New Mexico Muzzleloader success.


Jan 24, 2012
Well I made it back. Here goes nothing.

Day one: Oct 9th. Day before season.

Left the house at 545am and drove over to my friends house who was going to go along for the first three days. He had already tagged a 350 inch bull down in the Gila Wilderness two weeks before so he was along to help out. Jeremy has a fellow officer who owns horses and lives up in the Unit I hunted so if I was fortunate enough to score opening morning, Jeremy was going to hike back down to the truck, make a phone call and be back with 4 legged help since where I was hunting, Pecos Wilderness, is foot traffic only. Neither of us had hunted this area before, but Jeremy had some intel from the bow season as to where the elk might be from the friend with the horses ( he had missed a whopper of a 6x6).

We arrived at the trailhead around 8:15, paid our access fee, loaded our packs onto our backs and prepared for a 5 mile hike into the creek bottom we had planned on camping at. It was 8:35am.

Here I am a mile into the hike, at the wilderness boundary:

I never weighed my pack ( was afraid to), but I know it was way over the 65 pounds I had trained with. Probably pushing 80-90 pounds. I can swing a 65 pound onto my back by myself, this one I needed help.

Some scenery on the way in:

Pecos Baldy. Great place to glass up bighorns.

At 1:15 pm we arrived at the creek we planned on using for drinking water. 5.15 miles from the truck. The trailhead was 8890 of elavation.

We set up camp ( which happened to be at 10352 feet of elevation) ate some food and strapped on our daypacks to spend the rest of the day scouting. We ran into an outfitter and his client on horses doing the same thing and the outfitter said he had been in the mountains all week and only heard one bugle. That was pretty discouraging as we were hoping they would be talking in the morning. Some cowboys came by looking for cattle and they told us the bulls were screaming the day before just a mile from camp. We didn't know who to believe. We walked across the creek, up the mountain, through a gorge, up into a burn.... lots of sign but no elk sightings. We didn't even bump one. We did see a reminder that we were not the only hunter in the woods....

We sat on a meadow that night, saw nothing, heard nothing, and went back to camp not feeling very good about things.

Day Two Opening Day:

Cold... Really cold. Hard to get out of the warm bag. We ate some breakfast, drank some steaming hot coffee and away we went. We decided to sit on the same meadow as the night before just in case. It was very quiet with no wind. Around 730am we tried cow calling to no avail. My view...

Around 830am we consulted our maps and decided to hike into a lower meadow that looked promising. We were set up by 10am and we started calling. Jeremy about 50 yards deep into the woods with me on the meadow edge ready for action. After 2 calling sequences there it was..faint but unmistakable..... A bugle. Jeremy ran down to me and asked if I heard it to. Yup I did. We both started calling again and within 10 seconds he answered. We were pretty positive that their wasn't anyone between us and the gorge the bull was in so we made a break for hit and headed straight for him. He bugled about every 10 minutes for the next two hours. Unfortunately after 2 miles we determined he was moving way to fast for us to catch him. Instead of following down into a very deep creek bottom, we made a plan to head up high above some dark timber we hoped he would go to, and wait him out to make a move back to the meadow at dark. While heading up we ran into another meadow that was just loaded with fresh beds, scat, and reeked of elk. It was very steep at the bottom, yet looked awesome for a morning ambush. We made plans to come back the next morning and set up.

We took a nap, had some hikers walk within 20 feet of us and not even see us laying under a pine tree ( Hiking color tours are big this time of year), ate again and basically just took in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Around 3pm we slowly made our way back to the meadow edge, cow calling the entire time. Again unfortunately we heard and say nothing except a family of turkeys walked up to within 5 yards of our ambush point.

Made it back down camp and enjoyed a mountain house. Jeremy even made mention of packing camp up monday morning and moving if we didn't see any elk by Sunday afternoon.

Day three Sunday:

Again it is cold. Has to be in the 20's. The wind is already blowing about 30 mph and howling through the trees. Hot coffee and cold Mountain house blueberry and granola ( outstanding I might add). We headed out for the far meadow with all the sign. As we approached the meadow that we set up on opening morning, we turned our headlamps off and went about it with out light's. We were about 3/4 of the way across when I turned my head and looked up into the top part of the meadow where I had sat the morning before. Three very light forms were moving around! I instantly stopped and whispered "elk" at the same time Jeremy whispered it as well. I dropped down to one knee, laid my muzzleloader on the meadow grass and got the glasses up. I was using 8x42 Meoptas and Jeremy 10x42 Leupy's. I counted 5 cows and one small bull. It was 6:20 and legal light was 6:35. All of a sudden here comes a beast of a bull. 6x6 with easily seen ivory tips . I whisper " big bull on the right". Jeremy can't see his antlers in his binos. I unsnap mine and give them to him. As soon as he sees him he responds " great bull Pat, get ready to shoot... range him first".. I grabbed my rangefinder and ranged the back of the meadow pines.. 269. I range the lone pine tree that the bull is standing next to and it comes back at 219. My load is 9 inches low at 200. I am confident I can make this shot and begin to try and find a solution to the 3 foot high meadow grass keeping me from taking a sit and resting on my knees. I then realized the wind... 30-40 mph full value right to left... The 350 grain kodiak will surely be pushed a good 18 or more inches in that time. I lowered my muzzleloader and whispered to Jeremy " I can't shoot"... He hands me back my binos and by this time he can see the bull in his. We are pegged now. The elk know we are there... It is 6:31. We can see the bull with our own eyes. He is looking right at us... What a magnificent animal. Jeremy asks " are you sure you can't shoot". I looked at him and said " no I can't.. He doesn't deserve a me throwing a shot in this wind".

