I have a passion for elk hunting. After hunting in nearly all of the Western mountain states and provinces, I came upon an elk bonanza, the 95,000-acre Baca Ranch in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico west of Santa Fe. Baca is picture-perfect, enough so that motion pictures have been made there, but its real feature is its elk. Up to 6,000 elk roam on the ranch, 1,500 of which are bulls. The physical characteristics and ownership of the land provide them a level of protection and management normally not possible. It is a miniature but complete ecosystem. The elk are held by the secluded mountains and meadows of the ranch and the Bandelier National Monument, where hunting is not permitted. In effect, the lay of the land, the private owners of Baca and the US government hold the herd captive and protected. This has resulted in probably the most elk per acre anywhere in the US. The 6,000 elk are a success story of wildlife management. They have grown from 120 animals that were translocated to the Bandelier Monument from the Jackson Hole Elk Refuge in 1964. The National Monument acted as an incubator for the Baca elk population. As the Monument elk herd multiplied, they dispersed to the Baca.
The Baca was bought 25 years ago by Patrick Dunigan, a hunter-conservationist, and today the Dunigan family still owns it. The Baca first became a renowned hunting destination when it was operated by Ric Martin of Ric Martin Trophy Adventures, Ltd. After letting Martin operate the hunting for a decade, the Dunigan family in 1993 decided to operate their own ranch. Dave Collis heads up the hunting operation for the family. The hunting has continued to get better throughout both periods of management. To protect the trophy bulls, Dave Collis has increased the anti-poaching patrol from five or six patrollers to 45, which enables them to apprehend trespassers before they poach one of the big bulls. The number of hunters/clients have been reduced from approximately 100 to 63 per year, further reducing the pressure on the bigger bulls. These measures have paid off. The........(continued)