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February 2024
Story by Joe Shofner
State: New Mexico
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

The story begins in May 2019 when I found out I drew in my first year of applying for an early archery elk tag in New Mexico. Ecstatic was an understatement as it was my first tag that wasn’t something to the likes of an OTC Colorado elk or 10s Nevada deer. My first email was to Huntin’ Fool requesting a Member Draw list, and the next move was scouring onXmaps. There was a particular area that stuck out as interesting to me with part of it being private land. I decided to give the landowner a call. He didn’t give me permission to hunt, but we had a very engaging hour and a half conversation that quickly sparked into a friendship.

That particular year, prior to the Covid pandemic, I had a plethora of time on my hands. I was committed to giving this tag 110% effort. The summer leading up to the hunt, I spent 10 days driving, scouting, and hanging trail cameras. I got back to the unit five full days prior to the September 1st opening day to check cams, looking for cows and burning as much boot leather and tire rubber as I could.

The hunt started fast and furious, and on day six, I found a bull that changed my life. I was chasing bugles down a drainage, and when I caught up, a mere 100 yards from me stood a bull bigger than my imagination. It was an easy 400" type with 15" of extra off the left main beam. He was beyond a dream bull, and the only word that came to mind in the moment was “Mega.” As I slipped in thinking I could close 30 yards and give myself a 70-yard shot, one of Mega’s 30 cows trailing behind caught me and the herd took off. That evening, I was back on him, but as he came past me, it was too dark and I had no hope of getting a shot. My new friend, the area landowner whom I’ll keep anonymous, couldn’t believe the bull I had seen. I hunted right up to the end of my 14-day season, looking for Mega, but I struck out. My friend was hunting the second archery season and spent all 10 days doing the same without a glimpse.

The next three years, we kept up a friendship built around this bull, Mega. We would run trail cameras constantly and glass when we could, yet he vanished as quickly as he had appeared. Hopes of finding him alive began to be replaced in our minds with pictures of him hanging in someone else’s trophy room. However, in 2023, my friend and I got the opportunity to chase elk together back where the legacy was born and talk of Mega and giant bulls was back on the forefront. We knew with the outstanding winter moisture the Southwest had received antler growth would be at its best. Spirits were high and hopes beaming, but neither of us could have imagined the roller coaster season we would experience.

The hunt started slow and so were the reports all across the state that the rut was lackluster and bugling infrequent. Our experience was the same. There were no rut parties to chase, just sporadic bugles and long middays. On day four, things changed. At 10:00 a.m. while sitting down to have some snacks, my friend suddenly found himself surrounded by screaming bulls. With some quick and strategic moves, he placed himself in the middle of the bugle fest. As luck would have it, as it normally does, the herd bull worked right past him at 20 yards. As he gave a mew to stop the bull, he turned and bugled right at him. Then, the arrow was on its short trip. The hit was back but surely liver at worst. After a stressful and almost exactly 24 hours post shot, we recovered the bull, a heavy 375" brute. We were on Cloud 9 with a big bull down. Packing out meat seemed like the best thing ever, but we weren’t done. I still had my tag in pocket (or rather an eTag on my phone).

On day six, I would get my opportunity. We had seen some nice bulls but no sign of Mega or anything close to that top-end caliber. As we sat a waterhole, a herd bull with nine cows came to drink. I decided this was the one I wanted. As he gave me a quartering away shot at 42 yards, I let it rip. Thinking the shot was perfect, I was confident we would find him the next morning. A sleepless night later, we were back to where I had arrowed the bull. The blood trail was thick. I mean, you could have jogged and been able to follow it. This continued for 1,000 yards with the bull never laying down. Unfortunately, we were never able to find him.

Not knowing what to do next, we decided to go back and sit water for the evening. As I sat in the newly-constructed brush blind, I pounded some snacks and took a nap. As I was sleeping, I was awakened by a bugle. It was my friend behind me, but his call was quickly answered by a bull on the other side of the waterhole. As I turned my head, immediately, a bull emerged. It wasn’t Mega, but it was of the same class. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I never thought I’d ever see a bull like him again, but here I was with one headed directly my way. He came to the water, drank for a full three minutes, and then turned perfectly broadside. I have no idea why, but in the moment, I was perfectly calm. My heart rate never increased, and I had complete confidence in the opportunity. I drew my bow back, aimed, and let the arrow fly. It hit perfectly, a double lung shot, and the bull took off. He ran out into the meadow and tipped over in less than 20 seconds.

The elation was indescribable, it was out of body. A Mega type bull was down! I immediately sprinted back to my friend, and we hugged and celebrated as we recapped what had just happened. From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs, from hell to heaven. That evening, for whatever reason, the elk lords smiled on me and blessed me with a bull of many lifetimes. I am so grateful.