Okay, I've gotten a little behind getting things posted. I've had a very hectic couple weeks with my New Mexico elk and deer hunts. I'll try to get caught up now.
I took notes on my phone as the hunt progressed, I'm sure I'll have the tenses mixed up as sometimes I was typing in present tense, sometimes in past tense and even sometimes in future tense. Hopefully you'll be able to follow along, basically as it happened.
Trip up here went very smooth. Left the house around 2:00 pm central time and was parked at the trailhead around 8:00 pm mountain time. The campground was closed and there were only 2 vehicles parked at the trailhead. A pickup and empty horse trailer and an SUV.
The river was running a bit higher than I was expecting, I walked around the campground looking for any easy crossing spots. A few looked doable, but none looked exactly easy. Sure hope I don't start out in the morning getting my feet wet.
Getting settled in to sleep a while in the backseat (floorboard) of the truck. Set the alarm for 5:15, sunrise is at 7:15 so shooting light is 6:45. Would like to be an hour or so up the trail before shooting light.
Tough day! Several mistakes, but the biggest one was getting up WAY too high, elk seem to be down around 10,000' and I spent a lot of the day up over 11,000', topped out at 11,816' per the GPS.
Ended up going up a different creek than I had planned because a guy and his son showed up just before I left and were going to head that way. Think they got one, heard 2 quick shots about 8:30 then maybe 10 seconds later another and then maybe 30 seconds later a 4th. I heard what I think was a very small bull and a cow maybe 200 yards from me, but it was thick and early and I didn't go after him too hard, tried to get closer and cow called a few times but I think they skedaddled. I had been following their tracks off and on, just didn't realize how fresh they were. None of the tracks looked very big, about 4 or 5 total in the group.
Here's a picture that I took of the area that I was hiking up. There was still a bit of snow on the ground from a storm that had gone through earlier in the week.
Saw one lone set of tracks from a decent sized elk heading down from up high at about 11,000' before I crossed over to a different canyon. Pretty neat view though.
Went up a lot of terrain like this climbing out of one canyon and moving over to the other.
Didn't see or hear anything else all day though. I was trying out a new pack and the shoulder strap broke when I went to set it down at lunch. The stitching holding the buckle just popped. Thankful I had bought some spare clips to rig my rifle sling and was able to band aid it, but it was far from a perfect fix, if I didn't keep tension on it, it would come undone and I had to mess with it 3 or 4 more times during the day. I finally was able to get it fairly well repaired and it didn't come loose again for the rest of the trip although I was a little worried about it from then on.
The scenery was great and I really was thinking that there should be some elk up there, but based on the complete lack of any tracks I think they had all moved down already.
Another pretty view from 11,816'.
Here's a panoramic picture that I took with my iPhone. Really a wonderful view. It would have been worth the hike if that's all I was trying to do, but to be up that high when there weren't any elk really was frustrating.
If you want to see the full sized panorama I think you can click on this link - http://padens.com/v-web/gallery/album07/panorama?full=1
Set up camp at 10,600' thinking I was close to some overlooks I could hunt the next day, but after setting up camp and hiking over a mile to the nearest overlook I decided I had set it up too far away and too high. Too late to pull it and move it so just camped up high. That part wasn't bad, just not seeing much sign or any elk has me discouraged though.
Here's my tent setup. That part wasn't bad at all. Actually really enjoyed staying in the tent that night.
Totals for the day - 8.46 miles, 3,127' elevation gain.
Broke camp in the dark and my goal was to try to find an overlook spot before shooting light and sit and watch the canyon to see if any elk came up. I ended up taking a little longer than I planned to break camp and get going. I ended up walking over 1 1/2 miles to find a mediocre overlook and it was after sunrise before I sat down. Still not seeing much in the way of tracks or anything. The fresh snow from Wednesday was pretty much void of tracks except rabbits, squirrels and the occasional coyote. Did see some bear tracks yesterday. After about a half hour of sitting I headed on down the trail to see if there would be any other good overlook areas. This was the best overlook spot I found. Very scenic, just nothing moving through it.
I did find the area where the other guys shot one on Saturday. Never found the gut pile, but looks like they either too two trips with a sled or brought two sleds. Not much in the way of a clearing, just some aspens that are a little spread out more than the rest. Pretty discouraged.
Went back to the trail head about 10:00. Crossing the river was a little easier in the daylight, but still a little more than just splashing across like I normally would do. Very pretty country though. Here's a view from the river bottom.
