The 1999 Elk Season
There were 6 hunters in elk camp, 4 in my party and two who came as individual hunters. We were camped on the edge of the La Grita wilderness area and riding horseback to the hunting area(s).
Of the 4 hunters in my group, Brian and I had been the only ones practicing at long range. We shoot groundhogs, Texas Wild Boar, deer and targets to respectable distances. In preparation for this hunt we had spend many days at the range and in the field. We had also run some computer ballistics sheets for the altitude and temperature we expected on the elk hunt. We routinely use ballistic printouts as a tool in establishing data at verified ranges.
Brian had a Weatherby Mark V rebarreled to 27 inches in 30-338 (the old 1000 yard favorite, not the new 30-378 barrel burner). This rifle sported a Leupold 3.5 x 14 30mm tube and he had worked up a load using the Nosler 200 grain partition. The Hart barrel he used really liked those partitions and he could easily group .5 MOA at considerable distances with the furthest verified at 700 yards.
I had a H-S Precision 2000LA in 300 Win Magnum and was using 180 Nosler Ballistic Tips at 3150fps. I had a Leupold 6.5 x 20 Long Range with MilDots held in place with Badger tactical rings and bases. I was accustomed to the negative response when I mentioned I was going to hunt elk with a ballistic tip but damn the nay-sayers and I was determined to use them as they shot very well from the 300.
I drove from Maryland to Colorado packed along Brian’s rifles and my gear. We each brought two rifles one spare each, my backup rifle was a 308 Winchester PSS and I had a load of Nosler Partitions that shot well enough that I felt comfortable to 300 yards with the rifle.
I arrived in camp two days early and puttered around getting acclimated as base camp was at 10,300 feet. Once Brian and the other two members in our party arrived (Donny and Larry) we began getting our gear together and prepared to verify zeros the next day. We spent some time talking with the 2 other hunters in camp, both of whom had brought Weatherbys, one a Vanguard and the other an older Mark V. After much general discussion about our expectations and range limitations it became apparent that one fella from the other group had just had the scope replaced on his Weatherby and had only had it bore-sighted by the gun shop. Brian and I asked if he’d verify the zero at the range, his reply was no, he said the gunsmith had bore-sighted the thing and that should be good enough! We succeeded in convincing him to let use check his zero when we went to the range. The outfitter, Ed Tibljas, was listening to all this and I’m sure he would have required a range check if we hunters hadn’t worked it out among ourselves.
Ed Tibljas of Triangle-T-Outfitters http://www.triangle-t-outfitters.com/
was well known to us as Brian and I had hunted with him several times and although Ed was initially skeptical about our ability to place our shots well he had with time and several hunts become accustomed to us and trusted our judgment.
We traveled by truck several miles back down the trail to a suitable area and set up some paper targets. Donny, Larry, Brian and I all checked zeros at 100 yards (laser verified). Donny and Larry opted for the nearly universal hunter version of zero which is close to 2 inches high at 100 yards. I checked the bore-sighted Weatherby and found it was printing 4 inches right and just about 5 inches high, we reset it to the requested 2 inches high setting too. The altitude and temperature were acceptable so Brian and I began our long-range data check. We fired our primary rifles only, first at 200 then 3,4,5,6 and 7 hundred yards. There was one spectator present apparently drawn by the rifle shots, he was a local fella and none too pleased about the Eastern hunters the noise and fancy rifles. At completion we discovered that the ballistic charts predictions matched well with the actual results and would be useful at any distances we considered.
The first morning we rode into the wilderness excited to actually be on the hunt. I was placed on a ‘park’ of about 150 yards by 400 yards and the other hunters were spirited away to other locations. About 9AM a small herd of cows trotted across the park about 150 yards out and right behind them came a small bull probably legal but I wasn’t sure so he trotted off too.
I heard a few shots during the course of the morning and I was sure everyone else was having a fruitful day while I was busy feeding birds my cookies and warming the ground with my butt.
At days end we gathered up for the ride back to camp and begin to tell the tales. Brian saw a 6x6 and chased it over a goodly part of a mountain or two but being an Easterner he forgot he had a horse and did all the chasing on foot, he vowed he’d take the horse the next time. One of the fellas in the other group got a shot at an elk at just around 200 yards and missed, several times. We were in a fairly secluded and ‘private’ area and I was the only one that saw anyone other than members of our group…I had spied a helicopter through my binos about midday and counted them as civilization.
