A Gila Monster For Mike and Steve!

By

Hunter Name: Michael Waddell, Cameraman Steve Finch, Guide Travis “Oakie” Benes

Game Hunting: Elk

Where Hunting: Gila National Forest in New Mexico. WithUnited States Outfitters Contact: George Taulman, Box 4204, Taos, NM (Headquarters), NM 87571; Phone: 800-845-9929 Visit USO online at http://www.unitedstatesoutfitters.com

Hunting Method: Michael Waddell was bowhunting with his Fred Bear TRX. Black Hawk Vapor carbon arrows were used with 100-grain, Muzzy Team Realtree broadheads. The game plan was to be “not to aggressive’ with the calls. Conservative calling, then locating, then moving in slowly.  “Because of the lack of rutting activity our strategy revolved around glassing, moving, and listening. Once bugling activity seemed to increase, that’s when we finally became more aggressive with our calls. The main idea was, before we really started calling aggressively, we wanted to get into range of the bull—within 70 yards was our comfort zone.”--Michael Waddell.

Phase of Season: Real early in the rut. This week last year was the best week at USO for rutting bull. This week this year was completely different. Things were very slow. Bulls were not yet with cows. Bugles were very limited. Some of the bigger, more mature elk were beginning to search for cows. The elk were in the process of determining pecking order.

Dates Hunted: Arrived on September the 8th. Hunting dates 9/9 through 9/15

Wind Direction and Weather Conditions: Waddell recalled, “Basically, seven inches of rain fell in the course of two days. Normal rainfall for the year is in the neighborhood of 14 inches total! The rain completely suppressed the bugling for the first couple of days. The day Michael shot his bull, the weather cleared out enough to heat up the action.

The Shot: “When I first saw the bull raking the brush, I thought it was a nice 6X6. When he turned and looked in our direction I could see that he was truly a wide-racked bull. Leading up to the shot, the bull started moving in a direction that would allow him to get into the wind and smell where the calls were coming from. I knew the bull was headed in a direction that would give me a good broadside shot. He was 17 yards when I put my 20-yard pin on the bull. Immediately when I shot I knew I smoked him!”—Michael Waddell

Trophy Notes: Bull was taken on the third morning of the hunt, 9/11/02 at 9:45am. The bull was a 340-class monster 6X6. The bull’s rack was 45 inches wide! It came into calls from the guide. Michael’s shot was approximately 17 yards. After being hit, the bull went almost 100 yards.

As Seen By Cameraman Steve Finch: “When our production schedule comes about, one of the greatest, most anticipated hunts I hope to work on is the New Mexico Elk Hunts. These are just about the most challenging, most physically demanding hunts of all. There’s a lot involved—it’s not as easy as just getting out there and capturing an elk hunt on video. You’re not simply sitting in a treestand waiting for a good buck to come by. I enjoy that too, but there’s simply nothing like hearing that first elk bugle of the season! It simply make the hair on the back of my neck stand on edge. It’s a symphony, it’s just beautiful especially when the elk are bugling!

“When I got hooked up with Michael on this hunt I was big-time excited. Michael’s abilities and of course his great personality made this hunt extra special.

“One of the most important things when you go out on an elk hunt is to be in shape physically. Running and lifting weights is something we both do to try to keep in shape. Well, prior to this elk hunt, Michael and I kept in touch with one another to see who was running and working out, etc—Neither of us had done anything physically to get prepared for this hunt. I can assure you, this was a first. In the back of my mind, I knew this hunt was going to hurt! When we arrived we knew we had to “Cowboy Up’ as the natives say. We had to take it, go for it and see how far we could go!

“When we arrived, we loaded up our gear and hit the mountains running. We just went glassing that first early evening, but the physicality of it all was clear on my face. Because I didn’t prepare enough, or at all I should say, I knew I was going to be in for a week of toughin’ it! In the back of my mind, as the sweat poured from my brow, I felt that in a few days I’d be acclimated to my new surroundings.

