Mescalero Monster Bull Elk

by Bob Zaiglin

Angling up the steep, heavily vegetated mountainside towards a screaming bull was exhilarating. Just below me was my guide, tribal member Christie LaPaz, working the bull with a few bugles mixed with some cow talk. Just before separating, Christie told me the bull looked like a good one, which only intensified my interest in seeing the animal’s rack. Using the scaley bases of the fence post like Ponderosa pine trees to camouflage my movement, I inched my way up the slope towards the belligerent bull. I was close to him, but the understory prevented a good look. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of the huge animal as it appeared staring in my direction not 100 yards above me. With my 10x40’s, I could distinguish heavy, long front tines and heavy beams. Suddenly my thoughts concentrated on a way in which I could get a shot at this mountain monarch. With the barrel of my rifle laid on a solid snag protruding from a young pine, I prepared for a shot. Once again the bull bellowed out, then began to change positions, but doing so he paused, providing me an avenue to shoot through. The crack of my 7 mm reverberated across the narrow, deep canyon walls, but when silence returned, the bull was gone. Rushing up to me immediately and while trying to catch his breath, Christie asked “Did you hit him?” With confidence I said, “I am certain, but I hope I didn’t hit any branches”. Instantly, Christie emphatically stated “take off after him, you may see him crossing the bottom”, but before he could finish his Mescalero orders, we could hear my bull crashing down the mountainside.

Jordan Torres Bugling For Bull Elk
 Bugling up bulls is one of the most fascinating events an outdoorsman can witness. Here tribal member Jordan Torres tries to locate a bull with his bugle.

There’s simply something majestic about hunting big bull elk. Even their name, Rocky Mountain Elk, is alluring as is their large antlers regal. I was on my second hunt in two years on the famed Mescalero Indian Reservation, and the only thing that could top this was the fact that I would return to New Mexico in just a few short weeks to try and take a big bull with a new Knight muzzleloader with my friends Larry Joe Moore and his son, Marty.

Because of all the success I enjoyed hunting bulls on the Mescalero in 1999, my good buddy from Ocala, Florida, David Shashy, had to check it out for himself. Another good friend and man responsible for my newly acquired elk hunting addiction, Chad Harrington of the famed Harrington Cattle Company, joined us.

Our trip began on September 16, 2000 when the three of us met at the El Paso airport, followed by the two-hour drive up to the Inn of the Mountain Gods. Now when one conjures up mental images of elk hunting, it’s normal to imagine a tent camp ensconced among the aspens midway up a verdant mountainside. Not so on the Mescalero. Hunters are housed in the lush Inn of the Mountain Gods hotel, but all the amenities, including a golf course and casino, are overkill because of the little time spent at the lodge.

Upon our arrival we met up with hunt manager Jonathan Adams who introduced us to our guides. I would be guided once again by Christie LaPaz. Chad would accompany us as an extra pair of eyes. David teamed up with Jordan Torres.

Sleep the night before was a little difficult as we anticipated seeing some tremendous bulls in the morning.

Up at 4 a.m., breakfast at 4:30, and by 5 a.m. we were driving to our designated hunting areas. Just before daylight Christie, Chad and I met up with the wrangler caring for our horses. With a brightly shining moon over us, we adjusted our stirrups. Bugling bulls could be heard in the distance. Just before placing my rifle in the scabbard, I ejected my clip in order to load three rounds, the only problem was I had no clip. It was located in my gun case back in South Texas. No problem. It couldn’t be any more difficult than hunting with a muzzleloader, I thought, so I simply placed several shells in my pocket ready to go if I needed them. Walking the horses through a small meadow sprinkled with Ponderosa Pine seedlings, a brilliant blue-colored shooting star illuminated the sky momentarily. The celestial display made me pause a second and give thanks for all the unique outdoor adventures I have been privileged to enjoy.

The Mescalero Reservation Has Incredible Elk Hunting
 Big bulls, like big whitetails, are rare jewels of nature, but with patience there’s nowhere better to find one than on the Mescalero Indian Reservation

It was not long before we were into bulls with five stout 5x5’s rushing up to within 30 yards of us in response to Christie’s calling. Glassing a distant mountainside we spotted two huge bulls, one a 6x6 that could breach the 370-inch mark. The rest of our morning was spent trying to catch up to them but we had no luck as the bulls fell silent around 9:30.

