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Old December 5, 2019, 01:01 AM   #1
huntinaz
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AZ Bull Elk Hunt 2019-Beating the Odds

Gonna have to do this one in installments I think. It's gonna be long-winded so fast forward to pics if you get bored.

Lotta bulls hit the dirt this week despite family obligations and lousy weather doing its best to keep us from success. We originally had 5 tags in camp but my good buddy Ben lost his Grandpa right before the hunt so he was unable to make it this year. We missed him badly and I hope to see him soon because it's been a few years since we've hung out. On top of that, we were snowed out of our normal hunting spot that is dynamite. We've spent years getting to know the area and perfected how to hunt it and we were excited to hit it this year but as the storm grew and snow predictions climbed, we decided it unwise to hunt that high and the Forest Service closed all the roads in anyway so we were forced to hunt a totally different part of the unit. Luckily I've spent the last two years horn hunting this part of the unit and while I haven't found much for horns I have seen bulls and taken the time to find glassing spots and kept this knowledge in my back pocket just in case we had to hunt it someday. I also picked the brains of a few friends who've hunted it so going in I had a rough game plan of what to do. I was the only one in the hunting party that had really been in this area before but we had some good guys coming to help and we had good hunters so I still predicted good success. Despite the bad luck so far I was determined not to let it get me down. We had bull elk tags and were gonna kill bulls, different spot and inclement weather be damned. We had 4 tags to fill, myself, my brother Tate, my friends Casey and Clark.

My dad and brother and I set up camp a day early to beat the storm. They were calling for 1-3 feet of snow in and around our usual spot and 6-12 inches where we were actually going to hunt. But we got set up, two wall tents and a bunch of stove wood cut and we waited for the storm and the cavalry to arrive. My buddy Clark rolled in after dark and we had some beer and caught up.

Picture of camp:


Thursday before the hunt (Thanksgiving) was rainy off and on, we spent the day scouting a new spot my neighbor told me about and cutting more wood. Since the bad weather was late Clark drove back to his family and had Thanksgiving. Just before the main storm hit we managed to find a few elk but no bulls except spikes. We had been forced into the high desert by the snow and this part of the unit just doesn't hold the same numbers of elk that our usual spot is known for and it was already showing. I had a somewhat uneasy night of sleep.The rain fell on the tent roof all night and I was eager to get to work...

Day 1

It rained all night Thursday night and just before dawn Friday it finally turned to snow. We had a few inches for the morning hunt and it would snow off and on the whole day



We parked the two trucks together and made a plan on where to hunt. I showed my dad and brother on Google maps the area and terrain I thought they should still-hunt that I call my secret canyon, a spot I'd kicked up numerous bulls while horn hunting and Clark and I would hunt the other side of my secret canyon and over to the next one. The first two hours produced nothing for either party, still hunting in the blowing snow. Visibility was low but the snow kept the noise down. I love still hunting when snow is falling, the serenity and stillness is beautiful.


The rifle I carried for this snowy still hunt was my high school graduation present from my dad. A Winchester Model 70 in 30-06, fixed 4x scope. I've been using my 300 WSM as my main big game rifle for about ten years now and 4 years ago on my last bull hunt my dad said something that really bugged me. He asked me if I was going to sell the old '06 since I never use it anymore. He didn't mean it as a dig but it hurt my feelings he thought I'd ever sell it. I'd been thinking about that comment he'd made 4 years ago a lot last couple months and made sure the rifle was ready to rock. I really wanted to kill a bull with it so my thoughts on the weather this day was that it was perfect.

At about 9am we hadn't seen any elk or any fresh sign as we made our way up to the next canyon. Visibility was poor across the canyon as the snow fell pretty hard so we took refuge in a patch of trees and wondered what to do. My plan for the rest of the day was thin. So we sat there for a spell and truthfully I was wondering what to do. I was taking a leak when Clark called my name. I was clearly busy so I didn't respond and when he called it again I knew that he wasn't looking at me and knew by his tone that he had elk. I zipped up and turned around and sure enough he had a spike bull feeding across the canyon. He was just feeding down below our visibility line so I said let's go sneak to the left and see if he's with any bigger bulls. We made it about 100 yards, I was trying to keep trees between us and him wen Clark spotted two more bulls off to our right that we hadn't seen in our first spot. So we backed out and went back to our previous spot and could now see there were actually three bulls. They were all small six points, the best one had busted his left side after his fourth. They were spread out maybe 200 yards apart in a line, mowing down the cliff rose on the opposite side. Their antlers were covered white with accumulated snow and they were feeding vigorously. Picture perfect. I had originally figured on holding out for a 300" type bull for the first 5 days but between all the circumstances of the hunt, the circumstances of the morning and the rifle I was using, I said yeah Clark let's double up right now on these bulls. The stalk was on.

