Ron's 2010 AZ Archery Elk Hunt Story

Well, here it is, the result of my efforts from my 2010 Archery Bull Elk Hunt.
 For those of you who just want the details from the day of the kill; feel free to skip down to Day 4.  For the others brave enough to stick with me, thanks in advance for following along on my 2010 hunt.  My hunt is over, both because I tagged out, and also because the season officially ended Thursday, September 23rd.  I’ve been mulling over ever since I’ve gotten back what to post in different forums, what to put on the TKO blog, and when to find the time to do it all! 

Pre-Hunt Scouting

The preparation and scouting leading up to the hunt could fill several pages of writing; including the shooting, the scouting, and the gear purchases and preparation…  For the scouting, I put in 7 weekends over the summer culminating in 16 days of pre-season scouting.  I’d also taken off the entire week prior to the start of my archery bull elk hunt, adding another 6 days to my pre-season scouting total, equaling 21 days of total scouting.  I had the entire 2 weeks of the season off from work as well.  My family went up with me the first few days and hung out while I scouted, and even accompanied me in my scouting. 
We all had a lot of fun together and I was glad to have my family up there.  A lot of the scouting time was spent doing more family type trips vs actual scouting.  We went on drives, hikes, and checked out Indian ruins.

Old stone house…

This is a cliff dwelling I was able to show the kids.  Made us a little late for our evening glassing session that night, but oh well.  They really got into all the pottery they found in the area.
Up to this point, I’d only seen a couple of (really) good bulls.  One was a bull we named Zoolander since he loved to pose for the trail camera.  I only had this bull visit twice during the 3 months I had cameras out, but he made it very exciting to go and check the camera(s). 

Here is Zoolander…
One of the highlights of the week before the season was seeing a bear in one of the draws I’d been scouting. 
Here I am later that morning with a few antlers I found.
Finally, on Thursday morning, the day before the opener, I saw a very nice bull.  He was easily the biggest bull I saw while scouting or hunting, but I saw him as I was heading out to where I was going to begin my scouting that morning and I lit him up in my headlights.  That was the first and only time I saw him, but he was a great bull! 

My main goal for going up the week before the hunt to scout was to try and find some good bulls, see where other people were focusing their scouting and camps, and have a good plan for opening day.  I accomplished all that and more.  If you have the chance, I highly recommend pre-season scouting directly before the hunt.  I feel it is way more important than the early spring and summer scouting, although those scouting trips were fun and definitely helped out. 

Here are some additional pictures I took while scouting.  This first is a good bull who stopped at the wrong place for me to take pictures.
Glassing the country…
Soon after taking this picture it started dumping rain on me…

Seeing things like this got me very excited for the start of my hunt…
The bull I was looking for! (LOL!!!)
Knowing I had the full 2 weeks of the hunt off, I was planning on being somewhat picky the first several days, and then would base my pickiness off of how the rut was going, how close I was getting to bulls, and what kind of shot opportunities I was getting. 

Day One – Sept 10, 2010

Opening morning found me in the area where I had seen the big one the day before.  The bulls were bugling good, and I saw several bulls, even was within 20 yards of a 5 point with a good shot opportunity, but passed him up to go play some more. 

Here are some elk I saw on an adjacent hillside…
Neat knowing there were some ancient hunters in the area I was hunting…
That night was a neat experience.  I was in an area my dad had tipped me off to where I’d found a nice 6x7 with 8-10 cows.  I went in there that night and heard 3 bulls screaming their heads off.  I snuck in on them and found they had singled off one lone cow and were all trying their best to win her over.  Needless to say my calling couldn’t really compete with a hot cow right in front of them.  Rob met me in the field that night and we soon met up with Jay to plan out the next morning’s hunt. 

Picture of the bull chasing after the cow…
Day Two – September 11, 2010

The second morning we were back in the same area I focused on the first morning.  As I am prone to do, I second guessed myself and parked in the wrong location.  We had some good bugling action, but no real close calls. 
Chasing bugles...
TKO taking a rest break…
That afternoon while talking to my dad and his buddy, they told me of a spot where a mutual friend of theirs was hunting opening evening.  He had a cow tag and was sitting a meadow that he said there were 8-9 bulls in screaming their heads off and only one cow.  He wanted my dad to pass that info along to me knowing I had a bull tag and he wasn’t hunting there the next few evenings. 

