Hunting hasn’t always been something I was privy to—or even supported for that matter. I wasn’t raised around it, nor did I have immediate family who partook in hunting. It really all started back in 2013. I had reconnected on Facebook with Drake, a friend from elementary school who was a big-time hunter and would turn out to be my lifelong friend and guide for my first elk hunt.
Around that same time, a spunky girl named Karissa moved into the room next to mine in a shared student housing apartment at Arizona State University. The first thing she did was to walk in with a bow. I wouldn’t say that everything turned around for me right then and there, but for the next few years, between Karissa, her boyfriend, and Drake, I got a lot more involved in hunting. I would go to the range and shoot Karissa’s bow with her, I checked trail cams with Drake, and I attended several Arizona Elk Society banquets, but it still wasn’t something I was really partaking in myself.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I had my first actual hunting experience, and it didn’t start with big game. I was introduced to waterfowl hunting, which in Arizona I would say is not as popular as in the midwest, so it wasn’t something I was familiar with. But I got the opportunity to go bird hunting a few times around the valley, and I loved it!
A few months after dipping my toe into the world of waterfowl, I was perusing social media and stumbled across a waterfowl hunt giveaway called the “Blind Side Dream Hunt,” which was hosted by Winchester Ammunition. I entered and somehow, I won! A few months later, a friend and I were flown out to Montana for a week of hunting ducks, geese, and pheasant. This was my first big hunt and really where I got hooked. The following February, I started applying for various draws in Arizona, including the elk draw. That started a long—and patient—waiting period of five years for that elk hunt to actually happen.
Fast forward to 2019. Maybe it’s not like this everywhere, but in Arizona, credit cards get charged at the end of February or early March before you actually see or get any sort of indication on the AZGFD website that you have been drawn. Once that starts happening, everyone is texting and posting, “Cards are getting hit!” So it was no surprise that Drake texted me immediately and told me to check my bank account. Anxiously, I logged in, expecting another year of disappointment, because the reality was the unit I put in for isn’t the easiest to get drawn for in Arizona, and some people wait upwards of seven or more years. I logged in, clicked on my credit card, and basically lost my breath! There it was—the charge I had been waiting for! My eyes filled up with tears, and I shot Drake a text back, “Holy crap, I got drawn!”
My hunt started the day after Thanksgiving, and the downtime from March until then felt like forever! For the hunt, I would be using Drake’s new custom Nosler 28, fully equipped with a Night Force scope, Proof Research carbon barrel, and a fresh box of 195 grain bullets, so hardware wise, we were beyond covered. As far as gear, I was blessed to have won a full women’s clothing system and 2700 pack from Sitka and new Ravine boots from Irish Setter through a giveaway hosted by Modern Huntsman.
In all honesty, the months leading up to my hunt were anxious, but at the same time, leisurely. The only real thing I had to go purchase was trekking poles, which came highly recommended for pack out. (Spoiler: They were a game changer.) In addition to all of that, I was blessed to have Drake, who has guided for A3 Trophy Hunts for many years, to help coach me along the way.
As the waiting changed from months to weeks, and opening day drew closer, it was time to go out and practice some shooting. I shot the Nosler at 300 yards, then 600, and finally 1,000. I nailed the target all three times and felt more ready than ever for the next few weeks to fly by. In the final week before opening day, Drake headed up early to scout and try to figure out the best area for us to set up base camp. The location changed daily due to the weather, other hunter congestion, or the lack of bulls. Just two days before opening day, Drake texted me some coordinates and told me they had found big bulls that solidified our location. I spent that day packing up my car, double checking to make sure I had everything, and eagerly waiting for the next morning and the five-hour drive I had ahead of me to get to what would be my home for the next week.
Thursday wasn’t a normal Thanksgiving Day for me like it was for a major part of America. I woke up early, hit the road with my boyfriend, Daniel, and started our trek east towards the Arizona/New Mexico border. We arrived at camp about 1:00 p.m. and spent the afternoon and evening setting up our canvas tents, cots, stove, etc. Just before sundown, we took a break from setting up camp and headed up the road to get in one more round of practice shots before the big day tomorrow. Once back at camp, we spent the evening sitting around the tent stove, swapping stories with our campmates, Art, who also guides for A3, and his son, who also had his first tag. Finally, we headed to bed.
4:00 a.m. on opening day came early—and cold, as my tent was wet, muddy, and now covered in snow. The weather for this day was forecast to be rainy and snowy, and it really wasn’t looking up for us, but we set out to give it a go anyway. We geared up, added a rain suit layer, and hopped on the quads to head to our spot and set up before sunrise.
The ride was about eight miles by quad over river bottoms, up steep hillsides, across several creeks, and through areas of thick, deep mud. Add the rain and the snow, and it was downright rough. But we managed to get to the trailhead about 30 minutes before sunrise and started our hike straight up the hillside, which quickly warmed us up from the cold quad ride.
