Things Happen For A Reason by Ryan Urie
This whole experience started the day I received an interesting package in the mail addressed to me from the Hunt of a Lifetime Foundation (HOAL). Inside the envelope were four hats and a letter briefly telling me about HOAL. This package stimulated my curiosity, but I really did not give much thought to it since my dad has a waterfowl hunting club and, at the time, I thought the letter was intended for him. It wasn’t until my mom came home and saw the package then told me that I needed to call my dad to ask about this curious package. Confused, I called my dad right away and he explained to me that I was going to be receiving a dream hunt from HOAL. HOAL is a non-profit Foundation that provides dream hunts to kids 21 years of age and under that have terminal or life threatening illnesses. I was in complete shock! Who me, going on a dream hunt, anywhere I choose? WOW! I asked my dad where I would be hunting and he reminded me of the day that he asked me the question, “if you could go on any hunt what would it be?” I immediately responded, “A pack-in, muzzleloading, bull elk rut hunt in Montana!” Well, that is exactly what he had requested in the application to HOAL. At the time, neither of us realized that Montana did not have a muzzleloading rut hunt like we have here in Colorado. So, HOAL was working to make arrangements to send me on an early rifle rut hunt in Montana where I could still use a muzzleloader.
Then came one of several set backs, the state of Montana would not provide a license to HOAL for my hunt. The Montana outfitter that we were working with, Randy Parks of Centennial Trail Outfitters, also had an outfitters license for Idaho and decided that he would guide me in the Idaho panhandle during the late muzzleloader elk season, which was just fine with me.
Meanwhile, I had been receiving hunting gear from Cabela’s and a muzzleloader and accessories from CVA through Chad Schearer, whom I had met at the Sportsman’s Exposition in Denver. I was diligently shooting my muzzleloader to get comfortable with my rifle when yet another set back occurred. A week before my dad and I were scheduled to fly to Idaho we received a call from Mr. Parks who indicated that Idaho had received another major snow storm in the area that I was to hunt. The snow accumulation had effectively ended the outfitter’s hunting season since all of the elk had already moved to lower elevations in their winter range. Mr. Parks apologized and said I would have to wait until the next fall to go on my dream hunt. Boy was I ever disappointed! Yet, all the while I kept positive telling myself that things always happen for a reason, as I have learned from the challenges of my illness.
My dad had contacted Tina Pattison, the president and co-founder of HOAL, and explained to her what had happened. Within the next two days Ms. Pattison put us in contact with HOAL’s Arizona ambassador, Terry Petko, who had received a donated license for a late season rifle bull elk hunt in Unit 7E. Mr. Petko had contacted Lance Crowther of Timberland Outfitters who agreed to outfit my hunt.
Thursday the 17th of November came quickly and my dad and I were off to hunt the big bulls of Arizona. That evening, after driving two hours north of Phoenix, I met outfitter Lance Crowther and his family including guides, PJ and Jake, who would help me on my hunt. I had a sleepless night full of anticipation of what was to come that next day.
When 3:30 am of opening morning finally arrived my dad and I, plus four other hunters were taken by Timberland Outfitters to hunt an area where they had spotted numerous quality bulls during their pre-season scouting trips. At first light one group of spotters located an outstanding 6x6 bull feeding partially up the hill near where my guide PJ and I were positioned. PJ and I attempted to stalk in closer for a shot at this magnificent bull. The big bull ended up spooking and ran right toward one of the other guided hunters in our group who harvested him, his first elk. We later scored the bull at 289 gross Boone & Crocket points. According to my dad and the other spotters, PJ and I had stalked within 150 yards of the bull, but due to the thick cedars and junipers we were unable to spot him for a shot before he spooked.
