5A & 5B Late Rifle Bull Elk: Hunt Overview
We always look forward to cool crisp mornings, glassing over snow dusted canyons, looking for bull elk relaxing on a secluded bench. The preceding months were a strenuous affair for the bulls and now they are seeking shelter and protection from both the pressure of human activity and the elements. 5A and 5B are comprised of textbook Arizona elk country. Located Southeast of Flagstaff, North of Payson, and Southwest of Winslow the elevation ranges from 4800-8500' throughout GMU 5. Secluded canyons, long stretching mesas, rolling juniper hills, old burns, and a few high timbered mountains make for impressive scenery and prime elk habitat during both the early and late seasons.
The ever changing weather conditions on late rifle hunts requires a hunter be adaptable. During these December rifle hunts the unit may receive substantial snowfall. An in-depth understanding of elk movements and the topography of the area allows a hunter to change their elk hunting strategy as the weather may dictate it. Having the appropriate gear is paramount for safety, comfort, and success. Wind proof outerwear, thermal insulating base layers, insulated down jackets/pants, snow gaiters, broke-in waterproof/insulated boots, as well as gloves, and a beanie can make even the coldest and windiest weather comfortable. Couple that with a few packs of hand warmers and thermos of hot coffee and you’re ready for a long day out actively hunting while the average hunter is at camp complaining about the hostile weather.
Pre-season scouting is essential to these hunts. We typically glass with the high quality optics such as the Swarovski 15x56 binoculars and “big eyes,” either Docters 40x80 or the Swaro BTX in 30x65, locating elk sometimes at great distances and in thick and sheltered terrain. The late season rifle tags have a stigma for having lots of people and nothing except busted up bulls." However, if you’re willing to look over a few broken bulls the unit has great potential. If one is selective and in decent shape, that clean 6-point that is every elk hunter's dream is well within reach. Most of the bulls we harvest on this hunt are in the 280-330” range. Occasionally larger, intact, 350+ bulls are taken on late rifle hunts.
For residents it takes between 6-7 points to be in the max bonus point pool. Non-residents it’s very similar, in the 6-7 point range. In reality, that’s only 4-5 years of waiting, if you have both your "Loyalty" and "Hunters Education" bonus points, to be GUARANTEED a quality firearm tag for bull elk, in Arizona!
Spending time at the shooting range behind your rifle is imperative for seizing the opportunity when it presents itself. The importance of preparedness prior to a late rifle elk hunt cannot be stressed enough. Shots may range from 250-700 yards as bulls live out the winter months in terrain that consists of rough steep canyons and wide juniper expanses. The more you get to know your rifle and how it performs at long distance, the higher your chances you'll be packing out a bull.
Our guides specialize in both units 5A and 5B for the general season late rifle bull elk hunts. After hunting it year after year it has become by far one of our favorite Arizona elk hunts. We have a 100% opportunity rate on 6-point bulls at less than 500 yards on this hunt and we have been fortunate to harvest a number of great bulls over the years as a result of our experience and preparedness. If you'd like to apply for or have drawn a 5A or 5B late rifle tag and would like more information, contact us.
Contributor: Daniel Drown