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It was well before daylight when we woke up the morning of the vaal rhebok hunt — the earliest morning of all of our hunts. It was also very cold. We had an hour+ drive to reach the 22,000-acre, low-fenced sheep farm that boasted some of the highest mountaintops in the Sneeuburg mountain range in the broader mountain area known as the Karoo. We drove an hour over roads that don’t really compare to anything we have in the states. The closest comparison I can think of is bump gate roads in West Texas. It felt like we were on private property, and some of the time we were, but they were public dirt roads.
We arrived at the sheep farm and my PH, Stix, went into the main home to let the owner know we were there. Our primary reason for stopping was to pick up Puie, the sheep farmer’s ranch hand who lived on the property with his family. Puie had spent his entire life on the ranch and knew it better than anyone. We left the homestead and flatlands to head up into the mountains. Stix had warned us that some of the switchbacks required three-point turns, and sure enough, he wasn’t joking. A standard truck purposefully backing down cliff-faced roads added a bit of adrenaline to the hunt!
Vaal rhebok hunting starts with glassing huge expanses of land, and fairly quickly, we spotted a group with about seven “vaalies.” I got set up and we thought the hunt would be quickly over. Unfortunately (but kind of fortunately) there was no ram in the group. We watched the group cross the face of a mountainside and then continued on.
This vaalie hunt was absolutely a team effort. We all spread out over the mountain to glass different areas. Stix spotted two females down near a canyon, but we couldn’t see very much of the land surrounding them so Stix took off on a “casual” run down the mountain to get a better angle. Not sure how far he ran, but the long steep incline was no walk in the park. This unnecessary but helpful and exhausting round trip stood out to us as just one of the many ways that John X Safaris team members went above and beyond for us during our time in South Africa. There was no ram in the canyon's proximity, but in the meantime, Puie had spotted a ram on the other side of the summit. Once Stix got back, we hightailed it to Puie's position, but by the time we got there, it was gone. Our group had been upwind from the ram, and we’re pretty confident he had winded us.
Fortunately, we had a big group that day and Stix's tracker, Olwethu, had spotted the same ram running down and around the mountain. SO … we packed up again and took off for the other quadrant of the hillside. We got to a rocky vantage point and spotted the ram at 510 yards. Stix was almost frantic at this point — for him, this hunt was personal. This same ram had been missed the year before by a different John X hunter and two weeks before by Stix’s client in 60 mph gusting winds. This area had been inaccessible for the previous couple of weeks because of rare snowfall. Stix was amped about this ram.
We set up so quickly that I ended up using my binoculars standing on end as the rear support on my rifle. I held .75 MOA of wind with my 6.5 Creedmoor and fired at 510 yards. The Hornady 143 gr. ELD-X ammo did the job; it was a perfect hit. I’ll never forget how emotional the next few minutes were. Stix said, “I was almost yelling at you because I was just frantic panicked because he’s such a big ram!” High fives were flying every which way – between me, Cherise, Stix, Ozzie our cameraman, Olwethu our tracker, and Puie the sheep farm ranch hand, we had the best and most excited team in the country.
We hiked down to see the vaal rhebok up close and discovered the unique qualities of this Tiny Ten species. Their hair is more akin to fur — he felt like a fuzzy jackrabbit. Their eyes are disproportionately big for their heads giving them excellent eyesight. My ram’s horns were 9” and 8.75”, which for a vaalie is about as good as it gets.
As we were celebrating and taking photos, we got another adrenaline shot when Puie spotted a jackal running across the hillside above us. In a “not sure what just happened” flash, Stix grabbed Derrick’s rifle, swung around, and dropped the jackal at 250 yards. Jackals are extremely destructive predators on sheep farms so Puie was thrilled, and we got to see a jackal up close for the first time.
Two of the funniest moments from this hunt include the making of Ozzie’s random smartphone video introducing his handmade Samuel the South African Snowman as well as Puie’s first ever experience with a drone. As Ozzie attempted to get beautiful, natural footage of the recovery, Puie was in awe of the drone and kept trying to look at it in the sky with his binoculars. Stix tried to explain to him in the Xhosa language that there was an eye inside the contraption that could see us and film us. Oh, what we take for granted these days.
The vaal rhebok hunt will go down as one of the most unique and memorable hunts I’ve ever been on. Standing at 7,000 feet altitude in South Africa with 100-mile views to the south, 50-mile views to the north, and wildlife I’d never seen before has a way of resetting perspective and embedding gratitude deep in our hearts.
