Sorry for the wait. Took this long to catch up on life after being gone for three weeks.
Long drive to AZ, two full days on the road. We got to our hunt area on Wednesday, season starts Friday. Was a bit worried about my conditioning this first day as I had several dizzy spells while setting up camp, but once done and we got to walking and biking, there were no more issues.
The area we hunted was a special wildlife area and no motorized vehicles were allowed, so we rode our bikes everwhere. Most of our hunts were 3-5 miles from camp, so the bikes were a great tool for covering distance in a hurry.
After camp was set, we biked down our road (really all these "roads" were old forest service lanes, some were very poor and unridable) about 3 miles and took a walk up another fire lane. About a half mile in we jumped a herd of elk, maybe 20 in all, including one small and one nice bull. This spot was marked on my gps and we got out of there so as not to spook them any worse. This area was to be my go-to for most of our hunt.
We broke up the next day to cover more area and my partner Joe went all the way to the end of the road to a "lake" actually a dried up mud puddle. Very dry and this was one of just a few water sources that we knew of. Late that day he saw a cow come into the water chased by a BIG bull. AZ is known for really big bulls and he could have easily shot this one if only the season was open. He had quite a show as he dug up the mud with his horns and kicked it all over before laying down in it for about a half hour before headed off in search of another cow. I was on another road much closer to camp and heard a bugle right at sundown very near me. This is where we would be tomorrow morning for the opener.
Opening day was very much a bust as few bugles were heard and it was apparent we would have compition from other hunters. Two of the other hunters would set up on Joe's water hole and stay there every day for the entire time we were there.
We again split up the next day, I headed to the area we jumped the big herd two days ago. It was a magical morning for me as I had bugling bulls all around. I chased after several that either were headed away to some far off place, or just shut up as I tried to close the distance. One though was very vocal and kept it up till I could sneak in very close, well under 100 yds. With a screen of small pine trees I got as close as I thought I could and let out a cow call. Immediately a big bull stepped into the open at only about 35 yds. OMG, my heart stopped. He had no intention of coming my way, but holy cow was I excited. Had to sit down and really couldn't do anything for 5 minutes I was shaking so bad. What a rush!
The next couple days were very much like the first. Very little action, very quiet. About the 4th or 5th day, Joe came with to my spot to call for me. After a couple attempts at bulls that called only once or twice with no way to get close, we got in on one pretty close. The bugle sounded like a smaller bull, but I wasn't going to be picky. I got set up near some small pines and waited as Joe went behind me and started to call. Right away another bull, a big bull sounded off so close I could feel it it my chest. I could see his legs under the pines as he closed the distance to less than 30 yds before I felt the wind at the back of my neck. It was over. He only needed to go another 20' to be in the clear. Again, even 10 minutes later I had a hard time even getting the arrow back in my quiver I was shaking so bad. This was to be the last close call I would have.
The next couple days were again very quiet and uneventfull. Then one morning after our hunt we were sitting in camp having coffee and donuts (isn't this how all good hunting stories begin?) we heard a bull fire off right across the road from us. Now every night there was a bull bugling across from our camp, sometimes all night, apparently this was him. Soon I saw 5 cows come out of some heavy timber followed by a nice bull. It looked like they were going to cross right near us. Here's where my inexperiece played out. I ran for my binocs for a better look as Joe grabbed his bow and took off after them. They paralled the road and Joe kept up as best he could on our side. After about a qtr mile run he realized there was no way he could keep up and stopped beside a tree. The lead cow picked that moment to cross - right in front of him! The bull followed the small herd and stopped at Joe's yell at about 35 yds. The shot was on its way. The hit wasn't great, high and back but the bull didn't go far and dropped only about 100 yds from the road!
The "pack out" had to be the easiest in elk hunting history. We just filled our coolers with meat and carried them out to the truck. We even had a neighbor come help. 2 1/2 hours after the shot, the meat was back in camp cooling in the freezer we brought with. Unbelievable.
The next few days the wind howled day and night. Very quiet. One morning I slep in, just tired of the frustration. A new plan was hatched for the day. We're going fishing. There was a national forest campground not far from us with a small well stocked store and a beautifull lake full of trout. On the way there we came to a spot that overlooks the Mogollon Rim (google it, it's beautiful). A limit of trout was coming home with us destined for the smoker, plus we had ice cream! It was a great break from the elk grind.
Mogollon Rim. Beautiful!
After Joe shot the elk that kept me awake at night with his bugles, we assumed that was over with. Not. That very night another one took his place. He sounded like a smaller one, but the next night another one joined in, this one was obviously MUCH bigger. The folllowing morning we decided to see what was across the road from us. Looking at my onX Hunt, we saw the tip of a canyon not far away. Assuming this is where the noise makers were holding up during the day we hiked into the new territory early. Several bugles greeted us, one just across the canyon sounded big. While crossing we found water at the bottom of this very steep canyon, if only we would have checked this out days ago....After climbing the other side, our bull was still screaming. I again tried to close the distance when I saw 4 or 5 cows quarting away from me at a pretty good trot followed by a HUGE BULL!!! Horns 5' wide with 6'+ main beams. Holy dump was he big! Unfortunately they were headed away and out of my life forever.
There were a few other encounters during our time in the woods, but nothing that ended with a chance for my first elk. All in all I wasn't too dissapointed. I never really expected to take a bull, oh sure I hoped and dreamed, but never truely thought I would get one. But what an experience in a amazing part of the world. I probably saw 6 or 8 bulls of the caliber of Joe's, plus the one true giant, what more could you really hope for?
This was right across from camp. Assuming Joe's bull made this.