Hunters:Gerfunken, Bullwrinkle, Bulljeffe, PTBNL2
Other guests: Taz, Pizza King
Location: AZ Unit 8
Days Hunting: 6
Weather: Cold, clear, cold, windy, and cold. No precipitation.
Unit conditions: Dusty and dry forest. No standing water in field. Water in all natural, embankment, and trick tanks.
Scouting Report: We had three days of scouting, and found fresh elk sign everywhere we looked. A reliable source told us to focus on Honey Hole (name changed for totally selfish reasons), which was an area we chased a herd around two years ago. Lots of deer sign everywhere, too. It appears that, despite their best efforts, AZGFD hasn’t run the deer completely out of the state yet. We decided to camp a few miles from Honey Hole, and found a location with easy in/out access to artery roads in case we needed to flee weather (this being a December hunt).
Pre-hunt festivities: The Love Shack was dropped off at our preferred campsite the previous weekend. I’m sorry to report we didn’t have a Wednesday night garage party this year. Gerfunken and Bulljeffe loaded Yukon Gold and trailer in the valley, while I loaded my truck in Flagstaff. Gerfunken took Yukon Gold up Thursday, grabbed PTBNL2 in Flagstaff, and set up camp. I had a training class in Phoenix, picked up Bulljeffe, and made it back up the rim and into camp late Thursday evening. There may have been celebratory cocktails upon arrival. No casualties reported.
Morning: Bulljeffe and PTBNL2 started by sitting in blinds on Honey Hole. They saw a few bulls in the morning, but no cows. They finished the morning with a quick hike in the surrounding area.
Gerfunken and I started by sitting on Camp Tank (the closest tank to camp), but Cold Wuss Factor set in and we decided quickly to warm back up by hiking up the ridge to the next tank.
While sitting admiring Nonagreement Tank (since we couldn’t decide what to call it at any time during the hunt) two vehicles drove by on what I thought was a road closed by the new Forest Travel Guidelines. A man and his son hopped out of the second truck and started walking to the tank. I
righteously wrongteously yelled to them that they were breaking the law. No response. Another yell down about the travel guidelines. No response. Another yell down asking if they were effing kidding me. THAT got a response. A more pleasant exchange ensued whereby they were duly informed that there were indeed hunters sitting and watching the tank.
We figured I had just busted us off this tank with my yelling, so we hiked out to another tank (Third Tank) before looping back and came back to camp over the rim to the west. Some great bedding areas on this ridge, but nothing seen.
Afternoon: Bulljeffe and PTBNL2 reassumed their position on Honey Hole, nailing two elk out of a herd at about 4:30pm. Gerfunken and I stayed up on Nonagreement Tank until last light, then quickly busted up a herd of elk well after dark between Nonagreement and Camp Tank.
Evening: We met Bulljeffe and PTBNL2 out in the field, helped them clean their elk, and got them back into camp. Pizza King showed up with, oddly enough, pizza. There was much rejoicing.
Morning: Gerfunken, Pizza King, and I started off in the drainage to the east, making our way up to the area above the eastern rim of the canyon Honey Hole is in.
We had an event up here that will be debated for years. We were definitely on the muzzle end of a single shot. From the business end, there is a definite “crack” that precedes the normal “boom” heard out in the woods. Gerfunken swears he heard something like a branch break first, which is chilling, but not corroborated by the other participants. I did hear talking from the direction of the shot afterwards, which doesn’t fit either. If they were shooting at three armed men, you’d think they would clam up. I also have to believe that if they were shooting at an elk, they’d stay quiet. So….WTF? My best guess was a shot at a coyote or squirrel or something just to check the sights on a rifle, but we’ll never know.
Needless to say, after a (very) brief discussion, we busted tail out of there. We headed for a spring listed on our maps, ran across a single young bull on the way, and took a snack break a few hundred yards from where we thought the spring was. We were at the top end of a long open draw, and closer to the spring than we figured, as we were waved off by a few hunters up on a hillside overlooking it. Once moving, we did see the spring – it has been channeled into a water tank. This is a great spot, one worth remembering for future hunts.
We continued along the high ground and ran into logging operations. We also ran across two other hunters on foot (first time this has happened in years). I can’t help but wonder if one of them was our shooter. We headed to the last tank on our morning agenda, which had good sign along the fencing but was alongside the newly graded logging road, which would be a mixed bag for hunting. We then headed to the canyon rim, and spent a fair 1/2 mile trying to find a way down. The first 50-60 feet were solid rimrock most of the way, but we finally found a chute and half walked, half glissaded down to the bottom of the canyon and to the truck.