Next day we’re all off hunting again in the same general vicinity. The morning scenario was a bit less enthusiastic with lots of grumpy folks this day; sore knees, sore butts etc. We were all placed in locations in the same general vicinity of the previous day and Brian once again got a look at the 6x6 and the big bull is once again too smart and too far for him. My day was fairly uneventful and I spend some time feeding the birds again and I saw an elk WAY off in the distance and one mule deer doe.
On to the third day I believe. By now Brian and Ed have got this big 6x6 figured out and we’re going after him in force. We all change locations in an attempt to corner the elusive 6x6 and his harem. I, along with one other hunters am placed in a park on the side of the mountain where Brian has been seeing the big bull. Brian, Donny, Larry and Ed head up the side of the mountain in what turns out to be the correct maneuver. As they come into a clearing where they figure to glass for the herd, the herd is already in place and waiting, just over 600 yards away and up the mountain. Ed asks Brian if he can make the shot from their current position and Brian assures him that the elk is as good as dead. Brian sets up for the shot checks range with the laser and does some final puttering with the bipod. During this entire time the herd is milling around and now the big bull is out of sight and Brian and Ed decide to take a smaller bull. First shot is 635 yards and Brian spots blood on the bull elk’s chest. The rest of the herd begins moving and the bull follows, second shot is estimated at 650 yards and the elk is still standing so Brian shoots again and the bull goes down. The faint noise from these shots caught my attention and I can see Brian and the others as they come out on the top of the mountain. I can’t see the elk at this point and don’t know they have bagged one so I continue my glassing and after a couple of hours decide to walk up to the guys on the top. It’s when I get there that I discover they have an elk and hear the story. Brian shows me the holes in the elk’s chest and Partitions he has recovered and initially I’m a little surprised at the amount to mushroom effect considering the distance but after reflecting feel the bullets worked as designed. The bull’s carcass is examined several more times and good humored remarks are made about Brian’s inability to get all three bullets into one hole in the elk’s chest cavity instead of the three center chest hits he managed, he did some pretty good shooting. All present are rightfully impressed and the elk is dead and packed up.
Day’s over and we head back to camp.
Just like anywhere else one good day of hunting requires a return to the same spot so the next day we’re off to the same area as Donny wants to try his luck with the big bull. About mid day Donny spots a smaller bull in a clearing on the other side of the mountain and opts to take this smaller bull and it’s to far for his rifle and it’s 2” 100 yard zero so he asks Brian for the use of the 30-338. Brian is somewhat reluctant but agrees and gets about the business of setting up and ranging the bull, the shot will be 510 yards. Donny initially wants to try shooting from the high supported position (sitting and bipod) but Brian convinces him to use the low prone position instead. Brian reminds Donny it’s a steep drop to the bull and that he should hold low on the chest… first round is fired and they all think Donny has missed as the elk is still standing in the same spot. Brian is convinced that Donny shot too low so he has him hold just below the spine… second shot and the elk stumbles and walks into the timber. By this point Donny is pretty excited and heads off down the mountain with his own rifle to get the elk. Sure enough the elk only went a few yards into the timber and was dead. First round was low chest and blew out the leg on the off side, second round was high chest on the near side and center chest on the far side and we have another dead elk.
We spend more time hunting that day but no more elk so we figured we chased them out of the area and decide that we’ll try another spot in the morning.
