As the 2018 New Mexico elk rifle season approached, my preparation began. I had made this same hunt in 2017 and began my packing from my revised packing list from the last trip. As I had come on board the Rigby team in September it made sense that I use one of my Rigby Highland Stalker rifles on this trip. I had fitted up both a .275 Rigby and a .30-06 with Mauser Hexalock mounts and Swarovski Z3 3–10×42 riflescopes. These riflescopes have 1” tubes and make a nice combination with the Highland Stalker and do not overwhelm this well-balanced rifle and maintain its trimness and good handling qualities.
I didn’t have any of my favourite handloads available in any quantity, so started where I always do with factory ammunition, Remington Core-lokt. I got a supply of the 140-grain pointed soft points for the .275 and 180-grain round nose soft points for the .30-06. After the initial shooting and zeroing, I stayed with this ammunition as I wanted to spend my limited time shooting and not working up handloads. I sighted them both to 2” high at 100 yards.
Arriving on Friday before the season opener on the Monday, there was some time for scouting. After looking at a particular valley which provided cover, grazing and spotting three active wallows in one tight area, I knew that here was where I wanted to focus my time for the week. The wind was constant at about 10 mph and gusting up to 20 mph and the Aspen leaves were really starting to turn loose, creating what sometimes can be unfavourable conditions. However, there are times that a constant condition can work in your favour if you can adjust to them. Given all of these factors it seemed that the three freshly wallowed locations were the best bet and it is no accident that the elk created them adjacent to these stands of Aspen, providing them with cover in a split second if needed.
After an opening day that moved very slowly, only seeing mule deer does and spikes, things started to change as the prevailing winds began to lay a bit. After a day of watching and waiting I spotted movement in the Aspens up the valley and as I continued to look the numbers continued to increase.
The wind was constant from the south west and the elk seemed to be running their trail with confidence. It seemed best to relocate, using the light and wind and try to create an ambush if possible. Getting down and around in about 15 minutes I was able to get low into a drainage. With myself low and scent low and with both light and wind in my favour, the critical variable became timing. One thing I know is that these elk will eventually find you out. You have to take advantage of every possible tiny and seemingly insignificant advantage. After 10 minutes at this location and sliding up to take a peek over the crest of the drainage, I see that I am about 160 yards directly south of the herd of cows and sub-adult bulls who are ahead of me emerging from the trees. This heard of 60-70 elk is no anomaly and the thought that there has to be a dominant bull there somewhere takes over my mind.
Finally, I see movement in the timber that looks like tree limbs moving but thankfully these limbs are attached to what I nervously hope is my bull. Moving up another foot or so, prone, I finally locate his lower neck just above his withers. Confident of the opening, the shot breaks with a massive whack from bullet strike and so does massive elk movement as the herd explode out of the valley.
On impact the bull nearly flipped backwards tumbling down out of the timber about 200 feet, to rest right out of the trees. For me this is always an emotional ending to a hunt. Things seem to get still and eerily quiet as it all sinks in. These elk are the grandest and toughest of creation, able to go straight up a mountain at high-elevation through deadfall and rocks. Incredible animals that deserve utmost respect.
What a blessing it is to take two grand bull elk in consecutive years and this year to do so with Rigby’s Highland Stalker. Every person’s experience will impact them in a different fashion and elements of a hunt will have varying importance. For me it is important to use traditional rifles and cartridges. The Highland Stalker is a fantastically versatile and practical rifle. As for the .30-06, Col. Townsend Whelen may have said it best in a 1947 issue of ‘The American Rifleman’ when he wrote: “The .30-06 is never a mistake”. This has proven true over my life using this cartridge and now in combination with a classic rifle. I will take a liberty here, ever mindful of my respect for Col. Whelen, “The Rigby Highland Stalker in .30-06 is never a mistake”.