It’s Not Beginner’s Luck

In January of 2017 the wife and I were sitting down for dinner and she floored me with a brief announcement. She informed me that she had booked an Elk hunt in Colorado during the 2017 season. Knowing that I had an archery hunt already planned for September of next year, I was a bit shocked. I was even more shocked to realize she was talking about herself. A couple of things raced through my mind. The first was that I realized I had made it and all my buddies would be jealous. The second was what in the heck was she going to shoot. Her only rifle at this point is her 6.5mm Creedmoor match rifle. A 6.5mm Creedmoor will definitely kill an elk, but at 16 pounds it’s a little heavy to be carrying through the Rocky Mountains of Western Colorado.

The conversation quickly turned to a question and answer session. My wife is a very petite lady and I’m shaped more like a gorilla, so that raised some concerns on my part about rifle selection. She’s also left-handed and I shoot from the right. She just so happened to have a Remington 700 Short Action receiver sitting in the safe, so we focused on short action calibers. We discussed caliber selection, and what she would feel comfortable shooting. We discussed various 6.5, 7mm and 30 caliber cartridges benefits and weaknesses. We also discussed her self-imposed range limitations under field conditions. Despite her being very consistent on targets in competition well in excess of 1000 yards, she decided to place a max range of 700 yards that she would be willing to shoot under ideal conditions.

American Elk are second largest big game in North America. They are not particularly hard to bring down with a well placed shot, but like most game animals can absorb several poorly placed shots. With this in mind and her self-imposed range limitation, we settled on the 308 Winchester and either 168gr or 180gr projectiles and a minimum velocity threshold of 2600fps. I have 4 different reamers in this caliber all with different free bore specifications for various bullets forms and applications. I have one in particular which I had ground a few years ago in order to optimize the 175gr Sierra Matchking loads and factory ammunition. This reamer has proven itself with various hunting bullets such as the 180 Sierra Gameking BTHP, 180 gr Nosler Partition and the Barnes 168gr TTSX.

The next course of action was to plan her build. Unlike a lot of shooters, I have the equipment available to me to be able to build this rifle without having to source out work. Also, legally in the U.S. shooters can re-barrel and assemble their own rifles without any form of licensing or notifications as long as it is for personal use and are “not in the business”. Barrel selection was a more drawn out process than what it usually is. One of her request for this rifle was that it had to be able to support her Moderator and not be overly long and heavy. Her moderator requires 5/8×24 threads and thus requires a minimum diameter of .750” at the muzzle. After making several phone calls to barrel manufacturers, I established that a Bartlein 3b contour 1 turn in 10” twist would fulfill this requirement even at a max length of 22”. Just as a note the following process was actually completed twice. After the first build in 308 Winchester, she decided that it had too much recoil for her to be comfortable with. I ended up chambering the same contour barrel in 6.5 Creedmoor with a 1-8” twist to support 140 grain class projectiles. I am not on the 6.5 Creedmoor train that thinks it’s the best cartridge ever designed. I do believe though that for recoil sensitive shooters it is one of the best short action cartridges when taking into consideration things such as wind drift and energy on target. More on this later.

Frist a series of measurements were taken from the action and recoil lug in order to obtain the proper dimensions to machine to. All the components were cleaned thoroughly prior to measuring.

Initial components
Measurements taken

The barrel was then centered through the head stock of my Lathe using a 0.0001” long stem indicator on the bore in the neck and throat area. Once this critical process was complete the barrel Tenon was then turned to 1.062” outside diameter and threaded 16tpi 60 degree V-thread. The bolt nose recess was cut to proper depth and diameter then the chamber was pre-bored.

No go
Go

At this point, the chamber was finish reamed to the pre-calculated depth and checked with a set of go/no-go gauges. The chamber was then polished and inspected with a bore scope prior to unseating the barrel. On the muzzle end, the barrel was centered in the same manner, cut to length at 22”, turned and threaded for 5/8”x24tpi and then crowned. Assembly was straight forward and before long I was holding a now complete all be it in the white barreled action ready for test firing.