Bulljeffe and PTBNL2 took their elk to the butcher in Flagstaff, did a load of laundry, had a hot shower, and ate lunch before returning to camp. We think they probably had sex, too. Who can blame them, with that kind of time to kill?
Afternoon: Taz arrived and set up his rig before we made it back to camp. There may have been some grumbling about his selection of my parking spot for his rig, but all’s fair in camp and war. Bulljeffe and PTBNL2 stayed in camp for the afternoon, putting out the doilies and fresh flowers.
Gerfunken, Pizza King, and I intended to sit on Honey Hole, but there were already two trucks parked on the area, so we continued down the road to find another tank to sit at. We headed right at the T intersection to a tank a mile down that road. This one is right off the road and didn’t appear to have very good sight lines, so we U-turned to a tank about a mile to the left of the intersection. At this point, it was already pretty late, so we set up a quick blind behind a fallen log and sat.
We kept hearing the sound of rock falling on the rim above us, but it wasn’t quite like the sound of hooffalls. Winter took its sweet time getting here this year, so I wondered if there were still bears turning over rocks for tasty critters. One other possibility could be the cold temperature causing mechanical fracture in the rimrock. Maybe I’m overthinking this and it was a few elk just monkeying with us.
This tank was a few hundred yards off the road, and we had parked at the top of the (closed by new guidelines) spur road to the tank. Of course, this did not stop a truck from driving past mine, and halfway down the closed road to the tank. The hunter left the truck in the middle of the road, in open sight of the tank, and started towards us. We waved every blaze orange item we had from our blind, and he got the message and left.
Evening: With a fully-staffed campsite, a handle of Jameson’s disappeared rather quickly, along with a fair percentage of our fizzy yellow beer.
Morning: One of the biggest challenges we faced in scouting and hunting this trip was correlating all our maps. The standard FS maps are based on very dated information, and road numbers and locations are not always accurate. The new travel management maps have some roads that do not exist, and the scale is completely different than the FS map. Google Earth’s road numbers are all wrong. The Garmin GPS base maps are also grossly outdated. Some of these maps show the private land interspersed in the forest, others don’t.
We were frustrated by this all on the morning hunt. Pizza King, PTBNL2, and I drove out to the nearby lookout tower road, thinking we’d walk down to Third Tank and get there at dawn. We were immediately met by “Private Property – No Trespassing” signs on a chunk of private holding that was on the map Pizza King looked at, but not the one I looked at, forcing us to walk along the property line for 1/2 mile before cutting down to the tank. Of course, the property line ended at same road we were parked on, so we could have made much better time parking further up the road. The slope we walked down was thick with bedding and sign, so we moved slowly, and hit Third Tank much later than expected. This tank is in a broad park with good visibility up three drainages. We sat at the wood’s edge for awhile. After about 30 minutes, we decided to find a good location and build a blind for future use. We then split up — PTBNL2 hiked back up and fetched the truck, while Pizza King and I dropped off the cliff line to the west and investigated one more nice tank before meeting PTBNL2 and the truck at the bottom of the hill.
Bulljeffe and Gerfunken had driven around to the area we were, and discovered that the road I thought was closed was actually open (making me feel pretty sheepish about yelling at people the first morning). They stayed up at Nonagreement Tank for a bit. I don’t know where else they went, but if they don’t update this report with their whereabouts, I’ll assume they were having sex.
Afternoon: Pizza King strangely decided that attending a Christmas party with Mrs. Pizza King was a better option than freezing his ass off on a hunting trip he had no permit for, so he departed in the Pizzamobile. Gerfunken and I drove out the nonclosed road, parked out of sight of the meadow, sat in the newly built blind on Third Tank, and saw nothing. We got back to the truck right at full dark. While the truck was warming up, two hunters came walking down the road. We offered them a ride back to their truck, which was a mile or so further on.
I’ve thought a lot about karma on elk hunts through several unsuccessful seasons. My first elk season I shot and injured a young bull. The full story is for another time; it was a very short distance shot, taken with the bull running straight at me. I tracked it as far as my skills allowed, but was unable to recover it. I know I’ve hunted the right way in the right spots since then, I just hadn’t had luck turn my way. So I’d jump at any opportunity to help someone out or otherwise pay off the bad karma that hunt left me with. Offering a couple of guys a lift was a no-brainer.
