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2012 Arizona Elk Hunt

Discussion in 'Hunting' started by sixgunner455, Nov 11, 2012.

  1. sixgunner455

    sixgunner455 Well-Known Member

    Or: Evidence that I suck at big game hunting. :D

    I never intended to hunt elk this year, and I was leery of hunting deer because of how depressing my deer hunt was last year, but some guys at work teased me into putting in for antlerless elk with them. I didn't think we'd actually draw out, but we got our fifth choice tags for a hunt zone just north of Flagstaff. It ended up that only me and one other guy could actually go when the year progressed out to the season. Kind of funny, because I'm forty, a partially disabled vet, but I can still hike some. The other guy who could come is pushing seventy, also a vet, and has some pretty bad breathing issues due to some stuff he got exposed to in the service. He carries an O2 bottle around. His hunting was pretty much riding around in his Ranger and sitting by waterholes. The guy whose idea all this was? Yeah, he's the one fit guy, and he had stuff he couldn't get out of.

    Finances dictated that I do this hunt on as much of a shoestring as possible, so I didn't buy a new rifle, or a new quad, or new binos. I went with what I had, or what I could borrow, except for a new pair of boots, and a new daypack. Both needed replacement anyway, and I'd intended to get new ones for bird hunting whether or not I got an elk tag.

    I had a Bushnell 1200 ARC rangefinder, and borrowed a pair of Vortex Talon 10x32 binos. My rifle is a Savage 11, and it wears a Burris FFII 3-9x40 scope. I borrowed a Suzuki Kingquad 450 from a very generous friend.

    I did make a new knife for this hunt. It has a forged 3.7” drop point of 5160 tool steel, zone heat treated, handled with white brass, Honey Locust, Cocobolo, and deer antler. Got the sheath finished just a day before I left.

    11 October 2012

    Spent the morning cutting weeds and trimming shrubs, instead of packing the truck. My kids were out of school today, and it was time that things got done.

    Once I got that squared away, I did get busy and loaded the truck. The quad was already loaded up in the bed, so I just needed to finish packing my gear and load up. Seemed to take forever to get out of town, though. Always just one more thing to do, or run to town to buy.

    Anyway. Got the old F150 gassed up, checked the tires, topped off the oil, and got on the road at 1430, when I meant to be rolling by 1100. Not too bad, except that Flagstaff is a good six hour drive from the border where I live. I stopped in Tucson to buy a 'just-in-case' bear tag, and some supplies for my muzzleloader (back-up rifle) that I couldn't get at home.

    The drive was pretty easy through Tucson and Phoenix. But as I left Sedona and started gaining altitude, it started to rain and spit snow. I called my cousin who lives in Flagstaff while I was climbing the mountains, and she was quick to tell me that there was a pretty nasty storm coming in. Made the rest of the drive up kind of stressful, but I got to Flag without any remarkable drama, even though it was slow because of the load on the truck, the twisty hills, and bad weather.

    It was cold when I got to our camp, but it had mostly quit raining. My hunting partner got up there on the 10th and set things up, so even though it was late when I finally rolled in, 350 miles from home, all I had to do was unfold my cot, roll out my sleeping bag, and crawl in.

    12 October 2012 – Opening day

    It was quite cold, and I was wet when I woke up this morning. Seems that it snowed quite a bit more while we slept, and I neglected to put the Goretex cover on my sleeping bag, so the accumulated snow dripping through the nylon tent pretty much soaked everything. Outside the tent was a winter wonderland, mid twenties. Kind of a rapid environmental switch for a guy who'd been sweating pretty hard doing yardwork in shirtsleeves the day before.

    My hunting partner took one look outside at all the snow, which was still coming down, knocked the water, ice, and snow off the roof, and went back to bed. I understood … but I did not spend all this time and money to get up to elk camp to spend opening morning lying in bed.

    The fact that my bed was wet had nothing to do with it. No, sir. :D

    I ate a quick breakfast, knocked enough snow off the truck and quad to feel safe unloading it, and rolled it down the ramps.

    I have never hunted with a quad, except when I accompanied some guys who were using them for their hunt once, years ago. I haven't hunted elk in nine years. It was kind of exciting to be off doing all of that, to be rolling through the snow, passing all these elk camps … I was a little dismayed actually, at the number of camps I rolled past. I was under the impression that I was hunting in a wilderness area. I discovered through the time I was up there that this hunt zone is designated a “Wilderness,” but it's actually a very popular playground for Flagstaff residents and the NAU students that double the population there for the school year. Additionally, AZ put out a lot of tags for the area.

