Well the day had finally come that had been on my mind for a couple of months now and day by day I did everything in my power to make sure I was ready, but it was as if I didn’t have enough time between wanting to get up there to scout, supplies, time off of work, and last minute bow tuning. So the three months I had to prepare flew by quicker than I had ever imagined. But with the help of my loved ones and tremendous friends everything worked out just right and we had no idea, but this was about to be the hunt that we would never forget.
As everyone wants when they apply for Arizona elk, I wanted to just get drawn; I knew it was going to be tough getting drawn especially when I put in for Unit 9 as being my first choice and Unit 10 being my second choice but that didn’t scare me because for some reason I knew I was getting drawn. Well fingers crossed I logged into game and fish and there it was the hunt number I had been constantly thinking about was there! I had drawn Unit 9 archery bull elk, with September 9th being my opening day I couldn’t be any happier I was so pumped and that was when it all started.
Well the adventure had begun, we were loaded up and jam packed full, with two in the front, and one in the rear buried among all of our excess gear that did not fit in the bed we were on the way, and good to go! With camp all set up and last minute grocery shopping taken care of we hit the forest with one hour to spare before the sun went down to do a little last minute glassing before it became the real deal. With no elk in the glass we decided to hit the call and do a little locating and we definitely located some bulls, with darkness right on our tails the screams were right beyond the trees and it echoed all around us and that’s when I knew this was going to be a riot. Next morning came and as the sun rose we were running into some difficulties as the wind was swirling all around us and every herd we encountered was catching our wind and our setups just weren’t working out. We also didn’t really run into any great bulls either but they were definitely out there! We walked and walked all day and passed on many bulls and all that did was get us more and more pumped. So for the next couple days more friends and family joined this hunt and some left but the hunt went on and a couple days later our morning started to fall into place. It was the fourth day of the hunt and with the temperature dropping and the forest completely silent we were in shock and honestly just walking, and hoping to run into some elk, until all of a sudden the bugles took off and there was one bugle that definitely sounded a lot better than the others, so with one quick glance at my buddy I knew what direction we were heading. As we moved closer to the bull we noticed in the distance that we were approaching a meadow and in the middle of this meadow there he was just strutting his stuff and raking every tree in his path. So we quickly put together a plan and I hit the dirt making an effort to get as close as I could to this bull but I quickly realized that this boy was not alone and his mistress had me pegged! So I dove to the nearest tree and set up just hoping that he comes within bow range and he didn’t. So this big guy started raking a tree about sixty yards or SO, so I thought , so as he turned broadside I quickly felt the sudden rush of blood going from my head straight to my heart and I went cold and numb. I slowly drew back my bow lined up my shot and took a deep breath and thought to myself here you go, here is your shot to put a toad on the ground and make a memory. I let the arrow fly and heard the worst noise I had ever heard in my life! Crack! That arrow flew right under the bull and straight into a tree right behind him and he jumped up and was gone! And right before he disappeared into trees he stopped and took one last look and left the meadow as I saw the tall 7 x 6 rack disappear. I couldn’t even move I was in such shock and so disappointed in myself, I just sat there for a second frozen, but I had to go after him he was exactly what I wanted, tall and wide! But after hours of trying to find him we found nothing at all and all I kept replaying in my mind was the shot, the shot that was low, the shot that I missed and the shot that could have been the deal sealer but it wasn’t.
So the next couple days we hunted our tails off and did everything we could to find a shooter bull, and as our spirits were still high I knew that the weekend was coming and that meant time to go home for me because that Monday whether I got a bull or not I would be at work and day dreaming of elk. So with that said on day 7 everything looked good and felt good and we were trailing a pretty big herd of elk with multiple bulls in it. We were close and as we began to climb this hill I noticed some elk feeding, so I dropped for cover and waited patiently, with my buddies just thirty yards down from me they began to cow call and boy did they get a response! Three rag horns started working their way right towards me and soon enough I was within ten yards of one of these bulls! He was screaming down the hill and looking back at me every now and again as bad as I wanted to pull back on this bull and attempt to take this shot I didn’t. I sat there and watched these elk right in front of me, just totally testing me but I stood my ground and when the time was right we backed off the mountain and went around the mountain to try and get in front of the herd to see what potential was in the front.
We got on top of the hill and we were hearing a lot of action still but we were also getting into some thick country and at this time I had no idea where my friends were I just knew they were calling somewhere behind me. Before I could do anything I saw a bull stick his head out from behind a bush and all I saw was the lower part of the rack with mass and awesome eye guards so I was hooked, he let out the loudest bugle I have ever heard and I could feel right in my chest as he growled and made his way right at me, so I drew back and when he saw this he quartered and I let it go, my arrow sunk right into this incredible animal and within a half a second he was gone! I could hear him crashing down the hill knocking every tree down and bush that was in his way. I was pumped and froze again, my body was trembling and before I could even get on the radio I heard my buddy say “Sounds like you got him!” I said “I did man” and of course before I could even move he was next me totally pumped and ramping me up and then my other buddy had arrived so we took a break talked and decided lets go to camp get some game bags and comeback.
We went to the location of where I shot this bull and got right on blood but not a ton of blood, it definitely wasn’t as much as I wanted but we tracked this bull for 2 miles and then the worst nightmare happened, no more blood. So for the next three hours we were hands and knees looking for blood and tracking broken leaves and nothing. So we decided to take a break and eat some lunch, but the whole time we were eating all I could think was my bull was out there somewhere and I couldn’t find him and it was eating me up making me sick to my stomach. So we continued looking for him for the remainder of the day and came up empty handed. Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep that night, but first thing that morning we took a buddy of ours back to Flagstaff so he could get a rental and head home to get back to work. On the drive back my buddy and I kicked around where he could be, what could we do and we both came to the conclusion that there was one place we didn’t look and that was at the top of a good sized mountain, so with twenty four hours passed we headed right up that hill and out of the corner of our eye there he was, my bull, balled up dead under a tree. I was shocked and so happy to see my bull dead and even more incredible than before I had shot him, I couldn’t believe that this bull had bleed for two miles, a good amount of blood and still made this climb up this mountain but it was easy to see that once he got to the top that was the end of the road for him. So completely relieved and pumped up we went to work and I was on cloud nine and couldn’t be anymore thankful for this. I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky I was to be able to have all these memories in just nine days! With the trip closed up we loaded up and the next morning we were gone.
With the Grand Canyon in our rear I couldn’t help but think how proud I was to have been able to draw this tag and be able to have a hunt this eventful and ten days of memories with my best friends. I was able to see some of the most beautiful country in the world and it felt like home. Being in the Outdoors with your friends and family is what it is all about, that is definitely what the hunt is all about experiencing the unknown and testing your limits. So until next time I get to stalk through the woods with my bow, I have this story and all the memories that are in it.
– Austin Magdaleno
Special Thanks to, Travis, Adam, Travis, Gage, Tim, Brennan, Scout and my lovely Fiancé and Daughter who supported me the whole way!