“The first day that we got out to hunt and video was raining. Television production and hunting just simply don’t mix. It’s like oil and water I tell ya. It’s the hunter and the cameraman’s ability to overcome obstacles like weather that makes this job truly challenging. And when you succeed, the accomplishment is that much sweeter. The challenge of the rain and keeping the expensive camera equipment dry, tested our ability to the max. We used camera covers and some make-shift umbrellas to keep the gear and ourselves from getting completely soaked. We even were able to bungee a camo umbrella to the camera. In fact using that system, we were able to get some great footage that otherwise we would have been unable to capture. Towards the end of the first day we did hear some distant bugles. We headed towards them and did find some promising sign in the area. Light wasn’t on our side on the first day—we headed back to camp with a good promising feeling for day number two.

“The morning of the second hunting day, we woke up to much of the same weather conditions. We’d heard it pouring all night long. We knew we were in for another long, wet day. We again got our rain gear together and cowboy’ed up to do battle again. We headed for the area where we’d heard bulls the night before via a pickup truck. In the mucky, wet darkness we waited in the pickup for day to break. While sitting there, we realized that with the dirt/mud roads being what they were, we didn’t think we could go any further with the truck. When it was just about light outside, we jumped out of the truck and realized that not only could we go further, we couldn’t go backwards either. The truck really got bogged down in a hurry. Next thing you know we’re grabbing lava rocks and whatever we could find and dumping them under the tires to try and get some traction. Priority one was getting this truck out. Finally, Travis our guide was able to drive the truck free. After all that we knew we still wanted to hunt the general vicinity, so we pulled the ATV’s off the truck and took a “lower’ road to the bulls.

“Weather reports said it’d be raining till at least middle of the day. We still battled on and got to the base of a huge bowl where we’d heard the bulls the evening before. It took us one solid hour to get to the top of the bowl where we wanted to be. The sloppy conditions made it challenging to say the least. Every step was an effort and on top of that, Michael and I were both pretty out of shape. Once we got to the top we took a breather and just listened to our heavy breathing and hoping to hear a bugle. Then the skies really opened up with rain. Michael, Travis and I figured that now would be a good time to catch a nap and wait out the storm. Only problem was the look on Travis’ face. He was freezing cold, had no gloves and was in big-time need of a fire to dry off and get warm. I said, “Travis, you look like you could use a fire.’ He nodded a and reached into his backpack and pulled out a lighter. Now the search was on for something dry to burn. Michael, the competitor woke up at this point and realized what we were trying to do. He never passes up a challenge. The three of were now rummaging through our packs for dry stuff to start a fire. Then we couldn’t get Travis’ lighter to spark up. After some more trying, and more searching for dry stuff, and pulling some old papers and straws from our packs (a full hour) we finally got a rip-roarer goin. After warming our elk-brisket sandwiches on the campfire the three of us kicked back and figured that we all deserved and earned our Eagle Scout badges.

“The rest of the morning, we heard no elk. That evening hunt we went on the move again. We were literally seconds from calling it quits for the day. Michael and Travis heard a bugle. At first they debated which way the bugle came from. Travis let out a bugle of his own and we were able to pinpoint the bull’s location. We worked our way to the sound of bugles with light, once again fading fast. Again, we saw nothing, but left the woods for camp with optimism for day three.

“The third day, we rode on ATVs to a ridge we’d scouted on the first evening. We got into what looked like a good area, but things were still slow from a hunting standpoint. No bugles. We went up the ridge some more and finally did here a bugle. My mind set was this: Please let that bull we just heard be on the ridge we’re on and not the one a county mile from here. Just as those thoughts faded, Michael spotted a bull on the complete opposite side of the ridge we were hiking up. Here’s the next challenge, I thought. Mike and Travis decided that that was a bull worth going for, so we started making our way to it.

