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  1. C.C.Cody171

    A Walk In The Park!

    The anticipation of a hunt with a rarely drawn tag is near the top of the list for torture of a common hunter. Months of this treatment passed during detailed preparation and I felt as if my insides were going to boil from anxiety. In the small gaps of a busy and active life, there was research and practice to the umpth degree. Every piece of gear tinkered with, red eyes from staring at google earth and maps late into the night, countless arrows sent down the driveway into several worn out targets. As much as anything, the challenge it turned into for me to become at least decent at talking to elk with various calls. This particular adventure involved extra aspects of packing in with equine and the planning of getting meat out when the time came. Improving and maintaining health before and during can not be over looked. For me, a highlighted question during the pre-hunt process is, "what's gonna cost me?". What's gonna stand in my way of success. Preparing for an elk hunt was less comfortable for me than other game animals I'm used to pursuing. I live in the desert, many hours drive from elk country. I've had a September archery tag in the past, in my home state of Arizona. At that time, immaturity blinded me from realizing I wasn't ready, when the sun came up opening morning. Now, several years later, I was at least capable of seeing the learning curve there would be for me to find what I was looking for on this journey. Along with my hunting partner, Creed, we gathered as much information about this new area from anywhere and anyone we could find it. Breaking into the vast Gila Wilderness of New Mexico has become a story of its own and the excuse to do so has also been its own great reward. Out of at least a dozen close competitors, our tack was finally driven into one specific place we would hang all hope on. A place no person could ever forget after spending any amount of time there. An absolute paradise that riding or walking into is as much a surprise as is it a lush habitat for wildlife, including the infamous screaming bull elk of September! As we explored this newly found playground, we discovered it was roughly five miles across in all directions. This may not sound like very much country but, believe me, its more than enough to walk yourself into a dither. Especially while fixated on a majestic quarry. Surrounded by completely opposing landscape, it would remind you of a park created in badlands. Along each border are steep rock formed upward and downward slopes, with a few select possibilities for exit or entry. We also planned on hunting into this rough stuff, in every direction, adding to our hunting grounds considerably. Our several trips into this country ranged from six to nine hours astride our saddles. Arriving at our predetermined camp location four days before opening day, I could hardly contain my excitement, it was time to stiffly dismount. Already having visited The Park a few weeks before to figure out our best path and set a handful of trail cams, we had become somewhat familiar with the area. These scouting and packing trips along with Creed and my dad were completely dependent upon the mules of this story. My rambunctious youngster, Beaudean. A couple of my brother Caleb's mules, Peaches and Clyde. Also part of my dads impressive herd; Wanda, John John, Emma and Sullivan. Without the donation of these animals and my dad along for the work involved, none of the following would have been possible. Creed would not arrive for a few more days, on the night before opening morning. However, my dad and I picked up a friend and fellow hunter on the drive in that had traveled all the way from Michigan to join in the chase. So on this Monday evening, Emmet, crawled from the back of the first mule he'd ever ridden, to regain feeling in his legs. My cousin, Travis, also tagged along for the pack in. The four of us worked together caring for the animals and putting camp together, home sweet home for possibly the next 20 days! With the countryside painted in dew soaked green grass, at least as high as our knees, we were grateful for waterproof boots. Mostly taking it slow and easy on those days leading up to having valid tags. Emmet and I checked cameras and drooled over the info they obtained. We perfected our high line system to hitch Sullivan, in accordance with the rules of the Wilderness area. We also enjoyed the different sounding bugles and close encounters with bears, deer and various wildlife. We even read a mushrooms for dummies book and took some semi educated risk to enjoy the native cuisine. Something I could see becoming a hobby in the future. I figured out the use of my new hammock and also continued to shoot my bow every day as I had been. My dad and cousin didn't stay long, they returned home with all the mules besides Sullivan. Creed would have to go pick up Peaches for his ride in on Thursday, "Peaches and Creed". I laughed at Creeds recollection of Peaches doing her worst to join the elk they passed on the way in. She's a bit heard bound and apparently thought they were mules! We ran through the highlights discovered on the trail cams and then we all did our best to catch some sleep. The air was cool but our lunges and legs felt a slight burn as we quietly moved out of our canyon towards the elk. Legal shooting light was closer than I'd hoped but that didn't matter to the sun, here came opening day. As the morning progressed, our camera man, Emmet, shadowed Creed and myself through the tall pines and forests of fern that grew to our elbows. We captured some footage of a couple good looking bulls that didn't quite have the maturity we'd been dreaming of. With fourteen days ahead of us, we saw no reason to quit the fun and