“Would you like an elk tag with that?” Those were the words from the Arizona Game and Fish Department to the Ferrell family after finding out they were drawn for the general rifle antelope hunt in Arizona. The Ferrell clan not only lucked out with the chance to hunt some of Arizona’s finest pronghorn, they were given the option to purchase an Over-The-Counter, either sex elk tag offered through a program called Population Management. The elk in this unit are sparse to say the least. They are not really indigenous to this area, and you could spend many years in this country and not even know they existed.
The Ferrell’s booked their hunt with us at Timberland Outfitters. This would be the first time that anyone has been able to hunt elk in the area for more than thirty years, and there were not even any elk there thirty years ago.
Now, when reading this, keep some things in mind. In order to be successful during this hunt, scouting is a must! Besides the sparse number of elk, most of the northeastern part of Arizona is a combination of private land and Indian reservation; the latter part being off limits to hunting and private land being almost impossible to gain access to. With that in mind and a few sections of State and BLM land, we had our work cut out for us. It’s never quite certain just how long the Game and Fish will offer a hunt like this so taking advantage of it was a must. Much of my childhood was spent in this area during the summers chasing all sorts of small game while watching the prestigious big game this unit had to offer. Lance was raised here, so with his time spent hunting and ranching, combined with his brother and father’s knowledge and experience of doing the same, we were confident in locating some good animals and gaining access to the right lands.
After many miles in the truck, scouting was coming to an end and the hunt was just around the corner. We met the Ferrell’s the day before the hunt started and were pleased to see their enthusiasm to be out in the field. They made it clear that they would like to hold out for a nice antelope but they were out to shoot the first elk that they saw. We were of course hoping we could find four bulls first. One last scouting trip turned out to be successful that evening coming nothing short of incredible. Following a much anticipated meal prepared by Tom and Carrie that proved to be excellent, we were all soon fast asleep in our beds and dreaming of the morning to come. The weather was normal for this area and time of year, chilly in the mornings but nothing that an “antelope stalk” couldn’t cure in about 15 seconds! Most of us were down to our t-shirts by midday. We were heading after antelope first and the morning was going well until the truck I was driving (Lance’s) got a flat tire. I still feel pretty bad about that. I’m not quite sure how long I rode on that flat tire but the rim tells me it was for quite a while! Hey, there’s nothing that Lance and a hammer can’t fix!
After the tire was changed, I decided to ride the quad down the road a little further while Tom and hunters, Terry and Charlie Jr. followed in the truck. I hadn’t ridden for more than 100 yards when I saw two goats running from us about 500 yards away. After they stopped, we managed to get within 180 yards of the feeding goats. This was tough after running most of the distance and crawling for about 80 yards. It’s never really a crawl either. It’s more of a “gecko crawl.” Put it this way, if you’re not shaking dirt out of your underwear after the “crawl,” you’re not low enough!
Our stalk went great but the buck managed to dodge the bullet, literally. There was just a blur of a second shot opportunity so they both decided to let the buck go. It was all in good fun though because Jr. ended up making a beautiful shot on this buck later on at 304 yards. We made sure to let him “pass his genes” along to his doe before we shot. He was one of our “target bucks” that we had scouted. We’d named him “El Captain.” After heading back to camp to take care of the buck we happened to meet up with PJ and hunters, Don and Charlie Sr. Don had taken another one of our “target bucks” that morning that we’d nicknamed “Lucky.” This was Don’s first big game hunt. He experienced more in five days of hunting than most do in five years.
With two more antelope tags to fill, we continued to find the bucks; passing many of them, and doing all we could to drop the hammer on the real big ones. Charlie Sr. ended up taking a good buck while sitting near water and Terry made a great shot at 380 yards to take his buck. On the average, our bucks were killed at a little more than 300 yards, something that anyone who wants to pursue these animals needs to consider.
While taking care of Terry’s buck and cooking a big, late breakfast on the stove, we started a plan of attack for the elk hunt. That night, Lance arrived in camp from finishing up with an archery bull elk hunt. After a few close calls, we were optimistic that filling all four elk tags was just around the corner.
Terry took the first elk out of the group by shooting a really nice six point that Lance lured out of the thick brush. This bull had two cows with him so he was pretty “curious” when Lance called him in. Terry’s bull ended up going about 50 yards and piling up. The next morning, Don ended up taking a five point bull after we all teamed up together and chased some elk around. PJ gave him the finishing touches by calling the bull and a cow in so Don could close the deal. Can you imagine what it would be like to take an Arizona pronghorn and bull elk in a matter of a few days? Not bad at all for your first big game hunt. That afternoon, Lance hauled another load of meat into the butcher while PJ and I took Jr. and Sr. out for their elk tags. We headed to an area not far from where Don shot his bull. Shortly after splitting up in twos, Jr. and I heard a couple of shots ring out in the direction that PJ and Sr. went. Sure enough, PJ radioed to us letting us know that Sr. connected on a mature cow elk. By this time, the hunt was much like a dream to many of us. I’m sure much of that was brought on by lack of sleep. Being able to hunt all day and getting all that meat out of the heat and the back country was tiring, but no doubt this hunt was one to remember. The last morning of the hunt ended perfectly. Lance, PJ and I teamed up with Charlie Sr. and Jr. so Jr. could put an excellent shot on a cow elk at about 200 yards. When Jr.’s shot rang out to fill our last tag you could hear Charlie Sr.’s “Whoohoo!” for miles! Just to touch the surface, we ended up taking four antelope bucks, two bull elk and two cow elk. We missed shots at one other antelope buck and two other bull elk, got two flat tires and recovered from a couple of major dust storms in a matter of 5 ½ days. What a hunt! This had to be one of the most difficult articles to write due to the amount of animals taken and with limited space to write. It was difficult because I wish I had the time to share with you each and every adrenaline pumping story with each animal. There’s no doubt that the Ferrell clan would be more than willing to enlighten you. Arizona has by far the best variety of public land trophy hunting to say the least. Even in an area where elk aren’t flourishing, we took four of them, two of them being nice, respectable bulls. Not to mention the great bucks we took. As far as antelope go, check out the record books, the rest is just details. Funny thing, they just keep getting bigger!