Defeat to SUCCESS in less than 60 seconds written by Trae Morris
When I learned I had finally drawn an early season archery bull tag for in Arizona’s Unit 1, I couldn’t have been happier. The first thing I did was set my wife down on the couch. “Honey, I have some bad news!” She knew I had been waiting 10 years to draw this tag and that this would mean I would be scouting multiple weekends during the summer and hunting two weeks in September. We have three children under the age of seven, so you can appreciate that she had mixed feelings about the news.
The second thing I did was to call my brother Isaac. “Remember when you borrowed my PSE for that archery cow hunt a few years back?” He had just purchased a 2012 Bowtech Destroyer that was a major upgrade from my 12 year old PSE and I was looking to collect on that prior favor. I shot his new bow so much this summer that I blew out a cam two weeks before archery deer season. Luckily the local outfitter in town, Gila Outdoor and Bowtech worked together to stand behind this awesome bow and had it back to me the day before the deer hunt opened. Isaac was losing sleep over the thought of me getting a kill with his bow before he did, but managed to arrow his first archery deer opening day.
Archery Elk Hunt starts slow…
The rut during the first week of my hunt was sporadic at best. I went more than 24 hours without even seeing an elk or hearing a bugle at one point. By the end of that first week, I had only had one opportunity to even take a shot, but had passed on a small six at 40 yds on day three. My goal of taking a 360 class bull was starting to look naively ambitious. By the 8th day of the hunt, I was feeling pretty tired and defeated and really starting to wonder if it was going to happen for me at all. As I was laying in my cot I grabbed my copy of ORG-Arizona and just happened to flip to the article submitted by Colburn and Scott Outfitters where they mentioned they could usually tell which hunters would give up after a few days of hard hunting and which ones would stick it out for the entire hunt. This article gave me my second wind. I re-committed myself to giving it everything I had for the remainder of the hunt.
Footage of another big non-typical bull elk filmed prior to the hunt:
The 10th morning of the hunt started out promising. I could hear bulls bugling on both sides of the two track road. I followed the bugling about a quarter mile in the dark and was set up on a fence line at first light. I could hear a bull only a short distance away and decided to stay put to see if he would head in my direction. After a few minutes, I heard a different bugle off to my right. Something just didn’t seem right about this bugle and I was convinced it was a hunter. Every time I would hear a bugle to my left, a reply would come from my right. I started wondering if I had worked my way in between two hunters bugling back and forth to each other. I was becoming frustrated that I had probably just wasted the first hour of my morning but decided since I had come this far I was going to at least make sure before I backed out. I moved toward the bugling to my left and after covering 200 yards or so, I spotted a cow through the thick forest cover. I watched as one cow after another materialized about 120 yards in front of me near the edge of a small clearing. Finally, a gorgeous 340 class bull stepped out of the tree line and let out a magnificent bugle. I stayed put as the bull and eight cows moved into the clearing. I was in a good spot with the wind in my favor and I knew that if they decided to cross the clearing I would have a 50 yard shot once they got to the tree line on my side. I could still hear the bugling coming from the right and it seemed to be getting closer. I realized if it was in fact another hunter there was nothing I could do. If I tried to push the issue and move the 50 yards to the edge of the clearing to take a shot I would most likely be seen. I decided to stay put.
The elk didn’t cross the clearing but instead followed the far edge heading in the direction of the other bugle. The bull began to push the cows back my way but they remained 100 yards plus from me at all times. After nearly an hour the elk had made a complete half circle around me and were now close to being down-wind. I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. I began to slip from tree to tree whenever it seemed their heads were down, not an easy thing to do with nine elk that close. I was able to get just to the edge of my range when one of the cows busted me and just like that another stalk and another morning was down the drain!
I watched as they disappeared into the trees, cursing my bad luck or lack of stalking skills or both. This was just one more time I had been close but had nothing to show for it. I was ready to head back to the truck when I heard another bugle in the distance. The bugle came from down the hill a ways and I was debating if it made sense to go after such a distant bugle. I was talking myself out of the idea when I heard the bugle again.
“What the hell” I thought. “What do I have to lose?”
