Like many local sportsmen, I recently had the opportunity to go on an archery elk hunt in northern Arizona.
I was there assisting a hunter from New Mexico who had drawn a bull elk tag in Unit 6A. My hunter, Steve King, had been in the unit just one time before the start of the hunt, and he felt that having some experienced help might just increase the odds that he would bag a 6 X 6 bull.
There is no question that this unit is a venerable "elk factory," and has the largest elk herd in Arizona.
But as the archers who had tags this year found out, there are many factors that you have no control over.
Here is how our 13-day hunt went.
Due to work, King couldn't make opening day, but it didn't really matter. I had been there for a couple of days prior to the season, and it was obvious that the rut wasn't on.
Then on Saturday, the rain came. For four days it rained. The monsoons hit us hard. It got nasty, sloppy, and the elk sure didn't need to go to water. In our area, there was water in every ditch, drainage and even on low spots on the road.
Then on Tuesday it started to clear up. But guess what? We had a full moon, which meant the elk were being nocturnal. You had about an hour in the morning to find and then try and stalk a bull in about the same amount of time as in the evening.
And it didn't end there. As the moon phase changed, the weather turned hot! Now the bulls were bedding down right as the sun came up.
But that didn't mean we didn't see elk or had some exciting experiences. King could have taken a number of smaller bulls during the hunt, but he chose not to. He also had opportunities with several mature bulls that would have scored well, but he was an extremely ethical bowhunter and wouldn't take the chance that he might cripple and lose a trophy bull.
There were some exciting events during the hunt, including one afternoon when I saw a mountain lion made a stalk on a cow, calf and a four point bull.
I watched through my spotting scope as the top predator in Arizona made a 45 minute stalk on the trio, only to have the stalk broken up by changing winds.
In all of my years of hunting and guiding in Arizona, I have never witnessed a big cat on a stalk. I learned that these big cats are very patient when on a stalk.
Then one morning, just as the sun was topping a hill, I saw a hummingbird with the sun back lighting it, snatching mosquitoes off of the end of a juniper!
One morning while glassing, I had a roadrunner jump up on a rock next to me. For 20 minutes he hopped around giving me the bad eye!
In the end, King took his tag home. His personal ethics and tough luck had caused him to leave with his tag unfilled.
But that is just one reason why this sport is called hunting and not killing.
Hunters do not always fill their tags.
In Unit 6A, usually just one out of three bow hunters take home a bull. This year, I bet it was a lot less. But one thing that always happens is that we have a successful hunt.
Being in the great outdoors and around wildlife make great outdoor experiences. Bagging a critter is just icing on the cake!