2020 AZ Bull Hunt-Getting Bloody with Friends

Huntinaz

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Story time, week or so late. One of the east coast boys drew an AZ rifle bull tag this year which means I got to go elk hunting. Thanksgiving day 2020, whilst the average schmuck was stuffing his fat face with turkey in front of his mother-in-law, we were setting up elk camp. The rabble consisted of myself, my little brother Tate, Paulie, Al (hunter) and Andrew. The latter three being east coasters from upstate NY and Mass. I had a good conversation with Al on the ride to camp about realistic expectations and the possibility of broken up bulls and elk quality and numbers in the area we were hunting and we settled on somewhere along the honest 280"+ mark for the first couple days with standards dropping drastically after that.

We bought a new tent this year and got it set up and then spent the last two hours of daylight on the glassing hill so the east-coasters could get a view and a layout of the killing-field and an idea of how it was to be hunted:


We have a spot that is surrounded by largely un-glassable thick country. There is one spot on one hill where you can see a TON of country. We're the only ones that hunt it like this. It has its up-sides and down. Up-sides are our monopoly of said exact spot, there are a lot of elk in this area and a lot of elk move through it, and generally the presence of other hunters helps what we do rather than hinders it. Downsides include the lack of other glassing opportunity, it's remote and far away from other spots, and while the glassers on the hill can see a lot it is still challenging to guide hunters in even with radios. Every year we see many small bulls and several big bulls but since they are largely non-resident bulls you never know what you are going to get. It's not worth scouting before hand because by 9am the first morning the elk are all stirred up

View of camp all set up before the first morning:


Day 1 we saw more elk than we've ever seen. Around 350+ by a fairly conservative estimate. It was a dry year and patterns were different. It was cold and spitting snow until mid day which made for intermittent glassing from the guys on the hill but great still-hunting conditions for us which was nice because there is a lot of country they can't see. First light they got us on a practice stalk on a large herd of cows and raghorns. The stalk worked perfectly, we located and scouted the herd in shooting position and passed a half dozen raghorn bulls and spikes. Was a great practice run. Every time the snow stopped the guys would find more elk but never any bulls worth shooting on the first day so Al and I took a walk on the backside of an area they can't see at all. We saw about 200 elk, the highlight being an hour-long off and on parade of elk at the T in a fenceline. During this parade we had an 80 yard, 5 minute long opportunity and two okay bulls. A small 6x6 and a small 6x7. This being the first time Al had ever layed eyes on a real bull elk, he thought it was a giant! They really are impressive critters. Al really wanted to hit the 7 point mark and we had one in front of us but he just wasn't the overall caliber we were hoping for on day 1 so we passed. I told him we should definitely have more chances at bulls of this quality later in the hunt, but I do wish this opportunity had come again on day 4 or 5. Anyway, here's AL and I hunting bull elk together and also taking handsome selfies with our designer camo in the snow during a visibility/burrito break:


One thing apparent after day 1 was that there was still rut activity happening. I've never heard so much as a half-bugle on the late bull hunts but this year we heard it a lot. I didn't believe it at first. The east-coasters were all excited when we got back to camp and said they are bugling and rutting! I said no...
Me: "Bulls will bugle to stay with a herd but they aren't rutting"
Guys on the hill: "then why did we see elk sex three times today? Five times if you count spike on spike. They had me there..."


Day 2
Was full of action. Anyone listening to our radio traffic must have really enjoyed themselves between our crude banter and code-names for areas and all the action. First of all there were indeed elk everywhere. It went something like this:
Them: "Homo One, do you copy?"
Us: "This is Homo One, we copy, go ahead with your traffic"
Them: "Homo One we have elk everywhere. Stay central because you will be running soon. There is a line of elk from Double-kill to the top of the Pitchfork, there are elk in Biden Clearing coming from the Broom-handle, and hold on... at least a hundred elk are streaming into Blowjob Betty right now"
Us: "Copy that, standing by. We have two bulls bugling in the canyon ahead of us we're gonna check out"
Them: "Yes check that out. No stop, come back, there's a heard of bulls coming through Ruthless right now!"

And on and on for several hours

They even found a velvet bull:


The highlight of day 2 came mid afternoon, we were still seeing many cows and young bulls when the guys on the hill spotted a herd of 3 bulls that contained a small 6x6 and another bigger 6x6 that warranted a stalk and a closer look. We had some distance to cut so we jogged and fast-walked (this is subjective. Paulie the Gazelle, for example, would call it more of a slow saunter) to get within range. The bulls were in thick stuff and the guys could only catch glimpses but they got us to a small clearing and told us to get lanes and wait. As we crossed the clearing they said we were safe to cross we startled a bull elk about 150 yards away. It was a small rag and I told AL to get ready to shoot. The next bull was another small bull. Perfect, next bull should be the big one. Out he came and indeed he was bigger. He cleared the small opening and I said that's him. He stopped with his head mostly behind a tree. Al said do I shoot him? With the angle of the late afternoon sun and the tree I could not tell now. I could see he had a good frame and what appeared to be a heavy sword tine but could only partially see one side and it was not a good look and decided it was not worth the gamble. They finally broke and we never got a good look at them. We radioed the guys:

Us: "We busted them"
Them: "No you didn't, they are still there"
Us: "we watched them bounce"
Them: "The elk we are guiding you to are still there but they are walking south now, get one them!"

