Arizona Hunting Adventures - Elk hunting

From the pages of Eastmans Bowhunter Journal

“One Lucky Day”

By James Goerig

 

The morning of September 27 was crisp, clear and quiet in the Arizona cedars. As shooting light approached, we slowly maneuvered through the timber with hopes of being in good position to intercept a quality bull.  We were immediately greeted with distant bugles as the bulls headed to their bedding areas.  After covering quite a bit of terrain, we realized we weren’t going to able to intercept the distant bulls as they were moving rather quickly and had a large head start.  Within seconds of stopping to consider other options, another bull broke the silence from below the area we traversed minutes earlier.  Henry strategically placed himself 60 yards behind us such that Keith and I were positioned between the caller and the vocal bull.  A few soft calls peaked the bull’s interest and he was beginning to cut the distance.  Our initial plan was to coax him from the cedars and hopefully get a shot opportunity.  The excitement level grew as he rapidly approached our set-up, but to our disappointment, he flanked our position and passed out of sight.   

Henry held his position and continued to call softly as Keith and I quickly moved to the edge of the cedars.  Before we reached our desired location, we heard another bull masterfully announce his presence. Adding to the excitement we heard two other bulls fighting nearby.  It became apparent the bugling bull was in a clearing just over a ridge approximately 300 yards ahead of us. The sparring bulls were a little further away and to our right.  Utilizing the scattered cedars as cover, we quickly closed the distance until we had an obscured view of the top of the vocal bull’s antlers.  Based on what we could see, he appeared to be immature and not one of interest, but to our surprise, he crested the hill in front of us and proudly sported a 300+ frame; exactly what we were looking for.  We were forced to stand and watch as the bull slowly moved through the flat around 100 yards out from our position.  Keith captured the bull’s attention with some soft mews, but he simply walked away constantly looking back in our direction as if something else had his interest.   

Since the bull was extremely vocal and moving slowly, Keith and I decided to use the sparse cedars as cover and try to move into position for a shot.  Every time the bull let out a bugle, we would run as quickly as we could with hopes of getting the upper hand.  We covered around 150 yards and were within 70 yards of the target, when our progress was halted by a scream like no other from just behind us.  We immediately hit the ground in front of a small cedar just in time to turn around and see a great bull in pursuit of our initial target.  We knew immediately this bull was worthy of harvesting and the reason I traveled to Arizona .

Keith calmly leaned over to me and said, “Just relax and have fun.”

 Our positioning was perfect. Every step the bull took toward his visible challenger brought him closer to our position.  The bull methodically closed the gap bugling constantly and focusing on his next victim.  The bull was quickly within range, but the open terrain made drawing my bow virtually impossible. My mind raced in frustration watching this trophy bull staring directly at us a mere 20 yards away, knowing I might not get the right angle for a shot.  Then, to my surprise, the bull took a slight turn allowing me to draw my bow as he passed behind a strategically placed cedar bush just a few yards away.  I recalled all my previously unsuccessful hunts, the hours spent practicing and thought to myself,

 “This is what you’ve been waiting for and why you came to Arizona . Do not disappoint your family. Do not screw this up!” 

 As I settled in for the shot, the bull stopped behind the cedar to survey his surroundings.

As luck continued to go my way, the bull cleared the obstruction and was standing broadside only 15 yards in front of us.  Before I had time to completely comprehend the situation, my razor-tipped arrow had already passed through the bull. Keith immediately responded to the shot with a series of aggressive cow calls and bugles.  The bull took off and thundered about 200 yards before turning around in response to the calling with hopes of identifying what just happened.  My heart sank as the giant slowly walked away over a ridge and out of sight.  Finally given a moment to think about what had just happened, I realized the bull had taken another step just as I released the arrow causing the impact zone to be further back than intended.  After what seemed like days, we located the spot of our last visual of the bull and found a light blood trail.  The blood trail stopped after only 20 yards and there was no sign of the bull.  Keith was able to recognize this bull’s tracks in the soft soil and we followed them for another 300 yards until we entered a rocky ravine.  From there, the bull could have gone anywhere and I truly thought we were not going to recover him. 

