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The First and Last Elk

As the sun sets this time of year, frigid cold air rushes in to fill the void left by the sunlight. We watched as the last few glimmers of the sun disappeared over the cloudy horizon, the cold grip of winter seemed to tighten around us in the eerie silence. My son, my cousin and I, sat in the snow regaining our composure as natures evening show came to a close. It had been a busy day, and we finally had a moment to pause.
For the past few months, we had been following the habits of a small herd of elk that live in the steep and rocky mountains that surround this valley. You likely read about our previous encounters with them, only last week I took one of the herd myself after we got into them. My son still had a tag, and he hadn’t burned out yet, so we had returned to fill it.

The temperature inversion turns the valley into a cold cloudy soup

This time of year, getting up the mountain early doesn’t seem to have the benefits it does during the normal season. The cold temperatures, and the lack of hunting pressure have animals out and about during the daytime. Deer, elk, coyotes, etc. can all be seen and heard during the day, and its a great time to just be out there. Once we got above the cold fog in the valley, there was a beautiful sunny day waiting for us.
This nice buck sat and watched us from 300yds for the better part of a couple hours

As Junior and I made our way up into the canyons, I scoured the draws and hill’s where I expected to see our herd. Moving slowly, we would stop every so often to glass the brush covered ridges. It is amazing how little it takes to conceal a whole elk. I hadn’t even planned on shooting anything today. I figured we would go for a nice ride up in the sunshine, and if we were lucky, maybe spot the herd on some distant, miserable, and untouchable ridge line.
It is of course Murphy’s law, that as soon as you least expect something, or ill prepared for it, that something will happen. This was the case, as Junior and I rounded a turn, and my eyes focused on familiar brown and tan shapes that stood above us on a slope. Four of them, kicking away the snow to find the grass underneath. Not wanting to spook them, we quickly and quietly grabbed our gear, and made our way to a clearing. Once we had gotten a good position, I helped Junior get his rifle setup over a pack. It was a fairly steep angle, so we had to build a little taller position to get him comfortable. In just a few moments, we were fixed on our target.
Our girl

There were four elk visible, all cows and calves. This herd had once numbered six, besides the one I had already taken, the missing one must have been just out of view. There was a single elk off to one side of the herd alone, and her broadside position made her the ideal target. While Junior prepared himself, I hit the elk with my rangefinder. The distance to our target was 540 yards, not a short distance. But I knew he could pull it off, as he had done before. We had practiced as much as time would allow.

A shot like that requires a good rifle, and my son carried it in his hot little hands. A custom Remington I had put together for him the year preceding. It was a sixteen inch .260 Remington, today it wore a Delta P Design Brevis II 6.5, and a Minox 1-6X30 scope. Junior had shot this rifle with great success, and it fit his stature. Well enough to shoot his very first Mule deer buck a few months ago at a similar distance.
So now we sat there, ready to shoot, all that was left was the trigger pull.

My son has been hunting with me since he was two or three years old. Even though he has been there, and seen it done so many times, he still gets that pounding heart and feverish excitement when its time to shoot. He was nervous for a moment, but after we locked eyes, and had a little Father & Son pep talk, he calmed down. He resigned himself to it, and I watched through my 8X rangefinder, waiting patiently.
Maybe it was that he needed to just get one shot off to feel at home, or maybe it was the shot itself that focused his little mind. But whatever the reason, that first shot pealed across the slope without hitting the elk. And as if a switch had been flipped, Junior’s demeanor changed, and he was now “in the zone”. After a reload, he re-engaged the elk, and put a bullet into her. She walked a few steps forward, and laid down in the snow. We put another one into her moments later, to make sure she was dead.

The steep hike up the hill to the elk took a little time, but it was very gratifying once we got there. Habitual observances took over at that point. We took some time to take plenty of pictures, and clean her up. The beauty of the snow covered landscape lit by the unfiltered rays of sunshine made the experience even more pleasant. Just a short time earlier, we were covered with coats, hats, gloves and the typical winter gear. The cold fog below had left our beards frosted, and yet in this moment of pristine success, we stood in the sunshine wearing only T-shirts under blue skies.



