My 2022 Elk hunt

TexanSam

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Joined
Mar 21, 2018
Messages
263
Happy friday everyone, I haven't been much more than a lurker lately (other than the occasional smartass comment) but I thought I'd take a minute here to add something good to the world wide web for once. So grab your reading glasses, get comfortable in your office chair, and make sure your boss or wife ain't harassing you because I'm fixin to learn you a thing or two about my 2022 elk hunt.

Last spring I was snowboarding with friends and family. During one of the rare occurrences of getting cell service, I had a text message come in from my bank informing me of a 650 dollar credit card charge from the state of Arizona. I immediately lit up with excitement knowing that I had swung for the fences and whether I drew my first or second choice, it was going to be an early archery tag in an amazing unit. At the time I had recently bought a brand new bow and the thought that an elk hunt in Arizona would be a great way for that thing's first blood. As time went on this spring and summer, I dedicated a lot of time to the archery range, the stair climber at the gym, and on local hiking trails with a heavy pack on my back. I also scoured the interwebs for any intel on this coveted unit, whether that be from folks who have hunted it before, or the lovely 3D maps on gohunt.

Finally the day came when it was time for me to depart. I began heading west, meeting up with a friend of mine along the way, and we finally made it in about 5 pm on saturday. The season has already started, but our first issue was setting up camp. We decided to pitch camp in an area that's easily accessible from the main road, but still kind of hidden and tucked away. It also helped that it was in an area that looked good from an e-scouting perspective. After setting up camp we heard our first bugle of the trip, which sounded like it was a mile from camp. We heard a few more the following night but with getting settled in and what not, we weren't too sure exactly which direction or how far they were. As we were sleeping in our tents the first night, about 12:30 AM we are awaken by lightning, thunder and heavy rain. In an effort to not get struck we ran for the pickup truck and waited it out for about 30 minutes. This became a common theme each night following the first, and helped contribute to the tiredness and foggy mind we had during the majority of the trip.
 

TexanSam

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Joined
Mar 21, 2018
Messages
263
On the first morning of the hunt, we wake up plenty early, hop in the pickup and drive down a forest service road in the direction of the first bugle we heard the evening before. Wandering around like a couple of idiots, we climb up a ridge and wait for sunrise. We hear one faint and half hearted bugle not too far away and we decide to move in the direction of it. We honestly did not know what we were doing, but knew to always keep checking the wind and try to stay quiet. Eventually we get to where we think is a good place to set up and I motion to my hunting partner to let out a cow call. He lets out a beautiful tune that might sound nice to a hungry coyote, but nothing like a cow elk. I think to myself "we are never going to kill a bull". We did not hear the bull we were after, but luckily as were wandering around again we hear a nice bugle only 2 or 3 ridges away. Therefore with time on our side and dumb youth energy, we book it towards that bugle. We try again, get set up, let out the dying rabbit sounding cow call... this time after a call I hear the bull walking. It sounded like he was maybe 50 yards away, but unfortunately he was smart and walked off never to be seen. Still feeling hopeful, we walk to the top of the next ridge and I let out a bugle just to test the waters. We hear another bugle across a valley answer us. So just like before, we chase him but never see him. Finally about mid morning the elk go silent. We are both out of breath and covered in sweat and hungry so we stop and sit down to enjoy a cliff bar. While sitting there I decide to show my novice hunting partner a few tricks with the ole elk call. The intention being that I could maybe teach him a thing or two about what his calls need to sound like, I let out a bugle and a few cow calls. Thirty seconds after my last sequence of calling we hear some rustling going on behind us. We quickly turn around to see a 6x6 bull standing there at 30 yards looking for the source of the sound. As he trots off with his head high I tell my hunting partner "see that's how you call in a bull", as if that wasn't my first time to actually be that close to a bull elk.

That afternoon we are struck with boredom. Something I never knew about hunting elk in september, is that they go silent at about 9 AM and may not start talking until a half hour before sunset. We found a way to kill time by exploring around camp, and going for a swim in the river nearby. I am sure the retirees that reside all over the area might've thought we were homeless folks using the river as a way to bathe, but it was hot and the spring fed river felt nice so we didn't care.
 

TexanSam

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Joined
Mar 21, 2018
Messages
263
That night we heard many more bugles. We hardly got any sleep between that and the midnight storm, and the next morning we were off chasing the most promising sounding bull. Much like our first morning, I sneak in close, but no cigar. This time at least though my hunting partner is able to get some interaction with the bull using his cow calls and is sounding better. Day three gets a little more exciting, we ended up with three encounters with elk. The first one, I draw my bow back, only to see a tiny spike walk out at 40 that I let walk. The second encounter of day three, a bull that is screaming his head off circles us at about 40 yards and catches wind of us. The final encounter, we just get a little sloppy and the bull catches us trying to move in. At the end, my hunting partner and I review what we did right, what we did wrong and how we can do better. We're starting to put the pieces together and we feel we are getting closer.

