Two days ago I returned home from my rifle bull elk hunt on the Floyd Lee Ranch at the Grande Camp. This was my second hunt with USO on the Floyd Lee Ranch and it will not be my last! Randy was my guide. I had the pleasure of hunting with Randy on my first trip to Floyd Lee last year when I came to USO with a friend. This year I came to the ranch for a solo vacation and was able to hunt with Randy again. During both trips Randy’s knowledge of the area and the elk herd we were hunting is undeniable. Randy took all hunters through safety briefing upon everyone’s arrival at the Grande Camp. During the briefing he informed all the hunters the elk weren’t bugling much because it was late rut so we should all expect to do a lot of glassing to find the elk. Before I get into the details of my particular hunt I should mention there were a couple hunters in camp with limited mobility. This is NOT a problem for USO guides. They do a fantastic job of catering a hunt to the hunter’s specific needs so if a hunter has limitations all the hunter has to do is let their guide know and the guide will accommodate the hunter. Now back to my experience. I’m 46 and in decent shape. I do have a heart murmur which limits my ability to climb hills or run over long periods of time, however, it’s not much of a problem for me as long as I take frequent breaks to catch my breath. I informed Randy of this before we left camp on the first morning of the hunt. We had to do a lot of hiking to find the bull I ending up tagging. Along the way Randy would “check in” with me to see how I was doing, especially during the first couple hours. I could tell he was getting a feel for what my limitations were and this helped us both in the long run because we ended up taking most of the first day to bag the 5 x 5 bull I took home. As the day wore on Randy didn’t have to check with me to see how I was doing because he had already gotten a feel for my limitations earlier in the day. As it turns out my bull was in some very high country with 5 cows.
The terrain was steep and rocky. We initially spotted my bull at about 700 yards and Randy said, “This is going to be just like a sheep hunt.” Having never been on a sheep hunt I was a bit concerned because I have seen sheep hunts on TV and they don’t look easy. Randy asked me if I was up for it so I said, “Yes!” because I’m not one to back down from a new challenge, despite my congenital heart disease. Long story short, we had to side the hill off the mountain we were on, cross a valley (the Valley of Death as Randy called it). Then, side hill up the back side of the mountain where the bull was laying. Randy’s plan was to get into shooting position above the bull so we could get him out of his bed and shoot down to him. The strategy worked perfectly! It took us about 30 minutes to an hour to get to the ridge were I ultimately made the 180 yard shot to get my bull. From the time we arrived on the rocky mountain top, until the time I took my initial shot Randy made sure I had everything I needed; a solid rest, water, even hearing protection as my rifle has a muzzle break, and most of all reminded me to enjoy the moment. This is easy to lose sight of after you’ve been planning a hunt like this for months or even years, have covered 5+ miles to catch the animal and finally there it is inside 300 yards. It’s easy for a hunter to succumb to adrenaline and make stupid errors he normally wouldn’t make. Thanks to Randy’s coaching that didn’t happen to me. “Enjoy this”. Those words meant so much to me in the moment and even looking back as I sit in my office writing this. I lost my wife of 16 years a little over a year ago and sometimes a simple statement like, “Enjoy this.” is needed and that’s exactly what I needed from Randy on that mountain top looking down at this bull and his five cows in their beds. Randy isn’t your guide. Randy is your partner! For the next several minutes the hunt played out. After getting set up Randy hit a cow call and the bull bugled back several times until finally presenting me with the broadside shot I needed. I’m sure you hear this all the time, but I am normally a much better shot than I was in that moment. It ultimately took 5 shots to bring my bull down at 180 yards with my 300 WinMag. I’m almost embarrassed by it! My only excuse is I had been watching and listening to the bull for a long time. It seemed like an eternity, but in actuality it was probably 5 minutes from the time Randy made the elk bugle and get out of his bed until the elk finally eased up a draw where I could see for a clear shot. The first two shots were in the “bread basket”, but the 3rd and 4th were off the mark