Opening Day Pretty Boy, Arizona’s Early Rifle Hunt
March 29 2009 I made a call to Arizona Game and Fish from work, and I think my entire crew heard me scream like a little boy, after I heard that I was the lucky draw of an early rifle Elk Permit in Arizona. From that moment on I didn’t waste a second learning something about the Unit.
I put the boots on the ground all summer, scouting any available weekend. Better yet my family was with me more than half the time. I took my two boys (15 and 13 yrs old) turkey hunting in the unit. Arizona now offers juniors hunters the opportunity of turkey hunting without going through the draw process. (awesome Job AZ!) They didn’t harvest a turkey, but we had some great hunts, saw some Elk and found some descent Elk sheds. The boys practiced their survival skills by building a fire from flint, and I always challenge them to find their way back to our vehicle or camp site without the use of a gps or me leading the way back.
I knew that there were plenty of Elk in the unit, and during my research I learned that this was the 1st time ever that this unit would have an early rifle season. The one thing I always hear and read from others was why bother scouting, that during this hunt they will be in the rut and you’ll be able to locate them. This might be true, but I wasn’t going to take any chances, I wanted to be able to know the area like the back of my hand and to be able to get around without worrying about were I was. Plus my #1 reason is to teach my boys a thing or two about hunting/scouting and also to spend time with the family. It was also a matter of practice what I preach to my boys, which is never take anything for granted, don’t be lazy and give it everything you got.
We hunted deer and again turkey during the archery season in the unit and it was during that time that I really got to know the unit, even though I had not seen deer in the area, I spent plenty of time with family and good friends during the hunt. I setout 2 trail cameras that I checked almost weekly and would relocate often. I never seen so much activity on cameras before. During these trips I found areas that the bulls were using to bed and it just seemed everything was coming together.
The archery Elk hunt in the unit 2 weeks prior to my hunt was very slow. During those 2 weeks it got really warm which kept them from rutting hard, everyone I had talked to said it was a tough hunt and that my hunt was going to be timed perfectly. But I was also concerned because the forecast was nice for the 1st day and then another warm spell was suppose to arrive. I arrived 2 days before for my hunt and I was a little sad that I wasn’t going to have my family and all my good friends with me, but I did have a great friend meeting me. It seems like the norm these days is to have 10-15 helpers during an archery hunt or early rifle hunt. Everyone is after a trophy of a lifetime. I was going to have just my bud and me, but by surprise my oldest son had planned all along to come up with my best friend. Both showed up together late the night before opening morning.
From all my scouting I felt the most activity was in an area about 5 miles from were we camped. The area had 2 canyons, a couple of tanks, was surrounded by junipers, pines, open grass fields and no traveled roads near by. I couldn’t ask for a better setup. Walking into the area in pitch dark, a couple bulls were screaming close by. We picked out the meanest, loudest bugle and setup. After trying to get sexy with a few calls of our own the bull came closer but then decided he didn’t like us, we temporarily decided to try a bull that was coming into our backdoor and even though we didn’t see him we decided he sounded young. In the mean time the 1st bull we setup on wouldn’t shut up but was continuing to get further away. We made a decision to see if we could close the gap.
We walked and walked staying downhill and behind him with the wind in our face the entire time. After about 2 ½ hours we spotted a 6x5 satellite bull raking a small pine , he was only about 35 yards away from us and never knew we were their, he was easy to pass up on because we knew he wasn’t the one screaming all morning. We pushed on after the younger bull walked away. Another 45 minutes went by and we had still not really made up any ground on the bull screaming his head off, we occasionally made a cow call, but it seemed like every time we did, he would get another step in front of us. Just as we were thinking that we needed for something to slow him up, we saw a few of the cows he had with him, and then we came up on a fence and at that time, we knew it would slow him up temporarily but we needed to get on the other side without making a ruckus. After crawling underneath the fence we again spotted some of the cows and then a rump that was much taller. I knew then we finally caught up to him. My son and bud stayed back about 50 yards of me. My son was on the video camera and he captured the bull on video as he was strolling through the trees (great video). I was able to get setup in front of the Bull figuring he was going to continue to head the same direction he had been traveling. As I was moving around slowly to get setup I tried to make it to a pine but I got caught in the opening as I saw him step out of some thicker Junipers. So I setup to take a shot but his vitals were perfectly positioned a behind pine tree. I was so caught up in the moment, but had enough common since to wait, he then stepped out and gave a arched neck, nose in the air screaming bugle as I squeezed off one perfectly placed shot. The area was so thick all I could hear was him crashing through trees to the left and then to the right, I then heard a final crash and him gasping for air. Even after hearing him take his final breath I was still in disbelief. We waited what seemed like hours but was probably only 15 minutes. As we waited, we reviewed the video that my son took. I knew he was a good quality bull by the video. I then said a quick prayer before going to look for him. We went to the exact spot of the shot and didn’t see a single spot of blood, I quickly was in disbelief, thinking no way did I miss, as I trusted the hours on end of practicing at the range going through 10 boxes of ammo trying to get the perfect group and shooting the best I have ever shot in my life. But then I knew adrenalin will do some strange things to you. We walked straight in and about 50 yards in front of us, he was down. A good quality opening morning Bull Elk. Emotions came over me rapidly as hugs and celebrations continued along with plenty of pictures. My proudest moments came as we were packing him out and watching my boy carry out a rear quarter over his shoulder .We had filled a tag and couldn’t have been happier that all the scouting had paid off as I believed that one of the pictures that my trail camera took was one of this awesome bull.
A lot of friends commented on that was quick or easy or they couldn’t believe I didn’t hold off for something even bigger. I know there were bigger bulls to be had, but I have a completely different take on hunting especially now. For me it was all about the time with friends and family. The entire summer getting to know the area, while forcing everyone to go camping in the unit, and having them go to the range with me every other weekend. We even spent sometime fishing areas we hadn’t fished before. Every day when I look at this bull’s dark, perfectly symmetrical rack with ivory colored tips I think of the memories from last summer. It wasn’t a quick hunt at all, as it actually lasted 185 days 3 hours and 14 minutes.