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Oct/Nov 2003 IssueFrom the Oct/Nov. 2003 Issue of Hunting Illustrated Magazine - posted Oct. 21, 2003

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Home > Hunting Illustrated > Articles/Stories > That's a Lot of Bull
That's a Lot of Bull

by Richie Hogan

Joe Democko with his 420 Archery Bull

It was one of the worst years ever for hunting in New Mexico because of the drought.  We didn't see much in the way of size, that is until after a week of hunting and right before dark, the mammoth of all bulls appeared 40 yards in front of us.

The beginning of archery elk season in New Mexico was only a few days away and the blood in my veins was starting to flow. Everywhere avid elk hunters were awakening to the call. In my mind I could see the hunt, feel the heat, the chasing, the early morning bugles. There is no better time to be in the woods than during the rut.

The year of 2002 was one of the worst years in the history of the Southwest. Repeated droughts had made hunting tough and stunted antler growth. With this in mind I knew hunting would be tough and slow.   

Long-time client and good friend Joe Democko would be my first hunter. We were scheduled to hunt from September first thru the sixth. Together we have killed four bulls; every year we make his standards a little bigger.    

I scouted for a week before the season started and had found lots of bulls. The majority had weak fifth and sixth points and were five–by-five bulls. The morning before opening day I found a very large bull with another great bull. I was excited about this bull. He was very unique. The terrain he was in was extremely steep and rocky. There was almost no way to approach the bull. From any direction he would be able to hear you, smell you, or see you. The canyon he was in was very deep and extremely long. Two miles below him there were a lot of cows and water. The terrain was open rolling hills. Above him about three miles there were also a lot of cows with mountainous terrain and tall timber.

We hoped during the six days of Joe’s hunt the big bull would move in one direction toward the cows to begin the rut. Our plan would be to catch him on the way toward the cows or around them.

The first three days we hunted in the open rolling country. We would spend the mornings glassing the country for the bull and the afternoons were spent sitting water holes. Everyday produced results. We would see the few bunches of cows and some small bulls. But there was no sign of the big bull or his partner that had been with him. We had not witnessed any rutting activity yet or even heard a bugle. I hoped that he had gone to the other area and wasn’t still in the same area as I had first located him.

Our efforts would be to move to where I assumed he might locate. This area would rely on being able to hear bugles and still hunt, rather than spot or stalk hunt.

The fourth mourning we arrived in the area and we made a big loop calling and still-hunting. Three different bulls answered my calls but each of the bulls only answered to say hello. The afternoon was spent sitting a waterhole in the area. We saw nothing this evening. We told ourselves that the remainder of our hunt would be spent here.

The next morning and fifth day of the hunt we arrived extra early to try and catch bugles that we could get an early jump on. I parked the truck in the same place as the morning before and rolled down the window to listen. We could not believe our ears. It was like someone turned on the light switch. Bulls were bugling in all directions and they were bugling good. I quickly rolled up the window and with new energy scrambled around in the truck for our gear.

We were on a flat bench that had been logged years in the past. The elk started up the mountain filtering into two drainage areas with a finger in between. Running up the middle was an old logging road. This was perfect: elk on both sides of us, and on old clear-cut road that would be quiet and easy to move up.

The elk that were in the drainage to our right were starting to move over to the next drainage and cross the finger we were on. We snuck up on two bulls that were bugling but passed them. I called in another 300-inch bull that we also passed. We just couldn’t catch up to the lead bull to see what he was. The whole time we hoped it was the big guy. We just wanted a look. The bull moved into a thick patch of spruce trees. He wasn’t moving anymore. He would answer cow calls but wouldn’t come out. It was 10:30 a.m. I thought maybe we could slip down there and glass in the thick timber to get a look at him. He had to be bedded for the afternoon. We snuck to within 50 yards and started glassing in the dark timber. I could not see any sign of the bull. I knew to leave and come back later rather than risk spooking the bull.

It started to rain lightly; what a lucky break this was. The moisture would soften the ground and wake up the elk. The game plan was to go back to where we had left the bull and set up. He was bedded on the side hill of a very long ridge with drainage below him with another cut off drainage. I felt the best place to wait was 200 yards below the bull. The wind would be right and it would be on the way to where they would be staging for the night. We arrived at the area around 2:30 p.m. It was still raining steadily. Joe set up 80 yards in front of me and I began to cow call periodically.
Thirty minutes passed and not a sound. Making eye contact with each other we both had the puzzled look of what happened to all the elk? We sat through the rain a while longer. Then the rain quit and all of a sudden we heard a bugle, then another, another, and then the bull we were waiting for bugled. He was still there and was moving into the bottom of the drainage coming in our direction. He was right there but we still could not see him. Cows started popping out 50 to 70 yards away but still no bull. The bull was bugling but circling the cows on the side hill of the opposite ridge. The cows started to follow up the drainage to our left. I moved quickly down to Joe and said; “See that saddle where the drainage leads? If we can make it up there before they do, we have a chance.”

