Hunt the Estate
EROP#509 HUNT THE ESTATE
By S. L. Merriam
The big bull elk, a royal 6×6, still sporting August’s lustrous velvet had avoided me during three hard days of hunting but allowed a few lucky moments where I enjoyed three chance sightings. The heavy timber and rocky ridges of the Estate provided sufficient cover to allow his four legs to out maneuver my two bone tired limbs each and every time we got close. I thought this hunt might be easy but my optimism about any chance for quick success began to fade in direct proportion to the growth of blisters on my feet. I had hunted all my life for elk and had never managed to see a bull this big, let alone have a chance of displaying such large antlers above my fireplace.
As my frustration grew the clock kept ticking, winding down to the last afternoon of my hunt. The results so far were lopsided with a score of the bull three and hunter zero. After each encounter I started mumbling, “All I have to do is to win once, just once.” The missed encounters made it increasing difficult to sort out the optimism from the screaming pain centered in my knees and back. I was learning the country was far from inviting for human hunters and probably better suited for a mountain lion. It took some effort to remain optimistic and focused on the thought that if everything worked, without a catch, I still had one more chance, one small window of opportunity to be successful.
Having spent the first three days learning the layout of the Estate and looking at the many areas that would hold a big bull I put all my last afternoon’s focus onto the four water holes. The sign in the soft dirt around the edges showed the big bull had been using each of them to cool off in the late August heat and slake his thirst. Later on, in mid September, he would be wading out into the water on a regular basis to lie down and wallow, which would cool his rut-heated body and stink up the mud with the musky smell of an overheated bull. For now all I could do was take a wild guess as to which one he would choose.
The odds of guessing the correct place to set up were just one in four so I opted for the north pond. This water source was evidently spring fed and the excess spilled over one end to form a small swampy area that showed signs of early season wallowing. If the big guy was starting to get the least bit excited over the prospect of his cows coming into heat and needed to wallow in the cooling mud, odds were he’d use this spot. I came into a patch of cover with the wind in my face and the sun behind me then concealed myself with camouflage while wearing the required blaze orange. Once in a comfortable position with clearance to bring the rifle into shooting position I set my binoculars close by and lay the rifle across my knees. Hoping the big bull was starting to get excited over pre-estrous cows, I tried a cow call every 15 minutes hoping to entice him into investigating the sound.
After an hour of calling there was a movement; a set of brown legs crossed through the shadows in the heavy timber. As the animal passed between two huge trees where a shaft of sunlight created a single lighted area, the bottom half of a light colored body became visible then stopped before stepping into the clearing. It was a stale mate. From where it stopped the elk could turn and quickly disappear leaving me with the fourth brief confrontation of the week. Number four would unfortunately be my last; the sun was getting close to the horizon behind my blind, and when it became dark my hunt was over. The second option was for the elk to continue across the shadows and become visible. If he chose the latter I could see if he was the Royal 6×6 that had consumed the last three days of my hunt.
I didn’t record how long the stalemate lasted but without an actual cow standing in the open to lure him from the shadows, he finally spooked. When he turned I saw enough to identify velvet-covered antlers, branching into six points on a side as the bull passed through a small opening in the timber. I though, “It’s him! It’s him!”
Without a conscious effort on my part the rifle jumped into position and quickly found the bull’s front leg and body in the scope. The sun setting behind me forced enough light into the timber so I could make out the complete body still back in the shadows. Now my hands and fingers went into auto-mode. Time spent practicing diligently over the years made the motion of aiming and shooting an automatic response; the cross hairs aligned, the safety slipped off and my finger began to tighten on the trigger. All that was left was to apply the final tension and when the crosshairs were perfect and the 7MM Magnum roared, sending the 175-grain bullet across the 190 yards opening. I heard the bullet hit as the bull disappeared from sight.
It’s funny how the sequence of events in tense hunting situations seem to register in your mind that they were happening in slow motion because when I worked the bolt to shoot again I remember catching a glimpse of the empty cartridge flipping off to my right as a crisp, clean round loaded into the warm chamber.
The whole sequence took just seconds but when I looked through the scope again the woods were empty. There was no sign of the bull. Did I miss my chance at the best elk I had ever seen? Worse yet, did I wound a magnificent animal?