So with my arrow still knocked from the stalk I had just blown and the morning half over I decided to give it another go. I had just reached the bottom were things flatten out and open up when three cows trotted by 80 yards in front of me. They passed behind a thick stand of sapling pines and continued on without ever noticing me. I realized there was a chance a bull would be trailing them and just as that thought had entered my mind a second thought followed. If there was a trailing bull he would pass behind that same thick stand of trees and I wouldn’t have a shot before he cleared the area. What happened next took about 60 seconds to happen but it takes much longer to describe. I started running to try and reach the thicket merely on the off chance of a trailing bull. As I was running I was watching the little rise that those cows had come up over. I was in mid stride and still about 10 yards from the pine stand when to my amazement and complete shock I began to see antlers materializing over that small rise. I went to my knees from a dead run and found myself still about 5 yards behind the thicket but relieved to see a small shooting lane directly in front of me a little smaller than a doorway. The bull was moving at a good pace and was just entering my only shooting lane. I knew I had to get him stopped so I let out a quick “Mmeww” with my lips. He stopped in his tracks and looked in my direction, I had stopped him perfectly! I pulled up my range finder and ranged him at 55 yards. I dropped the range finder and looked down at my bow string to attach my release and once I was on string I looked up to see the bull beginning to step out of my shooting lane.
What I did next I can’t really explain, except to say it was an act of desperation and I did it without even thinking. I just knew I had to stop that elk from taking another step RIGHT NOW so I yelled “Hey” and he froze! I drew back and brought the 50 yard pin to his chest all in one motion and just as he began to step again I released the arrow. The bull went crashing off and I was completely unsure if I had hit or missed.
I was looking for some clue of a hit when suddenly he just piled up! I couldn’t believe it, had this really just happened? I fell onto my back from my knees and just stared up at the pine trees and blue sky above me. While lying their trying to process what had just happened I heard my bull let out two deep labored breaths, then silence. It had all happened so fast. I had literally gone from feeling defeated, to the euphoria of success in less than 60 seconds! I sat up and started looking through my binoculars to see if I could see his antlers sticking up through the grass. I knew he was a shooter when I saw him coming up over the rise, but I really had no idea what I had just done. When I finally saw his left antler I had my first inkling that this bull was really something special. All I could see was a ton of antler sticking up with what looked like some extras. I wanted to rush over there immediately, but I calmed myself down enough to decide against this. I knew he was down but it didn’t make sense to go rushing in. I decided to leave my bow and pack right there and head back up the hill to the truck. I figured by the time I got back with some help the bull would have had plenty of time to expire.[caption id="attachment_3888" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Trae and his elk hunting help with his trophy bull elk.[/caption]
I was still on an adrenaline high and talking a million miles a minute as I hiked back in with my brother, uncle and cousin. I told them he was a good bull but even I didn’t realize at this point just how good he really was. When we got back to my bow and pack I found his antlers again in my binoculars and was relieved to see they hadn’t moved an inch. This bull was officially mine! I handed the binos to my brother Isaac, and when he saw them for the first time he said “What….did….you….do! Trae, What….did….you….do!” That was a phrase that got repeated several more times as we approached my trophy. I knew I had gotten lucky, that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but I also knew that I had been out there grinding for 10 days straight, so some of that luck was earned.[caption id="attachment_3889" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Trae was super appreciative of all of the help on his Arizona Unit 1 Archery Bull Elk Hunt.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3891" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Loaded up and headed for elk hunting camp.[/caption]
In retrospect I feel like calling this a DIY hunt really isn’t accurate. Sure, I didn’t hire a guide service, but I certainly didn’t do it all by myself. My dad and brother Isaac were by my side for the bulk of the hunt. My brother Jacob wasn’t able to hunt with me because he and his wife were due to deliver baby #3 but he did make a couple early summer scouting trips with me. My friend David and cousin Mike showed me areas they were familiar with. My uncle Mike and cousin Cory were able to hunt both weekends with me. I especially want to thank uncle Mike for making elk camp a five star experience. I also want to give my buddy Mark Lopeman with A3 Trophy Hunts a shout out. Mark let me bounce all of my questions off of him. Most of all, I want to thank my wife Stacy who has always supported my passion for hunting.[caption id="attachment_3890" align="aligncenter" width="800"] The picture most elk hunters dream of…[/caption]