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1st elk - Wilbur Jr

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Earlier this year I had the tremendous opportunity to hunt elk during the early rifle season. This was only my 2nd elk tag and first since an unsuccesful general hunt back in 1996.


I was both excited and anxious upon learning I had finally drawn this great tag.


I spent a lot of time researching and talking to people who had hunted this unit during the early season (archery and rifle) in recent years or who had the archery hunt this year. I want to thank everyone who was willing to share information with me! You know who you are and I am very appreciative of your help.


Scouting trips were going to be very far from Tucson and it was important that I do as much homework on my hunt as possible.


I spoke to a few guides but ultimately decided not to book with anyone.


I was able to block out several weekends on my calendar for scouting trips and things were starting to come together.


I was fortunate to have several people helping me on this hunt. Larry, Chris, Dave, Warren (flew out from Missouri) and Stephen (drove down from UT).


My first scouting trip with Larry was mostly uneventful. We were able to learn some of the unit, got stuck in the mud for a couple of hours, met up with a few guys I talked to on the phone but were also able to find a huge herd of elk. It was still August and I knew things were going to change a lot before my hunt.


The 2nd scouting trip with Chris produced mid-day bugling elk and this fine bull. We were able to learn more of the unit and spent a night in camp with Ilene and Roger. It had rained a lot since my last trip and the mud was brutal. We did not get stuck but came very close 3 – 4 different times. We did find a nice antelope that I told another hunter about and he eventually was successful in harvesting that fine buck.


Here is the bull we found, a sunrise over the prairie and the famous "Cardiac" canyon.








My 3rd scouting trip with Dave produced even more bugling elk. It was the opener of the archery hunt. Our first stop Friday evening at dusk produced a nice, narrow 7X7 but the swarming mosquitoes prevented us from getting any pictures or video of him. Later that night I pulled off the road about a mile past the tank I wanted to scout the next morning and we were right between two bugling bulls that kept getting closer and closer to us. We fell asleep listening to the two of them screaming at each other. Dave woke me up in the middle of the night to the sound of the bulls fighting. There was no moon and they had to be less than a hundred yards away. They were going at it. We listened to their antlers crashing against each other until we fell back asleep. In the morning they were gone. I glassed up one bull that was on the move and that was it.


Off we went to another area only to find 3 different groups of spotters glassing from the same hill for 3 different archers that were out trying to stalk a huge herd of elk with little to no cover to hide behind. That afternoon/evening produced more bulls and elk being pushed around from archery pressure.


My 4th and final scouting trip was upon me. I headed out solo to yet another area within the unit and was able to hook up with Wade and Stan. I went out with Wade one afternoon and he arrowed a good bull. We went back to camp for dinner and then returned and tracked that bull until after midnight. We were back at it again first thing the next morning and looked until noon without any luck. Wade kept at it and I left to go talk to Stan before he headed for home. Stan put me on an area where they had seen a couple really big bulls. I got to the area after dark and the bulls were going crazy. There was probably 8 – 10 of them. I listened to them for an hour or so as they headed to water and before I hit the sack. In the morning they were gone. As in the prior weekend, their nocturnal behavior was really frustrating to me.


My hunt was less than a week away and I was beginning to get a little stressed out. It was going to be a full moon, the weather forecast was calling for HOT temperatures and I did not have that “400 incher” tied up to a tree yet.


The evening before my hunt yielded 7 bulls and a concerning skunk at 10'. No first day shooters but I was still encouraged with what we had seen.


Days 1 – 4 of my hunt were pretty uneventful. We were splitting up to cover as much ground as possible but the elk were few and far between. I did not even see any bulls on the first day of the hunt. I passed on a nice bull the second morning but for the most part we would regroup at lunch or in the evening with no shooter bulls having been spotted. Antelope, mule deer, cows, rag horns or busted bulls were the norm. This was turning into a tough hunt. The moon and the heat were making the elk almost entirely nocturnal. It was very frustrating. We could hear bulls bugling every night but in the morning they were gone. In the afternoon they would bugle from the trees but would not come out until after it got dark. The window of opportunity at dawn and dusk was extremely narrow.


