Here is a Giant Arizona Bull we filmed while scouting for an Arizona Elk Hunt. Obviously, this bull won’t score well on a net score sheet, but there is no doubt, he is as big as they come!
Scouting is a huge part of increasing your odds on trophy animals, but big velvet bulls are not easy to keep track of. In fact, it is pretty much impossible to keep track of a free range bull. Bull elk can travel 5-50+ miles while traveling to their rutting grounds. Many Arizona bulls will cross over unit boundaries during this transition period.
Keep in mind, mature bulls frequently like to use the same general areas year after year, but it is NOT a given. This is where past knowledge can help you hone in on where to begin your scouting. Factors like feed and water will change from year-to-year, thus changing the landscape for a big trophy bull elk.
What does it take to kill an Arizona Trophy Bull Elk?
So you have drawn an elk tag in one of Arizona’s top trophy elk units. Congratulations!
As humans, especially hunters, we are a very optimistic bunch. After years of applying for the best units it’s easy to get caught up in the trophy tidal wave. Magazines and Internet chat generally comprise of only the best bulls taken each year. So everyone is very optimistic about killing their monster bull once they have a tag. We either don’t know about, or we block out the real statistics and actual odds of connecting with and harvesting that big bull elk. I don’t want to be negative, because being optimistic is critical to your success, but let’s look at the facts.
One of the most sought after trophy archery elk hunts in AZ, “the Unit 10 Archery elk hunt in 2012”. The kill success rate alone was 26%! That equates to the Arizona Game and Fish Dept. estimating ONLY 52 bulls were actually harvested out of 200 tag holders!!! Yeah that is it!!! An even smaller percentage of those were trophy bulls. What about the vast majority of hunters that don’t even see a trophy elk, much less have the opportunity to harvest just a bull elk on these trophy hunts each year? What are the odds of killing a 370”+ trophy bull elk in Arizona? To be completely honest and truthful, they are extremely low!
So what do you do now that you actually drew the trophy elk tag?
Whether you are going DIY or guided, make sure you prepare and take care of all the things you can control. It is important for you to be mentally prepared for the hunt and have realistic expectations during the hunt. If you are hiring a guide, make sure you ask any questions you may have. Like who will actually be your guide? Is it a sub-contractor guide? What experience does the guide really have? Get proof! Ask them about past client success and make sure you get references. Does your guide study up on the AZGFD statistics and resources? How many bulls actually live in your unit? How many bulls will you actually expect to see and what percentage are in your unit that are possibly 370”+ or 380” + or larger bulls? How is antler growth?
Regardless of your age and health condition it is very important to be in the best physical condition you can possibly get yourself into. You owe it to yourself, the better you feel, the better hunt you will have. Be honest with yourself and your guide, because they need to know. It is a horrible feeling to find out a client is in horrible shape when he or she arrives in camp, again be honest with your guide so he can strategize for your hunt of a lifetime.
Next, have your shooting/hunting equipment tuned, prepped and refined months before the hunt. Don’t show up to camp with NEW stuff! You need to order everything you need now and make sure you shoot! Keep shooting! Don’t stop shooting! Have your gear prepped and ready and if you are hunting with an outfitter ask them for a gear list so you know what the essentials are to bring along for your hunt. These are some of the general items that we as hunters and guides should do to be the hunter we need to be, in order to get it done.
Mentally prepare yourself to be persistent and determined for the grind. Again, success rates are low on trophy bulls and it is going to be a mental challenge. Knowledge; on the ground experience in the unit and scouting is a very important part of your hunt when you are looking for real results. It is next to impossible to do for yourself, even for the best hunters, when you live too far away to scout adequately. You can only kill what you can see or know is living in your hunt area right? You need an inventory of bulls that you know about leading up to your hunt, unless you plan on just getting lucky. Knowledge of where the elk are actually living and where the areas are that currently have the best feed and drinking water supply etc.. Having knowledge of historical food and water supply is a very powerful tool, especially when the hunting pressure comes. Don’t fall in love with trail camera pictures! Although they can be a great resource, many of the bulls will move 10-30 miles, from their summer to rutting ground and then back to the summer ground. Scouting the week before your hunt is the MOST critical!!! Yes, knowledge of the unit is critical and having trail camera pictures of velvet bulls is very lucrative, but scouting several days before your hunt is critical! It must be done each and every year!
Honestly, I believe it takes an average hunter at least three full hunts in a particular area to start bringing home the bacon. Experience and knowledge is the key to being able to form a game plan and stay disciplined, persistent and determined to stay the course. Again, it’s a grind and you have to stay optimistic in order to get to the finish line. I have been very blessed over the past few years because my clients have harvested some of the best bulls in the world. Here are the gross scores by year: 373”, 385”, 400 7/8” and 390” official.
It’s a grind, so DON’T fall in love with the fairy tales you may have heard!