With the help of a couple good friends who came to help, we tied her up, and drug her down the hill. It took quite an effort, but it was well worth it once we had her back to the truck, and ready to bring home.

As night drew near, the ice cold fog that had hidden the valley from us, worked its way back up the mountain and threatened to envelope us once again. As it does every year, the bitter sweetness of the end of the season came over me. Knowing that we are done hunting for the season brings a somber feeling. The blood dried on the backs of our hands, as well as the freezer full of meat, fills me with satisfaction, and gratitude. These two contradicting sentiments are what give spice and excitement, they are part of the experience that comes with participation in this primal circle of life.
The only thing better than experiencing such exhilarating highs and lows, is doing it with the ones we love the most. I am a very lucky person, being able to share this with my son, and family. We are already looking forward to next year.
-CBM

A First Deer for Junior

The sun set no more than a few hours ago, the closing day of the Utah general season deer hunt. This marks the first year since I began hunting, that I have gone without killing a deer. For years I have anticipated it, not knowing when or why it would come. Every year I would tell myself; maybe this is the year I go without. But through some kind of blind luck, I have always managed to get a tag, as well as a deer to go with it. I wouldn’t have guessed that it would take so many years for it to finally happen, but the beautiful memories that took its place are even better.
2016 was a special year for me, for the first time in my life, I would be hunting with both my Father, and my Son. Surely we had been together many times, but this was the first time that all three of us would be carrying a rifle. I thought for sure we could find three bucks, and what a special hunt it would be, that three generations of my family could once again draw blood. If you read the first part of this story, you are likely to remember the handy little rifle that my son is lucky to have. A pieced together Remington 700, with a 16” .260 barrel, I had loaded it with some PVRI 120 Grain Match hollow points. And whenever the squeeze was good, this little rifle hammered.
After a few adjustments, to make the rifle fit him better, we spent as much time as we could practicing. I would have liked to have him shoot it a lot more, but keeping a twelve year old’s attention for more than a few minutes proved difficult.
But the calendar waits for no one, and so the practice we got, was all I had to work with. Because before I knew it, the deer hunt opener was upon us. I drove up the dark and winding canyon roads, my Brother and I discussing the plan for the day, while my Son sat quietly in the back. The day was as usual on public land general season, armies of orange covered every vantage point. But despite the state wildlife agency’s prognostication of a great season, we never got to put eyes on a deer with antlers. It did however give Jr. plenty of opportunity to practice his trigger pulls, and prepare himself for the moment that would surely come.
Practice, practice, and more practice.

Day after day went by, miles and miles of hiking, glassing, and chasing. But we still never got to put our eyes on a buck through a rifle scope. I had on several occasions had the opportunity to shoot a buck, but I had promised myself that I would do so only after my son had his chance. It was really starting to weigh heavy on my conscience, it had never seemed so hard to get on a buck, even the little ones seemed to be out of our reach.

Though the hunting wasn’t going as well as I had hoped, we certainly enjoyed good company. Like always, we hunt together as family, and for good reason.
After five days of fruitless efforts, I was beginning to loose my cool. As the weather finally turned sour, my hopes for success were peaking. But when even that didn’t provide us a good opportunity, I was quite frustrated. Luckily my Father was there to help me see the big picture, as well as the little guy who was watching me.
Ready to conquer the mountain

Just when I had lost hope, and the dreaded sun came out, threatening to send all the deer to bed, things changed. My good friend signaled me from the opposite side of the ridge we had straddled, and I wasted no time getting to him. He quickly pointed out a deer he had spotted across the canyon, and for the first time in a few days, the fire inside me was lit. I hustled back to where my son was waiting, we scrambled our gear together, and made our way back to a good shooting position across the canyon from the young buck.

His antlers shining in the mid-morning sun, picking his way down the steep mountain, the deer had no idea what was being planned for him. I helped Jr. get into a good shooting position, and pointed the deer out to him. One of the reasons I opted for the Minox 1-6 optic, was because of the often difficult task of getting inexperienced shooters on target. Less magnification helps easily spot distant targets by not taking away the big picture.
Jr. had on many occasions used the 6X to engage targets at 500 yds, and I had used it on targets to 800yds. Contrary to popular belief, huge magnification is not as big a deal as some people would make it.
After a few moments, Jr. picked out the distant buck. He steadied his little rifle, and I had him dry fire a couple more times, just to make sure it felt right. When I was convinced he was ready, a round was chambered, the bolt closed up tight. I watched as close as I could, barely breathing, listening, waiting. The deer turned broadside, giving us a perfect shot. My mind raced over all the steps we had worked on, steady the rifle, breathe out, squeeze. I could only wait now to see if it all stuck.

