Bow Bull of a Lifetime

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My hunt actually started nine years before I ever set foot in Arizona with an elk tag in my pocket. That is when I started applying for the tag. I had 10 bonus points going into the 2005 draw and my good friend Jim Worthan from New Mexico, had nine. We put in together hoping that this year would be our year. With all the controversy in Arizona surrounding the nonresident tag allotment and the higher number of nonresident tags in the quota, I knew that my chances for drawing one of the very best units in the state – Unit 3A/3C - would never be better.

When the day of the draw arrived, I remember going to the computer on pins and needles to check the results. I screamed when I saw my name among the successful. My wife and two daughters thought that I had lost my mind, and maybe I had. This was the best public land tag in all the country I had one. Then I couldn’t wait to call Jim and give him the good news – we were going to Arizona in September.

Bugling Arizona Bull
Giant Arizona bulls created a great deal of anticipation prior to the author's hunt.

I call this hunt a once in a lifetime chance because Unit 3A/3C is very hard to draw and it was very unlikely that I would ever be lucky enough to draw it again – though I would sure keep trying. I generally hunt without a guide and have 14 years of elk hunting experience. During that time, I have taken some nice bulls, but this trip was different. I wasn’t going to take any chances. I wanted help from someone with plenty of local knowledge.

I have known Mick Chapel, who runs New Mexico Professional Big Game Outfitting, for 14 years and he has become a good friend. I called Mick for his advice. We talked for a long time about the unit and about who would be the best guide. Finally, he told me that if he could get Richard Owen, a taxidermist in Show Low, Arizona, he would be the best choice.

Mick called me back a few days later; he had hired Richard to guide me on my hunt. After talking with Richard on the phone many times, I knew I had found the right person to guide me. Richard not only knew the area well, he also knew everyone that lived in the area. Many local hunters stop and loaf at the taxidermist’s studio to talk about elk, so Richard always knows where the biggest bulls live. Now I had the local contact I so dearly needed. Things were coming together.

The next two months went by very slowly. My eagerness for September 16 grew more intense each day. Jim was also getting itchy. He was going to hunt without a guide, and being close enough to drive to the unit, he made a few scouting trips during the summer. The bulls he saw only made us both more impatient to get started.

 

Finally, on September 15, I arrived in Show Low from my home in Kentucky. I met Richard and we began mapping out our hunt for opening day. Richard knew many spots where he and his friends have hunted, so we had plenty of options. The first day, we decided to hunt close to the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Richard learned that a few big bulls were living in the flats, so that is where my hunt of a lifetime would begin.

Day One

First morning was slow. There is not a lot of cover out on the flats. If the bulls are there, you know quickly. We didn’t see anything and there was very little bugling.

That afternoon we moved to a new area and got into a bull that would score close to 360 inches. We were just easing through the pines and junipers when we heard a bull up ahead. One of made a cow call and the bull instantly bugled. You could tell he was heading our way fast. Richard turned and moved away from me, trying to put as much distance between us as possible before the bull showed up. That way he would be able to call the bull past me. Unfortunately, the bull got to us too quickly and Richard wasn’t able to get far enough away. The bull hung up at 80 yards looking for the cow and wouldn’t come any closer. If Richard could have gotten farther away from me, I think I could have gotten him.

Now I’m pumped. He was a great bull and I’m thinking that life is good. Everything is looking very promising for the next day. Spirits were high in camp that night.

Day Two

It was another slow morning. We hunted near the Reservation again and apparently everything was on the other side of the fence. We didn’t hear much. It was disheartening really. I thought I was going to be on bulls from dawn. Jim didn’t have a good day either. It is kind of devastating when you draw what you think is a once in a lifetime tag and the hunt gives every indication of being tough.

That evening after the hunt, one of Richard’s friends came over. He had killed a bull at certain spot that morning and he said there were plenty of others there. He told us that no one else was hunting that area and that we should try it. It was a very generous offer and one that I truly appreciate.

Day Three

We had already made a plan to hunt somewhere else so we didn’t go where Richard’s friend had killed; we were going to look it over in the afternoon. It was another slow morning. The temperature was warm and things weren’t cranking. I was starting to worry.

That afternoon the candy store opened. The hotspot was an unlikely walk-in area right next to a major road. A short ways into the timber I said, “There must be cattle here.” Richard said, “Buddy, those aren’t cattle trails.” A big smile broke out across my face. Then I heard bugles everywhere. There were four bulls bugling around me. Finally, the kind of action I had dreamed about. We saw 10 different bulls that afternoon and I passed up shots at three of them. Ah, now this is more like it.

Before darkness closed the show, we physically checked out nine or ten bulls to see how big they were. One bull stood out. We heard him bugle and I snuck close to see how big he was. He had a bunch of cows with him. We finally got a look at him and the third points looked to me like they were just a few inches long.

He had three brow tines on one side, a fact that instantly earned him the name “Brow Tine”. He was the last bull we saw that afternoon. We did not get a good look at Brow Tine but I told Richard that I thought he was more than big enough to shoot but had short third points on both sides. I figured he was probably a 360 to 370-inch bull.

Day four

Calling elk as a team
When you get a bull started, it is best for the caller to keep moving farther and farther behind the shooter in an effort to call the bull past the shooter.

Obviously, we went back to the same place again. You couldn’t have made me leave that place. That day we checked 10 to 12 different bulls. Didn’t really see what were looking for, but there was a whole lot of bugling. It was an exciting and wild day with adrenaline-packed action from daylight until dark. We were being really careful not to run anything. We never pushed them because we wanted them to keep using that area.

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Russell, MB
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