Threaded and crowned

The barreled action was bedded with Marine-Tex into a Manner EH-5 stock which had been cut down to her rather short length of pull. American Precision Arms excellent bottom metal which facilitates the use of Accuracy International AICS magazines was also installed at this time. Meredith prefers natural colors on her rifles, so she selected OD green. We degreased and media blasted the barreled action. Cera-kote is a simple process, but like most other types of coatings and paints the devil is in the detail. Proper preparation yields superior results. Coated and cured the rifle was reassembled. A Bushnell Elite LRHS 3-12×44 was mounted using Talley one piece ultra light mounts.

All finished

Load development was probably the easiest with this rifle than it has ever been. I fired the first two shots after a quick bore sight. Made an adjustment based on the mil reticle and proceeded to put three rounds in the same hole in the center of a 1” target spot. I was amazed frankly considering this was factory ammunition and the first one tried. I then dialed it up .4 mil and fired 5 more at 200 yards and shot almost an identical group at 6 o’clock on another 1” target spot.

200 yards

After a quick Chrono and a few more groups to ensure it wasn’t a fluke, I quickly called my distributor with the lot number of the ammunition and ordered a whole case of 200 rounds.  140 of the 200 rounds were used to collect data out to 800 yards and for practice. Hornady 143 ELD-X Precision Hunter proved to be an excellent hunting cartridge for this caliber and was consistently less than .5 moa at all distances. Of note, this rifle also shot the 140 ELD-M ammunition from Hornady into the same point of impact at 100 yards with similar groups. Data also tracked to within .1 mil between the two different loads, so this load was also used for practice since she already had a supply of it.

Practices throughout the summer and early fall were worked in around our match schedules and done primarily from some sort of field position. The only time the prone position was used was during zeroing sessions and data collection. The remainder of the time all shots were taken from shooting sticks, tripods or off of various barricades. Shots were generally kept 400 yards and in, but several practice sessions were held at distances up to 700 yards primarily for confidence building. If you can get consistent hits at extended distances the shorter shots taken in the field become much easier. I have been in a lot of hunting camps over the years, and a recurring theme is that hunters are always stressed whether they can make the shots they need to make. I don’t know if it’s lack of training or just a confidence thing, but I see it all the time. I set out to make sure that the shot was going to be the easy part for her, so that we could worry about finding game and conducting a good stalk. For the few weeks preceding the hunt, I increased the stress level of the training regimen.

Aftermath of one our Merediths’ more physical training sessions

Shot timers, command fire and physical exertion were all incorporated into the mix in order to increase heart rate and stress level.

December 2nd arrived before we knew it. I had spent several days packing and unpacking gear to ensure that we didn’t have to pay the exorbitant overweight baggage fees all the while ensuring that we had what I considered to be critical gear. We loaded the car and headed to Nashville airport at 0430. An approaching cold front dropping down from Canada made for a less than smooth flight from Nashville to Denver to Hayden, Colorado.

All packed up

We met Jim, the senior guide for Ivory Tip Outfitters, at the airport and he transferred us to the lodge after securing Meredith’s hunting license and elk tag. Ivory Tip Outfitters operates on a 25,000 acre ranch 23 miles north of Craig Colorado. The ranch participates in a program run by the Colorado Department of Wildlife which issues a certain number of landowner vouchers for permits, but allows the outfitters to set there own seasons within a fairly lenient set of guidelines. As a condition of usage, the program opens private ranches to a limited number of public permits. This program, while not inexpensive, allows people with limited time to hunt an opportunity to work around their busy work schedules. Actually other than my trip earlier in the fall for Archery Elk, both Meredith and I were working during all of the State set seasons. The season was of the reasons Meredith chose this ranch, the other being that I had hunted with the owner while he was employed with a different outfitter in the past.

