What’s Happening

September 29, 2014

The 2014 archery elk hunts are in the books. It was an eventful season despite getting 7 inches of rain over 6 days thanks to the remnants of a Pacific hurricane. I did not see the sun or stars for 6 straight days! But somehow, the hunting was hot on the Alan Ranch. Out of 4 hunters we managed to bag three bulls and lost a fourth.


Hunter: Brian Trahey
Guide: Johnny Hughes

We got the ball rolling on the third morning when we spotted a couple of smaller bulls in the bottom of a deep canyon. They were screaming at us and it looked like one of them was headed up to us. We couldn’t see him but we could hear him bugling as he came. The bull popped out on the ridge about 150 yards below us and it wasn’t the 5×5… it was a dandy 6×6! I told Brian Trahey and his hunting partner, Mike Hetherington, to get ready, he’s coming in. I pulled back 50 yards and the bull came in on a string.

Brian shot the bull at 12 yards as he went by heading up to me. The bull walked 30 yards and then fell 30 yards down the slope. Just like that. It almost seemed easy. The bull was exactly what I thought I saw. It was happy time on the mountain.

Mike got his turn on the last afternoon of the hunt. We needed a Hail Mary and that is just what we got. We spotted a good bull with a couple of cows about 3/4 mile away. We slipped within 100 yards of the bull and we could hear him raking a tree with his antlers. I had Garrett, another guide, with us and we told Mike to just sneak up to him and shoot him.

Hunter: Mike Hetherington Guide: Johnny Hughes

Hunter: Mike Hetherington
Guide: Johnny Hughes

That was working until one of the cows busted us and took off. The bull quit raking and started to follow the cows away. I hit the cow call and his head flipped around and he started toward Garrett and I. Mike smoked him with a 43 yard shot. We completed our Hail Mary. Another beautiful bull.

The second hunt started the next morning with Steve and Steven Greer. We promptly called in a cow with a big 5×5 hot on her heals. Somehow we never got an arrow in the air, but we had another bull bugling on the ridge above us. I had to go take care of the bull we killed the night before, so I sent Garrett and the two hunters up the ridge to get in front of the bugling bull.

Garrett did just that and promptly called the bull in. Steven had the bull at 17 yards but couldn’t get a shot. The bull whirled around and ran out to 34 yards where Steven let the arrow fly. The bull didn’t have a chance. He was a big 5×5 with incredible fronts. Unfortunately I have not gotten pictures of this bull.

The next evening, Garrett and I set up Steve near a wallow and we proceeded to try to call a bull in. It took an hour of tandem calling but we finally got a bull interested in us about 3/4 mile away. That bull came all the way in but would not come the last 50 yards we needed for a shot. As the bull stood out there screaming at us, two other bulls were now joining in the fun. With the first bull still standing out from us, a second bull came in and Steve stuck him. After tracking him for 600 yards or so, we lost all blood and could no longer follow his tracks. We never found the bull. It was a bummer way to end the hunt for all of us, but especially Steve.

Rifle season begins tomorrow on the ranches and I should have more pictures in a couple of weeks.




September 1, 2014

Elite has just obtained two unit-wide landowner permits for the upcoming October rifle elk season. These permits can be used to hunt either Oct 11-16, 2014 or Oct 25-30, 2014. The cost of the hunts, including the landowner permit, is $7500.

The remaining dates for the 2014 Alan Ranch rifle elk season are Nov 22-26 (2 spots) and Dec 13-17 (1 spot). The cost of the Alan Ranch hunts is $9500.

Elite has obtained 3 last-minute antelope permits for this upcoming weekend Sep 5-7. The hunts are on a large ranch in northeastern New Mexico and have great trophy potential. Normally the hunts would be $3500, but due to the last minute procurement of the tags, the hunts are being offered for $2800. Book all three hunts and we will sweeten the deal.

Call Brad at 575-937-4094 for more info.



June 11, 2014


The summer walleye fishing in South Dakota is hot! As a result, Elite is expanding operations to take advantage of this opportunity.  Elite is joining forces with New Evarts Resort to be able to accommodate additional anglers. For more information call Brad, at 575-937-4094.



More Fun with the Axis Deer

Elite’s next group of  Axis hunters on the Wade Ranch were brothers, Kyle and Willis Taulbert of Seminole, TX. This hunt was the third year in a row Kyle and Willis had hunted the ranch for Axis deer.

Let me give you a brief history of their past two hunts. The first year, Brad and I guided them in March on a hunt for Axis in velvet. They both took nice bucks on the first morning of the hunt.

Last year, the Taulbert boys came in the summer to go after hard-horned bucks. They both took good bucks within the first two hours of arriving at the ranch.

This year, after hunting hard with Ted Pentecost the week before, coupled with the fact that I would be guiding both Kyle and Willis with no other guide, I was not anticipating a quick hunt.

But I should of realized it was the Taulbert brothers. Their previous hunts had been relatively easy and why I doubted them this time, I don’t know.

Kyle and Willis planned to drive into the ranch and all the way to camp, since they knew the way. They pulled up late in the afternoon. After some greetings, they informed me they saw two good bucks beside the road on the way through the ranch. “Really?” I remarked. My ears certainly perked up with that news.

It was no joke. We had already caught a break it seemed.

I had them shoot their rifles to check zeros. It took only one shot each to show we were ready to hunt. It was now time to go see if those bucks they saw were still around.

We loaded our gear into my pickup and went to have a look. As we approached the area where they saw the deer, sure enough, we spotted the Axis bedded under some trees about 100 yards from the road. I saw both bucks and a herd of does. I saw enough to know they were both shooters.

I never stopped as we drove by the deer. They are accustomed to seeing vehicles going by here as we were on the main road into the ranch. I wanted to assess the situation on the pass-by and hopefully get downwind and put the sneak back on the bucks.

The pass-by revealed a problem with this plan. There were about 10 axis does located between us and the bucks if we attempted an upwind stalk. I feared we wouldn’t get close enough to see the bucks before the does busted us. The chess pieces were in the wrong places. Normally, we don’t like to shoot from near the vehicle because we don’t want to get the deer associating danger with said vehicles.

But after some brief deliberations, we decided the only course of action that made sense, would be to just drive back up the road, stop, and then figure out how to get a shot. We did just that. But this time as we eased past, we could not find a clear view of the bucks through the trees to stop and get a shot.

