As the dust from the bull hitting the ground settled, my nerves and excitement began to take over. From the moment I pulled the trigger I began to shake. Post shot buck fever you could call it. The action happened so fast all the excitement seemed to catch up to me when I heard the distinct thwack of a solid hit.
We knew I had just shot a big bull in velvet but how big remained to be determined. As we walked up on the bull it was better than I could have dreamed. It was a monster in every sense of the word. His massive, furry, velvet covered antlers made it look more like a giant tarantula basking in the hot August sun than a giant bull elk. Hunting elk in velvet is almost unheard of, and to walk up on a animal of this caliber with a full velvet rack couldn’t be put into words.
His long tan fuzzy tines seemed to stretch out like the legs of spider. From his brow tines to his royals, every point had the length of a true giant. Not to mention his mass that carried throughout the length of his beams. It was the largest bull I had ever seen on the ground, and to top it off he was in full velvet. I couldn’t believe it.
My first encounter with this bull was actually six days prior, on the opening morning of my hunt. As the sun came up over the valley, my dad had spotted a bachelor group of velvet clad bulls meandering through the thick Pinion and Junipers below his vantage point. By the time I reached him to check-in later that morning, the bulls had just disappeared out of his sight. Hoping to cut the bulls off before they reached their bedding area I quickly made my way up to the head of the canyon.
Nearly out of breath, I reached the last spot I might have been able to catch a glimpse of the traveling bulls before they disappeared like Houdini into the thick cover over the ridge. As I neared a rock outcropping I caught a glimpse of two racks high above the juniper trees that concealed the elk’s body. There were two six point bulls both shooters in my book. My goal was to take a bull in velvet and the first one to step out into a clearing would do. I wasn’t about to get picky with a rare opportunity to take a six point velvet bull. I did however; really want to capture the hunt on video.
While putting the video camera on the tripod, I looked up and the bulls were gone. I began to panic. For no apparent reason they decided to move on, right when I was distracted.
Then, in an instant, I caught a glimpse of a bull moving off to my left. I rushed 50 yards down the hill and tried my best to steady the rifle on a small juniper tree while standing. I quickly ranged the hillside at 332 yards, and then I saw it. Just a glimpse of the monster bull’s heavy and massive rack was all I needed. I knew a brute was about to step out.
Only having a small opening in the trees and a bull on the move, I knew I would have to act quickly. The cover in the area was so thick the bulls could disappear with a full step. I didn’t have time to wait. The bull’s body quickly appeared, moving through my only open window. In an instant, I put the scope on him and let one rip. The crack echoing back from across the canyon left some uncertainty in my mind. If I were to bet on the side of statistics, I would have to place it all on hitting a branch or tree, which far outnumbered the sheer inches of moving elk I was praying to make contact with.
After finding the elk’s tracks in the sand like dirt, it was apparent that the miss was clean, but I still kicked myself for the rookie move. I should have known better. I should have cow called to stop the bull instead of taking a rushed shot.
I was frustrated knowing that in most hunting situations you rarely get a repeat. I could have had a big bull in velvet opening morning, and a simple cow call could have changed the whole outcome. Of course it may not have worked either, but having stopped so many elk with it year round made me feel like history would have been on my side.
Three more days of heat waves, heavy cover, hundred degree temperatures and hard hunting ensued, without a single glimpse of another elk. Not to mention, a loose rock that sent me tumbling down the mountainside thrashing my new gun and knocking the scope out of sight. However, after re-sighting the gun, I was ready for action once again.
The next morning I found myself positioned behind the glass, staring at what little openings lent themselves to being scanned in the thick covered hillsides. As the day heated up to a temperature well past uncomfortable, I decided to head up to a spring to see if I could spot something coming to the water. I climbed up the mountain and found a seep that would be perfect for elk. The only downside was, it was littered with wild horses, or feral horses as I prefer to call them. While glassing up the big white stallion that was acting like he owned all the water in the area, I moved my binoculars just above him and spotted a glimpse of a six point bull moving through an opening about 600 yards away. It caught me by such surprise I almost lost it. I wasn’t expecting to see a bull moving in the heat of the day, and I wasn’t expecting to fill the view in my binoculars with a bull elk while looking at horses.
As quickly as the bull appeared he was gone. I moved in on where the bull was headed but my limited view meant if I were to see him again, it would be close. As I neared the ridge he was on the wind started to swirl. I acted fast and decided to slip back out before getting winded and blowing it.
