It was the third day of Ridge Crum’s bowhunt when the bull finally showed.

Crum, 27, was hunting alone in a small, elevated blind over a waterhole on his family’s cattle ranch, which lies near the massive Cibola National Forest. It was Sept. 21, the second phase of New Mexico’s Unit 17 archery elk season. Crum had been hunting this bull since 2021.

“I have a history with this bull,” Crum tells Outdoor Life. “Two years ago I had him at 40 yards, but just couldn’t get a shot at him. Two days later I saw him at 250 yards, but he was headed back up to the mountains in the Cibola.”

The waterhole, and the mountain beyond it where the bull was living. Ridge Crum

Crum didn’t see the bull at all last year, but neither did many other hunters. The bull was living on National Forest ground at about 10,000 feet for much of the season and remained elusive.

The first two days Crum’s 2023 bowhunt went much the same way as his 2022 season. But this year, at least, he knew the bull was back on the ranch. It had shown up on trail camera photos near this watering hole, which is a prime spot for all kinds of game on the ranch.

On the third afternoon of Crum’s hunt, he climbed into the blind around 2 p.m.

“I changed tactics a bit on Sept. 21 going into the waterhole,” says Crum, a nonresident who lives in Lakeland, Tennessee, where he owns an active-wear clothing company called Rough Out. “Instead of driving near the waterhole, I decided to walk in along a low drainage area about one mile to get to the blind.”

Crum sat in the blind for several hours without seeing elk. But at 6 p.m. things changed.

A hunter sits behind a big bull in the starlight.
Crum sits beside the big 8×8. Courtesy of Ridge Crum

“I heard a bull bugle far away, then a bit later, another bugle closer to me,” he says. “The bull bugled a third time and I knew he was even closer. Then he bugled a fourth time, and I looked out to the waterhole and saw a cow.”

The cow was leading a herd of about a dozen other elk—all cows, and one small spike. Then the giant bull elk Crum had been looking for stepped into view.

“He was unmistakable, and I started shaking while grabbing my bow,” Crum says. “It all happened very fast. He got to about 60 yards, but there were so many cows around him it was impossible to get a clear shot. I was hyper-focused when he moved closer, and knew I’d only have one opportunity to take the bull … I waited a couple minutes watching him, and finally he nudged the cows out of the way, and I could draw my bow, aim, and take a shot.”

A man stands behind a big bull elk.
The bull, loaded on the trailer. Courtesy of Ridge Crum

The arrow slipped behind the elk’s shoulder at 41 yards. He was hunting with a Mathews V3 and a 2-inch, 2-blade 100-grain expandable Rage broadhead; the arrow just penetrated the hide of the elk’s opposite shoulder.

“At the shot all the cows scattered, but milled around the waterhole, while the bull ran off about 80 yards,” Crum saiys “Then he turned around and stared at the water hole and the cows. Then he staggered a bit and bedded down.”

Crum never lost sight of the bull and watched him carefully through binoculars. The elk stood once but bedded down again and expired. The harem returned to the waterhole to drink, so Crum stayed in the blind until dark and contacted his dad, Kelly. Kelly arrived at about 8 p.m. with the ranch manager, Donny, and Crum’s buddy, Colton Cunningham.

“When they pulled up, we all walked up to the bull, with flashlights on him, and it was just an incredible moment. Once in a lifetime.”

Loading the estimated 800-pound animal was a back-breaker for the four men. But eventually they got it into the truck and returned to the ranch, where they hung, skinned, and caped it.

Cunningham rough-scored the elk at 436 1/8-inches; the current New Mexico nontypical archery elk record is a 420 7/8 inch bull, according to Pope and Young Club records. Crum hopes the 8×8 will be scored as a nontypical elk after the 60-day drying period is up, although the bull could be classified as a typical given its relatively symmetrical frame, and therefore become subject to deductions. The largest hunter-killed typical archery elk in New Mexico measured 398 7/8 inches, and was taken in 2004.

A big elk hanging from a meat pole with two hunters beside it.
The Crums after wrestling the elk onto the meat pole. Courtesy of Ridge Crum

Regardless of whether it becomes a new state record, Crum is thrilled with the bull. He’s fielded some accusations on social media of a high-fence hunt and other criticism.

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“Our place is cattle ranch, not a high fence operation, and it wasn’t a paid guided hunt,” he says. “The ranch fence has no bearing on elk coming and going as they please … I’m blessed this great bull came off the mountain, jumped our fence, came to the waterhole and I was ready for him.”

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