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Wed, Dec. 08

Does not filling a tag mean you had an unsuccessful hunt?

Donald Delmonico displays his mule deer buck. (Courtesy photo)

Donald Delmonico displays his mule deer buck. (Courtesy photo)

The fall 2021 big game seasons are coming to an end, and with the exceptions of the late elk and desert bighorn sheep hunts, and a few archery deer hunts, many local sportsmen have put away their rifles and bows for this year.

From the reports I’ve seen or experienced, a lot of hunts have been really tough this year, with many sportsmen not filling their tags, or not finding the quality of game they expected to see.

But a true sportsman knows that filling a tag is not the only thing that makes for a successful hunt. Hunting is called that for a reason. Taking an animal to put in the freezer is the “icing on the cake,” but it’s the experiences that sportsmen share with friends and family that truly defines why we are out there.

There are probably a lot of reasons why sportsmen aren’t seeing and/or taking game to fill their freezers this year.

Probably at the top of the list is the ongoing drought, which has put a dent into the wildlife populations all around the state. Add in a lot of predators, including coyotes and mountain lions, whose numbers are virtually unchecked in Arizona due to onerous rules and regulations, and you see a recipe for low hunt success for those who drew tags this year.

This year, for the first time in many years, I was on several big game hunts where my friends and clients took home their tags, rather than a buck or bull.

It happened to me on a Kaibab deer hunt with a disabled warrior and more recently on a muzzleloader bull hunt in Unit 10.

In each case there were just a few opportunities, whereas in the past, hunters would have many chances to wrap a tag around the antlers of a buck mule deer or bull elk. But again, that is why it is called hunting!

On the positive side, however, I made some awesome new friends, and shared the hunting experience with several sportsmen who had never hunted in the Grand Canyon State before.

We shared laughter and developed camaraderie during the time in the field while we were looking with our binoculars and spotting scopes for our quarry.

Each of us had many stories we shared in the field and back at camp. Stories about past hunts and our families, and how this COVID thing has altered our everyday lives.

I’m sure that every hunter that got a tag this year was confident they were going to fill that tag. But sometimes, and for many different reasons, it just doesn’t happen.

It’s still a successful hunt if you were in the great outdoors with friends and family.

Javelina and spring turkey hunts are going to open up in the next couple of months. If you’ve drawn a tag start planning now for those hunts. Ask friends and family to go along on these adventures and share the hunting and camping experience with you.

After all, that’s how sportsmen really have and define a successful hunt. Bagging the game we seek is like I said: “It is just the icing on the cake!”

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