Day four gets pretty interesting. We start the morning chasing a bugle that sounds promising, we set up close and start cow calling, but cannot draw him in any closer than 70 yards. As he's bugling at us and pacing in a figure 8 pattern, I see that behind him he's got a few cows nearby. I reckon that would make sense that he wouldn't want to leave his cows. We then decide to go after another bugle and book it in that direction. As we're chasing a bugle we catch a glimpse of an elk walking like he's on a mission. We quickly start running to get ahead of him and get set up. As were setting up, my hunting partner lets out a cow call (a little early) and the bull instantly responds. I realize that he is CLOSE. I try to book it to a nearby tree to hide in but as I see antlers cresting the hill in front of me, I realize that I do not have time and I squat down in some sagebrush and draw back. This bull comes right into me in a hurry, screaming his head off the entire way. At the closest he was maybe 10 feet away from me and I could see him. 7 points on each side, perfectly symmetrical, dagger points that looked at least 2 feet long, a spread that was as wide as I could reach with my arms all the way out and he could scratch his hind quarter just by tilting his head back. This bull was something you see in the magazines and on TV as a "Once-In-A-Lifetime" animal. With him being 10 feet away and screaming, and I squatted down at full draw in sagebrush, I try to position myself to be able to get a shot, when of course he makes eye contact with me right as I reach for the release trigger with my finger. He makes the fastest 180 I've ever seen and runs off. I feel terrible for myself, kind of bummed that the biggest bull elk I will probably ever see in my life was 10 feet away while I was at full draw and survived, but I then cheer up when I reflect on how far my hunting partner and I have progressed in our elk hunting skills in such a short time.
 

TexanSam

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Joined
Mar 21, 2018
Messages
263
Day five we wake up early with the memory of the previous day still fresh in our heads. This morning we don't hear nearly as many bugles, nor any as close but we hone in on one that just sounds "good". This bugle sounded "good" in the sense that the bull sounds like he's a mature bull, and that most likely he'd be willing to play ball. Therefore we decide that we should make our way towards him. As were making our way, we are going through the checklist of everything we learned that week in our heads. We let off one cow call just to check his location when he lets off an "I'm coming for you" bugle. Quickly we set up. My hunting partner is about 30 yards behind me reading the situation like a pro doing his best job to flirt with the bull via a cow call. He's not being over the top but calling just enough to peak the bulls interest. The calls themselves sounded phenomenal, a testament to how much he has improved over the week. I see the bull making his way through the brush so I make sure I will have a clear shot and draw my bow behind a tree as quietly as possible. The bull keeps coming in and as he steps into an opening about 17 yards away, I let one fly and immediately I watch the arrow sink into his vitals. The bull instantly runs about 30 yards and stops. He stares at us for a minute, then turns and walks off over the crest of the hill. We get real excited once we realize what we just did. We wait an hour in that spot and once that is over, we go to the spot he stopped at and find the arrow. The arrow is covered entirely with bubbly blood. Unfortunately that was about all the blood we could find. My hunting partner thinks that the shot was a little high, and even though I took the shot, I wasn't completely sure either since the adrenaline was going so hard. We decide to scan in the direction we saw him walk off in, but could not find any sign so I decide to back out and give him some time. We go eat lunch in town and kill some time when eventually my nerves are getting to me. I stared at maps trying to think about where he would go. Had he kept going straight in the direction that we saw him walk off in, he would have ended up at a road in an open timbered valley. That didn't seem like a likely place, but had he crested the hill and then hung a right, he could have ended up in some more thick growth in a canyon that elk might like to lay in. Therefore when we return to the kill site, I direct my hunting partner to grid search in the direction that I assumed the bull to have went, when instantly we find blood. This blood led to more, and more, getting thicker at each drop until finally we see him laying under a tree. Elated with excitement we quickly take a few photos and instantly start skinning him and quartering him up to get the meat cool. As we are skinning him, I note that the shot actually was perfect, right in the armpit and a few inches below the centerline.

The pack out lasted until about 9 pm. We get the meat hung up in a tree to stay cool and dry out, and us being exhausted call it a night. I wake up the next morning still wondering if all of that really happened. An amazing experience, and not to mention my first elk.
 

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geewhiz

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Joined
Aug 11, 2020
Messages
262
Heck of a first elk! Doesnt get any better than that to take a great bull with a good friend!
 

BenP

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Joined
Jan 15, 2022
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63
Location
NC
Great story, thanks for sharing it with us. Definitely gives hope to new hunters out there that it can be done.
 

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