In September 2019 I had an archery tag to hunt elk in one of Arizona’s best unit. During the season, at least 5 or 6 other hunters killed bulls that we near or over 400″. Honestly, it was probably more than that, but I want to be conservative.
On day 3 of the hunt, I maneuvered into 40 yards of what I thought was a 330″ type of bull (see image above). I came to full draw but had already made up my mind to pass on it. My thought was that I was still so early in the hunt, and knew there were bigger bulls to find. The next week, however, got hot and extremely windy. The elk stopped talking until right at dark. And I went the next 6 days with hardly seeing an elk, let alone getting close to a bigger bull. I did get into screaming bulls again, and had a few very close calls and misjudged the distance of a decent bull on the 12th day sending an arrow just beneath his chest cavity. And on the very last evening of the last day of the hunt, I called in a young 6 point to 5 yards, single lunged him as he raced by me to the call, and couldn’t find him after losing its blood trail and track 3 miles later.
All of this leading me to ask, should I have shot the first bull I passed opening weekend?
There’s the adage, “Don’t pass on opening day, and animal you’d kill on the last.”
So I took this to the group of guys for their take on it. This is what they came back with.
First mature animal is gettin’ it. If I can’t find a mature animal by the last day, I’ll do my best to fill the freezer.
(as economical with words as ever)
Depending on the hunt of course plays into my mindset on what I wanna pull the trigger on. But one big factor is, is my freezer full? Every elk tag besides ones in September has one goal, fill the freezer, give it two days or so then fill the freezer. Most mule deer tags, because my family doesn’t care for mule deer meat, are all trophy hunts, course deer is a trophy hunt but with the abundance of them its pretty easy to fill the tag at the end of the hunt. On years we have multiple tags for elk we lay back and hunt for trophy knowing our chance to fill the freezer is good. A lot say that filling a tag is all that one should worry about but I don’t agree, all I ask is that every hunt is an adventure and fun, not gonna compete with anyone but going to enjoy the hunt to the upmost. If the freezer is full, then I’m going to hunt hard for a trophy, and enjoy every minute of it.
If my freezer is empty or I only have a few tags that year, then I am generally shooting the first mature animal I can. If my freezer is full enough or the tag is special and warrants holding out, then I’ll hold out and look for that special animal, sometimes I get a nice trophy, sometimes eat the tag. If I waited a long time for the tag and have the time off work to hunt, I really like to hunt the whole time and soak in the experience, but I try not to let the experience trump putting food on the table. I’m thankful for having hunted some nice trophies AND having a generally full freezer.
“Mándalo mother fucker…” -Jeez, I wonder.
(loosely translated, that’s Josh’s way of saying shoot!)
Shoot or pass? What am I looking for on a hunt? Tough questions. I have always been an opportunity hunter whose main goal was to procure meat for the year and make an adventure of it at the same time. Things have changed a bit as I have evolved as a hunter. My goal is to always find the most mature animal possible, conservation and the future of the population are high on my list. With that said, if I have a low-quality tag, few days to hunt, etc. I will still be squeezing the trigger to bring meat home for my family on the last day if I need it. There is always a caveat and I could spend a ton of time on this subject but there are a few times when I am willing to go home empty-handed. If I draw a premium tag that took a decade-plus to draw and have an idea in my head for my size minimum I would hunt through the last day without filling a tag. I don’t “Need” to fill every tag, if a unit has low numbers, is managed for premium quality, etc. I am just as happy not shooting and knowing the unit will be even better in the future as a result.