All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
By now, cards have been hit and dreams have either been made or crushed in the name of Arizona elk hunting. For those of you who were lucky and drew, a sincere congratulations is in order. Whether it was an early rifle bull tag or a general cow tag, elk hunting is something that will get in your blood and never leave. We’re all in for a treat. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones that drew a tag. No, I won’t be enjoying the soothing yet chaotic soundtrack of September, but I will be hunting bull elk with my bow in Arizona. This late archery hunt takes place in November and has really grown on me over the years as I’ve followed along with other tag holders. So, for this piece, I’m going to go through how I personally plan on preparing for this hunt as well as tactics that I’ve seen work in the past.
As I sit here right now, we are eight months away from the hunt starting. That might seem like an eternity, but it’s going to be here before we know it. Time has a way of soaring by us in a blink of an eye and this is one event that we don’t want to slip by. Preparation is key for this hunt — and any hunt for that matter — if you want any real chance at success. By success, I mean just having a good experience and getting into bulls. This is where your scouting is going to come in. Then, if you are so fortunate to bring one of those bulls to the ground, being prepared physically for that endeavor will help lessen the suck factor.
Ah, the “S” word. Got to love it, right? Scouting is going to play a big role in the outcome of your experience and it shouldn’t be just pushed to the wayside, especially not now. From now through shed season is a great time to get out and check out some wintering grounds for bulls if you can. By knowing where these bulls winter, you’ll have a much better idea of where to start looking come November. This is also a fantastic way to get the lay of the land and build some familiarity on that front. Seeing how the roads, trails and country sits is vital and will surely aid in your hunt come season. Knowing all of this stuff ahead of time will lift the pressure a bit during the hunt. It’s less that you have to think about when it’s go time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Mentioning this physical fitness stuff can sometimes come across as beating a dead horse. But there is a reason that this is talked about so much. Being fit — especially on elk hunts — is huge. I’m not saying that you’ve got to run ultra-marathons and deadlift 400 pounds, but I am saying that you should care. Whether you’re hitting the trails with a loaded pack or hitting the gym, do something. While this is a very glassing intensive hunt from my experience, the country isn’t any easier to walk around in. Multiple stalks a day back and forth from each glassing point can wear on you. Then, there is the hurt we all long for, right? When that massive bull elk is laying at your feet and you question your sanity. “What did I do?” That’s a great feeling to have. It doesn’t change the fact that you have to now break down that elk and get him back to camp. Just cutting a bull up in the field is hard work. Be ready for this stuff by spending time from now until the hunt on core and leg strength. Don’t forget to work on your endurance as well. It’ll help on those climbs.
Now, for the how. How should we go about trying to harvest one of these Arizona bulls? We can’t rely on them screaming their whereabouts like they do in September. Or for them to be in a rut-crazed state-of-mind with their attention skewed. From what I’ve witnessed during this time of year (mid November), bulls are just starting to really break off from cows. Some will be herded up, some will be in bachelor groups and some will be alone. They are tired from the stressful marathon that was the rut and spend their mornings and evenings feeding while bedding most of the day in between. Tactics here are going to be much more like deer hunting if you ask me.
Spot and stalking bulls this time of year is definitely going to be what I will focus on the most. Grabbing vantage points and surveying the country through my optics will give the advantage of watching elk be elk. This is the best way, in my opinion, to come up with quality plays on bulls. Whether watching them bed or heading them off as they lazily feed their way through the country, the action is pretty consistent hunting like this. In regards to which of those worked best, we just took it on a case by case basis. If it looked like we could get to the bull in a timely manner, then we’d just go right after them. If not, we’d wait and see what he did. Over the past two years, I’ve helped on this hunt and both years we were going on multiple stalks each day. It reminded me of spot and stalk mule deer hunting, which is something I love to my core. If that sounds like your cup of tea, lace up those boots, clean off that glass and grab a butt pad!
As western hunters, playing the waiting game is somewhat foreign to us. Most of our efforts out here revolve around spot and stalk hunting or calling, especially with elk. This late hunt is a great time to focus on water. Elk love their water and November is no exception to that. So, spending the time to find active water sources can pay off bigtime. Utilize trail cameras to monitor what’s going on when you’re not around. I’d try to focus on water sources that are near or in canyon systems, which is where bulls will often end up for this hunt. A bull might spend his whole day bedded in a drainage, but then saunter out for a drink now and again. Try building natural blinds at several water sources, so you’ve got options. And, for this hunt, I’d plan on sitting all day long. Because it isn’t a super hot time of year, elk can be seen wandering around at all hours of the day. The waiting game. Good things come to those that wait.
I know it’s eight months away, but all of this talk about elk hunting has just gotten me super pumped for this year. Yeah, it may not be the glamorous early hunt, but goodness gracious I’m super grateful to have the opportunity to hunt bulls with my bow and so should you. And we’re getting to hunt bulls in units that would take a mountain of years to draw an early tag in. Chasing screaming bulls is fun and all. Don’t get me wrong. If you haven’t experienced it, go do that — no matter where it is. The heart-pounding feeling of a bull elk screaming his guts out at you is like no other. It’s one that bowhunters dream about all year long. It isn’t the end all be all of elk hunting though. Sneaking up on a bull during the month of November comes with it’s own set of adrenaline. I say, let the rush begin!
Good luck to everyone out there that was fortunate in the Arizona elk draw!