5BS / 5BN Early Archery Bull Elk: Hunt Overview
Updated: Jan 22
There really is nothing like laying awake at night listening to bulls screaming all around you. The elk rut is something all serious western hunters look forward to every year. Many hunters across the country dream about the chance to experience it. Game Management Unit 5B is split into 2 sub-units for the archery elk seasons, North and South. Topographically both units share similar terrain types including portions of Anderson Mesa. The majority of elk habitat is between 5500-8500 feet in elevation and varies widely. Pine trees? We've got em. Junipers? Plenty of those. Oak thickets? No shortage. Meadows, breaks, canyons, cliffs, mountains, and grasslands? Those as well.
On early season hunts our preferred method is to intercept bulls and call them in. Some bulls already have cows and some are looking for them. This dictates how you approach them, which calling set up to use, and how aggressive you need to be. Some bulls will come running in as fast as their legs will carry them, to the softest cow call, and others take their sweet time and need more of a “push”. Knowing when to move or when to sit, when to call or when to shut up can be the difference between seeing nothing but legs in underbrush running away, or settling your top pin on an Arizona giant.
It's a common myth that elk in many units are call shy. Everyone seems to talk about how "the rut was bad this year” or say “they just weren’t rutting” when bulls aren't coming in screaming to their hoochie mama cow calls. The reality is, even in popular units, calling in bulls works. They will respond and come into bow range with a knowledgable caller. The bulls have been waiting all year for their chance to chase the ladies, a little warm weather, a "bad moon," or hunter pressure isn't going to stop them from doing so in far more cases than most Arizona elk hunters believe. Elk will still do elk things, if you know what to say and do, and when to say and do it when calling.
In situations where calling isn't an option, another early season tactic that is effective is to sit a water source or wallow. There are dozens and dozens of highly used waterholes in both the northern and southern portions of Unit 5B. The bulls will sometimes, during the hottest part of the day, leave their cows to come down to the water to cool off or roll around and get a thick coating of mud. While most other hunters would rather chase bugles and have a bull screaming at them under 30 yards, this type of hunting is a thrill in and of itself, and is a highly effective strategy in conditions when calling is unsuitable.
5B South has a slightly higher population of elk than 5B North, the higher tag numbers in 5BS reflect this at 200 for 2020. It is not uncommon to come across a large herd, with a dominate bull and multiple “satellite bulls” all working for a piece of the big guys harem. This unit has solid 340+ potential on early season hunts.
5b North isn’t short on elk numbers either but tag numbers are slightly lower at 144 for 2020. From our experience the bulls in 5BN tend to be somewhat larger. We consider 5B North to have 350+ potential on early archery hunts. While realistically many of the heard bulls with average 280-330" in both units.
For a resident, it only takes 9 bonus point to be guaranteed an archery tag in 5B South, likewise for 5B North. Non-resident draw odds reach 100% at 12 bonus points for both units. Our guides at Chase’n the King spend countless days in the field every year, in both portions of 5B. We specialize in and are proficient at calling in bulls to within archery range. If you are looking to apply or have already drawn an early archery tag in 5B North or 5B South, contact us about your Arizona elk hunt so your coveted tag can be wrapped around the screaming bull that you’ve dreamt about.
Contributor: Daniel Drown