start the work with an immature animal that hadn't had a chance to run his own harem yet. We kept moving toward the gnarly bugle that had occasionally echoed in our ears throughout the last several mornings. Each time, we would all glance at each other raising our brow and grin. Suddenly from behind us about forty elk came stampeding by, along with them was a nice 6x6 we had already passed on. Never knowing for sure what caused this, we briefly followed through with our stalk to discover the running group had swept the owner of the impressive bugle away from us. We had more close encounters with elk before mid morning but no bows were drawn. Circling past several trail cams and learning more about the country, we kept on the move most of that day. At one point, we walked within shooting distance of a younger 6x6 and decided to give him more time. We had the first day, several opportunities and about twelve miles behind us. Feed and water Sullivan and Peaches, prepare packs, eat, drink, sleep, feed and water again, eat and take off. The second morning we moved out of camp in a slightly different direction, going up the canyon bottom for aways. We ran into a good 6x7 and got some of his bugles of video. We let him work his way out of our path and continued on. We had discussed the night before, that we would go after different bugles to see as many bulls as possible. Emmett joined me to the left, to run down some distant whistling, Creed continued up the canyon solo. After working our way into the action, we laid our eyes on a shooter that I started calling "Cowboy", because he was hearding cows like a pro! We dogged this group for a couple of miles, slowly closing the gap, waiting for the right opportunity to slip in. After all my practice, I lacked the confidence to try any calling. I knew I could provide myself a shot with fast stealthy movements as I do with other game, with my bow. For me, playing it safe seamed to be my best option in this scenario. We barely missed an intense fight between this bull and another bull we never quite saw. A slight rise blocked our view but what a ruckus! The mystery bull retreated to the left. As we advanced the demeanor suddenly altered within this heard. Another bugle sounded off very close to our right and Emmett and I thought this may mean another clash of massive antlers. We carefully moved forward a bit more. We were getting close, something was about to happen. Scan the vegetation from left to right. There's the bull! No shot yet but they were no longer on the move. We could see most of the cows staring toward the bull we heard coming in from our right. We kept our slow and steady pace undetected, something was making them nervous. We moved a little closer. In a time like this it's very obvious when the gig is up. Especially with the vocalization of elk. Off they went with loud and disheartening barks, goodbye "Cowboy". I was watching their exit when Emmett angrily said with that Michigan accent "Dude, there's a hunter! Dude, that's Creed!" The bull coming in from our right was a very realistic sounding Creed. It turned out he was moving in on the same elk and almost made it happen as well. We walked over, he was just as surprised to see us. After an exchange of info pertaining to the encounter, we came up with a new game plan for the rest of the day. Emmett and Creed would make a big loop to the right as I did the same to the left, meeting in camp some time after dark. Wanting to get video of each of us, it was my turn to go solo. I also needed to retrieve my bugle tube I had lost the day before, so I hoofed it to where we had been, a few miles away. A few hours and a couple distant bugles later I had my bugle tube and was doing my thing. An occasional locator bugle and a little cow talk here and there. To my surprise I received a text through my garmin inreach that Creed had shot a bull! I thought, wow he shot a bull on the second day. After some clarification between shot or killed, I needed to know where they were. Knowing Creed, I assumed it was an impressive animal, which was a correct assumption. I was several miles away and at first was gonna continue hunting but I couldn't think of much else, so off I went to the opposite side of The Park to lend a hand and see his bull. A short while later I received their coordinates. I sat down to rest and grab a quick bite while determining the best route to take. This was gonna take me a few minutes so I figured I'd rip off a bugle with a variation of some stuff I learned on the internet and see what happened. Shortly after, a bugle came echoing through the woods and it was a deep, growly, mature sounding voice! My head popped up to help pin point his direction. Within a minute there it was again, quite a bit closer! Realizing I needed to move to my left, I scrambled to get my stuff together. Also nearly biting off my own fingers frantically finishing my lunch as most of it was wasted onto the ground. I hurriedly moved to the shoulder of the ridge I was on, to reveal the draw below. I spotted elk moving single file through the vertical gaps between the ponderosas scattered between us. About half the elk at any given time were standing still in survey of their surroundings. With no under brush as cover and watchful eyes from my eleven O'clock to my two O'clock I decided to stay put and assess the situation from where I was, about two hundred yards away. The wind was on my left cheek and the elk were coming up the draw moving from right to left so that was good news. Another hair raising growl let out, scanning through the trees I caught a glimpse of the culprit. I could only see the very back end of him and I was strongly considering continuing towards my hunting partners. Letting down my binos I noticed more elk out in front of the heard, up the draw to my