I drove in Taos to get cell signal. Talked to my wife and she encouraged me to stick it out at least another couple days. Looked at the maps and decided to just start trying out canyons heading back to the east. Got parked at the first trail head around 3 pm, got across the river and thought I heard voices although there wasn't any other vehicles at the trailhead. Started looking for the trail and there were 4 Asian ladies saving some trout out of a shrinking puddle. One could speak a tiny English, they were staying at a monastery close by. I asked them if they had seen any elk and either they didn't understand me or didn't want me to kill any because they didn't reply. After a bunch if twists and turns I finally got on the main trail only to realize that it was an ATV trail. There were some fairly recent motorcycle tracks but it looked like they had gone in and out. Pretty soon after heading down the trail there were two places that looked like a lot of elk had recently crossed it. I kept heading to where there was a fork in the creek about 1 1/2 miles up the trail. Not much more sign and not any good lookout spots. Got to where I wanted to be and checked out the non-trail side of the split. Really nice area, but the elk don't seem to think so. Not much elk sign. Did see a pretty good sized bear track and then later saw a pretty good sized bear! Nice chocolate brown colored. Of course I don't have a bear tag. Didn't even check into whether the quota was filled or not.
I did take a picture of the bear track in the snow. My boots are size 13 to give some size perspective. Not a massive huge bear, but quite a bit bigger than the bear tracks I had seen the day before.
Between the lack of elk sign and the bear I decided that I wasn't going to stay the night here. I waited a little while and then went back to the places where the elk had crossed the trail and waited until dark. I set up on the heavily used game trail where it crossed the ATV trail. At least I knew that the elk were using it, just not what time of the day, or if they would use it that day. Probably setup too close, just 20 yards, but it seemed like the best spot. I could be using a bow at this range. Thankfully a motorcycle or ATV didn't come screaming down the trail right at sunset or something.
About 20 minutes before sunset a bull bugled a couple times and it sounded like it was up the canyon from me. I gave up my ambush spot and headed that way. I cow called a few times and got close to where I thought he had bugled from, but nothing else. I had left my bugle tube with my pack at the ambush spot so I went back, got the bugle tube and bugled a few times on my way back to where I thought he was. Nothing again. I headed back to my ambush spot and heard another bugle. Headed back that way and nothing. I decide to go back to my ambush spot and then about 20 minutes before the end if shooting light he bugles right down in the canyon across from me. I bugled a couple times and headed that way but he shut up again. Getting really close to dark and I went back to my ambush spot until the end of shooting light. Probably 1 minute before the end if shooting light and he bugled again. This time it sounded like he was on this side of the canyon, sounded pretty close too. I grabbed my backpack and headed that way, I was either going to see him before shooting light or get out of there so he doesn't see me after shooting light. I didn't see him so I headed on down the trail without a light until I got well around the corner and dropped some elevation. I decided to stick there for the morning since I knew there were elk there and at least one bull. Cooked up some supper, organized my backpack for a day trip and slept in the truck again. Not the most comfortable, but I didn't have to mess with setting up and taking down the tent. Not 100% sure exactly where I wanted to be in the morning, he was bedded on the other side of the canyon from the main trail, but I can get in quiet and know where I want to be on that side. If I try the other side in the dark, I would probably be noisy and didn't really know where I would want to set up. Leaning toward just going back to where I was tonight. Not near as discouraged as I was. Still hadn't seen an elk this hunt, but I for sure heard one and it was a bull and pretty close. Maybe I would be able to close the deal on him in the morning!
Total mileage that afternoon 4.44 miles and 885' elevation gain. My GPS had 2.6 or 2.8 or something like that with about a mile to go to the trailhead this morning and the battery went dead before I got there so I think I had at least 3.6 miles this morning. That would put me to a little over 8 total for the day. This morning was mostly downhill, but I bet I climbed at least 115' going up and down some ridges and stuff. We'll call it 8 miles and 1,000' of elevation gain total for the day.
I left the truck on time for a change, right around 5:45 am. Got to the ambush spot right around 6:15 and hunkered in to wait. Shooting light was 6:44 so plenty of time for things to settle down, although I was pretty quiet coming in with no light on the trail. Heard a dog barking down by the river where some houses are so I was hoping the dog was barking at elk and they were on their way toward me. I thought I heard a quick bugle, but not sure. Right at shooting light I let out a quick bugle but no response. I held tight trying to stay warm without digging into my backpack and making noise and somewhere around sunrise I heard something moving down in the bottom of the creek. I grabbed my gun and headed that way slowly and quietly. More noise as no doubt a group of animals were moving through the creek bottom. They passed me going upstream so I turned around and followed them. I heard some soft mewing, they are elk for sure. It's really thick and they are less than 100 yards away, but I still haven't seen them. They sound like they are on the other side of the creek, but for sure in the bottom. Finally I see the first elk. A nice sized cow less than 50 yards away. She didn't see me. Then I saw another cow and a calf, then another, then another. I was down on one knee with my rifle up, hoping that the last elk through was going to be a nice bull. Nope, it was another cow, limping pretty badly. I slowly tried to get back ahead of them to see if maybe I missed one at the front and there still might be a bull with them, and the limping cow busted me and starts trotting up ahead. The rest of them bust ahead as well, and end up crossing the ATV trail about 50 yards ahead of me. Still no antlers. I cow called and they seemed to stop running and I heard them mewing again so I don't think they were too spooked. Altogether there was probably 10 or 12 elk. Lots of calves, pretty much each cow had a calf with it so that's a good sign for the future. One of them got split off low and ended up down in the bottom of the creek. I caught a very quick glimpse of it, but couldn't tell if it was a cow or a bull. I hung around and could hear it moving around a bit and heard it mew, so I figured it was a calf. Never did get a good look at it though. Was for sure good to at least see some elk even if none of them had antlers.
