Arizona Archery Elk 2013
The beginning of archery elk season in Arizona was only a few days away and the blood in my veins was really starting to flow. I could see the hunt, feel the heat, the chasing, the early morning bugles. There is no better time to be in the woods than during the rut.
After 13 unsuccessful years, I finally drew an trophy bull tag. I was lucky enough to draw one of 15 bull only archery tags in one of the greatest units in the state (in my opinion) 23 south. I always told myself that when this day came, I was going to put in 100% to scouting to ensure a successful harvest. My father-in-law, Bryan Vivian and I, went in on the same application so I was blessed to have him along for the ride as we both had yet to harvest a bull elk with our bows. We both have never really been trophy hunters. Filling the freezer was always the number one priority for us. Sure, shooting a trophy size animal does always cross your mind while in the field but we typically shoot the first thing within range. However, after 13 years of no bull tags, this season was going to be different. With the loss of my father in late December 2012 hunting wasn’t really on my mind come application deadline time and we almost missed it. I was determined the “elk gods” were yet again going to skip my name in the draw process this year. Getting the confirmation of drawing a premium tag changed my spirits and I knew I needed to make the best of it.
We started like normal hunters almost immediately from the time we received the good news of our successful tag draw. Setting cameras and looking for water was top priority. Rainfall in Arizona is never a guarantee. Our summer monsoon storms typically fill water holes which is key for any large game species in our state. We found a lot of promising areas but eventually found an area which appeared to have great potential to hold big elk. We had some early summer rain in May and June which benefitted us in our early scouting trips. Our first trip back after setting cameras we were amazed at what we had photographed. We counted a total of 20+ different bulls hitting the water holes and elk highways leading to and from them. After each trip back every few weeks the bulls kept growing and growing before we realized that we might have a good chance at a 380″ to 400″ bull. Pulling our game camera photos every few weeks with the hope of seeing something bigger from the weeks prior made me that much more excited for opening day. Areas in and around our hunting unit during the summer months had received up to 12 inches of rain and it was making horn growth enormous. The last group of photos we pulled from our cameras really set the stage for us for our opening morning game plan. We were hit again with bad news a few weeks before opening day with the passing of my father-in law’s mother who had been battling cancer. She was always the life of all our hunts whether we were successful or not. She was always the first to congratulate any hunter in our family with a shot of Blackberry Brandy during once their harvest was back in camp. She could also fry up a deer or elk heart better than anyone. We definitely knew she would be with us during the hunt in spirit.
The first few days we hunted in the thick, steep country. We would spend the mornings glassing the for bulls and calling. Our afternoons were spent sitting water holes and wallows. Everyday produced results. We would see the few bunches of cows and some small bulls. But there was no sign of the really big bulls we had captured on camera.The third day into hunt about 9:00am the bulls had pretty much shut up for the day except one lone bull bugling about 300-400 yards away. This morning I was with a friend of mine, Devin Mclaws who was calling for me. At first, I was leery about going after this weak sounding bull as his bugles we were hearing sounded exactly like a smaller bull I had chased the previous morning. Since nothing else was making any noise, we decided to pursue him just to be sure. Devin was tailing me during our stalk about 50-75 yards staying out of sight. I had hunted with Devin a few years prior during his bull hunt so we had our routine down to a science. He would rake about every third bugle from me. He would also controlled the cow call and would through one in on occasion. The bulls hadn’t really been responding to cow calls this early into the hunt but our bugles seemed to be working fine for locating bulls. As we crested a small mountain into a big bowl I bugled and got a response about 150 yards away. I glassed a monster sporting a nice 7×7 wide frame and within a split second, had already made my mind up that he was a shooter. As I bugled and Devin raked, the bull dropped into the bottom of the bowl into the thick brush. I made my way to the bottom as well just off the edge of the brush to give myself plenty of shooting lanes once the shot presented itself. I continued to bugle and Devin raked about every few minutes (no cow calls) and we continued to get a bugle back from the bull. It was really hard to get a line on the bull as his bugles were bouncing off every side of the bowl. I was pretty confident he was headed straight for us looking to brawl. I stood behind a large tree thinking the bull was walking a trail to my right. Again, it was thick so I could only hear him bugling and couldn’t see him at all. After a few minutes of complete silence the bull snuck into me from my left walking broadside at 5 yards out of the brush on a quiet slow walk. The ground was extremely soft from all the previous rain and I couldn’t even hear his footsteps. As the bull walked into a small clearing to my left he spotted me and jumped forward and stopped only leaving only a bad gut shot from behind the tree. Remember, he’s 5 yard from the tree I’m standing behind. My adrenaline was pumping so strong I had an extremely difficult time coming to full draw. Standing still behind the tree I had a difficult decision to make. I knew I couldn’t step to my right or the bull would see me so my only option for a shot was to the left around tree trunk. I leaned as far as I could to the left, picked my spot and let it rip! Even though I was so close it hit him a little far back as my main concern was not to shoot the tree trunk. My instinct at this point was to immediately knock a second arrow. As he ran to my right Devin let out a single cow call and stopped him again at 20 yards broadside with a slight quartering stance. This allowed me a few seconds to draw my bow and drive the arrow directly in the boiler room. He immediately ran off out of sight back through the thick brush. I let out another bugle to try to stop him as he running. I will never forget the bugle he responded with as long as I live. Nothing says big bull down like a bugle gurgled with blood. We heard him crash to the ground a few seconds later. I knew I hit him solid so our time waiting for him to expire was extremely short lived as we were able to see him in his final resting place less than 75 yards from where my second shot impacted.
You can only imagine the hugs and high fives. This type of bull usually eludes hunters year after year but the myths and stories that are told keep hunters returning every fall. In closing, I would like to thank my wife for allowing me to spend time in woods doing what I love to do. Also a big thanks to Devin Mclaws, Bryan Vivian, Jim Brooks and my entire hunting family back in camp for helping me pack this 7×7, Pope and Young 385 4/8″ gross, 379 6/8″ net bull off the mountaintop. My father-in-law was also fortunate enough to harvest a 350″+ 7×7 off the same mountain towards the end of the hunt. I was humbled to see the season end on such a positive note. All in all, we are all hunters. No Regrets!