I finally had to stop before we went completely past them.  The deer were starting to get antsy by this time. They began getting up and looking like they were about ready to change zip codes. We didn’t have a good shot opportunity regardless of what happened next, so I resumed going up the road to try and keep them from running off.

The best we could tell, the deer moved a little down the ridge but did leave. We continued a safe distance up the road and turned around, again. Still, none of us saw a better option available to us other than to take another drive-by and then stop to attempt a shot.

This attempt would be the third pass-by on these Axis and we knew it would be our last. What’s strange, is that Axis normally haul buns the first time they see a vehicle, especially when it stops. Maybe it was the proximity to the main road, but for some reason, they were being amazingly patient with us.

So, back down the road we went. When we approached the Axis, some of them were starting to bed again just down from where we last saw them. This time we had a clearer view. The only trees in the way were the clumps of trees the deer were under.

Kyle was behind me getting ready for a shot, while I was busy looking at the bucks in the binoculars. On the previous pass-by I had gotten a decent look at the two bucks. My assessment was one of the bucks was younger with less mass and less length, but he had phenomenal fronts and cottle tines (inside points). Much better than the other buck.

But the other buck was an old deer with a big frame and great mass. He just didn’t have the lengths in the other points like the younger buck.

The younger buck was standing looking at us, but tree trunks were blocking the vitals from a shot. The older buck was still bedded and all we could see of him was his head and antlers. A contingency of does were all around.

As the does began to doubt the sincerity of our intentions, they started filtering away from us. The younger buck began walking through the trees and each time I saw the deer walk across an opening, I’d say, “Shoot!” Because he was to my left, Kyle’s angle was different than mine and the deer was always blocked by trees each time I said shoot. We laughed about that later.

Hunter: Kyle TaulbertGuide: Johnny Hughes

Hunter: Kyle Taulbert
Guide: Johnny Hughes

Then Kyle shot when I couldn’t even see the buck. Willis quickly said, “He dropped!” I was squealing at Willis by this time telling him to get on the other buck. But at the shot, the old deer bolted out the back of the trees out of our sight.

We approached the buck on the ground and he was indeed down and done. Kyle made a great shot through a tight opening. The buck was exactly what I thought he was. But, our celebration had to be postponed. I wanted to find the other buck that got away from us. We quickly drove around, parked, and then walked up to a high point looking into the draw where the deer had headed.

The three of us glassed for 30 minutes or so and all we found were whitetails. No matter how hard we looked, we couldn’t find that herd of Axis. It was beginning to get dark by that time and I was just about to give up and start heading back to the truck to go take care of Kyle’s buck. Then we heard a roar…

We immediately began scouring the opposite side of the draw in the binoculars again. By this time, the sunset was casting an eerie orange glow on the hillside and the fading light made it difficult to see.

But then we saw him. He was walking through the trees angling down into the head of the draw. I never saw any other Axis at this time. We had maybe 20 minutes of visibility left, so Willis and I quickly took off to intercept him in the bottom of the draw. I just prayed the pesky whitetails stayed out of the way.

We made it into the bottom of the draw and began easing along and glassing. I finally spotted the buck and we slipped up to some trees and set up for the shot. I had Willis get ready on an opening ahead of the deer. Right on time, the buck comes across the opening.

The only issue was a small rise between us and the deer. As he passed, all we could see were his head and antlers. We circled around and tried to cut him off. Then, I saw an Axis through the trees. We quickly set up and again waited for him to come across an opening.

Hunter: Willis TaulbertGuide: Johnny Hughes

Hunter: Willis Taulbert
Guide: Johnny Hughes

And then he appeared. At least we thought it was him. But it was a broken-horned buck. Then, the old buck we were after, stepped out. I told Willis, “That’s the one, shoot him.” The rifle barked and the buck dropped. I don’t know where that broken-horned buck came from, but we had the one we wanted.

The frame on this deer was even larger and more massive than he appeared laying under the trees when I first saw him. But, like I originally thought, he just didn’t have the fronts or cottle tines of Kyle’s buck. But, every deer is unique and we just put two beautiful specimens of Axis on the ground in less than 2 hours.

I had guided 4 previous hunts this summer and for a variety of reasons, NONE of them seemed easy. But the Taulbert brothers seemed to bring their luck with them. They have now hunted three years in a row, taken three good Axis bucks each, and hunted a TOTAL of less than seven hours to accomplish it. That just doesn’t happen. Once maybe, but not three times.

The Daily Double.

The Daily Double.

I graciously accepted the gifts bestowed on us from the hunting gods, but it was now dark and time to hike back to the truck, get the deer loaded, and head back to camp.

The rest of the evening, we ate well, cut up deer, and performed magic tricks by turning full Cervezas into empty Cervezas. The celebration was longer than the hunt itself. Although the hunt was short, it was sweet. Kyle and Willis made both of their opportunities count and we had a lot of fun doing it.

Thanks guys, I look forward to the next time.




Updated 6/29/13  by Johnny Hughes

I just returned from another set of Axis-deer hunts in Texas. I’m happy to report Elite’s hunters went 5 for 5 on good Axis bucks during that time. That pushes the summer-season statistics to 11 bucks/11 hunters.

How many places can you do a high success, guided deer hunt, in the “off season”, and be able to do it for around $2k? Not many. This hunt is one of the best Elite offers and there are still some dates available for August and September.

There is one opening left on the August 26-29 hunt that needs to be filled. It will be the first hunt on the ranch in over a month by that time. Someone needs to take advantage of it. Call Brad and he’ll make it worth your while.

On the elk-hunting front, Brad had acquired another six unit-wide elk permits, but before we could even tell you about them, four have already sold. But the good news is two rifle permits still remain for the October hunt. Again, call Brad at 575-937-4094. He knows the details.

Brad is pounding walleyes in South Dakota as I type. If you feel like you deserve a good fishing trip, then Brad is your guy. He’s got a new 21-foot boat and can put you on fish when no one else can. There’s still openings this summer. I wish I was going…

I’m working on stories and pictures from the last three Axis hunts. They will be posted this week.


Updated 6/1/13  by Johnny Hughes

Axis Deer Season Is Underway!

The 2013 summer Axis season has begun in earnest on the Wade Ranch in southwest Texas.

The first week of the season saw Joseph Graham and myself guiding three hunters, Doug and Dillon Reynolds of Ruidoso, NM and J.B. Smith of Artesia, NM.

