I left Kansas on a Monday night late and drove all night to Pueblo, CO. I was able to sleep for about 4 hours then it was time to head out to the prairie for some practice before we headed to the SW part of the state. Changes in elevation/temperature/Barometric pressure can have a big impact on how a bullet flies. We headed out East of town and set up a portable steel target system of Steve’s design at 600 yards. I had sighted both of my XP’s at 200 yards just north of Hutchinson which has an elevation of 1550 feet above sea level and now would be shooting at an elevation near 4500 feet. Using Exbal you can punch in an elevation and temperature and it will estimate what your barometric pressure should be (quite accurate). But now Steve and I are using Kestrel and or a Speed-Tech which give us actual barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, etc. I plugged in the data to my pocket PC with Exbal and was curious to see if my drops would be correct at 600 yards. First shot from the APS 7mm Dakota XP-100 after running the clicks from a cold barrel centered the steel. All I can say is that I was extremely pleased. Next shot I re-zeroed the turrets and used Holland’s ART reticle and again the shot was perfect elevation wise but wind got me about 4” left. I also shot the 6mm-284 XP-100 (my back-up Specialty Pistol) and Steve shot his 243 WSSM Savage Striker at 600 to make sure everything was correct. We also did some video taping of the 7 Dakota to show how the Holland brake works. After watching the video it is evident why anyone could shoot this center-grip XP-100 as recoil is about non-existent for the class of cartridge being shot. While heading to our hunting spot we had snow and ice on the mountain pass’s which slowed us down. But what got us there later than anything was a visit to a gun-shop on the way there.
Opening day was surprising in that we had very little hunting pressure compared to what we had seen in previous years. We also had 3-4” of snow on the ground which would make spotting a lot easier but walking more difficult and dangerous. To make a long story short we made several attempts on stalks early in the day with no success. Heavier gear, boots and clothing, plus elevation were working me over and we never took a break the whole day. In the mid/late afternoon we got on what we call the main knob and Steve glassed to the South/Southwest and spotted a small group of elk. They were bedded, which is a good thing, but trying to get to them before they got up as tired as were would be a challenge. Steve asked me if I wanted to go for them. A part of me wanted to say no, but I knew we were going after those elk. Getting to the place to where I could make a good shot proved to be exhausting and I basically “bonked” getting to a high ridge outcropping which is close to what we call the “second knob.” The good thing is that some of the elk were still bedded. We had two rangefinders with us this year: a Swarovski and Leupold’s RX-IV. Steve ranged the elk with the Leupold RX-IV laser rangefinder and called out 666 yards (This was re-confirmed multiple times). One of the best features of this LRF is it also has an inclinometer and it will give the corrected distance for shooting at angles. The Leupold also automatically gives the corrected range, which was 655 yards. As a side note, I know there were some problems with some of the early RX’s but I believe Leupold has gotten them ironed out. It does not have the optics or the range that the Swarovski has, but I am convinced that it is a great rangefinder for 95%+ big game hunters. Having said that, the Swarovski is simply outstanding! I began to plug all the data from Kestrel into Exbal and then began considering the wind. We had close to a headwind, but it was coming at us from right to left at 1 o’clock. I knew the north facing slope they were on would block the wind at the last part of its trip and we decided to not build any minutes into the wind (Well, I did actually put a ¼ minute in). It took awhile to get set-up for the shoot because of the lay of the land/rock formation I would shoot from. It was far from a typical prone shot, but it was real steady none the less. I do not hesitate to shoot a shoulder on elk as you want to put them down, so it is part of my kill zone and it gives me a little fudge room to boot. The elk that Steve directed me to shoot was bedded. Steve was spotting with his Weaver portable Big Eyes mounted on a portable tripod which made spotting easier. At the shot he immediately called a hit and told me she was down (at the shot she never even got up). I was frankly a little surprised and asked if he was for sure. Elk can be quite tough and even act as if they have not been hit even when the shot is lethal. The cow’s head was going back and forth some so Steve said, he thought I may have hit her in the neck and to send another one. I made some corrections wind and favored right about a one and half minutes. As Steve continued to watch her was going to tell me she was dead, but before he could speak, “Puff” spoke again. By the time we made it over to her it was getting late and we quartered her but did not de-bone, as we were just too tired. The first shot was a high shoulder shot and the second shot was perfectly centered and was just behind the shoulder. Those 200 grain Wildcat bullets really performed great and of course Kirby built a great shooting XP-100! Opening day was a very long day but a very exciting day. We got her boned and packed her out on our frame packs the following day.
Two days later after packing her out a couple miles, we were in a new spot, which was just off the road, but looked like it had potential. Steve hiked in up a steep slope that he thought had some good glassing potential especially in sparsely-treed, typically overlooked north facing slopes. Steve though it looked good so we grabbed our gear then and headed up and up, and up again to the top. I had the Swarovski LRF out, basically playing and checking range of opposing ridges when I spotted a couple of does across a valley in another north facing snow-covered slope at a lasered 597 yards. The ACI was level so we didn’t have to worry about angles. Steve decided to take the lower animal, and got set up for the shot again. I was checking the wind, and range, plugged it into Exbal, and it gave Steve the adjustments in MOA. Steve was using my 7mm Dakota XP as he had hurt his back several months ago, and couldn't carry all of his gear. Steve also decided to use Holland’s ART reticle instead of dialing. Steve pulled a classic mistake that all of us do from time to time; he applied the windage the wrong way with the reticle. At the shot the doe jumped forward and Steve realized what he had done and corrected it and made his second shot and nailed her just an inch or so too far back. But she slid down hurting badly giving Steve a back shot, as she was now facing up and down the steep slope. Steve fired again and the bullet passed thru her just to the left of the backbone, and exited out her side. She dropped and rolled down the slope about 10 yards or so dead. When we finally got to her turns out "she" was actually a yearling buck with no antlers-- OK, of course with an "antlerless" permit. This was a small yearling deer which makes it even a smaller target. We had a great time and then we headed back to Pueblo to attempt some LR coyotes with “Puff.”