It seems that these days I have equal amounts of planning, anxiety, and strategy split between deciding what tags to apply for and the actual hunts once I draw. In 2018, I finally accumulated enough Arizona elk points to draw an archery bull tag. On what turned out to be an extremely dry year, I killed a respectable bull with Mark Lopeman from A3 Outfitters. When 2019 applications came due, there wasn’t the normal pressure to pick just the right hunt to use my points on because I only had my loyalty point left. I applied for the same unit, and much to my surprise, I drew my second choice, late rifle. I immediately called Mark to let him know, and he suggested that I hunt with Jed Larson as his two daughters had drawn the same tag.
Later in the spring, I found out that my son, Connor, who was 14, had drawn a Colorado mule deer tag. We were super excited about this hunt, and our fall was shaping up nicely. We would do Connor’s Colorado hunt and then slide down to Arizona and kill a nice bull on my hunt.
When the Arizona deer results came out, I didn’t even check them. There was no way I was going to draw two Arizona tags in the same year. It turned out my name came up for a late Kaibab mule deer hunt. My excitement was quickly extinguished when I realized the hunt dates conflicted with Connor’s Colorado hunt. I called Connor into my office and showed him the computer screen. He immediately insisted that I go to the Kaibab and he would give up his Colorado tag. Right then, for his unselfish attitude, I decided that I would give him my Arizona bull tag for his birthday. He was very surprised when he got an envelope for his birthday with an Arizona elk tag in it with his name on it.
November came fast, and three generations of Kapps headed west from Pennsylvania. After a 2,400-mile drive, we were back in camp with the whole A3 crew. Hunter Weems was going to be my guide for the deer hunt. We had arrived two days early and were able to look over a bunch of bucks, including one giant non-typical that Hunter had experience with for several years. Opening day found us glassing the area where we had videoed the big buck the day before. At around 9 a.m., we found another buck that everyone thought would go in the 190s. Hunter and I decided that we should spend more time looking for the non-typical. We spent several more hours digging around in the non-typical’s stomping grounds and came up empty.
We were about a mile from where we had seen the buck the previous day when we kicked up a doe. I immediately spotted a buck 50 yards to our left standing with half his rack in a cedar. Within seconds, he wheeled around and ran directly away, revealing his cheaters. Everybody screamed ,“That’s him”! At 80 yards, he stopped, quartering away hard. I dropped to my knee to get a shot through the thick brush but couldn’t find a hole. I slid to my left, got a little lower, and found a lane to the buck. One shot was all it took.
It all came together so fast; we couldn’t believe it. “Our buck” stretched the tape to 215" and was way above my expectations. This hunt had all the right ingredients for success – weather, timing, luck, and talent from the A3 crew.
As a 14-year-old boy, I was pretty stoked about just getting to go along on this adventure, let alone my dad gifting me the elk tag. I knew the trip was going to be epic no matter what, but my dad killing his giant mule deer was the icing on the cake. We still had another hunt to go on with Jed Larson from A3 Outfitters.
When we arrived in Alpine and heard about the “Bomb Cyclone,” we were feeling pretty unlucky about our odds. We were reassured and feeling better about ourselves when Jed showed up that evening with a well-devised plan.
The next day was the day before the hunt and also Thanksgiving. We were invited to go have Thanksgiving dinner with the Atkinsons at their base camp. We did more than enjoy ourselves at Thanksgiving and couldn’t stop saying thank you. Tomorrow was opening day, and we had decided not to hunt due to no visibility and a lot of snow. We would just have to wait until tomorrow. We went to bed that night, and I don’t think I slept a second.
We woke up that morning with an early start to meet Jed at camp. We hopped in his Tundra and took off down the road to one of his honey holes where he had seen some big bulls recently. Almost immediately after pulling off the road, we were stuck. After shoveling snow for probably an hour, we were finally able to get the truck unstuck and moving. That brought an uneasy feeling over us because we were going to be walking five miles to and from this honey hole in deep snow. We started off with high hopes of killing a bull that day.
After two miles, we split off from Atkinson and my grandfather. My dad, Jed, and I went off to the races to get to the final destination. When we got there, it was 2:30 and we immediately started glassing. We spotted two raghorns and then a majestic 7x8 with super long beams. It was game on. We started our long loop route to the bull and still had sight of him at about 800 yards, which was just a little too far for my trusty .300 WSM. We only had one more small maneuver to make before we would be in shooting range of this true giant. I was shaking so hard I could hardly contain myself. When we came over the next ridge, it was like he had vanished from the hillside. He was nowhere to be seen. We looked hard but couldn’t turn him up.
Then, out of the blue at about 700 yards away, we spotted three bulls, one of which Jed said was a shooter and he had trail cam pics of. That was all I needed to hear. It all happened so fast, like I had practiced it in my head a thousand times. Jed said 584 yards, and I turned my custom turret on my Leupold scope and prepared for the shot. I breathed in and out, steadied my crosshairs on the elk’s vitals, and squeezed the trigger. Jed said it was a clean miss. I was devastated, but now wasn’t the time for that. As I racked another round and let her fly across the canyon, a solid thump assured a hit. The bull tipped over, and we were all cheers and high fives.
Our excitement was quickly replaced with the realization of the work that was ahead of us and the long walk back to the truck. I volunteered to break trail for a while since Jed had done it all on the way in. When we finally arrived at the truck, all of us were thoroughly exhausted and probably couldn’t have taken another step. We got back to camp and were warmly greeted and offered supper, which we could not turn down. As we all sat down and had story time, all I could think about was how in the world we were going to get that elk out of there. We had just walked 12 miles that day. We would have to do that twice with an elk on our backs, but Jed was also thinking the same thing and rattled up some friends with snowmobiles and horses. Just like that, our problem was solved.
The next morning was full of anticipation for me because all I wanted to do was see my bull. We got on our snowmobiles and rode the six miles to my elk. When we got there and started searching the thick aspens for my bull, we could not find him. Then, I heard a hoot from my dad and he called me over to my bull. My jaw dropped when I saw the animal I had taken. I was completely taken away by the moment. I couldn’t believe I was standing in front of this bull that I could proudly call my own. Even while we were taking pictures, my mind was still spinning about the adventures that had transpired in these two short weeks.
I would like to thank A3 for the great experience and their hospitality. I hope to spend time around those guys again sometime soon.