The first day of the hunt started swiftly as J.B. and I saw several good bucks but the best one was the first one we spotted that morning and he had a broken tip on one of his main beams. I pulled off of him because of it. For the next 24 hours I slowly began to question that decision as we did not find a better buck the rest of the day.

J.B. put in his time hiking with me much of the day in a spot-and-stalk effort to locate a good buck. In the middle of the afternoon as we returned from one of our forays, I was thinking how whipped I felt. I would later find out that the temperature was 104 degrees F that day. I didn’t feel as bad about being whipped after I heard that. Luckily, moderate temperatures were forecast to return.

Hunter: Dillon ReynoldsGuide: Joseph Graham

Hunter: Dillon Reynolds
Guide: Joseph Graham

During the day, Joseph had father-son, Doug and and 14 year old Dillon with him. They located a good buck that morning and put a sneak to within 200 yards before getting pinned. Dillon then proceeded to drop the buck in his tracks. The first deer of the season was officially down, a good 32-incher.

Doug missed a shot at what Joseph said was a really big buck later that morning. He and Joseph were bummed about it at lunch. I think Joseph was working on an ulcer over it.

But that afternoon, while J.B. and I were sweating our brains out, Joseph and Doug got a break. After Dillon killed-out that morning, he went out after lunch with Joseph’s son Riker looking for deer.  These two teenagers spotted a bunch of does with a good buck. They called Joseph and the posse was on it’s way. Joseph put a sneak on the bedded buck and Doug became the second person to bag an Axis. Although not as big as the one he missed earlier, it was another gorgeous 32-incher. The deer was very similar in size to Dillon’s, only without the massive fronts.

Hunter: Doug ReynoldsGuide: Joseph Graham

Hunter: Doug Reynolds
Guide: Joseph Graham

Riker had planned to shoot an Axis doe during the hunt and after helping J.B. and I check out a herd for a buck, he got his opportunity. He proceeded to make a 421-yard head shot on a young doe. Granted it took him two shots, as the first one flew just over her head, but the young man can certainly shoot his .270. Joseph has taught him well. In my opinion, he’s one year away from being an Axis guide, and he’s only 14.

Meanwhile… I was still thinking about my decision that morning to pass up the buck with the tip of one of his main beams broken. That buck was better than either of the two bucks on the ground and the afternoon hunt for us was tough. However, I knew better things awaited us. At least I sure hoped they did…

The next morning saw J.B. and I back at it on foot with a lot of deer sightings, but we could not find the buck we were looking for. By mid-morning we decided to drive to the opposite side of the ranch. En route, we spotted a group of Axis deer with a smaller buck and a whopper buck included. The deer were upwind of us and had not seen or heard us. We put on a sneak to within 150 yards and J.B. took a shot through a small window in the brush as the deer moved through it.

My heart sank, followed closely by J.B.’s, when I saw the bullet hit the hill just over the buck. That was all she wrote. They were gone. I told J.B. it was a good buck, but I knew it was one of the best bucks I had ever seen on the ranch. He didn’t need to hear that, so I choked it down along with my tears. J.B. was visibly upset with himself for rushing the shot and he needed some time to get his mind back in the game, so we returned to camp for lunch and reflection.

At 1 pm we were headed out for the afternoon and hadn’t made it a mile from camp when J.B. backhand slaps me across the chest while looking out his side of the Razor. “Buck!” he screams. I look over and 200 yards away stands another monster buck! Yesterday, Joseph and Doug got a break. Today, J.B. and I just got a gift-from-the-Gods placed right in front of us. All we had to do was seal the deal.

The only problem was a patch of oak trees between us and the buck. We kept trying to set up and the buck would move. We’d move, set up, and the buck would move again. This went on like 6 times. I was seeing our gift-from-the-Gods about to leave the country. J.B. finally had to crawl into a thorny algerita bush to get to a  rest on a tree with a clear view. This time J.B. didn’t miss. I knew he just killed a monster.

Hunter: J.B. SmithGuide: Johnny Hughes

Hunter: J.B. Smith
Guide: Johnny Hughes

Once we got to the downed deer, he was everything I thought he was. He even had a split G-1 on the one side. In the heat of the moment, I hadn’t even seen the extra point. After a nanosecond of a view in the binoculars, I went straight into Shoot-That-Deer mode. This was a deer that did not need studied.

The buck was 35 inches in length and scored 161 and change as a typical, which doesn’t even give him credit for the extra point. Even without the extra point included in the score, the buck will be #7 in the world for typical free-range Axis.

At that moment, I was so happy we passed up that buck with the broken tine the first morning.  Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. This time, we got the bear.

I don’t know what the live weight of that deer was, but J.B., Riker and I could not lift him into the back  of the Razor. That deer was pushing 300 pounds. We finally got it drug onto the front of the Razor and secured it, or so we thought… We sent Riker back to camp with the buck while J.B. and I went the opposite direction to check on other matters.

Loaded up. Or so we thought...

Loaded up. Or so we thought…

When we got back to camp, we heard Riker going on and on something about “securing”, and “loads” and I’m pretty sure “morons” came up in the excited explanation. It appears mine and J.B.’s conclusion that the deer would ride “just fine” was a little off. According to Riker, as soon as he took off for camp, the deer collapsed into the front seat with him as he was driving down the road. But sharp wits and snap reactions by Riker avoided a near-disaster and he drove the remainder of the way to camp with the deer in the front seat with him.

That night at camp, we were treated to another spectacle I had never seen before. J.B. pulled off his boots and revealed both big toenails hanging onto his feet by almost nothing. He ripped them off right in front of us, grossing us all out. Joseph summed it up with his first comment, “Dude, get some better boots!” But J.B. hung with me every step and never said a word about it. Anyone who can rip both big toenails off their feet at the conclusion of a hunt, is a tougher man than I. You’re solid as a rock in my book J.B.

You know what else? The buck J.B. missed that morning….he was every bit as big as the one he killed.

And still he roams…


Week 2 – Axis Season

After a few days off, Elite welcomed the season’s second group of Axis hunters to the Wade Ranch. Long-time Elite client, Jim Holland of Maple Grove, MN, was making his first visit to Axis country. I first guided Jim on an elk hunt on the Alan Ranch back in 1999. We have since done many more hunts together and I was looking forward to hunting with my friend again after a two-year hiatus.