I went back to the ambush spot and threw out a few bugles thinking the bull or bulls maybe late getting back out. Nothing. I settled back in and waited until 8:30 and then grabbed my backpack and headed down the trail. Thought about just going back to the truck and driving into Taos so I could talk with my wife, but I decided to at least check out the other side of the canyon and see if I could figure out where the bull from last night was coming and going. Got over there and slowly made my way up the ridge. Looked like a pretty decent spot for shed antlers so I was looking for those as well. It's not like I had all day... Oh wait, I did. Got up to the spot about where I thought I heard the bull bugling from yesterday. Not much in the way of game trails in this side, but a little bit if sign here and there. Scouted around a tiny bit looking for the most open area and settled in on the ridge top, not exactly open, but I found a spot where I could see about 50 yards through the trees in either direction. Pretty sure the bull had walked along this ridge line last night and that's how he covered so much ground. I did have a nice view of the canyon were I had been the evening before and where I saw the bear up in the aspens.
I was too thick to have much of a chance unless they are talking. Got set up on the top by 10:30 am and settled in to wait. I heard the first bugle at 4:30, then 4:40, then I bugled at 5:00, then another bugle at 5:10, then I bugled right on top of it, then pretty much constant from then until dark. I made the mistake of not going to them, thinking they would come my way. Turns out they have another much better route that they went about 1/4 mile west of where I was set up. There were several bulls and tons of cows talking up a storm. Pretty amazing. I realized that they weren't coming my way and went after them. I missed them by 5 minutes, 10 tops. Was the closest I have ever been to that many elk that seemed like they didn't have a care in the world. My head was spinning trying to think through the best way to go after them. My biggest worry is that the cows will bust me in the morning before the bulls come through. Probably the wisest decision would be to just leave them alone in the morning and go back tomorrow evening. I've never been the smartest hunter though. Spent a tiny bit of time right at the end of shooting light scouting around and found a spot that I marked on the GPS for where I wanted to be the next day then headed back down the mountain in the dark.
Very light day on the boots. After over 8 miles the last 2 days and not seeing an elk, this day I only had 3.44 miles on the GPS, with 1,275' elevation gain but I was into elk heavy. I knew where I wanted to be in the morning!
Just looked up for the first time this trip I think. The stars are AWESOME!
Splurged and checked in to the Sipapu Lodge! $34 a night plus tax ended up being $38.10 with tax and everything. $500+ of ultralight camping gear and I'm staying in a cheap hotel! Took a hot shower and slept in a real bed and less than a 10 minute drive to the trail head. Still no cell phone coverage, but the check in clerk let me use their phone (there aren't any in the rooms) to call my wife. It was really good to hear her voice and not be near as discouraged as I was Sunday when I called her. I decided that I was going to go ahead and try to intercept the elk headed back to their bedding area in the morning. It's about a mile from the trail head and gains about 600' elevation so I decided to give myself an hour especially in the dark with no trail. Sunrise is around 7:15 so needed to be there at least by 6:15. That would mean leaving the trail head at 5:15, so I was going to set my alarm for 4:45. 15 minutes to get up and get dressed and out the door, 15 minutes to drive there and get going. I think that should work. 9:15 so that's 7 1/2 hours if I get to sleep! For some reason I decided to move my alarm up to 4:30, then for some reason I thought I would give myself 6 more minutes of sleep so I ended up setting it for 4:36.
