This November, two lucky Outdoor Life readers traveled to New Mexico for the hunt of a lifetime. Buddy and Cole (left) Eastman flew from Hiram, Maine, to tag a bull and a cow elk at Vermejo Park Ranch, and they didn’t leave empty handed. Here are the highlights from their weeklong trip hunting and fishing together in the Land of Enchantment.
We selected this father-son duo as the winning team for Outdoor Life’s latest Grand Slam. We received 1,935 entries, and 12-year-old Cole’s essay stood out to us as the most enthusiastic and genuine responses of the bunch. A cornerstone of the Eastmans’ hunting tradition is their strong mentor-mentee relationship, which was one of the most important criteria for winning the contest. Buddy and Cole pursued whitetails, bears, and birds in their home state, but they’d never hunted farther west than New Hampshire before the Grand Slam.
The hunt took place at the Vermejo Park Ranch, a 585,000-acre fair-chase property in the northeast corner of the state. The terrain ranges from grassy fields and expansive prairies to timbered slopes and mountain lakes.
All that prime acreage combined with dedicated wildlife management and low hunter densities proved a surreal environment for the Eastmans. And the five-mile no-hunting radius around the main lodge doesn’t hurt either. Herds of bison and scattered mule deer are regularly spotted in close proximity to camp, and the sheer number of daily wildlife sightings across the property is astounding. During their hunt, Buddy and Cole spotted pronghorn, mature muley bucks, Miriam turkeys, and wild horses—just to name a few.
Despite all the other game animals that make Vermejo their home, the Ranch is famous for its elk hunting. Vermejo’s staff and biologists have managed the herd since it was first introduced from the Yellowstone region in 1910. Now 8,000 elk roam the property.
Upon arriving at the Ranch, the Eastmans hustled out to the shooting range to sight in their matching new Nesika Sporter rifles, chambered in 7mm Remington Mag., mounted with Hawke scopes and provided as prizes for the hunt. The scopes were mounted and bore sighted by Four Winds, Ltd., and the Eastmans only needed a few shots to dial in their rifles.
Sportsman’s Warehouse also provided the two Mainers with clothing for the high-country hunt. Here Buddy, Cole, and guide Randy Chambers pause at a clearing to glass for wapiti. The first morning found the team stalking up and down the steep terrain, chasing a herd they could hear, but only catch glimpses of through the timber.
Despite battling waves of altitude sickness, 12-year-old Cole powered through his first day of the hunt to cleanly tag a mature cow in the last few minutes of legal light.
Buddy also killed his first elk on the trip: a monster bull he spotted himself in the early morning hours.
The Eastmans used 160-grain 7mm Rem Mag cartridges for the hunt. Buddy dropped his bull with a single shot at 210 yards.
With both their tags filled, the Eastmans spent the rest of their trip exploring Vermejo. The two teamed up down on the prairie with a pair of .22 rifles to help control the Ranch’s booming prairie dog population.
Cole was a cool-headed shooter, and popped more varmints than anyone.
As avid anglers, Buddy and Cole took full advantage of Vermejo’s fishing properties. They spent two full days landing trout on Lake Adams in the heart of the Ranch.
Buddy shows off his ruby-bellied brook trout, landed from the shore.
Cole also caught more fish than anyone, successfully landing trout even in the windiest conditions.
Our guide Randy has worked at Vermejo for nine years, and was as good a fishing guide as he was at chasing elk.
During breaks in the hunting and fishing, Cole practiced glassing for game with his Hawke binos and making stalks on unsuspecting mule deer, and Randy taught him to bugle for elk.
The Ranch also offers a skeet range, and the father-son team took turns busting clays for an evening.
The Eastmans hunted hard during the day and enjoyed gourmet meals at the historic main lodge that serves as Vermejo's headquarters. The lodge is surrounded by scattered guest houses and offers a view of the surrounding terrain from the back veranda.
Vermejo keeps meticulous records on the game its hunters harvest each year, including basics like weight, age, and antler size. Buddy’s bull grossed 332 inches, and the two took home hundreds of pounds of meat between them, thanks to Cinnamon Creek Processing. Check back next week to watch how Buddy and Cole’s hunts played out.
We selected Cole Eastman from nearly 2,000 entries as the winner of Grand Slam New Mexico 2014. Check back soon to see Buddy and Cole in action. Stay tuned for additional adventure videos and tips each week.
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