They were about 400 yards from us originally. We were only confident to 300 yards with the rifles we had so we kept backing out and coming up to the rim. Finally we came to 300 yards and as we did I realized I had mistook the reference bull on the far left for the bull on the far right. Crap. Sure enough I got glass on them and the one in the middle had us pegged. He stood there watching, antlers up and white and covered in snow. Busted. The other two were still oblivious. Clark got prone in shooting position but I had to clear a few scrub junipers to have the lane. Since the other two bulls hadn't seen us and the alert bull didn't seem too spooked I decided to just walk over the 5 yards I needed to and figured he'd probably let me. I did that, and he didn't like it. He started to walk up and out and the other bull started to follow. Clark was ready, I got ready, his bull on the left and mine in the middle (the one who busted me). I let out a bad cow chirp with my voice and they froze broadside and stood proud waiting for the oncoming volley. They got it. I leveled just below the back and let one rip and missed. He started to leave again and I stopped him again. By now I was pissed about almost blowing my opportunity and was going to make this next one count. I was steady on the sticks, I held again and squeezed. This time I heard the WHOP and he took about three steps behind a big cliff rose bush and his antlers disappeared and I could see legs kicking. Bull down. I swung over to Clark's bull to see what was happening there and after a couple shots we had two bulls down. I guided Clark in to his from across the hill and he confirmed we had two dead bulls about 200 yards apart. My dad and brother came to us to help.

Clark's bull turned out to be a 6x7. He's a happy camper:


Here's mine:




Clark's bull's antlers were especially snowy, he got a pic before we dusted him off:



We spent the rest of the day boning elk and hanging quarters in trees and making trips to the truck. My dad and brother found a two tracker that made the remaining pack-outs easier but it was certainly a lot of work. Luckily reinforcements found their way to camp. My buddy Paulie from NY made the trip to help us, Casey (tag holder #4) and Jeremy (Clark's buddy) showed up after dark to help us drink a few victory beers and hear the day's tales. Camp was now complete. We had 7 guys, 6 more days, and two more tags to fill.

To be continued...
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Old December 5, 2019, 06:27 PM   #2
shortround60
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Wow, very nice!
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Old December 5, 2019, 11:19 PM   #3
huntinaz
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Day 2:

I have understated how exhausting day 1 was for Clark and I. From about 9am until dark we had been cutting elk and packing quarters through crappy terrain and ~6" on snow. Luckily we had found a way to get the trucks closer to the elk and the morning of da 2 was spent packing the rest out. We had Paulie and Jeremy to help and after two trips each we were back in camp with everything. Action shot of Clark and I on our final victory run, this be my favorite picture of the whole hunt:


Finally in the truck:


Tate and Dad and Casey spent the morning trying to fill their tags, they got to a spot bright and early only to have a group of hunters show up and start glassing right next to them. Burns me up. If someone beats you to a spot, go find another one. Our group left and found a new spot. They saw some bulls but nothing big enough or close enough to go after.

We climbed a big hill in the snow that afternoon to try and find them some elk but turned up empty. All in all another exhausting but satisfying day.

__________________
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"Feed me, or feed me to something. I just want to be part of the food chain." -Al Bundy
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Old December 6, 2019, 12:03 AM   #4
huntinaz
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Day 3 started off a bit frustrating. Driving into the parking spot Jeremy got stuck, and then Casey got stuck trying to pull him out. It was truck after truck and they all got stuck... you know the story.

Tate and Paulie and I went hunting but all we turned up were bobcats and deer. It was a beautiful morning though.


By 11am all the Dodge trucks were finally unstuck and everyone on Team Dodge wanted to go back to camp for lunch. They were also out of ideas on where to hunt. I begrudgingly made the mile trudge in the snow back to them to help out. Casey had about 24 hours left to hunt and as we sat in camp and shot the crap I was really feeling the time crunch. Nobody wanted to go back to any previous areas we'd been, and nobody was too keen an hiking very far to a glassing spot, so I opened a Coors (or two) to relax and looked at Google maps trying to turn up a sleeper. Finally I picked a spot that looked like it had potential and wasn't a bad walk. On the way in Casey could see I was frustrated and he said relax Jake, I'm having fun, if we don;t see any more elk the rest of the trip I'm happy.

