Part 3 of 7
Hunting Opener Arrives
As the remaining few days before the Arizona opener slid by, more scouting forays revealed much more opportunity for great action. Actually, I was starting to get a few TOO MANY spots lined up for my own good! This usually leads me to start second-guessing my hunting locations.
As the day before the opener arrived, I sat down at my base camp in the middle of the day and wrote down the areas that I’d scouted — scratching off a few, while prioritizing the remaining candidates. It was good to have such a dilemma!
Glassing animals to determine trophy quality is a necessity if you are after a large-antlered bull.
With choices made, I decided to take the evening off, so Peg and I drove into a nearby small town and had a delicious dinner of Mexican food. As I ate, my mind drifted to the task ahead. Whenever you’re after an Arizona elk, it’s impossible to keep your mind from dreaming about a certain number — 400, to be exact! Would I see even a single bull of this caliber? Would I even give myself a chance, or, would I take the first “good one” that offered himself to me? Knowing that 400-inch bulls were about as rare as pink elephants, I decided that I’d try for anything that bested my previous Arizona bull — a 375-class animal.
Realizing my line of thinking, I was overcome with amazement, excitement and thankfulness. I was amazed that I could dream so big, excited to get the hunt started, and thankful that the Arizona Game and Fish Department managed some areas for such public-land giants.
Hurrying back to camp, I was ready to hit the sack early — I planned on being afield a couple of hours before firstlight!
When the alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., my eyes flew wide-open immediately — time to rock ‘n’ roll! Grabbing my gear, I jumped in my truck and headed for a spot that I’d scouted previously. The area where I’d place my opening-morning bet was on the fringe of the unit — a low-elevation spot which didn’t fit the bill as excellent habitat. From past experience, however, I knew that smart, old monarchs often hid out in these types of locations; to put it plainly — I was hoping to meet up with a whopper.
Hikes To A High Point
Parking in a pre-determined spot, I headed up a ridgeline that led to a high point that stood out against the moonlit sky. As I strode along in the darkness, the cool, high-desert air smelled of sage and pine. Just as a small bead of sweat began to trickle down the crease of my back, I attained the summit that I sought. Stretched out below me was a vast juniper flat, occasionally intersected by shallow canyons. Determined that I would hold this position until the eastern sky began to lighten, I sat down and made myself comfortable on a rock outcropping. I hoped to hear some bugling from here.
Most of my Arizona hunting was of the “spot-and-stalk” variety — so be sure to have a good rangefinder.
As the next half hour slid by, I became increasingly concerned with my choice of this opening morning hunting location — I hadn’t heard a single bugle! However, just as a new day was making itself evident in the eastern sky, a hoarse, vibrating bugle greeted my ears from below. Recognizing the sound as one that most likely originated from a very old bull, I became instantly excited. Determining the direction of the mild breeze, I set out to make a maneuver on my lone target. Game on!
In short order, I found myself within a couple hundred yards of my quarry. The bull was bugling regularly, and as good daylight made its way upon the scene, I slowed to a snail’s pace. Nocking an arrow as I slipped carefully through the thick vegetation, I scanned ahead for a sign of my target. In a second, the beige color of an elk’s hide caught my attention through the dark-green juniper jungle that surrounding me — I was already within 60 yards of my quarry! Things were starting to happen fast now — time to git ‘er done!
Please read more in Part 4.
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Eddie Claypool provides tips on bowhunting, with an emphasis on whitetails. Claypool has harvested 63 Pope & Young-class recordbook animals including 35 whitetails (Coues included), 16 elk and eight mule deer. All the animals were taken on do-it-yourself hunts.