It was too thick and we never saw the elk they sent us after. They never saw the ones we bumped. This would become a recurring event for us...

Day 3
Day three was frustrating. The guys identified a certified shooter bull in the Biden Clearing first thing. We pulled two stalks on these elk, a nice 6x7 and a small 6x6. We spent almost all day within 500 yards of them but it was too thick to ever see them. It was yet another testament to how hard/fun it is to hunt these elk in this area. When we thought of the radio thing maybe 6 years ago we thought "oh yeah, this is gonna be easy." Since then we have averaged about a 25% success rates of stalks/kills. It's thick and the terrain and angles to the guys on the hill look SO different to the hunters in the stuff. We waited all day within 300-400 yards of these bedded bulls and it was too thick to move on them. When they got up we had a 50% chance of getting on them I figured. Al wanted to charge into the bedding area and I said no we need to wait them out. Sure enough at 2pm ish them got up and started feeding east. That was in the direction of the 50% kill margin and the way I had assumed they would go due to past experience. My parents had even come up on the hill after spending the day cutting wood out there and got to see the action of the main stalk. We spent the next 2 hours trying to find a lane on him and kill him without spooking them. The guys spent these hours trying to guide us onto the elk they could clearly see and we could not and trying not to swear too coarsely in front of my mom. We stalked, they fed, they bedded again. Finally at about 430 we busted them without a glimpse having spent the last half hour within 200 yards of them and they bounced. Out of our lives forever. We named him Betty, here's a picture from over 2000 yards away:


We ended the day getting into under 100 yards of a small 5x6 bull that was screaming his head off with a bunch of cows right at dark. Still couldn't believe they were bugling and while it looked like the big bulls were done with it, chasing bugles is exhilarating and we figured it'd still be easy to fill a tag any old time we wanted
 
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Huntinaz

Huntinaz

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Day 4
Mid day we went on a running stalk to get into position and again because of the misleading distance and terrain we thought we could move and got busted. A loose herd of 25 or so bulls saw us as we saw them. We had looks at the first seven or so and none were shooters but there was one good one in there according to the guys on the hill. We spend the next 20 minutes frustrated and aired out our britches and Al convinced me to buy a $450 Kuiu pack. Ah, impulse buys (it is a great pack). Shortly after that Al settled down for a nap and I heard Tate on the radio, He had elk within 50 yards of him on the hill. I asked if there were any bulls. He whispered he couldn't tell yet. I buckled my pack. Sure enough 30 seconds later he's on the horn: they are three bulls, two of them are definite shooters. I told Al to put his pack on and we booked it to the area they were seen heading. The bulls of course took a hard turn and popped up near the area we'd just vacated and they got away too

Back at camp we were frustrated but I was still overall excited. We were seeing the caliber of bulls we wanted and that's why we didn't shoot the small 6x7 the first day, so that we could chase exactly what we'd been chasing. The bigger bulls were getting all the luck and it was due to change soon...

Day 5
The luck changed alright. We didn't see crap on day 5. Ok that happens. Standards not slipping too much. Tate had to go home this night which was a bummer, we missed him dearly

Day 6

Al originally told me this was really his last day to hunt. Then he said no we can hunt all day 7 BUT, we have to pack up camp and get back to the house that night no matter what. Well, I was ready to shoot one today I'm gonna be honest. But, Al elected to not chase a couple spikes so I said that's fine. The afternoon produced nothing but cows. Instead of seeing 300+ elk a day now we were only seeing 50-100 and the larger bulls were absent. We've all seen this happen before and like I mentioned earlier, this is the only spot around we can glass. It's either stick to it or still-hunt other random country and cut the guys on the hill out. This is a definite down-side of the area. We got back to the truck maybe 10 minutes early. We noted this and said hey everyone there's still some shooting light so watch for elk. But the ride was mostly silent. Tomorrow was gonna be a looong day any way you sliced it. Either we hunt until dark and then pack up a big camp in the dark and drive 2.5 hours... or we spend the day packing out an elk and THEN start packing up camp in the dark and driving 2.5 hours. Hey we'll do it but damn

Then with about 5 minutes of shooting light left the right side of the truck says "there's some elk!" There was a line of 5+ visible elk and 2 of them were in a clearing. I said AL get out. I was the only one with glass and as Al left the door open to block my already limited view I maneuvered as best I could while Al set up for a possible legal shot off the road. With much perseverance I finally craned my back uncomfortably enough to see what I wanted; a herd of bulls!

