feature By: Jimmy Unmacht | January, 20
I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, a few years ago, and one of my close friends convinced me to take up archery hunting. I soon learned that bow hunting was going to be more challenging than hunting with a rifle, but I liked the idea of drawing more tags and having more opportunity to hunt every year. I was a lousy shot when I first started but, as with anything in life, practice is the key.
Fast forward to 2018: My father and I were lucky enough to draw Arizona Gould’s turkey tags. These tags are pretty coveted, and some hunters wait a long time to draw one. We had not hunted together for some time, so we were excited about the trip. I decided I wanted to shoot the turkey with my bow and left my shotgun at home.
We headed to southern Arizona with limited time to hunt but had knowledge of where we needed to be, which is important with only a few days to get it done. The turkey population was reported as good in our unit, which seemed to be true when we were greeted by a beautiful big, old tom as we arrived the night before opening day. The hunt turned out to be pretty tough. We roosted birds, were up every morning at 3:00 a.m., set up “perfectly” only to have the turkeys stop calling as soon as they flew out of their roost.
Going into the fall draw for elk and antelope, I stuck with my bow and put in for archery hunts. As luck would have it, I drew both pronghorn and elk tags! I had never hunted pronghorn with a bow and was up for the challenge. I began scouting immediately. My dad arranged a trip with Jim McCasland (yellowhornoutfitters.com), whose knowledge of pronghorn and my hunt unit was invaluable.
A buddy told me I needed to be able to shoot accurately out to 70 or 80 yards, as it is extremely tough to get within bow range of pronghorn. I went to the range almost every day for five months, not thinking I would ever take a shot past 70 yards, but I practiced shooting at 3D targets all the way out to 120 yards just in case. I became extremely comfortable shooting at 70 yards and could consistently hit a pie plate at 110 yards. Even at that distance, I was aware of just how fast an antelope can move and had some doubt about the chances of slipping an arrow into one at that distance.
It was quickly learned that archery antelope hunting is challenging. My goal was to stalk a buck; I did not want to sit in a blind on a waterhole. I tried every trick in the book and nearly every decoy on the market with no success. With two days left to hunt, and probably at least 25 blown stalks on different bucks, I was getting pretty discouraged. All my help had to return to their work duties except Alex, so we kept at it. With so many close calls and a few missed shots, I never gave up on my goal. The idea of a 90- to 100-yard shot started becoming more a realistic scenario. I could hardly get within 150 yards without every buck busting out of the country.
I had one trick left that I hadn’t tried yet, wearing a “Be the Decoy” antelope hat. The idea just seemed silly to me. Sometimes the craziest ideas end up working out however, and on the second to last day of the hunt the hat let me get within range of the buck and its 14 does. Crawling within 100 yards, I was able to range, stand up and get a perfect shot with the Pope and Young pronghorn buck quartering toward me. It ran about 60 yards and piled up within a few seconds. I could hear Alex and friend Kyle Robbins yelling and celebrating from a couple of hundred yards away. I immediately called my dad after I walked up on my buck to make sure it had expired, and busted into tears; I was literally sobbing like a little girl! I had never experienced such an accomplishment in my hunting career, and hearing Dad say how proud he was of me just made it so much better!
A week after the pronghorn hunt, I was back at it for some rutting bull elk action. It was pretty tough to balance my scouting trips with two awesome hunts lined up for the fall, and with two bulls tagged in previous years, I was pretty focused on the antelope hunt. I knew leading up to the rut where several good bulls were located, but I also knew they might disappear and end up miles away. The best tactic for elk hunting during the rut is locating them at night and planning for the next morning. It is just like roosting a turkey the night before hunting.
At the start, there was a lot of hunting pressure, but we still managed to get into decent bulls. They were active in the mornings but not so much in the afternoons, so we decided to sit over water after chasing bugles all morning. Two weeks into the hunt, we woke up to cloudy skies and misty rain, which really fired up the bulls. We were now experiencing exactly what you would expect out of an archery elk hunt during the rut.
That evening we had a close encounter on a great mature bull that came storming in toward us when we cut off its herd. All I remember seeing was an enormous rack ducking under tree branches as it stormed in toward us. I picked the perfect time to draw, and as I pulled back on the bow my release hand caught on my binocular harness and forced me to let down and redraw, but it was too late. All the movement caught the bull’s eye and it didn’t like what it saw. The bull turned around and headed back to the cows. I was extremely bummed but also knew we had a couple of days left, and the rut was in full swing.
The next day, Alex and Kyle were with me and we located a bull we recognized. It had a distinct bugle and we knew it was a great bull. As we closed the distance, we saw a satellite bull lingering around its herd, and it started walking right toward us. It was a 6x5, and for a split second I realized I couldn’t pass up the opportunity as it came in at 20 yards. I drew and released an arrow – it looked like a heart shot. The bull took off, crashing away into the brush. It was a solid shot, so high-fives were in order!
We waited close to an hour before tracking. The blood trail was good for a couple hundred yards, but it started to thin out and we bumped the bull, hearing it coughing and wheezing. There was some panic in the realization I may need to get another arrow in it. At the point where we bumped the bull, there was no blood, only tracks, so we decided to split up to cover more ground. A short time later Kyle yelled, “Dead Bull, Dead Bull”! That was music to my ears! I really appreciate Kyle and Alex for hound-dogging with me. Steve and Kyle Yarush also helped in field dressing and packing.
I’ve purchased an over-the-counter archery deer tag for six years but have never wrapped it on a deer. As 2019 began, it was cold and the deer rut was in full swing. I decided to search for Coues’ deer before work one morning and saw a great buck chasing does. I tried making a move on it without any luck. I called my hunting buddies and told them we need to go after this deer the next day.
As we glassed the following morning, we saw deer, but not the big buck. An hour into the search, I saw movement on a far ridge. It wasn’t the same buck, but it was an awesome Coues’ deer. Alex and Kyle stayed behind as Steve and I began a stalk. The buck was about a mile away and we had some ground to cover. After awhile, we stopped and glassed again, spotting the deer a couple of hundred yards from us as it topped a hill and went over the other side. I started up the hill after it, but at the crest the buck had disappeared. I crept around the area thinking it gave us the slip, but later on the buck was spotted 70 yards away, staring right at me.
The Coues’ deer is my favorite big game animal and will always be special to me. I had the same crew with me once again as we celebrated and took pictures. I can’t begin to thank them enough for the help. Without them, none of this would have been possible.