This will be my day to get some shooting done. Of our 4-man party we have 2 elk and the other two folks have missed one opportunity. Howard, the head guide takes the two fellas from the other group and Ed takes all four of us on a ride from hell. We ride for several hours before sunrise and wait on the edge of a long clearing when we’re near the final hunting area and once the sun comes up and we carefully head out still on horseback. Up the long valley we go and make a sharp turn up the mountain and now we’re heading straight into the morning sun. On top of the mountain we’re greeted with a picturesque view of the Colorado mountains and we traverse the mountain top heading south and make a small turn to the east just at a basalt outcrop near a place Ed calls Stagecoach Pass. Ed stops and glasses the neighboring ridges for elk and abruptly points and says he sees a herd on the ridge directly to the east. Now we’re all in a scramble to get glasses focused and spot the herd for ourselves and sure enough there are elk there but they’re too far away to make out any features. We decide to tie the horses and get closer on foot in an attempt to better glass the herd. I grab my rifle and gear and Larry does the same with Brian and Donny also humping some gear including Brian’s rifle. We initially move over to the basalt and settle down with the rifles to use the higher magnification optics to look for some bulls and in short order we spot two bulls, one nice big bull and a smaller one but both legal. The herd is heading north on the top of the next ridge weaving in and out of the timber but generally heading over the top to the far side. The decision is made to close the distance some more, to the north on our ridge there is a little finger of a ridge going due east, its about 400 yards from our current position and as close as we can get to the elk on this steep sided ridge. We scramble and bump across the basalt and sneak over to the finger to get a look. It turns out to be a very good vantage point but the elk are still moving north on their ridge but still due east from us. Ed and I decide to take the opportunity and we begin to access the situation, the wind is calm and from the north but we can’t get a good laser reading because the elk are due east from us with the sum coming up directly behind the elk. I begin stripping out of my heavy riding clothes and setting up the rifle and begin crawling along the finger looking for a good spot with cover and a place for Ed who will be my spotter. In the mean time Brian has ranged the timberline just short of the elk and he reports 750 yards. He mentions that he can’t range any further because of the sun. I try my rangefinder again and still the same problem. Ed in the mean time is glassing the elk and says he’s sure they’re no more than 950 yards. I know we need a good distance determination so I’m looking at the timber line Brian has ranged and trying to figure the distance from there to the elk which by the way are still heading north and beginning to crest the ridge. I figure they’re no less than 875 yards so we opt for the middle ground and I set the scope for just past 900 yards (about 19.25 MOA if I remember correctly) and tell folks to get ready. I check my position and dig in the bipod legs to get them level and the wind is now from my left and about 3 to 4 mph and I decide to use 1.5 MOA left wind and then tell the spotter I’m ready. We’ve lost the large elk in the timber tops and decide on the smaller bull standing right on the crest of the ridge.
First round goes and I can see the trace and it’s arcing right, the bull is standing still and I see him shudder and begin to urinate. Ed says the round was high center, at this distance and with the sun behind the elk I can’t see blood just the sun glinting off the urine and the golden halo of hair around the bull. The other elk have stopped feeding and are nervously moving about but the bull remains still and I get ready for a second shot. The winds are still calm and the first shot was a good center hit so I hold a little left and shoot again. This time I’m concentrating on watching the elk and I don’t see the trace. I can hear the rest of the guys talking, they’ve heard the thud of the bullet striking the elk and I can see the elk begin to move forward. He taking slow careful steps and the rest of the herd is scattering. The bull is now coming down off the ridge and heading into the timber. He gets to a log and stumbles and then he’s on the ground and legs up rolling over, he tries to get up and I wait to see if I should shoot again. He rolls behind a tree top and is out of sight with no more movement and the rest of the elk are gone.
Convinced that the elk is down and we’re done shooting Ed and I get up and begin to take it all in. The guys are milling around shaking my hand cheering and carrying on. Donny and Larry are having a hell of a hoot, “Wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t see it with my own eyes”, “I’m gonna get on of those rifles”, lots of talk and all around cheerfulness.
After a few minutes of coming down we get our heavy clothing and other gear and decide to leave Brian and Larry on the finger and head over to the site where the elk is down. We left Brian and Larry as we thought there might be a chance that the larger bull may come out of the timber and Larry could get a shot with Brian’s rifle. We head back to the basalt outcrop and saddle up then ride down the ridge. About 45 minutes later we’re on the ridge standing at my elk, he’s a 4x4 and has two holes in the chest. I find one Ballistic Tip just under the skin on the off side nicely mushroomed the other one is gone. In a fashion that I always duplicate I backtrack the blood trail just for education and look at the spot where I shot from, it’s a long way over to Brian and Larry. I’m pretty pleased with the hunt and the outfitter and will always cherish this hunt.
The bullet holes in the elk’s chest were a little above center which is where I was aiming. I ran a ballistic printout for 13,000 ft and 45(f) when I got back to my computer and it showed the distance at 905 yards, the guys (Larry, Donny and Brian) say it was further but I believe Ed the computer and I had it right.