"The Hunger Returns"
Written by Martin Anaya
In August I found I was drawn for a coveted Arizona Rifle Bull Elk tag! That same day I began my preparation. Although the hunt wasn't until late November I spent every available moment preparing. Scouting consumed most of this time during the daylight hours. The hours after sunset were spent working up rifle loads to experiment with.
October came and after successfully locating several good bulls over the past couple months, I took to the range to settle on a load for my Browning A Bolt chambered in 300 Win. Mag. My choice was a Nosler Accu-Bond 180 grain SPBT cruising at 3130 fps. I decided to back off the scouting due to the other hunting activity in the unit. October is a heavily hunted month in Arizona with archery elk, antelope, turkey, cow elk and deer seasons occurring at different times throughout the month. I used the time to work on my marksmanship. The load I worked up had proven to have tack driving accuracy and extraordinary consistency out to 400 yards.
Finally, Thanksgiving Day, the day before opening day came and I took to the woods to complete setting camp and focus on the hunt! Camp was great. I shared it with my good friend J.B. who also had a tag. My cousin, Tim, whom I have shared many hunts over the years would also join us for the weekend.
Friday, opening day, was finally here. With our game plan in place we headed to the area where we would open the season. Pre-season scouting had made me decide to start here first. Although I anticipated some hunting pressure from others I hoped it would work to our advantage as I had three good bull spotted in the vicinity. Disappointment was an understatement as the sun began to rise. I felt as if I was in Phoenix at rush hour as the vehicles and hunters poured into the area. It only took a few hours of that to chase me back to camp for implementation of plan "B".
Encouraged by the tremendous sign and the arrival of Tim to camp a day 2 game plan was comprised. I set out on day 2 walking out of camp. Although I didn't see elk this day, it was a pleasure to just get away from the "rat race" I encountered the day before. It was a great day. I continued to piece the puzzle together. The temperatures were unusually mild for late November and all of the sign revealed the pressured elk did opposite of what I expected and moved up into the high elevations of their summer range of an area designated as Wilderness to escape the pressure. Once again the sun set without my bull revealing himself.
As was with the night before, this night at camp was spent glued to topographical maps piecing the puzzle together and calculating my next move. A plan was devised that would take me up above the location where the bulls were thought to have gone. Putting the puzzle together led me to a high elevation burned area about 9200' in elevation. Tim and I would get above the burn while J.B. would go below. With the burn several hundred acres in size we thought it best to use this approach.
Day three found Tim and I walking in the darkness toward the burn. We had used a forest road, which bordered the eastern edge of the wilderness to gain our elevation. J. B. would stay below and work his way up to the wilderness. After several minutes of hiking we arrived at the edge of the burn. It was a tangled web of blow downs, boulders and thousands of aspen saplings on an incredibly steep slope, the perfect habitat for a leery bull. Moving through this burn was difficult at best, but by us coming at the top edge and all of the fresh sign made the going a bit easier. We still hunted for an hour or so working our way down to a point which we had spotted from the top. Once to the point, we took off our packs and shed a couple layers in preparation of glassing the area for bulls. We hadn't settled for more than a couple of minutes when Tim asked if I heard that? No sooner had I got the words "no, I didn't hear anything" out of my mouth as we looked below and saw an elk. Tim immediately threw up his binoculars and realized it was a bull. I reached for my rifle and searched for a place to set up for a shot. I settled my scope on him but didn't have a shot at all through the hundreds of aspen saplings. I quickly moved to where I had about a 12" unobstructed window of his vitals. When we first spotted him he was unaware of our presence and stood 200 yards below contentedly raking his antlers on the aspen saplings. It may have been that extra sense that big bulls possess that caused him to look up on the point where I was settling into position. Time seemed to slow during these couple of seconds, thoughts of squeeze and follow through ran through my mind. The cross hairs of my Leoupold scope seemed incredibly steady as I fixated them just behind his shoulder. It all felt so right as I squeezed the trigger. The bull bolted immediately as if on a string. He went just 100 yards before crashing into on a pile of boulders and blow downs.
I knew he was a big bull when I saw him through my scope, but was pleasantly surprised to see him up close. Once down the work began. With this being wilderness I knew I had a pack out ahead of me. I didn't care because that "hunger" that I had seemed to have lost was now back as powerful as I have ever felt it and the final piece of the puzzle was placed into it's spot.
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