As I heard his breathing pause, the rifle pulsed into his shoulder, and the subdued report of the rifle hissed across the dry grass before us. I watched in suspense as the trace peaked across the 490 yards that separated us from our prey. The bullet struck the deer, right behind his left shoulder, perfect elevation. I watched the rippling waves of energy as they were soaked up by his body. His rear legs collapsed, and he fell immediately to the ground, and slowly slid down the steep slope. As he slid, I saw blood pour from the exit wound, flowing down his side. He slid some 20 yards into a large brush pile, where we lost sight of him.
The satisfaction of a perfect shot, that was so long in the waiting, a shot that I alone had been anticipating since the day he made me a Father. As I hugged my boy, I was reminded what made this year so special. It wasn’t filling three tags that made it special. It was standing next to my Dad, holding my son, having just made a perfect shot, on his very first deer.
After some high fives, and a congratulatory hug from Dad and Grandpa, we decided to empty our backpacks, and head down after him. I could see a different attitude now, Jr. had been along on who knows how many recoveries. But this one was his. He had been dying to try his brand new virgin skinning knife that his uncle gave him for his birthday last year, and finally the moment had arrived.
As we hiked into the brush filled draw, I happened on the blood trail where the deer had slid down. I stopped there to see what my Son would do. He quickly followed the trail down hill to the buck, I had already spotted it, but I followed behind to let him find it on his own, and feel that rush and sense of accomplishment.
Perfect shot placement, should be the goal of every hunter.

He was very excited, but I took a moment to remind him, the importance of respect and reverence for such a beautiful animal. We took pictures, and admired him for a time. Then quartered him up, and put him into our backpacks.
I was certain that there would be significant whining as we hiked the half mile back to the four wheeler. But to my surprise, he quietly followed me, he rested when I rested. When he did mention how hard it was, and how his legs hurt, I told him the truth; A week from now, you might remember how hard it was, and how much it hurts. But by next year, you’ll have forgotten, and want to do it all over again. And the memories, of all the fun we’ve had, are ours to keep forever.
So I sit here, listening to the thunder, and the winds blowing outside my door, as the storm I needed finally arrives. My melancholy has turned to a feeling of satisfaction, sharing one of life’s exciting moments with two of the most important guys in my life. What more could I ask for?

-CBM

Cow Elk Hunt 2015

The snow has finally come here to the Wasatch Mountains, the last few storms have left our mountains and valleys white. For those of us that love to hunt, this is a special time of year. Several members of my family had drawn some late season cow elk tags, and the lure of an adventure and putting hands on elk was upon us. The nature of these late season hunts is very dependent on the weather, and the animals reaction to it. We run the odds of timing it just right, when there is enough snow to push the animals into a location where we can get them, but before there is too much snow to be able to get in there ourselves. The last few years have been pretty poor snowfall, so we run right down to the wire as far as season limits. This past weekend was the last few days for my cousin, his tag expired yesterday. Luckily we finally got into them, as they made their way towards wintering grounds.
The start of our hunt Saturday morning was a bitter one, the thermometer was showing six below zero as the pale early morning light made its way over the windswept mountain tops. It was hard to tell yet if it was clouds accumulating at the peaks, or if it was just dusty dry snow being blown into the sky. We found our way to the end of civilization, or at least to where the roads were impassable. It was there that we left the warmth of the truck, and traded it for the speed and mobility of the snowmobiles. We made our way up the snow covered trail, stopping every now and then to do some glassing, and knock the ice from our face masks. On one of those stops, we lucked out, and stopped just over a rise. As we sat there looking around the valleys and canyons that surrounded us, talking quietly about the next planned move, my eyes caught a glimpse of brown. I quickly brought up my Swarovski rangefinder for a closer look, and to get a solid range. It came back 408yds. Had we gone even fifty or so yards further, we’d probably of spooked them. But there they were, a spike and a few cows, some standing, some sitting. My cousin steadied my SRS over his backpack, and located the best looking target. A young cow, laying in the snow. With the sharp crack of the shot muffled by the cold dense air, and surrounding snow, the shot went over without much attention. Except for the one elk who felt it, the bullet found its mark perfectly, hitting the snowline just in front of the bedded animals shoulder. It pulverized her lungs, and she rolled her head back, and expired.


