12 Year Old Bags 6X6 Bull Elk
By Mike Greene
In late September of 2011, I had the privilege of teaching my 12 year old grandson Matt to elk hunt here in the White Mountains of Arizona. On his second try Matt drew an Arizona Early Rifle Bull Elk Tag. This hunt would be right in the middle of the rut with a new moon about the 4th night. Our anticipation began to soar.
Matt’s dad, Daniel, and I began to plan and choose where we would concentrate our efforts. This became a bit of a challenge as we had just suffered the largest wildfire in Arizona history, the Wallow fire. All summer long, my grandson would come to me concerned and heartbroken as his hunt unit was burning up. I would try to console him, saying, “Well, at least the fire hasn’t come north of Alpine yet.” The very next day the fire jumped lines and ran just north of Alpine, so I tried to console Matt again, saying, “Well, at least the fire hasn’t burned up Conklin Ridge yet.” (and that was one of my favorite hunting areas.) Yep, you guessed it. The following day Conklin Ridge was burning, and at about the same time I found out that Escudilla Mountain got totally nuked. Now, I was just about in tears.
I tried to console Matt that at least Burro Mountain didn’t burn, and told him how that was a really good place for huge bull elk. You guessed it. The very next day I found out that Burro Mountain got burned up really badly. At this point I didn’t dare console Matt that any other areas were still okay. In my heart I knew that Greens Peak was about the only place in Unit 1 where nice bull elk were plentiful that hadn’t been burned yet, but I sure wasn’t going to tell my grandson! And then the next day Greens Peak was put on evacuation notice.
In my heart I knew that if my grandson struck out on this hunt, he’d probably never hunt again. But at the same time I knew that if he got a bull, he’d be hooked as a hunter for life. When Matt was 15 months old I took him fishing and he caught a 1.5# bass and he was hooked on fishing from that day on. Now Matt is one of the most avid fishermen I know!
Matt’s dad, Daniel and I began researching which bullet and powder to use and which firearm would be best for a 12 year old of about 80 pounds. While I knew that a small caliber rifle would be easier to handle, I realized that a larger caliber would ensure that Matt would be more likely to drop a thousand pound bull elk.
I found that the recoil of a 30-06 was a bit much, but it’s my personal preferred all around favorite caliber. I found a Remington 7600 pump rifle for a reasonable price that was like brand new. In my research I found that the stock from a Remington 870 Pump 20 gauge youth model shotgun would bolt right on to the Remington 7600 30-06 rifle. Now I had a youth model 30-06 with a shotgun butt pad as well! That butt pad made all the difference for this young hunter!
Now for the bullet. Daniel told me he had heard good things about Berger VLD Hunting Bullets, so I researched them and decided to try them out. I had also heard rumors that went both ways, the biggest concern was that the bullet wouldn’t penetrate at closer range as it was intended for long range shooting. My grandson and I went to the range with about 6 bullets of each powder load that we chose to start with. At one point I tried shooting at a 2’ X 2’ piece of 3/8” plate steel, and the bullet went clear through the plate at 100 yards and again at 200 yards.
That settled it; these bullets would indeed pierce an elk shoulder in my mind. We settled on a Berger 168 grain BTHP VLD Hunting Bullet as 168 grain would have less recoil than say a 180 grain bullet.
Important note: I have found that Berger’s VLD Hunting Bullets fly different than Berger’s VLD Target Bullets in my gun, so be careful.
Next I searched for a powder that would be the best propellant for this round. I have used Hodgdon Varget with great success in the past and decided to try it with this rifle. Walt Berger recommended a starting load of 44.5 grains to a max load of 49.6 grains of Varget powder. In 30-06 the 168 grain Berger VLD Hunting bullet, propelled by 46.1 grains of Varget Powder seemed to be just the ticket.
Next came the optics. Burris glass is my absolute favorite so I gave my recommendation. Daniel bought a Burris Fulfield II 3.5-10 X 50mm scope. Now we had a really accurate combination!
