I had last hunted elk in Arizona about 12 years ago. It was an unsuccessful guided archery hunt. I was disappointed but determined to stay committed to the trophy draw process and hopefully have another opportunity to hunt trophy elk in Arizona. For 2017, I put in for early season rifle or muzzleloader units with less than 40 available tags and fully expected to draw another bonus point. When the draw results were available, I didn’t even check my results. Sometime later, I was surprised when I received a small gray Arizona Game and Fish envelope in the mail that everyone knows contains a draw tag. I had in my hand a tag to hunt early season trophy bull elk in one of Arizona’s premier elk units. My next move was to make this a guided hunt. My friend, Steve, had already contacted and hired A3 Trophy Hunts for his hunt on the same unit. They were on my short list of potentials to contact, and after speaking with Chad, one of the owners, I had my guide service. Steve and I would hunt the same area with different guides, so we were excited to camp together and enjoy the experience.
Steve and I met at our campsite the morning before opening day. I also brought along my friend, Tyler H, to help scout the area. I met my guide, Hunter, and felt right away that we would work well together. He was energetic and knowledgeable about elk hunting. Tyler M was also along to help scout. Most of that day was spent getting a feel for the area and discussing the bulls we were likely to see. The bulls were definitely in the rut and bugling all night as well as early morning and late evening. Our plan was to locate and check out bugling bulls in the timber area.
Opening morning was all that I expected it to be. We arrived in the hunt area well before light and sat in the dark, listening to bulls bugling all around us. When it was light enough, Hunter checked the wind and off we went, walking, listening, and glassing for elk. We must have checked out 10-12 bulls this way. The area was just full of elk! As the morning sun rose, the bugling tapered off and elk began to bed for the day. We broke away to check trail cameras and rest in the heat of the afternoon. When evening came, it all started up again and we were back chasing bugling bulls.
I shot my bull on the morning of the third day of the hunt. We were trying to lock in on a bull with very long G2s that Hunter had been seeing all season. He would never show himself at water during the day, but pictures put him at several water locations. Hunter was confident he had a good idea where to find him.
The morning started very slowly at our chosen location. At first light, we heard only one bugle, which very quickly stopped, so we jumped in the truck, drove a short distance, and stopped to listen. We immediately heard a bull bugle and decided to check it out. After climbing a small hill and slowly checking the area to our right, we found the bull all by himself. This small bull got another bull to our left to sound off, so off we went in that direction. After about 150 yards, the bull sounded off again and we moved slowly ahead. When the bull bugled again, we had walked right past him. After carefully moving in his direction, we saw a cow elk feeding. We located the herd bull right away, and it was the bull with big G2s. As he fed to the left and out of sight, we had no recourse but to stand perfectly still, waiting for his nine or so cows to filter from sight.
When we could finally move forward, the elk had faded into the forest and completely out of sight. The bull had stopped bugling, and a helpless feeling came over me that the monster bull elk of my life had just slipped away. Hunter slowly worked us in the direction he had last seen the bull. We made our way along the north side of a small ridge. Hunter was glassing to the left down the ridge, and I was right behind him. It was then by crazy luck that I picked up the head of a cow elk about 40 yards straight ahead of us. I tapped on Hunter’s back and whispered her location as he slowly swung his binos in that direction. He whispered that the bull was lying right next to her. I slowly got my rifle ready for the shot. The bull lifted his nose and swung his head as if he had caught our scent, but this allowed Hunter to clearly identify the bull’s large G2s. Hunter stuck out his left shoulder, cocked his head to one side, and covered his ears. In a split second, I rested my muzzleloader on his shoulder and took the shot. Through a cloud of black powder smoke and the smell of sulfur, we saw the bull jump up and he was quickly out of sight. As he ran, he gave out a deep bellow and we knew he was hit hard. We waited about 30 minutes and found the bull 60 yards away. It had been a double lung shot, and the bull didn’t travel far before quickly dying. He green scored 383", but more important to me was the sacred experience of hunting such a tremendous trophy.
I have been fortunate enough and blessed with the means to hunt many places all over the world, but this bull elk hunt was one of my favorites. I want to thank A3 Trophy Hunts and especially Hunter for the tremendous job he did to guide me to this bull. Thanks also to Tyler M and Tyler H for their friendship and willingness to help make this happen for me. Special thanks and congratulations to my friend, Steve, who shot a trophy bull of his own the next day. Final thanks go to my wonderful wife, Judi, who lets me do these crazy and memorable things.