"Win a Hunt with Randy!" 2015 Sweepstakes Recap

Lv2hnt

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So … this report is way overdue. All on me.

Having followed Randy's posting on HuntTalk about his hunts over the years, I was deferring to him to fill everyone here in on the Sweepstakes hunt. We had no cell service from camp (spotty service in general) and I gave up on checking in on-line (wasn't sure if Randy was posting at night using his cell booster in his truck). Randy had another elk hunt in New Mexico with the CEO of Leupold just a few days after we said goodbye --- I figured he'd follow up after that hunt's conclusion. Then life intervened to delay things on my part.

Short take, I caught what I thought was a respiratory/sinus infection from my daughter the end of October. After a couple weeks it progressed into full-blown pneumococcal pneumonia (HINT: go get a pneumonia shot!). I'm just now at a point where I can sit at the computer for a bit --- my intense coughing aggravated 2 lower discs pretty severely (ongoing lower back issues). Enough of the pity party …

Randy and I had determined the Sweepstakes hunt was going to be a New Mexico elk hunt (hey, who wouldn't get stoked for that?). Seven months eventually flipped through the calendar and the 2nd week of October finally arrived. We agreed to meet up in northern New Mexico 2 days before opening day.

I left my home in the suburbs of Phoenix early Thursday morning, with an E.T.A. of 3 p.m. No issues and things going smoothly … until I noticed the time on my phone as I crossed into New Mexico. Crud! I forgot New Mexico was still on Daylight Savings Time (Arizona always stays on standard time). That meant I was going to be an hour late meeting up with Randy --- way to impress your host!

Fast forward to 4 p.m. As I pulled into the forest service parking lot, there was Randy catching a few winks, his feet sticking out his truck's window. Couldn't blame him there --- one long drive solo from Montana. ;)

We wasted little time --- shook hands and headed off to camp about an hour's drive away. Vegetation and topography as we drove was very similar to parts of northern Arizona (piñon/juniper interspersed with ponderosa pines).

I had thought this hunt would be tent-based (only camp I've elk hunted out of), but Randy had told me that we had an invite to stay in a cabin with a long-time Montana friend of his, Vito (Ingomar here on HuntTalk), who would be hunting the same unit. So, I'm thinking electricity, warm showers at night, etc.

We pulled off onto a side road that ended up at a fenced-in cienega (meadow), a log cabin homestead situated dead center. Turns out our host's great-grandfather had settled the spot y-e-a-r-s ago! The pic is of the building just as the roof was being replaced. There's now a front porch running full-length on the left side of the cabin. The cabin is split into 2 large rooms --- no running water, but electricity via generator, a killer wood stove, and bunk beds. Solid fencing now surrounds the building to keep cattle out. 2 thumbs up! Then Randy said he'd be tenting it outside --- what??? No discussion. I wanted to differ, but to no avail.
 

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Lv2hnt

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I didn't know any of the hunters there (Montanans all), so introductions were in order. Good guys for sure. They pointed me to the empty bunks.

There were 2 large cottonwood trees about 80 yards from the cabin, standing there isolated from everything --- only place that offered potential shade for Randy's and the camera man's tents. So be it. Randy went to throwing his tent up and I unloaded stuff out of my truck into the cabin.

We had a bit of daylight left, so Vito said he'd show Randy and me some draws/canyons and ridges that Randy had scoped out on Google Earth. We piled into Randy's truck. Turns out Randy thinks the backroads in New Mexico and Arizona are a little on the nasty side. Should have taken a pic of where Randy decided to call it quits for the evening (so I had to get out to eyeball things to make sure he stayed right side up when we turned around). Randy, we could have made it ! ;) The burro trail only cost him the mirror bracket on the driver's door.

Note: Discs in my lower back are barking --- to be continued ...
 
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Lv2hnt

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Friday morning (Opening Day -1) found Randy and me in his truck, headed for a ridge our host had suggested we glass from come daylight. We parked the truck, shouldered our packs, and headed out on a 45-minute trek. Not a terribly steep go, but the 7,000-plus altitude reminded me I'm a flatlander (and not in my 40s anymore).

Just as we were topping out, bugles rang out below and out to our left. Randy turned to me with a big smile on his face. I was grinning too. For the next 2 hours, we had bulls bugling from all points on the compass, from as close as 1/2 mile to over a mile away. We ended up counting 10-12 bulls --- the mother lode! We did no calling on our own, just sat there reveling in the early morning symphony. As we started our way down off the ridge, 2 bulls continued to bugle as they side-hilled their way closer to us. We smiled the rest of the way to the truck.