At this point, the weather wasn’t too awful, so when we arrived at the top, we sat down and glassed for about 30 minutes before a thick layer of fog and rain really started to pick up and roll in. It was cold and wet, and the conditions really weren’t ideal by any means. We tried to stay dry, we tried to start a fire, and we tried to glass, but we were getting nowhere.
After about an hour, we decided to call it quits and head back to camp. The fog was making glassing impossible, and the weather just kept getting worse. Soaking wet, we hiked down, loaded up the quads, and headed back to camp. The ride back was long, cold, and miserable. Our hands, feet, and faces were soaked and frozen. Finally back to camp, we quickly stripped our wet layers, and Daniel and I started making contraptions to hang all our wet gear across the tent and over things while Drake worked on getting the stove going so we could warm up and dry our clothes. We ate a little, napped, and basically spent the afternoon of opening day inside, because outside was miserable!
Later that evening, Drake’s dad and his pup, Sage arrived and came to help us with meals and stuff around camp. The weather had cleared up by then, so while Drake’s father was cooking dinner, we fired up the truck and headed the opposite direction of where we had gone that morning to see if we could glass anything in another area. We saw some cows, but no luck with any bulls. We headed back to camp to eat some warm green chili stew, relax, and prepare for the next day.
On Saturday morning, we woke up again at 4:00 a.m. and loaded up. The weather was brisk, and the ground was covered in a lot more snow, but it was clear and looking like it was going to be a really solid day. We hopped on the quads and headed back to our spot and started to climb. We reached a good open spot to sit and glass across the canyon, got situated, and went to work. We were perched on a lower hillside that was parallel to a ridge that’s around 9,000 feet. What happened next was the most amazing thing. We quickly spotted elk on the hillside—three bulls here, three bulls there, a group of four here—there were bull elk everywhere on this hillside, and most of them were scoring at least 330+!
We glassed a shooter but wanted to make sure we didn’t have anything better show up. So we waited for about 30 minutes and then decided to take a shot on a 350-360 bull. Drake and I set up the gun, got situated, and got dialed in. It was more than 900 yards, but I felt confident. After a few deep breaths, I took the shot. The height was perfect, but the little bit of wind that was kicking up carried the bullet about two inches in front of the elk’s chest. I went to reload, but unfortunately, the elk started to move and dropped over a ridge.
Although we decided to stay in place and glass for a little bit longer, we ultimately chose to try and move around the canyon and sneak up on the elk that had dropped over the ridge. So we packed up and started to back track, head around the hillside, and trek over to the side we had been glassing. After hiking through the snow and up the hillside for more than an hour, we crossed our elk’s tracks, but unfortunately, they headed downhill and were no longer something we could pursue. We decided to head up higher and start glassing for another shooter dropping off the ridge. After hiking up the ridge and glassing different spots for about 30 minutes here and there, we found the one! He was about 465 yards away, above us on the hill.
We set the gun up again, got the scope dialed in, and made sure we accounted for the wind. Through the scope, I could see the bull, but not too well, as he had moved behind a large tree while we were setting up. After a few minutes, he moved out from the brush, and I had a clear shot. Drake whispered to me, “Whenever you’re ready.” I took a few deep breaths and pulled the trigger.
My shot flew, and Drake yelled, “You smoked him, Beth!” from the spotting scope as the elk scurried about 10 yards before he fell to the ground. Drake and I hugged, Daniel and I hugged, and we all watched the video Drake took with his phone scope to see it all happen again. We loaded up the gun, threw our packs back on, and eagerly prepared for the straight uphill climb through the thick brush we were about to have to endure.
After about an hour of bushwhacking and making a slow ascent, we finally reached the bull. He was even bigger and better up close. We celebrated by eating a much-needed snack and taking a ton of photos. For the next couple of hours, we got to work on processing—first the quarters, backstraps, and tenderloins. Finally, we worked on the cape and head, as I planned on getting the elk shoulder mounted.
We hung the three quarters in a tree, packed up the tenderloins in my pack and the backstraps in Daniel’s, and Drake took on the task of carrying out the horns and cape. Our location was about three miles away from where we had parked the quads that morning, and the sun was starting to set. It took us a couple of hours to get back to the quads, and by then, it was dark. We loaded up the horns and our packs and headed back to camp.
We decided to relax in camp that night and go into town the next day to take showers, wash our clothes, and sleep in real beds before heading back out to camp early the next day to hike back into the canyon to pack out the remaining three quarters.
The next day, we made breakfast and spent the morning packing up camp and then headed to Payson to drop off my cape and horns to a taxidermist before heading back to the valley—and ultimately, home.
~By Bethany Shippy
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Bethany Shippy was born and raised in the great sunshine state of Arizona and never left! Bethany has worked in marketing for the past seven years but recently switched over to construction, where she manages energy modeling, engineering, and risk management. She loves spending time in the great outdoors hiking, boating, camping, and now, obviously, hunting. Bethany is excited for whatever hunts she draws in the future and looks forward to many more experiences.