Jay, Rob, and I decided to head over there Saturday night and hope we encountered the same show as was seen the night before.  After scoping out the meadow, we set up at a narrow spot about halfway down the meadow hoping some of the elk would come in range.  As the shadows started falling, we threw out some cow calls to hopefully entice something out into the meadow.  A lone cow came busting out into the meadow a little to our left.  As she got about halfway out into the meadow, she put the brakes on, put her nose into the air, and spun around and headed back into the trees.  At that point we figured we couldn’t stay where we were and we headed back up towards the end of the meadow to our left.  That decision would haunt us to say the least.  Soon after we got set up again, elk started filtering out into the meadow.  Like the night before, they were bulls.  It was an awesome experience.  Long before you could see them, you could hear them approaching the tree line.  They would hang up in the tree line for a bit, just screaming.  As soon as one elk felt comfortable coming out, all the elk seemed to pop out.  They all waited for that meadow to be in full shade, reminding us of vampires. 

Waiting for the elk to come out into the meadow…
As one bull in particular entered the meadow, we all had our eyes on him.  He was by far the biggest bull of the meadow.  Rob was getting video (which hopefully he’ll share here, and if not here, definitely on the blog), and Jay was working the decoy.  As we watched the elk come out into the meadow, a couple of the bulls, including the biggest one, passed right by the point we’d previously been set up in.  As the evening wore on, we got more aggressive, and moved in range of some of the cows and smaller bulls.  I had a few elk in range right at dark, but passed on any shots.  Watching all those bulls and seeing all the elk do their thing in the meadow was quite the experience, one that would be repeated again.

Day Three – September 12, 2010

Sunday morning found us back in the same spot I’d been hunting the last two mornings.  I normally don’t like hitting the same spot multiple mornings/evenings in a row, but I found myself doing it on this hunt.  We were apparently on the right ridge, because as soon as we got out of the truck, we heard a bull bugle about 150-200 yards away.  We’d probably driven right by him in the dark.  He moved past us and we really wanted to try and call him in to get a look at him, but with the truck only 30 yards behind us, we figured that wouldn’t be the best plan if we wanted a chance at him after it got light.  We did get on the bull again after light, but he never really wanted to commit.  Not sure if the truck kind of spooked him and made him cautious, but all he would do is scream at us and move off.  We soon moved off to a new area and got on some more bugles.  We finally saw our first hunter, a helper of another hunter in the area.  He was looking for his buddy and moving away from the bugles, so we moved on in.  It was getting late and the bugles subsided, but we did see a small 4x4 bull, so while not sure if that was the elk making all the racket or not, we decided to hang out on the point for a bit and see if anything else showed itself or if we’d hear anything else.  I think the only thing Rob and Jay saw were their eyelids...

Even with some action, Sunday morning was somewhat slow by the previous morning’s and evening’s comparison. 

Jay had to leave around lunch time, so Rob and I took naps and decided to head back to the meadow again.  We hoped going back for a 2nd night in a row wasn’t pushing things, but we had to see if the big guy would come out again.  We got set up at the pinch point again; figure it’d be worth taking the chance of something winding us at the far end of the meadow in case the elk did the same thing as the previous night. 

View of the meadow…
Me waiting on the elk…
 Of course, the first elk that came out were 9 cows being pushed by the big 5x6 we’d seen the night before.  They headed right for the edge of the treeline where we were sitting the night before.  As they got towards the edge of the meadow near where we were the night before, they caught our scent and turned around and bolted back to the tree line with the big bull following behind them. 

Here are a couple of far off pictures of the bull when he first came out in the meadow.

Frustrated, but knowing that is how hunting goes, we decided to sit it out and see what else came in as we could still hear multiple bugles in the trees across from us.  The evening showed only a few more elk, one of which seemed to be a nice looking bull that watered a few hundred yards to our right where we knew another hunter was set up.  After dark set in and we got back to our truck, we went up to where we figured the other hunter was parked to see why he passed on that bull.  He said he was a real funky 5x6 and wasn’t as big as he was looking for.  He also said he’d been sitting there the last 3 nights and just wasn’t seeing what he was looking for, so was going to be someplace else the next night and told me I was welcome to sit where he was as that bull watered 30 yards from him.  Rob had to leave Sunday night and head back down to the valley to work the next day, so he wished me luck and was on his way.

