Every year, I apply for several different tags in New Mexico. I have been blessed to draw tags and hunt several kinds of animals through the years, including mountain lion, once-in-a- lifetime bighorn sheep, and elk. During these hunts, my outfitter and guide has been Bill Lewellen of One-on-One Adventures. He’s a knowledgeable and dedicated outdoorsman who has been a major factor in my hunting success.
In February 2022, I looked through the hunting options and noticed an archery elk hunt in mid-September. I’m a farmer in Southeast Kansas and figured I would be finished with corn harvest by then. Since I wouldn’t sow wheat until October, I decided to put in for that hunt. I chose several other hunts too and then waited to see if I would draw any of them.
As I was checking my email in April, I saw that I had drawn a once- in-a-lifetime archery elk hunt in unit 55A, the Valle Vidal! Only 25 tags were issued for the unit, and only 3 non-resident tags were drawn. The dates for the hunt were September 15-24. I called Bill and asked him to guide my hunt. He said it was the perfect time to be there. We should hear hundreds of bugles a day.
That evening, my wife and I looked online for details about the Valle Vidal area. We decided we would make a trip there in July. She wanted to see the area so she could visualize where I would be hunting. I wanted to show her the Red River and Taos areas too, since I had hunted there before.
Bill was in contact with me through the summer. He advised that I should plan to hunt September 19-24. On Monday, September 19th, I drove into Valle Vidal. Bill had sent me a “pin” with the location where we would meet close to the Castilla Reservoir. I got there just before 9:00 a.m. I could see Bill coming down the trail, riding his horse, Carson, and leading his mule, Napoleon. His other mule, Mickey Mouse, was following behind. We loaded my supplies and food on the mules and headed up the mountain.
That afternoon, we went out for my first hunt. We heard an elk bugle, and Bill called as we knelt among some trees. A small 3x4 came within 10 feet of us, but I didn’t take a shot at it. On Tuesday morning, Bill called in another bull. I could see his antlers through the trees. Bill called, and the bull bugled and came closer. I could feel the wind blowing on my face. Then, the wind switched and I could feel it blowing on the back of my neck. The bull caught my scent and went the other way. By Tuesday evening, it was raining and we didn’t see any elk.
Wednesday evening, we started tracking a bull. The trees were thick, and it got dark on us before we got to him. We rode back to camp in the dark. It rained hard Wednesday night. I was beginning to wonder if my once-in-a-lifetime hunt would be rained out.
We were able to hunt Thursday morning. We heard elk bugling and hiked to the unit’s boundary line. We saw several bulls but didn’t get close enough for a shot. They bedded down in the shade, so we went back to camp.
Thursday evening, we set out again. We spotted a bull, a cow, and a calf ahead of us. We followed them, keeping out of sight so we wouldn’t spook them. They headed up the mountain, and we didn’t have a chance at that bull.
Friday morning, we headed up the mountain. Bill told me to go on ahead and look for any elk in the area. I carried my Mathews bow as I climbed further up the mountain. It was just after 7:00 a.m. when I saw a bull elk about 60 yards in front of me. He was facing the other way, so he didn’t see me. I could see his antlers, and I saw the “fishtails” that Bill had told me to look for on a mature bull. I knelt behind a fallen tree and nocked an arrow. As I watched the bull, Bill, who was several yards behind me, gave a cow call. The bull threw up his head, bugled, turned, and ran toward me. If that tree hadn’t been down in front of me, he might have run right over me! As he went behind some trees, I drew my bow. The bull was trotting when he came into sight. I “barked” at him. He shuddered and then stopped just 15 yards away. Still kneeling, I aimed and shot my arrow. It was a clean hit.
The bull ran down the mountain. I followed and spotted him standing still about 40 yards away. I kept a tree between him and me as I walked closer. I nocked another arrow and decided that if I shot again, he would run again. I was confident that I had made a good shot. I stood and watched him. His hindquarters went down, and then he went down in the front. As I backed away to go get Bill, I saw his antlers fall to the side. I knew he was down!
When I got back to Bill, he said, “I heard the ‘thwack’ of the arrow. I know you hit him. Is he a good one?”
I said, “Yeah, I think he’s a pretty good one!”
When we got to the place where I had last seen the elk, he wasn’t there! We looked around and found him further down the mountain. We figured he must have kicked and rolled until a tree stopped him. When Bill saw his antlers, he said, “Yes, he’s a good one!”
After we took pictures, we took care of the meat. We hung it up in the trees and then walked back down to camp to get the mules. We rode back up to 11,000' elevation, loaded the cape, antlers, and meat on the mules and then rode down to the stock trailer. We left the meat there. We rode back up to our camp, and it was 1:00 p.m. when we got back.
Later that day, we measured the antlers. We wrote the numbers on the back of a paper plate, and when we added them up, the antlers scored over 400"! Bill was really excited about that. He said there were not many elk in New Mexico that scored that high.
Saturday morning, Bill and I loaded up the antlers and my camping gear on the horse and mules and rode down to my pickup. After we put everything in my truck, I thanked Bill for a great hunt. As I said in the beginning of this story, he had been my guide for several successful hunts. He worked hard to provide another great hunt for me in the Valle Vidal!
Around 11:00, I stopped at a convenience store in Castilla, New Mexico to put ice in my two large coolers that held the elk meat. As I worked, a man came over and asked if he could take a picture of the antlers. He said, “They scored over 400, didn’t they? We don’t see many of those around here.”
Since I had cell phone service again, I texted a picture of my elk to my family and then called them. They were happy for me! I drove back through Colorado and Kansas and got to Columbus around 11:00 p.m.
In November, after the antlers had dried down for 60 days, I took them to Marvin Whitehead in Fredonia, Kansas. He is an official Pope & Young measurer. He scored it as a Typical American Elk. The official final score was 387 1/8" with a gross score of 402". I also had the antlers scored as non-typical with the Boone & Crockett scoring system. The official final score was 389 6/8".
I had such a great hunting experience! When I went to New Mexico, I was thankful just to have the opportunity to hunt an elk with my bow. To be able to get such a great bull while archery hunting was beyond any of my expectations. I’m so thankful that I got to experience a great once-in-a-lifetime hunt!