Like Father Like Son: 4B Archery Bull Elk
Updated: Jan 17
Late March, after 8 long years of applying for archery bull elk tags in Arizona, my son Zach and I received the good news that we were drawn for the Fall 2019 hunt! On cloud nine I began calling hunting buddies and friends to let everyone know we had finally won the elk lottery, and see if anyone else got as lucky as us. Dillon Currie at CHASENTHEKING.com was the first call I made. As luck would have it, he is an Arizona guide who just happens to work for me when he's not guiding hunts. Turns out I was his first call and that he was available for our hunt. Of course, I booked him immediately!
After about a week of digesting the reality of the situation, I stopped at Ross Outdoors my local archery shop in Phoenix. With a new bow in my sights I took a gander at the new Mathews Vertix bow. Now, there was nothing wrong with my trusty ol' Z-7 but, I was extremely pumped up for the hunt and decided to go all out on a new bow and all the new goodies that go with it, why not? With the new bow secured, it was time to get the game cameras out, put in fresh batteries, SD cards, and plan a trip up North to the mountains to see what was doing at elk camp. I pulled double duty over the next few months between a bear hunt and scouting for elk.
Fast forward from July 31st to September 10th a few days before the hunt started. Zach, Dillon, and myself arrived at elk camp Tuesday to do some last minute homework and get re-acquainted with the unit, since I was the only one doing the scouting prior to the hunt. We managed to get camp set up and unloaded Dillon's forest chariot aka Honda and let the odometer rip. Two days and nights of calling, glassing, and covering ground, we racked up over 200 miles as the 5 gallon gas cans were taking a beating. Talking around the campfire over dinner Thursday night, we had narrowed it down to a solid area North of camp to start the hunt off!
Zero dark thirty opening morning, let the elk hunting games begin! North of camp we pulled off the road and fired off some locator bugles. Several bulls replied as we waited for first light and picked a bugle to chase after. A few minutes of hiking and we were on a bull heading Northeast. We chased him for 2 hours never getting a visual as he suddenly went quiet. Glassing the ridge up ahead we saw two hunters and decided to back out and try our luck elsewhere. By now, it was late morning and we glassed the flats for bedded elk. Unsuccessful there, we returned to camp for lunch, rest, and a new plan for the evening hunt.
That evening further North of the morning hunt, we dropped in elevation into the Junipers. Dillon lit up some bugles, and an immediate response fired back. He was really close! Heading Southwest we hiked through a big deep finger in the direction of the bugle. As we came up to the top of the shelf, the bull bugled and we had a a visual of the 6X6 toad looking in our direction through the thick cedars at 94 yards. As we glassed, a 5X and two 4X's appeared, but we had no shooting window at the beasts. Dillon continued to call as Zach flanked out to the right trying to close the distance and get a shooting lane. Sadly he was made at 67 yards, and the bulls busted out South into the next draw. The sky was almost black as we made our way back to the Honda.
Before sunrise Saturday morning we arrived back at the same draw, locator bugles echoing in the canyon as a nice 6X6 returned fire at 125 yards just West of us. Zach and I had a visual and began the stalk as Dillon stayed back and continued working his call mojo. Up and over a few mountains we stayed with the bull never getting close enough for an archery shot. Above us on the bench we heard some unnatural sounding elk calls. Dillon let out a sequence and it was poorly repeated back bringing us to the conclusion that the same 2 hunters from the day before were in on our fun. Hearing that noise the bull left for the next county in a hurry and so did we. We needed a new game plan, one that didn't include other hunters, just us and the elk. With an uneventful evening hunt we retreated to camp as coldies, grub, and a campfire helped us regroup for the next day. Soon it was bedtime and we crashed out for the evening.
Sunday morning complete darkness it was all new and all Southwest of camp into the mother lode of elk! A few rips on the bugle from Dillon and the forest screamed back at us from every direction, it was unreal! The gnarliest bugle was South of us and South it was, as we headed towards the raspy-throated bull. The sun popped out and we found ourselves up on a bench with a rag horn 4X4 at 70 yards. With no shot available we made a move to get closer and got busted in the process. No biggie, the bugle bonanza was in full swing and we were in the middle of elk central! We stalked another bugle running into several cows and eventually a huge 6X that stopped behind 2 large juniper trees at 68 yards as Zach got set up for the shot.
