Written by Beard Hobbs
After eight years of diligently applying for a trophy elk tag in Arizona, I finally hit the lottery and drew a trophy archery bull elk tag in unit 5b South, near Winslow, Arizona. With tag in hand I booked my hunt with friend and guide Steven Ward of Wards Outfitters.
Over the past five years I have hunted coues deer, mule deer, javalina, cotamundi and now elk with Wards Outfitters. Wards Outfitters is based out of Wilcox, Arizona and primarily provides guiding services to bow hunters. Steven’s camps are generally first class. He always rents a nice cabin and has excellent guides, hot showers, warm beds and a great cook.
My elk hunt started on September 09, 2011. The first day I missed a 60 yard shot at a 340 class bull. On the second day we made a great stalk on a bedded bull that would have scored somewhere north of 370”. We crawled within 200 yards of the bedded bull, and then waited for him to get up and feed over the ridgeline. As soon as the bull and cows cleared the ridgeline, we literally raced across the flats and up the side of the ridge. As we neared the ridge, we could see the big bull standing in some oak brush at about 50 yards. As we waited for the bull to clear another hunter came in from the side and busted our stalk. Oh well, close but no cigar!
Every day we were constantly in contact with various herds of elk. Steven doesn’t much believe in bugling or cow calling. He only uses a bugle to locate elk when they aren’t bugling and he only uses a cow call to stop a bull when he wants you to shoot. I can honestly say that when it comes to elk hunting, Steven, out thinks them, and moves in and out of a herd as if he were some form of elk shape shifter. Having hunted elk for the better part of the last 45 years, I am in awe of Steven’s elk hunting skills. Steven Ward is the ELK WHISPER!!!!!!
On about the fifth day, with extreme stealth Steven walked us directly into the middle of a herd of elk. For at least an hour we had four 6x6’s and maybe 30 plus cows, anywhere from 20 to 80 yards from our position. Just before dark, the entire herd walked single file past us at 45 yards. The biggest bull in this group was a 325 class bull, and having already been spoiled, it was pretty easy to hold off on shooting him.
On the ninth day of the hunt, at first light we raced across several canyons in an attempt to close the distance between us and several herds of cows and bulls. As we slipped from tree to tree, Steven positioned us within 30 yards of a 350 class 6x6. As we stood waiting for him to move into an opening, a cow walked within 10 yards of us. Steven just whispered, hold still and don’t look up. The cows moved slowly off and the bull followed.
Almost immediately a group of cows and a 360 class 6x6, moved up from the bottom of the draw. Steven silently moved us into shooting position. The cows, followed by the herd bull, walked directly in front of us. As the big bull cleared, Steven cow called and as the bull stopped and turned his head towards us, Steven whispered shoot. My shot was high, right and barely created a flesh wound. Steven and I glassed the bull as he followed is cows down the draw and up the side of the adjoining canyon. I was distraught and devastated but somewhat relieved in that Steven confirmed my shot as nothing more than a slight flesh wound.
Within minutes, Steven turned his attention to three separate groups of elk moving up the side of the canyon and heading towards the ridgeline. With raging bulls screaming from all sides, Steven and I picked our way through the cedars and pines. As we pushed forward, we were able to get in front of two of the groups of elk. As the first group moved past us at 60 yards, Steven stopped a big 6x6, as the elk moved through the cedars. Again I shot and missed wide to the right. Steven looked at me and “said, something is wrong with your bow.” At this point I was beyond distraught and could not even fathom how I could miss three big 6x6 bulls. Steven just said hang in there, we are going back to the cabin and we will fix the problem. After watching me shoot my bow we discovered that my drop away was catching the fletching of my arrow causing the arrow to kick right approximately three feet at 60 yards. At thirty yards, the defect was not noticeable but the further I moved back the more noticeable the problem became. Steven got out his bow tools and within a ½ hour had the problem fixed and we were back in business.
Fast forwarding to day eleven, at first light we heard bulls off in the distance. Steven and I hiked approximately two miles only to find ourselves on the rim of a canyon over looking a lake. We could hear two bulls screaming, and both Steven and I swore that they were directly below us in a cluster of pines at the bottom of the canyon. We moved about 400 yards to the north and then dropped off into the bottom of the canyon. As we closed in on the cluster of pine trees we began to hear bulls bugling across the lake. Steven looked and me and said, the bulls are across the lake and what we have been hearing is an echo bouncing off the surface of the lake. We took off and headed around to the other side of the lake. By the time we reached the far shore, the bulls had stopped bugling and all was silent. Steven said no problem, he would find them. We slowly and quietly picked our way from cedar tree to cedar tree. Suddenly, Steven stopped and motioned for me to be quiet. Steven whispered that the herd bull was bedded approximately 70 yards front of us. Steven picked up a broken branch and started raking it against the nearest cedar tree. Within seconds, Steven said the bull was coming and for me to get ready and look towards the clearing to my right. As I set up, the bull walked into the opening and Steven whispered 60 yards. I settled my 60 yard pin and touched off the shot as the bull spun and ran off into the cedars. Although the shot was a little far back, it was a good liver shot. We waited for approximately one hour and then followed the massive blood trail for approximately 250 yards where we ultimately found the dead bull. My Arizona elk scores 367 5/8”. The hunt was incredible. I probably saw more than 30 6x6 trophy bulls and one white cow elk. Oh, and the other hunter in camp killed a bull that scored 393 the day after I shot my bull.