I couldn’t think of a better first post for our new website! 2008 was definitely an elk hunting year to remember!!!
With our Idaho elk tags filled, our focus quickly turned to packing for our Arizona archery elk hunt. Joining Donnie and I on the drive would be good friend David Burdette. With gear and supplies loaded into the truck, we were all set for the 16 hour drive into elk country. We arrived in Arizona and quickly got camp set up in a central location, then headed out to see if we could locate some elk before dark. With only 30 minutes of daylight left, we spotted three nice branch antlered bulls and enjoyed the familiar sounds of bugling elk.
The following morning we drove to a new location and parked the truck at the base of a large mountain. After a short hike we got a response and quickly set up with Burdette calling from behind us. A few minutes later a small bull and a cow came in to 25 yards – a decent 6X6 bull, but we were holding out for something a little bigger.
We backed out and went across the draw following another bugling bull, which we called in to 15 yards – another small 6X6…another pass. That evening another friend, Dave Perry, arrived to join us for a few days in Elk Heaven.
Tuesday morning we went back into the same area and climbed in from the bottom of the mountain to keep the wind in our favor. 200 yards from the truck the elk were bugling like crazy. There must have been 20 bulls going crazy and we hiked right into the middle of them. There were bulls on both sides of us, walking the ridges and screaming at each other. We tried several times to set up and call to them, but they didn’t seem interested in any challenges.
That evening we sat a water hole in the area of the mornings bugling action. After 2 hours, we couldn’t stand sitting there any longer. We took off in the direction of the closest bugle and called a cow in to 2 yards. As I made some movement to keep the cow from running over us, a small bull walked into view on the trail 30 yards away. Again we elected to pass.
Wednesday morning we found ourselves chasing the screaming bulls up the ridges from the day before with the same results…a couple bulls came in but only smaller ones. Finally, we got a bull committed and got set up with Dave Perry doing his best to make the Montana Decoy seem life-like. The bull came right in – another small 6X6. I just sat back and watched as the bull passed by at 15 yards, focusing intently on Dave and the decoy. He walked up within 20 yards of Dave and gave the decoy a good look-over, but soon realized something wasn’t quite right.
We continued on chasing the herd of bugling elk until they went quiet for the morning. They were covering 2-3 miles going to and from their feeding grounds to their bedding area each morning, and we were having troubles getting in on a big one.
Burdette and Dave spent the afternoon checking out a couple different areas while Donnie and I sat a nearby waterhole where Burdette had seen a nice bull the evening before. Just before dark a bull started bugling on the ridge above us and we were able to call him in to about 35 yards. A nice 5X6, but not the big one we had hoped to find. It was fun watching the bull strut his stuff and bugle over and over for the video camera, though.
The next morning (Thursday), we again returned to the same area, this time approaching from the east side, hoping to cut the elk off before they made their way up the mountain. The rut seemed to be intensifying, and we called 3 small bulls in to the same set-up just after daylight, the largest being a 300-class bull.
We moved up the meadow 200 yards and called in a really nice 5X5 to 25 yards, again electing to pass.
We then climbed the ridge and got on another bugling bull. Burdette was able to coax him up the hill to within 45 yards of my set-up. Although it was the biggest bull we had seen so far (probably 320”), I once again decided to pass. That night we tried a new area and didn’t hear any bugles, but the sunset after a small rainstorm provided a nice ending to a great day.
Friday morning we moved into the middle of the elk as we had done the day before, and the bulls once again seemed to be responding a little better to the calling. Burdette called in a small 5X7 to 30 yards, as well as a couple other small bulls.
Leaving that set-up, we came over a small ridge and could hear 5-6 bulls going crazy below us. As antlers started crashing 120 yards in front of us, I took off at a dead run in their direction. Donnie and I got there just as the fight broke up, and the loser, a 320” bull walked right by us at 25 yards. Another big 5X5 came walking by from the opposite direction. However, we couldn’t get closer than 60 yards from the bigger bull to get a good look at him.
That evening, we let out a bugle from the top of a dry ridge overlooking a deep canyon and got an immediate response from 800 yards below. We closed the distance and Donnie and I set up with Burdette and Dave calling from 30 yards behind us. As the bull walked up the hill coming right to us, I whispered to Donnie “he’s a shooter.” The bull came in to 43 yards and as he walked into the opening, I came to full draw. The bull was a big 6×7 with a 5″ cheater coming off his G5…his tops were huge. The bull hung up behind the last obstacle in the meadow, a brushy juniper tree at 40 yards. He must have sensed that something wasn’t right about the situation and turned back down the hill without offering a clear shot. I had been at full draw on the biggest bull I’d ever had a chance to hunt…we were so close!
