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Five Barrels
January 1997
Gerhard Schroeder

It finally happened. My brother got drawn for Arizona elk. And mule deer. Plans were put in place, and with some delays he and his wife arrived on 7 November. The mule deer hunt was already in progress. We went to bed at 1 am, after unpacking and preparing for the next day. Then got back up at 3:30 am and headed for unit 31.

I played guide, more than actually hunting. After all the deer he let me bag in Germany, I at least owed him that. At first light, while still driving in, a covey of quail crossed the dirt road, basically under our tires. It was the same covey David, Glenn and I had been into the previous weekend. I didn't get my deer then, and Glenn and David were along for small game, and to keep me company (or just get away from home). They had taken a hike through the country that morning, seen or heard no birds, returned to the truck and were in the process of burning up some .22's, when I returned to the vehicles. Only to hear their bitching that they had not noticed any quail. Right then, I hadn't quite reached my Toyota, and their Buckmark barrels were still hot and smoking, two quail crossed, basically through camp. The combo flew off my shoulder, a quail was quickly aligned in the 6-power scope, and I fired. "Yep, David, no quail anywhere" came out of my smart mouth as I went over to pick up the bird.

Now I was asking Helmut if he wanted to hunt the birds. "Of course!" is all he whispered as the door opened. I jumped out also, got my combo from the back seat, and five barrels went into the desert. Yes, Helmut had taken his drilling with him, and so we were ready for deer or birds, or anything in between, for that matter. I got him onto the quail after only a few steps, and he fired immediately, yeah, yeah, they were on the ground. Worse was the distance, and so I commented that his shot was awfully close. He calmly replied that he had aimed high, and sure enough, no breast damage, and head intact as well, only shot off. It pays to be familiar with your weapon! After that, no more lectures, which is not easy for me to do.

We did not see muleys that day, but he and his wife did see a nice whitetail. He also bagged two more quail in the afternoon. He did get into muleys the next morning, after I had spotted the group some 3/4 mile away. We moved in to about 500 yards, then Helmut put on his stalk, while we stayed back and watched. Bottom line: there was a dinky spike with the does, and he had him in the Swarowsky 10 power, but the distance was about 300 steps, and the deer was walking. No shot. Then the Nikon binoculars, which Glenn Sampson was nice enough to lend us, hit his drilling as he moved closer, the lead-doe heard the clang, and they all left for another county. We saw deer again Sunday morning, but no bucks in the group. That time Helmut left the Nikons with me, and actually got to within 5 steps of one doe, triggering then, of course, a panic flight by all. We did not bring home mule deer meat.

No matter, our bull elk hunt was on the very next Friday. We left Thursday at 1 PM, and arrived in the woods behind Show Low right before dark, spotting two nice bulls right off the road on the way to camp. Talk about a morale booster! We woke to a stormy Friday, had our Coleman breakfast and headed right for the spot where the bulls had been. Walked around all morning, Helmut once lost his brand new camo hat to the gusty winds, which deposited it right in the middle of the only water puddle around, some 20 steps from us, but, of course, saw no elk that morning. He did, however, bag a squirrel with the shotgun barrel.

Right before dark we did find a group of tan hides, and I let him make the stalk, since he was supposed to shoot the first elk. He eventually returned and reported: "I got to a decent tree for a gun rest, zoomed the scope up to 10 power, and checked out all those elk: cow, cow cow, cow, antlers!, activated the set trigger, then hesitated since it was only a forked horn, and we had made the rule to not shoot unless there were at least 4 points on one side, kept checking: cow, another cow, there! a big bull, going behind a tree and over the rise - - gone! No shot."

Saturday came with a pleasant surprise, 4 to 6 inches of snow everywhere, including all our camping gear. But, after a decent half hour the Coleman stove was dry and fully functional again. We first drove the roads to find elk tracks, which didn't take long. Followed a secondary logging road until we again crossed tracks, stopped the Toy there and followed the promising signs in the snow. Not 200 yards, and we saw elk moving from us. We detoured around a hill, saw more elk, and followed their tracks. Soon two bull tracks joined those of four cows we'd been watching. We followed those fresh tracks, then heard a shot in the direction of our travel, and after some 20 minutes came up on two hunters gutting a 5X5. We congratulated them, and returned in our tracks, finding only some comfort in the fact that the bull's antlers had been rather small. Plus, I did take it out on a fat but dumb squirrel. A 12 yard head shot with the 160 Nosler partition (so what, better than pumping him full of pellets!) saved all its meat, besides, two squirrels are just right for squirrel salad, and the next day was the end of their open season. From now on it would be any size bull for us.

Then, that afternoon we both fired at, and apparently missed a spike. We followed his tracks for at least a half mile, saw no blood on the snow, plus he stayed with the herd. We then realized where this bunch was heading, quickly returned to the Toy and headed them off. Almost. As we got to where we thought they would go, they were already there, and we spooked them. The spike was still with them, looking healthy as ever, and again no blood.