We parked the truck and 100 yards later we had a herd of cows across the canyon. Good sign. Casey stopped and opened a sack of Beech-Nut and apparently we all thought it looked like a good idea. We took a chaw with Casey, for luck, and I said Casey stay here and glass this spot, I'm gonna go find you a bull over here. Maybe 50 yards later, making my way slowly up the canyon, I looked down and saw a bull crossing the bottom, heading for the open side of the hill. I got Casey on the radio, told him to come to me. He was there in about 60 seconds and by that time two bulls about the same size were bee-bopping up the other side, no idea we were there. As Casey got set up with his fancy 28 Nosler, I looked the bulls over and said they are about the same, give me a minute to assess.. Casey said I don't care, I'm gonna shoot the one in front. That worked for me. I gave him a range of 280 yards and stopped them with a cow chirp. One shot, two steps and three seconds later that bull was on the ground. Casey with the Beech-Nut bull:


He was a pretty good 5 on his right side and should have been a 6 on his left but was pretty busted up. We had a friendly bet whether or not he blew up the heart. Casey said he must have, I said he was too high and instead probably blew up the aortic trunk:


I was the winner. Great shot. 180gr Berger Hybrid at ~3200fps about half way up the body in line with the front leg blows up aortic trunks (no exit BTW):


This was a pretty easy pack-out, relatively, and we got the whole thing back to the truck right about dark, thanks to Jeremy. As soon as I got the first front and hind legs off he threw them in his pack and smoked up the hill to the truck and came back for another over-sized load for the final pack-out. He earned the nickname Moose for his heroic efforts and many beers were drank in his honor. Many of them by him. Us taking a victory breather:


Celebrations were had back at camp, beer cans accumulated, elk burgers were grilled. Three bulls down, one more to go:
__________________
"When there’s lead in the air, there’s hope in the heart”- Hunter’s Proverb
"Feed me, or feed me to something. I just want to be part of the food chain." -Al Bundy

Last edited by huntinaz; December 6, 2019 at 12:13 AM.
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Old December 6, 2019, 08:12 AM   #5
taylorce1
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Looks like it was a great experience and hunt by all. Congratulations on a successful elk hunt.
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Old December 7, 2019, 01:11 AM   #6
huntinaz
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Day 4

And so it was down to Tate. This was actually my little brother's first bull elk tag. He's always put a late cow hunt as second choice and he's killed a pile of cows, but four years ago I convinced him to hold out for a bull tag and this was his year. To be honest I genuinely hoped he would kill the biggest bull and with the last four days completely dedicated to him I had zero doubts we'd be filling this tag. It was just a matter of when, and how big.

The morning found us further down Beech-Nut canyon looking for a bull. Moose slept in, Casey and Clark joined us for the morning. Another beautiful sunrise and the spot seemed likely, but all we found were cow elk:


Mid day we were making our way down the canyon rim, trying to find a bedded bull on the north-facing side. We were not successful with this effort but we did stumble right into a herd of cows we had seen earlier in the morning. They were all asleep! I've only seen this a couple times, where I could tell a deer or elk was sleeping. We were able to get within 100 yards of these sleeping elk and we watched them for about 20 minutes. It really was a good learning experience. I could see one cow in particular very well I set up my tripod so I could watch her sleep. She moved her ears periodically, she turned her head once in awhile, she chewed her cud. She appeared mostly alert, except her eyes were closed and she was zonked out. Her eyes never opened the whole time. and at one point she layed her head down and curled up with her head near her tail like a dog and was completely racked out. She should probably have been fired from her position as sentry. Anyway as we watched the elk for the better part of half an hour I was fairly overcome by something that I think about a lot; I love elk. I love them. I love to see them, I love to watch them, I love being out where they are and being part of their game. And what is profound for me is just business as usual for them. The sun, the rain, the wind, the snow, the cold and the chase and the blood. This was day 4 of a truly epic hunt for me, epic for the time spent with my dad and brother and best friends, for the experience and the success and the failures and for the nature of the business... and for them it was just another day. Same game, different sides of the food pyramid. I think there's a lesson in there somewhere. That's what I was thinking as we made the walk back to the truck. Here's the sleeping sentry:



Casey, Clark and Moose had to leave mid day and they did. It was now up to me, Dad, Tate and Paulie. I had a new spot in mind to check out and the only little wheel rut road we could find into the country hadn't been driven since the storm. 500 yards down the road revealed that many animals were traveling the canyon bottom so we decided to park right there and start hunting the canyon. As soon as we got to the top my dad spotted an elk and the Swaros revealed two bulls, one 4-5 point raghorn and one 6x6 bull about the size Clark and I killed. They were feeding in the thick cliff rose and pinons and junipers on top the the ridge two canyons over. Tate and I crossed to the next ridge and got within range but between the different angles, elevation and their position on the hill, we could not see them.

Nearing dark I finally glassed up an antler moving above some cliff rose. After a minute the whole bull came into a small clearing and this was the bull we had been looking for all hunt. He was not one of the original bulls, he was bigger. A nice wide, tall, heavy 6x6 clearly bigger than anything we'd seen. We were 340 yards from him and Tate's rifle will do that but the tip of a juniper tree was just covering what was important. We just didn't quite have the right angle. Had we been twenty yards to our left we'd have had the shot (we found this out later). As he came into this small clearing he looked in our direction a long time, apparently assessing our side of the hill and the open country below him. He then started eating again but always being careful to look around as well, making it impossible for us to move on him. He was being smart. Finally he took a few steps out of it and we got the angle we needed should he step back into that clearing or the next one but he never did. He stayed up in that thick stuff never presenting a shot. We also had confirmation from Paulie and Dad that the original bulls were still around but they stayed out of shooting lanes as well.

