Well, this is finally the other Randy (apparently one of the many other Randys on Hunt Talk - but the one who had the incredible fortune of hunting with Randy (#1) on the late AZ elk hunt).
I know I am a bit late in posting this, but I'll plead guilty owing to the onslaught of grading finals and project reports (yes, I'm an egg-head college professor), not to mention having an elk to butcher and this pesky knee surgery. I just got the shiny new parts installed yesterday! So, I am sitting in my hospital bed, in a fairly loopy state, with my leg being automatically and continually articulated, and trying to get caught up.
First of all, I want to publicly acknowledge what a privilege and honor it was to share the hunt with Randy. Way back in late August when I told him I blew me knee out (via the joy and curse of old man basketball), he didn't hesitate but a moment to assure me we'd find a way to get it done. And as you all know, that's what we did - at least for one of our tags.
We both arrived separately in the unit on Thanksgiving day, with enough time to head off the Rim and down ridge to do some glassing. That was pretty much our general hunting routine. It really wasn't too rugged, at least not compared to some other hunts I've been on, but given my somewhat hampered physical state it did present some challenges (Ibuprofen was my good friend) - and it also quickly became apparent that my hobbit-like stature was insufficient compared to Randy's more giant-like stride . That first evening, Randy and I covered different lookouts. He saw 3 or 4 bulls off on another ridge, and I saw a few cows, a small 5-pt bull and a big rolly-polly black bear. The area of the unit we hunted was mostly a series of parallel ridges running easterly off a main ridge. While the top country was mildly open with Ponderosa pines, the ridges and canyons were relatively thick pinyon-juniper tangles with small open pockets and saddles - it was these few open areas that we continually glassed, whether they were 200 yds away or 2 miles away.
On the opening day we spent the entire day back on the ridge from the night before. We saw a few bulls early in the morning and just before dark, mostly the same from the previous day, I think. We heard a few shots in the morning, sounding like they were up on the Rim somewhere and saw a few hunters, also mostly on top. Somewhere during the late afternoon, soft voice conversations hunters often have when staring endlessly across these magnificent mountain vistas, Randy waxed on about how sometimes you spot elk and carefully plan and execute a successful (hopefully) stalk - and other times, boom, the critters just seem to magically appear and decisions have to be made much more quickly. Not too long after that, boom, Randy says "There's a bull right there." Turns out is was a smallish bull, about 300 yds away in the basin below us. Fortunately, he didn't stick around long, so we didn't have to debate his fate for too long. He'd live another day. As the bull, ran over a low saddle he also kicked up a lone cow - at least we only saw one cow. On the dark hike out that evening - you gotta' love headlamps and walking poles - we decided to come back down the same ridge in the morning, only a little farther down to get a different perspective on some of the country.
The extraordinarily colorful dawn of the second day found us looking over the same ridges and basin as the day before. We spotted a couple of bulls way to the south again and started forming a plan to maybe head back to camp for lunch and wander down one of the ridges to the south to see if we can't locate some of those bigger bulls. That morning we did see a smallish 5-6 pt. bull come over a saddle off the Rim towards "our" basin, and we had previously seen a small group of hunters up near the top of said saddle. Several shots sounded off, followed by lots of whooping and hollering. We later found out, and congratulated, an extended family from UT & AZ has caught up with the 5 x 6 point bull.
That afternoon we did have a bit more excitement and educational experiences (from the video taping side of things). On our drive to the more southern ridges, we came across a trick tank that RMEF had previously helped install. Besides being loaded with elk tracks (mostly heading and coming from the canyons we were heading into), I got to watch Randy and Nolan (the cameraman) film a PR segment. I was really impressed with how professional Randy was completely off the cuff. I'd need a multi-page, large font script. After that we headed down one of the ridges we thought might hold a few of the previously spotted bulls, and Randy and I split up to watch different sides of the ridge. Nolan stayed with me. After 30 minutes or so, I told Nolan I needed to stretch my legs - while being true, that also became my code for needing to go pee. I slowly got up, grabbed my binoculars as an afterthought, and climbed past Nolan into the thick P-J. I walked a couple of dozen yards down canyon, stepped around a scrawny juniper and immediately saw a brown and yellow blob in the bottom of the canyon. I didn't need the binoculars to see it was a pretty good bull looking back at me about 150 yds away. Son-of-a-b****! I should have known better to walk anywhere in the mountains while hunting and be without my rifle!
I eased back behind the juniper and the bull was still looking at me. After glancing back and forth at the bull and at Nolan, I finally got his attention. I mouthed "big bull" numerous times, trying my best to pantomime how big the bull was and asking him to grab my rifle from my pack and his camera, then come over to my position. It was definitely one of those times where timed seemed to crawl, but was actually moving at warp speed. By the time I got the message across and Nolan was awkwardly trying to get his camera rolling and my gun to me, the bull had started fast walking up the opposite hillside. I grabbed my rifle, settled onto a rock rest, slipped a bullet in the chamber, and found the elk in the cross hairs as he was going pretty much straight away. Quite simply, this was one of those bulls you go to AZ to hunt....he was a good 'un. The bull was nearing the top of the canyon, I kept asking Nolan, in an increasingly urgent fashion, if he was on the bull. Well prior to our Arizona hunt, Randy had tried to warn me about the particularities of optimally getting a hunt on film; the interviews, the so-called B-filming (hiking, around camp, etc), and most importantly, the cameraman has final say as to when the hunter can send a bullet downrange. That latter rule is Rule #1 and that final say never came. Through my rifle scope, with the duplex reticle tucked behind the bull's right shoulder, I watched the bull top over the ridge and quarter away from me and into the jungle beyond. Couldn't do much more than smile, and, after all, it was quite exciting for a minute or two. I can't wait to see the video on that little episode.
