Hunting has always been an important part of the Lewis family tradition. Growing up in Maine allowed for plenty of opportunities to hunt game such as moose, whitetail deer, bear and turkey. My dad taught me how to hunt, shoot and survive in the wilderness, and I wanted to be certain these same skills were passed on to my children.
Most every hunter dreams of one day hunting elk in the Rockies. I never thought that would be possible growing up in Maine. However, things changed when I joined the Army. I was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, and lived in New Mexico, just a few hours from the Gila Wilderness and the Lincoln National Forest. It was now within reason and a possibility. I began researching the New Mexico big game regulations and convinced my 17-year-old nephew, Jared, still living in Maine, to put in for an elk hunt with me and my 13-year-old son, Josiah.
The odds of my nephew drawing a nonresident tag in New Mexico were not in his favor, and for my son and me to draw a mature bull tag as residents wouldn’t be easy either, but we gave it a shot anyway. We all waited with great anticipation for the draw results, and to our amazement all three of us were drawn for bull elk tags! I had drawn a mature bull rifle tag for the Gila Wilderness, and my nephew and son drew mature bull rifle tags for the Lincoln National Forest. Our excitement was beyond belief. What would be the odds of all three of us filling those public-land tags? The five-month wait until the hunt was grueling. My brother Jonathan and his son Jared drove the 2,400 miles to southern New Mexico for the hunt of a lifetime.
On opening day, as the sun was just coming up, we spotted two bulls 900 yards away. Closing the distance for a more reasonable shot, we went around the backside of the ridge and crawled through the brushy terrain. An hour later, we were no more than 400 yards from one of the bulls, but we still didn’t feel comfortable with the shot, so we attempted to shrink the gap. As we moved, the bulls began feeding up the ridge away from us. We decided it was now or never.
Jared sat beside me as we set up the sticks, and he got comfortable with the shot. Once he was in position and ready, I whispered to Jared that the bull was at 344 yards and that he needed to relax (much easier said than done). “Take a deep breath, pick an aiming point, exhale, pause, steady and squeeze when you’re ready.” Boom! The roar of the .300 Win. Mag. echoed through the Rocky Mountain canyon. One bull down!
The second bull was now approximately 100 yards away from where the first bull dropped. It was my son Josiah’s turn. Seated next to him on the ridge, I went through the same shooting sequence, “The bull is at 350 yards right now. Relax, take a deep breath … and squeeze when you’re ready.” The .270 WSM Winchester Model 70 did its job. A second bull was down! Incredible! Jared’s bull scored 354 and Josiah’s scored 310.
On the next day of the hunt, just before sunset, I blew an excited cow-in-estrus call immediately followed by a dominant-bugle call. That did the trick. Within seconds, a bull bugled back and began moving toward us, and within minutes he appeared on the edge of the woods. I had zeroed my Kimber Model 8400 in .270 WSM at 300 yards, but none of it would be necessary. The massive bull was only 50 yards away, curiously attempting to figure out what was going on between the cow and bull he’d heard minutes earlier. Bang! The shot echoed up the canyon. A third bull was on the ground! My Gila Wilderness bull scored 306.
Not bad for a bunch of guys from Maine on their first public-land hunt in New Mexico!
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