Todd, who is already considered high energy and super positive, nearly climbed through the phone with excitement. As he slobbered on about the giant bulls we were going to kill and the amazing hunt we were going to have, I couldn't help but notice the ground squished water out of it with every step I took. Short but lush green grass was carpeting the ground under the sage. Wet ground and green feed in March in Arizona means one thing is certain... the animals will be healthy and antler growth should be awesome. Good antler growth years in Arizona are a gift from God. It sets the stage for all wildlife health in the woods. It makes for good breeding rates and high offspring survival. It also allows some lucky hunters to realize their own dreams with antlers so big it takes a dream to contain them.
The stage was set and Todd and I agreed we would share this hunt together. No worries, no stress, no pressure, just two friends going elk hunting on the best year Arizona has had in the last decade. We divided up the scouting chores with Todd taking on the brunt of it while I scouted hard on the Strip for deer for most of the summer. We pounded nearly all of unit 10 starting in May. The bulls that we started discovering were nothing short of incredible, some known bulls and some new. It was evident that we were going to have some hard decisions to make come September.
There was one area that I badly wanted to scout and for one reason or another I couldn't get away from other places to make it there. I knew I would make it though, and I did the last week before the hunt started. This place is a well known and well documented rut ground. It was also in some of the best habitat in unit 10 for big bulls. It is a place where cow elk congregate in the late summer and the bulls walk out of the surrounding jungle to join them. It is a place that holds gigantic sized bulls nearly every year, although due to the popularity of the area and high hunter pressure, killing the big ones usually proves very difficult. Especially with a bow.
In 2017, good friend Art Gonzales was scouting unit 10 for the upcoming archery hunt where he would be guiding a client. Art discovered several giant bulls rutting in the same location that year. One huge 7x8 stood out in the crowd. The big bull made himself visible to Art and several other guides and hunters, both preseason and early on in the hunt. The resulting pressure caused the bull to retreat to the jungle from whence he came and offered no shooting opportunities despite a ton of effort and time spent by Art and others. All of the elk seasons in unit 10 came and went in 2017 but the big bull was thought to have survived.
|Still shots from video that Art Gonzales took in 2017 of the giant 7x8.|
|Photo: Art Gonzales 2017|
In 2018, Arizona droughted out for several months and antler growth was terrible. The giant 7 point was again located by Art but, as most big bulls were, his antlers were a shadow of their former size. No one put any real effort into him that year. Again the seasons came and went and we believed the big bull had lived on.
In 2019, as scouting intensified and the hunt date grew closer, I found myself looking for the big 7. Todd and I were very pleased with the number of big bulls we had discovered with more than a couple of them being over 400". We knew the hunt was going to be intense and that the biggest bulls would be difficult to kill. They always are. The plan we had previously made about no stress was scrapped as we entered into the final week before the opener, buzzed up to the max. The stress was good stress though and we counted ourselves lucky to have it. I wrapped up my archery deer guiding commitments a few days before our elk hunt was to start. We loaded our camp and Beth and I smoked it south to unit 10 to meet up with Todd and our friends. My brother Allen and good friend and guide Jeff Archer had also committed to helping Todd and I on our hunt. Todd and I flipped a coin to see who got to kill first and Todd won. I was to help him all I could until he killed a bull, then it would be my turn and he would help me.
Two days before the hunt started Todd and I were split up scouting. I was in big 7 country and Todd was looking for a couple other big bulls we had our eyes on. Bulls were bugling in every direction as far as I could listen. My phone vibrated in my pocket. It was Art Gonzales calling me. The call was short and Art delivered me his news. He was looking at the big 7 as we spoke and he was bigger than ever. He was actually a 7x9 this year! I was only a couple of miles away but the bull was already bothered by the trucks and other scouters and hit the thick trees as light was breaking across the flat. Art was able to take some quick video clips of the bull and sure enough, he was a walking giant of a legendary bull. The morning prior to the opener, the other hunter pressure maxed out in the big bulls area. Most guys were watching from surrounding hills, but the elk no doubt felt the vibe and got off the flat early again. Art was again watching from his spot and told me exactly what the big bull and his cows had done as they fled the army of people that badly wanted to kill him. With Todd, Allen, Jeff and myself assembled and ready, I suffered through Thursday night, sleeping little and mulling the plan over and over non stop in my head.
Our line of thinking was this. The bull was old and educated. He had proven himself to be a proficient survivor, even among some of Arizona's deadliest hunters and guides. He wasn't going to rut around in the wide open oblivious to the masses trying to kill him. We figured the other hunters and guides would be extra aggressive, each trying to beat one another to the shot. The plan Todd and I made was to anticipate the pressure, judge where the elk would head to once blown, and then be in front of them and hopefully get into range and see what happened. We refused to line up with the rest of the hunters down at the flat and pray to get lucky. I am the most unlucky hunter I know. My success generally comes from planning and sweating, not rolling dice and hoping. Hope is not a strategy. We were going to use hockey science. Don't skate to where the puck is, skate to where it's going. That was our one and only plan.