South Africa is an epic place and my vaal rhebok will always be a special trophy.
Watch the video of Derrick's vaal rhebok hunt here. If you're interested in joining us in Africa in July 2018, sign up to join our Africa Hunt List to receive more information including Derrick's tips & tricks, an invitation to our Africa Info Night, and more.
Our 2017 South African safari with John X Safaris was the year that kicked off my quest for the Tiny Ten antelope. I was fairly ignorant going into this hunt about the unique qualities of each species, how hard they are to hunt, and how addicted I’d become to the concept of completing the challenge of harvesting all 10 of them. I only succeeded in collecting three of the ten on this trip, which just means that I have to go back again next year!
The klipspringer hunt stands out as one of the most physically challenging hunts I have ever been on. My wife, Cherise, and I were in the Sneeuberg mountain range in the Karoo of South Africa, and we put in the days, hiked the miles, and got worked over several times by the little antelope. The hunt started with a not-so-easy climb up and over a ridgeline and down into a beautiful valley surrounded by rock cliffs. We found a shaded spot for cover and all chose different directions to glass. My PH, Stix, spotted a pair way up high on a far cliff. I later determined that even spotting this elusive animal is a skill unto itself – their color blends in perfectly with their rocky habitat and they are only about 18” tall at the shoulder.
At this point, Cherise's boots had betrayed her and blisters were setting in so she decided to hang back and keep an eye on the klipspringer while Stix, our tracker Olwethu, our cameraman Ozzie, and I went on to close the distance gap. While we were climbing, we got out of sight line with the klipspringer and all of a sudden, a group of baboons started going crazy. They were screaming and hollering and their sounds were filling the valley and echoing off the canyon walls. Cherise was concerned about the close proximity of the angry baboons – she actually had no idea what they were until later – and lost sight of the klipspringer. Unfortunately, the klipspringer were spooked by the baboons as well and disappeared. None of us were able to spot them again, and we had to give up on that pair of elusive klipspringer.
Later that day, we were out on the afternoon hunt on a different part of the property. As we rounded a corner and stopped to glass the rocky mountains ahead of us, Stix spotted a pair of klipspringers way up on a hillside approximately 1,000 yards from us. We could have stalked to get a bit closer, but Stix was concerned about the wind whipping over the mountain edge and through the ravine to the left of them. Instead, we made our way to the backside of a neighboring ridge. Stix pointed up, and we knew we were in for a climb. However, Cherise and I weren’t yet familiar with the concept of a “false summit.” Although the first steep portion of the climb was very challenging with loose rocks and dirt serving as our footholds, we weren’t discouraged because we thought we were almost there. Nope. We reached the first false summit and saw another climb ahead of us. On we went. Until we reached the second false summit! … another incline to scale. Keep in mind, we did okay, but when compared to a PH who participates in kayaking marathons, a cameraman who does 65K trail runs, and a tracker who is just really in shape, Cherise and I felt a bit inferior. But we made it! And we couldn’t have been more proud.
Once we reached the top, we were discouraged to discover that we had only closed about 200 yards on the klipspringer. Our climb was full of humor and goodwill and my wife asked Stix if we had yet determined if this male ram was a shooter. Keep in mind that a trophy klipspringer has 4” tall horns – determining a half-inch difference from 1,000 yards away is no easy task. Laughingly, she told him that if it wasn’t, his Yelp review was going way down. Fortunately, it was. Unfortunately, we had the weirdest wind conditions I’d ever faced as a hunter. Also unfortunately, we didn’t know that until I flung my first bullet.
Stix and I were using our GeoBallistics wind meters and he called a hold position for over five minutes of wind because of the 13 mph winds at our location. I shot and my elevation was perfect, but the bullet hit right behind the ram. At this point, we were at 740 yards, and mathematically, the wind had to have been around 30 mph at the klipspringer’s location. The pair disappeared behind a tree and settled in to stay. Stix commented it was the most confusing wind he’d ever encountered, and we eventually determined that wind was coming up over the top of the ridgeline behind the klipspringer and whipping down the mountain. It had slung the bullet to the left, and the klipspringer never gave us another opportunity. The sun began to set – keep in mind we had spent a really long time getting up there and now we had to get down before darkness set in.
Going down definitely went faster, even though it was harder on my knees. When we got down, Cherise asked Stix what percentage of his clients he would have taken on that hike. He responded, “zero.” We felt pretty special and pretty dang proud of ourselves! Although the sun set on our hope that night, we knew that when we did get this animal, we’d have one heck of a story to go with it.