Day Four – September 13, 2010

Monday morning found me in an area that I’d previously hunted quite a bit in past years, but I hadn’t spent that much time in due to a tree stand being on every tank in the area.  (From what I saw, that was practically the entire unit!)  Only hearing some far off bugles, and nothing really close enough to chase, it turned out to be the slowest morning yet.  I then went to a tank nearby that didn’t appear to have any stands on it and I decided to sit there mid-day.  I did hear a few bugles while sitting there in the middle of the day, but otherwise nothing else. 

My plan for Monday evening was to go back to that meadow and give it one more shot.  While I had a double bull blind and a tree stand in my truck, I decided to sit in a natural ground blind on the edge of the meadow.  I got in it well before the shadows engulfed the meadow, so I knew I had some time to kill before the elk would arrive.  I figured out how I wanted to sit and where to keep my bow.  I practiced my draw to make sure I had the proper clearance and would be able to have the shot windows I was expecting to have.  I was as ready as could be.  

My view from the blind.
Video of View from the blind...

Me waiting for the elk to show…
Video of me...

Frontal view of my blind...
 Soon, I heard the first bugles as the bulls approached the meadow.  The bugles would get to the edge of the meadow and I was expecting them to pop out any second.  I was already excited as they sounded like they were in the trees right across from me, about 100 yards away.  After sitting there and having things quiet down, I thought the evening might be a dud and I had alerted them somehow, possibly an errant shift in the wind taking my scent across to them. 

At that point I heard some crashing and about 80 yards to my left across the meadow 9 cows burst into the meadow.  As soon as they popped out into the meadow they spread out and started feeding.  A bull followed behind them, but to my surprise it was a small 6x6, his back forks about the same size as my index and middle fingers spread apart.  I remember thinking to myself, “Huh, what the heck?!  Where is the bigger guy that was pushing the 9 cows around the night before?  I wonder if he was shot today???”  The small 6 point was doing his best to be a herd bull.  He’d bugle, check the cows out and even ran off a couple of small raghorn bulls that showed an interest in his cows.  He gave me a good 40 yard broadside shot while drinking, but he wasn’t quite what I was looking for at this point, and I could hear more bugles back in the trees. 

While enjoying watching all the elk out in front of me, they were anywhere from 20 yards out to 80 yards, and there were about 15 elk in the meadow at this time.  I heard more branches breaking across from me and out of the trees appeared the big 5x6 I’d seen the previous two nights with the cows.  It was very interesting to watch the other elks’ behavior at this point.  The 6x6 that was the ‘herd’ bull up to this point, looked over at the big guy, and then just melted back into the trees.  You could tell he wanted nothing to do with that guy.  The 5x6 (now I could actually tell he was barely a 6x6 with a small 1 inch fifth point) checked out some cows and then went over to have a drink.  He was 47 yards from me, but was facing away from me and only gave me a tight quartering away shot at best.  Not the shot I was looking for at that point with upwards of 20 elk all around me and me shaking like a leaf.  After he filled up on water he checked out a couple of cows and then went and wallowed about 80 yards to my left. 

It was a sight to see, him wallowing in the mud, throwing mud around with his antlers, and laying there bugling.  Other elk all around me feeding and doing elk things.  A couple of cows fought with their front legs while standing on their back legs, a couple of calves ran around through the water and tall grass testing out their legs, with me about going cross-eyed trying to keep an eye on the big guy without moving my body.  My legs were tired, my butt was numb, but I knew I had to remain motionless to pull this off. 

Where my bull was wallowing and laying in the mud…
I then saw what might provide me a chance.  A spunky 5x5 came out from the trees and started bugling and nosing some cows around to my right.  The big 6x6 herd bull laid in his wallow and bugled, but the 5x5 ignored him.  I said to myself, “Come on big guy.  I don’t have all day.  The sun is setting quick.  You’re not going to let that 5x5 push your cows around like that, are you?!?!”

As if on cue, the 6x6 got up, and headed over towards the 5x5 taking a route on the opposite side of the water from me.  The 5x5 saw him coming, and jumped through the water heading closer to me.  The 6x6 followed him over and pushed him away from the cows, leaving the 5x5 to run right in front of me, from right to left.  The 6x6 followed, slowing down, and then stopping broadside right in front of me at what I knew was 30 yards.  He stopped, bugled, and then I drew (while very worried that one of the approx 20 elk in the meadow in front of me would see me, but knowing this might be my last opportunity of the night and it probably wouldn’t get any better), put my 30 yard pin on his chest, and squeezed off the shot!

