Winter Warrior: 5A Late Rifle Bull Elk
My good friend Brad and I had been talking about elk hunting in Arizona since late 2018. A Georgia boy who fell in love with western hunting after cutting his teeth on an Arizona Coues deer hunt. He was at a large disadvantage for drawing an elk tag out West, as a non-resident. However, Brad is one lucky son of a...well you catch the drift.
We spoke early and often about what units to apply for, what to expect, what to bring, what his odds of drawing were, and more. We decided on 5a and 5b late rifle bull hunts, for multiple reasons. Non-resident draw odds were reasonable. We could stay at a cabin, rather than have to set camp. Elk quality was good. Terrain and glass-ibility provided us with high odds of finding good bulls.
The day AZGFD elk and pronghorn draw charges began, anticipation was high. I got a call from Bradley, half expecting him to say something along the lines of “dammit man, no tag for me this year!” Instead I could hear the sheer joy and emotion in his cracking voice “you ain’t gonna believe this shit man! I drew a bull tag!” He had drawn a 5a late rifle tag as a non-resident, with only two bonus points. Neither of us could believe it but we quickly made plans and drew up a contract for his guided elk hunt.
A little while later he texted me asking if a 6.5 PRC was adequate for elk hunting, to which I replied “yeah, that will work just fine but don’t go buy one. Your 280 Ackley will be more than adequate.” He then sent me “oh I didn’t buy one, but I’ll be using one for my elk hunt”. He had won a fundraising raffle for a Mesa Precision Arms carbon 6.5 PRC. Luck was on his side once again.
The drought of 2020 and slow rut had a lot of people worried about the late rifle hunts. Fortunately I’ve been on this December hunt in a wide array of conditions, from three feet of snow to t-shirt weather. I reassured Brad that I wasn’t worried about the drought, all was good and we would be just fine, as in years past.
Brad arrived late evening Sunday from Texas and stayed the night at my house so we could leave early Monday. I like to leave a few days early to get camp settled and pick out a few bulls to prepare for Friday morning. After sifting through a couple dozen bulls in the days prior to the hunt, we had a game plan.
Friday morning brought in the chilly temps and snow flurries. Great elk killing weather. We left early and rolled up to our spot the exact same time as another side-by-side. We quickly chatted with our neighbors and realized we were hunting the same part of the point. No big deal. We discussed it and told them “we’ll glass a different part and leave you guys the point. If we see something we’ll come grab you.” We all agreed and headed our separate ways.
The bulls from the evening prior never made an appearance on the hillside. I told Brad “just watch, someone will start shooting on the other side and the bulls will come over pouring into the drainage.” Sure enough, around 8:15 AM came six bulls piling over the edge. Instead of shooting one at 700 yards, we ran to grab our new found friends, Gene and Nathan who both had tags. “There’s two six-points, let’s shoot both of them.” We were glassing almost 180 degrees behind them, they would have never seen the bulls. We all hauled over to a small point where the bulls fed out below us onto the opposite ridge at 475 yards.
Brad lined up on the biggest of the two six-points and shot, hitting just low. His gloved finger sent it slightly premature. His second shot rang true and his bull hunched up. Gene, sent a round and hammered the second bull. They both stood there for a little bit until Brad’s fell and slid down the face. Gene put two more into his and it quickly followed suit down the hill. After high fives, COVID cautionary hugs, and maybe a swig of whiskey, one of the guys said “there’s a bull about to tip over.” Puzzled, we pulled up the glass. I said “Brad your bull just stood back up. Anchor him.” Brad put his rifle on the tripod, quickly acquired the bull and did just that. Quartering away, the shot hit him two thirds of the way up, hammering him.
Now it was time to make the trek to retrieve the two bulls. The slope was quite steep, strategically placing sticks and rocks to keep them from sliding to the bottom. After taking pictures of both bulls, we started processing them. I taught Bradley the rib-roll technique, recovering all of the rib meat in one single boneless chunk. He was impressed to say the least.
We took turns carefully packing meat up the extremely steep embankment back to the side-by-side. To say that we were “whooped” and sore would be an understatement. While 550 yards isn’t much horizontally, the first 100 yards was killer with over 300 feet elevation gain in snow and mud. Bradley ceremoniously packed out his bulls head, I don’t think you could have wiped the smile off his face if you had tried.
After the pack out, we were glad to have the creature comforts of a cabin. Nothing could beat the hot showers, recliners, a heater, full size grill, tv, a couple other clients, and my good friend and fellow guide Cody Thomas to share in our success. Bradley spent the evening taking in every detail of the last few days, the day he had been dreaming of for so long. He was quiet and reserved, contrary to his usual state. We had been talking about elk hunting so frequently the last few years, the series of events was surreal. He hung out at the cabin Saturday to relax and relish in the fact he shot a big mature bull in a unit not well known for big bulls.
Bradley served our great country for 23 years in the Army. He retired from the Pentagon in 2011 as a Sergeant First Class. He saw action in five tours in Iraq, one tour in Africa, and was part of numerous Close Protection Details for high ranking officials in the Pentagon and Cabinet Members. Nothing brings me more joy than to have helped a Veteran fulfill their dream of killing an Arizona elk. I can pursue my dreams because of those that fought for our country. “The land of the free, because of the brave.”