Completely jacked on adrenaline (as I am sure Zach was also) an arrow knocked, he waited patiently as Dillon sweet talked the bull with a run of cow calls. That got his attention as he cleared the junipers, Zach drew back and let 'er fly watching the arrow go just under his belly causing the bull to exit the scene! Ummm, the adrenaline made him do it, he never re-ranged the bull once he cleared the trees... and that folks, was a complete miss. Bugles still roaring we headed West towards a group of 20 plus cows, a herd bull, and two satellites. They were nestled up in a huge dark thicket of jack pines and we could see the blur of moving bodies as the herd bull was pushing the cows around. Between Dillon's calls and the three bulls, it was a battle of the bugle before our very ears. The cat and mouse game went on for a couple of hours and we never could get in close enough to the herd for a shot. The sun was beginning to set and the old wind shifted once again blowing the herd out. Not another hunter in sight, we were in the right place.
Returning to the scene of Elk Fury, Monday morning Dillon gave a few rips on the ol' bugle which was followed up with many responses as we sat in the dark waiting for daylight. Grabbing our gear we made our way towards the guttural elk sounds echoing in the forest around us. The sun was just coming up as we headed West down a dirt road and a huge 6X6 appeared on the left side. Stop, drop, and knock up an arrow, Zach assumed the position as Dillon called out 105 yards. A quick twist of the dial and right to full draw he launched the arrow and missed...once again. A little frustrated now, we went down to look for the arrow with no luck, so we decided to head Southwest towards the bugles.
As we rounded the corner a bugle let out below us down the mountainside, we quickly got off the road and down the mountain about 25 yards. As we got set up Zach says, “Dad your up!” Apparently still bummed that he had missed twice he gave me the go ahead to shoot, who am I to say no? Immediately, I dropped to a knee, arrow knocked, and waiting for my target to appear as Dillon worked a sexy string of cow calls. Dancing horns made their way up the mountainside as the 6X6 bull looked for the cow temptress, another call and he stopped partially covered by a pine tree over his neck and front right shoulder. It was game on as I ranged him at 37 yards. Turning the dial I drew back, picked my sweet spot on that front shoulder, and let the mystical flight of the arrow fly to its destination. Thhhuuudd, that glorious sound as an arrow passes through a critter cavity, the elk turned and ran down the mountain. High 5's and hugs were doled out and I turned to Zach and Dillon and said,”That's a dead elk boys!” I was extremely anxious see to the bruiser but, we gave him a few minutes to expire while we went out to retrieve the blood soaked arrow. Putting on our packs, we got on the blood trail heading down the mountain and within 50 yards there lay the elk piled up against a downed pine tree. More hugs,high 5's, and ear to ear kool-aid smiles everywhere as Dillon whipped out the camera capturing all of our Kodak moments!
After the lengthy photo session, three Havalon blades were moving in every direction as we began the real work of butchering the beast. Caped out on one side the meat sections were flying off the carcass as we made quick work of the first half before flipping it over and finishing up the other side. With meat strewn about on the downed tree we started filling packs in preparation for the quarter mile pack out downhill to the Honda. Two trips each we managed to get it all loaded in the side by side and headed towards camp. Once in camp we filled 3 Yeti 105's with the meat all iced down and good to go!
First light Tuesday morning, we found ourselves on the side of a mountain watching as at least 40 cows and multiple bulls came down the steep ridge up ahead of us. Bugles in all directions and the herd bull just out of bow range, glunking, a most unique sound if you have never heard it during a rut hunt. A little after 8ish the ever-changing wind shifted and once again blew the herd out. We relocated just up the road, East, and we were on a bull with cows in no time. We followed them up to a bench, unable to close the gap and put them to bed. Swinging out way North we had one last bull to chase. He let out a bugle as we climbed up the side of the draw and Dillon fired back with a cow call. Zach on the stalk out front, as Dillon and I hung back, watching the rangefinder come up, arrow knocked, and full draw at 40 yards for the third and final time. That lovely deep thud as he center punched the elk through the heart, the Gravedigger did its job! 25 yards up on the bench, I watched as all four legs flailed in the air signaling to the boys the elk was down. A loud banshee scream filled the air as Zach threw a fist in the air over his kill and yelled,”elk down!”
You know the drill by now, high 5's, hugs, and round 2 of Dillon on the camera capturing the Kodak moments. From a camera to a flurry of Havalon blades moving around Zach's elk, it looked like a Freddy Kruger movie as we began butchering. Hanging the meat on the paracord, strung between two pines we quickly reduced the elk to a bone carcass. Packs stuffed to the brim we started the half mile pack out to the road to camp and retrieved the side by side filling it with meat and gear. A short trip to camp and the additional three Yeti's were stuffed to their rims with ice and elk as the mountains got extremely blue! An absolutely amazing hunt smashing two bull elk by day 5 of a 14 day hunt! This by far will go down as the best hunt ever with my son, I am so glad we got to share the time together and harvest such magnificent creatures! Hopefully we won't have to wait another 8 years to do it again.
Contributor: James Edgley