Raising three boys and now with three grandsons (and three granddaughters) the Scouting program has always been an important part of our family. I am an Eagle Scout and still have my official certificate signed by John F. Kennedy. I served as Scoutmaster and Committee Chair for various scout troops as we moved around the country. My wife, Ann, and I are proud to say that all three of our sons are also Eagle Scouts and now after a very impressive ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy, our oldest grandson is also an Eagle, completing three generations.
With this background, I’ve been an obvious advocate of the joint SCI-Scouting programs that we’ve launched and that we currently have underway. This affiliation with the Scouting program represents probably one of the best programs we have to ensure active hunter recruitment and to help young folks develop a good understanding of the outdoors, wildlife and habitat values.
One of the cornerstones within the Scouting program is the Philmont Scouting Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. This 141,000-acre ranch in the mountains of northern New Mexico has been developed to accommodate more than 40,000 scouts and adult leaders annually on extended backcountry hikes typically covering 60 miles in the remote mountains over a 10-day period.
Along with the backcountry experience, Philmont offers lessons and exposure to all types of outdoor activities including archery, rifle and shotgun shooting. SCIF has recently contributed to expanding the shooting range and plans are in place to offer scouts the opportunity to earn their Hunter Safety Certificate that then can be used in their home states to secure their hunting license. The Boy Scout program has taught more youth about wildlife conservation, wilderness survival, outdoor ethics, shooting sports, safe shooting practices and fishing than any other organization in the world.
In 2015, the Philmont Scout Ranch acquired yet more acreage in the form of another ranch known as the Cimarron Cita. This 2700-acre ranch has a rich history dating back to when Native American tribes used the land for productive hunting grounds. More than a mile of the Cimarron River traverses the ranch, and a productive spring provides a high quality water source. The ranch was developed as a camp for girls in the 1930’s and has been used as an elk and mule deer hunting camp since 2005.
The ranch itself is almost surrounded by the Philmont Scout Ranch and consists of a plateau of rolling hills representing a saddle between the larger mountains to the east on Philmont. This makes the ranch an ideal hunting area since elk and mule deer regularly use the area for its ample water as they move between the larger mountains surrounding the Cita.
The highly successful Philmont Scouting Program annually has a waiting list of 25,000 campers who simply can’t be accommodated. The purchase of the Cita property represents a unique opportunity to expand the Philmont programs and offers the opportunity to increase campers by more than 1,100 scouts per season. The vision for the ranch has campers staying overnight and exposed to a full sportsman’s experience with hands-on training in fishing, shooting sports and wildlife education done in the historical context of the “sportsman as a conservationist.”
Since the 1940’s, the Philmont Ranch has worked with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department to conduct managed big game hunts on the property. Annually, a fixed number of landowner tags are made available for purchase to hunt antelope, elk, mule deer, bear and mountain lions. The recent purchase of the Cimarron Cita increased the number of tags by more than twenty elk and deer. These guided hunts and fishing trips throughout the years serve as a valuable component of Philmont’s efforts to manage its natural resources. Wildlife survey information gathered by Philmont trekkers in the summer and hunters in the fall along with N.M. Game and Fish information determine the number of hunting permits that Philmont makes available each year. That assures the Ranch hunting program will assist in maintaining balanced populations of game species. In addition, an active Conservation staff ensures that all summer campers get to participate in on-the-ground conservation and habitat programs to benefit resident wildlife.
The Philmont hunting program is extremely well organized, having been in operation for 70 years. Hunters are usually considered upon recommendation from local Scout executives. The hunter files an application with a hunt deposit. If successful in the draw, the hunter receives a letter of acceptance. Various hunting dates are available to match personal schedules to hunt for elk, mule deer, antelope, bear and mountain lions. The Philmont hunting fee includes room and board on the Scout ranch, guide, vehicle, skinners, packers and full meat processing so that successful hunters can leave with their meat cut, packaged and frozen.
Earlier in the year, we were notified that a somewhat experimental hunt was available for three hunters to try out the Cimarron Cita ranch, which had not been hunted before by the Philmont staff. My son Geoff, grandson Gage and I were to hunt the Cita ranch as part of a first year exploratory hunt since the ranch has not previously been part of Philmont. We met our guide, Chris Montoya, and his son who had guided hunters on the Cita Ranch for the previous owners. Chris is life-long hunting guide with considerable experience all over New Mexico guiding for elk, mule deer, bear and mountain lions.
We met at the ranch entrance well before daylight on opening morning and watched the sun rise over the low-lying meadows around the ranch headquarters. We split into two groups; Geoff and Gage going with Chris, and I went with his son. This was going to be a true hunt since neither of us had ever been on the ranch before.
We climbed a couple of the smaller hills trying to keep the wind in our faces while glassing the alternating patches of timber and meadows. We did catch a small satellite bull in an open meadow but he wasn’t one to take on opening morning. We managed to locate a couple of promising spots to watch for evening activity and headed back down to the truck, met up with the other guys who had similar luck and then headed into town for lunch.
Late afternoon found us back on the top end of the ranch glassing a couple of large meadows for evening movement. Toward dark, we decided to begin a slow still hunt back down toward the truck. We hadn’t gone 100 yards when we spotted two nice shooter bulls slipping through the timber along the edge of the meadow. There was no chance for a clear shot, and it was getting too dark to try to intercept them, but it was encouraging to see bulls in the area. Geoff and Gage hadn’t seen anything so we made plans to cover the ridges to the north the next morning.
And so, the next two days went. We’d move slowly, glass and occasionally see a patch of buckskin colored hide moving through the timber, but no shot opportunities. On the evening of the third day, Chris and I were watching a meadow down low on the ranch when a young rag horn bull stepped out at 120 yds. He wasn’t a shooter so we decided to play with him. Chris cow chirped and he started our way.
The bull had come about 30 yards closer when we heard a single shot up top where Geoff was watching the meadow with his custom Mauser in .300 Win. Mag. Text messages confirmed he had a nice bull down so we got up, spooked our small bull and headed for the truck to help recover the bull. Fortunately, an old logging road went to the meadow and we were able to drive right up to the bull. We had the bull hanging in the Philmont cool box in time for a great dinner at the historic St. James hotel in Cimarron where many famous and infamous clients including Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp had stayed before us.
We met Chris again at the ranch gate before daylight, but as dawn approached we spotted a small herd of cows with a nice bull heading across the meadow and up toward the timber. We ranged him at 380 yards–too far for Gage to be comfortable with the shot, so I rested my Blaser in .300 Remington Ultra Mag on the Bog Pod and squeezed off the shot. The bull made a 10-foot circle and fell over stone dead. Since the ranch road bisected the meadow, we were able to drive right to him and get him loaded.
Now we had to concentrate on getting Gage a shot. We figured that most of the action was on the top end, so later that afternoon Chris took Gage up to yet another secluded meadow where elk were crossing. Sure enough, a half hour before dark we heard the crack of Gage’s .30-’06 followed by the confirming text message that his bull was down. They had taken a stand between two thick junipers, and a single bull came strolling into their setup at 90 yards, standing broadside for a perfect shot. He ran about 30 yards and collapsed, filling out our third and final tag.
Fortunately, once again, a logging road was nearby and we were able to get the truck right to the bull for another easy load. We got him back to Philmont and had him hanging in time for another great celebratory meal at the St. James–a perfect ending to a truly story book hunt–three generations of Eagle Scouts and three trophy bulls.