2023


Well-known member
Aug 13, 2016
Bixby Oklahoma
Several of my friends and I have hunted together in North Central New Mexico for about 10 years. We missed last year because of the Calf Canyon Fire which had recently decimated the area we hunt. But this year, after about 16 months of regrowth, we were really excited. Luckily, we picked up a couple of elk tags and were hopeful the elk had relocated our familiar haunts. A scouting trip in the late spring that was combined with the construction and setup of a large tent had honestly provided more questions than answers about how the animals would respond to what was still, at the time, a near lunar landscape. As we watched the OnX recent imagery maps through the summer, we saw the green up we were anticipating.

We left the Tulsa area well before sunrise, picked up a buddy in OKC, and headed west. Per usual, a blowout on a trailer extended our trip an hour or so but we arrived at the forest road in NM mid afternoon for the start of a trip up the hill. We made it to camp and got everything set up just as the sun was setting on a warm October day.

The next morning, we excitedly got ready for a full day of scouting. Usually, we tend to see masses of mule deer doe and yearlings, a smaller number of bucks, and sporadic elk. Our scouting morning was not normal. We only saw two mule deer bucks and none of the normal dozens of doe and yearlings. We also didn't see a single elk in a full day of scouting and glassing. None the less, we prepared ourselves for the next morning hoping it would be different.

A crazy south wind greeted us as we woke up on opening morning. Gusts must have been the mid 30s to 40 with sustained winds in the low 20s. We knew colder weather was scheduled to arrive in the next day or two but it was going to be a rough day of high winds to get there. After about a mile and a half pre-dawn hike, the morning hunt was uneventful and none of us saw, heard, smelled, or sensed anything. We met back at camp for a bite to eat and game plan for the rest of the day.

My buddy and I decided to go North from camp about three miles and set up on a meadow we have had good success on in the past. We were planning to split up about 2.5 miles in and hunt different ends of the meadow. We got to the point we intended to split up, wished one another luck,
and started our separate ways. I hadn't gone 10 steps when I looked into the woods around a point and was about 100 or so yards away from 15-20 elk feeding on the fresh grass in the burned over woods. I took two steps back, dropped to the ground, and desperately tried to get his attention to stop moving. I finally got his attention and indicated direction of the elk so he could attempt a stalk. It was clear pretty quickly he wasn't going to be able to maneuver quietly enough to avoid detection, so I started easing back into position. I popped up over the ridge and started scoping the herd looking for the legal bull in the group. I located a bull fairly quickly through the trees and took aim. About that time, I get the familiar south wind blowing across my neck. Nearly simultaneously, the entire herd turns 90 degrees and starts moving through the woods directly away from us. The bull which had been broadside moving left to right, ended up quartering away at approximately 125 yards. I made a decision, relocated the best target I could have just behind the rib cage, and he took one more look over his shoulder in my direction. As he turned his head back away to move uphill, I squeezed a shot. The only reaction to the shot was was a small branch falling in the reticle. The entire herd turned on the after burners and disappeared in the amount of time it took me to cycle the bolt.

We could hear the herd running through the woods with no intent of staying in the county and we were both dejected. I went to where the bull was and searched for a few minutes. No blood, no hair, just tracks on the ash covered ground. After a fair amount of replaying the events in my mind, we concluded the limb falling must have deflected the bulled enough to send me wide of a relatively small target. I was extremely frustrated and we went back to where we had left our packs. I left my buddy there to be a marker as I went back to spot the bull had been standing once more thinking I might have been in the wrong location where we were searching. As I went to where I was confident the bull had been standing when I shot, there was still no sign of a hit. I decided to expand my search a bit and followed in the general direction the herd had gone. After I went about 50 yards staring at the ground, the bull jumped up about 50 yards in front of me. I shot him again as he was running pretty slowly through the woods. After the second shot, he stood behind a couple of trees leaving me a ribcage back shot. Another shot, this time in the liver. He kept standing there although now there was blood visibly pumping from his side. I maneuvered once more around a few trees so I could get a final shot on him. The fourth shot hit perfectly and he fell although his head was still up. A few moments later he dropped his head for the last time and the adrenaline hit.

Not the biggest bull but one we were really excited to start packing out.

We saw the expected weather rolling in the next morning from the valley.

By mid afternoon, the wind changed directions and started spitting snow above 9000 feet. The day turned to night and the snow continued coating all the trees but thankfully not accumulating much on the ground. The mercury plummeted to single digits but the wind stopped making it slightly more tolerable. It was tough leaving the fire but we reenacted our opening morning hike and arrived at our glassing spot just before shooting light. I had overdressed and had to strip off a couple of base layers while my buddy started glassing. He was excited by elk on the meadow.

After a rangefinder battery gave out at an inopportune moment, he regrouped at made a good 385 yard shot on a big cow finishing our season.

My question is: what is your secret to drawing a group in NM for 10 years? LOL
Great story! Glad you tagged out!

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