Jim brought his son Jon and one of his top employees, Matt Richardson, with him on the hunt. Jon hunted with us once before in 2008 on the Alan Ranch. Jon had the dubious distinction of shooting a complete antler off a bull on that hunt. He still has that antler to this day. Matt would be making his debut hunt with Elite this week.

Jake Needham came down from Ruidoso, NM to join me in guiding the hunt. Jake has guided for Brad the past couple of years and has quickly become one of the dominant guides for Elite. This hunt would be my first guiding experience with Jake. After conducting the hunt, I knew it would be just the first of many for Jake and I. He’s the real deal.

Jim and the crew arrived early in the afternoon so after settling in to camp, we all went out looking for deer. Matt ended up going with me and Jim and Jon went out with Jake.

Jake quickly found a really, really good buck and managed to get within 150 yards and set Jon up with the shot. Everything went smoothly right up to the point Jon’s bullet whacked a tree behind the buck as the shot went just over his back. As usual with Axis bucks, rarely is there a second shot when the first one misses. It was no different here. They were gone in an instant. It was a long walk back to the truck. At least they found it…

That night, a monster storm came in and we got two inches of rain in just a few hours.

The next morning we woke to a quagmire from the rain, but it was sure nice and cool to start the day.  I had a hunch where my big buck from the day before might be holed up so Matt and I did a slow, methodical stalk up this draw. We managed to evade some whitetails and eventually I spotted an Axis doe, then another, then another. I figured the buck was close.

I moved over in front of them and just like I hoped, they began to filter across an opening in front of us about 160 yards away. Then the buck I was after steps into view. He was behind a doe and Matt didn’t have a shot. Next thing we know, something was making them nervous and the doe in front of the buck bounded out of our sight.

The buck was now standing there facing us and about to bolt as well. I told Matt, “Shoot him right down the middle.” Matt fires, and the buck just stands there for a couple of seconds looking bewildered. Then he bolted after the does and we were sitting there with egg-foo-yung on our face. A reconnaissance of the scene revealed what I thought I saw… the buck was not hit. Now it was our turn to begin the dejected walk back.

I sent Matt up to a prominent point close to us to look for signs of that herd. Meanwhile, I headed back to the Razor and told Matt I would come pick him up. Two things were about to happen to me before I saw Matt again. The first thing happened as I was walking back when I saw what looked like three small racoons coming toward me. As they got closer, I saw it was baby foxes.

Baby Grey Fox

Baby Grey Fox

I was trying to figure out what to do. I thought about getting my camera, but they were on me by that time. So I hastily decided to run at them to see how hard they might be to catch. The fox in the front hauled buns. The middle one got defensive and was snarling and hissing. The back one ran and hid in some cactus. Ignoring the nasty one, I went over to the third one in the cactus and again began trying to figure out what I should do.

Fresh on my mind was one of Brad’s recent stories about cornering a small raccoon. He reached down and tried to grab it and when he did, that coon latched onto his hand faster than hot cheese. I didn’t want to pull a “Bradley” very bad, so I began rubbing it with a stick. It didn’t try to bite it, so I reached down and grabbed the fox by the scruff of the neck. It seemed docile enough. I put it in my pack and hiked back to the Razor.

The second thing that happened occurred during the drive over to pick up Matt. I was toodling along with the fox when I saw a monster buck a couple of hundred yards from the road. I kept going past the deer and went and got Matt. We came back and we tried to put a stalk on the buck I saw, but we kept running into whitetails. In the delays, the Axis buck disappeared on us before we could find it.

At lunch, we talked with Jake and the boys and they hadn’t found anything they wanted that morning. Realize, Jim and his crew were leaving the ranch by 9am day after next. We basically had a day and a half left to get three bucks. Jake and I were a little concerned about the situation. Instead of one to go, we still had three to go with time running out. Being behind the curve is never comforting to a guide.

So, we did what we always do. We kept hunting. Matt resighted his rifle after that morning’s miss. But due to the ammo shortages, he was only able to get a single box of ammo for the hunt. He now had only four cartridges left…

I kept thinking about that last buck I saw who managed to disappear on me. I wondered if he hadn’t moved into the draw Matt and I just missed the other buck in. That afternoon, I decided to do another stalk up that draw and see if we couldn’t find him. But, he wasn’t there. All we saw were whitetails. We continued on and saw three shooters in a large herd that was moving onto the ranch from the neighbors ranch.

We tried to find those bucks the rest of the afternoon. I called Jake, who was located where I last saw the deer headed, and put him on the alert. Next thing I know, I heard shots coming from where Jake was. I thought they found the group and just got a buck or maybe two! I called Jake and he tells me they just killed a huge feral hog. Not the quarry I was hoping to hear was down.

As the day grew to a close, we still had zero bucks on the ground. It wasn’t looking good.

But the day wasn’t over yet… Just before dark, Matt and I were driving by the ranch dump, when I noticed the gate was open, which it shouldn’t be. I got out to shut the gate when we spotted some axis does filtering through the trees about 250 yards away. I told Matt to get ready. He used the dump gate post for a rest and we waited. Doe after doe passed across and then a small buck. Finally, a mature buck steps out. We were in the last 15 minutes of shooting light and all I could really tell about the buck as he moved through the trees, was he looked heavy and had big brow tines. I told Matt to shoot him.

Matt squeezed off a shot as the buck went across a small opening. The buck went down. After we got up to the deer, Matt had to put a couple of more slugs into the buck to finish it. If you remember, he had only four shots left and now he had a buck on the ground with one bullet left in his gun. Our very own Barney Fife! But to Matt’s credit, he made a very difficult first shot to get this buck.

Hunter: Matt RichardsonGuide: Johnny Hughes

Hunter: Matt Richardson
Guide: Johnny Hughes

Due to the poor light, I didn’t really know how good the buck was when he shot it. Once I got closer to the buck, I could see that his main beams were short. At first, I thought they were broken, but then I realized he had bladed tips on both main beams. I’ve seen elk with this feature, but never an  Axis buck. The lack of length on the main beams was more than made up for by the uniqueness of the bladed points. I knew as soon as I saw the antlers that horn-hunter Jake would like this buck. He did.

Upon closer inspection, the buck’s genitals were not normal. It looked like he had hung them on a fence or something. Ouch! They were still there, but missing lots of hair. We think he grew the freaky antlers because of it.