Excuse the images posted here --- all taken with my phone (trusted Randy's digital DSL and Tyler's high-def video camera for quality pics) ...
 

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Lv2hnt

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Randy had to pick up the cameraman for the hunt at the the Santa Fe airport just after noon, so we headed out not long after returning to the cabin. Plane was on time and, equipment bags stuffed in the back, we were off to top off the fuel tank and stock up on groceries ... and experience something I hadn't thought about previously.

Randy's standing there pumping gas as I'm up front cleaning the windshield. "Hey, I know you! From TV!" One of Randy's fans has found him out. Randy puts his index finger to his lips, smiling as he shakes the man's hand. They talk hunting for a couple minutes, after which Randy goes to the truck to retrieve an OYOA dvd. Made the guy's day, for sure!

Half an hour later we're in the check-out line purchasing groceries and it's deja vu all over again --- Randy is recognized by another Fresh Tracks viewer. Randy puts his finger to his lips again (there were people behind us in line). They talk while we're getting rung up, then the fellow wishes us luck as we walk out the door. Only to track us down outside as we're loading the groceries into Randy's truck. And another dvd into the hands of a fellow hunter. Cool to witness.

We made it back to the cabin and Randy said it was time to get me acquainted with the rifle I'd be using (we'd decided the .308 would fit the bill this hunt). I'd told Randy I'd been hunting mainly with my bow since the early '80s, so I knew there had to be a little question in his mind about me on the trigger. I could see a little relief on his face after I squeezed off a couple shots at a target set up 100 yards away. The Howa's a nice gun, by the way! :)

We still had daylight left, so with Tyler (cameraman) now aboard, we headed for a ridge to the north of where we'd set up that morning. We hiked to the top, edged over, and set up for the evening's glassing session. Pretty quiet, except for the flock of turkeys we'd heard below us that morning and a few lazy bugles to the SE of us up in a basin. Tyler spotted a group of cows grazing along in the pines over a mile away, but that was it for the night.
 

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Lv2hnt

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Opening morning found Randy, Tyler and I back on the same ridge as the morning before, hiking up by headlamp. Quiet all the way up, but the bugling hadn't started up until about 6:45 the day before, so no worries. We dumped our packs and Randy and I pulled out the binos, while Tyler readied his video camera.

As the shadows lightened, our anticipation peaked. Fog enveloped the meadow beyond where we'd hiked up from in the dark. B-u-t, it wasn't bugles we heard. A handful of chainsaws, right where the morning before Randy and I had heard 3 bulls screaming loudly. It sounded like a motocross race! Really --- for well over an hour! I couldn't believe it.

Opening mornings for Arizona's hunt seasons ALWAYS fall on Fridays (except desert sheep hunts start Dec. 1 each year). That gives hunters a day afield before the weekend peeps show up. And gives school kids a 3-day weekend if their parents so choose.

But not in New Mexico. I understand it's a public forest, but those wood cutters silenced EVERY bull within miles! After the saws had been shut down for a while, I tried a few inquiring mews and bugles, resting a bit between hellos. You guessed it --- nada!!! Not what Randy and I had hoped for based on the prior morning's bugling.

We hung out on the ridge until mid-morning, hoping for "something." All we heard was each other snoring as we rested our eyes a little. With things locked down, we headed back off the ridge.
 

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Lv2hnt

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Normal down time back at the cabin. Got to meet 3rd guy from Montana who just arrived. We decided to go back to the same ridge, but a little more to the right where we had a clear shot to a saddle just under 100 yards away. We also could glass the basin to the right where we'd heard a few distant bugles while glassing the evening before. A slow, quiet night, unfortunately. A couple distant bugles in the next county.

Randy thought we should hit the same ridge for Day 2 (maybe the bulls would let us know they were still in the neighborhood). So there we were, back up on the ridge again well before light. B-u-t, the same results --- NO bugles heard, just turkeys again. Not good!

Lots of discussion on the way back to camp. "Sort it out, figure it out, pack it out." We were still on Step 1.

Randy had spent a lot of time pre-hunt on his computer at home in his man cave, poring over Google Earth. We'd already seen a "fail" the 1st evening we scouted out a couple spots Randy had hopes for.