We had to take a break from klipspringer hunting for a day because the weather was perfect for pursuing a vaal rhebok high up in the mountains (that story to come later). But once we returned to klipspringer on the final day of our hunt, our tracker, Olwethu, spotted a pair on the side of yet a different mountain. At this point, we knew not to hesitate. These creatures could move fast and were not easy to find. We set up, watched the pair bound from rock to rock, and took the 270 yard shot the moment he gave us the opportunity. Olwethu knew I had nailed it, and he quickly climbed the hillside to the exact spot it went down. He came down with the klipspringer on his shoulders, and I was so excited to see this little antelope close up.
Klipspringers are extremely unique — they have quill-like hair that is pointy and hollow. It helps protect them from damage during falls high up on rocky cliffs and helps insulate them in cold weather. They also have very strange feet. They stand on the “tiptoes” of their blunt, rubbery hooves with their feet very close together as though they are loading energy to jump. These special feet help them traverse cliffs and rocks safely and quickly. Their name, klipspringer, is a combination of two Afrikaans words that mean “rock” and “leaper.” Interestingly, klipspringers are a monogamous animal and they’ll often remain with the same mate until death. They are located in pairs rather than herds and the male and female often stay within 16 feet of each other as they rest, eat, and bound effortlessly across cliffs and rocks. They are very geographically territorial, which helps hunters find them again if once found.
Our klipspringer hunt will always be a special memory embedded in my journey for the Tiny Ten. Although the first two hunts were unsuccessful, it made success that much sweeter. I learned a lot about wind in the mountains, and the sense of accomplishment I felt after our hikes was almost enough to call the whole thing a success even before harvesting the klipspringer.
Interested in joining us in Africa in July 2018? Sign up to join our Africa Hunt List to receive more information including Derrick's tips & tricks, an invitation to our Africa Info Night, and more.
Early this week Hornady announced the release of a brand new ammunition – the 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) – “designed to achieve the highest levels of accuracy, flat trajectory and extended range performance in a sensibly designed compact package.”
We announced on Facebook shortly thereafter that we are one of the first 6 rifle manufacturers offering a rifle chambered in the new round that has been dubbed the “big brother” to the 6.5 Creedmoor.
The announcement was met with a number of questions … Where does it in the realm between the 6.5 CM and the 6.5 GAP 4s? … What does it offer that the 6.5 gap or saum doesn’t already? … Why didn’t they just standardize the GAP 4s/ 6.5 SAUM?
From what we’ve seen popping up in the forums about the 6.5 PRC, it’s creating two polarized crowds. We saw this same reaction when they first released factory 6.5 Creedmoor ammo.
Knockdown power – When looking at the 6.5 Creedmoor – which is arguably one of the most versatile rounds that’s ever been created and one of Derrick’s personal favorites – it still lacks the delivered energy for large game (elk, mule deer, bear) at long distances. And while mathematically, the delivered energy is technically there, it can leave shooters uneasy and wondering if it’s really a “good enough” round for big game/long distance hunting. The 6.5 PRC uses the same bullet weight as the 6.5 Creedmoor ammo (143 gr) but has increased speeds and in turn, higher delivered energy at longer distances.
Backcountry consideration – For the hunters headed to the backcountry on their big game pursuit, the 6.5 PRC will be one to consider and here’s why: you can run a short 20-22” barrel with a suppressor in the 6.5 PRC while maintaining the same velocity as a 24” 6.5 Creedmoor barrel. The shorter barrel will cut 3-4 ounces from the gun right off the end of a barrel and still have the knockdown power we listed above.
It offers factory loads – To some shooters, that’s not that big of a deal but while the specs of the 6.5 PRC doesn’t do much different than what the GAP or SAUM do (as questioned in our Facebook post), the availability of factory-loaded ammo is a big deal to some.
We use factory ammo whenever available to test shoot our rifles for our .5 MOA, or better, accuracy guarantee. Hornady makes some of the best, most consistent, factory ammo available today.
We’ve already got a 6.5 PRC rifle in the works and are excited to get our hands on the ammo and get shooting! We’ll keep you posted!
The holiday season is upon us and Christmas will be here before you know it. Have you found that perfect gift for the hunter in your life? Gift for hunters can be tough. There are so many hunting products out there, sometimes it’s hard to know what to buy, what’s worth it, and so on.
Based on what’s on our own team’s wish list, what we’ve seen folks buy when they come through our shop, and with a little help from some of our Facebook fans, we put together a list of gift ideas for the hunters in your life. As you’re marking things off your holiday to-do list, consider some of the following gift options.