We watched the elk dissolve into the black timber. Jeremy looks at me and says " we have a decision to make. We either head on over the other meadow and see if anything is there, or we wait a minute and haul ass around this bull, get downind, and smoke him". I didn't even have to think about it. I was already putting things away to make ready to move. " lets go get that bull" was my response.

We took off back on the trail around the meadow and fast walked for 10 minutes with out stopping. When we thought we were good enough, we cut into the timber. We let things settle down for a few minutes and we started calling again. 2 minutes later... BUGLE! Sounded far away but we had a fix. We consulted the topo and compared it to our satellite imagery and planned a route. Jeremy stated that the bull would be taking those cows to bed now deep in the timber but would have to cross a pretty big burn that was north facing so it would be pretty barren and I could shoot up to 100-150 yards depending on angle. The wind was perfect. Right in our faces. It was now or never. Lets go. It was 7:05am.

We took off. Into the burn. Every so often we would look at one another and point to our noses.. we could smell them. I was in the lead and picked up the herds tracks easily in the mud. We picked our way over the deadfalls and about 7:30am I stopped and looked at Jeremey. " did you hear that?" he asked. Yep that was a bugle. Far off. We can't even see the end of the burn yet. " Pat we may never catch up to him. Elk aren't like whitetails. If they want to they will take off and not stop for 5 miles." " I know. Lets keep after it. ". As we made our way out of the burn and into the thickest dark timber that could be found, there it was again, a lone Bugle. " Okay Pat, he may slow down now and bed up. lets grab some food quick, hydrate, and go." It was 8:15am. Cliff bars, gorp and some water down the hatch and we were on the track.

We slowly picked our way through the jungle of pines and deadfalls, walking dead into the 30 mph wind. We decided to split up and walk parallel on the ridge while we both cow called, hoping to sound like two hot cows. Bugle!!. We were closing the distance. Not much but it sounded closer. We continued on. Around 9:10am Jeremy motioned me down to him. I walked down.

"Hey Pat we are running out of timber in about 1/4 mile. Soon we will be above tree line and if they don't go over the top, they will drop down into that bowl and will have our wind and be gone."

"if we reach the end of the timber let's stop, set up for a while and glass for bighorns. The wind will be wrong to still hunt back to camp, maybe the wind will change this afternoon"

We decided to give it one last calling sequence. We both called on our cow calls. No response. We started walking when all of a sudden I caught movement dead ahead... Elk... I see a head... I see antlers... Coming right for us!!!

" Jeremy I got him!".
" right there.. 60yards and walking right at us"

We both dropped down to our knees. I have a full front on shot at his chest. I see four eyeguards, thirds and fourths. I start to squeeze..

Nothing...... CRAP I forgot to pull the hammer back on the TC Pro Hunter. As fast as I slowly can I reach up and draw the hammer back.

By now the bull has closed to 30 yards and still walking right for us, scanning up the hill and down, looking for the two lost girlfriends we were pretending to be.

He stops. I have been tracking him the whole way through the crosshairs. He has decided to stop right behind a tree. I can see his rack and his ears. He is directly behind the tree.

"Pat he has me pegged.... he's gonna run. Take the first shot you have as soon as he turns."

And with that I leaned as far as could to my right while leaning back on my heels, resting on my knees. I could see the right side of the chest, the sternum area, and his eye. I placed the vertical crosshair just the right of where I thought the sternum would be and sqeezed.


The bull turned and ran, head down and sick over the small rise he had just come over.

" Great shot Pat! You got him!"

I got up and started running after him. " Reload Pat, reload" Jeremy said with urgency. I quickly reloaded and ran to the impact area. Earth was torn up everywhere and within 5 yards:

After that the blood trail was easy. Little did I know that Jeremy had turned on his video camera and was taping the chase. Found him over a log, about 30-40 yards away.. As I approached and made sure he was down for good, I am not ashamed to say that the emotions of the hunt overtook me and I started to cry. No this isn't my first elk, it isn't even my first bull. This was a hunt that back 17 years ago I made a promise to myself that I would accomplish some time. " Go on a self guided Wilderness hunt". It is number 22 out of 25 things I wrote down to accomplish before I die. No it wasn't Alaska, but damn Northern New Mexico in October might as well be. There was no whooping or hollering or dancing around him, I said my prayer of thanks to him and to the Great Spirit and all was silent. He dropped at 11,345 feet of elevation.

