By: Seth Craft
Broker Associate | CO • Associate Broker | NM

Hunting New Mexico could be summed up as the Mecca of Giant Elk and is a dream for many hunters. As I studied the draw odds of New Mexico, I figured I’d choose a fairly easier draw for elk that is quite physically challenging in anticipation of a Grind of a hunt in some rugged country for some monster bulls. The time came and went after the draws, and my son and I showed up six days before the season opener. As the first evening broke, we spotted only one cow in the vast territory; the late season hunt is proving to be more difficult than anticipated.

The first scouting morning, we spotted five bulls with a big five that would go in the 320s and several other bulls that had several broken points and one seven by with a broken main beam. Every day we would turn up good bulls but nothing over the 350 marks, we worked from north to south and east to west and searched every nook and cranny we could find. Most of the elk we saw were in the low lying country, and we felt like we had no edge over the rest of the hunters.

As the first day of the hunt started, we were chasing the best bull we could turn up, a thin horned 350 class bull that I didn’t want to shoot, but with much encouragement from my 16 yo son that this was the best bull around. We Climbed in the dark to where we saw this bull several days in a row.  As the sun broke, several ATVs riding the national forest two-track roads scared that bull with no other sightings of him during our trip. It was almost a relief not killing a bull that I wouldn’t be happy with and not the way I like to hunt with others having the same edge as us.

My son Payton and myself went back to what we know and are good at, as we hiked 5 miles back into a high country basin with heavy timber on the north-facing side. We glassed for hours with no sign of elk, and the little to no water in the basin, we doubted that any elk called this place home. As we scanned the hillside, I found a mega heavy shed horn at just over a mile away; my motto is never to leave a shed horn behind!! As I shed weight off my pack, I packed back to where this nice heavy horn bull called this country his home. In amazement, I picked up this heavy bull antler up and found the year before the same side antler only 40 yards from this antler. As I climbed through the rugged country, I picked up four more antlers, and this country proved to of not seen by man in many years.

While on the long heavy pack out to Payton, I saw one small bull and several mule deer proving there was some form of wildlife in this isolated canyon. As I was climbing up the hill here came to Payton running down at me with an intense look on his face saying he found a giant, and the pictures confirmed. He said when I was walking through the thick country that I jumped the bull in his bed at a mere 20 yards. As he looked at the antlers on my pack, he said that was the bull he had seen. We ran to a point with the sunlight fading to turn up that giant bull with no sight of the monarch on the mountain. Several things ran through my head, did I blow my chance at a huge bull by my love of picking up sheds? The several hours in the dark hiking out was a good reflection of the next days’ game plan.

The Sleepless evening with the constant 60 mph winds that throughout the last ten days had blown our tent and scattered our gear across the mountain. The game plan that morning was to split up and to sit on different hillsides to search for the bull that we still hoped was somewhere in the country.  As I perched up in constant conversation with my Father I prayed in specifics that we could find the giant and put him down with one shot. I do believe God cares so much for us that he grants the desires upon our heart, even those desires of a monster bull.  Most people don’t understand the constant miserable grind of being uncomfortable in the wilderness, but I never feel closer to God, but when I’m sitting on some mountain top.

We glassed the country for hours, and I finally caught an antler moving through the timber.   He was not the bull we were initially searching for, but after looking him over and the 5 ft width on this giant, he was even bigger, most likely scoring at least in the mid 390s. It took several minutes to range this bull as the sun was blaring in my eyes.  He was 361 yards, and  I anchored down and squeezed the trigger on the Gunwerks muzzleloader but no bark.  Throughout the fumble, I forgot to put a cap on the muzzleloader, and the slam of the bolt echoed in the canyon as the giant ran into the timber and disappeared as fast as he showed up. As I shook uncontrollably and made the Gunwerks lethal again, I looked up and saw the first heavy horned bull in the exact spot where I screwed up on the wide bull.  It was a gift from God in the redemption of the last bull. This time the muzzleloader found its mark, and the bull only made it 40 yards before tipping over.

As my son and I held the giant bull in our hands, I reflected on the appreciation of a second chance and the privilege to spend the time with my best buddy and pass down the torch as he had to finally help me pack out one of my animals instead of me always helping him. I want to thank our Lord and savior for these experiences, and my son for all the help on this hunt.  I couldn’t have done it without either of them.