My story really begins at the age of six. While trying to learn how to read, I became hooked on hunting magazines. All I could think about was one day laying my hands on a trophy bull or buck that I took with archery equipment. Since then, my passion has only grown.
At 19, I killed my first bull, a respectable 315-class animal, during a late-season rifle hunt. I later tried my hand at guiding, and thus learned volumes about elk behavior. So, when I finally drew the Arizona archery tag I’d wanted for so long, I had some good experience in my favor.
My wife, Kelsey, and children are outdoor enthusiasts as well. With Kelsey’s full support, I was able to make the most of my time between being drawn and the start of the hunt. I put in around 40 days of scouting, a lot of which was with my two older boys Coleden, 5, and Garrett, 3. My youngest boy Levi, 9 months, even made it out a few times.
I was able to get a few weekends off work during the weeks prior to the hunt and the whole week prior to the opener. I had been seeing and videoing great bulls, but had yet to find a true giant. I had also found an area that really didn’t have a lot of elk in it, but had one huge track – the biggest I had ever seen – on a wallow on the edge of a dirt tank. I set up a trail camera on the wallow and continued to check it every other day, with no luck. It seemed the elk had moved on to other country. The day before the opener, a few friends and great glassers showed up to help out. Marty Rose and Casey Barnett came out to glass for the evening and Max Ryden had planned on glassing on Friday morning on his way to work and then help out for the remainder of the weekend.
I decided to start where I had scouted the two largest bulls I’d seen. I was on a good bull at first light. I was able to get to within 80 yards of the 360 to 370-class 6x7, but elected to pass. Marty and Casey were beside themselves that I had passed on such a good bull, which made me doubt my decision. I told them that I really wanted something larger. I still had 13 days left and the rut would just get better, but really I was trying to talk myself into thinking I had made a good decision. Later, Max told us he had found a smoker of a bull, so we headed to that area. We found some good bulls, but not the one he’d seen. As the sun faded behind the mountain, we made a plan for the next day. Marty and Casey would glass one basin while Max would glass the one he’d seen the smoker in.
The next morning, before it was light enough to shoot, I bugled a bull into 54 yards. I couldn’t tell if he was all there or if he had broken points. Five minutes later, I could see he was definitely a shooter bull, but he had moved off to over 100 yards to chase off a lesser bull. He had two cows he was interested in and was moving them my way when another hunter inadvertently bumped the bull, and the elk piled into the bottom of a nasty canyon. After glassing the rest of the morning, I decided I wanted to go back to where I’d seen the huge tracks. Oddly enough, I hadn’t heard any bugles in the area, and had seen only a few rubs. There just weren’t many elk around, but I needed to see what was making those Hereford-sized tracks.
As I sneaked in to the wallow, I noticed two cows moving from left to right 74 yards in front of me. I nocked an arrow and readied myself in case a large bull was behind them. Sure enough, a huge bull walked out, but was over 100 yards out. I was able to get a good look at him for about five seconds before he disappeared into the trees with his cows. I knew he was a true giant. Now I knew why those tracks were so big. The bull had a huge body and antlers to match. I decided to sit on the wallow, rather than follow and risk bumping him.
I sat until after dark without so much as hearing a bugle. How was I going to kill a bull that never bugles? Experience told me he would come back to his wallow, but would it be during daylight hours? I decided sitting on the wallow would be my best bet. Since glassing wouldn’t help much, the others headed home.
I woke up at 2:30 the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I headed out in hopes of at least hearing a bugle. I sat a mile out from the wallow from 4:30 to 5:15 a.m. and heard nothing. I knew it was getting tough for my wife being alone with the kids, so I said a little prayer for my hunt. Then I settled in for a long day at the wallow.
