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January 2020
Story by Brady Bryce
State: Arizona
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

After the 1998 late elk hunt, I decided I was only after a trophy elk hunt, so I only put in for the rut hunts and rifle hunts. After about 20 years, I decided to call my cousins, Marc and Jay Lopeman, better known as A3 Trophy Hunts, for some advice on what I needed to do and where to go if I ever got drawn. We met for lunch, and they told me 23 South archery. I ended up drawing the #1 tag that year in that unit, but due to drought conditions, they called me and said to give the tag back. I was upset, but I donated my tag to the Wounded Warrior Fund and waited another year. Once again, I drew the early archery bull hunt in unit 23 South. I let Marc and Jay know, and come to find out, Jay had been drawn for the same hunt, so we were beyond excited.

When the time finally came, I was to hunt one side of the unit with Marc and Jay would hunt the other side with Chad Rhoton. Marc and I headed out on a Wednesday night?to camp. We arrived at around 1:30?a.m., slept for a couple of hours, and?then we were off to look things over. We found where we wanted to be for opening morning and planned it out.

Opening morning came, and we jumped into “the jungle” to get after these bulls. It was really a jungle as we couldn’t see over 50 yards. We heard our first bugle, and off we went. Marc called one in at about 40 yards, and he was a shooter bull around 380", which was my goal. I was in position when Marc said he had a busted third. To me, that meant don’t shoot, but it was only about 3" of his third broken off. The bull saw me move, and the opportunity was gone.

The next day, some good bulls were coming in, but they were just not what we were after. The rain came in and caught us off guard, so we jumped under a cedar and covered up as best we could. Unfortunately, Marc had to leave Sunday evening and go back to work for the week, so Dan Heigel, another A3 guide, came in to hunt with me since his client had left for a couple of days.

On Monday, we found a beautiful bull and got within 30 yards, but we couldn’t get a shot with all the brush. The wind swirled, and the bull was gone. We hunted Tuesday and ran into smaller bulls until Dan had to leave to go back to his client, so I was on my own until Marc was to come back Thursday night. I was exhausted from getting up at 3:30 every morning and not crawling into bed until 11:00 every night. I decided I was going to sleep in until 4:30 and then get up and glass a spot I liked.

When I made it to my spot, I set up and started looking at the few holes in the dense, brushy jungle. I spotted a bull I thought was around a mile or so out, but I didn’t know what I had, so I just remembered where he was and kept looking for more. When I was done, I scanned back around and picked him back up. He looked to be by himself, and he was in a location where Marc and I had had an encounter a few days before with a bull we thought was big but couldn’t do anything with. Marc did everything except sing and dance for this bull to pull him out of the jungle for a shot. It would not come out and it got dark on us, so we had to quit. I was thinking maybe it was this same bull. I marked this waypoint of where I thought he was and where I needed to go to get after this bull. A3 names these bulls, so I thought I was after a bull named “Sancho.” He supposedly had a huge third on his right side, so I wanted to see if this was him.

I headed out and got down where I thought I needed to be. He wouldn’t bugle, so I decided to make a big circle for my morning hunt. As soon as I started my circle, he bugled and I thought he was still 1,000 yards away, so I headed to him. He would bugle every five minutes or so, so I stayed after him. He ended up shutting up, so I held up in the middle of a manzanita thicket. He fired off a huge bugle, and I figured he was about 150 yards from me. I couldn’t see anything, but he wasn’t coming closer, so I tried everything I knew about calling elk. I cow called as soft as I could, and Sancho would answer but wouldn’t step closer. After about 40 minutes of back and forth, I cow called on top of his bugle and that was the trick for this bull. I heard him taking steps toward me. There was a lone oak tree at 17 yards directly between Sancho and me. I could see movement, but I couldn’t make him out very well. He made it all the way to the tree and stopped directly behind it. I was exposed from the waist up in the middle of the manzanita thicket, so I just froze. I could see him looking through the tree at me. He took a few steps out and forward and then turned. I knew he was good, but I didn’t know how good, so I picked my spot and shot. The broadhead hit and then he ran off. I heard a crash but wanted to give him some time.

The adrenaline just dumped, and I could not stop my body from shaking and the dry heaves took over. Never had this ever happened to me in the 35 years of hunting, but being close enough to have shot him with a slingshot, I guess it just got me too amped up. I started tracking him and found him about 70 yards from where I had shot. This was Sancho. He had a big third, so I ran up the hill for cell service and called Jay to tell him I had killed Sancho. Jay said to go field dress the bull and then go back to camp and wait for him. In the meantime, Chad texted me and said he didn’t think this bull was Sancho. I didn’t know what to think except doubt what I had just killed.

I made it to camp and waited on Jay. He finally showed up and brought help in the form of Colton Boulanger. He is a packhorse and made our work a lot easier. As we made it down to the bull, my mind was still trying to doubt that this bull was a good one, even though I knew he had to be good. When we made it to him, the look on Jay and Colton’s faces was worth the 20 years of waiting for this bull. We later green scored the bull at 430 5/8".

I had the time of my life on this hunt and haven’t laughed that hard and that often in a long time. Thank you to A3 – Marc Lopeman, Jay Lopeman, Chad Rhoton, Dan Heigel, and Colton Boulanger.