We had now chipped our remaining hunters down to two with one day left to hunt. Jake and I were feeling a little better about our situation. At least for now…

The next morning, Jim went with me and Jon stayed with Jake. Jim and I spent the entire day in Axis deer, but all we could find were does and immature bucks. We even put on a perfect stalk on a pair of bucks Jim had spotted over 1,000 yards away. But, once we were less than 100 yards from them, we saw neither buck was what we were looking for, so we eased out knowing we “counted coup” on those two.

That afternoon, Matt was at camp while we were out hunting. He decided to take the 4-wheeler into the pasture next to camp. He made it about 300 yards from camp when a huge Axis buck stands up just off the road. Matt quickly calls Jon and Jake. Of course, they are as far on the other side of the ranch as they could get. Baja Jake races the Razor across the ranch, but to no avail, they could never find that buck again. It seemed to be the story of our day.

Late that afternoon, Jim and I were glassing for deer when I spotted a whitetail doe. As I watched her, I could see flickering of movement below her in the grass. Then something stood up, or at least tried to. It was a newborn fawn! We went over to it, much to the chagrin of the doe, and I took a quick picture. The fawn was still wet from being born. I’d never seen one that young. Very cool moment.


Newborn Whitetail Fawn

Unfortunately, it was one of the highlights of our day. The day before I had seen six shooter bucks, and today, I couldn’t find one. And Jake was faring no better up to that point.

But then Jim got a text from Jon saying, “Good buck down!”

Jake and Jon had pulled up to one of the feeders on the ranch to test it and when Jake spun it, an Axis buck roared in the adjacent draw. It sounded like it almost “shock-roared” to the noise or at least it seemed that way. Anyway, Jake starts moving toward the roar when the buck roared again. This time, he is close. Jake spots him and sets Jon up for the shot. This time Jon finished as he dropped the buck in his tracks. It was a beautiful 33-inch deer. Jake said that buck’s mouth got him killed.

Hunter: Jon HollandGuide: Jake Needham

Hunter: Jon Holland
Guide: Jake Needham

That night we made plans to go out in the morning for a couple of hours to try and find a third buck for Jim before they had to leave at 9am to catch a flight. Just before dawn, the skies opened up again and we got another inch of rain in less than two hours. By 7:20am, the rain finally stopped and Jim and I had roughly an hour and a half left to hunt.

I went straight back to the draw where Matt had missed the buck the first day. I knew there were several good bucks I’d seen there and I wanted to give it my Hail-Mary. We had no time to do a methodical stalk, which was what I would have prefered, so I chose to drive into the draw and take our chances with what happened.

Sure enough, we saw a herd moving up the opposite side of the draw and there’s the big buck I had seen two days earlier. They went over the ridge and we planned to go over and try to relocate them.

We didn’t make it 300 yards in the truck when I spotted some more Axis still in the bottom of the draw. Of course, since we’re in the truck, they knew we were there and were exiting stage left quickly. I saw a mature buck taking off with them. I knew where they liked to run to so we turned around and went back up the road to cut them off. Just like clockwork, there they came. We bailed out and got ready. Eight or nine does and a small buck went by, but no big buck.

Hmm… they must have split up. We started looking for them and Jim spotted a group of Axis 600 yards across the draw from us. Yep, there was our buck. We took off on foot to put the sneak on him. We made it to the draw bottom and were just starting to head up to where we saw the deer when the buck lets out a spine-tingling roar not 75 yards away. But we still couldn’t see any of them.

I knew they were working up the ridge away from us so we had to try and move quickly, but to usually win this game, we must see the deer first. So we can’t go too fast. Luckily, the first deer I see is the buck going through the trees. The buck stopped and looked right at us. I asked Jim, “Do you have a shot?” “No.” he replied, “There are trees in the way.” Jim then asks, “Is that him? I can’t see his antlers.” I had seen his antlers before he stopped so I knew it was him and I said so.

The buck turned to run up the hill and Jim shoots as he went across our only opening. The buck’s chin was the first thing to hit the ground. With 30 minutes to spare, we had our third buck. Although this buck was not as large as the one we watched go over the ridge, he was a beautiful 30-incher with impressive fronts.  It was a great moment. A quick text to Jake had everyone in celebration.

Hunter: Jim HollandGuide: Johnny Hughes

Hunter: Jim Holland
Guide: Johnny Hughes

Jim and the boys got out on time and we fulfilled our goal of three good bucks thanks to a successful Hail-Mary. It was good to hunt with my old friend, Jim again. It was also a pleasure getting to hunt with Matt. I see exactly what Jim sees in him..

Thanks guys for another great week. Jim, we’ve still got unsettled business with one of the monster bucks on the ranch.

In case you’re wondering about the fox, I kept it for a day and a half, but I couldn’t get it to eat. He had teeth, but was too freaked by the whole situation. I decided to leave the top off the cage I had it in and figured if he wanted to leave, he was better off than with me. He left in the night. Luckily, there is an abundance of water and bugs to eat. The rest is up to him. I’ll always remember Foxy, though.

Till next time…



Updated 5/11/13  by Johnny Hughes

Yes, you read correctly. You can quit rubbing your eyes. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am to announce Brad and I have worked out our past issues and we are once again ready to combine our efforts to finish pushing Elite completely over the top of the outfitting world.

I will be guiding the Axis deer hunts this summer and fall at the Wade Ranch in Texas as well as helping Brad keep the website updated.

As much as I love elk hunting, I chose to do the Axis hunts in Texas for several reasons. One, the Wade Ranch is a truly special ranch in a special part of the state. Two, Axis deer are possibly even more fun to hunt than elk. And three, the ranch is located only 30 miles from where I grew up, where my mother still lives. The opportunity is a special one and I look so forward to getting back to hunting with Brad, the fabulous crew of guides he has put together, old friends who I’ve hunted with in the past, and the new clients who will leave as friends in the future.

Brad wanted me to tell everyone there are still some openings for 2013:

There are some limited openings for walleye fishing in South Dakota this summer. The walleye are just firing up due to the late winter and some unbelievable fishing is still ahead. Brad is there doing the trips personally.

