400 INCH ELK
This has to be the worst elk season of all time. No big bulls. No rutting. I wonder if I can get a refund on my tag? I can’t believe I just wasted my bonus points for this. What does an elk look like again? I forgot what a bugle sounds like.
These seemed to be the words that most all of the Arizona Elk Outfitters were saying during the 2002 fall Arizona elk hunts. There were lots of other words muttered by Arizona elk hunters and Arizona elk guides that dusty fall season but I don’t think they would be too appropriate to print. The entire state had been put in a stranglehold by a terrible drought and the antler growth and elk rut were nowhere near what they had been the year before. Areas that were green and held lots of big bull elk the year before now looked like the moon landscape and were devoid of anything that you could even start to call a trophy elk. Most of the massive, long-tined big bull elk leftover from the previous season now sported tiny back ends on their antlers and no mass. Some bull elk were still in bachelor groups and in velvet in the middle of September. The intense heat and no rain had taken a severe toll on the elk and all of the Arizona big game species statewide. Lots of Arizona elk hunters and Arizona elk outfitters with dreams of non-stop bugling and Boone and Crockett bulls were sadly disappointed.
Most of the Arizona elk hunters during the early archery and rifle seasons experienced very little to no rut activity and monster trophy elk were nearly non-existent. I say nearly non-existent because there were still some good elk seen and some very good elk taken. Arizona Elk Outfitters LLC guided our client Bob Verbica who shot a giant 414 inch Boone and Crockett elk with the Arizona statewide raffle elk tag on public land. Bob’s bull and a bull that had been named “Wild Thing” were among the best elk that anyone saw in Arizona this particular season. Wild Thing was a bull that good friend Josh Epperson had been following and videotaping since 1998. He found and owns several of Wild Thing’s sheds and was lucky enough to draw an Arizona archery elk hunt in Wild Things’ unit in 2002. The scouting began and the search for this Arizona elk was underway. When he was finally located Wild Thing was unbelievable. This bull had grown from an estimated 370′ class bull in 1998 to a 400 inch plus, 52 inches wide, non-typical monster elk. What was amazing was that this trophy elk had grown to this size on the worst drought and growth year that anyone could remember in Arizona. It would be mind-boggling to even start to imagine what kind of giant elk Wild Thing could have been like on a good moisture year. His 10 by 12 rack just seemed to explode out of his head. The mass on the right side of his rack was enormous and resembled a moose paddle at his G-4. Some awesome footage was taken of Wild Thing raking a tree and polishing his freaky dinosaur-like rack and the Arizona trophy elk hunt was on for Josh Epperson. Despite some great efforts put in by Josh and no giving up, Wild Thing managed to survive through the archery elk hunt.
After the archery elk hunt, the bull disappeared and seemed to have left the country completely. Nobody that we knew of had spotted Wild Thing and we all wondered what became of him. The months went by and the late season Arizona bull elk hunt was rapidly approaching. There was still no sign of him. Another friend, Rick Kovach, had drawn an Arizona late season bull elk tag in Wild Thing’s unit. As tough as the early elk hunts were it seemed impossible to kill any kind of a big bull on the late-season hunt much less Wild Thing. Opening day of the late season elk hunt found Rick and good friend Carl Gray hunting together and spotting some smaller elk. No elk was killed on opening day and we were able to hunt with Rick and Carl for day two of the hunt. On this day we went to a glassing point that Carl’s father, Carl Gray Sr., recommended we start from. Carl Srs. tip was the start of something that none of us could have expected.
After the steep hour-long hike we set up our optics and began glassing the nearby hills and canyons for any sign of elk. Hours passed and despite the three of us glassing hard we failed to locate a single big game animal, much less a trophy elk. The day dragged on and on and the three of us glassed until it felt our eyeballs were going to bleed. We began to seriously debate if elk, or any big game for that matter, still existed in this unit. With darkness now fast approaching we were beginning to talk about heading back to the truck soon. We had a long hike ahead of us and we decided that we should probably get going. All of us stood up and began to gather our gear, optics, and backpacks. As we shouldered our packs we looked with our naked eyes into the canyon below us just for curiosity’s sake. To our complete disbelief, there were two bull elk making their way out of the trees and into a little valley about a thousand yards to the east of us. We looked through our binos to see if these elk were shooters and we about fell over. It was Wild Thing himself and another good-sized bull elk heading into the valley below us. I blurted to Rick and Carl what was there and the three of us immediately kicked it into overdrive. All three of us began to run at a full sprint to beat the approaching darkness toward a small rock point that would put us about three hundred yards above the two trophy elk. With hearts pounding, we raced to the little rocky point. It was almost full dark when we slid into position right above the elk as the two bulls fed their way out into the wide open. Rick chambered a round and we ranged the monster elk at 283 yards while he settled into the prone position to shoot. We covered our ears for the shot and those next few seconds seemed to last an eternity. The sweat was pouring off of us and we thought our hearts were going to explode when Rick’s shot finally rang out. The 400-inch elk seemed to just crumple in slow motion and sank straight to the ground in his tracks. The shot had drilled him perfectly and Wild Thing was dead before he hit the ground. After all, the celebrating we made our way down to where Wild Thing was lying. He was incredible. Right here before us was one of the greatest bull elk that any of us had ever had the good fortune to be in on.
Rick had just killed the trophy elk of several lifetimes on a late-season general elk hunt, on public land, and in the midst of a terrible drought. We had just done something that we all thought was impossible. A 400-inch bull elk on Arizona’s toughest elk season ever. After an all-night packing job, we finally got Wild Thing out and got some much-needed rest. The day’s events were unbelievable and we were blown away by how it all came together. Being with good friends on such an experience was incredible and we thanked the Good Lord for letting us be a part of this incredible trophy elk hunt. After the 60 day drying period Wild Thing was officially scored by a Boone and Crockett official measurer in Arizona. Wild Thing has a 52 inch inside spread and his 10 by 12 rack scored 407 inches B&C with an estimated 15 inches plus of broken tines missing. Not too bad for a drought year elk..
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