I slipped out of the makeshift blind and quickly covered the distance to where the bull disappeared; staying next to the thick cover to shield my travel so the elk would not spot movement if still in the area. As I cleared the thickest cover and was able to see the spot where the elk had been, there he was lying in the low swale. He had not moved and lay in the same spot where he had disappeared!
This majestic animal had taken me to my limit and won three out of four chance encounters. It was truly a hard won battle, which I will cherish as I enjoy one of the best trophies of my life. The hunt that I thought would be a walk in the park, turned out to be one of the most challenging adventures I have endured. After this experience how could an Estate hunt be termed anything other than exciting?
An Estate is defined as: “An estate comprises the houses and outbuildings and supporting farmland and woods that surround the gardens and grounds of a very large property”
Estate hunting on the grounds of a large property is a practice that has become controversial among many hunters especially when a person is a strict adherent to the concept of Fair Chase. The Boone and Crockett Club as well as Pope and Young and the Longhunters Society, which keep records for North American big game, all require animals entered into their records to be taken under the rules of Fair Chase. This is defined as not being taken in high fence enclosures.
Estate hunting takes place in a controlled environment which is bounded by high fence to keep quality animals on the property and trespassers out. While Fair Chase is the universally accepted method of hunting among sport hunters the concept of high fence – or Estate hunting – is acceptable to folks without the time and often the physical ability to hunt open, rugged country. While high fence hunting has both pros and cons the concept is carried out in at least 30 states and Canada.
However, game fences and high fence hunting, where legal, are increasing at a rate too fast to ignore. While some hunters have taken the hard-line approach and will not accept or acknowledge any animal taken behind a game fence the facts are that the concept and application of this type management is increasing. While some fenced operations are too small to be ethically sporting one should be warned not to confuse this type operation with genuine hunting.
Add to the debate a changing society and land use policies, which makes game fences a practical solution to problems that do not have anything to do with the quality of the hunt. A common reason for a high fence operation is to protect breeding stock be it quality whitetails in the states or kudu in South Africa. Habitat that can support quality animals is no longer the large expanse of land it once was. Add to that, neighboring property owners who have no problem taking wandering animals you have worked diligently to produce. Management objectives can only be met by protecting valuable breeding stock which means a truly effective management program can only be conducted behind wire.
In addition to solving management problems Estate hunting can be both ethical and provide a solution to time and physical ability problems some folks must deal with.
Estate hunting offers thrill of the hunt, without sacrificing creature comforts urban residents have come to expect in places where only rugged outdoorsmen once ventured. Accommodations on Estate hunts are far from the typical hunting set-up using a trailer, tent, or ill-equipped house on a deer lease. Estate hunts allow participants to experience the thrill of the hunt without sacrificing comfortable quarters at the end of the day. These hunts can provide safe, exciting, memorable experiences that are ideal for a family with different aged children as well as and skill levels. For people with limited mobility or special needs and people with only a weekend to hunt rather than a full week or season the estate hunt is tailored to their needs.
Estate hunting usually includes deluxe lodging, guiding services, and meat preparation. The enclosures or high fence operations range in size from one square mile of heavy foliage to enclosures in Texas that cover 35,000 acres. The hunts are open to everyone and provide an opportunity for a person with an unfulfilled lifelong dream of taking a specific species after the hunter has reached the age where covering rugged country becomes impossible. It is an excellent choice for a handicapped individual or youth and is often the destination for groups like SHOTS; Sports People Helping Others Through Sharing. SHOTS Inc. is a 501c 3 Non-profit charity that works to exemplify the image of sportsmen and women with integrity, along with promoting compassion and conservation and provides hunts at no cost to handicapped youth.
The hunter that purchases an Estate hunt will have the service of a guide or guides that will accommodate individual skill levels such as wheel chair bound individuals by using a ground blind to conceal the hunter from traveling elk or deer.
Estate hunting is not for everyone nor was it intended to be a replacement for Fair Chase hunting. Rather it is an
option for hunters with special circumstances that still want to enjoy time afield with a reasonable chance of success.
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