An hour and a half before daylight found Todd and I, bows in hand slipping quietly through the trees listening for bugles. In this same location the previous morning I had heard no less than 500 bugles coming from literally dozens of bulls in every direction. This morning however we heard very few and what we did hear was scant and far away, already buried in the jungle. We headed toward them but they quickly quieted even further and as light broke the bulls had already sealed their lips and were trying to keep their location a secret in the trees. It was plain to me that the entire herd of elk had never left the bed grounds from the day before or traveled to water that night. There were no less than 15 trucks and no telling how many camo clad humans tromping around down at the flat where the waterhole was. The elk simply chose to go thirsty that night instead of face the onslaught waiting for them by the roads, water and open country. The first day came and went with no real action of any kind.
In the middle of the night before day two, my eyes sprang open at an absurd hour. My mind awoke and in it, hunting plans lined up for review. Sleep was over and I knew it. It seemed that the same plan we had used the morning before was still the best approach. We may start a little earlier and cut a little deeper into the jungle but the plan was the same. Try to get in front of them and see if we could lay eyes on the big one and get a shot at him. They couldn't go another night without water and odds were much higher that our plan may have a better chance at success this second morning.
Jeff and Allen and Bella were glassing from some of the surrounding knobs and they were both perched on their points a full hour before daylight. Todd and I left our truck well before light also to get into our position with time to spare. 30 minutes before the first hint of light, Jeff informed us he could hear the whole herd ripping bugles and rutting like mad down on the flat near the waterhole. He also informed us that he could see multiple headlamps from other hunters closing in on the elk in the pitch darkness. I thought to myself that we made had made a good plan as I knew it was only a matter of moments before an elk stampede started. I was confident the elk would hold pattern and come our way when they blew. Just a minute later Jeff told me that based on the sounds alone the entire herd was on the run and headed our direction. Perfect! Only issue was it half an hour before we could see our own hand in front of our face. Soon Todd and I could hear the ruckus thundering past in the dark headed for the heart of the jungle. They were by us so fast it was nuts. All we could do now was fall in behind the bugles and dust and follow along in the dark as daylight approached. We did not know if the giant 7 was in the herd or not but we figured he sure as heck wasn't going to be behind us in the human circus, now all sitting a mile back in the dark before the days hunt even got started.
When light cracked we were sweat drenched but not far behind the elk. They had traveled nearly 3 miles at a trot and fast walk but were slowing down and starting to rut and talk more now. Todd and I ascended one last plateau and found ourselves nearly surrounded by animals with a 3-4 mph breeze in our face. "Perfect" We thought, "Let's hunt."...
We set up right away and started cow talking softly to no particular elk at all, just the bunch. There was literally elk talking and bulging and rutting in every direction except behind us. We quickly decided that we needed to move even closer so we picked up and tiptoed deeper into the trees. Now we were really in the mix. Good wind and a whole lot of elk right in front of us thinking they had left the humans far behind. Todd and I found a small clearing about 30 yards across with one lane extending to 80 yards. We knelt down under the branches of just the right shady tree facing the meadow. Todd was close to my right, arrow nocked, bow at the ready. My bow laid on the ground to my left, arrow nocked just in case.
I started cow talking again, soft with varying volume. Within seconds the first bull strode in directly in front of us. From 40 yards away he stared in our direction... "320" we agreed with a whisper as he turned and his head went behind a tree. Within seconds, the second bull came to the call from the front right and stopped at 30 yards. This bull had a solid step up on the first bull. "350's" we again agreed under our breath. This bull exited the scene the same way he had stepped onto it.
It's hard to explain or put into words the chaos that was going on all around us. Imagine non stop bugles going off in almost all directions from very close to very far. Dozens of cows chirping and whining and calves mewing everywhere. For what ever reason our call was the flavor of the morning and most of the elk were closing on our position at different speeds. We could hear a nasty throaty bugle off behind our right shoulder and could tell the bull was closing the gap on us quickly. Before he cleared the trees into view, Todd drew his bow and anchored to be ready for anything. We had a tree to our immediate right but could see the bull walking steady as he came into our little meadow in the jungle. As he cleared all obstacles, he walked directly out in front of Todd's waiting arrow and stopped at 18 yards looking around. A quick size-up was made and an hushed estimate of 360"-370" was hastily exchanged. Todd did his judging through his peep sight. He held and held and I could tell Todd was weighing all the data at a rapid fire pace through his brain. I imagined his internal dialogue went something like this..
Solid mature bull...
360+ for sure...
I wonder what Beth packed us for lunch?
It is only the second morning...
Beams are crazy long...
Did I pack enough toilet paper today?
Dang this bull looks great!..
I think I should kill him..
I think I'm going to kill him..
I'm killing him..