left. There was about thirty elk, including a handful of small bulls. Now at a steady walk, I let them file through my binos as they disappeared up the draw. I was takin aback when the heard bull, bringing up the tale end, entered my view. Wow! It was the same bull I had seen but now I could see everything much better. I was blown away by my initial misjudgment. I also recognized him as a bull we had on camera with amazingly long thirds. I sent a message saying I was on elk, my chase began! Similar as in the morning, I was playing it safe and waiting for them to reach their bedding area. Unfortunately, I messed up and bumped the big bull and a few cows at one point and it became very difficult to keep up for about a mile. If it wasn't for their tracks I wouldn't have guessed correctly on which direction they fled. I caught a glimpse of elk and started closing the gap between us, once again. Their convoy moved over a rise out of sight, allowing my rapid advance to that point. I repeated this move a few times just in time to see the the stragglers topping the next rise. After a little over two miles their pace let up, I followed suit. Knowing I had to be more careful, I studied the wind and cover for stalking possibilities. I was several hundred yards away so I crept forward, constantly doing my best to monitor about sixty eyeballs. Because of the wind, I had to move through an area with zero cover for one hundred yards or so. Literally not even grass. Additionally, I was below them. An advantage I avoid gifting my prey when possible. They had gravitated toward barren land at the edge of The Park, during the chase. As I closed the distance, they were slowly working along to the right, away from me. Twice, a cow nailed me and I couldn't budge for long periods of time. Holding my breath she wouldn't ruin my chances. As they rounded a steep ridge once more I covered more land and was almost within shooting distance as the last elk disappeared. At last they were calm and the bull was screaming back and forth with another mature sounding bull, further away up the mountain. Now I was on the same hill as them but I needed to move through a very noisy looking draw in order to regain visual contact. I knew the elk were close so I couldn't risk it, knowing they could step back around and bust me at any point. I decided to risk my calling after all but to stay conservative. I sent out some cow calls and stood silently for a few minutes. I could hear the bulls and cows continuing their racket so I repeated the system. I was intently focused on the crest of the ridge and I couldn't believe my eyes. My target came slowly strutting back towards me, slowly swaying his impressive head gear! He moved downhill onto a flat bench at the same elevation as me but the draw was still between us, full of loud debris. He displayed the destruction of a five inch thick pine for the next half hour. When he started, I was outside shooting range. Every chance I got, I wiggled through the obstacles between myself and success. He spotted my head poking into view at one point so I slowly backed into hiding and let out some very quiet and soft cow talk with my mouth reed. After regaining his trust, I continued my advance with unnoticeable motion. I was within shooting distance for a few minutes, just getting closer and closer because he only offered a front angle with that poor tree right in the way. My bow and nerves were begging for action but it wasn't time just yet. They got their wish, his feet shifted and before I knew it, covered ten feet to my left. All at once; I drew, stepped out from behind a burnt stump that had been my visual barrier, settled my anchor automatically and broadcasted from my mouth reed one more time. He came to a stop as his massive antlers turned in my direction, I felt dead steady. The appropriate sight pin was unmoving, buried in the kill zone. I squeezed it off and concentrated on the flight of my arrow, it was looking good! For the last portion of flight the arrow entered the shade casted by the canopy of trees where the bull stood. From the transition of light to shade it became invisible and caused a concerning confusion for an instant. The optical illusion caused me to believe the arrow sailed over my targets back by almost a foot. An instant later I witnessed as my arrow darted into fur and flesh. All this happened in about a second but my mind was flying out of control! This absolutely huge animal had no problem being out of sight immediately, it sounded like a locomotive rumbling through the wild as he retreated at a dead run. I tried to replay the events, in my head, for the next half hour. I was only about ninety percent sure I had smoked him. I retraced my steps to my pack and tried to kill some time with a snack and some water, I was too on edge to eat. Then, creeping over, I found his tracks where he had jumped, due to an arrow smacking into him. My eyes followed along for a moment and noticed a spot of blood about ten feet away! I sat down and continued trying to send out the message that I had shot a bull. Creed and I never figured out how to message from Inreach to Inreach so my wife and brother took part in all communication. We would message one of them and they would forward the message on. Another half an hour had gone by so I decided to investigate his path. Blood was never in abundance but it was easy tracking. With huge hoof prints, broken branches and rolled over logs you couldn't miss where he crashed along. After about seventy five yards, due to lack of blood, I almost pulled back to return the next morning for tracking. My mind was taunting me with failure. Failure to myself and to this animal for the possibility of delivering a bad hit, it's torture. I studied the lay of the land and decided to only continue to the edge of the small