KINGMAN - When you're 10 years old, hunting something as big as a bull elk has got to seem like an improbable mission. After all, elk are one of the largest mammals in the state.
But when Kingman resident Tom Sissom learned that his son Tommy had drawn an early bull elk tag in the limited-opportunity hunts for the nine game management units north and east of Kingman, it was a dream come true.
Tommy applied with his grandmother, Eileen Poling, for a pair of the 60 tags that were offered for the bull-only hunt.
Drawing the tags were improbable at best. Tommy had zero bonus points, as did his grandmother. The odds of drawing these tags are never good, but in Arizona, everyone has a chance, albeit a slim one, when you don't have a fistful of bonus points.
But Lady Luck smiled on the pair and they drew the coveted tags. However neither one had been in the units before, so it would be up to their scout team to locate elk for them.
The first order of business was to get Tommy through an Arizona Hunter Education course. Young hunters between 10-14 years old are required to take and pass the course before they can go on any big-game hunt.
Tommy, who lives in Queen Creek with his mother, opted to take the department's online course. He finished the course in September, just a few weeks before his hunt would start.
With his graduation card in hand, plans were made for young Sissom to come up to hunt with his father.
Friends Tad Levandowski and Ryan Chan had done some pre-season scouting and had located some areas that held quality bulls. But the rut wasn't going strong, and on Thursday they found that other hunters had taken their desired campsite, while yet other hunters had set up a camp close to the waters they wanted to hunt.
A backup plan was quickly made, but for Tom and Tommy, they didn't have a lot of faith that they would see any bulls.
On opening morning, they were surprised to hear a bugling bull, but when they pursued him, they found that two other people who didn't even have elk tags were also actively working the bull.
So they decided to go to a stock tank in the hopes that something might come in. They got to the water about 2 p.m. and set up in a homemade natural blind.
It was hot and dry, and the Sissoms hoped that maybe, just maybe, a thirsty bull would come in for a drink before sundown.
As they watched and waited, it became painfully obvious that they had not chosen the blind in a good location. As the sun sank lower in the western sky, the glare of the sun off of the water made it almost impossible to see the west side of the stock tank.
But then it happened.
Tom couldn't believe his eyes as he watched a huge old bull quietly slip into the water and start drinking.
Quickly, he set the rifle, a 30-378 Weatherby, on top of the blind as Tommy watched in amazement as the bull kept drinking.
Finally, Tom had the rifle in place and he told Tommy to put the crosshairs behind the shoulders of the bull and squeeze the trigger.
"It happened very quickly," Tom said. At the shot, the bull immediately went down but struggled to get back up. A second shot was taken and the hunt was over.
Then it was time to look at what the young man had bagged on his first-ever big-game hunt.
"I couldn't believe what we were looking at," Sissom said. There before them lay one of the grandest bulls that the elder Sissom had ever seen.
Though the rack had a lot of broken points, the bull sported a rack that had 10 scorable points on each side!
The rack had main beams that were 51 inches long, 45 inches wide. The font points were 19 inches long.
Sissom figured that the bull would have scored in the low 370s if he hadn't broken off all the points during fights with other bulls. Even with the broken points, the bull scored 343 B&C points.
Tommy Sissom was in awe at just how big the bull elk was. "He was very excited about shooting this bull, but when he gets older, it will really sink in on what he has accomplished."
Sissom is right. This truly is a bull of a lifetime.
Oh, Tommy's grandmother? She got another broken-up bull with front points that were 23 inches long and main beams that were 57 inches long. In tact that bull would have scored in the 380s, Sissom said.
"And she was just looking to shoot any bull," Sissom said with a smile.