Rangers Lead the Way: 5A Rifle Elk
Updated: Jan 2
Per usual, the day after the deadline to update credit cards for the Arizona Elk Draw, I spent the majority of my time fielding phone calls and text messages from clients, friends and family. We discussed who’s card got hit for what potential tag. This was all in between checking my own bank account 2,385 times, to see if I had any charges of my of my own. I was informed that Sharon, who had applied for the late rifle hunts, had a cc charge. I quickly began planning for my Thanksgiving dinner up north. The late rifle elk hunts begin annually the Friday following Thanksgiving. As a guide this means we are away from home for the official holiday in preparation for the upcoming hunts.
Over a month later, my oldest friend Harper called me and asked if I had any clients for the late rifle elk hunt in 5A. I told him "I sure do" and asked if he was interested in coming along to help play pack mule. I’ve known this guy since we were knee high to a grasshopper and he is an absolute beast of a human. He played minor league baseball as a pitcher, after that he joined the army and served in the 2nd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment. Well he responded by saying “So I got home today and found an envelope from G&F and inside of it was a 5a Late Rifle Bull tag. You’re as shocked as I am by the way. I’d love to come play pack mule if you’ll help me find a bull after your client is tagged out.” Obviously, I took him up on the offer. How could I pass up free manual labor and the chance to help my best friend shoot his first bull?
Harper had recently been hired on with the Queen Creek Fire Department and wasn’t able to get off work until the morning of opening day. This didn’t prove to be an issue as the 2019 Snow-pocalypse struck Thanksgiving Day and shut down the highways across the high country. Limiting access to 90% of our unit with the excessive snowfall. My client Sharon told me they wouldn’t be able to get up to hunt until Sunday mid-day when the roads opened. Harper was able to sneak in late Saturday morning despite the situation. We spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning checking road conditions and trying to relocate some bulls that I had found before the snow hit. When Sharon and her husband Jim arrived around 1pm on Sunday we had a game plan and immediately went out to glass for the afternoon.
At the first spot we stopped, we glassed up a couple rag-horns and a small 6 point bull. As I panned the Docter 40x80mm "Big-Eyes" I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a bull resting on the top edge of a bench around 3 miles away. We decided to get a closer look. Lo and behold, it was definitely worth making a play on. Harper sat down and radioed us in, as Jim, Sharon, and myself made our way up the slope. We were able to get within 300 yds and Sharon gave him a warning shot just over his back. As he was moving back through the opening she hit him in the front leg, not quite high enough for an immediately fatal shot. Justin watched the bull bed down and we made the decision to back out for the night.
The next morning we unfortunately jumped the bull from his bed and spent the better part of the morning relocating him. Knowing the spot very well, we positioned ourselves in his likely escape route. He walked across a small flat right to where we were waiting for him and this time she put a .284 right behind his shoulder. He fell within seconds. We got him set up for pictures, made quick work of processing him and after a short pack out he was loaded in the truck headed to his new home.
The next day found us hopping around to different glassing points trying to find another big bull worthy of Harper’s tag. Later that evening we stopped at one last spot. With the thermals coming out of the canyon we could smell a bull right below us. We quickly backed out and decided to come back at first light to try and turn him up in the oxbow of the drainage. First light brought a gorgeous AZ sunrise coupled with dense fog rolling thru the canyon and intermittent sprinkles of rain. A picture perfect setting to shoot a big bull. As the fog began to clear I glassed to the farthest visible portion of the canyon and found 2 bulls grazing on a bench. I ran over the hill to Harp and said “Grab your stuff we've got to roll. Hope you’re ready to shoot!” We quickly covered the 1/2 mile to the point and found ourselves 565 yds from the bigger of the 2 bulls, completely unaware of our presence.
He got the rifle set up as I set up my phone on my 15s to film the shot. We checked the chart, wind, and doped the gun as he settled into the scope. I told him “whenever you’re ready...” As the first shot rang out we realized that we hadn’t accounted for temperature and pressure adjustments as the shot sailed just over his back. He quickly racked another round in and I said “aim at his belly, center of his shoulder” and less than 10 seconds later a 160gr Accubond tore through his shoulder, “Dusted him, I don’t know how he’s still standing” just then the bull leaned forward and found his final resting place. High fives, hugs and excitement soon followed as we started the long trek around to the other side of the canyon.
In typical “Harper fashion” he convinced me that the 950 yds to the truck wasn’t that bad and that we could take ALL OF THE MEAT in one trip between the 2 of us. And when I say all of the meat...I mean every single ounce. We loaded up his pack with 2 rear quarters and a front quarter. His friend and I helped get it on his back. After that I stuffed my pack with a front quarter, all the neck meat, 2 back straps, 2 rib rolls, and all the other miscellaneous loose meat I somehow got it on my back. We struggled but we're able to make it up the slow muddy incline to the truck without incident. Fortunately one of our friends was able to meet us and carry out the head and hide meeting us at the top.
Harper’s bull was memorable for me in more ways than 1. I was able to repay my best friend for all the selfless times he’s helped out in camp. I helped him fulfill a lifelong dream of shooting a mature 6 point, and it was the 50th bull I’d been a part of taking. They say that it takes a special kind of man to make it through ranger school and Harp is the definition of that. After years of physical abuse from jumping out of airplanes and a few unfortunate situations he was left 50% disabled. His 50% is better than the average person in their prime, however. The old saying is true, Rangers Lead the Way.
Author: Daniel Drown