The first course of action after getting to the lodge was to check zero. We waited for quite a while hoping that the 18-25 mph wind would die down.  We finally decided just to check our zero after several hours. Meredith went prone forgoing the bench and fired two rounds in less than half an inch dead center in the supplied target with the outfitter in observance. These two rounds actually determined which part of the ranch she would be hunting on unbeknownst to us. She fired three more rounds through the chronograph and I updated her Kestrel 5700 Sportsman AB. The only real concern I had at this point was that it was 65°F when we arrived in Colorado ahead of the front. Only time would tell what the temperature would be in the morning. In the late season, success is usually dependent upon the weather. Snow and cold temperatures are generally a requirement to push the elk down out of the high country. It was not looking good in that regard. Some clouds were building in the northwest but I really just expected rain and muddy conditions.

We stowed our gear and ensured out ruck sacks had all the necessities for the coming day. Once this was complete, we returned to the lodge for a nice dinner and socialized with the other hunters in camp as well as the guides. To be honest, Meredith was very apprehensive. She was the only female hunter in camp, and this was an altogether a different experience. She’s used to being around military and law enforcement snipers as well as civilian competitive marksmen, but not hunters as a rule. I kept telling her she would be fine, but I guess you never know until you put metal on meat for the first time.

Monday morning, the first day of the hunt, I woke early. I blamed it on the two-hour time change, but part of it was anticipation. This wasn’t even my hunt but I was completely amped up. I went outside to check conditions and was surprised to find 6” of snow and a balmy 4°F (-15 °C). Snow was continuing to fall with no let-up in sight. Once everybody was up, we packed our gear and came up with a game plan. It was decided Meredith was going to head to the far east side of the ranch to a choke point where two valleys and three ridges converged. The morning ended up being near white out conditions. 6” more snow accumulated during the day before it ended around noon time.  We didn’t see any elk, but did manage to see a very nice 4×4 mule deer buck. The morning was cut short due to lack of visibility and the cold. We decided to head back to the lodge, warm up and come up with a game plan for the afternoon.

Monday afternoon found us high on the same mountain, but with crystal clear skies and miles of visibility. We spotted elk instantly. Several spike bulls and cows were feeding on an adjacent ridge line at around 350 yards. We glassed the ridge to ensure a mature bull wasn’t bedded down or feeding back in the tree line. Once satisfied, we moved farther up the ridge and within minutes found two more herds of elk. One herd had approximately 200 head and was just a touch over 1000 yards away across the valley.

   
Day 1 herd at 1060yds

The other herd was over a mile away feeding down a long mesa away from the higher elevations. We picked these herds apart and determined where the larger bulls were. The largest herd didn’t have any bulls which warranted a long stalk. The farthest away herd had a few bulls, but there was no way to reach them before nightfall. Meredith was excited. This was her first experience seeing elk on the hoof. She excitedly proclaimed “look at all those cheese burgers!” Tony, the owner and our guide for this trip, and I had a good chuckle and knew we were in for an exciting week of hunting.

Back at the lodge that evening, after a hearty meal of home-made lasagna, salad and cheese cake we made our game plan for the morning. We were going to return to the same area in hopes of locating a good bull in a position to move on. Hope fully isolated from the large herds which are extremely difficult to get within rifle range of especially this late in the season.  We went to bed that night early with much anticipation and visions of big bulls.

Tuesday morning we were at it again before day light, but this morning it was -8°F (-22°C). I didn’t tell Meredith how cold it was. I’m glad I didn’t because this morning would turn into a long game of cat and mouse. Fully expecting the herds from yesterday to be generally located to where we saw them the night before, we once again headed to the eastern edge of the ranch. When the sun hit the horizon the elk we were planning to see had vanished. Small bands of Mule Deer were every where we looked. Game was on the move we had just failed to account for the bitter cold the night before. We glassed for over an hour when Tony finally found a herd on the other end of the ranch in a marvelous piece of glass work. Looking at theses animals day in and day out is definitely an advantage. I am no slouch on the glass but I found myself playing catch up to Tony the entire time. With no way of catching this herd we decided to move farther down the mountain to lower elevation in hopes of cutting tracks. We loaded up into the side by side and made our way down the mountain. No sooner had we dropped 1000’ in elevation did we start picking elk bedding and feeding in a large stand of Aspen.

