This has to be the worst Arizona elk season of all time. No big bulls. No rutting. I wonder if I can get a refund on my tag? I can’t believe I just wasted my bonus points for this. What does an elk look like again? I forgot what a bugle sounds like. These seemed to be the words on everybody’s lips during the fall Arizona elk hunts. There were lots of other words muttered by Arizona elk hunters that dusty fall but I don’t think they would be too appropriate to print.
The entire state had been put in a strangle-hold by a terrible drought and the antler growth and the Arizona elk rut was nowhere near what they had been the year before. Areas that were green and held lots of big bulls the year before now looked like the moon landscape and were devoid of anything that you could even start to call a trophy bull. Most of the massive, long-tined big bulls left over from the previous season now sported tiny back ends on their antlers and no mass. Some bulls were still in bachelor groups and in velvet in the middle of September. The intense heat and no rain had taken a severe toll on the elk and all of the big game species statewide. Lots of Arizona elk hunters with dreams of non-stop bugling and Boone and Crockett bulls were sadly disappointed.
Most of the elk hunters during the early archery and rifle seasons experienced very little to no rut activity and monster bulls were nearly non-existent. I say “nearly non-existent” because there were still some good bulls seen and some good bulls taken. Bob Verbica shot a 400′ plus monster with the statewide raffle tag on public land. Bob’s bull and a bull that had been named “Wild Thing” were among the best bulls anyone saw in Arizona this particular season.
Wild Thing was a bull that a good friend had been following and video taping since 1998. He found and owns several of Wild Thing’s sheds and was lucky enough to draw an archery tag in Wild Things’ unit. The scouting began and the search for Wild Thing was underway. When my friend finally located him, Wild Thing was unbelievable. This bull had grown from an estimated 370′ class bull in ‘98 to a 400′ plus, 52 inch wide non-typical monster. What was amazing was that he had grown to this size on the worst drought and growth year that anyone could remember. It would be mind boggling to even start to imagine what Wild Thing could have been like on a good moisture year. His 10 by 12 rack just seemed to explode out of his head. The mass on the right side of his rack was enormous and resembled a moose paddle at his G-4. My friend was able to get some awesome footage of Wild Thing raking a tree and polishing his freaky dinosaur-like rack and his hunt was on.
Despite some great efforts and no giving up, Wild Thing managed to survive through the archery hunt. After the archery hunt, the bull disappeared and seemed to have left the country completely. Nobody that we knew of had spotted Wild Thing and we all wondered what became of him. The months went by and the late season bull hunt was rapidly approaching. There was still no sign of him.
Another friend, Rick Kovach, had drawn the late season bull tag in Wild Thing’s unit. As tough as the early hunts were it seemed impossible to kill any kind of a big bull on the late season hunt much less Wild Thing. Opening day of the late bull hunt found Rick and good friend Carl Gray hunting together and spotting some smaller bulls. No bull was killed on opening day and I was able to hunt with Rick and Carl for day two of the hunt. On this day we went to a glassing point that Carl’s father, Carl Gray Sr., recommended we start from due to him having good knowledge of the elk that were in this particular area. Carl Srs. tip was the start of something that none of us could have expected. After the steep hour long hike we set up our optics and began glassing the nearby hills and canyons. Hours passed and despite the three of us glassing hard we failed to locate a single big game animal, much less a bull elk. The day dragged on and on and the three of glassed until it felt our eyeballs were going to bleed. We began to seriously debate if elk, or any big game for that matter, still existed in this unit.
With darkness now fast approaching we were beginning to talk about heading back to the truck soon. We had a long hike ahead of us and we decided that we should probably get going. All of us stood up and began to gather our gear, optics, and backpacks. As I shouldered my pack I looked with my naked eyes into the canyon below us just for curiosity’s sake. To my complete disbelief there were two bulls making their way out of the trees and into a little valley about a thousand yards to the east of us. I looked through my binos to see if they were shooters and I about fell over. It was Wild Thing himself and another bull heading into the valley below us. I blurted to Rick and Carl what was there and the three of us immediately kicked it into overdrive. All three of us began to run at a full sprint to beat the approaching darkness toward a small rock point that would put us about three hundred yards above the two bulls. With hearts pounding, we raced to the little rocky point. It was almost full dark when we slid into position right above the bulls as they fed their way out into the wide open.
Rick chambered a round and we ranged the bull at 283 yards while he settled into the prone position to shoot. I covered my ears for the shot and those next few seconds seemed to last an eternity. The sweat was pouring off me and I thought my heart was going to explode when Rick’s shot finally rang out. The bull seemed to just crumple in slow motion and sank straight to the ground in his tracks. The shot had drilled him perfectly and Wild Thing was dead before he hit the ground.
After all the celebrating we made our way down to where Wild Thing was lying. He was incredible. Right here before us was the greatest bull that any of us had ever had the good fortune to be in on. Rick had just killed the bull of several lifetimes on a late season general hunt, on public land, and in the midst of a terrible drought. We had just done something that we all thought was impossible. A 400 plus bull on Arizona’s worst elk season ever.
After an all night packing job we finally got Wild Thing out and got some much needed rest. The day’s events were unbelievable and I was blown away by how it all came together. Being with good friends on such an experience was incredible and I thank the Good Lord. After the 60 day drying period Wild Thing was officially scored. He has a 52 inch inside spread and his 10 by 12 rack scored 407 inches B&C with an estimated 15 inches plus of broken tines missing. Not bad for a drought year………..
So how would you like to hunt trophy elk in Arizona?