We hustled up the opposite side as fast as we could go. On the way up I caught some movement through the pines and could tell it was a 320-class bull. With only one day left Joe decided to try for him. We turned our attention to stalking. He was pushing a few cows through the thick timber towards the same saddle and bugling. On the opposite side of the drainage the bull we were originally after was bugling. Sneaking to within bow range of the 320 bull I told Joe to range him and shoot. He paused and said,” That’s not what I’m here for; let’s just stick to the game plan. Let’s try to catch the other bull. We still have time.”

We ran 200 yards toward the saddle and then all of a sudden it sounded like the bull had dropped in the bottom right below us. We moved ahead of him to cut him off. We still had not seen the bull we had been pursuing all day. The bottom of the drainage was open and had been logged. The side the bull was on was thick spruce trees. From the thick side a cow popped out, then another. A total of five cows came out feeding right to us. Then here he came, but it was a 300-inch bull. It was like having a flat tire driving down the freeway when we saw him.

Where’s the big bull? The five cows and bull fed by 20 to 40 yards. The bull was now 25 yards away. Joe had an arrow knocked and ready to rock and roll, but this was not him. I cow called just to see his reaction. He picked his head up and bugled and started to feed off.

With only 15 minutes of shooting light left I knew we were done for the day. Then Joe said, “Look to your right-where the other elk came out.“ I turned and saw the top of a rack; I quickly threw my binoculars up. A very large bull was walking right at us on the same path the other just came through. He was much bigger and had eight on one side and his sixth points were at least 15-inches long. His eye guards were unreal, well over 20 inches. This was him.

Joe was ranging everything. “I’m ready,” he said. “Make sure you make a good shot,” I answered.

The bull walked up to 40 yards and stopped behind a big pine tree with only his head sticking out. He stood there just looking in our direction. I was watching through my binoculars shaking so badly I was seeing double. He started to step out and Joe started to draw. The bull stopped and stepped right back behind the tree in the same position. Just like he knew he was safe there! He stood for another minute and then decided he didn’t like this and turned to leave. When he whirled, Joe drew. He cleared the tree, and I cow called. The bull turned, quartered away and stopped.

The shot was in the air. Whoop! I thought I saw the arrow hit mid-body but quartered away. It should be good. I turned to Joe. “Did you hit him?” He said, “I think so.” Then he asked if he was a good one, and I said, “Oh, yes!” We walked down to where he was standing and I found a volleyball-size spot of blood with stomach in it. We looked past where the bull was standing and found the arrow with the same results. With darkness minutes away and given the indication of the blood trail we decided it would be best to recover the bull in the morning.

Now you can only imagine what the ride back to camp was like after describing the bull to Joe and what I thought he would score? We were both beat and probably could have slept all the next day; but due to my companion, I can literally say we didn’t sleep at all that night. The next morning we arrived an hour before daylight to the spot we had just left. At daylight we continued to track the bull. He had gone 150 yards and was lying there dead. You can imagine the hugs and high fives. This type of bull usually eludes hunters but the myths and stories that are told keep hunters returning every fall.

Fact sheet
Outfitter:    New Mexico Professional Big Game Hunting, Inc.    
        Guide:        Richie Hogan   
        Hunter:       Joe Democko
        Area:         Catron Co., N.M.   
        Hunt:         Early Archery
        Result:       Successful, day five of six-day hunt   
        Score:       420 gross
        For more info or to book a hunt contact Mike Chapel   
        505-773-4599 P.O. Box 291 Quemado, N.M. 87829

      Spec Sheet
Left main beam – 47 1/8
Right main beam – 49 5/8
Inside spread – 37 3/8
420 gross, 404 net
G-1:    20 7/8, 20 6/8
G-2:    25 1/8, 18
G-3:    18 2/8, 20 2/8
G-4:    17 3/8, 17
G-5:    12, 13

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Oct/Nov 2003 IssueHunting Illustrated Magazine
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