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January 2024
Story by Stephen Hamer
State: Arizona
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

Wednesday, March 15, 2023 is a day I’ll never forget. I was driving home from work when my phone rang. I saw that Huntin’ Fool was on the caller ID and thought it was strange that they were reaching out to me. Then it hit me. Arizona’s draw results came out today. I quickly answered the call and was greeted by Austin Atkinson, a Hunt Advisor for Huntin’ Fool. He asked me if I knew why he was calling, which at the time, I honestly had absolutely no idea. He then proceeded to tell me I drew an early season archery bull tag in Arizona and that it was in a premier unit known for really big bulls. I think I almost wrecked my truck when he told me that, so I apologize to anyone who was on Interstate 64 that day. I couldn’t believe it, nor could he, mainly because I only had 6 points and drew a tag in a unit that typically takes around 25 points to draw as a non-resident.

Even though the hunt was still six months away, I began planning and preparing the very next day. Huntin’ Fool was phenomenal with helping me plan for the hunt and advising which outfitter to book with based on the unit I would be hunting in. They stayed in contact with me all the way up until the hunt, making sure everything was good to go on my end. I cannot thank Huntin’ Fool enough for their expertise and guidance throughout the entire application process and thereafter.

September 15th finally arrived, and I was more than ready to get after it. With any hunt, or really anything in life, you typically have some sort of expectations in place beforehand, and my expectations for this hunt were instantly blown away on the very first morning. The amount of big bulls that were screaming in all directions was truly indescribable. It sounded like we were actually hunting inside of Jurassic Park and not a public land mountainside of Arizona. We began hiking out a ridge where we ended up having a super close encounter with a big bull and a herd of cows that were cooped up in some thick cedars. At one point, we were within 10 yards from the cows and could hear the bull screaming just past them but barely out of sight. The cows all stepped out into my shooting lane, but of course, the bull took a different trail and never presented me with a shot. We only caught glimpses of the bull as he worked his way through the cedars and out of our lives. He was big. I think my heart was about to explode with the anticipation of him possibly stepping out for a shot.

That evening, we glassed up a very nice bull and guessed him to be around 345". My guide, Eric, advised that I pass that bull and wait for something bigger, so I took his advice and we continued hunting. It was a tough pill to swallow because that bull was probably one of the biggest bulls I’d ever seen.

The next morning, we started out in the lower elevation area of the unit and instantly heard multiple different bulls bugling as soon as we stepped out of the truck. It was game on! We took off up the hill in the direction of two different bulls sounding off. Once we got to the top of the ridge, we laid eyes on the first bull down in the valley. He was a mature bull but just didn’t have much going on antler wise. We moved down the ridge in order to get in front of the second bull who was coming right at us based off his bugles. He finally stepped into view at 60 yards, and he was a gorgeous dark- horned, light-tipped 6x6 that probably scored around 345-350". He was screaming his head off. Eric looked at me as though this was my time to make a decision. It was a tough call, but I decided to pass this bull as well. Thank goodness I did.

We started our walk back to the truck, and as we approached, we heard another bull bugling on top of the opposite ridge. We, of course, had to go check him out as well. We hoofed it up the ridge quickly, and once at the top, we slowed our pace big time and started stalking into the thick cedars and pines. The bull was close. I eased out 30 yards ahead of Eric and got set up. As soon as I was situated, I looked back at Eric and gave the nod where he then let out an aggressive bugle call and was immediately answered by the bull in the same demeanor. I could now hear the bull walking loudly on the rocks but couldn’t tell exactly which direction the bull was heading. In a matter of seconds, the bull appeared out of nowhere and was already at 25 yards and closing quickly. I instantly knew this was a bull that I would be more than happy to put my unit 3C tag on. He came in so fast that I barely had time to get to full draw. Simultaneously, I mouth called to stop him. He stopped on a dime, but I was a half second too late and the bull stopped just barely past my only shooting lane. My 20-yard pin rested firmly on his back legs. I didn’t have a shot. The bull spooked and trotted back down the hill in the direction he had originally come. I was devastated. Luckily, the bull got about 200 yards away from us and started bugling again! We watched him go up the opposite ridge from us, bugling the entire way up the hill. We planned to back out and let him go to bed so that we could come back that afternoon and try our luck again, until a second bull started bugling alongside him. They started going nuts! Eric then decided we’d better just stay on the bull’s trail and try to make it happen right then and there. Game on.

We pursued up the same ridge the bull was on, easily going in the right direction due to the constant bugling and sounding off from both bulls, allowing us to pinpoint their exact location. We stalked in close and got to about 60 yards from both bulls, only catching glimpses of the bulls zig-zagging through the thick brush. They were now both in view. Eric and I tucked in close to a cedar tree and waited for a shot opportunity. Both bulls were slammers, easily pushing the 350" mark. I told myself that I was going to shoot whichever bull gave me a shot opportunity first. The bulls circled each other, constantly bugling and stopping to thrash their horns in the trees. One bull even trashed his horns into a downed log, and with one swift neck turn, he flung the log six feet into the air! I was starting to wonder if I needed to be hunting with a hard hat on. Now the bulls were walking side by side from right to left, coming directly into my shooting lane. I came to full draw, waiting for Eric to give me a range. In somewhat of a state of panic, Eric informed me he could not get a range on them because of all the brush that was in between him and the bulls. I guessed the closest bull to be about 40 yards away. I mouth called and stopped the bull in his tracks, holding my 40-yard pin firmly behind his shoulder. I squeezed off on my release, letting the arrow fly, and watched as the last little bit of my orange fletching disappeared right into the crease of the bull’s shoulder. It was a perfect shot and went through him like butter. The arrow even stuck 2" into a pine tree after the pass- through, which was pretty crazy to see.

There is no question that this was truly a hunt-of-a-lifetime for me. Once again, I cannot thank Huntin’ Fool enough for helping me draw this elite tag and pointing me in the right direction on which outfitter to book with. I ended up booking with A3 Outfitters, and they were absolutely top notch from beginning to end. My guide, Eric Fish, knew the unit like the back of his hand. If it wasn’t for them and Huntin’ Fool, this West Virginia boy would have been lost out there in the mountains of Arizona. I highly recommend Huntin’ Fool to anyone who is serious about western big game hunting.