    Anyway. I picked an area to go to, and drove to a trailhead that leads to a lake, over a mile of walking in. Glad I had the quad, because I'm not sure my poor truck could have handled the mess I drove through that day with near the ease of the quad. I'm not a motorcyclist, and I rarely drive quads, so I got to discover things guys that ride all the time probably already know. Such as, hail sucks when riding. :D

    There was a truck parked at the trailhead, but it had been there since the night before. I seemed to be pretty much alone in the woods. Just me, the snow, the occasional hail, and the deer.

    I hiked in on the main trail for half a mile or so. It's been a long time since I hiked in snow like that, and I was really taking it easy. I had a trekking pole that I was using for stability, and my rifle slung next to my daypack as I walked through the woods.

    I came to a small meadow, several hundred yards across, and just stood and stared at it for a while. There were deer tracks crossing the meadow and trail, and as I rounded the side of the meadow, I came to a game trail that lead away from the lake that was my goal.

    I've always been the guy that had to see what was on the other side of the hill, and it's gotten me into some trouble before, but … I couldn't resist. It was beautiful, and I figured, why not?

    I came across some elk sign in the trees on the other side of the meadow, mixed with more deer. I walked further through the trees and down into a shallow draw. I came to some more sign, and paused because the tracks seemed to lead into the trees to my right. I heard some slight sounds in the trees, and moved forward to get a look.

    Up under the trees, some rather large, dark shapes with glittering eyes and big ears stared at me.

    My rifle was still slung over my right shoulder. My trekking pole was still in my left hand. My binos were zipped into my coat. I couldn't tell, through the deep shadows and falling snow, exactly what I was looking at. Mule deer can be pretty big, a lot bigger than the little Coues whitetails I'm used to seeing down home. Cow elk are much bigger, but elk calves and mule deer does aren't necessarily dissimilar in size. Shooting at shadows is not brilliant, especially when you've been seeing mixed tracks in the area. That was kind of irrelevant, because as I tried to make up my mind as to what they were, I struggled to remove my rifle from my shoulder – it had somehow gotten snagged on some other piece of my gear – and they decided not to wait long enough to see what I was going to do.

    The animals were there for no more than five seconds, and probably less, before they trotted off into the deeper shadows and were gone.

    I checked their tracks. Elk. Of course.

    Can I tell you how excited I was? I'd been hunting for less than an hour, and I found exactly what I was looking for. That never happens to me. At least, not while I'm hunting something bigger than a dove.

    And it didn't happen again. I had to drive to town one night, and nearly took out a large bull that crossed the road in front of me. I almost wished I had, because it wasn't fifteen minutes later that my fuel pump died. Had to get it towed from the grocery store to Sears, and it cost me $500 to get it replaced. So much for the shoestring!

    I hunted hard the rest of the week, by myself most of the time. I saw deer every day I was there, almost at will. I got up early, stayed out till dark, staked out actively used waterholes and feeding areas, hiked mountains, drove the roads, and saw elk only on one other occasion. It was the second to last day of the hunt, and I shifted my focus back to the map. There was a gas line right-of-way that was clear cut along the southern edge of the hunt zone, and I and my partner looked it over and decided to go down that way and see what we could see. We'd heard rumors that a large gathering of cows and bulls had been down there, because that corner of the hunt zone borders a pocket of private land and an experimental forest area that isn't hunted, but they'd been gathered in the cut that is part of the legal hunt zone.

    We drove down to a forest road a mile from the cut, and drove along it until we came to a waterhole. It had some pretty good sign on it, a mix of cattle, elk, deer, and horses, so the old man decided to stake it out and watch the world go by.

    I went hiking toward the gas line. I forgot to mention this earlier, but all the mountains in this area are extinct volcanoes. I came to a crater while I was hiking that had 32 degree slopes, and was choked full of trees and brush. There were game trails going down into it. I said to myself, “I don't care if I do see an elk down there, I'm not shooting it and I'm not going down there for a look.” That is a bit of sense it's taken me a long time to acquire.

    Anyway. There was sign all over the gas line cut, including hair caught in barbed wire where they crossed through and over the fences. There was a dead, butchered bull; he was pretty stinky. I considered that definitive proof that there were elk there, but I worried that the big guy getting shot might have busted the herd up and left me with nothing. Found the cartridge case about 100 yards away from where he was butchered, a nickle plated 7mm Rem Mag.