I kept thinking how blessed I was to be out there pursuing trophy bull elk, and thinking about past hunts in the area with clients who were successful, when I heard a pickup truck driving into the area. I had not seen a single track on this road in over a week and began to get sick to my stomach. All I could hope was that they would leave because of the silence and lack of sign. They pulled right up to the edge of the meadow, so I got out of my blind and walked 150 yards over to the truck. There were three true sportsmen, including a well-known Arizona outfitter; they were scouting for the upcoming rifle hunt. They agreed to back out quietly and come back the following weekend to scout again. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated their understanding and sportsmanship.
I again settled into the blind, and not 15 minutes later heard the first bugle – a very weak sounding squeal about half a mile out. Because it was coming from the area the large bull had gone into the night before, I had a fleeting thought it might be him. Naw, that huge bull couldn’t have a wimpy bugle like that. Thirty minutes later I heard another wimpy bugle, only 300-400 yards out. What the heck; I might as well call in the little raghorn. At least I would be able to watch an elk to help pass the time.
Two cow calls and ten seconds later, the bull came running out of the trees on the far side of the meadow right toward his wallow with his head postured back and the sun shining on his enormous rack. I couldn’t believe it was him making those silly whines and wimpy bugles!
He closed to 134 yards and began raking his antlers in the dirt. That gave me an opportunity to gain my composure and ready for a shot that I was sure would come. He trotted the rest of the way into the wallow and as soon as he lowered his head and I could hear him drinking; he was slightly quartered to me. Everything seemed to flow as I drew, anchored, brought the pins up the back of his left front leg and settled the pin just behind his shoulder. I told myself to concentrate on a smooth release, and I watched the arrow bury itself and pass completely through the bull. After I put a last insurance shot deep into his vitals, I backed off and gave him time to expire.
I packed up my gear and got up on a point high enough to make a call to my wife and friends. As eager as I was to track my bull, I agreed to wait for my friends.
While waiting back at the truck, I had two vehicles fly by me. Panic set in, because depending on what direction he went and how far, I knew my bull might be close to the road. I caught up and told them what was going on. They were gracious enough to give me a 15-minute head start back to the last place I had seen the bull.
A short walk while following a very good blood trail led me to one of the largest bulls I have ever seen. What an incredible roller coaster of emotions. I had no idea that this day would bring a lifetime of preparation on a crash course with five seconds of opportunity. I was thrilled that I was able to keep enough composure to make the shots count. Once everyone arrived, we took photos and dressed the bull. Upon closer inspection, we discovered the first shot would have killed the bull; it had taken one lung and the liver. I was still glad I’d ensured the process by following it up.
After the bull was taken care of, everyone was really curious as to what this bull would score. I put a quick tape on him and came up with 411. I checked the math and came up with 411 again. His rack was so unusual that I wasn’t sure how to measure the back end on his left side. I wasn’t really sure how he would officially score, and it really didn’t matter to me. However, B&C official measurer Clay Goldman green scored it at 412-3/8 gross and 399-5/8 Pope & Young, with only a 33-1/2-inch inside spread.
I was truly fortunate to be blessed with a great tag. I was even more fortunate to be able to capitalize on the opportunity and share the events with my wonderful family and great friends. It doesn’t get any better.
About the author:
Preston, 31, and his wife, Kelsey, have three children and live in Flagstaff, Arizona. He is a full-time firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service on the Coconino National Forest.
Bow: Mathews Drenalin
Arrows: Easton ST Epic 400 with Blazer vanes
Broadheads: G5 Striker 100-gr.
Sights: TruGlo Tru-Site Xtreme Micro Adjust 7-pin
Rest: Cavalier drop away
Stabilizer: Limb Saver S-Coil
Release: Scott Little Goose
Strings: Zebra Barracuda
Optics: Swarovski 10x42 SLC binoculars, Leica rangefinder
Camo: ScentLok Max 1
Boots: Merrill Reflex Gore-Tex
Pack: Badlands 2200
Knife: Custom built by Mike Leonard
Accessories: Carlton Fighting Cow and Primos single reed improved calls, Kodak camera, Garmin GPS, Montana wall tent, Cabela’s Magnum 44 sleeping bag.