The entry hole of the 300 grain Scenar

We made the quick little ride up the trail towards her, as the remaining elk slowly scattered. It was a quick and easy drag downhill to get her to the trail, where we gutted her, and put her into the sled. The below zero temperatures froze the blood so quickly that it turned pink as soon as it dripped. All said and done, we were back having steak and eggs by 11:00AM, some days are good like that. Anyone who hunts elk with any frequency knows, there are good days, and then there are “other” days.


Blood froze on contact to my subzero rifle

Having had an easy hunt on Saturday, with time to get home, and quarter up the elk, I was quite rested come Sunday morning. I woke up lazily, and after making breakfast for my kids I decided I’d go into town to get a little shopping done. But, as I mentioned previously, timing is everything with these hunts. And I couldn’t let the perfect window of time go bye, so I decided that before my shopping trip I had better stop bye my spotting position, and make sure that the elk hadn’t already moved into their winter grounds. The smooth hills that lay some 3000ft above my home happens to be the chosen winter grounds for a habitual herd of elk. Every year, I can narrow them down to one ridge. So I threw my spotting scope, and tripod into my grocery getter, and drove to my spot. After spotting a good mess of deer, including some great bucks, the H32 reticle in my spotter landed right on the herd. I counted 14 of them, three or four bulls, and the rest were cows or calves. In a moments time, my shopping plans had been shot, and I was making one call after another trying to scramble the team.

The small herd of elk as seen from 2-3 miles away

Two and a half hours later, my brother in law, myself, and my cousin, wearing our still bloody snow gear from the day before, were making our way up into the blinding white canyon that held our prize.

We got to the spot I had formerly planned to start our stalk. We stopped for a moment, to check for the elk. And as I’d hoped, there they were. Not fifty yards from where I had spotted them three hours and two and a half miles ago. We left the snowmobiles, and launched into an uphill battle that would claim most of my days calories. Our design was to skirt the opposing ridge line as we climbed parallel to the elk harboring flat. Point being to get a better angle, allowing for a better shot and selection. The waist deep snow made for a miserable hike, but a fantastic solid and comfortable rest. We maneuvered into a shooting position that gave us a good view through the gaps in the trees. We had closed the distance to five hundred and seventy-eight yards. And it was time to put practice into action. My brother in law setup on top of our packs, and laid motionless in the snow. As he went over his firing scenario, my cousin setup behind him to spot. And I got into position with my video camera. Once we had accounted for just about everything, he gave the ready signal, and we hunkered down behind our respective optics. He was shooting a Remington 700 custom chambered in the Rocky Mountain favorite 300Winchester. He had already dialed the appropriate 4.0mils into his SS5-20HD scope, and with everything but the trigger pull done we waited…
Being accustomed to overwhelming noise that typically barks from the brake end of that Remington, I was expecting my ears to ring. But again, the viscous atmosphere, and the fluffy snow took all the edge off of the magnum. The bullet found a delightful path through the trees, across the canyon, and I watched it impact right into the left brisket of one of the mature cows. She jumped a bit, took a few steps in our direction, and went facedown into the deep snow. She never moved again. The remainder of the herd looked on, as if confused. But after a second or two, their instinctive distrust of loud noises followed by dropping companions got them turned around. They slowly made their way opposite us, never showing much excitement. We exchanged high fives, and reenlisted to the uphill fight.