Evening: Gerfunken and I stayed by the campfire while Taz, Bulljeffe and PTBNL2 played poker and had sex in Taz’s rig. Alcohol consumption dropped precipitously on this and subsequent evenings.
Morning: Bulljeffe and I hiked west back up above Camp Tank, and sat on the ridge where Gerfunken and I busted the herd after dark the first day. We sat until the sun warmed us up a bit, enjoying a great view of the drainage below and opposite side of the ridge. After awhile, we came down and started towards Nonagreement Tank. Immediately, we ran across very fresh tracks and elk piss not quite frozen on the ground. We followed these tracks to within about 80 yards of the tank, where we paused to see if anyone was sitting on the tank. We caught a glint of sunshine off a truck window, so we backed out and started due south.
Within a few hundred yards, we scared a herd out of thick cover. We never saw the elk. We tried to circle around to get the sun and wind in our favor, and this led us to the next ridge line. We followed this around for the next 1 1/2 miles, stopping at a few points to admire the view (and hopefully spot something). We had the truck shuttled to the far western edge of the ridge, so we caught the nonclosed road again and started walking down.
After about 200 yards, a side road led to the south, and we voted 2-0 in favor of seeing if we could find the trick tank the map showed about 1/3 mile down the road. We found the tank, noted fresh tracks and broken ice in the trough tank, and decided we liked the area enough to build yet another blind. After this, we hoofed it back to the truck.
Gerfunken and PTBNL2 drove out across the west side of the unit, encountering many deer and antelope, but no elk.
Taz departed for warmer climes.
Afternoon: Bulljeffe and I went back to the trick tank and set up. After 2 1/2 hours lying prone, we started to really feel the cold. At the absolute last light, and with both of us now tired from propping up on our elbows for hours and shivering uncontrollably, we watched one elk trot over the edge of the ridge, followed by another, followed by a third. They were moving too fast to get a bead, so I focused on the trough. Before I could set up on any one elk, a whole herd seemingly materialized on the tank.
I had a very narrow window to shoot in, and our prone position narrowed it even further. If an elk freed up from the tank and walked to the side, it would walk back to the tank before I could adjust enough for a shot. There was no shooting at the trough itself, as the bodies were stacked 4 deep on either side of it. The elk at the tank would rear up and extend their forelegs almost vertical, then crash down on the ice to break it up and get to the water. To make matters worse, there was a very small spike bull running back and forth in the mix. With dusk settling rapidly, it became clear that I had no shot, so I put the rifle back on safe and we resigned ourselves to letting the elk finish up and leave before we gave our positions away. As a final insult, the herd bull, who never showed himself, started grunting to call the herd back. After several minutes, we decided it was safe to get up and move. It was a very long, dejected, cold walk back to the truck. We texted PTBNL2 and Gerfunken that we were coming in late, and with a hell of a story. They texted back that they thought their story would be better…
PTBNL2 and Gerfunken opted to go back to Honey Hole. Around 4pm, a cow came in to water. Gerfunken waited until she walked into a good position where he could shoot from his blind. When she did, he rose up to bring the scope above the blind, took a bead at about 75 yards, and fired. The cow trotted off, leaving Gerfunken too perplexed to rack another round and fire. While trying to figure out what had happened, Gerfunken noticed this on the top log of the blind:
It was dragged back to camp as a memento, but luckily it didn’t need field dressing or skinning.
(Gerfunken’s Note: I suffered a bit of “buck fever” here. While waiting, I got a little bit anxious when the cow started coming in. As with the following evening’s events, I was situated such that I didn’t have a shot to my right. I hastily made decision to move in my blind to get a better shot. The cow heard me while i was shuffling in the blind, and she paused, then turned around. So, like a rookie, I popped up slowly, brought the rifle up, and got her in the crosshairs. When I pulled the trigger, I had a good scope picture. Apparently my scope cleared the top of the blind, but the rifle barrel hadn’t. Talk about feeling like a rookie… )
Evening: We were all pretty exhausted at this point, but still amped up about the events of the day. Bed came pretty early for everyone.
Morning: Knowing now that afternoons were the best time to see elk, and after 4 days on foot in the mornings, we decided to spend the morning in the trucks and off our feet.
PTBNL2 and Gerfunken drove the west end of the unit again, altering their course somewhat from the previous day.
Bulljeffe and I drove off the rim, down the Perkinsville Road, and took a side road several miles to the flats just below the rim and west of Sycamore Canyon. The road ended at an old linesman shack and trick tank, in some of the best country AZ has to offer.