Last Day Birthday Bull Elk

(Editor’s Note: This was originally submitted by John Boone as a Trophy Gallery report, but we thought it deserved a spot in our Adventure section)

After a long two-week hunt, weeks of scouting and trail camera monitoring and (according to my GPS) over 200 miles up and down 11,000-foot mountains, I had all but thrown in the towel.
It was the last evening of the last day (Sept. 25, 2014) of the Arizona Archery Bull Elk season. I decided to change tactics and hunt on the border of my zone … right on the edge. The problem with this spot was that most of the elk I heard bugling over the previous weeks were on the wrong side of the road, which divided my zone.

As I hunted the east side of Lake Mountain in northeast Arizona, I heard a big boy bugling hard. He was relentless! I cow called, and he answered faithfully every time I called, but he wasn’t budging from the knoll he was on. It took me nearly an hour to put a stalk on him. It was thick with Black Locust Trees. The thorns were not only tearing my cammies to shreds, but the flesh on my arms and face. I didn’t feel it though, between the adrenalin and my drive to finish this hunt on a positive note, the only thing that was on my mind was this old bull.

On top of being thick in Locust trees, it was overcast and low light early evening. I was so focused on my footing and moving as quietly as I could, I didn’t realize that I had nearly walked into this big boy’s living room. I was 10 yards from him, and his harem of cows around him! I could barely make most of them out, but I knew this bull was nice. Then the games started. I couldn’t find a clear shot to save my life.

Looking For A Shooting Lane
As I moved right, he eased deeper in cover to his left. Then as I moved to my left, on my hands and knees, he eased backwards off the edge of the knoll. I knew time/shooting light was getting short, so I moved towards him, hoping to get a shot. At this point, he’d had enough of these games and trotted quickly across the road with his cows close behind right out of my zone. I looked at my watch, it was 1755 hours. Sunset was 1819 and I figured with the conditions, I probably had about 45 minutes of huntable light left in my season!

I paused, looked up at Lake Mountain and asked myself, “what next?” Just as I started moving down the knoll I had worked so hard to come up, I heard another big boy bugle off to my left on the side of Lake Mountain. I figured with what light was left, this was my last chance. I headed toward him cow calling all the way. He faithfully answered every time I sent a sensuous, sweet, “hello there big boy” call, so it was fairly easy to work my way in on him. I eased up a trail again in the thick locust trees and closed the distance. I knew I was getting close, so I paused and broke out the call again. I let out a short soft cow bleat and he promptly told me, “Yes dear, let’s meet for a late afternoon rendezvous.” I eased into a small clearing and positioned myself in waist-high brush. He was moving down through some aspens and into the Locust tree thicket. I could see his outline and about all I could tell was that he had antlers.

From the sound of his bugle, I could tell he was a mature bull. I stayed focused on him and kept cow calling. He moved across a trail above me. I looked at my watch and it was 1814, nearly sunset. There were three trails coming into this small clearing and he naturally picked the farthest trail from me. I estimated it to be approximately 40 yards. I was sighted in and comfortable at shooting 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50 yards.

Bull Takes The High Trail
The trail he was coming in on was about 20 feet above me, so I knew I’d either have to put the 40-yard pin high on his shoulder or use the 50-yard pin. As he eased into the opening, I chose the 50-yard pin and put it center chest. As I drew my bow, my whole season flashed before my eyes. All of the hours of scouting, climbing the mountains, the blisters, and the numerous miles ran through my mind. I was so focused; I was able to see everything perfectly. I had that pin exactly where I wanted it.

As soon as I felt everything was perfect, I gently squeezed the trigger on my release. I heard a whipping sound just before I heard the thump of the arrow hitting him. Something didn’t seem right, but he immediately took off and ran about 20 yards and stopped broadside at about 60 yards out. I froze and watched where he was. I scanned his side for any sign of a wound or blood. I couldn’t see anything on his chest where I was aiming. Then I saw it … blood was running down his side around his abdomen. I knew it was a bad hit!

I didn’t push him as he eased into the Locust thicket. I ran the scenario through my mind. I was sure everything was perfect before I let that arrow fly. Then I remembered the strange whipping sound I heard. I went back to the exact spot where I shot from and tied a marker. Then I went to where he was standing and marked that spot. Then I marked it on my GPS. I followed the line of sight of the shot. That’s when I saw it … a small locust branch no bigger than the lead on a pencil! I saw a fresh cut on it and it was just enough to deflect the arrow. I knew it wasn’t a good shot, and it was getting dark fast. I was over a mile from the truck, so I eased out as quietly as I could and headed back for the truck. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. How could I have possibly not seen this branch? I was kicking myself in the butt and cursing myself all the way back to the truck. I figured the best option was to leave him till morning.

A Night Of Torture
It was a long sleepless night. It was also my 54th birthday. It was not the optimum way to celebrate a birthday, but I was determined to do the right thing and find him early in the morning. I got out of the rack at 0400 and made a pot of coffee (I knew I’d need it as I hadn’t slept much that night). I drove around the Lake Mountain area with the GPS set on the waypoint where I marked him. I found a road that put me .23-mile from where I made the shot.

I waited till the first sign of light and headed out. I found the spot where I shot from and ran it through my mind again. I looked at that locust branch and promptly cut it off just in case the next guy has the same shot. I looked around the spot he was standing when I shot. I found two large areas of blood where he was standing at the last spot I saw him, but I couldn’t find a blood trail! I didn’t see the arrow right away, so I decided to go back to where he had been standing and see if I could find it. After a few minutes, I found the arrow. It had dried, dark red blood and some green. I knew that was bad!

John Boone and his Arizona bull elk.
John Boone and his Arizona bull elk.

I went back down the trail to see if I could find more blood. After looking for about a half hour in very thick Locust trees, I couldn’t find any more blood. There were three trails leading away from this opening, so I took one trail at a time and worked my way down each one, quietly as possible just in case he was still alive in the area. After working my way down the first two trails a couple hundred yards, I came back to walk down the third trail. I made my way about 10 yards down this trail and there he was! He was lying in a grassy clearing about 20 yards from where I had last seen him. It was obvious that he had likely expired shortly after disappearing from my sight. Upon further inspection, I found that the Muzzy broadhead cut center liver.

A bad shot, and not the perfect scenario, but I called in for help from family and we packed him out. I am still smoking jerky right now and trying to find space in the freezer between backstrap packages for the ribs  He’s at the taxidermist right now along with his cape. He’s a decent mature 6×6. The taxidermist estimated him to be 6 years old based on teeth. I saw bigger bulls during this hunt, but to get a Royal 6×6 Bull Elk on the last day of archery season, which just so happened to be my Birthday worked out just fine!

Semper Fi!

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One Response to “Last Day Birthday Bull Elk”

  1. Brayden

    That was what I will call a successful hunt. I have only hunted ducks, geese and some deer for about 3 years now but I would like to elk hunt! Some in my family do. I haven’t had the chance but when I do. I will post it!!