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The elk that fulfilled a dream

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
Oct. 24, 2003
Ron was out early on the second day of the early rifle bull elk season in Colorado's Unit 2, one of a handful of the finest public elk hunting units anywhere. It was still dark when he stopped his 4-wheeler on an old field road that twisted through a maze of cedars, sagebrush and red rocks. As he expected, he soon heard a couple of bull elk bugling insults to each other. A deep-voiced one sounded close.
Rampant bugling occurs all night during the elk rut, usually reaching a peak around daylight when a dominant cow begins leading a bull's harem toward the day's bedding spot. The bull is warning other bulls not to follow and reminding each of his cows that they had better stay in his group and not wander off to another boyfriend.
Ron took off on foot after the aggressive sounding elk such bellowing usually made by a herd bull instead of the often subdued shrieks of lesser satellite bulls. Ron, contrary to the advice of many of today's trophy elk hunters, bugled several times at the bull. (Cow calls are the choice of most big bull hunters.) As the sky lightened, his chase wound through thick cedars, often called junipers in the west. The bull led Ron out into a burn, a huge area burned years ago by the Bureau of Land Management in order to allow grass to grow where cedars and sagebrush had been.
Immediately Ron saw the antlers of the big bull disappear over the horizon, some three or four hundred to the east, the antlers silhouetted against the lightening sky. Another bull was screaming to the northwest and yet another from the southwest. Ron eased into the giant opening, which was heavily sprinkled with the blackened stumps of twisted cedar, and sat down where he could rest his Remington Model 700 .280 on a small log. The burned cedar trunk was lying so that a length of it was lodged knee high above the white grass. He faced the nearest bull.
Second choice
Assuming that the big bull had checked out over into a deep canyon to the east, Ron concentrated on the approaching one. This one emerged from the cedars 300 yards away and it too was a trophy elk. Ron tried to get a reading on his rangefinder but the bull kept walking through light grass that prevented ranging him.
Suddenly, a blood curdling scream, seemingly inches from my brother's right ear, shook both the air and Ron's nerves so thoroughly that he is still talking about how badly it scared him. The big, original bull had hidden his cows and had backtracked to do battle with the bold challenger that had been following him Ron. The completely startled elk hunter peered hard right and saw the bull a hundred yards out looking right and left for the challenger that he had designs on killing. With him was a fine five by five.
For a right hander, the shot was tricky, requiring an awkward twist from a sitting position. At the shot, the beast showed not a flinch. Ron assumed a miss. He worked the bolt, but a fresh cartridge did not advance to the chamber. A series of nervous fumbles followed, including releasing the bolt entirely from the gun. Finally after the world's longest 45 seconds, Ron got the bolt back in and a cartridge into the barrel and sighted on the bull again with the Leupold scope set on nine power because he had been preparing for a shot at the distant second bull.
Still twisting uncomfortably and with the elk looking big as an elephant in the scope, Ron fired a second time. The giant bull collapsed and never kicked. His partner stood around confused before trotting away.
Effective cartridge
Ron's first shot had passed through the liver and one lung, a fatal hit and one that would have caused a big reaction in a smaller animal like a deer. The next shot with the Federal Premium 150 grain Nosler Partition bullet went through the shoulder blade, both lungs and shattered the large leg bone in two on the far side an inch from the fist-size knuckle joint.
For those interested in bullet performance, the Nosler, found under the skin beyond the leg joint, had lost all its front lead core. The rear core had fifty percent of its lead "squeezed" out as it smashed against the bone. I have never see a Partition bullet so damaged. It really did its job on that big bull.
The elk has six pieces broken off his antlers, including almost all of a center brow tine and a big chunk of the third point on one side. I named him "The Fighter" based on the busted antlers and his aggressive defense of his cows.
Regardless of what we call him, he is the bull of a lifetime for my little brother. The bull I got just a half mile away in 2000 weighed about 800 to 850 pounds. A Colorado game biologist estimated Ron's bull at 900 to 950 pounds. Because they rarely eat during the September and October rut and are hyperactive, big bulls lose about 100 pounds during that period. This bull may have been a thousand pounder in August.