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Pushing the envelope: applying the science of long-range elk hunting with a LaRue OBR.

I'LL BE BACK IN TIME, DON'T WORRY." THAT WAS THE LAST THING TOLD MY WIFE, Rachel, before catching a flight to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She was expecting our firstborn within a couple weeks, and here I was trying to squeeze in a last-minute hunt with my buddies Tom Beckstrand, Todd Hodnett and Brent Wheat. We were headed for Mark LaRue's elk camp near Trout Creek, and for a week we'd be sleeping in bags on cots next to a wood stove for heat.

Once there, we found that even walking from the two-hole outhouse winded us at 10,000-feet elevation, but Mark LaRue's excellent Dillo Dust-ed bacon-and-egg cooking and coffee provided the energy we needed to start acclimating each morning. Living off the grid in a rustic cabin built by a forest ranger some decades ago, we hiked the Rockies in separate pairs between 9,000 and 11,000 feet with La Rue OBRs slung over our shoulders. Mark LaRue, owner of LaRue Tactical, is responsible for the "Optimized Battle Rifle" and is just as passionate about bringing elk meat back for his employees in Texas. That was our job this trip.

As the 7.62 OBR weighs nearly 10 pounds before the addition of a Schmidt & Bender 5-25X variable, I found it a bit heavier than a traditional bolt gun, but it offers sub-MOA accuracy, intuitive controls and extreme adaptability. Mine features Magpul furniture with LaRue's new RISR cheekpiece that slides along a CTR stock when you go to rack the OBR's charging handle. I'd zeroed it for 165-grain Hornady GMX ammo, which had clocked 2,700 fps from the 18-inch barrel.

Making an ethical long-range shot requires several certainties--a super-accurate rifle that you're entirely familiar with; a wide-range, variable-powered scope; good bullets; and a ballistic computer to account for current conditions and an appropriate holdover solution. Most important, the hunter needs to be experienced in making wind calls and have the self-control to apply marksmanship fundamentals in field conditions. Even then, no shot carries a guaranteed result.

By the third day, it had gone from beautiful weather to more than a foot of snow, and only Tom had success. He dropped a nice 4x5 bull Todd had ranged at 505 yards. The bull was facing broadside, and Tom held just behind his shoulder using the holdovers Todd gave him on the scope's H58 reticle. The first shot entered just behind the bull's shoulder and blasted a two-inch channel through the lower portion of the heart. A rapid follow-up shot ensured that the bull didn't go any farther up the mountain, but it wasn't absolutely necessary. Both bullets struck within three inches of each other.

My only encounter with a bull this trip came after a steep vertical climb interrupted with long pauses to catch a breath. Tom was my spotter, and Brad Carnahan was the guide. Dense thicket and tall evergreens eventually gave way to sparse trees and bushy vegetation near the top. Brad had caught a glimpse of a bull among some trees on another parallel hillside just opposite of ours. Tom ranged it at 647 yards. Not only was it a long shot, the bull sat down and didn't move. Brad and I crawled to a closer position and set up a carbonfiber Manfrotto tripod for me to rest and stabilize for a possible shot. Tom calculated the holdover for the Horus on Todd's Whiz Wheel, and I stayed on the trigger over the vital area, ready to fire. While Brad and Tom surveyed the hills for other elk, this one didn't move, and his head was completely obscured by the trunk of a fallen tree. Just before dark, the bull stood and turned his head, giving us a quick glimpse of his points. I felt the fever run through my arms, as it was obvious that he was a bull. Tom and Brad tried to confirm his maturity by identifying how many points he had, but the light ran out before we could be sure he was legal. Tom whispered afterward, 'I've never seen someone stay on a scope that long."

We hunted hard for subsequent days, but the elk just weren't moving and the snow got deeper. Mark had purchased several cow tags for us, and on the last day our only chance at filling them came when Mark spotted several cows bedded down on a hillside above a hay field not too far from the cabin. After lunch and a short strategy meeting, the entire group set up for a linear ambush among a field of haystacks. Perhaps there might be a bull among them, I thought.

There was no bull. Brad was glassing near Tom, and I pointed out a cow, one that Brad obviously knew. "That cow is with a calf," Brad said. "A couple weeks ago, a bow hunter wounded her a few miles away. Since that calf over there was still on the teet, I wanted to give them a little more time before I tried to put her down. She doesn't let me get that close anymore. She's been very skittish."

It pains me to see a wounded animal, so I volunteered to use my tag and put her out of her misery. Todd gave me a range of 486 yards and a hold of 2.3 mils. I focused on the checklist of fundamentals, steadied my breathing and thought about how I would gently apply pressure to the trigger. The OBR was affixed to the Manfrotto by way of a LaRue Picatinny rail adapter for tripod mounts, so I had a rock-solid position. It was our intent to fire simultaneously, at different cows, but I was slow to Brent and Tom's mark. In my field of view that moment, I could see the elk scatter, but the wounded cow kept staring at me without moving. I didn't hesitate further and made the shot.

On inspection, I found the GMX struck exactly where I had been aiming. The LaRue OBR delivered it straight to the heart. It's not a shot I could have confidently taken with a lot of other rifles and certainly not without the ballistic solution provided by Todd's Whiz Wheel.

Though I didn't go home with a trophy, I feel satisfaction in the fact that I'd been able to end the suffering of a wounded elk with one clean shot at long yardage. The continued snowstorm almost grounded my flight, but, fortunately, we were on the last plane allowed to leave, and I arrived home to witness my wife give birth to our daughter, Lilianna.

(Author's note: A permanently modified, three-round KAC detachable magazine was used for this hunt).


TYPE: Gas-operated, direct-impingement, rotating-bolt semiautomatic


CAPACITY: 20 rds.

BARREL: LW50 stainless; 16.1,18 (tested) or 20 in. (1:11.25-inch twist)


WEIGHT: 9.7 lbs. (empty w/o optics)

FINISH: Type III hardcoat anodized (aluminum), phosphate (steel)

STOCK: A2 (standard), 6-position adj. Magpul CTR w/LaRue RISER (tested), SOPMOD (optional), Magpul PRS and UBR (optional)

SIGHTS: Troy Industries flip-up BUIS

TRIGGER: Mil-spec, 5.5 lbs. (tested)

PRICE: $3,370 (base model)

MAKER: LaRue Tactical,
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Author:Poole, Eric R.
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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