The awesome view from atop the Mogollon Rim, pronounced muggy on, in central Arizona.
In 2001, after years of disappointing draw results, I finally drew an Arizona bull elk tag for the December unit 22 hunt. I have always favored the late hunts because they offer a greater chance of bad weather. I like bad weather. The bader, the better. Opening morning greeted us with snow on the ground and low temps. It was a good sign.
Since I was the only one with a tag, my brother Cody, Cody Goff, aka other Cody, and Mike Glover aka G Lover were doing me a big favor serving as my support team. While they picked the scenery apart with their high dollar optics I was humping the steep fingers that ran down off the Mogollon Rim. According to my Garmin GPS unit, at the closest point, I was a mile and a quarter in front of them as I moved East to West across their field of view.
By mid afternoon the second day we had not seen anything that we thought was worth chasing but at about 4:30pm my earpiece crackled to life. It was Cody telling me that they had spotted several shootable bulls that were grazing their way towards the crest of the rim, my unit boundary. By previous agreement, shootable meant that they were 300 size bulls or better. The problem was that they were two big fingers to the West, above me and moving. There was no way I was going to get close enough to them before the sun went down. Betting that the bulls would still be there in the morning, I turned North to gain as much altitude as possible before sundown. They watched the bulls from the trucks. When it was dark, they loaded up for the 45 minute trip back to the cabin where they would enjoy a nice dinner, a few drinks, and warm beds. Just before they left I turned on my my strobe light so they could get a visual fix on my position. Cody wished me a sarcastic good night over the radio and I watched their taillights fade into the distance as I set up my bivouac.
To my way of thinking, this was the way that big game hunting was supposed to be done. Get out there amongst them and stay out there until you had a shot at what you wanted. The pull up at o’dark thirty and try to sneak up on them thing never made a lot of sense to me. Besides I liked this old school, mountain man method. It was hardcore. I had done it, bivy hunting, a couple of times before but not in these kinds of conditions. As a SAR Tech with the Mountain Rescue Team I had bivied up in the boonies too many times to count. It is common on multi-day searches to stop, drop and snore for a couple hours. I have seen search teams zonked out right on the trail still wearing their packs and helmets with their radios squawking away. Any wildland firefighter or soldier can tell you that when you are tired, I mean dead tired, you can grab some Zs anywhere, in any position.
I remember a search for a mentally disabled teenager on Four Peaks. Pendley and I crashed under a full moon near the amethyst mine. We were woken up by a white tail doe that was so close to us that she sniffed my hair. In the moonlight her eyes were as big as cereal bowls. I thought it was an alien. I thought I was dreaming. I asked Tom if he was seeing what I was seeing. Then she just walked away. Neither of us could go back to sleep.
This night was going to be a little different though. No quick stop for a combat nap and then move on to keep warm. I was going to be in one place the entire night in single digit temperatures and intermittent snow. I am always prepared to bivy but I had not planned on an overnighter. I did not have a sleeping bag and because I had game close by there would be no fire. This had all the makings of a good story.
There is something special about lying out in the open with a clear sky above you. I don’t like sleeping in tents or trailers or motor homes. I like looking up at those stars. It puts the world and my place in it into proper perspective. This was just a little more intense because of the circumstances. Being out in the wilderness, by yourself, miles from anything can be a little hinky. I admit it. Except for my tossing and turning and the occasional sound of the stove to heat water, it was quiet. You hear every little thing both real and imagined. The boogey man, that irrational, primal fear of what lurks just beyond the light is very real, I don’t care how tough you are. However, it is manageable and eventually goes away. Not completely. I won’t say that it was a comfortable night but I wasn’t miserable either. I got through it.
First light found me wishing that I had picked a spot with better Eastern exposure. Waiting for the sun to finally hit and warm you up seems to take forever but in no time at all I had eaten breakfast and repacked my gear. Cody coming up on the radio was timed perfectly. They were already glassing the deep shadows of the fingers and found three maybe four bulls bedded down just below the crest of the rim. At just a little after nine o’clock that morning I had moved up and around just about as far as I dared without spooking the bulls and pushing them over the top. I ditched, my pack, told Cody that I was starting my stalk and switched the radio off. At nine thirty I was what turned out to be 181 yards from the lower bull. There was another elk just above me but I could only see the hind quarter. This was it, as far as I could go without blowing the whole thing.
He was still in his bed but diligently watching everything below him. He was under some trees on a small finger that ran diagonally into another larger finger that after a 30 foot drop ran all the way down to the forest floor. I could see him perfectly with the naked eye but he hadn’t the slightest indication of my presence. I credit the Cabelas MTO50 Quiet
Pack Jacket and Trousers set and an inch of new snow for that. I was in an old burn so there wasn’t much between us. I belly crawled another five or six feet to a small sapling that I wanted to use as a rest. I put the scope on him and watched as he grazed the low brush around him. I reviewed the situation in my head, ran through my mental check list and hoped that the guys were paying attention. I couldn’t think of any other reason to wait so I moved the cross hairs to his chest, took a full breathe, let half of it out like I was taught and squeezed the trigger until it went boom.
My brother Cody and my Arizona unit 22 elk. A nice bull, a good story and a great hunt.
I was shooting a Remington 700 ADL in .375 H&H magnum. It was stock except for the for Robar Roguard Matte and NP3 coatings and McMillan fiberglass stock. It had a Leupold fixed six power scope with quick detachable mounts. That rifle is pretty thumpy and I immediately chambered another round so when I finally recovered and got my sight picture back the bull was sliding and pawing his way down hill towards the drop off. I hit him again just behind the shoulder and he came to rest against some scrub ten feet short of going over. I watched him for a little while to make sure we were done and then went back for my pack. I called the troops on the radio and told them I could sure use some help up here. It took them and hour an a half to work their way up to me and another three hours to dress him out. It was so steep that we had to tie the bull off on a tree up slope to keep it from sliding off the ledge. It was not an easy job. I was grateful for their help and honored to be on the mountain with them. It was a nice bull, a good story and a great hunt.
Cody, other Cody and G Lover trying to find some footing on a steep, slippery slope. I shot from directly behind them across the drainage. 181 yards with a Remington 700 ADL in .375 Holland & Holland Magnum.
I don’t take any real joy in pulling the trigger on an animal and I am well aware that my family will not starve to death if I stop hunting but there is more to what we were doing up there. It is true that we were playing a part in the conservation and management of a healthy elk herd. It is also true that we were carrying on a tradition that goes back thousands of years, men working together to provide for their families. More importantly to me, despite the high tech clothing, communications and navigation equipment, I was out there in the bush with a rifle in my hand and a pack on my back. I was using my wits and my skills to successfully operate in the wilderness and I didn’t abandon my goal just because it got cold and dark. I was out there on the edge. I was living and I loved it.
It was after this hunt that I really started working on the idea of Hardcore Outdoor. I wanted to build something that committed and passionate outdoorsmen could relate to. People who were serious about their wilderness endeavors. People who persevered through pain, discomfort and fear to achieve their objectives. People who knew the value of life and prosperity because they risked it everytime they went out. Throw backs to the rugged individualism that built this country. I figured out that it was the gear that connected us and brought us together. So here we are.
Sorting through the fads and fashion of the outdoor equipment industry to identify and promote the very best wilderness gear for high end recreational users, backcountry professionals and government agencies.
Hardcore Outdoor is dedicated to those who won’t or can’t turn back.