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The stories from the field in this issue of the newsletter are all about junior hunters. We are always on the lookout for stories about the hunting experiences of adults as well as juniors. If you have a story you would like to share, we invite you to e-mail it to the Hunting Highlights editor. More juniors’ stories are in the “junior hunters” section of this newsletter.
Jake Oliver’s first big game harvest
By Jerry Clark, Sierra Vista
Jake Oliver, 17, of Sierra Vista, was drawn for last fall’s junior elk hunt in Game Management Unit 27. He, his father Mike and I traveled up to Alpine on Wednesday, Oct. 18 to scout the unit before the hunt. After pitching camp, we set up in a large meadow and called for coyotes, with no luck. As the sun began to set, we headed back to camp and spotted a young raghorn bull and a couple of cows. Jake’s excitement grew.
The next couple of days gave Jake a good taste of what hunting in elk country can be like—lots of hiking ridges and meadows in cold temperatures, with only one cow and one bull spotted during that time. For variety, we even broke out the .22 rifles and did some squirrel hunting, although the squirrels were more successful in avoiding us than we were in harvesting them.
Despite feeling under the weather Friday evening, Jake was raring to head out hunting at daybreak Saturday. We loaded on the ATVs and headed toward the ridgeline above the meadow where we had called coyotes two days earlier. We parked the ATVs and headed down toward the meadow.
As we worked our way through the trees, a feeding elk came into view about 150 yards away. Jake and I worked forward to get a clearer view and line of fire. The elk lifted its head, and I could see through my binoculars that it was a cow elk.
I told Jake, “It’s a cow, take it!”
“A cow?” Jake asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Take the shot when you’re ready!”
Jake sighted the rifle and fired. The cow went down. As Jake reloaded, several more elk took off running and headed down the draw. Jake asked if the trail cow was the one he had shot at, because he thought it was limping. I told him no, his was down!
As Jake, Mike and I got to the downed elk, we all celebrated. Jake had harvested his first big game animal. Now the work began.
As we field-dressed the elk, Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Aaron Hartzell stopped by to look at the animal, check the tag, and collect a sample to test for Chronic Wasting Disease. Officer Hartzell discussed each step of the sampling process with Jake, who is interested in becoming a wildlife officer. Officer Hartzell also described the education and training required to become a field officer. He was a great representative of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Jake’s first big game harvest will surely be a great memory for him, his dad, and for me for many years to come.
Caitlin Starks’ elk hunt
By Jay Starks, Phoenix
I was really excited when my daughter Caitlin, 16, drew her third youth elk tag in Game Management Unit 6A. I’ve always enjoyed the father-daughter bonding opportunity that presents itself on these trips.
Our family has always done a lot of camping, fishing and other outdoors-oriented activities. Caitlin drew her first youth elk tag at age 10—that was challenging! She was drawn for elk again when she was 14 and harvested her first animal in Unit 27. She has also had four youth deer tags and three general javelina tags.
When school scheduling conflicts threatened to derail this year’s three-day hunt, we were forced to change strategies, reduce the trip to two days, and hunt areas we had never scouted.
Luck was on our side. Caitlin harvested a nice cow elk first thing Sunday morning.
It turned out the elk was part of a Game and Fish radio-collaring study, tracking the frequency with which elk cross I-17. Dan Caputo, the wildlife manager in Unit 6A, met us in the field and helped us recover our elk meat and the collar. The ride with Dan proved to be an enjoyable and educational experience for us. He represents the Game and Fish Department well and helped make our short hunt much more memorable.
Caitlin has always been interested in animals, science and the outdoors, but even I have been somewhat (and pleasantly) surprised that she likes to hunt. She talks about being a veterinarian and has been a teen volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo for the past four years. Who knows, she might pursue a career with the Arizona Game and Fish Department!