This story is a great depiction of what hunting means to many of us. Ryan Hughes paints us a wonderful picture of his adventure chasing elk in Arizona. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy. Thanks for sharing Ryan!
To many people, hunting is one of the last real adventures this world has to offer. For me, its not always about filling a tag and returning home with some meat; it has always been about the adventure, the risk factor, even the feeling of being miserable but knowing that you are out there for a reason.
I am a young hunter, only eighteen years old; I am just a college kid who enjoys nothing more than to get out in the woods and go hunting. I’ve come up empty handed after working harder than many, but its never a humbling experience for me. I have been taught that this is how hunting should be; sometimes your hard work pays off and you fill your tag, and sometimes you come up short, but in the end, your hard work really does pay off, meaning you have acquired new experiences and knowledge.
My father always says the same thing as we drive home from hunts where we did not achieve a kill; he says “sorry we didn’t get anything, bud”. As long as I can remember, I have always had the same response to his unnecessary apology, usually some phrase or saying that I had heard him say, “that’s hunting, dad”, I would say with a grin. There has never been a more enjoyable hunting trip for me than me and my father’s trip to Arizona for an archery cow elk hunt.
We arrived at the small town of Seligman early in the evening, but just late enough for the town to be too dark to navigate through and also late enough to give us a taste of the low temperatures that Arizona had to offer to us northern California boys. The first morning was a little slow. We went to the office of the Big Boquilas ranch to buy our permit to hunt there and take a look at the map. This ranch was huge, it covered most of the zone that we were hunting and basically bordered the town of Seligman.
We began our first day’s hunt, eager to find a herd of elk and hopefully get a good sneak on them. Finding elk became less of a challenge compared to not getting our truck stuck on the slippery muddy roads. On this trip, I discovered a new enemy; Arizona mud. Arizona mud is one of the worst things I have ever had to encounter on a hunt. Arizona mud is sticky and grabs on to your tires, feet, and clothing like no other. We almost got stuck on the most desolate mountain roads of the Big Boquilas ranch no less than seven times, and the three inches of rain prior to our arrival did not help us at all.
We finally came down off that mountain with our heads hung a little low, because we had not seen any wildlife all day and we knew that we would not be able to access much of the ranch without getting our truck stuck in the mud. As we made it on to the main road out, we ran into one of the friendliest faces that I think either of us had ever had the pleasure of befriending; a fellow elk hunter named Butch. After briefly shooting the breeze with this man, he discovered that this archery elk tag was mine and that I had to fill it quickly so I could return to my community college classes.
Butch set us up with his own personal blind on a ranch that he had permission to hunt on the opposite side of the town. My father and I raced to the location that he spoke of but we could not find it. We soon realized that in all the excitement of getting a new place to hunt from this perfect stranger, we had totally not listened to what he was saying; all we could think about was a hunting blind fit for a king surrounded by cow elk just begging to be taken back to California in a game bag. We realized that there was only one thing left to do, and that was to track Butch down.
How hard could it be in a town that has two diners and one gas station? we scoured the town all night, driving up and down main street looking for our new friend. We finally found him late at night outside a diner and treated him like a celebrity. He explained to us exactly where this magical blind was but this time we actually listed and remembered to exchange phone numbers as insurance.
We arrived at the blind early the next morning. The blind was nothing more than a bush, trees, and a net, but we didn’t care one bit. Now the hunt was really on. The blind overlooked a small pond where many elk drank from, and also had a lookout in between two trees that presented the perfect view to glass the huge valley that ran perpendicular with the busy railroad tracks. We must of hunted out of that blind for about half the time we were in Arizona. The cold snowy mornings made me feel like a soldier struggling to keep warm, in a war that was over but someone had forgotten to tell me and my partner.
I stayed dry because I had come well equip with all new hunting gear, but still became stricken by the low temperatures that I’ve never faced hunting back home in California. The greatest moment of sitting in that blind was during the first evening of inhabiting it. I spotted a herd of Elk on a visible mountainside, the only bad part was that the herd was at least two miles away, if not more, but it was definitely a great relief to see those far away creatures. The second morning that we were in that blind, I had finally built up the courage to face my fear of inconveniencing the one we called Butch.
I sent Butch a text message asking if he has had any luck and if he is seeing a lot of elk wherever in the world he may be. Immediately, my phone starts ringing, I pickup and Butch tells me that I need to get where he is. Butch gave us rough directions on how to get to him and told us to be careful and quiet because he has the drop on a huge herd of elk. We were amazed with this guy; he had been out there hunting those mountains before we had even heard of Seligman, Arizona, and now he insists on making sure I fill my tag.
This is the kind of person that you will only meet hunting. Guys like this is what makes the hunting community so honorable and so amazing in my eyes. We met up with Butch after trudging about three or four miles through the Arizona mud in his direction; this reunion of Butch, my father, and I was the beginning of a beautiful spree of stalking herds of elk through the mountains of Arizona. We had followed about two or three groups of elk during the next few days. The three of us seemed to collaborate perfectly. Me and my father were no strangers to hunting terrain like this but it was just incredible having a guy at our side that knew the land and knew the elk. He seemed to know the ins and outs of that place; knowledge that is very much sought after by out of state hunters like us.
The last twenty-four hours we spent hunting in Arizona proved to be the most eventful; our hunts seemed to climax at a fitting point. We went from seeing no elk at all, to stalking seemingly ghost-like herds of elk through the brush, to finally getting up close to a huge herd after a mile long stalk. We hiked into a range of rocky hills and valleys and finally found a herd of elk in the distance that seemed to be just the herd we were looking for. after coming a few hundred yards closer to the herd, we devised a plan: my dad would sit up in the treeline of the hill we came off of and keep an eye on the elk, while me and Butch sneak in as close as possible for a kill shot. As soon as me and Butch got into the woodland area that we last saw the herd, we split up.
The closer we got to the Elk, the darker it got. Light seemed to run from us just as the elk did. I got that feeling I always get when I am hunting and I am close to, or think I am close to, my prey. The feeling is hard to explain but I could not imagine hunting without it. I feel human, but I feel wild at the same time. My senses become sharper than ever before. I walk silently and truly believe that I am invisible. The best way I can put it is that I feel like a hunter.
The last light I remember seeing that night was behind the silhouette of a cow elk about eighty or ninety yards away. Many people probably would of thrown an arrow down range, even if they know that they would of missed but I knew it would not of been a responsible shot. we walked back to our truck that night laughing about how much fun we had and making jokes about ourselves, each other, and our new spontaneous friendship.
Somehow, Butch persuaded us to hunt that next morning before we left. We met up with him as always and had a short but great hunt. We did see a cow but she disappeared into the abyss of the shady side of the mountain. As I began my search for her, I came across another beauty; I saw came within about fifteen yards of the biggest mule deer buck I have ever seen. We locked eyes for a slight moment until he ran away.
Obviously I had no intentions of sending an arrow his way, but it was one hell of a sight to see up there. We said our goodbyes to our new hunting buddy and headed straight back to California. On the way home my father uttered the words “Sorry we didn’t get anything, bud”. I grinned like I always do and replied “That’s hunting”.