By Todd Ralstin
-- My quest began in 1994 when one of my clients commented on a mount in my office. She proceeded to brag about her cousin Duwane Adams, who is a guide for Arizona Big Game Hunts of San Manuel, Ariz. I told her I had read of him and used his tripod method of glassing in Oklahoma and New Mexico. She gave me Duwane's number and I started applying through him for a trophy elk tag in Arizona.
The elk lottery gods where not kind in the beginning, but exposed me to the tough Arizona terrain with a couple of coues deer hunts. The coues deer mountains managed to roll your ankle every time you took a step.
Now, 13 years later, the state of Arizona finally drew my name out of the hat for a muzzeloader elk tag in Unit 1, south of Springerville, Ariz. The hunt began Oct. 1, 2007. I arrived during the afternoon before the hunt and got situated in camp with a hunter from Texas. Go figure. Eight hundred miles from home and an Oklahoma Sooner is hunting with a Texas Longhorn. The twists and turns are what make life interesting. Surprisingly, we got on famously and talked about football and hunting.
My guide, Duwane, had told me to bring ear plugs to help me sleep, but I thought he was joking around as usual. The first night found me digging in my shooting box for ear plugs. The bulls bugled all night long, and it was a long night, considering Duwane had described the 6x6 bull we we're going after. The first morning, we went looking for the bull only to be greeted by heavy rain. After the rain broke, we walked a loop around several ridges and saw a group of 17-18 young elk.
None of them were shooters, so we moved to another area via old logging roads. That first evening, Duwane took me to one of his honey holes, where we located a small 5x5 running with a 6x8 bull.I never got a clear shot before Duwane called me off.
The next day was totally different because the rain and cooler weather slowed the bugling. We saw several 6 x 6 bulls with a shooter who was running when we got a good look at him. That evening we went backing looking for the 6x8, and the bulls were bugling big time. While waiting for a bull to show itself, we heard at least seven other bulls on the ridges. Game management is alive and well in Arizona, and I understood why it took 13 years to get a tag.
We hunted hard for several more mornings and afternoons without finding the bull I set out to take at the beginning of the hunt. After a late lunch one day, Duwane asked me what I wanted to do. To which I quickly replied I wanted to look for the big 6 x 6 he told me about the first night. Fortunately, the hunting gods continued to shine, and we located the bull.
The big fellow was in a grassy meadow guarding about 30 cows from a smaller 6x6. We worked ourselves into position for a shot. Finally, I got a clear shot on the bull, but I jerked the muzzleloader in all of the excitement. That's when all hell broke loose in an elk stampede.
The herd ran in a single line. My speed loading practice paid off, though, because I got another round in the breech as the big bull passed beside us in the opening. The 250-grain bullet did its job and omega bull 13 was on the ground.
After photographs, Duwane went for help while I sat in total awe of this animal and reflected on why I hunt. A picture really is worth a million words. Need I say more?