Down to the Wire: Unit 23 Late Rifle Bull Elk
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
On Monday Nov. 30th, the fourth day of the late rifle hunt, Brent my 5b client killed his bull. That night while celebrating the killing of his first Arizona elk, Dillon let me know that he had been contacted by Andy W looking for help on his hunt in another unit. Andy had the 23 late rifle bull tag and so far, in the first 4 days of the hunt, was unsuccessful at locating any bulls. Needing help, he hired us to guide him for the 3 last days of the hunt. Dillon offered me the job to guide him for the remainder of the hunt since we had grown up hunting unit 23 together and I took it without hesitation.
Tuesday the 31st I dropped Brent and his hunting partner Rick off at the airport, grabbed some groceries then headed off to Young to meet up with Andy. Upon arriving in camp and talking with Andy a bit we came up with a plan for the evening hunt. We hopped in the ranger and headed to our evening spot. Arriving at our destination we got out and hiked out to a point where we could see into multiple canyons. The area was dense with oaks, manzanita, pines, and junipers covering the ridges and slopes.
After glassing for a bit I picked up what looked to be a bull 2.5 miles out. I could tell he had a huge frame on him but that was all. Losing daylight fast, we decided to glass under us in hopes of a bull getting up to feed in shooting range. Lucky for us that’s exactly what happened. A nice 6x6, 330-340 class bull was feeding through the pines on the ridge opposite from us 850 yards away. With no time to get closer Andy got on the gun. Dillon had passed off his long range rifle to me at the last camp to use on this hunt. I dialed the scope for the range and got him settled for the shot. He squeezed off the first shot hitting high and right, missing him by inches. He was amped up to finally have an opportunity at a bull. Andy shook off the miss and settled back in the scope squeezing off a second shot, this time I couldn’t see where he hit but knew it was a miss. The bull moved further down, as I watched the bull another one nearly identical walked into the frame of my binos. Losing light I told Andy to compose himself and shoot again. One more shot rang out. This too was a miss. At this point it was too dark to safely shoot anymore so we called it for the night and decided to come back in the morning in hopes the bulls would still be there.
The next morning we found ourselves on the same point looking for the two bulls that had evaded our attempts the night before. As luck would have it, they had moved on. We continued glassing and finally decided to make a move into a spot south of where we were. On our drive there we had a tire pop off the bead. With no spare tire we were dead in the water. We decided to slowly limp it back to the main road and were fortunate enough to get a hold of the tire shop in Young. The owner met us on the road, took the tire back into town, and got us all set up and ready to hit the road again.
By the time we were set to get back on the road it was already getting late. We had a good feeling about the point we had seen the other bulls so we headed back to set up our glass for the evening. Panning through the pines I'd already spent hours looking at, I finally picked up another bull. An old warrior with only his first point intact on his left side. The right side was still mostly unbroken. Being the second to last day of the hunt Andy weighed his options and decided he wanted to take him. This time we decided to get in closer for a shot and climbed down the cliffs picking out a small flat that would put us around 500 yards from the bull.
Finally down to the flat I got Andy set up on our packs for a steady rest. The bull was 555 yards away, I adjusted the scope then got set up back in the 15’s. Andy squeezed off the first shot hitting him a little far back. Noticing his trend of pulling the shot right, I had him hold the crosshairs on the front of the bulls shoulder. The second round was lethal, a perfect heart shot that put the bull down in his tracks.
Andy had finally done it, wrapping his tag around his very first bull. The rest of the evening was filled with high fives, prayer, and a call to family and friends letting them of his success. The following morning we hiked over to the bull, snapped some pictures and did our best to prepare ourselves for the grueling pack out that was to come. We cut and packed up everything and then began our hike back to the top. After hours of battling manzanita patches and the steep slippery inclines we made it to the top. Finally the hard part was over, after getting back to camp, exhausted from the events of the day we packed up camp and made our long drives home.
Author: Cody Thomas