- Gun Vise – Anyone that spends a lot of time behind the rifle, would benefit for a Tipton Gun Vise. It’s great for maintaining a solid base while working on a rifle and also serves as a handy way to secure a rifle for cleaning.
- Level Kit – If there’s a new scope under the tree, Wheeler’s Level-Level-Level should be wrapped up under there too. The level-level-level works because the scope is leveled to the rifle’s receiver, not to the top of a scope base.
- Scopes – scopes are a bit of a touchy subject because they are based so much on personal preference, but a few good ones worth mentioning are: Leupold Mark 4 is an excellent higher-end long range scope, the Athlon Midas and Cronos scopes are great for the price, and the Zeiss HD5 3-15x50 RZ600 and 5-25x50 Zplex are solid hunting scopes with legendary glass clarity.
- Rangefinders – No doubt about it, for long range hunters and shooters, G7’s BR2 Ballistic Rangefinder makes one of the best rangefinders available today. For a bino/rangefinder combo, the Zeiss Victory 10x45 T* RF ranges out to 1,300 yards and has the glass clarity Zeiss is known for.
- Spotting Scopes – Thomas S. has his sights set on a spotting scope for Christmas this year. For a high-performer in a lightweight, compact size, Derrick really likes the Vortex Diamondback spotting scope.
- Scope mount rings – There are a lot of scope mount rings on the market these days and the prices (and quality) range as much as the quantity itself. The Nomad & Triad scope mount rings, for direct action and picatinny mount respectively, are high quality, heavy-duty rings featuring under-angles screws.
- Stock – Jaime G. is ready to upgrade his rifle with a stock. McMillan is well known in the custom world for their stocks. We have built a number of rifles on McMillan stocks. Toward the end of 2016, the majority of our rifles have been built on the KREMLIN composite stock from iota.
- Ammo – Every rifle hunter or precision shooter needs ammo!
- Anti-cant Device – For predator hunters and anyone that hunts in low-light situations, the ZeroLight anti-cant device featuring turret and level illumination is a must-have.
- Shooting Sticks – Standing, kneeling, sitting, or prone, Bog Pod offers a variety of shooting sticks, tripods, bipods, and monopods for every shooter’s style. Brian M. is hoping for a bipod.
- Blind Chair – For the blind hunter, a new blind chair is never a bad idea. Kacey T. hopes the Cabela’s Comfort Max 360 ends up under his tree this year.
- Wind Meter – With ballistics calculators available directly on iOS & Android devices, it makes sense to get a wind meter that is compatible too. The Geo Ballistics WEATHERmeter connects to devices via bluetooth to provide shooters with a complete atmospheric profile.
- Predator call – Derrick uses the Fox Pro Fusion personally and also likes the Shock Wave. We’ve also been hearing good things about the Convergent Hunting Bullet HP. If one of those ends up under Cody S.’s tree, he won’t complain.
- Knives – No hunter can have too many knives. Jason S. wants a Havalon scalpel blade skinning knife.
Growing up in Texas everyone dreams of being able to go to south Texas and hunt the Muy Grande. Some people just get lucky and I was one of those people. Thanks to some awesome in-laws, I have been able to hunt the south Texas brush country for almost 12 years now and it is definitely one of those special places. Up until this year my biggest deer was a 159” 10 point that I had taken on the same property at 585 yards. Based on the way we do our deer management, this year was finally my year to take a big one.
I knew my year had been coming, so in the previous years when I went to the stand I was always looking for the younger deer that one day would be the mature trophy deer. I had narrowed in on two bucks that I really wanted to hunt. We started out early in the year running cameras like most people. I soon realized that one of the bucks I was watching had really gone down hill and the unexpecting deer we called “Apache” had really grown up and was a really nice deer. I could not wait until the season opened. In the past years we have really always hunted hard for management deer and it was always a long season for me, knowing I had picked a mature trophy buck I expected nothing different.
Opening week came and I was in the stand as soon as I could get to the ranch. Our place is under DMP 3 so that came in the hot part of October. As Tye, our ranch manager and camera man, and I sat in the hot stand swatting away swarms of mosquitoes, the sun was beginning to set. I expected not to see Apache so I was already planning the morning hunt in my mind and starting to gather my gear. Tye was looking out the blind window that I had my back to when he suddenly said, “I see some bucks moving through the brush, they will cross this sendero so you may get ready.”
