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by Gregg Richter a.k.a. Gregg Richter Last updated: 2013-03-12 00:18:25
When most big game hunters dream of their most wanted or most respected North American trophy, the bull elk is very likely to be on that list. And I am no different. Even though I am so blessed as to live in Colorado and even able to see elk on a fairly regular basis while driving to and from work in some of the wilder places, I never take them for granted. To me, the regal elk is The Trophy when I hunt here in my state.
Oh, don’t get me wrong; I also dearly love hunting Mule Deer. Some of you may know that I killed the SCI World Record Handgun Mule Deer in 2003. At 204 inches plus, this record still stands. And I have killed maybe a dozen other good bucks, including two whitetails. But in the end, I really would rather pursue the majestic bull elk with my handgun.
I have to stop a minute when I think about this, and ask myself: WHY? Why am I so hung up on elk hunting? Given the success rate is so low, and the hunting usually involves a lot of hard work, not to mention the HARD WORK once your bull is on the ground, as in field dressing; especially if you are alone! And to top it all off, packing your elk out can be brutal! (HAARRD WOORRKK!!!) And I say this even though I have packed them out (many, many of them, for myself as well as other hunters) by horseback, which in itself can be an adventure, (plus even more HARD WORK!) Yup, when elk hunting, you never really get away from that hard work thing. So I ask myself: Why?
Well, for me, out of the last five bull elk that I have killed with a handgun, four I took with a revolver. For me, this says it all: if you hunt a bull elk with a revolver and are successful, it just doesn’t get any better than that!
As I said, four of the last five bulls I killed with a handgun have been with revolvers. It started with a big 6X6 that fell to a Freedom Arms .454 Casull, equipped with a Bausch & Lomb Elite 3000 scope; then some years later a 5X6 taken with another FA .454 with iron sights. Then just two years ago, during the November 2011 season, I smacked a nice symmetrical 5X5 with a custom five shot Ruger in .475 Linebaugh. And this brings us to revolver bull #4 that I killed last season (2012), which is the subject of this story.
During the summer and early fall of 2012, I spent a lot of time scouting my different hunting areas. When I say a lot of time, I can back that up with the fact that I actually filmed five different herds of elk, and each one had a great herd bull. The biggest bad boy I filmed was a truly big and massive 7X7; he had about 35 cows with him. One particular big bull I didn’t quite get on film was a huge symmetrical 6X6. Out of all the bulls I found, he is the one that I coveted, and hoped to cross during hunting season. There is just something about a great big six by six that catches my attention.
During my scouting trips, I also found and filmed several nice mule deer bucks. It looked like the hunting season was going to be very promising.
I mentioned my custom Ruger .475 revolver. I was shooting a stout load with H-110 powder and a 400 grain Hornady XTP bullet. I practiced from field shooting positions all summer, and felt confident I could do my part on a nice bull. The previous year I had dropped a 5X5 bull with this combo at a lasered 103 yards.
My season finally rolled around. It was actually the fourth elk season of the year, not really the best for hunters but the easiest to draw; that’s why I went for it. The elk had already been hunted hard, but I would hunt harder. I had some good spots picked out, or so I thought.
Opening day I could not find an elk. Not even a cow. I checked all of my hotspots; the results were discouraging. As I said, these elk had already been hunted very very hard. It was time to go to Plan B. Then it dawned on me. I had no plan B! I had been so confident, with my video footage and all, that I would not need a Plan B!
As sometimes happens when you least expect it, a door of opportunity can open up. That is exactly what happened the afternoon of day 2. I was scheming where to hunt next when a small area I had known about but not really considered, just popped into my mind! Why not give it a try, I thought. I hadn’t scouted it, as it was out of the way and consisted of mostly heavy black timber, but a little voice told me the elk might find it a welcome hiding spot under all the hunting pressure. I could hunt it in an afternoon, so I said OK, let’s try it.
My son Joe was with me, and we were attempting to film our hunt. Joe had a mule deer tag, and he was very accomplished as a cameraman, so we started out into the timber together. Soon it was evident that I may have found a honey hole, as there was fresh deer and elk sign everywhere. As we silently slipped through the trees for several hundred yards, I could suddenly smell elk.
Yes, it’s true, when you are in the close vicinity of a herd of elk, especially during the rutting season, you can smell their urine. It’s a strong musky scent, and not easily forgotten.