The ever so helpful full moon over elk bedding jungle.




At lunch on the 4th day I decided to move camp and try a different area. We needed to get out of the trees so we headed for the antelope prairie. That evening we split up again and collectively saw 13 bulls. Things were starting to look up.


Dave and Warren's bull.




Chris found Wilbur Jr.




Nothing came of day 5 and the stress was really starting to build. I only had 2 days left of my hunt. That evening I was trying to decide what to do. Back on day 4 I had sent Chris to an area Ilene had told me about and he had found 8 bulls. My original plan was to send Larry to this spot and hunt another area close by with Chris. While I layed in bed that evening trying to go to sleep I changed my mind. The next morning I told Larry I was going with him. I was glad I did.


On the morning of the 6th day we arrived to the area we were going to hunt a little later than planned. The bulls were bugling but it was already getting light and the area offered little to no cover and the elk were on the move. We hiked up to the nearby hill to glass and instantly found elk on the other side. The bulls were all spikes, rag horns or broken. I swung my binoculars to the south and spotted my bull off in the distance. I knew as soon as I saw him he was the one. I told Larry where he was and asked him to check the bull out in the spotter to make sure he was not broken while I got my stuff together. Larry reported he was not broke and off I went.


Wilbur Jr.




This was flat, antelope country and there was very little cover. I had to zig zag around to keep out of sight. The elk were feeding away from me and I was able to close about half of the distance to them. I was hiding behind the last bush between the elk and I. I was unable to get any readings from my 600 yard range finder. I needed to get closer! It was starting to warm up and I figured the elk were probably going to bed down soon. They were at the top of a little hill that had some trees on it. Finally the last cow went over the hill.


What to do? I opted against going straight at them, over the top and having to shoot at a spooked, running target. The wind was blowing from the east and I knew if I got to the west of them I would have the wind in my favor and be able to see them bedded against the trees. There was one very tall tree at the top of the hill where I had last seen the elk and I was able to use this tree as a reference point as I made a big loop around to the west.


I crept around the base of the hill until there was a bush between me and my reference tree and then I snuck up behind it. I peeked around the bush and there they were. I still was 525 yards out and really wanted to get closer. There was another bush out in front of me and further to the south that I thought would get me close enough. I backed out and repeated the process. When I peeked around the 2nd bush they were still there and I was 345 yards out.


I dialed in my turret, cranked the scope up to 20x and got set up on my stool with my gun resting on my tripod handle. The bull was bedded and quartering towards me. The lower half of his body was covered by the grass in front of him. I did not feel comfortable with the setup. I sent out a text asking for thoughts on the situation. Warren suggested to “get closer”. Not an option. Chris said to “take him”. I talked with Larry about it on the radio and the decision was made to wait him out. I knew eventually the sun would move around the tree he was against and he would get up to re-bed. It was about 7:00.


As I sat there watching him doze I noticed there was not that much grass to the side of the bush I was hiding behind and after a little landscaping I was set up prone with my gun resting on extended bi-pod legs.


As I laid there watching him through my scope my arms began to fall asleep. I stacked up a little pile of flat rocks to rest the butt of my rifle on and was able to keep him in sight as I shifted and alternated my weight from one arm to another. I could see his hind quarters lit up by the sun and knew his rump had to be getting warm.


Finally the moment came. I had moved from behind my scope and when I looked back he was up. I took my gun off safety and slowly pulled the trigger. Being prone I was able to get back on him quickly after the shot and could see he was hit but still up. I chambered another round. He had taken 4 – 5 wobbly steps and as soon as the cows cleared from around him I sent another 180 grain Nosler accubond his way. The 2nd shot was also a solid hit, the cows got out of Dodge and I watched as he stumbled behind a bush and saw his antlers go horizontal. I jumped up in excitement. My hunt was done. I had harvested my first bull.