as the adrenaline did take over for a few seconds. The bull went down and proceeded to get up again before the 5th shot was a perfect double lung shot that put him down for good. Now the work begins. Randy and I had to side hill down the hill to the bull. Randy took a lot of pictures. As a matter of fact, Randy took pictures all day!! He took pictures while hiking in to find the elk and took pictures on the way out after we had quartered the animal and hung the meat so we could pack it out the next day. Another great thing about Randy. He gets candid moments during the hunt and STILL finds the elk for you! I digress, after taking a lot of pictures we got to work capeing and quartering the bull. It was getting late in the day so we hung the meat in some nearby cedars and hiked back to the truck. All told, it was about a 15 mile day. This was fine with me because both of us are fitness fanatics and what better way to remind yourself you’re alive than to sprint 100 yards with a 20 pound pack on your back after you’ve already hiked 15 miles, killed and quartered a nice bull elk. Yes! Challenge accepted, Randy!! The next day we ventured back to the mountain to retrieve the meat, antlers and cape. After 3 trips up the mountain it was done. The meat was in coolers. The antlers were in the truck and I was, once again, beyond happy with my USO experience. Another thing. Adam was the camp chef during my time at the Grande Camp. Adam, like everything else at USO, is on point. Our week started with t-bone steak, baked potatoes and vegetables. The steak was cooked to perfection and the flavor would rival any 5-star steak house, and I’ve been to a lot of 5-star steak houses in my travels over the years. After coering all those miles I mentioned earlier we arrived back at camp to chicken alfredo. This was a welcome meal to any carb depleted body. Breakfast every morning was awesome with eggs cooked to order and for lunch Adam made sandwiches to order for guys that would be out hunting all day. If you were going to be back in camp for lunch he would cook burgers. Adam also kept lots of snacks readily available for hunters to grab and go. Adam even made apple pie after one of the hunters requested one. I’m sorry, but that’s just awesome!!! In closing, this was indeed the hunt of a lifetime. I can’t imagine a better experience with another outfitter. I’m already booked for the 2020 early rifle bull elk hunt and will be working with Darlene in the USO home office to try my luck with the state lotteries in Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utak. If I do not draw a tag for 2020 I will return to Floyd Lee and I will definitely be asking to hunt with Randy again!
I’ve just returned from my elk hunt at the Grande Camp, and wanted to share a few thoughts with you. I have dreamed about hunting the Floyd Lee with USO since I first became acquainted with you on the Realtree TV shows. It’s still hard to believe it actually happened. My hunt was amazing and the number of elk I saw exceeded my wildest fantasy. The knowledge and team work of the guides collectively was awe inspiring. They seem to know every inch of that ranch and exactly what the elk are doing and where and where they will be and what they are doing. My guide was Rich Halcomb, and I must say I could not have asked for a better guide. His knowledge was amazing and his desire to make sure we experienced a hunt of lifetime was evident. He truly desired to give his clients the best. I would hunt anywhere, anytime with Rich. Adam our cook, also deserves a mention, the food was excellent and he was happy to make sure everyone had anything they desired. I do have a few things that I feel you could improve on, mostly administratively. First, once booked, we rally didn’t hear anything from you. Perhaps a quick email with some info on the camp we are assigned to with some camp pictures/details. For example, we had no idea what was available for meat care. I called the office to ask, and was told meat would be placed in an “ice chest” with dry ice and be frozen. Given that information, and not wanting our meat to be frozen and thawed, we decided to purchase a large chest freezer, and bring it in a trailer . . . it would have changed our decision to know the camps had really nice processing areas with walk-in coolers. Also, I realize the Grande camp is small, but with 8 hunters and 5 guides, 2 sofas and a metal folding chair was a little inadequate. Having said all this, on a overall satisfaction scale of 1-10, I’d rate my experience a 12-13! I would go back in a heart beat. I am planning on calling you after hunting season and discussing some of your draw hunts.