Grinder: 4B Archery AZ Bull Elk Hunt
Updated: Feb 9, 2022
As an Arizona native, I have the privilege of hunting the Mogollon Rim in my backyard. Ranging from 4000' to 8000' in elevation, this vast plateau is home to the world's largest stands of Ponderosa Pine and abundant herds of Rocky Mountain Elk – descendants from an initial 83 Yellowstone National Park transplants in 1913. It all started in 2019, after waiting eight long years my son Zach and I finally drew elk tags and punched them both five days into a 14-day hunt. You can read about our previous adventure Like Father Like Son here. Thinking it would be quite some time before we would see an elk hunt again... Hello, March 2021. The elk gods had smiled upon us once again, blessing us with two more tags for the archery rut hunt. Reeling with excitement, September couldn't get here fast enough.
Finally, the hunt had arrived and we were jacked! Did I mention we were excited? Dillon Currie, owner of CHASE’N THE KING, is an Arizona guide that slings kitchen cabinets for my company in the off season. We had the pleasure of hunting with him on this adventure just as we had on the previous one. Zach, Dillon, and I arrived at elk camp a few days early. For three days straight we roamed from the high pines to the cedars, scoured miles and miles of real estate spotting multiple bulls in both areas. After seeing a bruiser 7x hanging out in the same place for a couple of days, it was a no brainer. We were starting the hunt at the 7000' elevation zone.
Opening morning at 4:30 in the morning, Zach was first up to hunt. Dillon ripped off a few locator bugles as guttural responses erupted from the black forest around us. Packs on, bows in hand, we made our way south, up and down two canyons, chasing the distant bugles. As we crested the third canyon, a medley of bugles were wailing from the clearcut bench just above us. Dillon returned calls in rapid fire, revealing a 6x satellite bull that came to the edge to investigate all the racket. Unfortunately, neither one of us had a shot, so Zach crept up to the top as we stayed back to call. A 6x herd bull rustling up his cows joined the action as both bulls bounced around on the bench. The range finder came up and Zach came to full draw as he let the arrow fly at 83 yards slightly uphill, shooting just under him – big ol' miss! Adrenaline and the opening morning jitters had gotten the best of him. The elk gang moved over another canyon to the south and had our full attention until 12:30 p.m. It was a crazy long first day of giving it our best efforts but, after several attempts we just couldn't make it happen.
The next couple of days we hammered the cedars from sun up to sun down. Day two, just before first light we got in between two herd bulls with hot cows and it was a bugle, grunting, glunking, showdown. Zach and Dillon took off to the right and I veered off left. Calling back and forth, the big boys managed to elude us the entire time while we followed them south. Perched next to a juniper, a 6x satellite almost ran into me as I reacted and drew back. I watched him run right on by. Seconds later, another 6X satellite ran past me and stopped 20 yards behind a tree. As I drew back again, he quickly blasted out north. It was absolutely nuts, they were like pin balls ricocheting all around the fringe of the hot cow action. After a couple of hours chasing them they went quiet and gapped us heading due east to bed. We heard one more bull calling in the distance west of us. “If we can hear 'em, we can kill 'em'' is often spouted out among us during the hunt. That being said, west bound and down it was as we headed towards the lone bugle. Dillon was still calling and we closed the gap on him pretty quickly. We crested a small draw and ended up busting him out of his bed. That was the last play of the morning. After a few mile hike back to the Honda, we off loaded our packs and jumped in taking the scenic route back to camp. Another beautiful morning in the easy walking flats had come to an end.
The evening hunt continued with team Zach and Dillon going right and me heading left once again. We immediately got on a solo 6x stud, heading west. He was plenty fired up as Dillon taunted him with bugles and cow calls. The bruiser was now right between us, but closer to me as he appeared at 15 yards through a cedar tree window. He belted out a gnarly bugle as I stood there frozen watching and waiting for a shot! Slowly, the bull turned from east back west and casually walked through the heavy dense cover, eventually heading south. At 20 yards, I set up waiting for him to clear one last tree as a loud crack rang out followed by an equally as loud “fuuuudddgee!” (the 4 letter version). I yelled out, “who the f#*k fell over there?” and Zach replied, “no one fell, I just hit a branch with my arrow at 58 yards.” So much for my 20 yard chip shot, turns out we both had the bull in our sight from two different angles. Of course, he busted out of there in a hurry as we looked for Zach's arrow afterwards. Eagle eye Dillon found it and we blazed a trail back towards the side-by-side while last-light turned into darkness.
