Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

The Dream Bull of a Lifetime!
By Dennis Dunn, BareBow

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When a hunter goes afield, expectations are one thing; dreams are usually quite another. Only rarely in life does reality arrive on the scene to overwhelm both expectations AND dreams - and utterly take your breath away. Yet this is exactly what happened to me in Arizona this past September. I'm still floating three feet off the ground, pinching myself constantly, and asking, "Did that really happen to me?"

For 16 long years, I had been applying for an archery elk tag in the Grand Canyon State, and finally - in 2015 - I got drawn. The season opened on Friday, September 11th. Because, for out-of-staters, these draw-tags are usually a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I had arranged for guiding services with Travis McLendon and Arizona Elk Outfitters. The outstanding guide he assigned me was Lane Buck from Cottonwood, AZ (about whom I cannot say enough).

I decided to drive down to Arizona from my home in Kirkland, WA, and by the time I rendezvoused with Lane in the town of Williams, he had already spent the better part of ten different days scouting that part of Unit 7 West where he wanted us to concentrate our hunting time. During the mornings and evenings prior to my arrival, he had found four bulls he thought we should consider going after, and he had pics of the two largest to show me. One bull appeared to be in the 350-class, and his photo was quite sufficient to get me salivating in anticipation of what was scheduled to be a 10-day hunt.

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I recall that, when we went out to glass the last two hours of daylight before opening morning, we did manage to find several smallish bulls down below us in the patchwork quilt of juniper groves and open meadows, but nothing exceptional showed itself while there was still any light left to see. On that final evening of the pre-season, suddenly all of Lane's favorite scouting locations (which he'd had all to himself up until then) were suddenly crawling with hunters doing the same thing we were. Then - predictably - the next morning resembled a Sunday at the Bronx Zoo, minus the animals everyone was hoping to see.

For the first six days of the season, Lane and I hunted hard but saw a grand total of just one branch-antlered bull. He was in his bed midday, and my stalk went for naught when an unseen cow and spike bull bedded near him spotted me and spooked before I could get any closer than 50 yards. The rut was just not happening! Of Travis's 16 bowhunters scattered around the best archery elk units in the State, not one had put a bull on the ground in six days of hunting! Very few bulls were talking at all, and nothing was responding to our calling. Then on the seventh morning of the hunt, our luck turned. We managed before sunup to get in between two bulls that started talking to each other. As we zeroed in on the first bull, the second one began to come in from behind us. By the sound of their voices, the one in front, upwind, seemed much the bigger and more killable. Suddenly, a bugle from him convinced us he was fewer than 100 yards away.

At that point, we were just inside the edge of a large patch of junipers and pinion pines, looking in his direction across 50 yards of open meadow. I immediately pulled my face-mask down out of my camo-cap and quietly hot-footed it across the open ground to the nearest patch of brush on the fringe of the next big patch of junipers. With an arrow now on the string, I was ready for him, regardless of whether he chose to enter the meadow via the forest lane on my left, or via the one on my right. Once I was in position, Lane started chirping and moaning like a cow in heat. For three or four minutes, he kept this up, then fell silent. We heard nothing from our quarry. Lane next made some dull, hollow, popping sounds (called "glunking") by repeatedly hitting the open mouth of his grunt-tube with the open palm of his hand. (He explained to me later that "glunking" is the sound a bull often makes while he is mounting a hot cow.)

That was all that was needed! Instantly, the bull we were after let out an enraged scream of challenge and decided to abandon his cover. Thirty yards from me, a cow entered the meadow first, heading in Lane's direction. Then all of a sudden, the herdmeister, which we had never laid eyes on till that very moment, appeared 40 yards away, trotting toward me with his head held high - and possessed of the biggest set of antlers I'd ever seen alive on the hoof. At thirty yards he stopped briefly, gave my inert figure a quick glance, and - seeing nothing that alarmed him - changed direction by about 90 degrees and began walking in the direction of the well-hidden "glunker." Immediately I drew my Suzanne St.Charles cedar shaft, moved my bow arm along with the moving target, and quickly released the 720-grain missile for its rendezvous with destiny.

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I'm always most grateful for any providential assistance at such moments, and I do believe the Almighty had a hand in the happy outcome. Paced off later, it was a 32-yard shot. The arrow struck the bull just behind the last rib and ended up in the far lung. The stricken bull accelerated from four to 40 in nothing flat, and his death run carried him about 250 yards before he crashed into the near edge of the second big patch of Junipers. We didn't witness the crash, but it was probably all over in 60 - 90 seconds. Everything had come together and happened so fast, Lane and I were in disbelief. He had seen neither the bull nor the hit, but I assured him the bull was a "keeper" and the hit was good. The sudden thunder of many hooves quickly suspended our jubilation, and we turned our heads to see the abandoned harem of 24 cows hightailing it across the open meadow in the direction of their recently-departed ruler and slave-master.

As for the trophy bull, how good was he? Well, I'll let the photos speak for themselves. I had prayed at the outset of the season that I might be blessed with the taking of a Pope & Young quality bull (something I had never accomplished previously). For most bowhunters, that is dream enough come true - especially for the traditional archer like myself. Something like the harvest of a true Boone & Crockett giant had never even entered my head as a possibility! And yet, that is, indeed, what happened on Thursday, September 17th, at 6:45 am in the elk country of legendary Coconino County. I think I'll likely be pinching myself for the rest of my life! The bull's SCI score turned out to be 378 2/8ths. The main beams were both over 52 inches; the rack's eight girth measurements totaled nearly 61 inches, and the fifth points averaged 18 inches.

[The bow I was hunting with is a 58" Whitetail Hawk recurve, made by Steve Gorr (Cascade Archery), and the broadhead was a 225-grain TUFFHEAD (two-blade, single bevel). At my 31 1/2 inch draw, the bow pulls 59+ pounds.]

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