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"My Birthday Present"

My Brithday Present
As my ear was getting numb and my finger kept hitting the redial button I could barely stand the anticipation. Finally, the Arizona Game and Fish Department answered and I went through the process of finding out if I had drawn an archery bull elk tag. When the recording stated that I had drawn, I couldn't believe it. You see, I had drawn the same unit the prior year, but was unable to bag the bull I wanted. I was turning thirty years old two days before the hunt, and when my wife would ask what I wanted for my birthday, I would always tell her a Trophy Bull Elk. Eventually, she quit asking, because she knew what my response would be. Her only stipulation was that if I did shoot one big enough to mount, I would have to buy her a new home with vaulted ceilings. I agreed and felt like we would both come out winners.

As the season grew closer, and after a few scouting trips, I was a little discouraged with the amount of sign I found. The prior year we had a pretty good rainfall and most of the water tanks were full, but not this year! It was dry and water was scarce. The area we hunt is mostly scrub oak, cedars, and junipers that only have dead water (no running water, springs, rivers, etc.) that is held in trick tanks caused by the rainfall. Many of the elk had moved to higher country where water was more readily available and where it was much cooler. I contacted my Uncle, John McClendon, to get some tips on where I might find some elk in my hunt unit. John is a top-notch elk hunter and was able to point in the right direction. My father, Lawrence McClendon, and son, Kristopher, accompanied me on my hunt to give moral support and help when possible. We arrived at our camp the day before the hunt and immediately started looking. We spotted several bulls feeding near one tank in particular, so we planned to be there on opening morning.

We felt like we were set for our morning hunt, that is, until all the other hunters began showing up. Opening morning turned up only other hunter's, and the bulls we had spotted the day before had disappeared.
That night, we had a "gully washer" rainstorm. Luckily we had our ATV's to get us out to glass on the second morning. It was still somewhat overcast, but we were able to locate an area that contained a few elk. Considering the mud and rough terrain, it took us about an hour to go twelve miles on the ATV's. A couple of bulls were bugling and pushing each other around, and we felt like they might start into the rut really soon.
The cold weather helps in the progress of the rut, especially in the warmer area that we hunt. On Saturday, Dad had to leave for a previous engagement. That evening, Kristopher and I got on a nice bull that would have scored around 300. Since Kristopher was only six and it was his first hunting trip, I wanted to harvest the bull. We setup and began calling, but got no response. He kept feeding in our direction and was eventually within about 100 yards, however, the wind shifted and he vanished!
Kristopher asked me "what happened?" I explained that one of the elk's best defences is its ability to smell. Of course he was upset and wanted me to go after the bull, but it was getting too dark and we needed to head back home.

I worked until Thursday trying to finish up a few projects at work, then took the remaining week off and prepared to head for the hills once again.
My Uncle called on Thursday to tell me of two nice bulls he had spotted while guiding in my hunt unit. He couldn't explain to me over the phone how to get into the area, but suggested that I meet him at his camp and he would draw me a map. Kristopher couldn't take a week out of school, so it was just my dad and I who took off to meet John and then find a big bull.

John mentioned that there weren't many elk in the area, but there were two nice bulls in a specific spot and they might be watering at two particular water holes. We got the information we needed and were off. We arrived at our old campsite after dark and decided to hunt there in the morning to see if we could locate some bulls in that area. No luck though, not even a single bugle, so we moved to the area that John told us about.

My Brithday Present
Once there, we found a camp right at the end of the road that lead to the tanks we were planning on hunting around. We didn't know it at the time, but the road into the tanks was about three miles of sheer torture in a four-wheel drive pickup, but could be ran rather quickly on our quads.
The guys at that camp must have been hunting to the south, because they packed up and moved their camp to another location shortly after we arrived.
One of the tanks had a blind already built next to it, so I decided to concentrate on the other, smaller tank. It didn't have a blind, so we built one.
The plan was for dad to watch one water tank while I hunted the other. The bulls were bugling in the mornings, but we had little success in bringing them in close enough for a shot. I did, however, get one bull to come in, but he caught my movement and fled.

On the fourth evening, I pulled into the tank around 5:00 p.m. and noticed that my knife had come off of my belt somewhere between my bike and the tank, so I walked back to my bike looking for it. After finding it, I noticed some cattle grazing off on the ridge and wondered when they would come into the tank I was hunting. I returned to my blind and waited 15 minutes when I heard some animals coming through the trees. Thinking that it was the cattle I had just seen I didn't even get my bow into shooting position. When the animals came into view, I was surprised to see a cow elk with her calf. They came in to water and began feeding on the opposite side of the tank, and eventually moved off into the timber. I then moved into a shooting position and began cow calling. On occasion, I could hear what sounded like a bull raking his horns on a tree. I looked at my watch and it was 6:28, my knees were hurting and I needed to rest them, so I sat back down and cow called.
Suddenly, movement to my left caught my eye. The bull moved past a small opening and behind a large cedar tree. I knew he was big and my first reaction was, "Heavenly father please help me!"
I positioned for a shot and waited for him to come to the water. He came out from behind the tree and walked right up to the water as if he didn't have a care in the world. He looked right at me and I thought I had been busted, but then he put his head down and began drinking again. He was angled towards me and I knew my shot would have to be perfect. I drew my arrow across the rest and it made a loud scratching sound that I was sure the bull could hear, but he never looked up. I placed my 30-yard pin on the big bull's chest and let'er rip.

The arrow hit home and he took off. I let out a cow call, which caused him to pause for a moment then he walked into the trees. I could hear him in the timber coughing and gasping for air, so I knew that I had hit him good. I looked at my watch and it was 6:33 p.m., but I knew that I had better wait at least 30 minutes before going after him. At 6:45 p.m., I couldn't stand it any longer and took off tracking him.
He didn't go far, only about 40 yards. And, my first thought when I saw him lying on the ground was, "What a beautiful belated birthday present."

After tagging him, I took off in search of my dad. As I pulled up he came out of his blind and knew something was up since it was still light. I mentioned that a rag horn bull came in and I decided to take him. We gave high five's and I told him we needed to try and track him before it gets too dark. When we pulled up to the bulls' tracks and preceded to follow them right to the bull, I asked "How's that for a rag horn?" He couldn't believe it! We hugged, cheered, and gave some more high five's. With my bow sitting there and my tag already on the horns, he knew I had set him up.
While cleaning him, I found the tip of the arrow inside the chest cavity and noticed that the 4 blade, 140 grain Rocky Mountain Razor did its job. It had cut into the main artery to the heart and imbedded itself in the left lung. We didn't get back to camp that night until 2:00 a.m., but I had my trophy bull elk!

It took me two more years to finally buy the house with vaulted ceilings, but he looks great hanging on the wall!

Written by Kent McClendon