At camp that evening, we decided the next morning's plan would be to head yet a couple of ridges further south to see some new country and maybe get lucky and find where the bull form the previous evening had disappeared into. So off we were the morning of the third day. Nolan and I headed down the north facing side of the ridge, while Randy covered the south facing side. We watched the the few openings across the canyon and a small saddle for about two and a half hours with little sign of life except for crows, Clark's jays, and the ubiquitous LBBs (little brown birds). As the shadows started to shorten, I mentioned to Nolan that I again had to stretch my legs - really this time. I stood up and wandered over to where Nolan was and we started chatting. I was just about to say something along the lines of "let's give it another 20 minutes or so, then go gather up Randy and figure out what we want to do for the evening's hunt." I glanced over at the opposite hillside and there stood a cow elk - or so I thought. Almost as soon as I said that, I realized that "No, that's a bull." And a mature one at that. The bull slowly walked behind a P-J curtain while I got behind my rifle and Nolan got his camera on the bull. As the bull moved behind the brush, we could see that he had 6 good points on one side, but we couldn't clearly see the other side. Finally, Nolan side he could see 6 points on both sides and he was about to step into the open.
At the start of this hunt, I had told Randy I was going to be more than happy with a good 6 x 6, and now here was one just about to step broadside into the open about 200 yards away - and on top of a saddle and not clear to the bottom of the canyon. When the bull stepped into the open and Nolan gave my the go ahead. The 300 WSM sent a bullet downrange. The bull was well hit, but didn't go down - so I sent another bullet towards the bull. He was definitely hit again, but stayed on his feet. Now he was facing directly away from me. He was getting wobbly on his back legs and kept picking up his right front leg. "He isn't going anywhere," Nolan said. I agreed, but kept my cross hairs on him, if he tried to take off i was prepared to take the so-called Texas Heart Shot.. His front legs went out from under him, but he caught himself, facing uphill, but broadside to us. One more shot behind the now different shoulder and he was finally down!
Randy worked his way back over to us and asked about the shooting. We told him the story and he had mentioned that he was watching a huge 5 x 5 bull bedded not too far from where I shot my bull. I guess the bull looked confused at my shooting, but never did get out of his bed (while on my bull's recovery, Randy and Nolan took a quick detour to see if the could relocate the 5 pt, but it was not to be).
My bull's recovery wasn't too bad. We hiked back up the ridge to the truck, dropped some unneeded equipment off, circled over to the next ridge and dropped down it until we got to my bull. As tempting as it would be to exaggerate my machismo, Randy and Nolan carried almost all of the meat out (2 trips) while I carried the left over equipment and waited at the truck while they got the 2nd load - I owe those two a lot when I get my knee back to normal, at least the new normal.
Once again, I can't thank Randy enough for including me on this hunt - and Nolan for all his help as well. Hunting with Team Newberg was a complete joy and hope I will get to share a camp with him once again in the very near future.
Congrats, Ovis2 -- it's always great to attach your tag to a branch-antlered bull! Enjoy the good eats! My hats off to you toughing it out with your bum knee (God put w-a-y too many rocks here in Arizona!). Best wishes to you on a speedy, successful recovery > follow the rehab planned & you should be good to go. Can't wait to see your smiling faces on TV next year.
I was in another hunt unit up on the Rim helping a long-time hunting partner/RMEF committee member --- it was blowing like a gale up there the day you tagged out. Like Randy mentioned, the weather came in the last couple days of the hunt, making things a bit messier (luckily it hit as we started home) ...
Probably my last stab at AZ late hunts for a few years. Mrs. Fin's favorite holiday is Thanksgiving and these AZ late hunts start the Friday after T-day. She has told me that missing another turkey day is not in the cards.
So, either I get AZ to change the dates, or I apply for other hunts in AZ. Or maybe, you guys can convince her otherwise.
Yup, she's the boss around here. And those who say it is different at your house are either lying or on marriage number 3, or 4, or 5, or......... I am happily married for the first and last time. Another training process would result in someone's death, so I do all I can to make sure this one lasts. Bottom line, barring a change in heart by Mrs. Fin, you won't see me in AZ for a late elk hunt in the coming years.
ovis2 - I wanted to say that your story was very well written and I really enjoyed reading it. Your descriptive writing mixed with humor was better than what I've read in magazines. Your students have a great professor to listen too. Especially if you weave in some of your hunt. (probably OK at Ustate, maybe not elsewhere). That's a great looking bull BTW. Congratulations.
Big Fin - Luckily my wife hasn't put her foot down regarding hunting the holidays yet. Three years in a row, either Thanksgiving or Christmas preparations, have been spent chasing Nevada elk (my tag, a friend's tag, helping an outfitter friend) or Henry's Mountains buffalo (a friend's tag) and if all goes well there will hopefully be a 4th year, maybe Arizona elk, maybe my buffalo, or back to NV to help someone else. Married 25 years and going strong. Heading to Vegas with her right now to finish up Christmas shopping. Bye. I've been told to get off the computer.