Tony and I began to methodically pick the mountain apart with the use of Binoculars and spotting scopes. We worked our way across the face of the mountain and located the bulls. Knowing this was going to be a long chore we swapped the side by side Polaris for Tony’s pick up and had Meredith get warm. We were trying to keep track of the constantly moving animals so that we could come up with a game plan for the afternoon hunt.

The excitement is real

Envision a cut away of an ant mound, and that was very similar to what we were looking at except for it was elk winding through the Aspen, Oak brush and Spruce which make up that part of Colorado. At this point we were just about to load up and head back for a warm lunch. Tony decided to look at just a few other places in the direction that we had left earlier in the morning. Immediately on a park on a lone peak he located an elk by itself. “It has to be a bull” we both said at the same time. We located it in our spotting scopes and instantly knew the answer. It appeared to be an exceptional bull for the area with long fronts and very tall fourths.  I got Meredith out of the truck and dropped the spotting scope so she could get a good look. The bull then moved to the tree line and bedded down. I knew this was going to be our best chance.  Tony and I asked Meredith what she wanted to do, go back and warm up or go ahead and try and get an angle on the bull? She looked at us like we were crazy, and we knew our answer.

Once again we swapped the truck for the side by side. Tony took us on a 4 mile route out and around the bull to a place where we started movement on foot. We climbed to a point just short of the first peak then side hilled around the mountain to a vantage point on a long finger running down to a now frozen creek all in knee-deep snow to Meredith. It was just to the top of my gaiters. Thank goodness it was powder and not the wet icy snow we get in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S. We could now see the large meadow the bull was bedded in, but were blocked from view by a stand of Aspen.  We could see one set of tracks headed to where he bedded down but none leaving. Either he had moved down into the trees in the hour it took us to get into position or was still in his bed. I was really hoping for the latter. There was nothing to do but wait at this point. Meredith set up her tripod in a comfortable sitting position for her and rested her 6.5 in the Hog Saddle mounted on it. I proceeded to make a hasty range card for her by using my LRF and getting distances to prominent land marks. I realized at this point it was probably going to be a long shot. Probably at the back-end of what we considered to be max effective range for this small cartridge based on retained energy. The tree line in front was 336 yards, but the meadow where the bull was hopefully still bedded was 640 yards to the first open spot.

I conferred with Tony and Meredith and informed them of the situation. According to my kestrel, the predominate winds at that time were from 3-10 mph full value from 9 o’clock. This equates to a dialed elevation of 4.4 mils and .3-.9 mils. Meredith was confident she could make the shot since she had done it before at much greater ranges, but would much prefer a much shorter shot. Even though we are long-range shooters, we don’t look for these shots because the margin of error is so small unless the conditions are perfect. The game plan at this point was to cow call and attempt to draw the bull down to the close tree line. This approach has worked for both Tony and I in the past. Tony called for quite a time while Meredith and I stayed on glass looking for any indications that the bull had moved from his bed. Nothing moved other than a few deer below us had begun to move through the tree line. I was getting worried because I didn’t know how long Meredith could maintain in the bitter cold this being her first real experience with it other than skiing trips as a child. We needed to wait this bull out but didn’t know if it was feasible.

Time passed slowly as it has a tendency to do in this situation. To be honest my eyes were starting to burn from all the snow reflection and wind, so I knew Meredith was suffering silently. Meredith got up and moved around some to get the blood flowing. Tony called me over just then. He had picked up an ear flick in the Aspen grove. We determined it was the does from earlier, and I was really beginning to doubt that this plan was going to work… And out of nowhere, there he was full broadside just at the edge of the park.

Meredith and I hustled back to our prepared firing position. I checked the wind. 3 mph full value left to right. I ranged him one more time 643 yards and checked the data; 4.4 mils. I gave this information to Meredith who was sitting directly in front of me. I also told her to not take the shot if one she wasn’t completely stable and two if she didn’t want too. “We’ll find another one if you decide not to take this shot so no pressure”. Meredith dry fired once on the bull while he had some vegetation covering his vitals then chambered a round. The bull took a step into the open and turned broadside facing to our right. One more step and we were going to be in for another long wait. I gave Meredith the command “fire when ready”. I waited and she didn’t break the shot. I assumed that she had decided to not fire. She asked for a wind call one more time. I looked at the conditions and said “.3 left hold send it”.

