Back in February, I sought some input regarding a high fence elk hunt I was considering. I have bow hunted elk for several years with an outfitter in NM on private land where the bow hunting success rate was less than 25% while rifle hunting success rate was basically 100%. I didn't know how many more years I would be able to go - age, family and cost - but as much as I wanted to harvest an elk, I was not willing to give up a bow hunt for a rifle hunt. Hence, I was considering a ranch that had 10,000 acres of high fence elk hunting where I could hunt with a bow, but if unsuccessful switch to a rifle toward the end of the hunt. Having no experience whatsoever with "high fence" hunting, I posted on this forum asking for opinions while I was trying to decide.
There was one response in particular that really summed it up and it was along the lines of - you have to ask yourself if you get an elk in the HF are you going to be comfortable sharing that you took it there. That question haunted me all summer as I changed my hunt back and forth from the high fence to their free range hunt. I wasn't going to know the answer unless and until it happened and I decided to hunt the HF. I just got back a day ago and given all the commotion over my original post, I thought I would provide an update.
It was not what I expected. It was not the 10,000 acres I included in my original post but probably closer to 5,000 huntable acres plus a sanctuary area that must have been at least 1,000 acres which we drove the perimeter once but could not hunt directly or even the fringes. It was surrounded on all sides by 30,000 acres which was hunted as free range. I am not sure how effective the high fence is because I saw two Shiras moose and several other guys saw bears and maybe a couple of mule deer does, all of which were subject to free range hunting and licensing requirements.
There were some big bulls but getting in bow range seemed next to impossible. The terrain was very tough Ė heavy brush and steep inclines. If you wanted to see more than 100 yards, you had to go to top of the hills. The winds were nasty and every single stalk ended with a wind change and an elk bolting away before I was in bow range. There wasn't a lot of bugling so it was pretty much spot and stalk or ambush style. We all saw elk but came back empty handed from every hunt.
On the last morning I took my bow and rifle, but left the gun in the ATV. Another guide had spotted 3 bulls heading in our general direction and we headed toward the trail my guide thought they would come. I thought this was it and got in position and waited. We could hear them right as they came into view, something spooks them from behind and they charge right into us. Problem is that there are 10-15 elk, not 3, and one of them is going to run over me if I donít jump out of the way. When I do, all hell breaks loose as they scatter then disappear altogether. I am leaving that afternoon and it hits me that the hunt is over. Another season without an elk.
Iím done - physically and mentally Ė and tell my guide it is time to head back to camp. He is having none of that and says we are not giving up yet, grab you gun. We hit several spots to glass the hills but see nothing as most of the elk have bedded down. Iím even more physically exhausted when we abandon the ATV and start up a long, narrow trail which includes yet another steep incline before reaching another area where we can glass the opposite hill. Thirty minutes later he spots a bull about 500 yards out that eventually beds down about 350 yards away. Not being a big rifle hunter, I did not want to shoot more than 150 yards so we work our way toward him, closing to 300 yards. Still too far and we work our way back around another trail to about 100 yards away. But it is so thick we canít see him and we canít get closer without spooking him.
We try another route with the same results before going back to our original point and working our way to 265 yards. Any further and we are too low to shoot across to the other side. He sets his spotting scope up so that I can use it as a rest and I find the elk in my scope. I tell him no way I can make that shot. He urges me on saying I can do it. He said he is going to cow call and start working his way down toward him until he stands up and when he does, for me to put the crosshairs on him and shoot. Sure enough, the very first cow call and the bull slowly stands up broadside.
I have such little confidence that I can make that shot that I am not really that nervous. I aim and very slowly and intentionally squeeze the trigger and fire. Nothing happens, he just stands there. My guide says "shoot again, shoot again" and I do. He appears to take a step forward but then he is gone. I canít see him anywhere and assume I missed. My guide thinks I hit him but I am thinking he is just trying to be nice. It takes us about 40 minutes to get where we thought we shot him and there he is, dead in his tracks.
I got my first elk and I took it with a rifle. It scored 316 and I am very proud of it. That was the hardest, most grueling hunting I have ever experienced, much harder than the NM free range hunts I have previously been on. I do wish it had been a true fair chase hunt and I am hopeful that I will get at least a couple more chances. If I do, they will be free range bow hunts. But if not or if I am unsuccessful, I still got my bull and no one can ever take that away from me.