Speaking of the Axis deer hunts, the early summer hunts are booked, but there are still some great dates for the late summer and fall hunts available. If you didn’t draw and you want to do one of the best  hunts in the world for a fraction of the cost of most guided hunts, then it’s time to seriously consider the Axis deer. I’ll be on every hunt personally and I will promise you, no one leaves this hunt unsatisfied. It’s impossible. Besides, Brad says he’ll give you a good deal if you’re one of our followers…

There are a couple of options left for guaranteed-tag elk hunts this fall. A couple of archery spots have opened on the Alan Ranch and there are guaranteed tags available for any of the Sacramento Mountains elk seasons. Call Brad on the details. 575-937-4094.

Thanks to everyone who stuck with us through the changes. Brad has done extremely well with the company the past two years and I’m proud of his efforts and successes. I look forward to being able to help further his successes.

I’m back where I belong…



Updated 1/5/13  by Brad LaBounty

2012 was a great season with the highest success rate that we have had in years!

98% success on archery
100% on muzzleloader
100% on both rifle hunts with all being great bulls

So, thank you for hunting with Elite Outfitters in 2012.  As most of you know Elite Outfitters has had many big changes in the last couple of years and we are back running at full force and striving to be better than we have ever been.  I can’t thank the team here at Elite enough for all of their hard work and commitment to keep us on top of all the rest.

I appreciate everyone for being patient while we build our new website.  It is taking a while but will be a huge improvement once it is completed. This new site will help aid me in updating the What’s Happening page to keep you all informed of what we are doing and what changes are taking place.  An added enhancement includes a new photo gallery for year to year hunt photos. It is a much easier site to navigate and will look much more up to date.  A huge thank you goes to RuidosoWeb, Corp. (Cynthia and Holly West) for helping us through this process.

Please remember to email, call, or text me to be put in for the draw.  I will be calling each of you but it is best for you to contact me to ensure that you are included.  The application deadline is March 20th.  This is earlier than last year’s deadline so please contact me by March 10th.   Also think about which hunts you plan to apply.  Are you applying for multiple hunts such as Elk, Orx, Ibex, Antelope, Mule deer, Couse Deer, Mountain and Desert bighorns?

I am pleased to announce that we have added another ranch for antelope gun or bow hunts so please call if you have questions or check back soon  for the newly updated page describing the hunt.

The last elk hunt of the season just finished up on the Alan Ranch with Tom Willis, Josh Willis, and Matt Presley.  It was a great hunt and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to finish off the elk season.  Josh has been serving our country and has just come back from overseas.  Thank you, Josh!

During this last hunt we saw about 15 bulls in the morning but couldn’t close the distance, he ended up harvesting a wonderful bull that evening in one of the worst hell holes on the place to pack out an elk.   Huh, Matt?   The next Morning Josh and I went glassing and spotted 28 bulls by ourselves not counting what Jake, Kenny and the others spotted.   We found a great bull that Matt ended up being able to harvest within 300 yards of Josh’s so as you guessed the pack out was just about as much fun for Matt’s as was Josh’s!   But what the hell, I will shoot one there every day if I have to!  We started getting a fair amount of snow lately so should make for some excellent horn growth this year.  This has also helped us in firing off the beginning of our lion season with Bob Springob, and James Money.  I can’t wait to see them both with their lions.  Stay tuned for pictures!  We also are starting archery mule deer hunts tomorrow with one of our great friends, Tom Moleski and a few of his good friends. Stay tuned for those pictures as well.  After the conclusion of the mule deer hunts we will be finished hunting and starting to ice fish in South Dakota and then on to spring and summer fishing.  We will also be running our Axis deer hunts throughout the summer so get on board with one of the best free ranging Axis deer ranches in the country.

Let’s talk about the fishing for a minute! I know a lot of you do a lot of fishing so if you want to catch BIG walleye or 1 pound to 2 pound perch and crappie let’s go!  South Dakota has some of the best fishing on the planet.  I know what a lot of you are thinking…Brrrr, are you nuts sit on a frozen lake to catch fish? YES, that is exactly what I’m thinking!  But, there is an ice shack with a heater and you can make it hot enough to sit there in a t-shirt if that’s what you choose!  One thing is for sure; if you like catching big fish out of a boat or from shore I guarantee you will love it through a hole in the ice!   Hell you can even drink beer while fishing!  All of you that know me know about the pink panties so just hike them up and let’s go fishing!

We are currently booking trips now for the rest of January, February, and March.  Then at first ice-off we will be back in the boats.  So you can also call and get a spot for this summer for you, the family, or whoever you choose to bring.


Updated 8/30/12 by Brad LaBounty

Book your lion hunts now while there is still availability for 2013.

Axis Deer spots are filling fast reserve soon.

Walleye fishing trips are booking now for 2013.

Updated 8/30/12 by Brad LaBounty

We are excited to be adding additional opportunities for our customers. Summer walleye fishing on the Missouri River in South Dakota.

I will be guiding along with a couple of other excellent walleye fishermen. We will have several different packages available with food and lodging and without. All tackle, bait, fish cleaning and packaging is included. So please check back for future updates.

All applications for the New Mexico Elk draw are in and as soon as we receive word on who is drawn you will be notified.

We have been in touch with all of our private ranches and looking forward to another great year on these exclusive hunts. There were a lot of nice bulls killed last year as you can see by the pictures we posted. So get your rifles and bows tuned up and be prepared for some great opportunities in New Mexico this fall.

Hunter: Dennis Helika
Guide: Brad LaBounty

Hunter:  Tom Moleski
Guide:  Brad LaBounty

Hunter – Mike Perkins

Hunter – Larry Day

Hunter – Charles Garner

Hunter -Steve Fleming

Alan Ranch – Hunter : Bruce Heersink


Updated 1/11/11  by Johnny Hughes

Tis the new year and the 2011 season has officially begun. I got the pleasure of hunting with my friend, Tom Moleski and his business partner, Dennis Helka this past week for archery mule deer at the Hondo and Perry Ranches. Hoyt Graham, one of our top guides, joined us and guided Dennis for the week.

To say the week was unusual, is the understatement of the year. Although nobody actually killed a deer, I think the hunt will resonate in all of our memories for as long as we live.

Dennis and Hoyt started the whole thing off the first afternoon of the hunt as they built a small ground blind over one of the water drinkers on the ranch. Dennis was sitting on the ground waiting patiently for a buck to come in and drink when he catches movement out of the corner of his eye. Sure enough, there stands a good buck 20 yards away looking right at him. Dennis’ bow is laying next to him on the ground with an arrow nocked.

