After 10 years of trying, in 2012 I drew a coveted Arizona archery elk tag. Despite 40 years of serious DIY western hunting I immediately I phoned my friend Gary “Goose” Howell
of Flagstaff, Arizona (www.howellwildlifeoutfitters.com; 928-606-3021) and booked his services. Goose has over 20 years of experience in the outfitting business in this region. In fact, he is so good he has been selected by many well-healed hunters who have purchased governor’s tags in Arizona and elsewhere to be their personal guide. Goose has been at it for a long time and knows his stuff. I knew I would not have time to learn the unit and that Goose and his team would have it dialed in. Best money I ever spent.
I made two scouting trips with Goose and guide Jon Vance, and we came up with a game plan. We made camp 3 nights before opening day and hit the ground running. For 4 months prior to that I had been shooting my bow 5 mornings a week before work. My setup is a 28-inch Hoyt Carbon Matrix bow, 28 ½-inch Beman ICS 340 shafts tipped with 125-grain Thunderheads fletched with NAP QuikFletch for a total arrow weight of 425 grains; raw arrow speed is right at 270 fps and it shoots like a dream. Plus I upped my regular fitness regimen, which was a good thing, since Jon’s GPS told us that in 4 days we had hiked something like 47 miles over bad ground in search of a dream bull.
The evening before the season opened Jon and I were scouting when we spotted two big bulls wallowing on an open lakeshore. One Jon — who has guided numerous hunters to giant AZ bulls over the years — figured was a 350-class stud. We called him The Wallow Bull. We spent the next several days in the middle of the elk, and in fact I was within shooting range of 3 bulls Jon and I both thought would push 350. Problem was, we were hunting in the thick cedars and even though we were close, there were not shots. On the end of day 3, after we had put in 16 miles of hard hiking, we ended up near the first evening’s wallow. About a half mile further down the lake I spotted a giant 6×6 bull with cows. I took off running, circling into the trees in hopes of getting close enough. By the time I got there it was too late, but another giant bull bugled hard and began running cows after leaving the tree cover from a spot behind a small peninsula that blocked his entry from my view. I watched him for 30 minutes but the closest the cover would allow me to get was 120 yards, so not wanting to bugger them I backed off. Jon’s video is impressive.
The next day I told Jon I wanted to build a blind near where those bulls and cows had come out and take my chances. By 3:00 p.m. I was nestled in with some snacks, water, and a good paperback to help pass the time while Jon went to check trail cameras and do some scouting. By 5:00 p.m. the plan was for him to be back where he had videoed the action from the evening before, since sitting this tiny blind was a one-man game. At 6:00 p.m. the first cows came, silent as ghosts, 45 yards upwind of my blind. As I took a rangefinder reading In sensed, rather than heard, something staring at me. To my horror, a huge cow was standing not 30 yards from my little semi-open blind staring my way! Oh, no …
But she began sauntering towards the other elk. Then, right where the cow had exited the thick cedars, a bugle almost took my hat off! Then I saw his antler tips just over the tops of the cedars as he made his way toward the cow. When he stepped clear I was already at full draw. Two steps and he was broadside, 27 yards, and I cow chirped. He stopped and swung his head my way, but by then the arrow had been launched. In a blur the fletching disappeared right behind the shoulder. He raced through the cows, across the water, and onto the other shoreline, but he only made it about 100 yards before piling up.
Are you kidding me?? Later, back at camp we plugged the video into the little TV Goose has in his trailer. That’s when Hunter Weems, a cool 18-year old who wants to be a guide and will end up a really good one, said, “That’s The Wallow Bull!” Neither Jon nor I had noticed the 2 little extra points on the end of the left beam when we had videoed him the evening before the opener, but there they were. We had shot the bull we had hoped to find, something that made it even more special. The bull gross-scores 360 Pope & Young points.
It is a dream come true for me.