Good times in the Land of Enchantment
If you’ve been following my column the past few weeks, I mentioned that I was heading up to northern New Mexico for my annual mule deer hunt with my friend David Williams who owns and operates Hunters Supply with his wife Regina. One of the largest soft lead bullet makers in the country, possibly the largest, David cranks out literally millions of bullets each year. A lifelong gunsmith, David has been shooting, gunsmithing and learning about bullet design and performance his entire life; he has also hunted extensively over North America.
The William’s ranch is one of the most unique pieces of land I’ve hunted. Behind the home and shop is some relatively gently rolling hills traversed by a deep canyon. Just on the other side is the Continental Divide. My friend Jeff Rice, who’s an excellent videographer, was hunting with us. He took a stunning video of a cow elk scaling the almost vertical mountainside, headed for the divide. I never cease to be amazed at just how tough and athletic elk are! I’ve never felt the need to attempt mountain climbing and scale the almost vertical mountain side to climb to the top of the Divide. David tells me his property goes just over the mountain to the (Pacific) side of the Divide. I’ll take his word for it! Those walls are way too steep for this old hunter. Besides there is plenty of good hunting in the valley.
Early Snowfall Impacts Hunt
Last year, I took a nice mule deer buck on David’s ranch and up until 2 weeks before my hunt, several fine mule deer bucks were coming to water on a daily basis on a pond on the ranch which was the only water source for several miles. But the week before I came there was an early snow that covered the high places and provided water all over the ranch. This snowfall coincided with the bucks rubbing their velvet and the very early stage of the rut which puts deer on the move. The mule deer temporarily abandoned the pond and hunting was tough.
The outdoors and especially hunting is always in a state of flux. During my short hunt, the mule deer temporarily moved out but were replaced by a large number of elk. On almost every hunt I had the opportunity to harvest a cow elk but I didn’t have a tag. Had I been elk hunting, I’d probably been covered up in mule deer. Isn’t that the way hunting often goes?
But we had an absolute ball on this hunt, albeit we returned home with empty coolers. If you’ve never experienced true New Mexico food, you are in for a treat upon your first visit to the area. It differs greatly from the Tex Mex many of us are accustomed to but it’s very tasty. The nearby village of Cuba is home to several great restaurants and the drive from the ranch is short; during the 4 days we were in hunting, we tried them all and I probably gained a pound or two!
Meeting Apache Elder
One of the highlights of the hunt was the opportunity to meet Bob Velarde, an Apache elder that, along with his family, is granted a huge section of the southern part of the 1.5 million-acre Jicarilla Apache Reservation. We joined Bob one afternoon and drove over miles and miles of pristine wilderness mountain land on the reservation. Listening to his tales of the days when he was a boy living in a rustic cabin kept us spellbound. I could only imagine the sights he has seen in his seventy years living in this rugged country.
During the visit, he showed us a circular corral situated at the head of a big draw, constructed of dead cedar tree trunks. The remains of this 100 year plus old structure are still visible. It was easy to imagine Apaches herding wild horses through the canyon and penning them in the crudely but effectively constructed pen.
During our drive we saw countless elk but not a single mule deer. The deer were obviously still present. There were lots of fresh tracks. For some reason our visit coincided with a period when the animals stayed bedded during daylight hours. The Jicarilla, pronounced HIC-O-RIA is a world class destination for hunting trophy mule deer and giant bull elk. But, very economical hunts for cow elk are also available. The hunts are booked through the tribal web site and require the use of a tribal member guide. Bobbie Nell Leonard, Bob’s daughter is a guide on the reservation. Bobbie’s husband Mike is a life-long outdoorsman and has a passion for running mountain lion with dogs. We had the pleasure of visiting with the Leonard’s and learning about some of their adventures in this wild country.
Hunting on the Reservation
The mule deer tags are over the counter in the unit where we hunted but most of the state requires a draw. David tells me cow elk tags are relatively easy to draw in the units where they are available. Bull tags are much more restricted but definitely worth a try. On the reservation, all hunts are controlled by the tribe and are applied for via the website www.jicarillahunt.com. Cost this year for a cow elk hunt is $650 with a guide fee of about $150. One of the most economical elk hunts I know of. Such a hunt gives one the chance to see some awesome country as well as return home with a cooler full of good eating elk meat. Guide Bobby Nell is an excellent source of information for hunting on the reservation. She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
I left New Mexico vowing to return next year for mule deer with David. I am considering using a muzzleloader during the special season that begins in mid September. Most of the bucks will probably be in velvet and in bachelor herds. I hope to be setting a comfortable ground blind within easy smokepole range of the only water source in the area!
Luke’s book, “Kill to Grill, the ultimate guide to hunting and cooking wild hogs” is available via www.catfishradio.org. Make sure and listen to a bit of outdoor talk while on the website.