With only a 5-day season, it was time to branch out a bit. So the 3 of us agreed to sit a water hole we'd located earlier on a remote 2-track back in the pines. Quite a few fresh elk tracks at the water, with one nice-sized bull print. We tested the prevailing wind and hunkered down where I had a 100-yard shot to the near bank. We were optimistic when we heard a bull bugle about 600 yards away. We waited, and waited, and waited ... and drove back to the cabin. Stupid elk ...
 

Lv2hnt

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Pic 1: Tyler trying to get a good angle on a bull, a-n-y bull ...

Pic 2: Randy and Tyler on the glass ...

Pic 3: Randy pointing out the nearest Dairy Queen ...

Pic 4: Pretty bad pic through the trees of the remote water hole ...
 

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MT_elk

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Good story so far. Looking forward to the conclusion.
 

Lv2hnt

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Well, that sucks --- just lost my next post in its entirety as I went to copy/paste. Dumb on my part! Hang in there, everyone (sorry about that) ...
 

Lv2hnt

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The morning of Day 3 saw us driving to an area we could see out north from our glassing ridge. In actuality, we were scouting during the middle of the hunt (not exactly the apex for success I'd experienced throughout my years of hunting elk in Arizona). But, we needed to find where the elk were hiding out. Heard more turkeys, saw (and heard) no elk. Hmmm ...

Back at camp, we were"strategizing" with our host, Carlos, when one of the Montana hunters (who'd hunted successfully here in years past) drove up with blood on his hands. Success! He'd tagged out on a 4-point bull that morning, hunting about 9 miles north of camp. Our host knew of some wallows on the edge of a long cienega up that way. That was enough for us to start rethinking our plans for the evening hunt. :rolleyes:

Tyler and I found a large downed log in the shade on the edge of the cienega. We hunkered down --- the sun would set behind us and we had a slight breeze in our faces. Randy and Carlos found a place to set up back in the trees, a little over 100 yards behind us. We were optimistic ...

Until at 5:30 a cow elk came in from our 10:00 and caught our scent. Busted! And bummed! A few choice words from both of us.

Things remained q-u-i-e-t, and nothing moved (except me when my butt fell asleep). Randy let our some subtle mews about 6:00. Nothing stirred.

About 20 minutes later, Tyler hissed at me not to move --- from out of the deepening shadows a calf was coming to water from our 3:00. We scoured the trees with our eyes, willing more elk to step out from the trees. No momma elk, much less anything wearing headgear. Arggghhh ...

I had told Tyler earlier that I wasn't going to close up shop until the very last second of legal hunting time that evening. So we waited and waited. And just as we were ready to pack things up, out stepped a cow elk. Alone again. Naturally (fade to Gilbert O'Sullivan circa 1972) ...

Not demoralized on the 3/4 mile hike in the dark back to the truck, but not exactly singing Zippity Doo Dah either.
 

Lv2hnt

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I've always approached elk hunting anticipating what might unfold each day. No different from any of you HuntTalkers. Some days I followed a plan, while other days were complete surprises. Hitting the ground without being in a positive frame of mind just has never been something I've carried within me. As an archery elk hunter, this was my 1st personal rifle elk hunt. With 1/2 the hunt now behind us, my mind was starting to go into overload.

Randy has long been a proponent of not necessarily finding elk from the get-go, but first of eliminating land where the elk aren't. I wasn't quite understanding where that put us on this hunt at the moment. I've always, and only, hunted elk on public land and, like Randy, my preference has always been to hunt elk where most hunters don't/won't go. But it was now the morning of Day 4 and the clock was winding down. I'd looked to Randy as the "expert" on this hunt (heck, I think he's killed over 20 bulls himself). I knew he was perplexed. I could sense all three of us were racking our brains as we tried to break the cycle we found ourselves in.

We were back on the same ridge before daylight. We took a different approach up the back side, mindful of the wind, peering through the trees as we slowly made our way up and across the incline. A few elk tracks here and there, and Tyler pointed out a fresh bed a bull had vacated not long before. Encouraging.

It was colder that morning and the wind was blowing a little stronger as we topped out. We hadn't heard a bugle on the way up, but with the wind that wasn't unexpected. The skies were clear as we got set up for another morning behind the glass. As far as we could tell, this area where Randy and I had heard those many bulls bugling the morning before opening day hadn't seen much pressure other than the wood cutters that one morning. There had to be elk down there, right?

More turkeys gobbled from a roost tree below us. 20 minutes of nothing. A lost dog barked more than a mile away. A half hour more passed by. A few faint bugles spaced out over 10 minutes w-a-y out there. Randy and I looked at each other and shook our heads.

