Young hunter's first elk was an adventure with her family

Tad Levandowski and Laura Borden are all smiles as they show the bull elk that Laura bagged on Day 2 of a hunt in Unit 18A. Levandowski, a hunting guide, called in the bull. (DON MARTIN/For the Miner)

Tad Levandowski and Laura Borden are all smiles as they show the bull elk that Laura bagged on Day 2 of a hunt in Unit 18A. Levandowski, a hunting guide, called in the bull. (DON MARTIN/For the Miner)

As I have pointed out many times in the past, hunting is an outdoor activity shared by families all over America.

In Mohave County, hunting is still part of the tradition and the culture of many locals.

Recently, one young lady from Golden Valley got to experience a hunt of a lifetime through the generosity of her grandfather, and whose father was there to share a hunt they will never forget.

Laura Borden is 16 years old and is quite the outdoors lady.

She would much rather be out hunting or fishing, rather than attending events that many of her friends her age participate in. To say she is way ahead of most of the young ladies her age in maturity would be an understatement. She is a straight-A student at the Kingman Academy of Learning, and volunteers her time on outdoor projects such as Fishing For Smiles. She has also been on at least three big game hunts with the team from Arizona Wildlife Outfitters this fall. Laura has developed into a very fine glasser and is welcomed on any trip she wants to go on.

Laura is also an accomplished angler, and she spent her the summer going on fishing trips and helping with my clients on overnight striper trips on Lake Mead. She has learned how to deal with people of all ages, and works well with others. I think she made more in tips this summer than I did.

She also likes target shooting and hunting. She has hunted doves and waterfowl, and this spring took her first Arizona big game animal, a javelina, with my Rock River Arms AR-15.

Despite their passion for the outdoors, this year she and her brother Ryan were unsuccessful in drawing elk or deer tags.

But others in her family were lucky, including her grandfather, Duncan, who lives in Golden Valley and was fortunate to draw one of the 25 early rifle bull tags in the multi-unit hunt that includes game management Units 15A-15B and 18A.

Her father, Duncan Borden IV, also drew an elk tag in the same unit.

Just a couple of weeks before the early rifle hunt was supposed to start, her grandfather slipped and fell and broke an ankle while at his home.

With the ankle in a cast, there was be no way he would be able to go on his hunt.

In Arizona, there is a provision in the law that allows parents and/or grandparents to sign over big game tags to their children or grandchildren.

Duncan has several grandchildren, but for various reasons they would not be eligible to receive the tag. Some were too young, some didn't have Arizona Hunter Education, and at least one had to work.

The perfect choice was Laura, who was ready and willing to take on the challenge of an early October bull hunt while still maintaining her school work.

Her grandfather signed the appropriate paperwork and Laura was issued tag 17 for the hunt, which was then just a week away.

For those of us at AWO, it was a no-brainer to offer to help her on the hunt.

After all, she had helped out on a lot of our hunts and the least we could do was to help her.

The first order of business was to get her lined up with a rifle that both fit her and was capable of putting down a bull elk.

It was decided that Laura would use Page McDonald's Remington Model 7 rifle (Youth Model) that has a shortened stock and a muzzle break. The rifle is chambered for the venerable 260 Remington round, which is topped with a 140 grain bullet. It has a compact Leupold 3x9 scope mounted on it. The entire setup is very light and is easily carried.

Then it was off to the 7 Mile Hill Range to get the rifle sighted in for her. It took less than a half a box of ammo before the Warrior Princess was right on target and ready to hunt!

The hunt she had is called a limited opportunity hunt by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The department has this notation in the regulations booklet. "Elk occur in low numbers in these non-traditional areas. Success may be very low to no success."

What that generally means to sportsmen is that they will not normally see many animals out there.

In the past, I've been on hunts there with clients where we saw only a handful of elk in 10 days. Many days have been spent there when nothing, be it elk, deer, antelope or javelina, was seen.

The plan for Laura's first day of hunting called for Laura's father and me to be there with her.

Camp was set up and we had a plan to go look for some elk in an area where I had seen them in the past.

