As darkness settled over the valley, I listened to the huge, herd bull bugling as he gathered his harem on the mountainside. Then came the screaming challenge from his opponent followed by the unmistakable sound of the crash of antlers. I could only sit with my fingers crossed and pray they didn't break their antlers, as tomorrow was the opening day of early rifle elk season in Arizona.
It all began with an urgent phone call from Eric Pawlak of the Cabela's T.A.G.S. program telling me I had been successful in drawing a prime-area, early rifle season elk tag in Arizona. I was in Alaska on what was to be a successful Dall sheep hunt, and gave Eric the OK to book whomever he thought was best. I had always wanted to draw from a prime state and area for trophy elk but, because of all the research and application time, had not been willing to spend the time required. This had been too easy. Eric and his staff did all the research, filing the tag application and now booking my guide service, while I concentrated on my Dall sheep hunt.
Sept. 29 found me rendezvousing in Chino Valley, Ariz., with guide David. He was living out his dream of being a full-time guide and being very successful at it with several bulls being taken in the 390 B&C class. After a 1-1/2-hour drive, we arrived at camp where I found several large wall tents erected in a picturesque setting among the pines in a large meadow. We drove about three miles from camp and began to climb about a quarter mile up the mountain to a vantage point on a small cliff overlooking a large valley surrounded by mountains, with a watering hole and elk wallow below. We spotted several cows, some young bulls and one huge herd bull come in to drink and wallow just before dark. David said he had not seen this particular bull before and would score him a conservative 380. He would be a good prospect to try for in the morning.
After a 4 a.m. breakfast, we packed lunch and were off to our vantage point with the hope of catching our bull still feeding in the meadows at first light. Elk bugles were resonating through the valley as we quietly climbed the mountain in the pre-dawn hours. The elk began to migrate back into the cover early, although we could make out tawny-colored bodies moving from 500-700 yards away. Suddenly David spotted a bull with some cows on a slope about a 1/2 mile to our north. He had a small hook on the tip of his right antler and was referred to as the hook bull. He was in a good position for a stalk. However, I decided to wait, hoping to find the awesome bull from the previous evening.
At 4 p.m. we set up in the timber across from the water hole and wallow. It was much later than the previous evening when I finally heard a lone bugle from far on top of the mountain. I was beginning to think I had made a bad decision in not going for the hook-point bull earlier that morning, when I began to hear other bulls bugling. Thirty minutes passed before the first bull broke from cover - a large-bodied, badly broken-up 6-point. Darkness was quickly approaching when David spotted the big bull on the mountain with his harem of cows. I ranged him at 596 yards, thrashing a tree and bugling. After 10 minutes he started down off the mountain at a very slow pace. We saw the first cows appear at the edge of the meadow 314 yards away, followed by the big bull. 'That's the bull you want," David said. "As soon as he steps clear and you feel comfortable, take him. Just don't hit his rack."
He was entering the clearing and had only about 8 yards to go before trees would obscure my view. I prayed for calm on what I knew would be the shot of a lifetime on a trophy bull. The bull stepped into the clearing, facing dead on toward me. He stopped for an instant to look. I took a deep breath, settled the crosshairs on his neck and sent the .340 Weatherby Mag., 250-grain Nosler partition on its way. It struck home, traveling the entire length of the bull and exiting his right rear. He took two more rounds before going down at 340 yards. After many pictures the bull was quartered and transported back to camp where he was scored. A very symmetrical, 6x6 scoring 396-6/8.
That night about 2 a.m. a bull began bugling just behind my tent and continued until daybreak - no complaints as I lay in my sleeping bag and smiled. For the elk hunter this was like being serenaded by angels.
My special thanks to Eric Pawlak of Cabela's T.A.G.S., for placing me in the right unit and guide service. Thanks to my wonderful outfitter for their professionalism in operating a first-class guide service, to David for all his scouting and planning, and most of all God, for the opportunity to harvest one of His majestic monarchs.