Up to this point we had not seen a single buck, so I really expected it to be a couple of young deer. When Apache stepped into the sendero I immediately knew it was him. We got the camera rolling just as we were losing camera light. I got my 28 Nosler steadied and ready to go. He was quartered toward me when I squeezed off the shot ... WHACK ... I knew I had just shot the biggest deer of my life!
We gave it about 10 minutes and then walked down to retrieve him. I got a terrible eerie feeling when we found very little to no blood. How was that possible? It was my 28 Nosler. Tye and I decided to be safe and get the tracking dogs just to make sure. After a short 30 yard trail job, there was the buck!
I immediately saw something strange with one of his antlers. There was a chunk missing. After watching the film back we knew exactly what it was. Somehow, in the split second of me pulling the trigger the buck had dropped his head and the bullet went right through his antler while still managing to break the shoulder and harvest the buck!
We got the buck back to camp and had him weighed and measured. I expected him to gross somewhere in the mid 170s but he actually gross scored 185 4/8” and weighed over 230 pounds!
I am pretty sure I will never harvest a bigger whitetail in my life and I cannot wait to get the mount back and hanging on my wall.
When you go to Africa there will be the animals that people say, “trust me that needs to be on your list” and you look at them and go, “nope.” But then you see one and your mind is changed real fast. For me that was the bushbuck. Nearing the end of the hunt it was the only animal I lacked to take the spiral slam so we decided to go after it, and I was glad we did.
Hunting bushbuck to me was a lot like hunting big muleys out west. A lot of glass time and then change your angle and glass some more. They are not a very large animal and really keep close in with the thick brush making them very hard to spot. We found ourselves on this steep cliff embankment overlooking a large creek bank. After about an hour of glassing my PH, Stix, decided to sneak down the hill a ways for a new angle. About five minutes later he came back over the rocks and I could see in his eyes that he had spotted a good one. I didn’t even have to ask and I was loading the 6.5 Creedmoor and getting ready for a shot. The bushbuck was going to come between two rows of trees but what looked like would be for just a second.
Stix ranged and said he will be about 350 yards and not to let him get to the brush. As the bushbuck came across it was clear that he was not going to stop. I gave him a little bit of a lead and quartered away at 350 the Creedmoor struck true. Once we got to the Bushbuck it was really an impressive animal and I could tell we had killed a big one when Jimmy our tracker was even excited.
Interested in joining us in Africa in July 2017? Sign up to join our Africa Hunt List to receive more information including Derrick's tips & tricks, an invitation to our Africa Info night, and more.
I feel like I need to start this post by saying that even though I’ve worked in the hunting industry over the course of 10 years, for some pretty prominent companies, I’ve never had the opportunity to hunt outside the state of Oregon. I’ve never hunted out of a box blind. I’ve never hunted with a guide. I’ve never hunted on a ranch that officially manages wildlife population. I’ve never heard the word corn used as a verb. This hunting trip was full of firsts for me.
And I was fascinated by the whole experience.
We got to the ranch on Friday afternoon with barely enough time to change out of our office clothes and into camo before heading to the stand. Derrick was with me step by step, walking me through the ways of hunting in South Texas. It was hot, but the animals were moving. There was a bobcat walking down the sendero about 700 yards out, beautiful birds I’ve never seen before, and deer. So many deer! I’m pretty sure I saw more deer that one night than I’d seen my entire life of hunting combined. Hunting aside, I was so excited to just be watching the wildlife around me.
Not long before we were about to call it a night, I saw a huge buck walk out from the brush toward the feeder. It was so big I may or may not have let a bad word roll off my tongue. I couldn’t help it. It was a completely involuntary reaction. Derrick knew the buck we were after but refused to tell me anything about him. We watched him for a bit, and then he told me we were just going to continue to watch him. He was too young.
My jaw dropped. It was literally the biggest deer I had ever seen with my own eyes. I couldn’t imagine him not being “a shooter.” Derrick assured me he was not the one we were after.
After the sun set, we headed back to the house for dinner.
Saturday morning, I was up before my alarm and down in the kitchen making a pot coffee. They make fun of me for how much coffee I drink … maybe it’s an Oregon thing. We hopped in the truck and headed out to the stand.
The fog was so dense over the sendero I felt like I was back at home. But not much was happening.
After an hour or so in the stand the deer finally started moving. Off to our right there were two doe working their way down the sendero. Out in front of us, nothing but fog. Off to our left there were two more doe and a small buck. [Let me pause here to make note that the “small” buck was bigger than anything I’d ever shot back in Oregon.]
