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"Natanes Mountain Mass"

Gilbert's Trophy Bull
My elk hunt began years earlier when I first learned of, and began researching, elk hunting at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. My friend, Steve Stayner, suggested that I contact Alan Ellsworth. Simply put, Alan is an elk enthusiast. There is no place he would rather be than chasing love-sick, bugling bulls in the mountains near his home in Arizona. Alan referred me to Homer Stevens, a San Carlos tribal member who is also an elk fanatic. Homer knows elk, how to communicate with them, and where to find big bulls on the San Carlos. After several conversations with Homer, my San Carlos rut hunt was scheduled.

The San Carlos is comprised of over 1.8 million acres of breathtaking country located in Eastern Arizona. The San Carlos elk herds are strictly managed and only a few elk permits are issued each year---permitting the bulls to reach maturity. Their sound management practices produce mammoth sized bulls.

Shortly after Labor Day in 1999, I arrived at our camp in the Point of Pines area, known as University Camp. The timing of my arrival could not have been better, because the bulls were beginning to bugle. With each passing day, the intensity of the rutting activity increased.

The quality of wildlife I saw on the hunt was unparalleled. On opening morning, I passed a 6x6 that scored approximately 390. During my twelve-day hunt, I saw a number of good bulls, the best being a 6x8, which would have grossed over 405 non-typical and netted approximately 365.

We hunted numerous places over a fifteen mile area in the Dry Lake Unit. One of my favorite places to hunt was the Natanes Mountains south of a large grassy meadow. On a hunt in this area I elected to pass a bull which grossed close to 380. Also on this previous hunt, the image of a true trophy quality bull was permanently etched into my mind.

You have probably experienced this before - that moment when you see a trophy animal and that image is permanently marked in your mind. As I topped the crest of a small mountain, the vision before me was that of a love-sick, trophy bull standing in the misting rain with his nose up, bugling - more like screaming - with the tips of his long, massive main beams tickling his rump. WOW! The bull had antler mass, the likes of which I had never seen before. Instantly, the big bull disappeared with his cows, leaving me to wonder if I had truly witnessed a world class animal or was it a mirage.

It was the twelfth day of my hunt. I suggested to Homer that we return to get another glimpse of the bull south of the big meadow. We crossed the meadow and quietly began our ascent into the Natanes Mountains. Homer let out a bugle. Seconds later, a bull responded with a growling, gutteral bugle about three hundred yards away. I had heard dozens of bugling bulls on my hunt, but this one was different. Homer pulled out his cow call and began calling in an effort to coax the bull toward us. Again, the bull responded with his deep bugle, but was conflicted - he did not want to leave his harem of cows. Homer continued to call. Finally, after persistent calling, the bull's bugles became louder as he was apparently moving toward us. It became evident that the bull was coming in to see if he could romance another cow.

It seemed like only a matter of a few seconds had passed when suddenly the bull was on top of us. The cover was thick - thicker than the pineywood thickets where I first learned to hunt as a young boy at the feet of my father, Gilbert T. Adams. I could see bits and pieces of the bull but I never got a good look at him. Homer whispered, "Shoot it." I had no shot! I could only see fleeting flashes of tan in the thick mountain mahogany and young pinion pines about fifty yards away. Suddenly, the bull broke and ran. Homer let out another cow call. The bull stopped again and nervously looked back at us. All I could see was a patch of "tan" which I was able to identify as the bull's neck. Homer whispered louder, "Shoot it." I squeezed the trigger on my Brent White .300 Winchester immediately after the crosshairs were situated on the small tan patch. The silence and serenity of the San Carlos was shattered. The bull vanished. All I could see was thick brush and trees where the patch of tan had been. Where was my bull?

The silence was painful. Homer walked over to me and stated he thought it was a good hit as we knelt to the ground. The previous thirty seconds were repeatedly running wildly through my mind. Should I have waited for a better shot? Was I sure that the tan patch I was aiming for was really the bull's neck? Was it a good hit? My gosh, I never even had the opportunity to judge the bull.

After a seemingly endless wait, we eased through the thick forest cover toward the location of the bull. The bloodied San Carlos earth was tell-tale evidence that my shot was true. The bull had run not more than 200 yards and collapsed.

When we arrived at the bull, I knew immediately he was the massive bull I had seen a week earlier bulging over his cows in the misting rain.

My guides and hunt staff nicknamed me Dooley Nachtere, which is Apache for "Bull Slayer." I was proud and honored by their choice of Apache names. The H-1 measurements were 10 1/2 inches in circumference. The 7x9 bull taped out with a gross score in excess of 383 and an official net score of over 367, qualifying it for the Boone and Crockett awards.

Written by Gilbert T. Adams, III