It was 8:29 and I immediately called my wife who was at Disneyland to give her the good news. Larry and Chris met up with me and we walked to my bull. He was not the monster I had dreamed of but he was a great bull and he was mine. During all the events of the morning I had never even considered not shooting him.


We were 1.5 miles from the trucks. I called Dave and Warren to meet us and to bring the ice chests. We were able to drive right to him and after the photo shoot, we were able to cut him up and put him in the coolers right where he was.









Antelope country.




The crew




We got back to camp, packed it up and headed for home.


I have to first thank my most understanding wife for supporting my crazy hunting adventures. She is always very tolerant of my obsessions despite the time and money they take away from our family. Thanks honey!


As stated before, I also have to thank everyone that provided information to me about the unit I hunted. This includes people who had hunted this unit in recent years as well as people who hunted it during the archery season right before my hunt. Thanks everyone!


I also have to thank the crew that was with me. On scouting trips they endured what seemed like endless hours driving around on hot, bumpy, sometimes muddy and sometimes dusty roads. During my hunt, they got up every morning at zero dark thirty to go drive around in the dark and scout for bulls for me (I think the home made brownies and Oreo double stuff cookies kept fuel in their gas tanks). Thanks guys!


I also have to thank Jim. He was one of the few guides that offered helpful info on my hunt. We talked and texted during my scouting trips. One weekend he was guiding in New Mexico but still responded to my calls and texts. He was guiding in another unit during my hunt but would always respond to texts I sent him (sometimes I received his texts at 11:00 at night or later) offering words of encouragement (he knew I was having a tough hunt) and providing spots to possibly hunt. Thanks Jim!


Finally, I have to thank Ilene for putting me onto the spot where I took my bull. Without her very specific and detailed info it is quite possible I would not have filled my tag or filled it with such a fine bull. For that I am most sincerely appreciative and thankful to her. Thanks Ilene!


I know my stories can be long but I hope you enjoyed it none the less. Chris.

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It's about time you posted your hunt story and pictures. For the life of me I couldn't figure out why you weren't sharing it with everyone, happy you did! Congratulations again on a dang nice bull. That unit can be the best there is and it can be the worst at times as well. Way to get it done on a tough year.

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Was a tough hunt for sure. I think the most surprising thing about it was the ratio of tags to people in the field. There had to be at least 6 additional people in the field for each hunter with a tag.


Looking forward to next year.

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Awesome job and great bull! It can be tough at times!

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Great story of great friends and family! Great bull! Hopefully you will NOT have to wait so long for your next tag!

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Holy crap Chris what was the wait? That is a very nice bull you took. Congratulations and thanks for finally letting us hear about it. Great bull and pictures. Glad to see you put one on the ground.



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Congrats Chris on a great bull! You worked very hard and put in A LOT of scouting for this hunt. The odds this year were not in your favor and you pulled it off. A trophy to be proud of for sure!! It was great getting to know you and help out were I could.

Great write up too! Even though I knew most of it it was great to re-live your hunt! Felt like was there again!

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Congrats onyour bull great story.


I am kinda in the same boat as you

My only elk tag was in 96' and I am waiting on that special tag you just had!

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Great job Chris! That was a very tough unit to hunt this year and I know there are a bunch of folks that would've loved to come home with a bull such as yours! It was a pleasure meeting you and seeing your success, you earned it! Thanks for the great story and pics as well! JIM>

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Well you sure earned it and i'm glad it worked out the way it did. After all the time we spent scouting and the way things turned out during the hunt was hunting is all about. Things really could have ended with an unfilled tag but, the group we had really did great job at keeping positive. On long hunts like that is when persistance really pays off. Congrats man.

PS here are some additional pics of old Wilbur!





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