 We spread out and followed what seemed like a hundred different trails through the dense cover.  At least 3 ½ hours passed since I released the arrow and we still had not recovered the trophy.  I accepted the fact we weren’t going to find the bull and my hunt would be over.  If we were unable to locate this bull, I was not going to hunt another one.  I was prepared to pack my gear and go home empty handed. 

 I was extremely frustrated, increasingly nauseous and beginning to rehearse how to explain to my family I had let them down.  Additionally, I needed to apologize to them for rendering all the sacrifices they made for this hunt worthless.  The experience was amazing, but at this point no positive thought was going to outweigh the sense of disgust currently in control. 

 Keith was 60 yards to my left when I heard, “Yeah, We got him!” 

 The whole experience re-defined the essence of elk hunting for me and what constitutes a trophy bull.   I will never forget my first hunting experience in Arizona , but I can assure you it won’t be my last.  I owe a great deal of thanks to Keith Hubbard of Arizona Hunting Adventures and Henry Reyes for all their help and guidance in the field and ultimately helping me perfect the harvest.  Additionally, I owe a special thanks to Bert Seelman of Performance Fitness Systems for guiding me through the physical preparations leading up to my hunt and for constantly challenging me.  Bert is truly a master and his guidance is the reason my only concern on the hunt was getting into position and making a good shot.  Archery hunting for elk is physically challenging and extremely demanding, but following Bert’s program neutralized those concerns and enabled me to focus on the hunt.   And finally, to my wife, Kelly and daughters, Grace and Madison, thanks for the unconditional support and understanding.  This achievement would not have been possible without you.  

 The bulls rack and body showed clear evidence of a fierce battle.  Had the main beam not broken off at the G-4, this Arizona bull would have grossed near 350”.  I have never witnessed a bull displaying such antler mass and body size.  Truly an amazing specimen in my book and one I will always be extremely proud of.

 

 

 

 

 

Vulture peak bull

By Keith R Hubbard

 

The evening of September 11 found myself and my friend, Jesse Lim, sitting high above the forest floor behind our binoculars in hopes of locating a couple of bulls which I had seen on previous scouting trips.  It was the evening before the 2003 Arizona archery elk season.  Jesse wasn’t fortunate enough to draw a tag this year, so when I told him of the tag I drew he offered to come along to video and help out with calling.  Jesse is a fellow PSE Pro Staff member; he is a very accomplished and focused archer.  I knew he would be a tremendous asset to my hunt.  An hour and half of glassing yielded about a dozen bulls, almost all of them were quality animals, but four seemed to be outstanding.   As we watched these vocal beasts we strategized for the morning’s hunt.  We decided it would be best to get out in front of the elk and cut them off as they were in route to their bedding area.

 After what only seemed like a couple of hours of sleep, the alarm clock sounded at 3:30 AM.  It was time to get up and put two months of planning into action.   After a 35 minute drive, we stepped out of the truck and were greeted by quite a few very vocal bulls.   As we gathered our gear and plugged the truck’s location into our GPSs we were amazed at the amount of animals that were bugling, there must have been a dozen or more within a few hundred yards of us.

 As we headed by moonlight deep into the forest, the elk moved all around us mewing, bugling and glunking; the action was intense.  Shortly into shooting light we decided to setup and see if we could coax in a bull.  We positioned ourselves in a small saddle in an area we referred to as Vulture Peak.  I let out a couple mews and got an instant response.  A few minutes later we were staring at a very excited, winded and drooling 320 class bull.  For the first part of the hunt I set a goal of 330 or better, so as he stood there at 42 yards we admired him until he walked off.    As the next few days passed the action grew slower.  Although we had quite a few more opportunities, we were unable to connect.  Due to family and work responsibilities we had to head home for a few days.