The grind continued for the next several days between the pines and junipers. Despite seeing many 6x bulls in both places, our stalks and plays on the antlered critters never came together. A lot of close calls, but no cigar or elk. On the evening hunt of day six, we took a little break and sat at a drinker that was getting some action. Dillon went up the road to do some recon for the morning hunt. Ten minutes later, three cows came in behind me and were on the berm of the water hole where Zach was set up. I looked south as a dandy 6x was making his way toward the cows, stopping behind two pines broadside at 40 yards. Arrow nocked, sight wheel dialed, I drew back and sent it! The carbon missile hit a pencil-sized branch on one of the pines as I watched it sail over his back... Yup, a complete miss. The sun was fading into the horizon as Dillon rolled up in his UTV. He shared with us his experience up the road while we made our way back to camp for dinner and to get things prepared for morning.
Day seven, we traversed to the location Dillon had scoped out the day before and parked the forest Uber. Grabbing our gear we hiked down to a shelf that dropped into a steep canyon and prepared for the set up near the edge as a fury of bugles echoed around us. Zach settled into his spot, ranging up a few landmarks at 30 and 40 yards, while Dillon and I sat about 20 yards behind him. Multiple bugles were still raging from within the canyon and the other side. Dillon fired back some calls and we heard one bull with a very distinct bugle. He was advancing fast towards us from the other side of the canyon. Dillon continued to cow call and within minutes the brute 6x was coming in hot. Zach was at full draw, as the bull appeared on the move in the 30 yard clearing where he had just ranged. That beautiful sound of a deep “thuuddd” rang out as the Victory TKO arrow and Hyde broadhead combo connected with the bull! He made an abrupt left turn and bolted down into the dark timber.
The three of us were just sitting there giving Zach's elk some time to expire and two bulls lit up bugling again. One from the east and one from the west. Dillon kindly replies and they are coming in fast from both directions. Dillon suggested I go up on top of the bench to set up while they stayed low and continued to call. Within minutes the east bull runs right past me and stops at 30 yards, then 35, and finally at 40 behind a pine sapling. I watched as he went gangster raking the crap out of the tree, while firing off some bugles. Dillon is still calling and the west bull comes rolling in even faster to my right stopping at 20 yards broadside looking down towards Zach and Dillon. Sensory overload and dangerously close overdose levels of adrenaline were pulsing through my body. With an arrow nocked, I swung right and let it rip! No thud, no loud crack, and definitely no blood trail that's for sure. Survey says... swing and a COMPLETE miss, zip, zilch, and how about nada! Oh ya, my chances of tagging out with Zach that morning sure didn't happen with the mess that called itself “me” in that moment of elk overload. I was completely wrecked... 20 yards really? After a half an hour or so, we put on our packs and were immediately on the blood trail heading into the depths of the vertical abyss. A couple hundred yards out on a rocky ledge lay the beast up against a downed pine tree.
High fives, hugs, and congrats filled the air as we celebrated Zach's awesome harvest! Dillon was on camera duty capturing the moment. After the photo session, the real work began as a flurry of surgical steel Havalon blades began caping and butchering the elk. Quarters flying off the carcass filled the game bags in no time as we broke him down. Meat ornaments adorned the trees and the field butchering was complete. Now the real fun began as we stuffed our packs to the brim with elk meat and prepared for the half mile pack out up the steep canyon. Three trips each and we managed to get everything up and loaded into the forest chariot. A glorious victory lap was made back to camp, filling four Yeti 105s with meat and ice. We decided to call it a long day; 12 hours long to be exact.
