Frozen sun: Tyler’s 5A Late Rifle Bull Hunt
Updated: Feb 26
“You must be Tyler,” I said as I approached the individual now exiting their truck in the darkness of the cabin driveway. We shook hands as our first in-person introduction as activity surrounded us. As our other clients and their guests unloaded their gear, Daniel and I prepped for the hunt which began the next day. Joining Tyler for the first few days of the hunt were his father-in-law and brother-in-law. Today was Thanksgiving and several others stopped by to say hello as well. Ricardo's wife had drawn a tag as well, one of our CTK guides. Another long time friend, Jeff would be hunting elk for the very first time. Both Jeff and Ricardo came by that night to discuss plans for the next day and wish everyone good luck. Daniel would be hunting with two CTK clients and friends Lupe and Louis.
In the days prior Daniel and I had scouted several areas that had reliably produced good bulls during past hunts. We were optimistic that our clients and friends would be taking quality bulls after what we had seen. From Tuesday to Thursday we located 31 bulls tucked away in the sheltered, steep, thick pockets of the units. Several of which were no-brainers to shoot as above average older age class bulls in the unit. As a whole, our evaluation of the bulls we had found indicated that the harsh spring and early summer conditions had indeed affected the bulls dramatically in this unit. Antler growth on the front end was good to average, while beam length and back end tine growth seemed to be below average. This matched what we had observed on the bulls in neighboring units during the early season hunts. By our estimates bulls were down on overall growth 10-20 inches when compared to an a year without drought conditions. We relayed our analysis to the hunters and explained the game plan for the next day. All three clients, their guests, Daniel, and myself would be hunting one particular canyon we had located 14 bulls in the day prior. Ricardo and Jeff would be hunting different areas.
Dark and early, the alarms blared. I started the Honda, donned my cold weather gear, knocked the frost off the steering wheel, and headed to the cabin to rendezvous with the crew. Temps in the teens and clear skies made for a bitter cold hour drive out to our hunting location. As the daylight lit the horizon we could hear rocks shuffling in the draw below. Within seconds of first visibility several cow elk were visible across the main canyon within range. Two small bulls passed in front of Daniels group a few hundred yards down from us. Tyler’s father in law bill stepped around the line of trees we had set up in and signaled that he could see a bull. Slowly Tyler and I moved to confirm and set the rifle up. The first small bull had us made and jammed out. We stayed quiet and watched the ridge line knowing it likely wasn’t the only elk that would use the corridor. Several minutes later a young typical 6x and another non-typical 6 with a kicker on his left fed up unaware of our presence.
At 350 yards Tyler settled the cross hairs and was ready to shoot as soon as I green lit him to do so. I watched the bulls through the 115mm BTX and informed Tyler “they’re decent bulls but they aren’t the age class we are looking to take.” As we had discussed previously the call to shoot or not was now on him, if and only if, he felt the experience had checked all of his boxes. “It’s your call, they’re both respectable but we can likely find an older bull. Either way, if you’re happy I’m happy” I said. Tyler turned his head, I’m going to pass. “Good call.” Let’s let them leave without bumping them and we will check the next area.
We backed out and then drove to the next canyon. No bulls were sighted. As the evening light turned to amber color we checked several locations only to run into multiple other hunters. Tyler asked what we should do, since there was so much other pressure. We opted to hike out and cover more ground during the drive out to see if the elk had been pushed into other terrain. As we broke through the dense trees on the road a flash of yellow caught my eyes. We parked and exited the vehicle and stepped off into the pines. A small bull walked through the trees not far off. It wasn’t what we’re were looking for. We again drove onto the next area. En route, as we rounded a corner a body caught my eyes as it crossed in front of us. We immediately parked and went for a brief walk. The bull meandered through the trees and we approached trying to size him up. He was the age class we were looking for but I was unable to get a clear look at him in the tangle of Jack pines. Tyler rested the rifle and had the crosshairs on the bull but his vitals were blocked. I could see a broken point and couldn’t see enough else to give him the green light to shoot. It just wasn’t a good scenario and we walked away and concluded our first hunt day.
The following morning we retuned to the same area again not relocating the shooter bulls. Late morning the four of us took a long stroll out onto a point to view a bedding area. As we crested over the top in sight of the bench, I pulled my binos from my marsupial harness and quickly saw a bedded bull across from us. Tyler and I set up slowly and smoothly. Through BTX I could see the elks head gear. He sat at 315 yards and Tyler settled the rifle on him. “Same age class and size of what you passed” I told him. It was a perfect opportunity for a calm non-rushed shot. Tyler again opted to pass. His mindset was excellent. The experience of the hunt and learning everything he could was far more important than the inches of antler on a bull's head or getting done quickly. This was his first AZ elk hunt and he wanted to earn it and was more than happy to try many different things and take it all in. The bull soon left. Up canyon from us several miles we could hear the report of a shot. Ricardo had relocated one of the other bulls we had scouted prior to the hunt and his wife sealed the deal on a respectable mature bull. The rest of their day would be a slow and precarious time getting her elk out of an incredibly steep canyon. Day 3 was uneventful for all of us we checked some new country and Tyler’s two guests headed home. That night his good friend David joined us and would be there for the rest of the hunt.
