"Finally, It's My Turn to Hunt!"
Written by Dan Austin
For days, I walked around the house doing a little dance and chanting, "I drew an elk tag, I drew an elk tag." My wife thought I was nuts, but when you like to hunt elk as much as I do, 12 years is a long time to do without.
Oh sure, I always had a friend or a family member to go with each year, but it's just not the same, there's just something about being able to hunt for yourself.
The hunt was scheduled for September 13th through the 26th. I basically live in the same area that I had drawn the tag, so scouting wasn't a problem. I saw a lot of nice bulls, almost to the point that I didn't know which one I wanted to go after first on opening day.
Time has a funny way of sneaking up on ya, and finally opening day arrived. My two older sons, Jared and Jason accompanied me as we ventured out to see what we could find. The spot we had chosen was a good one prior to the season opener, but when we arrived, it appeared that everyone else had picked that spot also. Man, I couldn't believe how many hunters there were!
Along with the 150 bull tags, the Arizona Game and Fish had also issued 300 cow tags on top of that, and I think all 300 were right there where we went!
Needless to say, we left the area and went somewhere else. The first day was pretty much spent hiking and calling to a few bulls, but with no real success. The 2nd day was pretty much the same, lots of hunters in my favorite spots.
The afternoon of the 2nd day, I decided to get way back into the mountains, away from the barrage of hunters. We hiked for about 2 hours to a favorite spot where I had seen some good bulls in years past. It was a high mountain meadow, with a small watering hole on the edge and not another hunter in sight!
We arrived early in the afternoon, and took up a good hiding spot to see what would come in. We heard a few bugles and were thinking it was going to be a great evening of hunting.
Well, as luck would have it, at about 5:00 p.m. we heard this terrible imitation of an elk bugle from the edge of the meadow. Looking over, we could see three hunters standing in the open at the edge---in plain view! Boy, what a disappointment!
I stood up and waved at them to let them know we were there, but they just waved back and proceeded to find a spot to sit down. I suppose they felt that since they had hiked that far back in, they may as well take a stand and sit too.
I don't hunt that way. I hate crowds, so I gathered up my stuff and my boys and we left, hunting our way back to the truck, and arriving just before dark with no success. We did see about ten more hunters though!
The 3rd day of the hunt we chose another area I had previously scouted. We drove into the area in the dark. I stopped the truck and cow called once, to see if there was any action in the area. Bang! A bull hit us right back with an awesome response.
I grabbed my bow and pack and off we went again. This bull was tearing it up, so we followed him for about half a mile in the gray of the morning light, finally positioning ourselves where we could call to him.
I hit the sexist cow call I could, and he hit me right back. As I glanced forward, I could see him running into the call. Yes, running!
I got set, raised my bow and drew as he went behind a tree. When he closed to within about 25 yards, he knew that something was amiss and stopped broadside and dead in his tracks. He was very nice, probably about a 320 bull.
It's hard to concentrate when your son is sitting there jabbing you in the ribs, telling you, "Shoot. Get him Dad, get him!"
I looked the bull over, relaxed my bow, and then let him walk away. I have a 320 bull on the wall, so I was looking for something a little better. Needless to say my son was disappointed, but he understood. We heard another bull cut loose about that time and off we went. We followed a good sized herd for about 2 miles, seeing lots of rag horn bulls and cows in the process. But, that big bugger just wouldn't leave his cows and come in.
At about 9:00 a.m., we topped a hill where he was screaming off the other side. I peered off the other side to see if I could spot him, and to my surprise, it wasn't an elk. It was the biggest black bear I'd ever seen! I have seen a few bears, and I even have one hanging on my wall, but this guy was a monster! The best part of all was that it was archery bear season and I had a tag.
The bear was walking diagonal to me and moving up hill, so I scooted over toward him and set up for a shot. He didn't know we were there and it was a perfect setup, as there was a small tree that he was going to pass behind. I was planned to draw on him there, since he would walk out at less than 20 yards. Perfect, I couldn't ask for a better scenario.
Dang it man, did I mess that up or what? I tried to call him back in using my cow call as a varmint call, but it was no use. The big boy had left the building.
Back to the truck we went, disappointed as heck, kicking myself all the way. It felt like it was twice as far back to the truck as it had been that morning. I was just sick for the entire walk. My boys had to get back home in Phoenix, so that evening I hunted a little spot close to my camp where a really nice 5x6 pushed about 15 cows past me just before dark. It was great! This guy was herding his cows and running off all the smaller bulls in the bunch. I thought at one time I was going to get run over by a spike. The bigger bull chased the spike to within 10 feet of me and then turned back to his cows. What a rush!
My nephew, Barry, was coming in that night to hunt with me the next day and had already told me he wouldn't be there until late, so about 9:00 p.m. I turned in. I didn't sleep well that night as I expected my nephew in at anytime and he still hadn't showed at 4:00 a.m. I became so worried I dialed his number on the cell phone. "Where the heck are you?" I asked. "I'm on my way uncle Dan, I'll be there in about 1 hour," he explained. "An hour?" I questioned. "That's too late! The sun will be up by then." Then we said our goodbyes and I hung up and waited. Good thing I love this kid or I'd have been about half aggravated.
