By Dennis Dunn
Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- When a hunter goes afield, expectations are one thing; dreams are usually quite another.
Only rarely in life does reality arrive on the scene to overwhelm both — and utterly take your breath away.
Yet this is exactly what happened to me recently down in Arizona. I'm still floating three feet off the ground, pinching myself constantly, and asking, “Did that really happen to me?”
For 16 long years, I had been applying for an archery elk tag in the Grand Canyon State, and finally — in 2015 — I got drawn. The season opened on Friday, September 11th 2015. Because, for out-of-staters, these draw-tags are usually a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I had arranged for guiding services with Travis McLendon and Arizona Elk Outfitters. The outstanding guide he assigned me was Lane Buck from Cottonwood, AZ (about whom I cannot say enough).
For the first six days of the season, Lane and I hunted hard but saw a grand total of just one branch-antlered bull.
He was in his bed midday, and my stalk went for naught when an unseen cow and spike bull that were bedded near him spotted me and spooked before I could get any closer than 50 yards. The rut was just not happening! Of Travis's 16 bowhunters scattered around the best archery elk units in the State, not one had put a bull on the ground in six days of hunting! Very few bulls were talking at all, and nothing was responding to our calling. Then on the seventh morning of the hunt, our luck turned on a dime. We managed before sunup to get in between two bulls that started bugling at each other. As we zeroed in on the first bull, the second one began to come in from behind us.
By the sounds of their voices, the one in front — upwind — seemed much the bigger and more killable. Suddenly, a shrill bugle from him convinced us he was fewer than 100 yards away.
At that point, we were just inside the edge of a large patch of junipers and pinion pines, looking in his direction across 50 yards of open meadow. I immediately pulled my face-mask down out of my camo-cap and quietly hot-footed it across the open ground to the nearest patch of brush on the fringe of the next big patch of junipers. With an arrow now on the string, I was ready for him, regardless of whether he chose to enter the meadow via the forest lane on my left, or via the one on my right. Once I was in position, Lane started mewing and moaning like a cow in heat. For three or four minutes, he kept this up, then fell silent. We heard nothing from our quarry. Lane next made some dull, hollow, popping sounds (called “glunking“) by repeatedly hitting the open mouth of his grunt-tube with the open palm of his hand. (He explained to me later that “glunking” is the sound a bull often makes while he is mounting a hot cow.)
That was all that was needed! Instantly, the bull we were after let out an enraged scream of challenge and decided to abandon his cover. Thirty yards from me, a cow entered the meadow first, heading in Lane's direction.
Then all of a sudden, the herdmeister, which we had never laid eyes on till that very moment, appeared 40 yards away, trotting toward me with his head held high — and possessed of the biggest set of antlers I'd ever seen alive on the hoof.
At thirty yards he stopped briefly, gave my inert figure a quick glance, and — seeing nothing that alarmed him — changed direction by about 90 degrees and began walking in the direction of the well-hidden “glunker.” Immediately I drew my Suzanne St.Charles cedar shaft, moved my bow arm along with the moving target, and quickly released the 720-grain missile for its rendezvous with destiny.
I'm always most grateful for any providential assistance at such moments, and I do believe the Almighty had a hand in the happy outcome. Paced off later, it was a 32-yard shot. The arrow struck the bull just behind the last rib and ended up in the far lung.
The stricken animal accelerated from four to 40 in nothing flat, and his death run carried him about 250 yards before he crashed into the near edge of the second big patch of junipers. We didn't witness the crash, but it was probably all over in 60 – 90 seconds. Everything had come together and happened so fast, Lane and I were in disbelief. He had not seen either the bull or the hit, but I assured him the bull was a “keeper” and the hit was good. The sudden thunder of many hooves quickly suspended our jubilation, and we turned our heads to see the abandoned harem of 24 cows hightailing it across the open meadow in the direction of their recently-departed ruler and slave-master.
As for the trophy bull, how good was he? Well, I'll let the photos speak for themselves. I had prayed at the outset of the season that I might be blessed with the taking of a Pope & Young quality bull (something I had never accomplished previously). For most bowhunters, that is dream enough come true — especially for the traditional archer like myself. Something like the harvest of a true Boone & Crockett giant had never even entered my head as a possibility!
And yet, it appears that that is, indeed, what happened on Thursday, September 17th 2015, at 6:45 am in the elk country of legendary Coconino County, AZ.
* * * *
UPDATE: Two weeks ago, your 76-year-old geezer lowered his magic number to FIVE, by arrowing with his longbow a 200-pound Boone & Crockett cougar up in central BC.
When I finished up my barebow Super Slam in September of 2004, I counted up how many of my species harvests had met or exceeded the Pope & Young entry requirements — and how many had not. The numbers showed there were 17 species that did measure up, and 12 that didn't. Thus, eleven years ago, I went to work on trying to “upgrade” a dozen different animals. During that timeframe, I've hunted all 12 at least once — and some of them as many as four times. Now in my 76th year of life, I realize that I'm really in a race with Father Time. With the taking of this Arizona bull, however, my “magic number” has now been reduced to SIX, so I'm halfway there.
The first three of those species I “upgraded” (the Quebec-Labrador Caribou, the Mountain Caribou, and the Shiras Moose) were all taken with a sightless (barebow) compound. The last three were all taken with a recurve bow (the Woodland Caribou, the Roosevelt Elk, and the American Elk). In point of fact, nine years ago, I went back to my “roots” and have hunted only with stickbows since then. Also, after Pope & Young raised the minimum entry score on Pronghorn Antelope, I did harvest a second “book” Pronghorn buck with my recurve (2008), as well as a third P & Y Coues' Whitetail Deer (2010) and a second P & Y regular Whitetail (2012 – Alberta).
But in 2013 and 2014, my luck turned cold, and I harvested nary a single critter doing those two seasons. This fall, an early August hunt for Alaskan Barren Ground Caribou produced no results; likewise a California hunt for Tule Elk. However, my good luck returned big-time last week with the taking of this Arizona bull. Who knows what will happen next?
I may have just used up my entire allotment of good fortune for the rest of my life!
The remaining six species on my “upgrade list” are: (1) Cougar (which I hope to hunt this December); (2) Alaskan Caribou; (3) Alaska-Yukon Moose (which I'm booked to hunt next September); (4) Sitka Blacktail Deer (which I'm booked to hunt next November); (5) Bison; and (6) Tule Elk.
If any of you has a suggestion for a dynamite locality and/or outfitter to book with, for any of my remaining six species, I'd be most grateful for your recommendations!
I hope and trust this article finds you all in good health, and out there enjoying the splendiferous autumns of North America.
Only the best to each of you,
About Dennis Dunn
Dennis Dunn is a published author and Big Game Hunter, Views his excellent hunting books online at Amazon.