Hunting in Kaibab good, but it wasn't spectacular
It is generally accepted among veteran deer hunters that the late Westside Kaibab deer hunt (Unit 12A West) is among the top deer hunts a sportsman can go on.
The odds are against drawing a tag there, with less than 4 percent of the 4,000 or so applicants drawing one of the 135 tags that are offered.
With the time of the year that the hunt is open - Nov. 23 to Dec. 2 - it should have been the optimum time to be there looking for big rutting bucks.
But this year, with the snowfall on this area, the hunt was less than spectacular.
I had the pleasure to hunt with the sportsman who drew tag No. 1 for this hunt. He was Washington resident Tom Cromie, who had drawn the tag with the maximum bonus points for deer hunters.
With Tom on his hunt would be his lifelong friend, Jim Mathers.
Because of a conflict with the start of that hunt being at the same time I was hunting with my grandson Logan on his juniors-only pig hunt in Unit 18B, it was decided that my good friend Jay Chan and I would actually join Cromie and Mathers on Day 4 of the hunt.
I had suggested areas for them to check and they had found deer and bucks there.
But with tag 1, we weren't just looking for any buck on this hunt. We wanted a real boomer. We adopted the "Go big or go home" philosophy.
And when you take that approach, and are a selective hunter, there is always the chance you will go home with an unfilled tag.
We knew that with the lack of any kind of weather, most of the deer would probably be up high in the summer range or in the transition areas.
But surprisingly, there were quite a few deer already on the winter range, and that's where we would spend the last few days of the hunt.
We saw deer and lots of them. We kept track of what we were seeing and in 10 days we looked over 700 does/fawns and 125 bucks! On our best day, we saw 149 deer, of which 25 of them were bucks.
And yet, we just didn't see the kind of buck that we were looking to take.
We saw other hunters with nice bucks, and we even got to help another guide and his hunter carry out a very nice 5X4.
But for us, it was just day after day of seeing lots of deer, and a few nice bucks. Most of the rutting activity we saw was being done by young two- and three-point bucks.
I can remember "the good old days" when there was a big buck contest on the Kaibab where your buck had to measure at least 30 inches wide and weigh field-dressed more than 200 pounds just to get in the contest.
Now most of the 4X4 bucks taken there are from 20-25 inches wide and might weigh field-dressed about 150 to 175 pounds.
Makes me wonder what has happened on the Kaibab in the last 30 years. If memory serves, I recall that one year in the 70s there were something like 2,500 tags on the early hunt and 1,500 tags on the late hunt.
Now there are 500 on the early hunt and 135 on the late hunt and the overall quality is still not there, in my opinion.
I spoke with Brian Wakeling, game branch chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and he told me that current management strategy for the late hunt is for 55 to75 percent of the bucks taken on the hunt to be three-plus years old.
Only 20 to 30 percent of the bucks taken on that hunt will be over five years old.
Wakeling said that the department believes that bucks will reach their maximum antler potential at five years old.
With this being one of the top deer hunts in Arizona, I would think that there would be more older bucks taken.
So if you are satisfied to wait for many years to draw a tag for a hunt that by design will produce mostly bucks that are 4x4's from 20-25 inches wide and around three years old, then this hunt is for you.
But if you're looking for a better buck, then I suspect you need to keep putting in for the real trophy-producing units such as Unit 13A and 13B.