Young Hunter Takes 300-Class Bull Elk with a Muzzleloader in New Mexico

With his Big Brother Rich Ridder (from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program) by his side, fifteen-year old Kansas native Loren Wiseman unloaded his muzzleloader on a 300 class New Mexico bull elk on October 12, 2009, during the state's annual youth hunting season. Though Loren hunted ducks and pheasants before, this was his first elk hunt, and after missing a large bull the day before, he was excited another opportunity presented itself.Ben Romans
Despite all the preparation, planning, and advice, nothing prepared Loren for his first elk encounter. "We went out and did some scouting the night before the hunt. I've seen elk in pictures, but I've never seen one in real life," Loren says. "The first time I saw a bull I started shaking. Then it bugled and I really started shaking. It was one of the coolest things I've seen. It gave me chills."Ben Romans
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program paired Rich with Loren seven years ago. While they share other interests, it's their joint passion for the outdoors that ultimately fostered their match and what led them to New Mexico--courtesy of the Pass it On outdoor mentorship program (www.outdoormentors.org).Ben Romans
The Pass it On program organizes outdoor sporting opportunities for youth that may otherwise never see a pheasant, catch a fish, or in this case--pursue bugling elk. Because of contributions and invitations from landowners and outfitters alike, the program has helped over 10,000 kids discover the outdoors. "Our biggest need right now is mentors," President Mike Christensen says. "We have over 1,000 kids waiting in the wings for an adult to simply take them fishing, or camping, or do anything else we enjoy about the outdoors. Of course we always need money to keep the program running, and landowners and outfitters to host hunts, but all that is moot if we don't have someone to take these kids into the field."Ben Romans
Bighorn Outfitters donated the muzzleloader youth tag for Unit 15 of the Apache National Forest--one of the state's premier hunting zones--for Loren's hunt. What's more, a production crew was on hand to film the hunt for a later broadcast of Step Outside.Ben Romans
With Rich's coaching, Loren practiced at the range for weeks and even squeezed in a practice round the day before the hunt to make sure everything remained dialed in. The practice paid off. When the moment of truth arrived, Loren made a double-lung shot.Ben Romans
On several stalks, it seemed everything worked to Loren's advantage, then, without rhyme or reason, the animals zigged when he zagged. But hunting in such an elk-rich unit kept morale high and Loren was always ready to chase another opportunity. Some bulls were easier to stalk than others, like this big boy bedded with his back to us. The rut was still in full force, however, and once his harem of cows moved out of sight, he followed, never offering Loren a shot.Ben Romans
In the mornings, elk calling from the valley and neighboring ridgelines revealed their location. Once there was enough light for binoculars, the chase was on, though the shifting chorus of bugles kept us guessing on what direction to take.Ben Romans
We bugled, he responded, and after ducking a weaving behind a few bushes and trees, Loren hovered his scope crosshairs over the chest of a bull, but the muzzleloader smoke made it tough to get a clear idea what happened after the shot. We scoured the area for sign, and after failing to find any hair or blood, we went to the videotape. Cameraman Mark Copley reviewed the footage several times and didn't see anything in the elk's body language that signaled a hit, so Loren chalked up his first shot as a miss but admitted some relief knowing the animal wasn't injured.Ben Romans
At times, the cat-and-mouse game between Loren and the elk seemed never ending. A strong breeze and human scent are the one-two knockout punch for any elk hunt, and every time Loren positioned himself for an ambush, shifting winds forced him to reconsider his location.Ben Romans
On the third day of the hunt, the bulls were especially hot and bulged every two minutes or so as Loren worked in their direction through a maze of brush and trees. It was an intense scene and at one point, Loren's hands shook uncontrollably from all the adrenaline. Finally, masked behind the trees in front of us was a bull. Loren could hear him breathing and walking. The bull stopped broadside 75 yards away, displaying only his vitals in Loren's shooting window. There was a boom, the distinct thwack of a sabot making contact, and a blur of smoke.Ben Romans
The blood trail was thin and inconsistent, but the unmistakable sound of an elk crashing to the ground let us know the bull didn't go far. Guide Dan Adair led Loren to the point of impact and together they followed tracks and blood to a lone juniper tree. Loren's bull lay at the base. Rather than rush to touch his trophy for the first time, Loren circled the scene and paced back-and-forth for several minutes trying to get a handle on the moment.Ben Romans
Success! Once Loren was able to wrap his hands around the antlers and comprehend the sheer magnitude of his accomplishment, the significance took hold.Ben Romans
To say a rush of emotion washed over Rich and Loren would be an understatement. The moment was a true testament to the bond they've developed over the years.Ben Romans
Bighorn Outfitters guide Dan Adair said one of the keys to Loren's success was forcing the bull to do something, rather than waiting for it to do something. "All the guides here have different approaches to hunting elk, and none one of them are right or wrong--they're just different. The past few days Loren has reacted to what the elk are doing. But my favorite way to hunt them is to hit them head on. I like to get in the thick stuff, on their turf, and meet them on my terms rather than wait to see what they do."Ben Romans
While Loren's bull is undoubtedly impressive, it wasn't the biggest, or the smallest he witnessed during his time in New Mexico. Both Dan Adair and Daniel Nicholds of Bighorn Outfitters said the bull was probably 4 ½ years old and a solid representation of what the area has to offer.Ben Romans
It was nearly 10 p.m. by the time Loren got back to the lodge, but it wasn't too late for him to call his grandmother with the news. "I know what time she goes to bed and when I called I think I woke her up, but when I told her I got one, she started screaming and getting all excited," Loren says. "I don't think she realizes how big it is though and how much meat we're going to have in our freezer."Ben Romans