Several hours later, we stood over her. As always, I took a moment of reverence for these beautiful animals that I love and respect. We made short work of the cleaning, the hot blood felt good on my frozen hands. The bright red stain on the snow was a stark contrast in a world of white and black.
The early setting winter sun threatened to leave us, shadows were already growing into the east as we finished. My frozen gloves gave no purchase on her slippery legs, but down the steep mountain slope we went. It didn’t take long to get a system going, we sat in the deep snow behind her, and leg pressed. A few yards at a time, we’d slide down behind her and push again. Hours later, we arrived back to the road. Frozen, exhausted, but as alive as ever a man can feel. The cold silence that surrounded us in the endless expanse of a dark and starry sky was beautiful. But with frostbite nipping at my fingertips, the silence was quickly cut short by the roar of a two stroke motor.
We made our way back down the canyon, and to the truck. What an adventure I thought, as I peeled my frozen socks away from my thermals. We’d made it out, pushed our limits, and we won. From the safety of my warm bath, I sat and recounted the days events. Later I called my father and shared the whole experience with him, he loves hearing the stories as much as we love living them. It is in these adventures, and the memories we make therein, that defines me, and brings us together as blood brothers. Love and passion for the hunt, may they never dim.
-CBM

A Rifle for Coldboremiracle Junior

Some of you have seen CBM Jr. following along on some of my adventures, he’s been my little hunting companion since he first came on the deer hunt when he was three years old. He has grown up quite a bit, not missing a single hunt, to the point that he thinks he’s one of the guys in our hunting group. This year marks a special point in his life, as it will the first year that he is old enough to hunt himself. Just last month he finished his hunter safety course, and he is excited as ever to go hunt elk, and deer with the big boys. He has long hunted small game with his little .17HMR, but it surely wont do for anything bigger than rabbits and chucks.


Both my children have come hunting and shooting since they were little.

I had anticipated this for some time, and for the last year or so I have been putting together the necessary parts to put him together a proper rifle, one he can use and be proud of as long as he has need for it. A huge thanks goes to the PR community for helping me get the parts put together for a very economic price.
The game plan I had started with the basics, what action? I wanted this to be good, but cheap. So I figured a good Remington or Savage action would do well, and in short time, I had my hands on a good 700 short action. The next question which I spent a lot of time debating was caliber. Sure, there are plenty of easy options. How many kids start their hunting career with a 243? That was an easy answer, but my kid inherited his Mother’s taste. And he seems to desire elk hunting more so than deer. Granted, plenty of elk are killed every year with 243’s, but I wasn’t sure I wanted something that light for a kid who has big dreams of elk. I also was taking into account the practicality, I already have everything to reload 308, so that would be a valid option as well (downloaded for a small kid of course). So after much debate, going back and forth, I decided to settle on the .260 Remington, the choice of distinguished shooters everywhere. It didn’t hurt that it’s one of my favorites as well, and I have everything I need to load it. Plus, a 260 fits right in that spot; plenty big to hammer any deer or antelope, and just big enough to work well on elk. With the added benefit of still being short action, and modest recoil when downloaded with light bullets, just right for this kid.
So I started looking for a 264 barrel, and to my surprise, I found the perfect barrel for my project. A slightly used pre-cut AAC barrel made for a Remington. It was a 24″ with an 8 twist, but I had a friend cut it down to 16″, and re-threaded for the much needed muzzle embellishments. The stock was made from an old walnut Remington, that I cut down, and did some whittling to fit a smaller framed hunter. I added a pic rail to the front for a bipod mount, and bottom/side flush cups for sling mounting. A bit of bedding compound, and some grip texturing, followed by some keen squirts of Duracote to handsome up the ensemble.

I started out with a very in expensive 120BTHP from PVRI, loaded up on top of 38g of some Benchmark I had been given. With mag feed seating depth, it gave around 2800 fps from the short little barrel. And with very little adjustment, or load development for that matter, I could pound 8″ targets at 500 yds all day long. That’s about all the shooting I’ve done with it yet, I plan on letting him get comfortable with it, and once he has burned up the 500 120 PVRI bullets, maybe we’ll step him up to the 140’s. The muzzle brake you see is basically a thread protector, just a placeholder. The scope is a Vortex PST 4-16 FFP MIL/MIL that I had gathering dust in the safe, its mounted on a 30MOA EGW. Believe it or not, I am into this project for less than 500$ (except the scope of course) Thanks to many who either gave me parts, or their time. It’s a fine rifle, one that any kid getting into hunting would be happy to have.
-CBM