Thwack!  The bull stood there a split second before digging in and taking off to my left, then looping back towards some small pines and heading into the tree line and up the ridge across the meadow.  I sat there shocked and in disbelief.  I’d just shot an arrow!  Elk were crashing all around back into the trees.  A couple of bulls were bugling and it was then I realized I’d better throw out some elk sounds.  I grabbed a cow call and called out with some excited cow calls, trying to listen for a hopeful death stagger and fall, but with all the elk crashing through the thick trees, it was difficult to tell for sure if it was elk busting the brush, or a bull staggering his last steps and falling into some trees a hundred or so yards up the ridge. 

I sat there for a minute or so more, listening to the now quiet meadow, devoid of all the chomping, mews, and bugles that the meadow was filled with only moments before.  Another bugle broke me out of my trance and I figured I may as well head back up to my truck to make a few calls and grab some things for a night tracking job.  I looked at my watch and it said 6:40pm. 

I got back to my truck and of course I’m in one of those areas that have just enough cell service to frustrate the heck out of you, with maybe one bar… Enough for text’s, but not for good, clear phone calls.  I got hold of my wife and shared the news, and then my dad, who said he’d be there in 45 minutes or so with his buddy Bob in tow.  I then texted Rob and Jay to share the good news.  Without any coaxing from me, they both said they’d be on their way.  Holy cow!  Rob was coming from Mesa, and Jay from Flagstaff.  I did some rough calculations and figured out it was going to be a late night, especially for them!

While waiting for my dad and Bob to show up, a couple of fellow hunters stopped to make sure I was ok.  I told them I was doing great.  I’d just arrowed a bull!  Needless to say, I had plenty of good company and hunting talk to keep me occupied until my dad and Bob got there.  We grabbed lights, my lantern, and my bow, and headed out to pick up the blood trail.  My dad got on it right away and followed the trail up the ridge across from where I shot.  While my dad was up ahead of us a few yards, Bob’s light shined off to the left and we both caught the reflection of my downed bull’s eye in the light.  He was down, and we found him!  Immediate relief flooded over me as I knew this bull wasn’t getting away from me unlike a bull I shot during the 2005 archery bull season. 

As we found him…
Looking down the steep slope and seeing the bull wedged up against some trees, we figured it’d be easiest to pull him out of there for pictures and to dress out. We hung the lantern up and headed back to the truck to gather necessary gear and prepare for the night’s events.  While back at the truck we learned that Jay was about 20 minutes out, so we waited there for him.  My dad went back to his place for the quad in case we needed it. 

After Jay arrived, we headed back in and started trying to move this beast.  In my planning, preparations, and daydreaming of this hunt, I figured I could deal with an elk myself.  While I’m confident I still could have, I was VERY grateful for Jay and Bob being there to help move him out of there.  Bob directed Jay and I to get the game hoist with a 7:1 ratio to help in moving the bull out of the trees he’d crashed into.  Only problem was the light-weight parachute cord I had to use for ‘rope’.  Needless to say, the hoist worked great for moving that bull where he needed to go, but the parachute cord didn’t hold up and kept breaking, even when doubling it up. 

Rob soon found us and my dad was back also.  My dad looked a little surprised that the bull was still whole and didn’t have any cuts in him yet, figuring we’d be ready to take the first load back to the trucks by the time he got back.  Bob looked at my dad and said (stuttering), “They’ve taken 200, no, I mean 300 pictures of this thing, and I’m not exaggerating!”  While Bob was exaggerating, we did take a lot of pictures and Bob even helped out by holding the tarp for Jay so Jay could get the shots he wanted. 

It was then that the biggest regret of the hunt occurred.  I realized I’d left my bow back at the truck after we went back after finding my bull.  I wasn’t able to get any pictures of my bull with my bow. 

Here are some of the 200, no 300 pictures that were taken…

After pictures, we commenced cutting him up, bagging the meat and placing it on the tarp to keep it out of the dirt and dust that was so prevalent.  Since we cut him up using the gutless method, while I was cutting off the first backstrap, I noticed a rib sticking up in a weird way.  It was then I realized that it wasn’t a rib, but a 3-4 inch section of a carbon arrow with a broadhead still attached and covered in gristle.  I dug out the broad head and was surprised to find out that this bull had broken some hunter’s heart once upon a time.  Necroscopy of the bull showed that my arrow had gone through the chest cavity on the left side, and the arrow had pierced both lungs, going through the opposite rib cage, and stopping against the hide on the right side.  The Slick Trick broadhead had punched a nice big hole in him. 