The remainder of that day and the next full day were somewhat uneventful with only a few cows being sighted so we decided to hunt another area the next morning. As we were driving into the new area, the third morning of the hunt, we spotted a very respectable bull. We got out of our vehicle and moved closer so we could use the barbed-wire fence and posts for a rest. I took four shots, ranged at 500 yards, and was unable to hit the big bull. I was bewildered by the fact that I was unable to make the shot since the previous year I had successfully downed my cow elk with one shot at 425 yards. The other hunter that was with us that morning, an older gentleman, was gracious enough to give me the first opportunity to harvest this magnificent bull. When I was unable to connect, he harvested the great bull on his second shot. This bull had a 6x6 frame but was actually a 5x5 since he was missing both G-2 points. Many of the tines on this bull’s antlers were partially busted from the rut, yet he was still a very respectable bull! In the meantime, another hunter in our group had five 230 yard shots at a 330+ class bull but was unable to take him, which was disappointing.
The majority of the fourth day was fairly uneventful. That evening while glassing in another area we spotted three mature bulls feeding high on top of a mountain and we decided to go hunt them the following morning. At first light the next morning we were at the top of the mountain looking for the bulls we had spotted the evening before. As we hunted, Lance spotted three cows and a spike bull. Lance asked if I was interested in taking a spike and I declined. The other hunter that was with us that morning was on his last day to hunt and decided to harvest the spike to put some meat in the freezer. Matt made a great shot and our work began.
Wow, Lance and his guides had provided 100% opportunity to their five hunters and had filled 3 of 5 bull licenses! I had been fortunate enough to be with every hunter and bull that was harvested during the week, maybe things really do happen for a reason. I began thinking I was the lucky charm! The only remaining hunter with an unfilled license besides me was Robert, the hunter who earlier in the week had an outstanding opportunity at the 330+ class bull. Unfortunately, Robert had to return home that evening without filling his license.
I was now the only hunter with an unfilled license and had the support and expertise of three excellent guides and my dad to help me harvest my bull. I thought to myself, how could this get any better? We had two days left in the hunt and I was apparently the lucky charm during the week. But would my new found luck work for me? That evening Lance took us to his secret spot, a sacred meadow that very few other hunters have had the opportunity to experience. When we arrived at the edge of the meadow at about 3:30 pm there were about 45 cows, calves, and spike bulls already in the meadow. We stood still in the edge of the trees watching them for well over five minutes before a wise old cow sensed something was not quite right and grouped-up the herd and left the area. I again opted not to take one of the spike bulls. After the herd left the meadow we positioned ourselves under a small group of trees for the remainder of the evening hunt. Three more cows fed across the meadow and then two more cows and a bull stepped out onto the far edge of the meadow. I placed my rifle on the tripod, with my scope on the branched antlered bull, and waited for the bull to turn broadside before I was willing to take the shot. When the bull turned broadside I noticed he was a 4x5 raghorn and at that moment I began to recall how I had convinced myself before the hunt that I was not going to Arizona and shoot a raghorn or a spike bull, after all this was my dream hunt! I decided to pass on the opportunity. My guides and dad were perplexed that I passed on this respectable bull especially this late in the hunt. Lance later said, “What kind of a 15 year old, who has never shot a bull elk, has the discipline to pass on a nice branch antlered bull near the end of the hunt?” They were all astonishingly impressed that I had the fortitude to “stick to my guns” and goal of taking a trophy bull. I never had any regrets with my decision as something inside me was telling me to wait. After the fact, I could not believe that I was capable of passing on that nice bull. As the sun was setting, another cow and her calf walked through the meadow, between the only two trees in the opening, and directly to us. Walking within 15 yards of where I was seated with Lance. One thing is for certain, that evening in the sacred meadow was truly the most magical experience of my life!
