April 1st is the day most commonly known as April Fool's Day. I was at Roosevelt Lake, unloading my boat to do some pre-shooting for a bowfishing tournament, when my phone alerted me of a withdrawal on my credit card. I checked it, thinking it was for a bill, but to my amazement, it was a charge from Arizona Game and Fish. I immediately stopped what I was doing and started dancing around and yelling; I finally drew an Arizona early archery bull tag! I immediately called my dad to tell him the news. He reminded me that it was April Fool's Day and he wasn't buying it. Three calls later, a pit of doubt grew in my stomach. Did Game and Fish really play a cruel joke on me? Fast forward three weeks and I'm holding a tag in my hand for a unit that I truly don't remember applying for. After some double checking, I realize I mistakenly applied for this unit, but hey, at least I still have an early archery bull tag!
After a couple of months and endless hours looking over my brand new Flatline Map for Unit 8, I was ready to start covering ground. I went up scouting during the opening weekend of the archery deer hunt. There were people everywhere! It seemed like I couldn't get away from them -- no matter how hard I tried. I already knew that I wanted to spend all my time in the lower elevations of the unit, so the first morning scouting, I climbed to the top of a hill, started glassing and found a young bull feeding. That's when it hit me; I was actually getting to hunt elk this year for the first time! The next couple of days, I found a few more bulls and put lots of miles on the truck and boots.
The next weekend was Memorial Day weekend and the amount of people in the unit somehow grew compared to the weekend before. This trip, my good friend, Travis Frazier, came to scout with me. Travis would be on the hunt for the first 5 days and it was nice to have a second set of eyes glassing. The first evening on the hill, we saw a herd of cows and small raghorn bulls. We stayed late, hoping to hear bulls bugling, but there was nothing to be heard that night; however, we were going to return the following morning to see if anything had changed.
The next morning we found the same group of cows, with a new addition to them. There was a great 6x6 bull pushing them through the cedars. As soon as I saw him, I immediately told Travis I didn't think I could pass on that bull if given the opportunity during the hunt. We watched the bull for the next hour and we both agreed that he would be in that 320-330 range. He was very distinctive because his tines angled up and slanted back with the beams. We spent the rest of the weekend covering every other corner of the unit trying to find something bigger or better.
The next week of work went by like molasses, until Wednesday, when I was finally able to head up for my hunt. I got to the spot I wanted to camp and set up my wall tent. I got everything situated and then I decided to go scout. I stayed out late hoping to hear the first bugle in my unit. I didn't hear any bugles where I was scouting, but when I got back to camp, the bulls were screaming their heads off! I was camped in an area at the base of a big ridge where it transitions from pines to cedars.
Derrick and Travis weren't gonna be in camp till late Friday night, so I was by myself on opening day. I felt like I had had about 30 seconds of sleep, between my excitement and the multiple bugling bulls in camp. At 4 o'clock my alarm went off. I don't think it rang for more than two seconds before I was up and getting dressed. I grabbed a quick breakfast and off I went. It was really tough to leave all the screaming bulls behind near camp, but I had a plan and I was sticking to it. I showed up an hour and a half before light and hiked to the top of the hill. The bulls were talking consistently down below me and I could hear a few off in the distance. All of a sudden, I saw headlamps down by my truck and fifteen minutes later I had company on the hill with me.
At first light, I had elk spotted -- just a few cows moving through some cedars at the top of an adjacent hill. I kept my eyes on the group of cows and then horns appeared behind them. I had not seen this bull before, but I knew instantly he was a shooter. He was long beamed and had 6 on his right and 7 on his left. I watched him move through the cows, checking each one. I knew I didn't have a play with the wind at my back and the thermals going up the hill, so I decided to wait and see where they were heading. All of a sudden, a cow picked her nose up and bolted. Every other elk on the hill followed her. I looked for the cause. Then I saw three guys running up the hill with the wind at their back, going straight towards where the elk used to be.
That evening, I decided to sit a nearby water hole because the group of elk from the morning had run towards it. I sat for 4 and a half hours with no action, but I could hear a bull bugling a couple hundred yards away. I decided to take off and see if I could get a closer look. I crept in to within 50 yards of a young 6x6, showing off his dominance to a small cedar. He was clueless to my existence, but I just couldn't make myself pull the trigger on this particular bull this early in the hunt. Knowing I would have help coming in the morning, I headed back to camp to formulate a game plan for the next day.