This buck did not know what Dennis was, but he wasn’t happy about it at all. The buck would turn and take a step forward and then jerk his head back toward Dennis. The buck did a great job of keeping Dennis pinned and not let him move to get his bow. Finally, the buck worked his way downwind and now he had enough of the situation. Off he went with Dennis never even getting a chance to raise his bow.

Undeterred, Dennis and Hoyt vowed to move their blind and reinforce the cover in it. The rest of Dennis’ fun all occurred on this one water hole the rest of the week.

The next morning Tom and I went to an area that I’ve found deer here before and we found a few bunches of deer, but no good bucks. Then we spotted a buck and a doe feeding on a hillside. Of course, like a moron, I didn’t take my spotting scope for some reason I’m still questioning. Tom had a new pair of 15-power Leica Geovids and he was able to make out the horns better than I could in my 10-powers.

The buck’s body looked like an old, sway-backed mule with a white face. He was at least 5 1/2 if not 6 1/2 years old. His horns looked good in some angles, but both of us kept saying there was something wrong with his left antler. It was not as tall as the right antler. We’re thinking either he is broken or it might be some type of freak antler. Well, as light increased with the day, we finally could tell his top fork was broken on that one side.

We hum-hawed around about it and finally decided he was an overly-mature buck and we would deal with the broken tine if we could get him killed. The buck finally settled into his second bed of the morning and I rigged Tom up with an ear-piece and a Rino 530 HCX radio. I was going to walk him into the buck and hopefully whack him.

Tom circled around and got above the buck. I was sitting 3/4 mile away looking at the hill where the buck and doe were bedded. I was looking at it from an extreme angle and little did we know, that angle was going to be important later on. Tom was easing down the slope toward the bedded deer and it looked like he was almost straight above them. It looked to me that he must have been within 30 yards of the buck. But with the angle I was viewing from, it was more like 50 yards. I’m telling Tom the buck is in the big cedar, 30 yards below him, just slightly to his left.

Well, it was more like, the buck was in a cedar 50 yards from him and way to his left. You got it. I had him looking at the wrong trees! The doe exploded out of the trees to Tom’s left and took the buck with her. We watched the buck vanish over a ridge to never be seen again the rest of the week.

Paul Cartusciello, Tom’s co-hunter on their Alan Ranch elk hunt in November didn’t make this trip because of the fact that it was an archery hunt and Paul is only a rifle hunter. Why do I mention this tidbit you’re probably wondering? Well, I ragged on Paul pretty good in the write-up on the elk hunt about being in shape. I just had to tell him, that I initially sent Tom on a more direct route up the hill to get above the buck. The wind began to shift so I called Tom on the radio and told him to swing way around so the wind didn’t foul us. Paul, Tom whined about that hike the rest of the week! I thought you should know. Sorry Tom, I love you, but Paul needed to know!

That afternoon saw Dennis and Hoyt back at their new and improved ground blind over their water hole. With the improved blind, I gave Dennis a folding chair to sit on instead of the ground. Sure enough, a buck comes in to drink. The buck is 25 yards from Dennis, broad-sided, and does not know he is there. Dennis goes to draw his bow and because of the way he was slouched down in the chair, his elbow was hitting the back of the chair when he tried to draw. Much to Dennis’ dismay, he was going to have to let down and move in the chair to get drawn. Of course, the deer bolts when he lets down and Dennis was left with his mouth hanging open, again.

Tom and I had built a blind over another water hole on the Perry Ranch and we hunted it every afternoon. Tom’s adventures on this water hole rivaled those of Dennis. The first day, Tom fought the cows (bovine, that is) away from him as they were dog-gentle and figured Tom must be there to feed them.

Then Tom hears the drone of a 4-wheeler coming in…. I should take this time to tell you that in New Mexico, there are guys who’s sole job is to inspect electric power poles on ranches where electricity is present. Being the well that supplies water to the drinker is electric, poles run all the way to the well. Well, this guy comes buzzing in on a 4-wheeler with a dog riding along. They get off 50 yards from where Tom was sitting in his ground blind.

The dog starts barking and chasing the cows around and the guy is banging and coring into the pole with a chain-saw corer, simultaneously yelling at the dog. Tom’s eyes are rolled back into his head by this time. After repeating this same procedure of banging, then coring and yelling at the dog on a second pole, they finally mount the 4-wheeler and leave. They never saw Tom.

An hour goes by and Tom spots this buck walking into water. The buck was 28 yards in front of the blind and only needed two more steps to give Tom a shot. We don’t know whether it was the scent from the guy and dog, our scent from building the blind, or what, but the buck got uneasy and bolted back up the hill. Tom had the wind, so something else was making him nervous. The buck stopped and Tom drew and shot without knowing the distance. There was no time for a rangefinder. The arrow went over the buck’s back into the bushes.

After our first morning spot and stalk session, Tom and I were never able to locate another good buck on any of the next three mornings. Plenty of doe groups, but without bucks chasing them. It was looking like the rut was winding down on us.

The next afternoon when Tom went back to the water hole, the cows were hanging around the water as usual. When I picked Tom up at dark, there were two young bulls, right in front of Tom, jacking around, dry-humping each other, head-butting, and a few other things I can’t mention in this family-friendly blog.

I asked Tom, “Have they been doing this the whole afternoon?”

“The whole afternoon.” Tom replied.

But a pair of does came in and went right into water with all the cows hanging around and the Banger Brothers carrying on. Obviously they were at peace with each other.

The next afternoon, Tom went back to his blind over the water hole and played with the cows for a while. I think he was getting fond of them by this time. The cows eventually disappeared back behind Tom and a half hour or better went by.

Then Tom hears the faint sound of footsteps behind him. Tom is thinking’ “Are those stupid cows coming back?” Tom slowly turns and looks behind him. He sees an ear sticking out from behind the bush he is next to. Five feet away! Then he sees bone. And then more bone!

This buck is literally standing five feet from Tom, dead down wind of him. Tom is thinking, “I’m toast.” He wasn’t even getting excited figuring the buck is moments away from fleeing with a snout-full of human scent. But, much to Tom’s amazement, the buck continues toward the water. He walked maybe three feet behind Tom and was continuing on. Tom is just waiting for the buck to clear and he was going to smoke him.