Only having experienced spot and stalk hunting, sitting in a blind was so foreign to me. At one point, I turned to Derrick and asked, “do you even get buck fever hunting like this?”
“Oooooh yea,” he responded, “just wait.”
I’ll be honest … I was skeptical.
We continued to glass and chat when I saw another buck come out of the brush to our left. I casually mentioned it to Derrick who proceeded to spend a long time studying him through the spotting scope before drawing in a sharp breath.
“I don’t want you to freak out, but I’m pretty sure that’s the one we’re after.” He counted points again, then sent a text to the ranch manager. I continued to watch him through the binos, my heart beating faster and faster with every passing moment.
After exchanging a few texts, Derrick looked and smiled. This one is the one. My first shot at a whitetail. That buck fever Derrick assured me would happen? Happened. It happened big time.
I slowly moved the rifle to the window. With the rifle ready, I watched the buck through the Leupold Mark 4 scope. The doe started browsing behind the buck and so we waited. All of my senses were heightened. Every noise we made in the stand seemed amplified. Could he smell my coffee? I was sure we’d be blown. In reality we probably only had to wait 5 minutes as the deer moved about the sendero, but it felt like an eternity.
As soon as the doe cleared out behind him I flipped off the safety of the 28 Nosler. Squeezing the Huber trigger, I sent the Hornady 175-grain bullet straight toward the buck. Thwak!
The buck ran off the sendero into the brush and Derrick slapped my shoulder, “great shot!” We waited a few minutes before heading down to recover him.
We found the buck about 10 yards off the sendero. As I walked up toward him my heart was racing again. I did it. I’d harvested my first whitetail. And it was a bruiser. 251 pounds of bruiser. This whole hunt was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, but it was more than I could have imagined.
During my trip to Africa, I focused primarily on big game species but any of you that know me know how much I love predator hunting. So when the opportunity came up to hunt a caracal cat, I was all about it.
In Africa they hunt the caracal much like we hunt our mountain lions here in the states. It’s all about having good dogs and moist scent conditions for the dogs to stay on the trail – and that’s exactly what we had. The rain that had pushed through on our Nyala hunt left the next morning with a heavy dew on the ground. I met up early that morning with two different houndsmen and their respective packs of dogs. What looked to me like a bunch of walker and blue tick hounds, much like what I had seen in Colorado on a failed lion hunt.
Being a houndsman in Africa is serious business and is a pretty prestigious position amongst the tribes people. They hunt these cats every day to keep them from killing the bushbuck as well as the ranchers livestock. The most popular way to hunt these animals is to let the houndsman find the cat and come back to harvest it once it’s been treed. I wanted to see what the action was all about and elected to follow one of the hounds groups.
We released the dogs and they took off. We had not even walked a mile when we received a call on the radio. The pack we didn’t go with was hot on the trail of a cat, so we rushed back to the vehicle and drove like crazy to get to the other dog pack. We had to hurry because these dogs are not just trained to tree the cat like they are here in North America, these dogs are ready to kill the cat if possible.
We could hear the hounds as we bailed out of the truck and rushed up a small hill and down into a big box canyon. When we arrived there it really was a chaotic event. The cat was up about 9 feet in thick brush, the dogs were barking and growling everywhere, and here is this houndsman speaking to me in a different language while loading a double barrel 12 guage that was older than my granddad… it was AWESOME! I snuck in closer to the cat with the houndsman. Then he grabbed a small stick and pointed it up at the tree. I just assumed that meant shoot the cat. I was right Boom went the double and the cat fell.
Before it even hit the ground, the houndsman practically caught it out of the tree using the small stick he had pointed with. Otherwise the dogs would have eaten the trophy. The hounds started howling more of a victorious howl and just like that we had harvested a nice male caracal.
It was a beautiful animal, much like our bobcat, definitely a hunt I won’t soon forget.
Interested in joining us in Africa in July 2017? Sign up to join our Africa Hunt List to receive more information including Derrick's tips & tricks, an invitation to our Africa Info night, and more.
The daughter of a consulting forester and general outdoor enthusiast, I essentially grew up in the woods of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I tagged along on hunts with my dad basically from the time I could walk. Then as soon as I was old enough, I took my hunter’s safety course and started hunting blacktail deer alongside him. Hunting blacktail in Oregon isn’t easy. Spot and stalk hunting is where it’s at and you can be out hiking for miles, not seeing another person – or blacktail for that matter. Despite my love for the outdoors and hunting practically my entire life, the last few years (and a few kids) later, I’ve let life get in the way and my time in the woods has been sporadic at best.