Travis and Derrick rolled into camp at around 3 am. Bulls were screaming all around. I heard Travis complaining to Derrick about getting to camp so late because Derrick had to attend a wedding. Just then, a bull bugled about 50 yards away and that was the end of the argument. Travis and Derrick got little sleep, but I was determined to get an early start Saturday morning. I told them they could sleep on the way home -- after I shot a bull. We split up. I stayed at the bottom of the hill, while they hiked to the top to glass. Soon I heard the big bull bugle and I veered in that direction. Travis called me and told me that he had the big bull in sight. I was about 200 yards away, but there were also two other guys going after him.
I decided, despite the competition, that I was still gonna go after this bull. The other guys were about 300 yards off to my right and about 100 yards behind me. They set up a decoy and tried to call the bull away from his harem. I took a different tact. I decided I was gonna get in front of the herd and let them pass by me. After I made my move, I found myself in the middle of the herd. The big bull was a mere 28 yards away. My only problem was the two cows and a cedar in between my arrow and his chest. Next, came utter chaos. I heard a Hoochie-Mama call followed by the stampede of elk running away from it. This happened three times before I decided to not push them any further.
I called Derrick and Travis to see what they had found, if anything, and to have them come pick me up. While I was waiting, I pulled out my map and saw a water hole in the middle of a cedar thicket. When Travis and Derrick picked me up, they told me that a good bull had pulled two cows away from the big herd and headed in the direction of the water hole that I had just discovered on the map. We decided to hike into the water hole to check it out. It was secluded and there was elk sign everywhere, so I felt like the elk would feel safe watering there in daylight hours. We built a quick brush blind and headed back to camp to cook some lunch.
We went back to the water hole around 1 pm. The plan was for me and Derrick to sit the water, while Travis sat on the hill and watched for anything heading in our direction. As we started the hike towards the water, it started to rain-- lightly at first, and then it turned into a monsoon style storm. Since we were already there, we decided to sit it out and hope for the best. It rained off and on for the next hour. Just when I was pretty sure I was the only idiot sitting a water hole during a rain storm, the clouds parted and the sun quickly heated the air. It hadn't rained enough to puddle up, just enough to make everything quiet and slick.
I was checking the settings on my range finder when Derrick whispered, "BIG BULL! BIG BULL!" I looked up to see a bull standing on the dike, looking over the water. Derrick got the video camera lined up as I whispered "wait, just wait." The bull finally decided it was safe and moved towards the water. Derrick began filming while the bull was drinking. Derrick looked back at me, "Why haven't you drawn your bow back yet?" The answer was simple: I was too busy trying to catch my breath! I waited until the bull was done drinking and I slowly drew my bow back.
I found my anchor point and looked through my peep to see that all of my pins were in his chest cavity. I found my 40 yard pin, picked a spot, and let the arrow fly. The 425 grain arrow, tipped with a Slick Trick, found its spot, and snapped as the bull turned to run away. The bull ran 80 yards, turned, and looked back towards the water hole. I was grabbing another arrow when I heard Derrick say, "You smoked him!" I looked up and saw the bull turn to run, except his legs weren't working anymore and down he went! I had arrowed my bull and I couldn't believe it. I called Travis, "Bull down! Come get us!" Then I called my mom and told her I had filled my tag. After all the years of applying and being denied, I finally had gotten my elk! I didn't even realize, until Travis pointed it out, that I shot the bull we had watched the weekend before. He was everything I had ever hoped for and dreamed of.
He's not a 400" bull, but he's my bull, and I wouldn't trade him for anything. He ended up taping out at 342 3/8". This elk was the seventh species of big game that I have harvested with a bow in the state of Arizona. All I need now to complete my big 10 is antelope, bighorn sheep, and buffalo. I want to thank: Derrick and Travis for being there for me and helping me to fill the tag; Lance and Tara for sharing their home with me and reminding me that it's about the hunt and not the filling of the tag that's important; and, my parents for teaching me patience and the rewards of hard work -- it has paid off in all my hunting endeavors