Limited Opportunities: AZ Late Season Elk Hunting
The thick dust covered the tail lights, glowing as the doors unlocked. Another day had passed. Eyes strained, irritated, and red with exhaustion and allergies, we had glassed for hours in the harsh light. The days had been clear and calm. A slow wind would roll up the hills as we glassed, the sun warming one side in a radiant fashion, the shaded side of your body shook with a chill.
We had approached the hunt optimistically, knowing the area had great potential, however low the density of elk may be. My wife, new to hunting had her first "any elk" tag in hand. We however wouldn't be after just any elk we would be looking for a mature bull, not a giant but at least and individual bigger thanks your average two year old bull. As with any good hunt, every aspect would prove itself to be New and difficult. The two most blatant difficulties would be the unfamiliarity with the area and the responsibility of our new daughter.
A vast multi-unit hunt this tag encompassed a huge proportion of the state. Much of it a mix of forest, state trust, and private lands. None of us had spent much more than a drive through, in the area. We had no real first hand experience with any of the land and would essentially be running blind. It was much the same feeling as when you first hunted and you trusted your dad or grandpa to hold the answers. You yourself knew nothing of the roads, animals, high points, or typical winds. It would all be a rambling crash course in introduction to a large portion of land. The cold air burned my nose as my head under the hat became warm with sweat. The lose limestone rock crumbled under foot as I looked back to see what we had gained. The trees were clear from this height. I peered out across the hazy expanse below as my wife situated herself nearby. Several mule deer paraded through the dead juniper trees below us. To the right I caught the amber glow off the coats of four spike bulls traveling across the meadow. I pointed the elk out to Kalea and continued to search for a better bull as the sun began to touch the tops of the trees. Elk poured from the tree line and out into the open spaces. Dozens of cows, calves, and several bulls.
We watched them for a short time and packed our bags to make an attempt. we crossed the flat country dotted with large junipers and headed toward the great herd. As we walked a tree I recognized caught my eye, I stopped suddenly. I knew the group was not far from us. Elk talk broke loose close by. We quietly set up and Kalea watched through her scope as the heard filtered through the trees. For minutes we sat still waiting for one of the bigger bulls to step free of the tangled junipers. As the minutes passed a spike bull presented itself. Kalea was determined to shoot something better and let the young elk walk. As we continued to wait the trees erupted and the heard scattered into the distance.
Unbeknownst to us so early in the hunt, this would be her best opportunity at any elk. The elk that came so easily early in the hunt seemed to vanish into the landscape, hiding within the shadows, locked up in the wild thick hillsides.
pushing on through the days we enjoyed our time on the hill with our newborn daughter along for the ride. We covered miles of country to no avail, catching glimpses but being one step behind. On the thirteenth day of hunted rain moved in and in a last ditch effort we took off for one last hike into one of our most promising spots. As we climbed the mountainside I looked across the fast and picked up a bull naked eyed no more than 900 yards out from us. In a frenzy we changed course and doubled back to where we could make a shot attempt.
The mountain was a carpet of green the lone bull standing in a a gap slightly larger than he was. I set the gun up quickly while Kalea prepared herself and our daughter for the shot. The sky began to fall as the clouds darkened she got behind the gun and acquired the elk. At nearly 500 yard she squeezed off a shot at the only available chance. "miss" I called out as the elk slipped off into the trees...