Now that I work for a firearms company I figured it was time to make hunting a priority again and my dad – and favorite hunting partner – was happy to oblige.
My alarm goes off every morning at 5:15 AM. Most mornings I hit the snooze button at least once, sometimes twice before I will myself to actually roll out of bed. The morning of this hunt I was awake 10 minutes before my alarm went off. This was the first time in four years that I’d be out hunting. I guess you could say I was excited to get back out there. I met up with my dad at his house and we hit the road.
The morning was foggy. Really foggy. We drove to a few of our typical spots to get out and glass and couldn’t see much of anything, let alone any deer. We hunted down a couple of different units with no luck. We headed to a fork in the road and pulled off. I recognized the spot. We’d walk down the left road a ways, cut across through some dense forest, come out at the top of a unit, hunt down it to a road, then follow that road back up to the truck. The fog was finally starting to lift a bit and, as my dad assured me, this was an area the deer “liked to hang out.”
As we made our way down the draw, I found myself in the middle of the most bear sign I had ever seen in one area. I couldn’t decide if I was bummed I didn’t buy a bear tag, or worried I’d end up a viral video courtesy of a bear attack. I tried to keep my mind on the task at hand. After making it all the way down the unit with hardly even seeing any deer sign, I was starting to feel a bit defeated. It was already 11:15, the fog was burning off and with the sun hitting the side of the mountain things were starting to heat up. The deer wouldn’t be moving much.
We started walking up the access road that would lead us back to the truck. I was glassing up the hill we had just hiked down, and then down the rest of the unit below the access road. That’s when I saw it. The faint outline of what I thought could be a face among the tall, brown grass.
I am notorious for creating deer out of things like stumps and bushes, so I almost didn’t even bother pulling up my binoculars. But I’m glad I did because sure enough, it was a deer! And it had antlers! I signaled to my dad who came over to me so I could show him where the deer was. It was a little guy, with tiny little forks. The first deer we’d seen all day and he was looking right at us. As my dad and I tried to figure out where I could even steady myself to shoot from, we saw the other buck. He was also a fork but with a much deeper V and a much larger body. He was grunting and snorting like crazy and my heart was racing.
Before I was able to find a place to shoot from, they started moving. Down below this unit was another access road, so our plan was to stalk our way down there. Before we could even start making our way down there, one of the deer popped up toward the bottom of the unit. He wasn’t spooked and wasn’t in a hurry so we decided to wait it out instead of go after them.
I saw what was left of two burned stumps side by side and I decided that would be my spot. Only once I got over there, I realized that the stumps were too short to rest the rifle on and sit behind. I started feeling the pressure to get situated. I didn’t want to miss my opportunity. So I wedged myself between the two stumps, with my left leg resting over the top of one and the barrel of my 6.5 Creedmoor resting on the toe of my boot.
I dialed back the zoom on my scope and located the deer. It was the little guy. “Where did the big one go?” I wondered to myself. My dad was standing off to my right glassing the area. I whispered that I didn’t see the bigger one. He told me to be ready, but to wait. The buck would make his way down there.
We could hear him grunting again, and before long he was standing broadside right next to the smaller buck. This was my chance!
At 250 yards, I settled in, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. Nothing.
The deer were oblivious so I quickly chambered another round and settled back in. The smaller buck passed in front of the bigger guy so I waited. As soon as he was out of the way I zeroed in right behind his shoulder with another deep breath. I squeezed the trigger again and sent the 140 grain ELD flying. The deer dropped on the spot!
I cleared the chamber and looked over at my dad. Words cannot describe the look of pride on his face.
He quickly started making his way down to the deer. Too quickly actually, because when we got down there we discovered the buck was still alive. This was a first for me and I felt terrible. To keep him from suffering, I chambered another round and took one last shot in his head to end him quickly.
I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. My shot placement was good. I couldn’t dwell on it right then as there was work to be done.
Now, my dad is old school enough that he doesn't wear camo, he doesn't care about the latest & greatest gear, and doesn’t really “get” taking trophy photos and is actually mildly annoyed by it – he wants to get right to cleaning out the deer, get it back to the truck, get it home, and get it hanging. I had told him before the hunt that if I shot one, I’d need to take some photos because this is my job, after all. He agreed and when I went to set up to take some photos I discovered that my last shot to end the deer had split both of his antlers right at the skull. Another “what the heck!?” moment. We snapped a few photos as best as we could, then got to work.