    I was working my way toward the paved road at the end of the gas line when I noticed a big, buff-colored body moving through the woods. My binos weren't zippered up this time, and my rifle was in my hand, too. :D It was a nice 5x5 bull, and he had a friend who was even bigger about twenty or thirty yards behind him. Range finder said that they were 200 yards away, and they kept pausing and posing broadside, usually with their heads screened behind trees.

    It was ridiculously perfect, except that I had an antlerless tag. They didn't seem to care about the carcass in the cut, either – they were less than 300 yards from it.

    I started scanning the area for the cows, since they'd been reported to us by deer hunters as being in a big group, but I didn't find a single one. Found an even bigger bull, though. I couldn't count points, because he stayed further back in the trees and moved less, but his body was much bulkier than the other two.

    I sat down and watched those three bulls while I glassed for cows for over thirty minutes before they left. I could have killed any one of them at will for most of that time.

    I stayed on the clear cut until dark, and then hiked the mile back along the road to where the old man was waiting for me. It went a lot quicker hiking along the road than it did going through the woods to get to the cut in the first place.

    I came back down before first light, and set myself up in front of a little baby Ponderosa where I was overlooking a spot where some game trails converged by a fence, about 170-180 yards away, and waited to see what would happen.

    Mule deer crossed exactly where I predicted some animals would, right about when I thought they would. First some does and fawns of the year, then a group of young bucks – spikes and forkies, then some more does and fawns, then a 3x3 buck.

    And that was it. No elk at all. That was my last day's hunt, since I had to get to town after that to pick up my truck from the shop, and then I had to pack my gear and get home so I could be to work the next day. There was no last light, last minute miracle. Just the miracle that I got to go and experience it all.

    My kids listened to me talk about this for days, and asked, “Do you think maybe we could go next year?”

    Um. Yeah. Yeah, you can. I felt bad that I couldn't take them this year, but they already missed the first week and a half of school because of a family vacation we'd been on, and the tag I got was for the week AFTER their fall break. I almost took them anyway, but my wife and I decided that it wasn't smart.

    Found out the day after I got back that some other people from my town were hunting elk that week, too. A kid my daughter goes to school with was up in the same hunt zone with her dad and uncle during this same hunt. Tiny little thing, about 90#, fifteen or so.

    She got a cow, shooting her dad's rifle off a tripod. Brat.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012
  2. Andrew Leigh

    Andrew Leigh Well-Known Member

    Nice story, well written and most enjoyable. You should really put pen to paper more often. A nice easy style, thanks for sharing you hunt.

    Next time if you want to see Elk cows get a tag for a Elk bull :D.
  3. sixgunner455

    sixgunner455 Well-Known Member

    Yeah. Bulls are hard to come by when you're actually hunting them. There were folks asking, "Have you seen any deer?" Yeah, everywhere. Have you seen any elk? "Oh, yeah, they're here/there/everywhere," except where I was. :D

    Probably should just get a deer tag. Then I'll be able to watch elk all day long!
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012
  4. Wile E Coyote

    Wile E Coyote Well-Known Member

    Nice story. I can attest to how oblivious a critter can be to losing one of their own. This August, I was bent over gutting a bull elk I'd dropped with my front-stuffer when I noticed his pesky little cousin spike hanging around 30 yrds away. I even stood up and waved/yelled to see if he'd scoot, but no dice. He hung around for quite a while as I went back to my work.
    It doesn't sound like you scouted before this hunt. I agree you sure got lucky to have found some in the first hour of hunting! I haven't had the chance to elk hunt in the snow, even though I've had tags as late as early Dec.

    I can also relate to hunting with a service-connected disability. I played heck managing that bull elk I just talked about by myself in late August with my crappy neck, legs and back. 600lbs of elk spoils fast at 90 deg!
  5. sixgunner455

    sixgunner455 Well-Known Member

    We went up there for a brief scouting trip, but mostly all we accomplished was picking out camping sites and deciding which side of the unit to focus our efforts on.

    I didn't actually see any elk on the scouting trip.

    Congrats on your muzzleloader bull! That is quite an accomplishment.
  6. Lennyjoe

    Lennyjoe Well-Known Member

    I'm up in 5B this weekend for a rifle Elk Bull hunt and can only hope to see some bulls like you did. No snow this hunt as temps are suppose to get in the 60s during the day. Moon is out bright and full at night too...:(
  7. sixgunner455

    sixgunner455 Well-Known Member

    good luck, Lenny!

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