The little 6.5’s muffled pop didn’t even cause the mule deer does below us to lift their head. I picked the 143 ELD-X’s trace up about 100 yards from our position and watched it arch up and left slightly over the valley. Just as the bullet got even with the tree line it started to drift to the right with the wind. I knew at this point that I had given her a good wind call, and she had broken a good shot. The air was so clear from the snow storm that I could actually see the rotation of the swirl during the bullets short flight. The Hornady bullet slammed into the bull’s shoulder sending shock waves forward to the front of the chest and halfway down his body. Meredith cycled the bolt and prepared for the follow-up shot we trained for all summer, but it wasn’t needed. The bull took one step, dropped and then rolled down mountain into the stand of Aspens we had been watching. It is amazing how much information a brain can quickly process. Time of flight for that shot was 0.845 seconds. Just like that Meredith’s first head of big game was on the ground. All the time and ammunition used the prior year had been worth that very few seconds it took to finish the task.

Firing position looking towards the park where the bull was bedded

I was and still am a very proud husband. Meredith came through in a clutch situation and handled it with all the skill of a seasoned stalker. Would I have preferred a closer shot? Absolutely I would have, but sometimes you have to play with the hand you are dealt. That shot was well within her effective range and capabilities and was nowhere near the Hail Mary shot some hunters take in the field. Do I think all hunters should take long shots in the field? No, I don’t, nor do I look for them personally. Having the ability is a plus and gives you options. The right gear and thousands of rounds a year make it possible and ethical given the right conditions. Meredith shot over 2000 rounds last year alone in competition and training.

Given the situation Meredith found herself in the switch from 308 Winchester to 6.5 Creedmoor was actually a good move. With the two different loads the 6.5 actually outpaced the 308 at around 405 yards.

6.5 Creedmoor 143ELD-X 2660 fps 308 Winchester 165 Hornady Interbond 2680fps
643 yard hold       4.4mil 4.7mil
10 mph full value 0.9 mil 1.3 mil
1962. fps 1730 fps
1222.5 ft/lbs 1096.8 ft/lbs

The differences are small but they are there. Wind drift is the most glaring difference since this is a harder variable to adjust for in the field.

This last trip will stand out among all the trips I have been on in my rather limited hunting career. Spending time with family is of the utmost importance too me. I can’t think of a better way than spending time than in the mountains and wilds of the Western United States. It is a special place, and I think every sportsman should make the trip at least once in their life. I know it won’t be our last. A big thanks to Tony Bohrer and all the staff of Ivory Tip Outfitters.

Outfitter Info:

Ivory Tip Outfitters

Tony Bohrer (970)629-1361

Craig, Colorado USA

www.ivorytipoutfitters.com

ivorytipoutfitters@gmail.com

For all my fellow gear nerds:

Technical specifications:

Custom Remington 700 L chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor with 22” barrel threaded 5/8×24

Trigger Tech trigger set @ 1.5 pounds

Manners Composites EH-5 carbon fiber stock

Hornady Precision Hunter Ammunition 6.5 Creedmoor 143 ELD-X

American Precision Arms bottom metal and Accuracy International AICS 5 round magazines

Bushnell Elite Long Range Hunting Scope 3-12x44mm with G2h reticle mil adjustments

Manfrotto and Really Right Stuff tripod

Shadow Tech Hog Saddle

Thunder Beast 30ps moderator

Leupold Gold Ring 12-40 spotting scope

Vortex Razor spotting scope

Leupold 10×42 Binoculars

Cannon 10×50 image stabilized binoculars

Magnetospeed V3 chronograph

Gerald Delk

Sharp Shooter

One thought on “It’s Not Beginner’s Luck

  • December 13, 2017 at 3:03 am
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    What a great story, so proud of Meredith.

    Reply

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