written by Alan Bierce (Arizona Late Elk Hunter Dale Scott)
Anyone who has ever drawn an Arizona elk tag understands the sheer elation of seeing “DRAW SUCCESSFUL” on the Arizona Game and Fish website when the results come out. Those hunters also understand the disappointment of finding out they were not drawn and would not be hunting elk with a bow or gun in hand that fall. The next best feeling is finding out someone close to you was lucky enough to draw a tag. The fall of 2012 was looking to be that way for me. My dad, Al Bierce, and his long time hunting partner, Dale Scott (known as “grandpa” in my house), had drawn late bull tags in a great unit for producing quality bulls. Not having a tag this year would give me the opportunity to help the two men responsible for my undying love of the outdoors on a hunt that we had high hopes for.
The disappearing acts that bulls do after the rut can make late season hunts some of the most frustrating experiences in hunting. In previous years on late hunts, we had almost no luck locating anything at all with antlers, and we were determined to change that on this hunt. Two of our friends, Jay and Ryan Neely, had hunted this unit in the late season with success in the past. Luckily for us, they were eager to help not only in the preseason scouting, but on the actual hunt. We knew that a lot of time behind glass prior to the hunt and having plans in place for opening morning would be necessary.
Super Freak footage was taken by Craig Steele, while on elk hunting in Arizona.
In September, those trips started for my dad and Dale to learn the unit. Each trip and sighting of a big bull made the idea of waiting for the end of November almost unbearable. October came and went, and then November rolled around. The scouting intensified. The three weekends preceding the hunt would be spent in the area we felt would be the best for the opening weekend. Almost every outing resulted in seeing big bulls in thick cover, big bulls that would be “shooters” in any season. The weekend before the hunt the targeted area was loaded with these bulls my dad and Dale dreamed about. Before leaving for the week, Ryan was able to get some long distance, somewhat blurry pictures through the binoculars of the “big boys” to drool over for the next week until game time. Dale stayed in the unit the entire week before the hunt with plans to stay through the end of the season.
Everyone getting into camp was excited to hear the reports from Dale on what he had seen the past four days. It was everything we had hoped for. The same bulls had been working the area for the whole week, and it seemed that new ones came in every day. The night before opening day was an exciting time in elk camp, and this year there was a tremendous amount of support. We had Jay, Ryan, Mike Scott (Dale’s son), Roger Winkles, and Donnie Gray up to help for the first part of the hunt. Roger and Donnie had made the trip all the way from Texas to help out this year. The talk in camp was to place everyone on strategic points before sunrise with hopes of one group locating a bull at first light. For opening morning, the entire group would be concentrating on only one hunter instead of two, my dad was not able to come up until Friday night due to work. The pitch black of opening morning came and everyone in camp was anxious to get into the field. Everyone piled into vehicles and headed to different points overlooking the area of thick cover we had been watching. Jay and Donnie made up our first set of spotters on one hill, and Ryan and I comprised the second set on an opposing hill. Mike and Roger accompanied Dale to a third hill, giving yet another vantage point of the area. The anticipation for first light was killing everyone and led to looking into the darkness every few seconds to see if visibility was past ten feet with the binoculars. Then came light, and the search began. These bulls had to be hiding in the trees below us. We just had to find them.
We knew this was the right place to be before the sun came up, because of the homework done before the season. The hard work and diligence paid off just after first light. Just after the sun came up and everyone was on their binoculars, Jay’s voice came on the radio, “I’ve got a bull”. Ryan and I instantly scrambled to find out where this bull was. Within minutes, Jay had our eyes on the bull…one of the “big boys” we were all here to see. He was a tall, heavy 6×5 with enormous thirds, a trophy by any standards. He was in the grass below a rock bluff feeding with his head down, not a care in the world. The chatter began on how to get Dale on the big bull. The two groups of spotters had a clear view of Dale and the bull, they were less than 700 yards apart! Dale, Mike, and Roger could not see him from their glassing point and decided to move on him with Jay and Ryan guiding them towards him. The group began their descent off the hill toward the rock bluff above the bull, trying to make it fast. Nobody wanted this elk to wander off into thick cover where we couldn’t find him again. Jay and Ryan did some reassuring over the radio that he was not moving but to not waste time getting to him. Within twenty minutes they had closed the gap to under 200 yards, but they were above the rock bluff and still could not see the bull. They began moving closer with Ryan and Jay giving feedback to their every move. They were sure to be right where they needed to be within the next 100 yards. Dale, Mike, Roger, and the bull were all in the field of view in the binoculars at this point. They slowly moved forward to the edge of the rock bluff but could still not see the elk. Mike pointed at something moving through the trees; a small spike. Within seconds of seeing the spike, they all saw the bull feeding along on the hillside below them, Dale instantly dropped down to get ready for a shot. The bull was only 100 yards away! While they were getting in position and readying for a shot, Ryan told them, “Let me know before he shoots, I’m going to film it through the binoculars.” Within minutes, the bull suddenly dropped straight to the ground, and the blast of the rifle followed seconds after. At 75 years young, Dale had just connected on the bull of a lifetime! Roger took the radio out of his pocket and announced that the bull was down and was not getting back up; it only took one well placed shot from Dale’s trusty .338 to bring his hunt to a close. Everyone was so excited to get a look at the monster that no time was wasted getting off the hills and down to where the bull lay. The hunt only lasted around an hour after sun up, but that was proof that the homework had paid off. And a little luck never hurts! He had ground growth for the ones looking from a great distance, a truly amazing animal. Congratulatory handshakes and high fives were exchanged, pictures were taken, and the real work began for the pack out.
My dad made it up that night to see the bull and anxiously await his turn. With everyone now focused on him, we employed the same strategy. He had opportunities on some great animals, but he was never able to connect on an elk this time. But there is always next time! This hunt was an amazing experience for Dale, my dad, and everyone involved throughout the entire process. The people you go into the field with are more important than anything else, and everyone should wish to have family and friends like this great group. I know my dad and Dale cannot thank Mike, Roger, Donnie, Jay, and Ryan enough for all of the help and for making the dream of taking a bull of a lifetime a reality.
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