Campfire Talk Part 14 with Larry Weishuhn

05 November 2012

During the years I worked primarily as a wildlife biologist and occasionally as an outfitter/guide I was a bit judgmental! I admit it. Do so freely and probably still am! But back then that it part of my job. Beyond often booking the clients to hunt the ranches I managed I also did the guiding. So it was up to me when they arrived in camp to “evaluate” them quickly to hunting experience to determine which hunters might be able to hunt on their own without a guide, if they so wished, and those there was no doubt would need help and possibly even some supervision. I looked at several things. Did the hunting boots they were wearing appear to have been broken in and been worn a fair amount in the past? What kind of guns were they going to use on the hunt; did it look like they’d ever been in the woods before? That said I loved seeing hunters show up with Ruger Number 1 single-shots rifle. That almost always indicated experienced hunters who were always excellent shots! But one the primary things I looked at was what size and kind of hunting knife did they have strapped on their side. Frankly, the bigger and longer the knife, the less experienced they were, which they normally fairly quickly revealed by how they handled their guns and how they talked about past hunting experiences. And conversely the shorter the knife blade, the more experienced hunters they really were. During my early years as a wildlife biologist I worked for Texas’ Wildlife Disease Project and State inter-agency agreement between the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and Texas A&M University’s Department of Veterinary Pathology. And during those early years I took or collected and then necropsied many, many deer and other wildlife species. A sharp knife was imperative! During those years of taking apart lots and lots of deer, even though I had essentially grown up in the woods, and as youngster had once thought to truly be an outdoorsman I needed to carry at least a 14 inch or longer blade “Jim Bowie knife”, I soon learned better! As a hunter, biologist, researcher I soon learned any blade longer than my index finger was a waste of good metal when it came to knives. A blade longer than the index finger cannot be truly “controlled” when gutting an animal, particularly when reaching into the abdominal and thoracic cavity to remove heart, lung and the rest of the viscera without cutting thru the sternum when you’re saving the cape of a buck you’ve just taken. I learned too, the best blade design when it came to hunting knives was a slight drop point, rather than an upturned point (clip blade), or for that matter any other style blade. I realize in so saying there are likely those who will disagree, and that’s fine! Why the talk about hunting blades? As this is being written it’s the night before the opening of the general whitetail rifle season in Texas, and, I have just returned from a highly successful elk hunt on the Motherwell Ranch in Colorado, a hunt set up for me by my old friend Jim McCarthy of Jim McCarthy Adventures (717-652-4374). Before talking about whitetail, let me tell you a bit about my Colorado elk hunt. It was snowing pretty hard when we flew into the Hayden/Steamboat airport. I wasn’t the only hunter on the plane by any means. Several of those on board were guys and ladies I had run into in previous hunting camps and outdoor shows. So the flight over with my cameraman Derek Harris was a fun one. And as I mentioned when we landed there was snow on the ground and more falling. A quick 40 minutes later were at the Motherwell Ranch, checked the zeros of our guns, mine a Ruger 77 Hawkeye Africa in .375 Ruger topped with a Zeiss variable Duralyt scope and shooting Hornady 270 grain SP ammo. My rifle was still dead on at 100 yards, where I had sighted in before leaving Texas. The next day and a half I hunted with Clay Owens and Jim McCarthy in the snow. We watched it snow, we walked in mid-shin deep snow, and we even threw a snow ball or two. But we didn’t see many elk. We saw LOTS of elk sign including dropping, tracks, beds and the like. But the live elk eluded us! I should also mention we saw numerous fresh black bear tracks. The bear were obviously “moving” trying to find dens and that last little bit of food before a long slumber. Others in camp fared better that we did and soon there were no less than four nice bulls hanging from the meat pole. The elk herds we hunted were migratory elk. And by the time of our hunt the last days of October the breeding season was over and we heard very few bulls bugling. Herd bulls has split from the cows and calves for the most part. So we were continually on the look out for a fresh, large, single set of elk tracks. Mid-day of the second day we set up my Zeiss spotting scope and watched distant herds of elk coming out of the high country as the snow became deeper. Where we hunted the elevation was around 9,000 feet. With the deepening snow at the higher elevations, covering forage, the elk started down slope. Late that afternoon we saw lots of elk. Lots being defined in terms of 150 to 300 or more elk. we did spot some bulls but mostly youngsters with the cows. That afternoon rather late we decided to head down mountain, and drove toward the lower country. We had just started going down when Clay and I both spotted two big bull elk, one easily a 6x6, scoring about 300 B&C an the other nearly as big. Both were running up slope. Hurriedly we turned around and did our best to head them off, a mile or so up the mountain. We jumped out of the pickup and headed toward a meadow where Clay thought the elk might go. We found lots of tracks but not the big bulls. We did pick their tracks however. Shortly after we had seen them going up slope they turned around and went back down the mountain. We followed them until we almost ran into a heard of about 60 elk, including three nice 4 to 5 point bulls. I’ll have to tell you I was tempted by one of them... But I let Clay talk me out of shooting. By the time we “worked” our way around the elk herd, it was almost dark... We retreated to camp to a meal of prime ribs, prawn and calamari, among other things. Tough duty...but DELICIOUS! Next morning we headed back toward where we had seen the bigger bulls the day before. We found elk immediately, but before we could get to where I could get a decent shot (meaning less than 400 yards), the entire herd including a 5 point bull I was considering had already passed into one of the Motherwell Ranch’s “Safe Zones” where no hunting is allowed. With that we decided to head to another area. Clay volunteered to save us some steps by going to retrieve the pickup and meet us on the road. Jim, Derek and I walked to the designated pick up spot. No sooner we got there than Clay came “roaring up” indicating us to quickly get in. “Walked right up to a really nice 5x5 on my way back to the pickup. Let’s see if we can get on him!” We turned around and headed to the short ridge where Clay had seen the bull, stopped the pickup, we got out and started walking up the ridge. No sooner were we about to top out when we spotted a small herd of elk, including a really nice 5x5. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to get a shot... The elk ran down toward a valley next to the road we had driven there on. We watched as the elk skirted a dense creek bottom a little of 300 yards away. Clay and I spotted the 5 point at the same time. I quickly set up my BOG Bear RLDs shooting sticks. At the same time Clay started working his elk call in hopes of stopping the elk for a shot. The bull slowed and then stopped, I looked back at Derek Harris, my cameraman, he showed me a thumb’s up and whispered, “Shoot when you’re ready...” By then the Zeiss Duralyt’s crosshairs and small dot were just below the top of the bull’s back. “Three hundred ten yards,” I heard Clay say as he checked the range with his Zeiss Victory RF binocs. I knew my hold was good! I gently tugged the trigger. The hold looked good. I knew with the 270 grain Hornady load the bullet should strike the target about 10 inches low. At the shot the bull bucked up high then ran behind a screening of brush as I quickly bolted in another round and tried to find my target. “Cows, but no bull...” I heard Clay say, I think he’s probably down just beyond what and where we can see. “I know the hold was good and I should have hit him right behind the shoulder.” I replied... You can probably guess the outcome of my elk hunt on the Motherwell Ranch in Colorado, but to see for sure you’ll have to watch my “Dallas Safari Club’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show. The Motherwell Ranch hunt will likely air in early August, 2013 when the show debuts on The Sportsman Channel.... Whitetails... Oh Yeah...Guess we’ll have to address those next week. Hopefully we’ll both have successful hunting stories to share. I wish you the very best of successes. Don’t for get to send us photo of animals you’ve taken while hunting from our Nature Blinds...