Sunday morning we really blew it. Followed tracks in the snow again, until suddenly a big bull crashed out of its bed and crossed away from us. Helmut's drilling was off the shoulder in no time and the 7X65R barked. The bull stopped, behind a tree, about 80 steps from us. "You shoot him", he whispered". I found his left shoulder and fired. The bull hightailed it. We reloaded hastily and walked over to where the big boy had stopped. No blood. His single track was easy to follow. We did, for the better part of a mile. No blood. We both must have hit twigs or branches. Still, we followed, skipping lunch. Coming over a small rise I saw a small spike. Helmut was only a few steps from me, so, while keeping the spike's shoulder in my crosshairs, I whispered for him to shoot. Nothing happened for several seconds. Then the elk moved, and I fired, and so did my brother at virtually the same moment. The elk stumbled off, and after some 20 yards a neck shot ended it all. I tagged the critter, then went for the Toyota as Helmut did the field dressing. He wanted it that way, never having done the 'red work' on such a large animal. As luck had it, a decent dirt road was only 200 paces off. By the way, this elk had been shot through the liver and left a blood trail on both sides of its tracks during those final 20 paces.

Now, how do you get an elk back to camp in one piece, with only a 4Runner for the job? Well, we were hunting in Apache County, and so we used their old technology: dragging the spike on a sled fabricated from an oak tree. It worked, and an hour later the elk was hanging in camp. Only not as high as we would have liked. So, to discourage scavengers at night, or while hunting the next day, we both left our 'scent' close by and 'topped' that off by draping a pair of ripe socks over the spikes. That worked, too. No coyotes partied in our camp. That Sunday late afternoon we went for elk again, after I had retired my combo to its gun case. Helmut got into another group of elk, had yet another forked horn in his sights, and passed it up again. Four days were left in this season, we had elk meat, and at least for the next two days he would be trophy hunting again. We had fresh elk liver that night.

Full of anticipation after making prey we headed for a new area in the Monday morning darkness, admittedly in the direction of where the big boy had been traveling the day before. We saw very little elk tracks, and so looped back towards our wheels. We reached the road, and followed it, only to detect fresh-looking tracks crossing, lots. Then I saw movement under the trees, then elk everywhere. Helmut had his drilling ready as I watched the elk move through the woods. Now they turned, and basically headed for us. They passed an opening. Helmut got on one knee, and when big antlers crossed, he fired, only to immediately cuss. He saw this thumb-size branch fall. Quickly reloaded he was ready again as the elk crossed the road some 120 paces ahead. Through my 10 power binos I watched them lope through the clearing the dirt road provided, and my brother out of focus in the foreground. Cow, cow, cow, spike, cow, forked horn, cow, now more antlers, maybe a 4 by, now getting larger, and another good bull, and another, and a real - Boom - finally he fired as the nicest of them got in the open. But no sign of being hit. We watched the group fade into the forest. But wait, there, one big bull quit following, heading downhill instead. Typical for a wounded elk, he must be hit!

"Why did it take you so long to shoot"? "Couldn't keep the sights on the first ones. Good thing there were so many. Finally got it down. The shot felt good". He reloaded the rifle barrel, as we went to where the elk had crossed to check for blood from his first shot. None. Then followed the tracks until one separated from the bunch, and here the 177 grain RWS TIG factory load had drawn blood! Now we saw the bull again, he had paused some 100 steps ahead, now slowly running away. Helmut fired again, this time with his handloaded 175 grain partition. The elk moved on, but soon bedded down, about 200 steps away. Not wanting to push the animal any further, Helmut stalked in for a finishing shot, while I stayed back and watched. Some 15 minutes and 80 yards later the finishing neck shot echoed through the woods.

He had accomplished what he came to Arizona for. We approached this 5x 6 with respect. The antlers were not large by Arizona standards, but this did not take anything away from our happiness. We proceeded as the day before to get the bull to camp. The first shot had gone through the liver, small pieces of which we found in the blood trail. The second nicked the ham, then tore along his inside and took out 5 ribs. Helmut would later find the lower partition imbedded in the shoulder meat. This 5x6 was pulled up a better tree. Once off the ground, we switched to the spike. He was skinned and de-boned before we ran out of daylight.

Sometime during that process a crow came in too close. The drilling, with empty rifle barrel, but containing heavy 12ga medicine, was leaning against a tree close by. I grabbed it and discharged the right barrel. The #5 lead from the green Winchester paper shell of Australian manufacture folded the black scavenger at a good forty paces. I do like that gun. That afternoon, Helmut would go over to his trophy hanging from the tree several times. Even one more time in the moonlight. It was his 'elk for life'. One truly happy hunter.

Tuesday was all work: breaking camp, skinning and parting Helmut's trophy, packing all the stuff in the 4Runner, and heading home. We had been gone for five days. That afternoon David came over to help de-bone and butcher. All meat was in the freezer, de-boned and wrapped, before 9 pm. Preparing the antlers for transport was the most pain of the whole harvest. But, after cooking all meat and hide off the skulls, getting a certificate from the US veterinarian's office, several square feet of bubble wrap and 50 extra bucks for Northwest, he did get them to the old country in one piece.

We had little extra time before he had to get back, but managed to take three short trips of no more than 4 hours each. We bagged some quail each time, and quickly shot some rifle barrels hot while plinking at rocks before it was time to return home. Stuff he can't do in Germany.

On the way to the airport I told him he had 6 months to make up his mind what big game to apply for in '97. He just smiled, maybe because his wife was listening. I know it won't be this soon, but I enjoyed this big game season a great deal, and I hope he'll come back for more as well.

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