Two of my grandsons, Matt (12) and Micah (9) were shooting this firearm at the range, hitting a 12 inch metal plate at 200 yards consistently with this rifle, powder, bullet and scope combination. Each time we would go to the range, I would only let Matt and Micah shoot 6 rounds at a time and had them to take turns with instruction between each shot so their arms wouldn't get too sore.
Finally the big day came. Hunt day #1: Daniel and I decided to try an area in the burned area which was once my favorite “honey hole” in times past. Just several days before, I was able to get a few bulls to talk to me there, but no luck today. Later that day, we tried another area on the west side on Conklin Ridge, and while we found a few bulls around 5pm, they weren’t what we were looking for.
Hunt day #2: I kind of got drastic and decided that since the elk in the burned area weren’t acting like they used to, we should try the Greens Peak area as it was untouched by the Wallow Fire. The second morning we got totally skunked as we really weren’t thinking about hunting that area in the beginning. I had spotlighted a huge 8X8 bull the week before in this area, but he only came out after dark, and went to bed before light. After a nonproductive morning, I decided to try for the big 8X8 and found that he wasn’t anywhere to be found. Later I found he had been arrowed a couple days before at the end of the archery hunt.
Instead we found that one bull with about ten cows was where he used to be. This bull turns out to be the bull we chose to target. Since we found that this bull didn’t come out till evening, we started to make a plan. We scouted out the area and decided that when the bull came out of the woods to eat and drink from a creek, that was about a half mile away. We would be there in the cover of the woods for the shot.
This 6X6 bull surrounded himself with some of the most wary cows I have ever seen.
These cows would come out and start to graze and be on the lookout for anything amiss. After about 30 minutes the bull came out. Then, just as everything was looking like Matt would have his shot, about 25 turkey came filing into the woods, which spooked the elk. No shot, and now it was dark. End of day 2.
On hunt day #3, we tried another area that a friend John had shown us, and the bulls there were all around us screaming that morning. Daniel had a Hoochie Mama Cow Call and so we gave it a try and talked in a real nice 5X5 bull. The bull just stood there looking at us for what seemed like five minutes (really only 30-40 seconds) then turned and walked away. While we had a lot of bulls talking to us with my Elk Inc. Power Bugle we never got close enough for a clear shot. So much for morning #3.
Evening #3 offered an early chance. The elk woke from their nap at about 1:00 PM but as Daniel and Matt we getting into position, the darn turkeys flushed out of the same cover we had been using, and spooked that darn bull again. We decided to sit and wait till they came out for their evening meal and drink and see if we were able to get a shot.
At about 5:00 PM the cows came out and again about 30 minutes later the bull came out, the herd just milled around grazing just out of range, but we were patient. Then for no understandable reason, the bull decided to leave the herd of cows and go get a drink. That was his last mistake.
As he came into range, Matt was able to get a clear shot at the 6X6 bull in the picture at about 100 yards. He decided to take the bull and with one shot dropped the bull right where he had been instructed to shoot. Right away Matt cranked the second round into the chamber ready for another shot but the bull never got up!!!
Here's Matt with his 6X6 bull.
When we cleaned the bull we found that the bullet had passed thru a rib and a lung and disintegrated the heart! The bullet never touched the back side of the chest cavity and there was only about a 3" circle of blood shot meat!
Here’s a bonus: While we were camping a local land lease rancher decided to round up 750 head of cattle to send them off to market. We got to watch the cowboys in action!
Matt had the hunt of a lifetime, thanks to a lot of pre-planning, good friends and the great components that were chosen for this hunt.
I would like to thank:
Hoochie Mama Cow Elk call
Elk Inc Power Bugle
Timber Mesa Archery in ShowLow AZ for their support
N.A.S.A. Shooting club for events that helped prepare Matt hone his shooting skills.
And many very good friends, too many to mention, who gave much valuable advice and reconnaissance.