Most people reading this article already know that a hunter must be patiently persistent to kill a trophy bull elk. My older brother, Don Chandler’s, patient persistent added up to 17 years of membership to Huntin’ Fool, applying to 10 different states, not getting drawn, waiting, reapplying, and waiting some more. Over the years, Don drew tags for other animals, but it was all worth the wait when he found out he had been drawn for a late season elk hunt in Arizona’s unit 23. Huntin’ Fool kept him in the draws, put him in the right area, and put him in touch with the right guide, Caleb Miller of A3 Trophy Hunts.
Our hunt was to begin the day after Thanksgiving. Despite the fact that Don and I had both been hiking and training for this adventure, we arrived a few days early to let our lungs adjust to the higher elevations of Payson, Arizona. After having some time to adjust to the altitude change, we decided to make a 2,500 foot ascent into the mountains to set up camp.
Hoping to glass more territory when the hunt began, Don also hired Nathan Moody as an extra set of eyes to help us glass multiple locations. Dan Hiegel, also a guide with A3, went along to help set up camp and glass while he waited on another incoming client-hunter. In fact, Dan’s extra set of hands helped us get camp set up quickly enough to get in some glassing later Wednesday afternoon. That afternoon, we only spotted one fairly good bull. After sunset, we made our way back down the mountain to enjoy Thanksgiving festivities the next day with Caleb, his family, and his parents, Connie and Dave Miller.
Watching the changing weather forecast, we became more concerned that the creek we wanted to cross would become impassable with rising water. We decided to cut Thanksgiving Day short and head back up to camp on the mountain. The temperature was dropping fast, and the torrential rain began changing over to a wintry mix. As the wind blew the wintry mix sideways, we tied down everything that might blow away and then retired for the night.
It snowed all day Friday and then quit snowing sometime early Saturday morning, dumping over 10 inches of snow on the ground. We were up and in the Polaris by 7 a.m. heading to our glassing spot on the southernmost tip of the mountain. With four of us glassing from two different locations, we ended up spotting seven bulls by 9 a.m. None of those seven bulls were the one Caleb wanted to put Don on, a bull the A3 guides referred to as “One Ton.”
After maneuvering to get a better vantage point to glass down a western valley, Caleb spotted what he believed was One Ton working his way down the side of another mountain across a steep ravine. He was on the move, and we had to get into range to confirm whether this animal was One Ton or another trophy. With frantic optimism, we headed back across the top of the mountain to find a better vantage point. After a short but brisk hike, we made our way to the west side of the mountain and set up the spotting scope. At about 1,000 yards across a ravine on an opposing mountainside, there he was. Caleb was able to confirm through the spotting scope that it was One Ton by the unique corkscrew or “whale tail” on his right main beam. One Ton was a 7x7 mature bull which Caleb estimated would score in the 380"+ range.
Because of the distance, we decided to try to close the range a little bit and work our way into the 800 to 900-yard range. We maneuvered over the crest of the mountain through the pines and cactus for a closer shot. Just off the crest, we found a narrow piece of ground to set up for the shot with a clear view through the snow-covered mountainside, but he was slowly making his way down the mountain, quartering towards us, weaving through the pines. Caleb ranged the shot at 900 yards and closing. With Caleb and me watching One Ton through our spotting scope and binos, we were able to see him finally break out into a small clearing and stop to feed with his head down. Caleb ranged him at 880 yards, and Don decided that it was time to shoot or possibly lose the opportunity. Don’s first shot was a miss low in between the bull’s legs. He checked his scope, compensated, and squeezed off the second shot, which was a hit. One Ton went down at 10:30 on Saturday morning.
Once we collected our thoughts and slapped a few high fives, we realized that the fun was just beginning. We left our vantage point and started down the mountain across the ravine to go meet One Ton. The hike was tough with a lot of unstable rock and a steep gradient. We left our shooting spot at 10:40 a.m. but did not reach One Ton until over three hours later at 3:30 p.m. Finally managing to meet One Ton, there was certainly no ground shrinkage. This animal was a monster! Thankfully, Caleb had called two other guides, Jake Hernandez and Nathan Moody, for help cleaning and packing out. Once photos were taken and a few more high fives were exchanged, all of us got to work. Caleb, Jake, and Nathan made quick work of One Ton. By 5:00 p.m. as the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping, we all started the pack out back to camp.
One Ton was a gorgeous 7x7, which ended up measuring 380" with a 58" left beam and a 57" right beam. If you are ever in the Payson, Arizona area and need a processer, give Sundi and Terry a call at Round Valley Processing. Their butchers did a fantastic job processing and packaging the meat.
Looking back, the success of this hunt can be boiled down to three things – proficient shooting at long range, being in good physical shape, and having a determined guide like Caleb Miller who is experienced in the territory you are hunting.
Finally, this adventure certainly reemphasized the fact that hunting is not just about killing an animal, but it is also about establishing friendships that last a lifetime. Friendships that are founded on the mutual love of trophy game, conservation, adventure, and the outdoor lifestyle. Indeed, since the hunt, Don and I have stayed in almost weekly contact with Caleb, as well as his parents, Connie and Dave Miller. We expect those friendships to last a lifetime, and we look forward to visiting and hunting with the Millers again in the future.