We decided not to gamble on still-hunting and spooking them with darkness approaching and instead we backed out hoping we'd be able to catch that bull in better country nearby in the morning. So it was we spent all afternoon in range of two different shooter bulls but never got a shot. Perhaps the next day would be better...
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"Feed me, or feed me to something. I just want to be part of the food chain." -Al Bundy
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Old December 7, 2019, 02:12 AM   #7
huntinaz
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Day 5

We were back to the same spot first thing in the morning trying to locate the bulls from last night but they were nowhere to be found. We moved our way down the canyon, looking for elk and assessing the new country. Tate mentioned to me his standards were slipping, maybe he wasn't ready to settle for a spike yet but almost any bull would do. I said that's fine but I'm ready to hunt the whole time to find you a bull. He agreed but he was ready to kill one.

By 10am we'd made it to the point we wanted to make it to and we'd seen nothing. We wanted to spend all day in this area given the elk sign we were seeing, the lack of human sign we were seeing, and the bulls we'd seen the night before. We made a plan that Paulie would go back to the best glassing spot we'd found that morning and we would wrap around and still-hunt a thick bedding area we'd seen some fresh bull tracks heading into. But first, we just had to go check out further down the canyon. The vegetation opened up dramatically along the north side of the canyon but there was enough vegetation on the north facing side that allowed shaded bedding. We decided to go maybe one more mile down and see how it looked. The problem was it was to wide open to move slowly along the rim so we had to get way into the flats and travel and then sneak up to the rim at intervals. Walking quickly in wide-open country mid day doesn't always seem like great elk hunting practice but in some circumstances it makes sense

About half mile down we were sneaking up to the rim behind a juniper tree, being careful to look at everything we could see before advancing every few steps so as not to spook out our glassing spot before we got there. We were almost to the rim when Tate said I've got an elk. It's a bull. I could not see it from my angle, the juniper tree we were using as cover blocked my view which was good. Dad stayed there to keep an eye on the bull. As we eased up to the tree and cleared past it to the right for a shot I ranged the bull at 310 yards. It was bedded in the sun and appeared to be looking our way but didn't stand up. Tate set up on sticks and dialed up to 300 yards. I looked the bull over quick and knew it wasn't big, appeared to be missing a lot of brow tines, so I said hey do you want me to try and find any other bulls before you shoot that one? His response was a flat "nope." He was gonna kill that bull. It was time.

He set up and aimed and just as I was about to whisper that he had plenty of time and not to rush the shot, he ripped one off. Clean miss right over the top. The bull leaped up and stared hard at the torn up dirt that had just sprung up behind him. Judging by what I'd seen the day before, I truly believe this bull elk was asleep and the bullet hitting behind him and the shot woke him up. He appeared to be looking our direction before the shot but the noise he would have heard first was the bullet impact behind him, not the report of the rifle, and that's where he was looking. Anyway Tate racked another and I heard him exhale. The next shot found its mark and the bull's legs gave out and he fell over backwards. Tate's first bull, our final bull, was on the ground! I said you did it buddy, you finally killed a bull elk. You waited four years to draw this tag and you filled it. He said to me "I've waited 32 years for this moment, Jacob"

My little bro's first bull elk, turned out to be a funky 3x5. His right antler base is bent forward, a gene we've seen once in awhile, and he's busted a brow tine off his full 6-point side:


Ready for the pack out:


The pack out wasn't too bad. We got back to camp well before dark and we tied one on. We figured there was cause for celebration. Four bulls in five days was a good feat for us. I love hunting the Arizona high desert. It was certainly tough to get snowed out of our normal spot but beating the odds and going out and having a fantastic hunt anyway was special. I just love to hunt, and lining up on a bull elk is right up near the pinnacle of it for me. So much of my life is wrapped up in elk. I've been cutting meat for two days now and though my freezer is filling up fast I know that it'll be emptying faster than the next tag will come and I can't wait to go chase them again. This was a long-winded post but I wanted to try and tell it as grand as it was to all of us, so I can go back and read it and remember how great it was. These aren't the biggest bulls around but they are special to us and this hunt will be tough to beat. I'm excited for what the coming years will bring. Happy hunting.
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"When there’s lead in the air, there’s hope in the heart”- Hunter’s Proverb
"Feed me, or feed me to something. I just want to be part of the food chain." -Al Bundy
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