Then it happened…. At that exact moment, two Air Force jets broke the sound barrier just above us. KABOOM…BOOM! All of us jumped literally 6-inches out of our seats no matter where we were. Tom was sitting on a bucket after Dennis’ trouble with the chair and he almost fell off when the percussion from the sonic booms hit us.

Tom figures the buck had to be a mile away by this time but he slowly turned his head toward the location where the buck was walking. The buck was still standing there but had his head turned back looking right at him. He must have seen Tom jump. The buck then bounds off and left Tom just sitting there wondering what in the hell just happened. I guess sonic booms are not common in many areas, and Tom had no idea what it was. Talk about bad timing…

When I picked him up, he was reluctant to tell me what happened thinking I wouldn’t believe him.

“Did you hear that explosion?” he sheepishly asked.

I replied, “Yes. As did everyone else in a 100-mile radius!”

Then he told me the story.

Dennis concluded our debacle the next day when he was sitting in his blind over his usual water hole. Another buck came strolling in to water.

I want to take this time to describe the setting a little better. Larry Tillman, the rancher, has a fenced enclosure around the water where he can either allow the cows access to the water or close it and only the deer and elk can get in by jumping over the fence.   He keeps it closed during the hunting season to keep the cows from hanging around like they did at Tom’s blind.

The buck jumped the fence and was standing 20 yards in front of Dennis who was at full draw by this time. He releases the arrow. Instead of whacking the deer, the arrow hit one of the wires in the fence, deflects, and completely missed the buck. Needless to say, the buck didn’t hang around for an encore.

If it were not for bad luck, we’d have none at all. It was the story of the week.

But, as I alluded to earlier, the hunt will live on in our memories forever. We laughed about all our mishaps and in all, it was one of the best weeks of the year. At least from a fun perspective. Tom and Dennis made it a good week when many would have thought the world had ended. You guys were great and I look forward to many more hunts together.  Tom, hope your “bucket back” is better.




Remember my mentioning of Alexandra Summers, our essay contest winner, and how they were having trouble finding bulls on her elk hunt? It didn’t get any better on the last day. She hunted her heart out but ultimately went home without an opportunity. It was the only hunt of the year on the Hondo Ranch that we failed to deliver a shot opportunity.

Alex wrote a story about her hunt and I want to share it with you. I dare anyone to tell me that this 16-year old girl can’t write! She’s an awesome young writer and an even better person. We were privileged to have her. She is a true ambassador for our sport.

Brad and I have already made plans to take her on an Axis deer hunt this summer to make up for the goose egg on the elk hunt.

My First Elk Hunt

by Alex Summers

Being raised on the flat gulf coastal plain of Texas, the folds in the earth of the foothills of the Rockies seemed to me like the ruffles in the fabric of the world. The Hondo Ranch is positioned at the end of a long, gravel road that weaves through the hills near Hondo, New Mexico. As we approached the ranch the flora reminded me of the hill country back in Texas. The dry, dead grass of winter painted the hills a pale yellow, while cedar splashed dark green splotches across the landscape.

When my father and I arrived at the Ranch, we were met by Mike Acklin, our guide. He is a funny and personable man and also a great guy. He quickly made us feel comfortable and introduced me to the exciting adventure of elk hunting.

I had never been on an elk hunt before, and I soon discovered, it was entirely different from the deer hunting I had done out of blinds in the Texas hill country. The majority of the hunting was done by hiking and glassing. Mike would lead us to the top of a ridge, where we would scour all the surrounding ridges and canyons through our binoculars. Upon seeing nothing, we would then hike to the next ridge and repeat the process. It was astonishing to me how these hills seemed to go on endlessly, for as soon as we reached the apex of one hill we were greeted by the sight of another yet, each one subtly different from the last.

All the hiking was a bit difficult the first day before my body had adjusted to the altitude. But, after that it became a fun exercise. Tuesday was an exciting day. We saw an elk on a ridge about a mile and a half away. Working our way towards the elk we realized that there were four other bulls with the one we initially spotted! Unfortunately, these bulls were on the neighboring Indian reservation, but it was still so exciting to watch the elk graze on the hillside.

The first two days of the trip we had very good weather, but that was about to change. On Wednesday, the winds came with sustained winds of 25-30 mph and gusts well over 40 mph. The snow started falling the next day. The storm became bad enough that we had to forego the afternoon hunt on Thursday. We hoped the storm would keep the elk bedded down for the night and thus get them moving for the last morning of the hunt. But it didn’t happen.

Due to the poor weather, we saw no elk after those five on Tuesday, so in the end I was not able to harvest an elk. Still, I am so grateful that I was able to go on this hunt. Before this hunt, I had never hunted in the Western United States, so it was a new and thrilling experience for me. I discovered that I enjoy elk hunting so much more than deer hunting from a blind. I think it has something to do with being up and moving through the wilderness after game. It also gave me the opportunity to spend some great time with my dad.

I will keep this memory with me always. I would like to thank Johnny and Denise Hughes at Elite Outfitters along with Mr. Larry Tillman, owner of the Hondo Ranch, for this experience and for sponsoring the essay contest. I would especially like to thank Mike Acklin, who made the entire hunt so enjoyable and fun. And finally, a thanks to Mr. Russ Peagler. The money he donated was used to buy some warm hunting gear that kept my thin, Texan blood from freezing. If I am fortunate enough to go on another elk hunt someday, I will certainly use what I learned on this hunt to improve my chances of harvesting an elk.




While some of us were working, a few of our guides drew archery Ibex tags in the formidable, Florida Mountains of southern New Mexico. It is a tough hunt with an average overall kill success of less than 5%. Joseph Graham, took the honors this week when he connected on a 40-inch Ibex with a 120-yard shot. Yes, 80+ yard shots are the norm for this hunt if you plan on ever shooting at a goat. It takes lots of long-range practice and Joseph is the best I’ve ever seen at it.

Not to mention this mountain literally chews people up. For all of you that have gotten your butt busted by trying to follow Brad around the mountains…. you will be happy to know that this rock pile kicked his butt! Out of fairness, it kicks anyone’s butt who tries it.  But I know there are some of you that can enjoy the mental picture of Brad hurting with all the punishment he dishes out!



Can you see the Ibex in the photos below? The arrow points to the zoomed picture.





Click Here to Read the “What’s New” Posts for July-Dec 2010 Season

Click Here to Read the “What’s New” Posts for Jan-June 2010 Season

Click Here to Read the “What’s New” Posts for the 2009 Season


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