He arrived at camp at about 5:00 a.m. and off we went. We had decided to hunt close to camp and wanted to glass the flats close by to see if anything was there. Before the season, there were a lot of cows and a few good bulls in the area. I told my nephew about a bull I had seen while scouting the area and I felt he was a good bull, probably about a 350-incher with really long 4th points. I told him I felt they were about 24 inches long, but he just kind of looked at me like, "Yeah right, 24 inches---uh-huh", and off we went to glass.
We hunted and glassed there for a while, then decided it was time to find another area to hunt. Barry drove us out to the main dirt road, turned onto it and drove about 100 yards when I stopped him. "There are some elk over there on the tree line," I told him. We got out and started glassing. Along with several cows, we spotted one spike bull, a little 6x6, and a big one, which I think was the bull I had seen earlier in the year.
"We better get a better look at him," Barry said. So, we quickly turned the truck around and went after them. Driving up a small 2-track road we spotted the small 6x6, the spike and a couple of cows, but couldn't locate the big bull. We stopped the truck, got out and listened for any bugles. There was none, so I grabbed my bow and off we went.
We had walked away from the truck about 400 yards when Barry grabbed me by the back of the shirt and whispered that there were some cows up ahead of us. I quickly knelt down, nocked an arrow, and got ready for a shot since we felt sure that the bull was going to follow his cow's right out in front of us at about 40 yards.
We waited. The cows went across in front of us, but no bull. We had heard him half heartily bugle a couple of times off the hill and could see glimpses of his antlers thru the trees, so we knew he was there. We waited for about 20 minutes for him to come up the hill, but he never showed.
Finally, we decided to cow call a couple of times to see if he would answer. Barry hit a couple of calls, but no movement and no answer. "Well crap, I think he skirted the hill and got back in with his cows,' I said.
We walked to the top of the hill and looked off the side and sure enough, no elk that we could see. We started glassing off the hill and there he was, lying down about 100 yards below us. "OK! So now what", we asked ourselves. We figured, "No cows to spot us, wind in our face, what the heck, lets sneak in on him."
We belly crawled down the hill very slowly, taking about 30 minutes to make it about 60 yards where we setup and watched him.
After watching him for awhile, I noticed the bull becoming nervous. I could see his ears starting to move around like small radar antennas and I knew that something was about to happen. I eased up to a standing position, got my bow, nocked an arrow, and got ready for what was to happen.
Pretty quick, we could hear a four-wheeler coming up a small two track that was about 150 yards below us. We were amazed that the bull had picked up the noise of the engine long before we could hear it. As the four-wheeler came closer, the bull stood up and looked down hill toward the noise of the vehicle.
Even though there was a lot of deadfall in front of me, when he stood up he presented me with a perfect broadside shot. I placed the 40-yard pin behind his shoulder and released. I watched in amazement as the arrow flew perfectly, hitting him about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the brisket and behind the front shoulder. I announced to my nephew at that time, that he was a dead bull. "Are you serious," he replied? As chance would have it, Barry was busy trying to get the bull in the video camera and failed to notice that I was preparing to shoot. The bull ran downhill toward the on coming four-wheeler and laid down right next to the little 2 track road. The driver of the 4-wheeler saw him, stopped, and turned off the motor. The bull struggled to his feet and off he went again.
I was afraid that they might try to shoot at him, so I whistled at Barry who was up hill from me. I got his attention and gave him the signal to let them know we were there. He proceeded to whistle at them waving them off. They noticed him and then climbed back onto the four-wheeler and off they went without any hesitation. Dang nice guys, I wish all hunters were that polite.
We wanted to wait for awhile before we started to track, but really there was no doubt that we would find him not to far away. While we waited, we wanted to see if the video camera had picked up the arrow as it passed through the bull, so we backed up the video and watched in amazement at what Barry had videotaped. The time of the shot came and we could see the arrow perfectly. Both of us at the same time yelled, YEEEAAAHHH!
After about 30 minutes, we started to follow the blood trail. It wasn't hard to follow at all, plenty of blood and tracks in the soft dirt. The bull had only gone about another 60 yards where we found him in a small thicket all piled up. Boy, what a beautiful animal, a beautiful 7x6.
After taking pictures and doing a little more videotaping, we wanted to do a quick measuring job just to see about how big he really was. Barry took out his tape and started to measure. I helped by keeping score.
After we tallied it all up, we came up with a gross score of about 349! WOW, I couldn't have asked for anything more! What a perfect ending to a perfect hunt. It was worth the 12-year wait.
Thanks to my family for being patient with me, especially my wife who puts up with me being gone all the time. Thanks to my boys and my nephew for their help. I have had some of my greatest moments with these guys. I wouldn't have done it without them.
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