My heart was hammering, and I turned back and motioned to Joe. He knew it also: we were close! Five more slow silent steps, and I began seeing tan patches here and there through the trees. I froze in place, and unholstered my .475. Elk right ahead at 60 to 70 yards!
It was at that moment that the sweat started pouring from my forehead into my eyes and down my face; my armpits started a shower of perspiration so it seemed, and I felt a shiver of pure cold ice water go down my spine. Amazingly at the same time all this extra body fluid was flowing, my mouth became firecracker dry. The magic moment, the MAGIC MOMENT of TRUTH, had seemingly arrived almost unexpectedly, yet it really was EXPECTED! After all my scouting this past summer, hiking with my bad legs, the horseback trips I took over the mountain trails and then returning as darkness closed in; my filming all the different elk herds and even finding some that I was unable film; all of my preparation and even some of my dreams, were now suddenly transforming into a nice payback for me at this exact moment in my life; right in front of me and RIGHT NOW!
My breathing suddenly slowed down, almost becoming labored, as my tongue stuck to the roof of my sandpaper dry mouth. I instantly went into my instinctive “hunt mode,“ trying to melt into the scenery, trying to become invisible as I slowly inched forward, sneaking one step at a time, ever so stealthily, ever so quietly, like a whisper of death. My son followed me in the same mode; he was up to the task; bless his heart, I trained him well.
After several moments of eternity, and probably a progress of 20 yards, through the myriad of pine branches, I could make out “massive branches” that were moving very oddly; YUP! It was the herd bull; his head moving up and down and along the ground as he grazed on forest grasses. He was a great big 5 by 6 with long massive antlers; definitely an old bull that should have been a 6 by 6 except for an accident to his skull earlier in life. At the same time I made out two cow elk that were staring me down, and several others could be seen in parts and pieces through the trees, including another nice but smaller bull.
I froze for a moment. There was a gulley just ahead of me, and I moved forward then slowly sat down with a tree directly to my right. Joe had remained back a ways; and I hoped he had a decent camera angle.
The big bull was barely 55 yards away on the other side of the gulley, facing left to right. He seemed oblivious to me; apparently relying on his harem of cows to warn him of impending danger.
But they did not. They just stared at me. And at Joe behind me. I could smell the acrid scent of the herd bull and the urine he perfumed himself up with: THAT was why they were not alarmed. They could not smell us with the wind to us, and we had apparently made a nice noiseless entry.
With my Custom Ruger in my hands and my elbows on my knees, I placed the red dot of the JPoint sight on the bull’s chest. My concentration intensified as I studied my sight picture. The bull still had his head down, and some of his chest was obscured by branches, although I could easily have slipped a bullet in about 3 inches behind his shoulder through a six inch opening. But I had already determined that I wanted to try and break both shoulders so this bull would go down quickly. The LAST thing I wanted was for him to run wounded down the gulley, even if he dropped within 50 yards. The going was too steep if he did, and then I would have had to go get my horses to pack him out.
Some have never packed out a big bull elk, but if you have, you understand. In reality I really do enjoy packing them out with horses, but more so for my clients. Because that way at least, I am getting paid for the extra work!
Soooo…, my sight picture was steady on his chest, but I could see that if he took ONE more step forward, his right broadside shoulder would be all clear of branches, so I waited, and waited, and breathed shallowly, and sucked dry air, my tongue burning, and yet still waited, for an eternity or more. All the while knowing that I COULD take the shot, a good lung shot, but by waiting I could blow it all if he suddenly spooked or took MORE than one step forward!
I waited some more. Then some more and then…well, by golly, magically, the big bull TOOK ONE STEP FORWARD!
In one fluid motion, almost like it was choreographed, my red dot settled in the center of that great shoulder and the trigger broke. The Ruger roared with recoil and that 400 grain Hornady bullet centered that bull’s shoulder. He stumbled, then turned to his left, right leg useless; and struggling to keep his feet, he clumped and wobbled uphill about 25 yards and then collapsed, right in the middle of a tiny "park," or grassy area, within the trees. Game over.
All my scouting, all my hard work, all my planning and all my expectations: had led to this final moment of success!
The 400 grain XTP bullet broke the onside shoulder, took out both lungs, and exited the opposite shoulder. My big bull gross scored over 320 and will go in the SCI record book for handgun hunting.
Hunters Eye Video Productions
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