This is a picture of our hunting group right before we started the field dressing (which took about 3 hours) and then hiked the 3/4 mile back to the trucks at 9pm and then after driving back to the cabin, spent another 2 hours cleaning and hanging all of the meat. We weren't smiling as much at 12:30am. The shot is just the beginning.
So onto our hunt. We arrived in Pinetop-Lakeside Thursday afternoon. Opening Day was Friday. Friday morning our group met a local friend of a friend who took us directly to a mountain in our unit. We glassed for a total of 10 minutes before spotting a herd of 8, which consisted of a single 2 point bull and 7 cows. Our hunt was an anterless hunt. We were about 450 yards away at a very steep angle, with nothing to rest our guns on, so instead of trying a standing shot we were sure to miss, we tried to close the gap. At about 350 yards, they had us made and at 300 yards, the herd took off. Our friend started sprinting down this very steep mountain and told us we were going to cut them off. I barely managed to keep up with him. At one point we looked behind us and didn't see the rest of the group and he made a comment about them "sitting around eating Cheerios". Once we were down in the cedars, I spotted some hind legs kicking up, but that was it, they were gone.
Back on top of the mountain, we spotted the herd again in a draw about a mile and a half away. So we drove the trucks down and set up on this peninsula-like ridge that overlooked the draw and had great views from three angles. We didn't see anything else that morning, but resolved to come back in the afternoon.
That afternoon we came back and as soon as we walked up on the ridge, we spotted a herd of 6 at 218 yards. Jon took three shots, but the adrenaline got to him. I couldn't get my scope on them as I was fully zoomed in. Many lessons learned that day. Later in the afternoon, I had a 120 yard shot at one that was facing me and partially hidden by a tree. I rushed my shot because it was walking behind the tree and missed. That was it for Day 1.
Day 2, we went back to the ridge and as we were walking and cleared the trees in the dark, we spooked a herd of at least 30. No shots taken. We went to our ridge and set up about 150 yards apart at three spots. Each shooter with at least 1 spotter (Jon, myself, and Mike had tags). Rich spotted a cow at 450 yards. I didn't want to take the shot at that range, but Rich convinced me to do it as we didn't have cover to sneak in closer. I took it and scared the hell out of the cow, but didn't hit her. That was it for the morning.
Day 2 afternoon, we came back to our lucky ridge and again set up about 150 yards apart. Jon was on the left, I was in the middle, and Mike was on the right. About 2.5 hours into it, Nick suggested moving to a different spot. I said no way. Good thing we stayed. A half hour later, Jon got on the radio and said a herd of 7 cows was on its way in. Rich spotted the first one as it was walking between trees at 220 yards. As it poked its body out at the next gap, I aimed and shot. Double lunged it with my Tikka T3 .30-06 loaded with Hornady SST 180 grain rounds. It actually broke a rib going in, got both lungs, and then exited (the exit wound is what you see). It jumped out and then collapsed. About a minute later, Jon nailed his with his Savage Axis .270 loaded with Federal 140 grain rounds. At that point, they were gone and Mike didn't have the opportunity to take a shot. Our estimated weights were 350 for Jon's and 550 for mine.
As my first time taking a big game animal, it's been a humbling experience. Being out in that beautiful country with family and friends, harvesting an animal, and being able to go through the cleaning and butchering process (I spent 5 hours yesterday butchering and am only half done) was an experience that will impact me for the rest of my life. An animal's life has been taken on behalf of my family and friends and I feel a little sad about that. I also feel more connected to and appreciative of the entire food chain. I hope I always feel that way.