On the fourth day we took a different approach and looked into a nearby spot hopeful to relocate the bulls from Thursday. At grey light two small bulls descended the slope across from us. They were far less than what we were looking for. A few minutes later several shots rang out from Daniels location. My phone rang. “Bull down, he’s a good one.” Louis had connected on a mature bull. For Tyler, Dave, and I we would only seen a bighorn ram the rest of the day out. Once Daniel's crew got to the bull they had taken, the pictures quickly came through. “That’s the bull we saw driving out!” I showed Tyler and David. The same elk we had seen day one as we headed out had moved over three miles and on day 4 of the hunt Daniel had been able to determine he was in fact a shooter. We kicked ourselves a little for not having been able to make the call when our group had seen him but we’re thrilled to see him laid out in pieces as we rolled back to the cabin that night and to see our other happy client grinning ear to ear still in awe of his bull. On the fifth morning David, Tyler and I crept out to our day-one spot. 20-30 minutes after light Tyler signaled me. “Bulls, coming up!” He whispered. I swung my optics to the right. “Get the gun on them.” He moved to my right in front of me. I scanned through the bulls and three worked up the face. To the left a fourth was bedded. Further left a fifth bull walked out. Three of the bulls were the age class we were looking for and similar in size. I had Tyler reposition and set up on the bull that had been bedded then I ranged it and called out the appropriate dope on the gun. Tyler stayed on the elk as he rose and began to feed. The gun was settled in the triclawps shooting rest atop the tripod and a trekking pole acted as a rear support. We waited more the fifteen minutes for the bull to clear any obstacles. “As soon as his vitals are clear…” I stated. He touched off the shot and the bull crumpled in his tracks toppling backward. The antlers collided with the deadfall below him embedding one of the brow tines securely into a large horizontal pine. Our fingers and toes aching from the cold we packed up and headed for the machine, then drove to the ridge above the downed bull. As we approached the edge of the trees his bull was clearly visible. “Go put your hands on him!” Tyler had the typical shock and awe expression on his face after taking his first elk. The bulls left side had non-typical palmation, like a moose paddle, giving it exceptional character. Now the rest of the elk hunting lesson would begin.
The three of us took a brief rest, then we proceeded to take pictures and dismantle the bull. In a non-standard way we cut the bulls hide in a rug style manor. Tyler intended to utilize the entire cape and the head would be cleaned as a European style mount. I demonstrated the tedious cuts and angles of approach to precisely remove every usable portion of meat, hide, and organs. Nothing would be going to waste and hundreds on pounds of material would now be shuffled up to the side-by-side. Ravens, hawks, and a bald eagle circled us waiting for their turn to feed on what little remained as we carried the last load to the top. We slow rolled our way out and back to base. Tyler had accomplished what he set out to and learned dozens of new things regarding elk hunting.
The next day we all headed back out to help assist Daniel with his second client. No bulls showed themselves and I got Tyler and Dave sent on their way. On the final morning of the hunt Jeff joined us as a secondary shooter to our remaining client. Late in the morning as the haze and heat waves set in i glasses up a bedded bull a couple miles out. While trying to get a better view through the spotter at higher magnification a second bull stepped out closer. Daniel, Lupe, and Jeff took off to get in position. A second bull appeared in the dense trees with the closer bull. Daniel set both of them up and the first one stood from his morning bed. Lupe opted to passed on the 5x5 bull. Jeff was up to bat and got behind the gun. Only a narrow window presented itself and as the bull turned broadside he touched off the rifle. The bullet missed high. Daniel determined that it had been deflected by a small branch. The bulls left without presenting another ethical opportunity. Lupe and Jeff would both conclude the hunt without having filled their tags but having seen many bulls and with the full satisfaction of a thorough hunt. Despite the low activity and seeing nearly all of the bulls in only the morning hours, together we had seen at least 73 bulls leading up to and during the hunt. It was a grind. We all left exhausted and pleased with the results of a long hunt.
Tyler's AZ elk hunt was conducted by the CHASE'N THE KING team on behalf of AZDO, in an effort to provide the highest level of quality, expertise, and discipline dedicated to the hunt and the client's experience.