Got a good start, left the pickup at 5:15 and got to the spot at 6:15. Just over a mile and closer to 800' of elevation gain. Things started out very quiet, then a far off bugle about 5 minutes after shooting light. Closer to sunrise I heard some more, they were not coming up the way I had planned so I picked up and headed toward them. No doubt there was a bunch if them! I was closing the distance and getting really close. The only problem was that there was some oak brush between me and them. I looked for an opening ahead of them and even thought better if it at the time, but I decided to try to sneak through the oak brush a little so I could get a better look. Needless to say, that was a mistake. They busted me and started milling around. It was pretty thick, but I saw a 6 point that I had a very marginal shot at moving through the brush, but I didn't take it. I cow called a couple times and that got them settled down a little bit, but they were moving out. The herd bull was in the back and I thought I might have a shot at him before they all got turned around, but I didn't ever see him. After being too passive yesterday and missing them by just a few minutes, I was too aggressive today and blew it when I should have backed out a little and found a more open spot they would have to go through. Oh well. I followed them a bit and they ended up moving onto private. Hopefully I hadn't spooked them too bad that they stay there all day. I went back to my original spot and sat down and then heard a bugle off to the south. Got up and headed that way, bugled and cow called and got one response, then maybe again, but it sounded like he was moving out. Headed back to my spot and backpack and trying to figure out what next. It's barely 8:00 so that means around 10 hours of sitting here until the action might get going again this evening. Not sure what else I would do though and maybe they will try to come back to their bedding area after a little. I guess I'm going to just hang out and try not to go stir crazy.
Here's a picture of "the spot".
I turned my phone off airplane mode to check a GPS app on my phone and I had cell service! Crazy. I checked a few other places up on ridges and had to drive all the way to Taos the other day to get service and I now had it here at "the spot". Now if I could just get into elk again!
I enjoyed having cell service during the long wait. Talked to my wife, sent out some text messages and emails, even called a client. Not sounding good so far for tonight though. I think I heard a bugle way over on private as it got closer to evening. At 4:45 there had already been a couple bugles close by but nothing was talking now. Not much I can do about it now though. Been thinking through my decision to not pull the trigger on that 6x6 moving through the brush at 40 yards and I think I was too interested in the possibility of seeing and having a chance at the herd bull, and that may have been part of the reason for not pushing the shot. Also I wasted some time looking at his antlers to see how big he was. If I had cow called he might have stopped and I probably could have got him. Oh well, possibly a lesson learned.
The evening was a complete dud. Didn't hear a thing. Not sure where the elk went to after I busted them up this morning, but they aren't close enough to hear or they aren't talking if they are. There are sure some highs and lows in hunting!
Another light day on the boots. Only 3.53 miles and 1,207' elevation gain.
Checked back into the Sipapu Lodge. Same price I got the same room that I had the night before. They hadn't bothered to clean it yet, but I didn't get a discount. Oh well, it was worth asking about.
Alarm set for 4:36 again.
Fell back asleep after the alarm and woke back up at 4:54. Had everything set and ready to go so I hustled and ended up at the trail head about the same time as yesterday. Headed up to the spot I had marked yesterday evening and took the long way around so I didn't leave a scent trail that they would cross on the way where I had my ambush setup. Ended up hiking in just over a mile even though this spot was a little closer to the truck. Got setup just after 6:00 waiting for shooting light to arrive and hopefully some elk.
Here's what it looked like where I was setup. I had been busted in the oak brush about 50 yards west of this spot, still not what most would consider "open", but I had a good lane about 100 yards that I would be able to see anything coming across it. This spot would have been PERFECT the morning before!
Shooting light came and went without a sound. Some coyotes sent off to the south a little after shooting light and I let off a bugle right at sunrise, but no sight or sound of elk. Ended up sitting around until 9:00 and never heard or saw a thing. I bugled and cow called a few times and didn't get a response. Looks like this group of elk doesn't respond to pressure very well at all! Or maybe they do and that's why a 6x6 bull is a satellite bull.
Ended up giving up and headed back to the truck. Without the big group moving to their bedding area that morning there wasn't any reason to hang around there for the evening again. I didn't have any real promising spots to try that evening and I was missing my family and they were missing me so I decided to just hang it up and try again sometime in the future.
Finally tally on the GPS for the morning 2.3 miles and 835' elevation gain.
Did take this picture on the way out as it was the only time I crossed this spot in the daylight. This was the river that I was crossing each day going and coming to the truck. The shallow crossing spot was about 6" deep and my Meindl boots did a great job of keeping my feet dry.
Got home safe and sound and plenty tired. Only ended up putting 25 miles on the boots with the bulk of those the first 2 days. Sometimes the elk just aren't where you expect them to be that's for sure. I for sure will continue to put in for this unit as my 3rd choice. The odds still aren't great, but I should be able to hunt it every 4 or 5 years based on the drawing odds. It's relatively close to home and if I can hunt it a few more times I think I might be able to get it figured out.
Was really surprised how quickly I bounced around with my emotions from highs to lows and back again. Not sure I have the mental toughness to go stick it out for a full week without seeing plenty of game to keep my excitement level up. I got depressed pretty quickly when things weren't going my way early in the week.
I'm sure I've forgotten some important details, and for sure probably have my tenses still all messed up and some auto correct errors from typing this on my phone during the hunt, but I think you can get the general idea. I did write myself up a long note on motivational thoughts that I still need to finish out as well.
Oh well, that's it for now. Nathan