Thats it, here goes..
Don't miss cowboy!
Todd didn't miss. His broad head passed through the bulls vitals like nothing and clattered into the rocks behind. The bull had no idea what had happened or that we were even there. He extended his neck a bit as he became puzzled as to why he was feeling light headed. As he began to try to leave the meadow he staggered and his feet got heavy. The was no need to wonder if or where Todd's bull was going to die as the blood puddled around his front feet at a rapid rate. My left hand eased down and carefully picked up my bow. The rut fest was still in full swing, no elk were alarmed at all, and we had one big bull about to fall over dead on top of our hiding spot and 10 more screaming just out of sight...
While Todd was quietly pondering lunch and toilet paper and killing the biggest archery bull of his life, another bull had walked in from our left and was busy destroying a pine tree. He was on the other side of a clump of thick cedars and while I could tell he looked like a mature bull I couldn't tell anymore about him. Todd's bulls legs were splayed out like drinking giraffe as he clung to the last bits of daylight he was ever going to see. With a short side ways staggering run he crashed to the ground less than 20 yards in front of us in a cloud of dust. This commotion caused the other bull to quit raking his tree to take notice. The tree thrasher bull turned toward the dead bull and slowly began to walk his way...
|Todds big bull right where he fell.|
|The long beams and width were more than Todd could pass up!|
"My turn", I thought. I slowly drew my bow back and waited. Five more yards and the bull would escape all the trees and walk into the clearing at what looked like about 30 yards. I could see his beam tips above the trees coming and remember my self own talk going something like this...
Beams are long enough to be him..
I am about to see what he is...
Something may happen right quick here..
What if it's him..
Could it actually happen this easy?
His fronts are about to come into view..
Did Todd pack enough toilet paper for me too?
Fronts are giant..
Thirds are giant..
Fourths are bigger..
Holy **** it's ******* him..
That's it, here goes..
Don't miss Cowboy!
The legend strode into the clearing at 28 yards broadside, completely at ease without the slightest notion that we were ready and waiting for him. He had a 15 foot clearing he was walking across and then the shot opportunity would be gone. I remember thinking his antlers looked like a picket fence. I made a cow call at him in hopes he would stop for just the slightest second. He didn't hear it or didn't stop. Now he was half way through my window and still walking like a boss. I made a loud sound that resembled standing on a kittens tail while strangling a monkey, trying to get the bulls attention for a standing shot. He again paid me no mind at all and definitely didn't stop. Three more feet and he would be swallowed by the cedars again, maybe forever. I quickly planted the pin on the walking bull and took a swipe at my trigger like I was splitting firewood.
Slow motion as I watched my arrow sizzle across the tiny opening and pass through the bull without slowing down. The shot was a bit back but not drastically. It was perfect for up and down. I remember instantly thinking in that moment that I hope I hit the back part of his lungs and maybe his liver, worst case. The bull turned straight away and hammered the throttle as he crashed away into the cedar jungle that had kept him alive all these years. The dust began to settle as Todd and I sat in silence. To be honest we didn't know what to say or do. For a good bit we just stayed hunkered down under our killing tree and dwelled in that place only a bowhunter knows after a close encounter ending with a kill. Magnified by the fact we had just hopefully killed two big bulls..
Todd and I sat for a few more moments. These written words can obviously never do justice to the events we had just caused. It took two days to write this story, but the whole scenario among the elk took less than a 3 minutes. We figured that Todd's shot and my shot were about 30 to 40 seconds apart. Todd's bull laid dead at our feet, never knowing that we had been there so close to him. My bull was dead out in the trees somewhere we hoped. My brain turned to scrambled eggs and I was having trouble getting it to focus on the moment and the events that had just happened. It was an adrenaline over dose for both Todd and I. We stumbled and mumbled and back slapped and hugged again over our experience way off in the thick trees far from the roads and all other people. As we snapped back to reality we decided to let my bull lay while we took pictures and butchered and packed out Todds bull. Once Todds bull was done and packed out, we returned and started on the tracks of mine. We were 40 yards apart slipping quietly but we didn't go 5 minutes and Jeff whistled at us. My bull was dead laying 350 yards from Todd's kill site. The rest of our crew joined us for the butchering and meat packing. The pounds never felt so good...
|Matt's Giant bull right where fell.|
|Matt and his bull.|
For those that wonder. Todd's 6x7 bull taped 369" and my 7x9 bull taped 434". That's 803" inches of bulls killed in less than 40 seconds from under the same tree. Only in Arizona and only by Gods hand.
|Matt Schimberg and Jeff Archer.|
|Beth and Jeff.|
|Matt and Beth.|
|Todd packing out his stud 6x7.|
|Allen and Bella Schimberg with Todd's bull.|
|Michael Schimberg with her dads giant.|
|Matt and Todd|
|The wall tent the night of the kill.|
|The Schimberg girls.|
|The hunters 1000 years before us.|