With mid day temperatures reaching 74 degrees, we decided to station ourselves over a stock tank throughout the evening. Parting the lodge by 3:30, we made a short, winding drive up a distant mountain to our desirable position. Upon our arrival, a 300-inch class 6x6 bull was taken by surprise as the mud-covered bull lay in the shallow tank. On the opposing side of the tank, a small chocolate brown-colored bear was parting the bank. Shortly after getting situated under a huge Ponderosa pine not 200 yards from the water, a 250-lb. jet black-colored bear came waddling down to the bank for a drink. Four coyotes and a bobcat arrived shortly afterward. It was simply an enjoyable evening, but little bugling was heard until almost dark.

At daylight on the second morning of the hunt, we rode the ridge upon which we spotted the huge 6x6 the day before. We looked at several nice bulls, but no shooters. Once again, by 9:30 bulls fell silent, and we returned to camp.

A 340 Class Bull Elk From New Mexico
With a huge 6x6 David was more than happy to terminate his hunt on the second morning.

Arriving back at the lodge by mid morning, we stopped by the hunt headquarters where we found David with a beautiful 6x6 he couldn’t turn down.

With a 340-class bull in the cooler, David decided to hunt a bear in the afternoon. Christie, Chad and I decided to situate ourselves near another isolated stock pond which turned out to be one of the finest evenings I have ever spent in the high country. Ensconced in tall grass resting against a large decaying log, we enjoyed wildlife viewing at its best. For most of the late afternoon two adult black bears hung around the tank as their cub remained aloft in a huge pine tree. Bulls bugled all evening as a thunder and lightning storm intensified but never dropped any rain. We observed 12 mature bulls throughout the cooler evening hours with two of them participating in a horrendous fight. It was truly a spectacle ending at dark as we forced several cows and one huge 6x6 from the small water hole upon our exit.

Our third morning began with four or five bulls rushing into Christi’s bugles, but again no shots were fired. Changing locations, we ventured several miles up into the mountains. The mountaintop provided a panoramic view of the scrub oak laden mountainsides surrounding our position. Before long we began hearing several bulls. Then we were glassing bulls, seven of them, with two mountain monarchs that really attracted my attention, but again I held off. After all, I had two more days of hunting, and two days of hunting on the Mescalero is like hunting a lifetime just about anywhere else.

By 5:30 we returned to the stock tank we visited the night before, but only one mature bull and three black bears visited the water hole. Changing positions before dark, we bumped into several bugling bulls. Immediately exiting our vehicle, we began working the bulls only to attract another super tall 6x6 to within 70 yards of us that Christie said would go 360. He even said I should shoot this one, but once again, my gun remained silent as did Christie the rest of the trip back to the lodge. Because of the number of bulls on this fabled 640,000 acre reservation, the hardest part of one’s hunt is concluding it, and on a five-day hunt, I hoped to extend it as long as I could.

Bob Zaiglin Admires His Monster Bull Elk
Walking up to my second Mescalero Bull was a refreshing way to culminate a true elk adventure.

We elected to change areas again on the fourth morning. At dawn we were walking through a parklike stand of Ponderosa pine. Walking towards two mature-sounding bulls, we came across a spring inundated by fresh elk tracks and wallows. Not 20 yards from the spring a heavy-beamed, mature 6x6 rushed into Christie’s bugle. The morning was starting out right, but warmer temperatures began to subdue the elk bulging activities, and before long we were hiking back to our truck when Christie tried one more bugle, and the silence was shattered by a low guttural no-nonsense bugle right above us. It sounded like a huge bull, but I could not see it as it continued to bugle back at us. The bull was mad and not about to leave. So I crawled up the mountainside, caught a glimpse of its huge rack, and the next thing I knew Christie, Chad and I were celebrating over my second Mescalero bull.

Captions for slides. All photos by Bob Zaiglin. 1. Bugling up bulls is one of the most fascinating events an outdoorsman can witness. Here tribal member Jordan Torres tries to locate a bull with his bugle. 2. With a huge 6x6 David was more than happy to terminate his hunt on the second morning. 3. Big bulls, like big whitetails, are rare jewels of nature, but with patience there’s nowhere better to find one than on the Mescalero Indian Reservation. 4. Walking up to my second Mescallero Bull was a refreshing way to culminate a true elk adventure.



Cheyenne, WY
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