The next morning, the Dave’s headed to Phoenix to catch a flight back home and Donnie and I went back to find the big bull from the night before, now named the Circus bull (because of his big tops). We moved down the ridge and immediately start chasing bugles. After calling in 2 small 6 points, we heard the distinct bugles of the Circus Bull coming from below us in the draw. We watched as a nice 310-class bull with a dozen or so cows moved up the canyon to bed down, then sat down for a quick snack and some much needed water. As we were sitting there pondering our next move, a bull bugled from 200 yards below us. I called back and watched as another small bull came screaming up the hill and started tearing up a small tree just 60 yards below us. A couple soft cow calls was all the bull needed to hear to get him moving in to investigate. With Donnie running the video camera from just behind me, the bull passed by at a mere 4 yards. “Where are the big bulls?”
While we were coaxing this bull up the hill to us, another bull had been bugling from the base of the mountain, so we moved down and got into position. I turned around to motion for Donnie to set-up about 10 yards behind me, and as I turned back down the hill, the Circus Bull stood up just 30 yards away. He slowly walked away through the thick trees, unalarmed, but not wanting to share his bedding area with intruders. We made the decision to back out of the canyon and see if we could locate a water hole he might be inclined to use that afternoon. On the hike out, I was able to clearly illustrate to Donnie my phobia of rattlesnakes as I discovered one coiled up a mere 12 inches from my boot as I stepped over a small rock…
We found a waterhole we thought our bull might be using, but after a couple hours of sitting in the sun, our patience had expired and we were on our way back into the canyon. I bugled and got a response from the area we had bumped the bull earlier that morning. We made a mad dash across the draw to an opening, hoping to get set up and cut him off as he moved from his bedding area up to the open hillsides he spent his evenings feeding on. The bull came out into the opening 70 yards in front of us, but veered off to follow a couple of cows he had discovered sometime that afternoon. He was once again headed away from us. It was a long, quiet walk back to the truck in the dark.
The next morning we drove over to my good friend, Steve Chappell’s camp, where we rejuvenated ourselves in Steve’s trailer with a hot shower. After showing Steve the video we captured of the Circus Bull, he confirmed our thoughts that we needed to continue hunting this bull. We estimated him to be 380+, and with his hunter tagged out on a beautiful bull, Steve made plans to accompany us the next morning. We headed back to camp and looked over our maps, locating a secluded waterhole that could be the one our bull was using each night.
We met Steve at an intersection in the road near our camp and piled into my truck with high hopes of what the morning would bring. We approached our newly discovered waterhole from down wind and set up with a plan to listen for bugles, then follow the bulls down into the canyon as they made their way to their bedding areas. Donnie set up about 30 yard to our left and it wasn’t long before a bull bugled from the ridge 400 yards in front of us. 30 seconds later the bull bugled again, only 100 yards away. 10 seconds later the bull appeared, walking straight towards us. I had ranged a dead tree at 40 yards and knew if the bull made it that far he would be well within range.
I was having troubles judging how big he was, but could tell immediately he wasn’t the Circus Bull. He appeared somewhat narrow, but his thirds were huge and when he turned broadside, his beams and tines left no room for further questioning. I drew and leaned around a juniper tree that was between us, settling my 40 yard pin on the spot and squeezing the trigger. The bull turned and ran back in the direction he had come. We waited a few minutes before approaching to look for the arrow and a blood trail to confirm the shot. Doubt started creeping into my mind as we struggled to locate blood. We gave the bull a while before we picked up his tracks and began following him up the draw. We were able to find a few small spots of blood, but not the kind of bloodtrail we would have hoped for.
Steve and I climbed a small rise about 200 yards from the waterhole and I noticed a brown clump on the hillside 70 yards in front of us. I asked Steve if that was possibly an elk lying there, and he not only said “Yes”, but added that he looked really big. I let out a holler to let Donnie we had found him before walking up on the Bull of a Lifetime. A perfect, double-lung shot had dropped the bull within 300 yards but left very little blood for tracking.
After high fives and pictures, Steve and I started quartering the huge bull while Donnie headed back to the truck for the packframes. We got the bull packed out and back to camp by mid-afternoon, unable to wipe the smiles from our faces. It was an amazing trip, one that none of us will forget for a long time. I owe a special thanks to David Burdette and Dave Perry for sacrificing time to tag along those first few days, and to Steve for bringing some of his good fortune and quartering skills along that morning! I’m especially grateful for Donnie’s willingness to tag along with the video camera, sacrificing his precious vacation time to chase elk with me! And most importantly, my family back home who supports me in this crazy passion we call Elk Hunting!