A Ride On The “Elk Highway”

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I met Larysa Switlyk four years ago at the SHOT Show convention in Las Vegas. Since the day we met she has told me about her epic adventures hunting elk on a ranch in New Mexico.

Switlyk hosts a hunting show just like mine and we became close friends almost immediately. We always talked about going on hunts together, but nothing ever came of it until this past season.

We finally got together at the Quinlan Ranch (575-209-1618; quinlanranch.com) to hunt my first elk ever. It might sound strange that I had never shot an elk, but for some reason it just never came together for me. I tried in Montana (California Sportsman, January 2015), but the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. This time was different.

The hunt was booked at the perfect time, as there were elk everywhere. The 17,000-acre ranch is in northern New Mexico, about two hours north of Santa Fe and right in the middle of what they call the “elk highway.” There are also a ton of mule deer moving through this area.

I brought my Legendary Arms Works .300 Win Mag with me and had it set to zero at 200 yards. We hit the range first thing in the morning and checked the guns. Larysa was after a mule deer and was borrowing a gun from the ranch.

When both guns were dead-on we went back to the lodge for breakfast. The hunt would begin that afternoon. The chef at the Quinlan Ranch is our good friend, Austin. He is an unbelievable cook and kept us fed and happy the entire hunt.

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WE SET OUT that afternoon in the truck. The plan was to drive around and get the lay of the land while looking for any obvious signs of elk. It was clear that there were plenty of animals around but no perfect situations presented themselves. We cruised around and got out to walk here and there, but eventually we headed back to camp empty-handed. We had plenty of time and no one was stressed; the situation looked very promising from the little drive we had done. The next day we planned to hunt hard.

We headed out early and parked on top of a hill and set out on foot. We made a giant loop and saw a bachelor herd of elk, but all of them were too young to shoot. After that, we took the truck to a high lookout point and decided to glass for a while.

There were a few cow elk milling around in the bushes way below us. We spotted one decent bull, but he was about 1,000 yards away and next to impossible to get to.

It was nearing lunchtime and getting warm out, so we decided to head back down and hunt our way back to the lodge for a meal. We bumped another group of young bulls on our way, but that was all.

Still, having only hunted for elk on public land in Montana, I was thrilled just seeing elk throughout the day! We had a feast for lunch and then headed straight back out.

We worked our way along the base of a ridge, carefully checking the thick timber above for movement. At last a big bull was standing just above us at around 200 yards. I thought, “This is my moment!”

I set up on shooting sticks, and just as my face touched the stock, the elk was gone. Only dust was visible in the scope. The timber was so thick that the animal disappeared in a millisecond.

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GETTING THAT CLOSE and then not pulling the trigger was a major letdown. I kept thinking that if I had moved just a little quicker or taken two fewer steps, perhaps the bull would’ve been mine.

We continued walking while I beat myself up over the elk that got away, and to my surprise another bull was standing dead-still on the ridge. It had obviously spotted us and was hoping we would not spy it. This time I was just a tad quicker setting up and I had the shoulder in my crosshairs before the animal could move.

I took my shot, heard the bullet hit and watched the elk turn downhill and take off into the timber. We stood silent, then heard crashing as the elk rolled down the hill.

It took a while to hike to the elk, and when we got to it, we found that a tree had stopped the momentum of its fall. It was a magnificent bull. It had beautiful whale tails and some interesting curvy tines.

But it was also in a very steep spot, and it was going to be difficult to get it out. We decided to do our field-dressing there and call for backup.

It was getting dark by this point, but fortunately we got a few good pictures before the light disappeared. Help arrived and we got the elk out.

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I am so thrilled and fortunate to have harvested this magnificent animal and am absolutely going back to New Mexico for another! CS

Editor’s note: Brittany Boddington is a Los Angeles-based hunter, journalist and adventure. For more, go to brittanyboddington.com or facebook.com/brittanyboddington. Like Quinlan Ranch at facebook.com/The-Quinlan-Ranch-1474478329486894.