Have you ever had a “long distance” phone friendship with folks that had already become friends but you just had yet to meet them? In my lengthy career as an outdoors writer, this has happened on several occasions; most recently up in northern New Mexico with my friends David and Regina Williams.
This husband/wife team owns Hunters Supply, a well-known bullet manufacturing company and they have cranked out literally millions of bullets through the years for not only air gun shooters but also bullets for just about every type rifle made. Hunters Supply bullets have taken everything from squirrels to the most dangerous game. These folks know bullets and when I asked David to give me a wild estimate of how many bullets his company has produced through the years, his answer was “I’d guess hundreds of millions.” After watching he and Regina behind the controls of one of their many bullet making machines, I have no doubt about his answer. On the floor of the warehouse were several pallets containing thousands of air rifle bullets destined to be shipped to the Netherlands. The delivery truck came by that night on the rush order that was to be on a ship heading across the Atlantic in a couple of days.
David recently set a new world record for air guns, hitting a “gong” metal target with an Air Force .308 Texan Airgun at an astonishing 1,007 yards. David is a lifelong gunsmith who as a teenager was the youngest certified gunsmith in the country for a large rifle manufacturer.
For the past several years, David and Regina have been inviting me out to their ranch situated a few miles from Cuba, New Mexico for a mule deer hunt. Mule deer licenses were available over the counter for this unit which just so happens to be smack dab in the middle of “the” trophy mule deer epicenter of the U.S. Each year some monster bucks come from this region. A rifle shot away lays the heralded Jacarilla Apache Indian Reservation, noted worldwide for monster bull elk and eye-popping mule deer bucks.
The ranch is situated on either side of the Continental Divide, in a beautiful valley covered with rolling hills and thousands of Pinyon Pine, Mountain Mahogany, Douglas Fir and Oak. The ranch is one of the most amazing places I’ve hunted. It much resembled parts of the Trans Pecos region here in Texas but with a view of some 10,000 feet plus mountains. I got the feeling of being “back home” in far west Texas while looking at the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
Rather than hunt with my bow on this short hunt, David suggested I use one of his rifles, a tack driving 30-06. This would greatly increase my odds in taking a buck. This is the only time that I can remember in my hunting career that I didn’t feel the need to “test” shoot before a hunt. When David handed me the rifle and gave the “sight in” information, I was thoroughly convinced the rifle would shoot where I held it. My job was to remain calm and keep the crosshairs steady when a big mule deer buck walked out. After all, I was thoroughly familiar with the workings of a Ruger Model 77 and when someone with David’s credentials says it’s “ON”, it’s on!
David had a ground blind situated on the edge of a remote little valley he calls “hidden valley”, it’s not far from the steep grade that leads up to the Divide. A trail leads out of some heavy pinyon pines into the clearing. The spot was a perfect “funnel” where game traveling from bedding to feeding areas would surely cross. David and I settled into the roomy blind a good 45 minutes before sunup, I could hear the distant sound of a pack of coyotes, probably heading to their den after a night of hunting jackrabbits and cottontail. There was rain in the forecast and with an overcast sky, daylight was slow in coming. We were both hoping that the predicted rain would hold off until after the morning hunt. Within minutes after first light, we noted movement on the far side of the meadow. Elk! Out of the pinyons came a big cow with this year’s calf and an even bigger lone, barren cow. Had we been elk hunting, our yearly supply of elk meat was standing within easy rifle range, about 100 yards out. But we were hunting for a buck mule deer. The cows nibbled a bit on the buffalo grass and moved on across the clearing and across the pine-covered hillside.
Then, as is often the case when hunting, there was a lull of about an hour with no game moving. We decided to stick it out for 15 more minutes. Five minutes into our self-imposed deadline, we picked up the flicker of an ear on the left side of the clearing. Mule deer are named appropriately! They do have ears almost as big as that of a young mule! Then, six does came within view and David and I fixed our attention on the wood line where they first appeared. In a minute or so, a big bodied buck eased out into the clearing, following the herd of does. He was not one of the monsters the area is known for, antler wise but he was BIG in body. The shot was an easy one and the buck ran just out of view behind a log deadfall and expired. When David and I dragged him out of the cover to where we could load him in the Jeep, we knew he was heavy. Later we checked his weight at 240 pounds. He wasn’t one of the 300 pound 200 Boone and Crockett giants roaming the hills but he would supply plenty of tasty venison. Later, the rain began in the valley and snow in the high country. We had made the right decision harvesting this buck on the short hunt. Evening was spent around a warm fire with good food and great company. I left David and Regina’s ranch making plans for next year when I will devote more time and wait on one of the giant mule deer this part of New Mexico is well-known for.
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