Once we got the buck back to my dad’s and hanging in the shop we discovered what had happened with the shot. The bullet had hit a little too far forward in the deer’s shoulder, hit a bone and basically exploded. There was no pass through and the bullet essentially annihilated the entire front right shoulder, the lower neck, and part of the left shoulder, rendering the deer completely incapacitated at impact. There was a lot of blood shot meat and I was finding shards of bullet as we were cleaning him up. Thankfully we didn’t lose much “good meat.”
I still can’t stop thinking about what I could have – and should have – done differently. The hunt may not have played out exactly as I had wanted it to, but the end result was deer down with a Horizon Firearms rifle, a freezer full of meat, and a day back in the woods with my favorite hunting partner. Overall, I’d consider that a success.
Every hunter has their animal. The one animal that fills their dreams and the one they would give up all hunting just to chase them one more time. For me, that animal is the elk. There’s just something about them. I’m not sure, but I have to assume that it’s a combination of the beautiful country they live in, the size of the animal, and the size of the antlers. Or the fact that a bugle can haunt your dreams day in and day out.
This year, I got the opportunity again to go to New Mexico and hunt the first week of rifle season. This is a hunt that I typically do every other year. The place we hunt is situated in northern New Mexico and base camp is a three-room wood cabin with no electricity – but we do have running water and propane lamps and cooking appliances. I had the chance to come up a day early and spend time working and refocusing while getting time to scout for elk. The cabin sets right at the base of a dormant volcano and the side that faces the cabin is full of lush thick grass and stringy aspen and spruce. While it looks mild it is actually a very challenging hike to the top of the mountain at over 10,000 feet elevation. Of the morning and evening, the elk like to work the thermals and move from one side to the other crossing the wide open mountain, allowing for a great view from my Vortex spotting scope.
The evening I first arrived at the camp had me a little concerned, I did see a nice 6x5 with a few cows but the bugling, even through the night, was almost non existent. That is rare for me in this area and I was concerned that the elk weren’t here this year.
The next morning before the other hunters arrived, I got up early and sat outside looking to locate elk and hear some bugles. There were a few more bugles and a solid herd of elk with one nice 6x6. I watched as the 6x6 crossed the front of the mountain stopping to bugle a few times. He had a unique high pitched bugle always ending in good growl. Later that day the other hunters arrived in camp and we picked sides where we were going to hunt then headed to bed. I had got the side of the mountain away from where the elk went but there are elk all over this country and I was looking forward to the next morning. The next morning arrived and one of the hunters decided he wanted to switch areas with me as he knew the country I had better. I actually knew the country on the side he had much better so it worked out great.
As I left the cabin right at grey light and worked my way to the mountain I heard that same bugle from the day before and I knew that elk was still in the area. The only issue was he was working his way toward me and the mountain but my thermals were dropping right off the elevation and right to where he was at. I was very familiar with the area he was in, and knew there were some long stringy openings that he had to be traveling in. Because of the thermals, I made a large loop away from the elk but moving generally in his direction. My plan was for my thermals to pass him and let him pass me until I knew he was up wind of me. As soon as I heard his bugle pass even with my location I began the stalk into position.
As I got closer to the bugle I saw 2 smaller bulls in an opening. They were actually fighting and it was a first for me to see. The smaller bull was a 3x3 and must have just got done wallowing as he was black with mud. The other bull was a smaller 4x4 but it was amazing to watch. Every time the bulls would quit fighting the big bull would bugle in the woods, but I still couldn’t see him. After about 15 minutes the bulls stopped fighting and the 3x3 moved into the brush toward the big bull and the 4x4 moved more down the mountain into the opposite brush. I made my move and crawled out into the open and set my 28 Nosler up on my Sitka pack and waited. After another 15 minutes, five cows came walking by being trailed by the 4x4 bull. As he pushed them into the brush I could see the big bull step out into the small opening. I could tell it was him just by the tails on his antlers. Two seconds later I snapped off the Timney trigger and boom the hunt was over.
Immediately elk were running everywhere so I quickly got on my cow call to calm them down. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bull run into the brush and for a moment I had that flash through my head of did I miss, what happened. But as I packed my gear and headed to where the bull was standing, there he was. Right where he had been standing. The 28 Nosler and the 175 ELDX bullets did the trick. Now the work was about to really begin – getting the elk down the mountain.
The next morning I still had elk on the brain and could not sleep, so I got on the spotting scope. There were another 30 elk with 3 nice bulls, one perhaps even bigger than the one I harvested. As I watched them move off into the dark timber I knew it meant, God willing, I would be back to that place to chase them again.
You may leave elk country, but your heart never does.