The morning of September 27, 2005 was crisp, clear and quiet in the Arizona cedars. As shooting light approached, we slowly maneuvered through the timber with hopes of being in good position to intercept a quality bull. We were immediately greeted with distant bugles as the bulls headed to their bedding areas. After covering quite a bit of terrain, we realized we weren't going to able to intercept the distant bulls as they were moving rather quickly and had a large head start. Within seconds of stopping to consider other options, another bull broke the silence from below the area we traversed minutes earlier. Henry strategically placed himself 60 yards behind us such that Keith and I were positioned between the caller and the vocal bull. A few soft calls peaked the bull's interest and he was beginning to cut the distance. Our initial plan was to coax him from the cedars and hopefully get a shot opportunity. The excitement level grew as he rapidly approached our set-up, but to our disappointment, he flanked our position and passed out of sight.
Henry held his position and continued to call softly as Keith and I quickly moved to the edge of the cedars. Before we reached our desired location, we heard another bull masterfully announce his presence. Adding to the excitement we heard two other bulls fighting nearby. It became apparent the bugling bull was in a clearing just over a ridge approximately 300 yards ahead of us. The sparring bulls were a little further away and to our right. Utilizing the scattered cedars as cover, we quickly closed the distance until we had an obscured view of the top of the vocal bull's antlers. Based on what we could see, he appeared to be immature and not one of interest, but to our surprise, he crested the hill in front of us and proudly sported a 300+ frame; exactly what we were looking for. We were forced to stand and watch as the bull slowly moved through the flat around 100 yards out from our position. Keith captured the bull's attention with some soft mews, but he simply walked away constantly looking back in our direction as if something else had his interest.
Since the bull was extremely vocal and moving slowly, Keith and I decided to use the sparse cedars as cover and try to move into position for a shot. Every time the bull let out a bugle, we would run as quickly as we could with hopes of getting the upper hand. We covered around 150 yards and were within 70 yards of the target, when our progress was halted by a scream like no other from just behind us. We immediately hit the ground in front of a small cedar just in time to turn around and see a great bull in pursuit of our initial target. We knew immediately this bull was worthy of harvesting and the reason I traveled to Arizona.
Keith calmly leaned over to me and said, 'Just relax and have fun.'
Our positioning was perfect. Every step the bull took toward his visible challenger brought him closer to our position. The bull methodically closed the gap bugling constantly and focusing on his next victim. The bull was quickly within range, but the open terrain made drawing my bow virtually impossible. My mind raced in frustration watching this trophy bull staring directly at us a mere 20 yards away, knowing I might not get the right angle for a shot. Then, to my surprise, the bull took a slight turn allowing me to draw my bow as he passed behind a strategically placed cedar bush just a few yards away. I recalled all my previously unsuccessful hunts, the hours spent practicing and thought to myself,
'This is what you've been waiting for and why you came to Arizona. Do not disappoint your family. Do not screw this up!'
As I settled in for the shot, the bull stopped behind the cedar to survey his surroundings. As luck continued to go my way, the bull cleared the obstruction and was standing broadside only 15 yards in front of us. Before I had time to completely comprehend the situation, my razor-tipped arrow had already passed through the bull. Keith immediately responded to the shot with a series of aggressive cow calls and bugles. The bull took off and thundered about 200 yards before turning around in response to the calling with hopes of identifying what just happened. My heart sank as the giant slowly walked away over a ridge and out of sight. Finally given a moment to think about what had just happened, I realized the bull had taken another step just as I released the arrow causing the impact zone to be further back than intended. After what seemed like days, we located the spot of our last visual of the bull and found a light blood trail. The blood trail stopped after only 20 yards and there was no sign of the bull. Keith was able to recognize this bull's tracks in the soft soil and we followed them for another 300 yards until we entered a rocky ravine. From there, the bull could have gone anywhere and I truly thought we were not going to recover him.
We spread out and followed what seemed like a hundred different trails through the dense cover. At least 3 1/2 hours passed since I released the arrow and we still had not recovered the trophy. I accepted the fact we weren't going to find the bull and my hunt would be over. If we were unable to locate this bull, I was not going to hunt another one. I was prepared to pack my gear and go home empty handed.
I was extremely frustrated, increasingly nauseous and beginning to rehearse how to explain to my family I had let them down. Additionally, I needed to apologize to them for rendering all the sacrifices they made for this hunt worthless. The experience was amazing, but at this point no positive thought was going to outweigh the sense of disgust currently in control.
Keith was 60 yards to my left when I heard, 'Yeah, We got him!'
The whole experience re-defined the essence of elk hunting for me and what constitutes a trophy bull. I will never forget my first hunting experience in Arizona, but I can assure you it won't be my last. I owe a great deal of thanks to Keith Hubbard of Arizona Hunting Adventures and Henry Reyes for all their help and guidance in the field and ultimately helping me perfect the harvest. Additionally, I owe a special thanks to Bert Seelman of Performance Fitness Systems for guiding me through the physical preparations leading up to my hunt and for constantly challenging me. Bert is truly a master and his guidance is the reason my only concern on the hunt was getting into position and making a good shot. Archery hunting for elk is physically challenging and extremely demanding, but following Bert's program neutralized those concerns and enabled me to focus on the hunt. And finally, to my wife, Kelly and daughters, Grace and Madison, thanks for the unconditional support and understanding. This achievement would not have been possible without you.
The bulls rack and body showed clear evidence of a fierce battle. Had the main beam not broken off at the G-4, this Arizona bull would have grossed near 350'. I have never witnessed a bull displaying such antler mass and body size. Truly an amazing specimen in my book and one I will always be extremely proud of.