The morning of day 10, I was exhausted and the struggle was real as we returned back to where Zach tagged out. Dillon ripped a few bugles and we were greeted with several responses in the distance. Back and forth calls were exchanged, but the elk didn't want to play that morning. We couldn't get any of them to commit to coming into us. We tried a couple areas up the road with no luck getting them out of their beds. It was getting late and I was pretty discouraged as we jumped back in the side-by-side and headed towards camp. Dillon played the ace he had up his First Lite camo sleeve and decided to hit one more spot. It was now 9:30 a.m. as heavy doubt for a play rang out in my mind. Of course, yes, I continued the pursuit as we hiked down to a bench overlooking a vast, deep canyon.
Sound familiar? Indeed it was – the same scenario just three days earlier on my son's elk. The archers had changed but the game was still the same. I set up in the shadow of a big Ponderosa Pine tree and ranged 20 and 30 yard points, arrow nocked and ready for action. Zach and Dillon settled in about 25 yards behind me amongst the tall prairie grass. Bugles and cow calls echoed in the canyon as Dillon let 'em rip. Immediately, we had a taker as the raspy throated bull responded and was headed our way. Suddenly to my right the monster emerged, revealing himself in all his glory as I came unglued and soiled myself. Not really, but pretty darn close as he stopped at the 20 yard pine saplings I previously ranged!
Zach and Dillon were still calling from the prairie grass hideout and I was frozen like a statue with the beast in front of me at a mere 19 yards. For the next two minutes, I collected myself and lowered my heart rate with deep slow breaths. He was staring directly at me and I thought surely I was busted, only to realize this camo stuff really does work. Head down, I was peering under the brim of my hat as he screamed right in my face exposing all of his chompers. I couldn't help but think geez, now I know what a dentist must see on a daily basis. I waited patiently – hold on let's be real here – I waited very anxiously, was more like it, Dillon flipped his call tube in the opposite direction sweet talking the bull with a “come hither” string of cow calls. Ol' boy took the bait turning his head just for a split second. Full draw, send, CRRAAACK, nanosecond! Yes, folks, it was all over for him as he took an arrow deep double lung gravedigger style, causing him to spin left and retreat towards the depths of the canyon just as Zach's elk had done.
The time was now 9:40 a.m. as Zach and Dillon came running up fists in the air screaming with excitement as to what they had just witnessed. A short 10-minute spell there and my fortune had changed in a very big way. Ya ya ya, the dreaded half-hour wait began once again and seemed to drag on forever as we sat there mulling over what had just gone down. Still pinching myself with a Joker smile plastered on my face, I put on my pack as we proceeded downward following the extremely bold crimson trail. Looking 80 yards down to our right Dillon spied ol' Brutus piled up against a deadfall. Approaching the giant old warrior, the excitement started all over again and we couldn't believe how big he really was, a horse with horns, no joke! The gravity of the situation had really set in for me at that moment and I had no words, only deep gratitude.
A repeat performance of hugs and high fives ensued as well as a lengthy photo session. Soon it was time for the Havalon blades to start their shift skinning and butchering the behemoth, filling game bags with quarters and laying the rest on the felled pines on either side of us. Before long that magical time of stuffing packs with the cooled meat had arrived and we struggled to get them on. The adrenaline dump was long gone now and the reality of the vertical incline was staring us in the eye. Here we go again. A little more than a quarter of a mile hike up to the side-by-side was repeated four times each, until we finally got all of the elk up to the top, aka “flatland.” We filled Dillon's meat wagon to the roof with gear and elk as the song Lowrider by the iconic band “War” came to my mind. Needless to say, the final victory lap back to camp was very low and very slow!
Nine hours later the grind was finally over as we unloaded the meat, hide, and horns. Three 120 Colemans, a 105 and 110 Yeti, all filled with ice entombed the giant beast. This was one for the books for sure. With over a 100 hiking miles, two pack outs, and seeing more than 90 bulls in 10 days, it was a complete riot to say the least. Dillon had called in over 30 mature bulls in the 10 day timeframe to well within range. I was truly grateful to be in the elk woods with my son Zach and my friend Dillon chasing and harvesting these magnificent creatures once again. Mission accomplished, 14 pounds shy of 650 pounds of ma-natures best now resides in five freezers. It just doesn't get much better than that!
Contributor: James Edgley