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11:42 PM Thu, Oct. 18th

Nature Column: Unit contains state's vast wildlife

One of the most important things that a sportsman can do to help ensure that they might fill a hard-to-draw big-game tag is to do some serious pre-season scouting.

Pre-season scouting will help the hunter know where the game is located, what times they are out feeding, and in some cases, what size of animals are in the area.

Problem is, most sportsmen just don't have the time to go out and scout before their hunts.

And if the unit you have a tag in just happens to be hundreds of miles away, then the problem is exacerbated.

This year, several of us will have the privilege of assisting local sportsman and friend Mike Norris on a couple of big-game hunts. Mike really lucked out this year when he drew a rifle antelope tag in Unit 18B (35 tags) and an early rifle bull elk tag in Unit 23N (15 tags).

Mike has some knowledge of Unit 18B, as he has hunted javelina there in the past, but he has never spent one day in this elk unit. Mike isn't able to take a lot of time off from his job, so last week, local sportsman Scott Snay and I, along with a friend from Scottsdale, Dave Bruns, made a three-day trip to this northern Arizona unit to scout for Mike's upcoming elk hunt.

Bruns knows the unit very well, and I have successfully hunted there for many years. Snay has never been there and wanted to learn the unit.

It was interesting in that the areas that Bruns knows well are located in several different parts of the unit that I knew little about. And for Bruns, the areas I typically hunt in, he has not visited.

The first morning out, Bruns had us sitting on a point overlooking a huge and heavily wooded basin that has been scarred by wildlife in the past. We were using high-powered binoculars and spotting scopes to peer into the forest below.

Our efforts were rewarded with the sighting of numerous elk, including eight bulls. Four of them were good 6-by-6s, bulls that most hunters would be very happy with.

Later in the day, Bruns took us into an area that can only be accessed by an ATV or UTV. We were in Bruns' Polaris Ranger, so the 23-mile ride wasn't too bad.

Though we didn't see any critters (other than a herd of javelina), that country no doubt holds a lot of elk and whitetail deer. Last year, two of Bruns' friends reportedly bagged bulls that scored more than 400 points in this area.

The next day was one that I think I can safely say is one that we'll all remember for a long time.

The plan was to go to a spot that in the past I've had some good luck glassing up elk.

We arrived as the darkness of the night gave way to a new day, and as I climbed out the truck, I looked below and saw elk moving.

When we looked through the binos and spotting scope, the sight we were privileged to see was something you could only hope for in your wildest dreams.

There were more than 100 elk below us, and 20 of them were bulls. Many of them were branch antlered, though just a couple were true six points.

We glassed up three flocks of turkeys, including one flock of nine gobblers. All total, there were 45 turkeys out there.

We looked at 25 mule deer, of which six were bucks. The best one was about 27 inches wide, with some non-typical points. The next best was a 25-inch 4-by-4.

Then we spotted two Coues whitetails. One of them was a doe, while the other was a true 90-inch 3-by-3 buck, which as whitetail hunters know, is a great buck!

At this point, Snay said in jest to me, "Don, I'm just a little disappointed in this spot. You haven't found any javelina here."

As if on cue about two minutes later, I glassed up a lone javelina sprinting across the wide valley below.

I've spent many years looking at wildlife all over Arizona and can say without a doubt that this is the most diverse number of the state's wildlife I have ever seen in one place at one time. And remember, all of this was observed from one vantage point.

By the time the sun popped over in the east, most of the animals had moved into thick cover which surrounds this area, but for an hour, it was and will remain the most awesome wildlife sight I have ever seen in Arizona.

No doubt things will change in the unit during the next three weeks. An archery elk hunt (15 tags) starts there on Sept. 11 and goes until Sept. 24.

But at this point, I got to believe that Norris is going to be in for an elk hunt of a lifetime!