 After a long drive back from southern Arizona we arrived in camp at 1am.  As daylight approached, we moved quickly toward Vulture Peak.  We managed to get out in front of half a dozen bulls, but ended setting up in a bad location and had a satellite and herd bull pass us just out of range.   Rather than waiting for some of the other bulls to come to us we decided to trail the herd bull up into his bedding area.   As we approached we heard quite a few bulls bugling.  We isolated one and worked our way toward him.  As he continued to bugle we realized he was making all of this commotion while lying in his bed.  Once we got within 50 yards Jesse let out a soft cow call and the bull stood and began to walk toward us.  When he approached 20 yards I came to full draw, but he must have heard something he didn’t like because he turned around and begun to walk away.  When he entered a clearing we tried to stop him, but he wasn’t interested. I rushed the shot and blew it.  I couldn’t believe it; I had just blown an opportunity on an awesome bull.

 After an exciting but disappointing morning we decided to locate a shady Juniper and take a well deserved nap.   While we were resting, bugling bulls occasionally awoke us.  We decided that at 3:00 we would do a little calling and see if we could get someone fired up as they came out of their beds.   Jesse let out a bugle and we got an instant response from a throaty bull a couple hundred yards to our left.  His bugle was quickly cut off by another bull, which was down to our right.    After a series of calls from both bulls we knew they were working toward one another; it was time to make our move.  Our plan was to position ourselves in between them in hopes of intercepting them.  We moved a 100 yards and quickly realized that the bull to our left was closing in on us fast, so we stopped and began to glass.  I picked up some movement amongst the juniper, I said, “Here he comes”.  When he finally appeared it turned out to be a cow that was followed by a yearling, but shortly behind it I could see a much larger elk.  As I caught a glimpse of his antlers weaving through the trees I said, “I see the bull”.  We knew we were going to be rushed so we decided to setup where we were.  While Jesse got the camera ready I got into position and looked for some shooting lanes.  After a quick scan I only came up with one and it would be my only shooting opportunity.   To my surprise, the lead cow entered the lane, so I quickly ranged her, if the bull followed suit the shot would be 52 yards.   The second cow entered in the same location, so I felt very confident the bull would be just behind her.  As he approached the clearing I began to draw my PSE Nitro bow, before I was at full draw Jesse let out a cow call and the bull stopped instantly. I thought to myself, “Pick a spot and don’t blow it!” As the bull turned to look in our direction the arrow was already on its way.  I watched the arrow from about mid-flight and saw it penetrate in the shoulder area.  As the bull spun and ran off I could see part of the shaft hanging out.  As I sat there trying to compose myself we began discussing the placement of the shot when we heard a loud crashing sound followed by a thud, Jesse looked at me and said, “What was that? Was that him going down?”  We got very excited, but thought it would be best to review the tape before we made the decision to track him.  After reviewing the tape, we were certain he was hit well and felt confident that it would be ok to begin tracking him.

 The blood trail was very easy to follow.  After tracking him for about 130 yards we could see him piled up at the base of a large juniper.  We couldn’t believe his size, with each step we took the larger he got.   He was a magnificent bull, from his spectacular mass to his width and long tines; he carried 6 points on his left and 8 on his right.  After quite a few minutes of celebrating and admiring the trophy we phoned our wives and relayed the good news.   Once we were done with the photo and video shots we quartered him up and headed back to camp.  My brother had just made the 7 hour drive from San Diego to help with the hunt, only to arrive a couple of hours too late, but just in time to help with packing the animal out. 

This hunt could not have been successful without the support and assistance of family and friends.  I would like to extend my gratitude to Jesse for leaving his family and responsibilities behind to assist me with this hunt.  I would also like to thank PSE Archery and Rocket Aeroheads for their continued support.  This was a great hunt and I feel very fortunate to harvest such an awesome animal.  With 7-1/2” of G-3 broken off, this Arizona bull has a typical gross score of 363-3/8 S.C.I.

By, Keith R. Hubbard - PSE Gorilla Squad

 

© 2006 Arizona Hunting Adventures