Me: "They're bulls. They're all bulls. Shoot one, any one. Second from left, kill him"

I could see Al come off his rifle, then re-steady on his knee. The elk were maybe 150 un-ranged yards. He fired. The elk I thought he had the best lane at didn't budge, but then after a second he started to shudder and rock. Great. Shoot him again I said. He did and this time the elk dropped its hind-end with a spine shot. He's down!

Turns out he was able to get almost back up and go behind some trees and I thought he got across a clearing with the other bulls but no, he was laying dead as we cleared the timber. Two holes in him. 300 Win Mag and 200gr Partitions did the trick! Turns out he had busted his left side completely off which is a bummer but he was a teensy 6 point on his unbroken side:


As we cut him up for transport I decided todo the cut-the-crap-out-of-oneself-with-a-sharp-knife-while complacently-cutting-up-an-elk-for-the-50th-time-in-your-life-thing. I was cutting off a big hunk of neck meat and as the blade came clear of the meat i tagged my thigh and layed open my designer camo Kuiu pats (and my fancy merino britches). The guys had a good laugh but I wasn't so sure. Hard to tell with a sharp knife how bad you are cut I think, it didn't hurt and the guys didn't think anything of it. I knew I wasn't gonna die of course but had a feeling I got deeper than I wanted. I finished cutting the meat while they laughed and started taking down my drawers for a look

Them: "Hey, take it easy bro, what are you doing keep your pants on!!"
(pants come down)
Them: "Ohhhh!"


Don't worry, I'm ok. Nothing a little duct tape and gauze and steri-strips and booze won't fix:





In summary we didn't kill the bull we were after but we are thankful for the opportunity to try. We punched a tag and filled a freezer. Elk meat is kind of a treat on the east coast. We took our chances and our gambles and didn't hit the jackpot but we had a great hunt. It would be no sweat killing any old legal bull in this area but holding out for a big one is fun and challenging and certainly possible. So much fun. I love hunting bull elk. It's just the best. Also, I love these guys. It is my absolute pleasure to hunt with them. Everyone pulls their weight, we get along, we hunt hard and laugh hard, and we kill stuff together. I hope we get more of this in the future. Until next year...

-
 
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Huntinaz

Huntinaz

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Bonus material

Celebrating with the bull in the tent. We were tired, normally we'd be out at the campfire:



Al carrying an elk quarter to the truck:


Andrew butchering a hind quarter:


Small herd of cows and raghorns evening before the hunt:


Happy to get this one:


We don't need no stinking stitches:


Elk; they have the meats:

 
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Huntinaz

Huntinaz

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Dude, Jeremiah Weed? Only hobos and fighter pilots drink that terrible stuff. Every time I drink some, I swear it’s my last time. And that’s when it’s been on ice...
Blasphemy!

Maybe it’s an acquired taste but we think it’s pretty good. But there’s a reason we drink it...

Apparently my grandpa (mom’s side) was quite the lucky elk hunter and used to have Jeremiah Weed in elk camp all the time. My dad went on several of his elk hunts and it always ended with my grandpa shooting a bull elk and then everyone would hit the Jeremiah Weed (liqueur, not the bourbon) during the skinning. I was too young to ever hunt elk with my grandpa and when he passed 10 years ago my dad and my uncle started reminiscing about these old elk hunts and the Jeremiah Weed. I miss my grandpa very much and so naturally I immediately located a couple bottles of this infamous camp booze and brought them on our next elk hunt. It was an instant hit and it’s once again become a talisman and a staple of our elk camps in Pop Ray’s honor.

We also bring a couple bottles of Barenjaeger to even things out;)

And also we’re basically fighter pilots. Of elk hunting. And we need the fuel
 

TheCougar

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I knew there had to be a story behind it. No one drinks that stuff unless compelled to by some outside force! Every time I see a bottle of Weed a part of me shudders and I think, “Oh boy, here we go again...”.
 
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Huntinaz

Huntinaz

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Good story. I have to ask how Biden clearing got its name?
Not much of a story there, just a code name. Wish I could say it was based off a previous encounter with an old stuttering incompetent boob, or maybe a spot we’ve all taken dumps before but alas, it’s just near a place thats named something that sorta loosely associated with him
 

Scooter37

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Dec 24, 2018
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Yeah a really good write up for sure. I enjoyed reading it. I really appreciated the part of the radio code names we do the same thing and always wonder what other people hearing the conversation must be thinking. I feel what you are saying about how hard it is to describe to some across the canyon which way the need to walk or look. It always makes me wonder if they are purposefully messing with me because it seems so simple from my point of view.

All in all it Sounds like a great time was had. Congrats
 
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