As we sat on the ridge over an hour later, I turned to Randy and stated that, considering what day it was, it might be time to think "out of the box." I wasn't quite sure what I meant by that. I sensed Randy's wheels were turning topside as he turned back to glassing. The 4th quarter lurked on the horizon.
 

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Lv2hnt

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Back at the cabin, Randy, Tyler and I had a strategy session over sandwiches. With no rain since the hunt had begun, it was agreed that we would set up again on the stock tank situated on a remote road back in the pines for that evening's hunt.

We drove past the tank and parked the truck about 400 yards down the 2-track. It was 3:00. The tank was tucked between 2 wooded ridges; the road made a complete circuit, eventually joining back up with a main forest service road. Different aged oak and pines shaded the landscape. Waist-high brush was scattered about.

We had tried our luck up here before --- this evening Tyler wanted a better set-up for filming angles. We found a suitable spot and all then proceeded to clean up some shooting lanes. I had 100 yards to the near bank and about 135 yards the water hole's far bank. Tyler set up directly behind me while Randy found a spot to sit 20 yards to my right. We waited.

We heard the engine several minutes before a truck creeped up the 2-track from our left. It was 5:00. It didn't stop, slowly edging out of sight. Randy looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders.

Fifteen minutes later a creaking truck bed announced the approach of another vehicle. You had to be kidding me! Here it was, Tuesday evening, and we couldn't get away from people. The truck slowed, then kept on going. Okay, still time for elk to make their way to water.

5:15 and the same truck coasts back down the 2-track from our right, pausing next to the tank. Just great! My prayers are answered when no one exits the vehicle. After about 90 seconds, the truck continued on by, its metallic squeak piercing the quiet. See ya!

The air remained quiet --- no squirrels chattering, no birds chirping ... and no elk bugling. Dusk approached and the temp dropped with the sun now below the ridge behind us. Crunch time.

Well, if we didn't have bad luck, we weren't going to have any luck at all. At 5:50 a 3rd truck motored towards the stock tank from our left. I mouthed something polite to Randy. We were losing light. My heart sunk when the truck stopped next to the tank. The truck's door stayed shut. Randy and I looked at each other. ???

A minute later and the truck slowly pulled away, only to stop on the road just 70 yards from the tank. Doors open and 3 individuals stepped out, 2 guys and a girl shouldering a rifle. No way!!!

I was livid and indicated to Randy I was going down and set things straight. I started to get up and Randy motioned me to sit back down. I could see the steam rolling out from under his cap. They were still standing by the truck as Randy approached them.

I couldn't hear what was actually said between Randy and the driver, but could tell it wasn't going our way when Randy's arms started to wave about. I had to hand it to Randy --- the logger in him hadn't decked the guy. As Randy stomped his way back to us, I watched the group make their way towards the tank and plunk down only 40 yards from the water's edge. Unbelievable to say the least.

I was already on my feet, reaching for my pack when Randy got to us. I told him we were out of there. I didn't have to state that --- we all knew that was the case. Just what I always wanted --- catch an elk in a crossfire. Not happening on this end!!!

Short take on the conversation:
The driver didn't care that we'd been sitting there 3 hours --- they were going to hunt the tank. Randy acknowledged this was public land, but his explanation of his safety concerns fell on deaf ears. We could sit our side of the tank, they'd sit "theirs." Right ...

The group could see us clearly as we hit the road and approached their truck in the waning light. Walking by, a light flashed as "someone" took a picture of their license plate with a cell phone. Not a word was spoken as we walked back to Randy's truck.

I must say Randy was a little demonstrative as we loaded back up. I'll leave it at that. I was at a loss for words. I'm thinking things would have been a whole lot different if Randy didn't have his public image to worry about. 'Nuff said ...

To top it all off, not more than 30 seconds after Randy pointed his truck towards camp on the 2-track's back way, headlights lit up our rear view mirrors. Randy pulled his truck over and the other group flew by in a cloud of dust. Crazy people ...
 
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Kevin W

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Jan 27, 2013
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Bummer...... hope your hunts gets better from here. Question please, I see in the pics the camera guy isn't wearing any camo. Is that typical? I figured the camera guy would be head to toe in camo as well.
 
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Gerald Martin

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Bummer...... hope your hunts gets better from here. Question please, I see in the pics the camera guy isn't wearing any camo. Is that typical? I figured the camera guy would be head to toe in camo as well.



Yeah that's just Tyler. You've got to cut him some slack. He's a newb when it comes to elk hunting.:D
 
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