“Back down the ridge was some 800 to 1,000 yards. When looking up the side the bull was seen on, I noticed that it was darn near a straight uphill climb. Keeping up with the two hunters was a chore indeed. They were hustling. In 15 minutes we were ®’s to where we wanted to be. The two were worried about me. Travis said, “With all that huffin’ and puffin’, will you be able to hold that camera steady?” I assured him I’d be okay.

“A little further still, and we heard him bugle. He was not far from where we stood—just above. We came up with a plan on where to set up for the shot. My heart was racing, blood was pumping and I knew Michael and Travis had to be feeling it, too. As part of the plan, Travis backed off a little and starting raking the trees and hitting and rolling rocks in an attempt to mimic a challenging bull. I was following Michael—right behind him. In no time we made our way to a small plateau with a little opening that looked like it would provide a shot if the bull came to Travis’ tempting calls.

“Michael then caught a quick peek of the bull and it busts out of sight. It was disappointing to say the least. We had just successfully made an 800-yard sprint to the top of where we’d seen a bull and we got busted. We figured on easing up the ridge a little more because Michael said that the bull didn’t appear to be “all-out’ spooked.

“The ridge finally topped out and flattening out. This was something I was happy to see. Only problem—no bull. Michael decided it was best to work the entire ridge. Good thing he did, because a few moments into working the ridge we heard a bugle. It was not an aggressive bugle. Kinda soft, but we still worked our ways to the bugle. We all got excited again. Travis worked his way up ahead slightly while calling every now and again. “There he is’, Travis turned to the camera and Michael. Michael instantly nocked an arrow. I saw a glimpse of his hide through the trees as I stood right behind Michael’s shoulder. I zoomed in and said to myself, “Oh my Gosh that is some bull!’ The bull was raking and Michael knew from past experiences that this bull was ready to come.

“Michael turned to me and said, “This is it, this is going to happen.’ While I’m on the bull with the camera, Michael stands up, rotates from left to right to get aimed into his shooting lane. The bull majestically turns his head with a rack full of saplings and such. This is it! Michael kneeled down, Travis lets out a big bellowing bugle from just behind us. Right then the bull steps into Michael’s shooting lane revealing only its vitals. I had plenty of confidence at the point. I knew Michael would make the best of any opportunity he’s given. All I heard was the arrow and the slapping sound. The bull rears up and wheels to its right and takes off. Michael jumped up and followed the bull as I followed Michael and the bull with the camera. I wanted to capture his immediate reaction. In the words of Michael moments after the shot, “We smoked him, he’s smoked, we got “em, he’s smoked.’ It for sure was a clean shot.

“After the bear hugs and high fives we made our way to the downed bull. All of our efforts finally paid off. We found the arrow, which broke off ®’s of the way in, but no blood. Our confidence level was still high though, because we knew it was a clean shot. I was rolling tape as we made our final approach. The bull looked like an alien the way it piled up. During its last bolt and jump, its head must have shot straight back as far as it could go and it got stuck into the ground. The bulls chin was sticking straight up into the air. Amazing, truly amazing. Eventually we pried his rack out of the ground. The size of the bull was unbelievable.

Lights, Camera, Action
“From a cameraman’s standpoint, you have to approach things a little differently. The way I like to shoot things is very documentary-like in style. I like to tell the hunt as we go along. That means shooting a lot of tapes. In fact, I just finished logging all the tapes of this hunt—eight one-hour tapes! I like to capture the true essence of what’s going on—the strategies, the conversations, the excitement of hearing the first bugle. I’m always thinking as a director/editor/producer in my head as I shoot. The main thing is, I want to be true to the hunt. I want to be a good story teller that captures the excitement, the passion of the hunters, the agony, the boredom, the patience that’s all necessary to put together a good product. This is what really motivates me. I get really pumped when we come away with a story that really captures it all, and really shows viewers what really goes on.”—Steve Finch

Editor’s note: After doing battle with Michael’s GPS, locating the ATVs, and dressing the monster bull, the trio made it back to camp with a truly remarkable hunt in the can. Look for this hunt and many more in upcoming videos and Realtree Outdoors television programs.