We all know that feeling when we start applying again in January. First is Wyoming elk, where they hold that carrot in front of you for about four months, and then Arizona. I’m not getting any younger (60 years young), so I was going aggressive in Wyoming with a good chance of being successful with my points. In Arizona, I was rolling the dice on a long-shot muzzleloader hunt. Wouldn’t you know it, I was notified by the beautiful state of Arizona that I was successful in the draw. What!? I’ll get back to Wyoming later.
I’m a diehard self-guided kinda guy, but I realized with this tag that I better get an outfitter. Step one was to email Huntin Fool, and Braxton Byers gave me a couple of contacts. Thanks, Braxton! After talking with Spencer Berns at G3, I liked his idea of him having spotters and I could bring a couple of my guys also. We now had a plan.
We all met at the trailhead the day before the opener, loaded up everything, and headed to camp with some rattlesnake hunting in between. After getting camp set up, it was time to do some glassing and get a feel for the terrain. After all, this was Arizona elk country, not the usual elk habitat we were used to in the West. It was like something out of a Jurassic Park movie. There must have been four or five bulls bugling, screaming, or roaring. I couldn’t wait until tomorrow morning.
We were hunting public land, and we all know what that can look like on opening day. Yeah, you guessed it, there were Jeeps pulling up next to our tent. We got out to our glassing spot, and we could see the headlamps moving all around the area. Our target bull was a really nice 6x6 that had everything. Next was a bull we nicknamed “Double Kicker” as he had extremely long fronts. We witnessed the really nice 6x6 meet his fate right off the get-go. A couple other bulls were shot but not immediately killed. We watched and stayed patient but didn’t get the opportunity we were looking for. We packed out of there midday and headed back to camp. It was a good thing because we got a taste of an Arizona cloud buster that afternoon that had water running through the tents!
On day two, we knew Double Kicker had survived the opener with the help of G3’s commitment to glassing. Those guys went way beyond my idea of what it takes to spot game and track movement. Spencer and I knew we had to get further down the mountain to get a good shot on where these bulls were hanging out. Getting set up, there was another shot behind us. Out came a nice 6x6 with his cows, but he was broken on his right side, so we passed on him.
We finally spotted Double Kicker! He was slowly moving down through the pines. What a beast! All he had to do was move about 40 more yards and we’d have a decent shot. We waited and waited, but you don’t get his size by giving an opportunity to get shot. We spent the better part of five or six hours staging where we were, finding shade, and trying to keep an eye on him or where he should be that evening.
We were running out of daylight and needed to make a move, so Spencer and I headed into the “Sanctuary.” This was no walk in the park. With all the moisture that year, there was a ton of new growth along with a lot of older burnt vegetation. Straight down and straight up we went, and then we heard a couple of bugles, and one was really close. As we made our way around a small clearing, Spencer stopped. I was looking all around but saw nothing. I was having a Ray Charles moment because no more that 80 yards away was a massive 5x6. It was getting dark now, so we backed out of there once again without getting an opportunity at Double Kicker. However, I did get to experience a hike from hell and back and I saw my first Coues deer.
We decided to let the canyon we had been hunting in rest on day three. The plan was to split up and glass some different locations. About an hour into our glassing session, we got word that a different bull of extreme interest had been located and we needed to get over there ASAP! Ryler, our guide extraordinaire, knew by the tone of the message that this was urgent. Down the trail we went in the side-by- side like a bucking horse coming out of chute #3. We made it in record time, eyes watering and with a couple of bugs in our teeth.
By the time we arrived on the ridgeline where Spencer had spotted the bull, he had bedded down. The plan was really coming together now. Ryler and I beat feet down and around the ridge to get in a position to get a shot at this magnificent bull. I got set up prone on a giant boulder, Ryler ranged him at 412 yards, we dialed up the scope, and I settled in behind the gun for what seemed like forever. Ryler asked me if I was relaxed and ready, and I replied that if I got any more relaxed, I was going to fall asleep. After about 20 minutes, Spencer showed up and we made a plan to call the bull as soon as he stood up and talked about how we would reload the muzzleloader for a follow- up shot. Not long after that, the bull stood up, Spencer cow called, and the bull stopped and turned his head to the left. In an instant, the Arrowhead rifle fired. I felt super good about the shot, but you just can’t tell with all the smoke. We reloaded, but there was no bull to be seen. We finally received confirmation from Hunter, who was still up on the ridgeline behind the spotting scope, that it was a good shot.
The three of us cautiously moved down towards where the bull should be and found him 20 yards from where he had stood up. This bull grew in size when we got to him. It wasn’t the bull we were after for two days. He was even bigger and a bull-of-a-lifetime! As Spencer would say, “There’s a reason why things turn out the way they do.”
Special shout out to the crew at G3 Outfitters, Spencer, Ryler, and Hunter, and thanks to Mitch and Todd for all their help and support on the hunt. Thanks to my family, Patty and Ricardo, for dealing with everything while I was away on my adventures. And thanks to Huntin’ Fool for the resources to make these dreams come true. Also, about Wyoming, I got a nice 6x6 bull out there too!