bowl type ravine I was in. After progressing for about thirty yards, I lost my mind at the sight. My bull was on the ground, unmoving, he had expired in less than one hundred and fifty yards! Out of habit, I finished out the blood trail partially because I was too nervous to approach what had been on my mind around the clock for months. I walked up as I started to lose it. Wow, unreal! I got the word sent out and did my best at some self photography with my phone wedged between a couple branches. Once again, failing to capture anything to the fullest. I had invested in a high quality camera prior to this hunt but, as I previously explained, Creed and Emmett had it at that time. Which turned out to be awesome because the harvest of Creeds bull was all caught on tape, very exciting! By this time they were finishing up hanging all the deboned meat from his bull in game bags. With coordinates I sent out, they grabbed Peaches and Sullivan from camp and headed my way. Upon their arrival around 9:00 that night they were depressed to hear I had only gutted my bull. It was impossible to handle such a big animal by myself. Only to be relieved a moment later that I was joking, haha. I had removed the quarters, deboned everything else and caped him out. While dismantling the carcass I was pleased to discover my worries over the shot were unwarranted. It was a heart shot! I tend to aim above that so it was a bit low after all but, I understood why. When he had turned to walk I thought he was perfectly broadside. When I studied his tracks, later, I realized he was slightly angled away causing an extra four yards between us. I didn't take that into consideration in the heat of the moment. I've hardly hunted anything bigger than deer and when I have killed elk I had plenty of help. I have to admit, field processing an animal of that size by myself was more difficult than I would have imagined. I'm proud to say I didn't waste any meat and none of it hit the dirt. This wasn't easy but after almost five hours of working hard, I was more proud of that accomplishment than I was of harvesting this bull to begin with. Hundreds of pounds of excellent food for my family and friends to enjoy for many months to come! After Creed and Emmett passed a saddling inspection with flying colors, we worked together loading everything up. We took turns carrying the antlers by hand to avoid any wrecks in the dark and headed for camp. We didn't get to bed until after 1:00 in the morning and got up first thing to retrieve Creeds bull. From the time we squeezed the trigger there was constant hard work for days getting everything packed out, twenty miles to our vehicles. It was all worth it. I used both mules that day to ride and lead, getting Creed's meat hauled out and put in a freezer at a friends house who lives nearby. My dad came running, from back home, when he heard the news and was anxiously waiting at the trailhead upon my arrival. We spent the night there and headed to camp the next morning. While I was gone, Creed and Emmett deboned the quarters from my elk and got camp ready to pack out. We kept my meat cool by submerging it under the running water of the cool mountain creek that flowed by our camp. This worked wonderfully, the meat is excellent and stayed cool to the touch. Never even emitting a questionable smell throughout the eight hour haul. On the fifth of September, we got up early for the long day of getting packed out and going home. I had become very home sick and couldn't wait to see my wife and kids. Show them my bull and tell them stories about the adventure. They can't wait to go on the more serious trips like this one. I also realized I had hardly eaten sense tagging out, I simply forgot to. Emmett also forgot to drink water. On top of dehydration, being from Michigan and not used to our climate, he found himself in a dangerous spot. On the way out, still several miles from the truck, his body literally started shutting down and worried us all very much. My dad started forcing water into him and he recovered well, to all our relief. Paradise or not, wild country can be non forgiving and harsh at any moment. We'll all miss it until we hopefully are fortunate enough for another visit. Possibly with a rare tag in someone's pocket once again. Until then, we can dream of a walk in The Park, in the depths of the Gila Wilderness! I'd like to thank my dad. We couldn't have done this without all of his help and willingness to do what's needed for such an amazing experience. He prepared in various ways, some of which I'm probably not even aware of, so everything would come off as planned. Also, a huge thanks to Emmett, he drove for days sleeping in his pickup some of the way to be there for Creed and I. He was great company and is welcome in my camp or home any time. Many thanks to Creed, he is a great hunting partner and I'm lucky to have a friend with his character. He has an unwavering appreciation and respect for the wild critters we hunt and wildlife in general. I'm thankful to my brother Caleb, for the use of two of his mules. He was going to ride in and hunt with us for a few days but we both tagged out before then. He drew the second hunt in NM this year, in another unit, that I'll be joining for a three day weekend. I can't wait! Above all, I would like to thank my wife for all her support. I have often seen hunters that had a spouse or someone in their life that handed out grief, concerning their way of life. Not understanding their natural draw to wild places. I couldn't imagine obtaining the happy success I experience under those tense conditions. Also, her and our kids always enjoy jumping in to help process meat, which I think is awesome! Thanks to everyone for reading, I hope it was enjoyable. Good luck to everyone with your hunts, stay safe and shoot straight!