Arizona, 2008, DIY, Public Land
As Told by Zach Nicholson
Every year our family awaits the Arizona elk draw, and 2008 was no different. Perhaps we were even more excited this year, because we had heard of two giant bulls in the unit we were applying for. Arizona had also received some early season moisture and we anticipated above average antler growth.
I was disappointed that I had not been drawn. However, I was shocked when I checked the results for my younger brother, Cody Nicholson, age 15. Amazingly, he had drawn one of the few coveted early season muzzleloader tags. After I calmed down, I shared the good news with him. I might have actually been more excited for him than if I drawn the tag myself.
Although this bull tag was for 2008, this hunt really started many years ago. I learned to hunt from my uncles, Randy and Rusty Ulmer, and spent countless hours with them trying to imitate and hunt just like them. Now it was my turn to pass on the knowledge to my brother. I had taken him on his first deer and cow elk hunts. This elk hunt would be my first chance to take him on a true trophy hunt. The best part about it was being able to share it with my Aunt Tammy, Randy’s wife, who had also been lucky enough to draw. Cody and I would also have a chance to prove our skills as hunters to the people we looked up to most in the hunting world.
Most elk hunts start weeks prior to opening morning. It would take countless hours of predawn drives and hikes trying to find the perfect spot for opening morning. Now that Cody and Tammy had tags, I set out to help find the two bulls we knew about. One bull was a giant 6x6 with long cheaters sticking out on each side. I spent the entire week trying to find this one bull with no luck.
The morning before the season I tried a different area. It was a long way from where I had been focusing, but it was a last ditch effort. After a long drive and an equally long hike, I arrived. I was there earlier than planned, so I sat under a tree to rest before the action started.
After straining my ears to hear any bugle, I heard one. My heart instantly leapt into high gear as I ran to identify the source. I slipped in and out of trees and brush trying to get a glimpse of a bugling bull. Standing in a waterhole where he had just finished wallowing was the bull I had been searching for. I fumbled for my video camera, trying not to drop it as my hands trembled uncontrollably. I got it turned on, found him in the viewfinder, and couldn’t believe what I saw. I watched this giant in awe, burning the image of his antlers and the sound of his bugle into my brain, never to forget. Finally, after an exhausting week of scouting, sleepless nights, and thinking about big bulls, I had found him.
For a full account of Cody's adventure, go to page 22 in the August/September 2009 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.