The next morning my guides decided to go back to the area we hunted opening morning to see if any of the bulls they had previously scouted were back in the area. At daybreak, Lance and I were moving toward an area where our spotters had located a bull. We came around a large tree and there he was, a bull standing at about 500 yards looking directly at us, BUSTED! The bull looked away momentarily so we dropped to the ground and crawled on all fours to get a closer look. When we finally looked up the bull was gone. We quickly got to our feet and scurried to a position where we could look to where we last saw the bull. Suddenly, we saw a second bull and one of our spotters was going crazy over the radio telling us to take the front bull who was definitely a “shooter”. Lance stopped the front bull with a cow call and ranged him at 500 yards. I felt confident that I could make the shot, as the year before; I had downed a cow elk with one perfectly placed shot at 450 yards. I took the shot and the bull just stood there. So, I chambered another round and with coaching from Lance aimed even higher and fired. The bull started to trot away, so Lance cow called again and the bull stopped. I took aim six inches higher than the previous shot and fired. No luck, the bull took off again but this time he was followed by the first bull that had initially busted us. Lance cow called and stopped the bull a third time. Again, with coaching from Lance I took aim and fired yet six inches higher. Trotting again, Lance tried everything to stop the bull, but to no avail. Lance instructed me to shoot the antlers which would account for the drop and lead. Again, I missed. We moved to find another opening. We were able to watch the first bull go around the hill and knew for sure that he had not been hit. So, we turned our attention to the second bull. By the time I was able to reload and get into position for a shot, it was too late. We watched the second bull as he moved out of range. As the bull started around the hill Lance noticed that the bull appeared to be limping when our spotters came across the radio indicating that they too thought the back bull was limping and hit. Lance turned to me and asked, “Did you shoot at that bull?” Since the bull was limping we both thought I must have unknowingly taken a shot at the second bull. So, we ran around the hill below where the bulls had been headed focusing on the back bull that we believed to be hit. Our spotters indicated that we were moving directly in the path of where both bulls where headed. Suddenly, the huge bull ran right in front of us, 60 yards away. Believe me, I wanted to shoot at the huge bull but didn’t since we were fairly certain the second bull was already hit and it was our obligation to pursue him. Shortly after the huge bull ran across in front of us the second bull was spotted moving down the hill in our direction. I prepared myself for the shot. The bull moved within 150 yards and Lance stopped him with a cow call. Boom! I shot and could see him take a hard hit right behind the front shoulder, but did not go down. I shot a second time with another good hit behind the shoulder, but again, the bull did not go down. Lance said, “Hit him again!” So, I decided to place one in his neck and the bull swiftly dropped to the ground. Immediately after the bull went down Lance called on the radio and told everyone, “33 lives to see another day, but Curly is down, I repeat, Curly is down!” There was nothing but screaming, hugging, and loud celebration as Lance picked me up and gave me a bear-hug like no other!
I was in complete awe with what had just happened and quite frankly could not believe my dream had finally come true. My bull was a beautiful 5x6, which was seen by the guides almost every scouting trip they had taken in the area before the season. The guides had nicknamed the bull “Curly” because he was a very social bull that usually hung around with two other bulls. Originally, they were planning to nickname the threesome, “Larry”, “Curly”, and “Moe”. But since Curly was the only bull they spotted consistently the nickname stuck. After all the picture taking, further examination of Curly revealed that I had not actually hit him in my earlier shot attempts. I had placed two shots within two-inches of each other behind his front shoulder and the third shot in the neck. We discovered that Curly had several cinders embedded in his front hooves that had created very tender open wounds. We believe this is actually why Curly was favoring his front shoulders and moving slower than the bigger bull. I found out later that the huge bull had been nicknamed “33” because the guides all figured the bull would score 330+ B&C points.
It was an unbelievable week and hunt. I truly believe there is a reason I did not harvest “33”. First of all, this was my first bull and I would have set the bar awfully high for myself having taken a bull of that caliber early in my hunting career. Secondly, many things happened for various reasons during my hunt and I may never fully understand why. Who knows, maybe I can return and hunt “33” or one of his offspring another day in the beautiful elk hunting state of Arizona.
About Me: I began hunting birds when I was eight years old and harvested my first elk at 12 years of age. I am a 15 year old high school sophomore from Denver, Colorado and thoroughly enjoy every minute I spend in the outdoors.
Rifle: .260 Mark II Ruger
Optics: Bushnell 10x42
Ammo: 135 gr. Reloads
Camo: Prairie Ghost
Boots: Danner Pronghorns
Important web sites:
Hunt Of A Lifetime
Hunt Of A Lifetime - Arizona Chapter