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AZ Archery Elk Hunt Report 2020

Birddog916

Active member
Joined
Jan 13, 2020
Messages
135
Location
Sacramento, CA
Let me start by saying this was one of my favorite hunts I have been on that did not result in meat in my freezer and I'm still not sure how I didn't come home with a bull. As a first time archery elk hunter, I learned a ton about hunting elk during the rut. I also did this hunt solo which is not typical for me therefore learned a lot about myself.

I was floored to learn back in February that my credit card was hit for an elk tag my first year putting in. I applied for a zone, that according to GoHunt, had 1.1% draw odds for nonresident with 0 points. I was super excited to hunt a new place and an animal I have very limited experience with. I had killed a few cow elk with rifle, but that really didn’t prepare me much for an archery bull tag during September. I learned a lot about elk this trip and can’t wait to get back out into the elk woods again.

After drawing the tag, I immediately started e-scouting and making phone calls. My e-scouting led me to make two scouting trips to AZ, one in June and another in August. I met a fellow hunt talker who sets up trail cameras for out-of-state hunters SETCAMS4U and had him set up 10 trail cameras. Jason is great and I would use his services again. During my scouting trips learned the road system and talked to everyone and anyone who knew the elk and unit I was hunting. I reached out to Hunt talk members and I am grateful to everyone here who gave me advice, information, and general encouragement during my hunt planning. Randy’s elk talk series was also a big help.

I spent 14 days hunting and 2 days scouting and 2 days driving to and from my home in California to Arizona. In 14 hunting days I had 5 encounters that could have or should have ended up with a tagged bull, but due to my inexperience or just plain ol’ screwing up- didn’t. My primary hunting methods were limited calling (I’m no maestro on the bugle tube) and targeting transitional areas between bedding areas and water. This AZ summer received very little monsoon so many of the stock tanks were dry. In addition, the zone I was hunting had a very active forestry harvest going on that created corridors of timber that contained elk travel and bedding areas. Based on my scouting trips and the use of trail cameras I focused on a few of these corridors and it worked, but I couldn’t seal the deal.

I hunted these travel corridors with treestand and still hunting for the most part and it should have worked… I missed a big bull on day 2 and came to full draw on smaller bulls 3 times before running out of vacation days. I also passed on a number of spike bulls, which in hindsight was a mistake but I kept seeing better bulls. While it would have been nice to fill my freezer with my first archery bull, I’m happy with the opportunities I had. Here’s a few things I learned during this adventure:

  • Elk move fast- Even at walking speed they keep moving and you have to be ready to shoot once they get into range. I was caught flatfooted a few times by elk getting to close to me to fast before I could draw my bow. A group of cows, a spike and a small 5x6 came into my set up and were at less than 15 yards, but I couldn’t pickup my bow, draw, aim, and shoot before the lead cow made me. I’m used to hunting deer with my bow… deer take their sweet time walking through the woods stopping often to nibble on stuff, elk not so much. A horny off bull you’ve been having sexy time type conversations with came at me faster than I expected as well and I did get to full draw, but I never got him to stop before moving past me at 30 yards.
  • Shooting Lanes matter- On day 2 I missed the largest bull I had seen, a 300ish bull who I had trail camera pictures of and was known to frequent one of the areas I was targeting. He was at 44 yards and I successfully called him in to me by making lost cow sounds I learned on youtube…I still stunned something actually listened to my calling. I made a 4-5 note call sequence of lost mews and immediately received a half growl bugle from the bull about 100 yards away. Honestly, when I heard the growl- bugle, he made I was petrified. I assumed it was a bull elk making that hellish noise back at me, but it sounded like a hell hound crossed with the sassafraquach. The growl that came back at me was like nothing I had heard before, and I almost choked on my diaphragm call, while getting ready for the shot. The bull came into my setup about 5 minutes later looking around and breathing heavily. The bull got to 44 yards and I was at full draw. I made a soft mew to stop him, but he didn’t stop in the big shooting lane and overshot it and was covered in timber when he stopped. I slowly moved my bow at full draw to the next lane, a much smaller lane, and then I stopped him again. I sent it and heard a wack that was not the thud I was expecting. Unfortunately, the lane wasn’t big enough and my arrow met a tree branch in route to the bull and deflected about 80 yards to the right of the bull. In hindsight, I rushed the shot. I should have let back down and picked the 3rd or 4th shooting lane, both of which would have probably resulted in a dead bull.
  • Mobility Matters Elk move so you need to move. I spent to many days hunting where elk had been not where they were currently. I eventually figured this out and started hiking and driving around before light trying to locate bugling bulls before hunting in the morning.
  • Go right at them- For the first week or so I was being to conservative in my approach. After my successfully calling in one bull on day 2 I kept trying to call which didn’t work every time and actually only worked twice for me the first week… Smaller bulls often ignored my cow calling and would barely lift their head from feeding at my calls. In hindsight I would have circled around these guys and tried to intercept them for a shot and just forgot about the calls. I kept trying to call when I should have been trying to devise another plan. Additionally, I was often not close enough when I started calling in the first place.
  • Hunting Pressure Matters- The first week of the season and the second week of the season were like night and day. The first week there were elk all over the unit in smaller groups the second week there were fewer small groups and 2 big groups one on private land and one on a military depot, both of which had very limited hunting pressure and not open to the general public.
  • Hunting Solo- I never expected I would miss my wife, dog, and hunting buddies until I did 2 weeks in the field alone. Sure, I had hunted alone for a long weekend before, but 2 weeks straight was more difficult that I though it would be. Luckily, I met a few people in the field to chat with, have a beer, and in general bounce ideas off. I reached out to my neighboring camp, some local AZ boys, and found some good people who even offered to help haul out a bull if I was lucky enough to get one. We ended up by the end of week 2 hanging out in camp chatting over a cold beer. I’m glad I met a local Hunt talk member located in Flagstaff who came out to visit me during the hunt and helped check my trail cams. Danny, you’re the man- thank you.
  • Elk don’t talk all day but do all night sometimes- My first night in camp before the season opened the bulls screamed all night long. I was so excited I don’t think I slept more than about an hour in anticipation of the next morning opening day…. the next day I could not get a bugle back to me after about 9 am. I guess from watching to many youtube videos I figured elk talked all day…I quickly realized they do not. It was difficult to get any vocalizations from them past about 8:30 AM and I watched elk bed down for the day 9AM nearly every day.
  • Get Comfortable- The nature of the unit, and location of the elk allowed for camping from the truck and for this hunt I purchased a tent that was large enough to stand up in and accommodated a cot topped with a foam bed roll. I would not have made it two weeks on an air mattress in my bivy or a small 2 man tent. I also made pre-cooked frozen meals that were easy to warm up on my propane stove. Some of the meals I planned and premade were spaghetti and duck/ venison meatballs, wild turkey chili verde, wild turkey carnitias, and venison stew. I ate well and slept well.
Anyway, that’s about it for my 2020 elk hunt. I had a great time and will hunt this area in the future. Feel free to PM me questions about the unit or general AZ hunting questions. I’m no expert but will help out best I can. Lastly, here area few photos of my trip:
 

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Nidart

New member
Joined
Sep 28, 2020
Messages
12
Wow great story, this has me hyped for my elk rifle season to get here, in the mean time I just get to wait..
 

Griggs

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 3, 2019
Messages
190
Location
AZ
While you didn't get the bull you wanted, it still sounds like a great time. And a lot of lessons learned, apparently... What zone was it, if you don't mind my asking., 6B?
 

Jc2020

Active member
Joined
Feb 10, 2020
Messages
342
Good story does sound like a good time and you took a lot from it
 

Slm864

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
303
Location
Pennsylvania
Sounds like you had a good hunt even without filling the tag. Pretty awesome that you drew with such low odds and on your first try.
 

Birddog916

Active member
Joined
Jan 13, 2020
Messages
135
Location
Sacramento, CA
While you didn't get the bull you wanted, it still sounds like a great time. And a lot of lessons learned, apparently... What zone was it, if you don't mind my asking.,
Yes, it was. I’ll probably draw it again. I was in animals nearly every day.
 

Pahoundsman

Active member
Joined
Apr 3, 2020
Messages
166
Location
Central Pa
Sounds like an awesome time, congratulations for sticking it out. Sometimes it’s easy just to pack it up and go when times are tough. Keep after it and you’ll get your bull.
 

Griggs

Well-known member
Joined
Mar 3, 2019
Messages
190
Location
AZ
Dry it was!!! I was hoping for a monster but it wasnt meant to be, and ended up with a good bull near the end of the season. Worst year in AZ history by many locals.
2 terrible years in a row. Very dry and dusty. Most water areas dried up. Hot, just terrible conditions compared to what it used to be.
 

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