But plans changed on opening day. Both Laura and I were awakened by the sound of a bull elk bugling less than 100 yards away from my fifth-wheel trailer.

We stepped outside and listened while a bull wandered around in the predawn darkness, bugling out challenges to any other bulls that might be in the area. Elk also bugle to let cows know they are there and are available to breed.

We couldn't believe our luck, and when her dad drove up we told him to be very quiet, that we had a bull in the neighborhood.

It was strange to wait inside the trailer for dawn to arrive, but that's exactly what we did.

As it started to get light, we moved out and got the wind right and started moving toward the still bugling bull.

Almost every time I would call, he would answer, though it was obvious that he was starting to head for a faraway bedding area.

We closed the distance and at one point the bull stopped to wait on what he thought was a lonesome cow.

I spotted him in the trees about 150 yards away and Duncan got Laura set up to shoot from the sitting position while using the Harris bipod. It was a big 5x5 bull, one that we would not pass, given our short time to hunt.

One time, when I called there, we had not one, or two but THREE bulls answer!

I figured one of these bulls would come in, so we worked them some more, and sure enough, one bull on a ridge came charging in. We could hear limbs snapping and rocks rolling as down the hill he came.

Laura got set up while Duncan and I retreated, trying to sound like a cow or two that decided to walk away.

The plan worked - sort of.

The huge bull stopped within 30 yards of where Laura was sitting. He was drooling and urinating at the same time, something bull elk - and I suspect some guys - do when they are fired up!

Duncan could plainly see the bull just 25 yards away, but Laura couldn't. All she could see was a hindquarter and legs. No shot for sure.

Finally the bull figured out that something wasn't quite right, and he quietly moved away.

Though no shot was fired that morning, what an experience it was for all of us. To be that close to a 700-pound animal who was fooled into thinking there was love around the next tree was just awesome.

Remember: Hunting is about the experience, not all about the kill.

That afternoon we didn't see or hear another elk. It made us remember why this is called a limited opportunity hunt.

Next morning, Day 2 of the hunt, we were joined by AWO guide Tad Levandowski. Tad knows this unit like the back of his hand and has assisted on many successful elk hunts there.

We got up at 4 a.m. but heard no bugling. I went outside and did two bugles and on the second one, a bull fired off just a couple hundred yards away.

We waited until Tad got there and I told him there was a bull right outside the trailer. He called and the bull answered.

We decided it was still too early to go out, so we had a fine breakfast in the trailer while we listened to the bull occasionally bugle.

As it was starting to get light, Tad and Laura headed out. Duncan and I stayed in the trailer, trying to keep quiet.

About a half hour later I couldn't stand the suspense any longer, so I went outside and fired off a bugle! The bull immediately answered. He was still there, but where were Tad and Laura?

Duncan and I decided to leave the area, so we slipped into Duncan's vehicle and drove off.

Thirty minutes later I heard the radio crack. It was Tad and he was saying they had a bull down about a mile from camp.

Turns out that they had heard several bulls and that Tad called in one that came in on the run. Laura saw him first and got set up to shoot. Tad stopped the bull at 110 yards and one shot later, the bull was down for good. Laura was super excited, as she should have been!

The 6x6 bull was estimated by Jeff Pebworth and Erin Butler from the Arizona Game and Fish Department to be four or five years old. The bull had a deformed antler on the right side of its rack, while the left side was perfectly normal for a bull his age. Despite the deformity, it was a great trophy.

It was decided that since this was Laura's first elk, and was indeed a great bull, that she would get it mounted.

Local taxidermist Amber Kirby from Down and Mount Taxidermy got the call and will be doing the work on Laura's trophy.

The hunt was special for many reasons, and it had come to a successful conclusion in a very short time.

But in that time a young lady had met the challenge of hunting bull elk, and she had prevailed.

This had been a family hunt, with the grandfather giving her the opportunity through a freak accident, and her father being there for the hunt.

I learned that this is largest bull that ANY member of the Borden family has ever taken.

It truly was a great hunting experience.