My First New Mexico Archery Bull
By Caelin Wilcox
The end of February brought another great hunting season to a close in sheep country with some close family friends. Only a few weeks passed and the deadline was already approaching to begin applying for the upcoming New Mexico hunting season! After failing to draw an elk tag the year prior, I decided to change my application strategy in hopes of chasing big bulls that fall. Through use of Huntin’ Fool’s draw odds database and their monthly magazine, I was able to build an application strategy and felt confident going into the draw.
The draw date quickly approached, and rumor that New Mexico was going to release results early had me eagerly awaiting word from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The morning of April 18th came around, and I routinely checked my phone hoping for an email from NMDGF but knowing there most likely wouldn’t be one. Instead of an email, I received two text messages from my dad, Dino, and my brother, CJ, exclaiming that the draw results were out and that they had both drawn good tags. My excitement overcame me, and I couldn’t type my login information fast enough on the Game and Fish website. I opened the applications page and found that I had successfully drawn an archery bull tag in a premier unit as well as a Barbary sheep tag. I couldn’t believe it, and with elk tags being so hard to come by, I immediately started planning a scouting trip to lay eyes on the unit.
The rest of the summer moved quickly as I pored over maps, planned scouting trips, and collected gear, preparing for the hunt. In what felt like the blink of an eye, the day before the opener had arrived. I hustled at work all day to get off early and made the long drive to camp where my brother and my dad were already waiting for me. After getting only a few hours of sleep, opening morning was finally here. We knew it was going to be tough with hot temperatures through the first five days of the hunt. Our plan was to cover ground and canvas as much area as possible, trying to find spots where the bulls were starting to get rutty.
The first day and a half turned up only a few raghorn bulls and a cow with almost no elk activity and no sign of any rut activity. As discouraging as this was, we kept pushing on, and the evening of day two found us chasing a faint bugle. We slowly worked into the area where we had heard the bugle and ended up getting on the bull with his harem, but we weren’t able to seal the deal. Being as it was about a 320 class bull and with me having never killed a bull with my bow, I would have gladly notched my tag on him, but I wasn’t too discouraged at the missed opportunity. I felt confident that we had found a good area that bulls would start moving into as the rut picked up, and we knew exactly where we were going to be on day three.
The next morning rolled around and we were on the trail before legal shooting light, hoping to catch the bulls before they made it to their bedding areas. As we came out of the bottom, a bugle echoed from over the hill in the next canyon, and from the sound of the bugle, we figured it had to be a different bull. We quickly made it to the hill, and CJ immediately got the bull spotted about 400 yards across the canyon feeding into a short header with one small stand of trees. After guessing him to be in the 320" range, we planned for CJ and Dino to stay back while I moved quickly towards the stand of trees we thought he had bedded in. I took my time getting into bow range only to discover that the header wrapped around the hill and the bull was nowhere to be found. We regrouped, and with midday approaching, we decided to find a shade tree to take a nap and rest up for the evening hunt.
We had barely shut our eyes when a bugle erupted from across the canyon. I threw my binoculars up and spotted the bull moving off the hill towards the bottom, stopping about halfway down to rake a tree. It was the same bull that we had been on earlier that morning. I used the opportunity to close the distance and snuck onto the bull at 67 yards, but I was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. We hunted hard into the evening but came up empty.
The following day, my dad and brother had to return home to work and wouldn’t be back until the next weekend. I returned by myself to the same area that we had been hunting, but I decided to show up an hour before sunrise and get ahead of the bulls before they made it to bed. I hadn’t even made it to the first hill when I heard a bugle a few canyons over. Being that it was still 45 minutes before legal shooting light, I took my time working towards the bull. The wind was good, and I reached the top of the ridge as soon as it started to get light. Looking across the saddle ahead of me, I could see an elk feeding on the next hill. I put up my Swaro 10x50s and could tell it was a bull, but it wasn’t quite light enough to tell how big he was. He fed over the hill, and with the wind still in my face, I quickly made it to the saddle and snuck up to where he had topped over. I could hear him bugling on the other side, so I peeked over the hill just enough to where I could see. He was feeding 300 yards down the ridge, facing away from me. At this point, the sun had started to come up and I could tell without a doubt that he was a bull I wanted to shoot. Conditions were perfect for a stalk, and I was already imagining putting a muzzy broadhead into the boiler room, but as I climbed a little higher on the hill, I spotted two small bulls between me and the big 6x7. With almost no cover and not wanting to risk blowing them out, I waited for the bulls to feed off the hill and down into the next canyon.
As soon as they were out of sight, I hustled to where they had dropped off and spotted the bull feeding up a small header that led into a big timbered canyon where he was likely going to bed. The header came to a small saddle before it dropped into the bigger canyon, and I figured he would cross there. I wasted no time as I sprinted across the bottom and up the hill in an attempt to beat him to the saddle. I quickly took cover next to a small spruce and ranged everything in the saddle. No more than a minute passed and I heard the footsteps of an elk coming up from out of the header. Seconds later, I saw the tips of his antlers. He was going to feed within 30 yards of me. My heart was pounding as I got ready to shoot. With the wind in my face and the sun at my back, I knew the conditions were perfect. I just had to be patient and wait for him to present me with a good shot. He moved up into the saddle at less than 30 yards and stopped to feed on a small spruce, but he was facing my direction, not allowing me to draw. As soon as he stepped behind the spruce, I drew my PSE, and as he stepped out on the other side, I released the arrow. The shot was quartering away, and I heard the thwack of the arrow as it sank into his vitals. The bull turned to run, and I could see the arrow sticking halfway out behind his front shoulder. He ran only 50 yards before bedding under a pinyon, and after waiting him out for 45 minutes, I had my first New Mexico archery bull.
With no one there to celebrate with me, I ran across the hill to get service so I could text my brother and call my dad to tell them the good news. Luckily, my dad was able to get someone to cover his shift, and was in the truck headed my way with Jen, my stepmom, to help with the pack out. It was an amazing experience, and I couldn’t have done it without my dad, my brother, and Jen.