It was almost over before it began. We awoke to the shrill beeping of the alarm at 3:30, rousing ourselves before the sun, because the last thing you want to be on opening morning is late. And the very last thing you want is to have Darr tapping his foot and looking at his watch. After a quick breakfast equivalent, I checked my gear and we headed out in the truck, full of anticipation for the first day of my Northern Arizona Unit 9 Archery trophy elk hunt.
We weren’t but five minutes from camp when we came over a small rise in the road-observing the speed limit (kinda, sorta), and almost crashed into two cow elk standing in the road. With barely a foot to spare, side mirrors to furry noses, Darr deftly steered us between the two, and I’m not sure who was more surprised, us or them – I sure didn’t need any more coffee to jump start the nervous system that morning.
I enjoy reading hunting tales, but am reluctant to use the same formula that we have all read time and again… the excitement of getting drawn, the summer spent assembling new gear and practicing, the scouting, the nerves of the night before, etc etc…. Suffice to say, all of that was part of my elk-obsessed life as well.
Unlike the elk hunting videos where you run from one action packed moment to the next, there were stretches of time that were slow, but we were in elk every day, and there were some big boys running around. We ran into a nice bull on the 1st afternoon with long third points, but he wasn’t big enough to drop the string on the first day – it was the first time in my life I passed on a 350 bull… and a tough one to walk away from.
Day 2 found us on the fringes of a big herd that featured the bull we nicknamed the Handlebar bull given the extras off of his 4th points that stuck out the sides of his massive rack. Darr and Jay had seen him before the season, and we spent several days pursuing him along with another pair of hunters that had seen him as well. We ended up 25 yards away at one point, but he took a right instead of a left turn, and he walked out of my trophy room forever. More days passed with great meals, tons of elk and many miles walked. Darr assured me daily we were going to get a shooter before the end of the season. I had every confidence in him as he had done extensive scouting and knew we had some real big bulls running around tearing up millions of board feet of timber!
On another morning, we got into a flurry of rutting elk we described as a “beehive” of running, fighting, screaming bulls that were as memorable as any hunting experience I have ever had. Darr even remembered to turn the camera on for some of it! The cramping in my leg muscles from having been in an uncomfortable crouch for a half hour was painful, but worth every Advil.
During the middle of the day, I would take stock of my pantry of snacks and would make a short run to the small town nearby to send a postcard to my kids. It was there I observed the unique joy of being the owner of a small general store in the middle of nowhere – you get to charge $5 for a bag of ice! I put my 5 bags up on the counter and the cashier replied that it would be $25 bucks – I said “no, no, I just had the ice; the other items were for a different customer.” He said, “correct, that’ll be $25 dollars.” I gritted my teeth and paid, since the refreshments in the cooler were going to taste much better cold!
That leads me to the other members of camp. We had the pleasure of sharing camp with Colorado based bow hunter Jim Fitzgerald and his son, Neil. The aforementioned cold beverages were much more enjoyable shared around camp sitting and listening to Jim’s African adventures, in particular his odyssey in the pursuit of a jaguar with his bow. The only thing better than that was the anticipation of Jay’s wife, Jeanne, serving up her famous biscuits and gravy. Well, they might not be famous outside of camp, but they should be. If elk season lasted any longer, I’d weigh as much as a 6×6 bull, even with Darr trying to walk the soles off my new boots.
We spent the next few days chasing another enormous bull that Darr and Jay located. He was absolutely huge, and while we got close a few times, we didn’t get a shot that was worthy of this magnificent animal. Jay and Darr were pretty tight lipped about this bull with other hunters and guides we visited with, and it was a game of cat and mouse with the aptly named Jurassic bull for a few more days. Finally, as we were pulling out on the 10th morning, Jay advised that if we didn’t find the big one, to move to a different area and shoot the 7 point we had spied earlier in the week. Little did we suspect how prophetic those wishes were.
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