My Turn

By Travis Slater
Arizona, DIY, Public Land

Travis Slater - My TurnMarch/April 2012 EBJ (Issue 70) - Dude! What’d you get, what’d you get, what’d you get?” That’s the phone call I get from my hunting buddy, Jim Messner, every year when the draw results come out. The anticipation is like running down the stairs on Christmas morning when I was eight years old. Did I get that brand new bike I wanted or a lump of coal? Usually it’s the lump of coal, but this year was different.

This time, I was the one calling Jimmy and saying, "You’re not going to believe this.” We were the lucky few who drew Arizona archery bull tags in one of the top trophy units in the state. Hunters sometimes wait more than a decade to draw this tag. I’ve been blessed with several quality bulls, but had yet to take a true giant. I knew this would be my best opportunity to take a bull of a lifetime and I was going to make the most of it. After seeing all the pictures and listening to everyone else’s stories year after year I told myself this was my turn.

The planning, preparation, and practicing began immediately. We looked over maps and marked areas where we wanted to scout. Although I’d hunted this area since I was a kid, this was my first bull tag in this unit. Jimmy and I made several scouting trips, but anyone with a wife, kids, and a career knows getting away for a few days is a challenge.

One morning, my wife and I glassed up 30 bulls in one canyon, with a couple in the 330- to 350-class. We were seeing way more bulls than cows, which concerned me, because I knew the bulls would leave to find the cows. As I expected, we found fewer and fewer bulls as opening day approached. I set my goal at taking a mature 6x6 and was a little frustrated going into the hunt because I wasn’t able to pin down a specific bull before opening day.

I was fortunate to arrive at camp three days before the hunt started. It was hot, with mid-day temperatures flirting with the 90-degree mark. I kicked up a big bull one afternoon while hiking to my glassing spot and estimated he was in the 360-370 range. That was the only time I saw that bull and could never locate him again.

Because of work obligations, Jimmy didn’t arrive to camp until the night before opening day. On his way to camp, Jimmy glassed up a big bull at a waterhole not far away. We had seen good bulls in the area, which made for a sleepless night.

The first two days came and went with Jimmy and me getting in on and passing several small bulls. It seemed like the bigger bulls either wouldn’t respond to our calls or they took their cows and went the opposite direction. Looking back at it now, we made mistakes and were probably being too aggressive with the calling. As usual, after the first couple days the rutting activity died down and hunting became tough. We hiked five to seven miles a day trying to get on bulls. With the high temps, we alternated between sitting water in the afternoon and calling in the morning.

As with a lot of hunters in this day and age of "trophy hunting”, I struggled with the pressure of wanting to kill a big bull and reminding myself to still enjoy the love of the hunt. I still remember what my good friend told me when I got frustrated on my first archery deer hunt, "Things can change in an instant.” I told myself that every time I started to get frustrated.

After hunting hard for five days, we started to second guess ourselves and wondered if we should change our tactics. Jimmy called a friend who was hunting in a different part of the unit and we were invited to join their camp so we packed up some supplies and headed north. The guys in camp had located and passed multiple bulls. They were set on taking a giant and graciously told us were they had seen some good bulls.

Travis Slater - My Turn

For a full account of Travis's adventure, go to page 28 in the March/April 2012 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.