At the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 2007 banquet in Reno, Tod Reichert found himself in a dilemma.
Photo courtesy of Tod Reichert.
As a strong supporter of elk hunting and improving elk habitat, he wanted the foundation to raise as much money as possible. The avid elk hunter bid on the New Mexico Governor’s Tag — but the bid price stalled at only about half the amount it had sold for in the past.
The Governor’s Tag is a special elk license that allows the holder to hunt elk in any unit of the state for the duration of all the seasons, with any legal weapon. No doubt, this is the tag to have in your pocket! Normally the tag sells for thousands of dollars, and all the money goes directly towards improving elk habitat.
Even though Reichert had won the tag for $35,000, he raised his hand again to up the bid to $40,000. With no further bidders, he became the proud owner of the New Mexico Governor’s elk tag.
Reichert had a busy fall schedule. But time to use the coveted tag was limited, which helped him decide to make his adventure a late-season hunt. To his advantage, most hunters would be back home by then, so he could expect to have the prime areas pretty much to himself.
Reichert’s first choice for an outfitter was Ross Johnson Outfitters, a firm with whom he had hunted before. After a lengthy discussion, they worked out a timetable so the hunt would start the week of Jan. 4, 2008.
Hunters appreciate the fact that guides and outfitters are their in-field consultants. They provide a means to get their hunters back into country where big elk are located, and then use their skills to make a professional evaluation and field-judge the size of the animals. These folks are the professionals, and theirs is usually the final judgment call when the hunter is to take a shot.
When Reichert arrived in southern New Mexico, his guide Carl Montoya said they would hunt in the Cibola National Forest. The area has some pretty nasty terrain, which is why some good bulls are hidden in there.
This part of the country runs either straight uphill or down. It’s covered with loose rock, sage, scrub brush and dark timber. It’s a place where a bull could live his whole life and never be seen by a human.
As the sun started to lighten, Montoya stopped the truck in a piece of New Mexico forest that looked exactly as the guide had explained it. The western sky was still dark. The air was sprinkled with snowflakes that were adding to the two inches already on the ground. When the men stepped from the truck, a very frosty 25-degree breeze greeted them.
The guide said that he knew some pockets farther into the backcountry always seemed to hold big bulls.
If you set your sights on one in the 400-inch range, you’ll have to walk a lot of these ridges. Their plan was to get back there quietly then set up and glass the country below.
They hoped the cloud cover would soon lift so that they’d have better visibility. This hunt was all about seeing a bull before the bull saw them.
The first ridge required a long climb. Reichert is 68 years old, but he hunts various mountainous areas each year, and was in good enough shape for the task.
A sequence of climb, sit, glass continued until about 10 a.m., when the draw they were glassing revealed a bull that looked to be in the 380- to 390-inch class. The big elk stepped into the open for a moment and stood out against the white background.
The snow cover helped to highlight the animal’s antlers, but it was miles away — too far away for them to accurately estimate its approximate size.
Rather than try walking across the rough country, they returned to the truck to get closer via a two-track. On their way, they could see that they would have to negotiate some steep, difficult slides in the area.
When they stopped, it was obvious that this hike would tackle terrain that was much steeper than during the morning. But visibility improved. The clearing sky and shafts of sunshine lifted their spirits.
An hour into their hike, the terrain proved to be extremely nasty. Numerous times, they were forced down onto all fours just to navigate the near-vertical stretches.
It took two hours to reach a vantage point above the spot where the bull had been feeding.
They both sat down and, after glassing the entire area, realized the bull was gone! The terrain looked much different from this angle, and it took a while before they realized a second draw ran parallel to the one they had just glassed.
Quickly they worked their way across the ridge top to a point where they could glass the second draw, and the terrain looked more familiar. It was a perfect draw for holding elk, with dark timber on the north slope and mixed bitterbrush stretching from the timber to the south slope. There was also scattered sage intermixed with the taller brush that allowed them to pick out individual elk trails that running across the slope.
Hunter Tod Reichert was about to ask if the bull was really big enough, but then through the scope he saw a flat palmated antler.
Carefully glassing each trail that ran up to the thick timber, they finally saw it. The elk was in the dark timber, and all they could see of it was a piece of antler and brown hide against the white background.
Another piece of good luck: He was looking downhill.
Reichert could see the brown hide through the tree limbs, but couldn’t see any antlers.
The bull was bedded. If he stood up, they’d be able to tell if it were the same bull they’d seen earlier. So they waited an hour for the bull to stand, move or shift position.
“It’s only an hour until sundown,” Reichert told Montoya. “
We need to do something. How about we stay out of sight and roll some rocks? Hopefully, he will stand, but not run.”
They dislodged rocks while staying out of sight. Finally, a basketball-size rock caught the bull’s attention.
When it stood, Tod Reichert was ready for the 160-yard shot.
“Should I take him?” he whispered.
Montoya was still looking through his binoculars trying to come up with a score. Halfway through the evaluation, he whispered, “Go ahea—”
The bark of Reichert’s .270 Weatherby cut off the rest of the guide’s sentence.
The bull stumbled, wavering down the hill for 50 yards, then piled up. Reichert was about to ask if the bull was really big enough, but then through the scope he saw a flat palmated antler.
He had just shot New Mexico’s new state-record bull elk, a huge 7×7 that scored 441 3/8.
“Good shot!” said Carl Montoya.
“Good guide!” Tod Reichert replied.