Jeremy came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said " Pat do you realize what we just did?". " We hiked in with everything on our backs 5 miles, we tracked this herd almost 3 miles through some of the roughest country out here and called in not one, but two bulls. Most guys would have said 'lets just go over to the meadow' cause that would have been the easy way. You kept your head, you took an impossible shot and made one of the best shots I have seen. The fun is over brother, we are almost 7.5 miles from the truck. Great job"

As he said "great job", we both looked up to see a 5x5 bull walking down the ridge right at us, about 20 yards away. We both joked that the big 6x6 sent " junior" down to check out what was going on!

The 350 grain Kodiak traveling over 1900 fps did its job with supreme efficiency. Entrance wound was just right of the sternum, drilling the heart. No exit.

We pulled him out and took some pics.

The time was 9:25am. Almost three hours from when we saw the herd in the meadow. We went gutless and boned out the meat on the spot. By 11:45 we had it done and had 2 game bags hanging in the shade and the other two in our packs. I had the head caped out for a European mount, the lower jaw removed, and ready for travel. We made our way down to the meadow that we knew ran the length of the valley floor, which would lead us directly to camp, as the creek ran right down the center of it.

Thats me looking back up into the basin where he fell. That is Pecos Baldy at the top and we were dang near at its base when we started.

We made it back down to camp, dropped the skull and meat, ate a quick lunch and headed back up for the second load of meat.

Got back up to the meat ( 2.25 miles up the mountain), loaded it up, and came back down to camp. Took a small break and decided that each of us could take a double load of meat ( 100+pounds) plus skull, 3.5 miles down the mountain, cache it off the trail, then come back up to camp. Spend the night, wake up early, break camp, take camp the 5 miles down to the trucks, then come back up the 1.5 miles to the meat and carry the double load down to the trucks.

Meat cached 1.5 miles from the truck:

We arrived back at camp around 11:00 pm and basically fell into camp. We made a huge campfire, ate like kings, and wished we had brought a flask to toast the beautiful stars in the sky.

Back up at 6am we broke camp and started back down the mountain.

Remember Jeremy's co-worker with the horses? Well one mile from the truck we ran into him on the trail as he was bringing his dad up to hunt the rest of the season. We gave him directions to the bull and he was able to go up the 1/2 mile to the bull, load it, and bring it down and we arrived at the trailhead at the same time.

All in all I hiked 38 miles and change in 3.5 days on the mountain. Was it all I had dreamt it would be? Hell yes it was. It was glorious...

Girls were pretty happy too. Mackenzie dove into meat cutting and was pretty bummed I didn't bring the whole thing back like I used to!

It was just as if I was there with you. That was a superb hunt, Pat. Congratulations on doing it the hard way. A trophy by any standard.
Nicely done Pat, way to go! Congratulations on a nice bull.
Thanks for the story and pictures.

Wow man that is a fantastic adventure right there!

How long did it take to draw the tag? Is there a particular reason you chose NM as the destination?

You're hard core man; such an awesome adventure!
That's an awesome story and congratulations.


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Pat thank you for taking me on your Elk hunt (y)!! What a great adventure and with photos to boot I enjoyed your post immensely.

Great story man! Sounds like you had an epic time, that is some special country this time of year, congratulations!
I love a good story told with passion and emotion. Grand hunts for Grand animals have that effect on some of us.
I hunted Northern New Mexico a long time ago. It was the middle of November and snowing and cold as all get out for a Georgia boy.
Would I go back to NM? In a heartbeat I would.
We stopped to rest one night going down to the truck at about 10,000 feet. We looked out over the Chama valley and the lights of the ranch houses in the distance were like pin pricks of fire. The sky was absolutely filled with the brightest stars I've ever seen. And a breath of air was the coldest, purest air I've ever breathed. Then somewhere far below the old Coyetes started howling and even though I dislike them immensely on that night they just spoke of the Old West.
Yeah. I would go back to New Mexico.
One of the best told stories of the year, fantastic job. Congrats on a wonderful hunt and a very nice bull.
Wonderful write up! Loved the passion and detail! Elk are my favorite animal to hunt. I felt like I was with you! Congrats on a great bull and a winter of great eating!
WOW! Thanks for sharing. I remember what it was like the last time I packed meat in the mountains (2013) like it was yesterday. Your experience makes those memories more vivid. Thanks again for sharing!
Great story Pat! It's nice that you wrote the whole story for all of us to read, and posted pictures along with it.

Thanks for sharing your hunt.
Awesome job Pat !!!

Great tale of a physically challenging hunt and fantastic pics .
Thanks for taking me along.