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September 2023
Story by Annalyse Brimhall
State: Arizona
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

Seven days of 3:00 a.m. alarms, no scent soap, meat lovers breakfast burritos, piping hot chocolate, whispered conversations while stalking the prey, and hikes before the sun even creeps until the sun fades beyond the mountain range – that’s what hunting is all about. My love of hunting was passed to me from my dad and was passed on from his parents as they grew up in the forests of the White Mountains of Arizona. Hunting came easier then, before the draw, but my hunting dad never wanted us to miss out, so he religiously put his four kids, my mom, and himself in the draw, hoping for the coveted tags. For over 15 years, our family had been waiting and hoping but never drew an elk tag. We’d had tons of other adventures around Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Zealand, and South Africa, but still, the hallowed elk tag in our “backyard” eluded us all. Even without the draw, we hiked around the rim and into the mountains to hear the bugles during the fall. As the youngest child, I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever be able to hunt elk. This year, we finally did it! When my dad told me I had drawn an elk tag in our own backyard, I was stoked! Our years of lucklessness were about to change.

Knowing this tag was special, my dad hired A3 to help us find the perfect animal for this coveted tag. It was exciting to see the pictures from their preseason scouting as they told us they had the auction tag holder and three or four archery hunters in the unit before our hunt. As the season neared, we were told about four bulls on the “hit list” and gave them names. It was then that I was introduced to “5K” and knew he was the bull for me. 5K was an awesome 7x6 and very wide, but unfortunately, he mostly stayed on or near the reservation. Knowing the complexity of a hunt like this, my dad’s two brothers, Brett and Broc, came up to help. Broc came all the way from Alaska.

In the dark of early morning on opening day, Uncle Broc and a guide went up high to spot and our guide, George Garcia, and my uncle, Brett, came with us to get into position. We could hear the commotion and see elk in the dark shadows. Then, magically, 5K came running up and stopped. I had a tripod set up but could only see the tops of his antlers and head. I didn’t have a clear shot, so I waited. Moments later, he quickly turned to go back to his cows and jumped the reservation line. “What in the world?” I thought. We then turned behind us and saw the reason he left so fast. Two other hunters were walking across the wide- open field towards the elk and pushed them over the fence. The hunter shot but missed. The morning hunt was over without a bull.

That evening, we hiked back to our first spot and found the previous hunters who had spooked the bull in the spot we planned to set up on. We hiked about a quarter of a mile further down the meadow and ran into another group of hunters. Everyone wanted 5K. I sure didn’t want anyone else to take him. My dad and guide sat us up overlooking a big meadow while it was raining all evening. Just before dark, 5K appeared and was walking directly towards us. We were getting set up for a clear shot when the same hunters who had chased him away that morning drove their Ranger right through the herd, chasing them back into the trees just before I had my shot.

For the next four days, we kept hunting 5K early in the morning until late in the evening. I even took my homecoming date on our hunt for our “day date” in hopes that he would bring us luck, but 5K continued to elude us. My dad, uncles, and guides all wanted to know if I wanted to harvest a different bull, but my mind was set on 5K. We saw a lot of elk and animals but nothing like him. With my mind made up, we made a strategy of how I could still go to school and practice with the varsity soccer team and still hunt 5K. We woke up at 3 a.m., hunted the morning hunt, and then my dad dropped me off and picked me up after school to do the evening hunt. Sometimes we hunted together, and other times my dad went in different areas. However, we all had the same goal. We wanted 5K. We were able to call in a few smaller bulls, but the rut wasn’t quite peaked and the big bulls like 5K wouldn’t come out in the open.

To be honest, I was getting worn out. My dad was taking tons of time off work and having to change his surgery schedules because I was so set on getting 5K. I started questioning if I had made the right decision. Soon, I realized that all the sacrifices were worth it to spend time with my dad. He’s a very busy surgeon and doesn’t have a lot of time at home because of all the emergencies. If 5K wasn’t going to happen, then spending time with my dad was the best gift ever. We spent tons of time deepening our relationship in the beauty, serenity, and wildness of the mountains.

Finally, the Wednesday night hunt came and my dad and I went to another area to watch for our two main target bulls. Even though we hunted other bulls, we just couldn’t leave 5K. We set up with the wind in our favor 150 yards from the tank and wallow he liked and waited. Being the weekday, most hunters had already tagged out. It was finally just us out there! About two hours before dark, we started seeing elk filtering out of the trees, most still on the reservation, but no 5k. He had a distinct bugle, so we waited and listened for it. Then we heard his call. Excitement was mounting, both by us and the herd. Elk, en mass, started moving towards the fence but were in a depression so we couldn’t tell if 5K was in the bunch. Then my dad signaled to us, “Get ready. It’s the big guy.”
5K seemed to be wanting to push his herd to water. The first day, 5K only had around 10 cows. Tonight, he seemed to have 40 or more. The elk all started filtering to water, playing and chasing each other. 5K was the last to come down, but we still couldn’t see him when he paused in the water because he was in a depression. When he came out, he immediately started running and chasing his ladies. Finally, he slowed down, but I was very nervous and rushed the first shot as he took a few steps. We quickly reloaded, and he stopped at around 200 yards broadside to look back. I took a deep breath, got him in my sights, and shot. I hit 5K! He looked like he was going to fall but just stood there. I reloaded, fired again, and then he took off towards the reservation line. It was almost dark. We watched and rewatched the video. It looked like I may have shot a little far back, so we didn’t want to spook him. We let him rest and left the area until morning.

The next morning, we went out early to see if 5K was anywhere around. We walked down the road, and 30 yards across the reservation fence lay 5k. He only went less than 200 yards from where he was shot, but unfortunately, he crossed the fence. We had to wait a little longer to see 5K. We met with Arizona Game and Fish along with White Mountain Apache Tribe Game and Fish so they could review the video and come check the scene before we could recover our bull. Finally, I put my hands on this magnificent creature. The finality was bittersweet. He broke at least 10 inches off his horns since we first saw him, but he still green scored 393". In the end, the score didn’t really matter. What mattered was the determination of the hunt, the patience to do it right, and quality time spent with family and friends in the hunt for 5K.

I’d like to thank my uncles and A3, especially George and Jed, for making this hunt a reality. I especially want to thank my dad for sacrificing for me and being so patient with me. You are my hero, Dad! Being the youngest of four kids, I want my awesome siblings to know that their little sister is the greatest elk hunter of them all.