That evening my dad and I went back up to where the bull had evaded me the same morning. When we got to our vantage point the wind was in our face. I was in the middle of explaining to my dad where I had seen the bull earlier in the day. Unpredictably the wind did a quick 180, mid-sentence, and started blowing at our backs.
All of the sudden a bull busted out below us on a dead run across the only opening toward the heavy cover. We cow called to stop the bull but he put the brakes on right behind a tree before walking off and disappearing.
We followed his tracks for quite a ways until the wind shifted. Trailing a bull from up wind never really seems to work, so we backed out in hopes that he would remain in the area.
That next morning found us back in the same area but to no avail. Once again heat waves and horses were all that were on the morning hunt menu.
That evening my buddy Mike Marchese drove out to hunt with me before heading out to chase mule deer with his bow in a neighboring unit. My friend Jon Lesperance also headed out that night, driving all the way from Phoenix to hunt with me before heading out to hunt deer as well.
The next morning the three of us headed out to hike to where I saw the bull a few days earlier, while my dad went to glass where we saw the big bull on opening day. As we approached the top of the mountain, it was pretty uneventful as far as elk hunting goes, but we were having a good time nonetheless. As the day heated up, we decided to hunt back toward camp staying high to see if we might catch something bedded.
Before we continued on, I pulled the video camera out from my pack and gave it to Jon. We joked around about how we are now ready to actually kill something because we have our camera man ready to film.
We continued walking up the ridge about 70 or 80 yards when some horses started moving up the draw below us about 250 yards away. Mike mentioned how he wished the horses were elk because it would have been perfect. We stood there B.S.-ing about the horses for a minute when I decided to glass around. I was thinking in my head how great it would have been to see an elk right here. Then, all of a sudden, my view was filled with a bull bedded on a knob, his velvet covered horns shining in the sun.
“There’s a bull. Get down.” I whispered
We quickly got behind a small juniper tree to pull out the spotting scope. As we were looking at the bull, a decent six point, Mike said that there were two bigger ones off to the right in the shade.
We immediately turned our attention to the two huge bulls bedded under the mahogany tree. Both were nice but one was a true monster. He looked big and that was all the examining I needed. I ranged the bulls at 480 yards, a shot I may have made but not one I was willing to take with the wind ripping in our face.
I noticed a ridge in between us and the elk that would give me a 200 yard shot if I were lucky enough to find an opening to shoot across the canyon. It was a bit of a risky move in the thick terrain but I was willing to try. I figured the chance at a slam dunk shot was better than chancing a long shot with gusting winds.
The horses were still in between us and the elk, so we tried to stay high enough to spook the horses in the opposite direction. Jon and I moved in on the bulls from tree to tree on the open hillside, while Mike stayed at our vantage point to watch the bulls. As we got to the bottom of the canyon and out of sight of the elk, the horses spooked making the elk stand up out of there beds. Nervous that they were going to slip away Jon and I sprinted to the top of the ridge across from the bulls.
Luckily, I happened to pick the perfect spot to come up the ridge for a shot. There was one clear opening in the trees about the size of a basketball to shoot through, and standing in the middle was the big bull. His massive spider like rack looked almost unnatural on his head as I focused in for the shot.
I ranged the bull at 190 yards, rested my rifle on the crook of a tree and checked to make sure I wasn’t going to hit any branches. I asked Jon if he had the elk in the camera, but it was more of me asking than waiting for an answer, because no matter what I was pulling the trigger when I had it steady.
I focused on a spot right on the shoulder, controlled my breathing and slowly squeezed the trigger.
The familiar sound of a solid hit echoed back as the bull dropped where he stood. Still seeing dirt flying above the brush I knew he was still kicking. While guiding elk hunters I have seen my fair share of dead elk get up and disappear, and I wasn’t about to take a chance of that happening. I couldn’t fully see his body at this point but I knew where it was through the brush. A couple more solid hits and it was over.
The big bull was down and it all happened within ten minutes of spotting him. We closed the distance so quickly that I didn’t have time to get worked up, but after the echo of the first hit the excitement took over.
After the bull was down Mike called my dad to tell him that were had a huge bull down and to get up as quick as he could (of course with more expletives than publishable).
As we walked up on the bull, its size continued to grow, and in turn so did our excitement. It truly didn’t look real. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.
Whether it was the bull’s velvet, the sheer size of his horns or both; it just looked unbelievable. It really would have been easier to believe that it was a giant tarantula lying on the ground than a monster 382 velvet covered bull.
*I wrote this back in 2009 shortly after taking the bull so I would always remember the events that unfolded.