November 10, 2014
Lee and Valerie,
Thank you both for a great hunting experience. Brandon and I truly could not have been happier. Fishtail Ranch and your entire staff are number one in our book. We will see you soon.
Thanks for everything
The following story and pix have been sent for inclusion in the Lehigh Valley SCI annual.
ELK HUNTING IN NEW MEXICO
By John Kleckner
It all started in April of 2013. My family and I attended the Lenape Wapiti chapter fundraiser for the Keystone Elk Country Alliance. I took a chance on their chapter rifle which turned out to be a progressive raffle. I won the rifle and then my name got put in a hat with the nine other chapter rifle winners at the time and I had a 1 in 10 chance of winning an elk hunt. Lo and behold my name was drawn and I won the elk hunt at Fishtail Ranch Outfitters in Chama, New Mexico. Due to a scheduling conflict I postponed the hunt until the first week in November 2014 at which time I took my son, Brandon, along for the hunt.
Prior to our trip, we received a call from the CEO of Keystone Elk Country Alliance, Rawley Cogan. He asked if we would mind if they sent out representatives from TomBob Outdoors to film our hunt. I happily agreed. We received a call from the executive producer of TomBob Outdoors, Brad Clinton, filling us in on the details and telling us how the filming would work. After discussing details with my son Brandon we both agreed we needed to do a lot of practice shooting because we didn’t want to miss on national television. The whole world would be watching! Brandon promised that he would not miss.
We flew into Albuquerque International Airport two days prior to our hunt and rented a SUV to make the 3 hour drive to camp. We stayed the first night at a nice motel in Chama, New Mexico, and drove around looking at the wildlife. What a beautiful area along the edge of the Rockies. Sunday afternoon we drove to camp and met our hosts, Lee and Valerie Weiss. They proceeded to show us our room and told us to make ourselves comfortable. Then we met in the common area and Lee Weiss explained the rules of the camp and what to expect. Later that afternoon we took a trip to the rifle range where all the hunters sighted in their rifles.
The following morning the hunt began. We got up early, well before daybreak, and had a great breakfast. After that it was off to our hunting area. Brandon and I had the privilege of hunting with the owner himself, Lee Weiss. So we drove to an area just at daybreak. We got out of the truck and proceeded on foot for a few miles in which time we spooked a few elk, saw a few more and did not get any shots.
In this camp in New Mexico they hunt mornings and evenings and we got back to the lodge for a nice lunch in between. After lunch we had a few hours to do nothing so we just enjoyed the lodge accommodations. Later that afternoon we went back to a different area. We walked into an actual blind. Brandon and I sat in the blind and Lee and Brad sat outside. Shortly after that a few cows and a spike approached from the north side of the meadow. Brad, Lee and I sat there talking about the elk for a little while, when Brandon said to me, “Dad, what about that one right there?” Off to our left in the south side of the field there stood a beautiful 5x5 about 220 yards away. I said to Lee, “What about that one there?” Lee was very surprised and said, “’That’s a shooter”. In the meantime, Brad is filming the elk in the north part of the meadow, totally oblivious to the big bull on the south side. The next 30 seconds were a little chaotic. Brandon was honed in on the bull waiting for Brad to get his camera in position. The second everyone was ready, Brandon squeezed the trigger and the .300 Winchester short mag did the job. The elk dropped in his tracks. We celebrated a little bit and proceeded to walk up to the bull. What happened next will forever touch my heart. As all hunters know, there are special moments afield when memories are made. We walked up to the bull and saw it had expired. I turned to congratulate my son and he was shaking uncontrollably. I asked him what was wrong and he said “I don’t know, I can’t stop shaking” I told him it was time to unload his gun. As soon as he unloaded his gun and set it on the ground, he gave me the biggest hug and said “THANK YOU, DAD”. I said, “Thanks for what? “. He said “For bringing me here”. That particular moment made me choke up and I had tears in my eyes. It was a very special moment for me. Then Brandon said, “I told you I wouldn’t miss”. After that the work began … we field dressed the elk and loaded it in the truck and off to the butcher shop we went. Later that evening every hunter and every guide in camp came up and congratulated Brandon for his success. After a delicious steak dinner, it was off to bed.
The following morning it was my turn and off we went. We walked in about 3 to 3½ miles and stood on top of this knoll, looking at some elk about 1000 yards out meandering among the trees. All of a sudden off to our left about 600 or 700 yards, a cow was walking across the meadow with a nice 6x6 bull following. As they got closer our guide, Lee Weiss, set me up to make the shot. He told me the bull was about 360 yards out so I sat up and waited for the right moment and squeezed the trigger. I wasn’t sure what happened then. Lee told me that he thought I hit it. The bull trotted off a little ways and then stood still. Lee said, “You hit it, reload and shoot again” which I did. The bull went down but was not expired. We proceeded to walk up to it. Unlike Brandon’s bull, mine was a little more stubborn. After dealing with my glasses fogging up and my scope fogging up, I finally made the fatal shot and down went the bull. After celebrating and picture taking, Lee said “Now that we harvested the bull, you get to stay here while I walk a few miles out to get the truck.” A truly successful day even though my shooting was not quite as good as my son’s.
Throughout the rest of the week we spent various times spotting elk for other hunters, fishing for native trout and just enjoying the scenery and the company of all. I have hunted many places across America and I can truly say that Fishtail Ranch Outfitters was one of the very best outfitters I have ever dealt with. From Lee and Valerie, to the guides, to the cooks, to the entire staff .. truly professional all around. I have been involved with Lehigh Valley SCI and a board member for many years and I have never before written about a hunt that I have been on. Being able to go to a place like this and hunt with my son and have the success that we had is a memory I will cherish forever.