I remember applying as always for a shot at another AZ archery bull tag. Since I had 2 points I figured I might as well throw a hail marry and put in for my usual 5BS archery permit. Knowing I would probably not draw, I put my wife in for the limited opportunity archery tag in November, thinking at least one of us will have a solid chance of drawing. Low and behold results came out and not only did I draw, but so did my wife and my Dad, all on separate applications. What a year 09’ would prove to be!
I’m blessed with an ample amount of time in the woods because I have a cabin that just happens to be in my unit. As spring quietly turned into summer and moisture seemed to be plentiful, I celebrated each weekend with trail camera photos and excursions to remote locations looking for fat and lazy bulls. Elk were plentiful and scouting seemed to be too easy with big bulls all over the place. Knowing my unit and the fact that everything changes the few weeks leading up to the rut, I also realized I still had my work cut out for me. I figured my captive audience would more than likely move on and new bulls would wander in the day before my hunt? What’s amazing is that the only thing that wandered in was a bunch of hunters - to my exact spot! I quickly realized that I had some competition and it looked like there were 10-15 bull tags to be had within three or four camps right where I intended to hunt.
As opening day came and went I was completely demoralized as the elk were barely talking. It was over by 7:30am and maybe started back up a little after 6:00pm. Weather seemed to cooperate, but the rut never really kicked in until the 6th or 7th day. I remember chasing two herds around that each had over 150 elk and NO respectable bulls! It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen during the AZ archery season. I must have passed on about 10 decent bulls by sitting water in the evening and chasing during the morning hunt. My goal was to shoot something 340+ and I was sticking to my guns! The 7th day everything turned in my favor! As my guide and I chased some evening bugles for the first time, we followed them right to the shore line of a lake we’ve been skirting most of the hunt. As we watched a 310 bull bugle and make a good amount of noise we noticed a nice 340-350 bull on the other side of the lake rip off about five bellowing bugles. He clearly wanted the smaller bull’s harem of 8 cows. Just as I asked Steven “Do you think?” he sure did! He swam over and took the 8 cows bugled twice and swam back across the lake to his safe haven. We barely had a chance to make a stalk before he exited with his new batch of lady friends. As we sat in awe on the shore line and watched the circus only 350 yards away we also noticed two or three other bulls that would equal or exceed the swimmer.
We sat and quickly drew up plans for the next days hunt much like a quarter back calls an audible at the line. In the morning we would chase on our side because of the prevailing wind and hope they swam back during the night. If unsuccessful in the morning we will keep the wind in our face and kayak across for the afternoon hunt! I just so happen to have a pair of kayaks in my garage for trout fishing and there was zero trail access to hike around the lake properly with the wind in our favor. The morning hunt confirmed that our elk remained on the wrong side and the kayaks were coming out! We could barely contain our excitement and shoved off around 2pm for our afternoon hunt. Besides Steven’s poor kayaking skills, we made it across quietly and without trace.
We snuck into the tree line and waited for the bugling and action to start. Holy smokes did the action start up, but all the way across the lake at least 800 yards away. I think we counted 150 elk and at least 3 great herd bulls and another 8-10 smaller bulls. We didn’t see any of our bulls and knew ours were just late to the happy hour. At about 5pm our elk started to move and vocalize their presence. Closer and closer they came. When they seemed to be parallel with us we started our stalk. Keeping the wind in our face we moved 100 yards and quickly encountered some resistance. A cow fed 7 yards from us and eventually busted us, but thankfully walked off. As we crept to an opening and had our elk in sight we were surprised by what sounded like a herd of horses running our way. As we turned our heads we noticed a 7x7 and maybe 10 cows running behind us to the water? I tried to pivot and ready myself for a twenty yard shot, but it was too late! They winded us and slammed on the brakes. Off they trotted with no opportunity at all on what looked like a 360 bull. Our attention then swung right back to our bull and his cows that just finished drinking. They started to filter through the cedars in single file fashion; cow, cow, 4x4, cow, cow, cow, small 6x6, cow, cow, BIG BULL! Steven ranged the opening and whispered 60 yards! As if on a string, Steven cow called and stopped the bull perfectly in the 3 foot opening between cedars. I remember touching off my release, but everything else was a blur. I remember telling Steven I thought I had missed him clean, but he assured me that my shot was a fatal heart shot and that elk was smoked! I know I heard Steven say he was a shooter, but I didn’t realize his size until I stood over him 20 yards from where I shot him.
Even as I write this I get emotional because one of my passions in life is to elk hunt and help my family and friends hunt these magnificent creatures. Who would have thought that in Arizona I would kayak across a lake to shoot my elk? What a memorable story and incredible experience. I’d like to thank my wife Laurel for all that she puts up with and all her hard work and preparation for my hunt. I could not have done it without her! Of course Steven Ward and Ward’s Outfitters who is a good friend as well as an incredible hunter. I can’t wait to see what happens with Laurel and my Dad on their hunts this November.