At about the halfway point, Rob and Jay figured they’d better get going.  Not quite sure what time it was, but I’m thinking it was about 2am or so.  I can’t express how grateful I was for their help and for their willingness to come over and partake in the fun.  Luckily they didn’t sleep during this part of the hunt!

By the time my dad, Bob, and I finished up and got the bull back to my parents, it was 5:30 am.  It was kind of ironic passing trucks headed into hunt and we were heading home.  I must say that I was exhausted.  In the 50 or so minute drive back to my parent’s house, I stopped a couple of times to try and wake up. 

I am very satisfied with this bull.  While his fifth’s are weak (to almost non-existent), he has lots of mass, is wide, and was the herd bull out of that herd.  From looking at his teeth, my dad and I aged him somewhere between 9 and 14 years of age according to the book he has.  Bob even showed me some video of a bull that looks very similar to this bull that he took in his back yard last year.  If not the same bull, he is probably related.  The bull Bob took video of also has weak fifths, but bigger on his right side, so who knows. 

I took the meat and cape into Payson to drop off on Tuesday, the day after I shot him (after spending all day ensuring the meat was clean and caping out the head), and then my family came up Wednesday and we spent until Saturday catching up and hanging out up at my parents.  It definitely felt good sleeping in on Thursday morning and then hanging out with the family! 

Bull packed up and headed for town…

Key gear I used on this hunt was: Hoyt Ultramag @ 62 lbs, with Montana Black Gold Super Seven sight, Limb Driver drop away rest, Easton Axis ST arrows fletched with Bohning Blazer vanes, and tipped with Slick Trick 100 grain magnum broadheads.  The pack I carried mainly in my scouting and on the hunt was my Badlands Diablo, although I also used my Eberlestock Slingshot for a couple of evening hunts, and I used my Eberlestock J104 for packing some of the meat from my bull back to the truck.  I wore mainly Sitka Gear camo clothing (ascent pants, core zip-t shirts, the new mountain pants, 90% jacket, and celcius vest) in both the Mountain Mimicry patterns and the Gore Optifade Open Country pattern.  Boots I wore were my Danner Jackals and new Danner Elk Ridge boots.  Calls included Primos Hyper Lips single, Primos mouth calls, Bugling Bulls mouth calls, Carlton mouth calls, and Carlton Fighting Cow Call.  I used the Elknut Chuckler for my bugle tube.  I also used a Montana Decoy 'Rump' decoy.  Camo FX Face Paint. My main knife was a Havalon Piranta using both pointed and blunt blades.  Supplements and snacks included various granola bars and dried fruit as well as Wilderness Athlete bars, gels, and drink mixes.  Cameras I used were the Panasonic FH20 and the FZ18.  I used a combination of GPS’s, including the Garmin 60CSX, Garmin 305 training/wrist GPS, and a Nuvi 1350T in the truck.  Binos were my 8x42 Leica Geovids with a customized bino harness constructed from an IPI bino manager and Crooked Horn bino cover (that my wife put together for me to my specifications). 

Key quotes from the hunt:

Rob Matthews – “It sure is easier walking when you are chasing bugles.” as we were hiking back to the truck Sunday morning.

My dad – “I was glad to hear you finally shot one.  I was getting tired of hearing how you kept passing up bulls every day!”  Said to me in conversation the day after I shot my bull.

Bob – “Back in the day when I was your guys’ age, I just had my rifle, a canteen, and a knife… If we had a camera and took any pictures at all it was one or two from a roll of 24 in the camera...” Bob mentioned this while looking at Rob, Jay’s, and my packs laid out with some of the gear we’d brought to take care of the bull and all the cameras laid out for taking pictures.

I really have to thank my wife and kids for being supportive of all my time up north, both in scouting and for me potentially being gone for 3 weeks for this hunt.  I’d also like to thank my parents for putting up with my ‘crazy’ hours the 2 weeks I was up there for my hunt, my dad being 'camp' cook, and special thanks to Bob and my dad for helping out all night on my bull.  Thanks Rob and Jay for being up there when you could to help me hunt, and then coming right back up to help with my downed bull and for taking some great pictures.  Your friendship is very much appreciated!  My greatest thanks goes to the Good Lord for allowing me the ability to do this hunt!  This will definitely be a hunt I won’t ever forget!


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