By Becky L. Taylor
October 19, 2018 was opening day of elk hunting season. My dad, Crutch, drew his third cow elk tag, but this was his first-time hunting in Arizona’s Game Management Unit 5A. Dad was all set and ready to go at 5:00 am on opening day. My husband, Shon, my dad and me all piled into the truck early in the morning and headed out. We decided to sit near a water hole and a frequently-traveled area on that first morning to see what came around, to break my dad into the area slowly.
You see, my dad can’t walk very far due to his diminished lung capacity and numerous other medical issues. He was a journeyman plumber here in Phoenix during his working years. A second-generation member of local 469, he spent 36-years in the industry. During that time, he was exposed to asbestos before they knew the dangers and the years of dust, debris and the extreme hard work over the years had taken its toll on his body. Thankfully, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has an amazing program called CHAMP (Challenged Hunter Access/Mobility Permit) just for people like my dad. Basically, it gives folks the chance to keep hunting, albeit with a little extra help. The hunter can legally shoot from a stopped vehicle if it is off the roadway. A specified person can retrieve the animal (and finish the animal if necessary) and tag it. Without this program, my dad would not be hunting much anymore and my dreams of hunting with my daddy would be over.
Shon drove us as close as he could to the area and Dad and I slowly made our way to the crop of oak trees where we were going to sit. I helped Dad set up on his swivel seat and we got comfortable on the forest floor. Our first morning of sitting and watching was filled with frolicking squirrels, chirping birds and a cool fresh breeze, but no elk. After lunch and a power nap, we headed back out in the truck and drove the roads. We were able to cover a lot of ground and we saw a nice buck, three javelina, and more squirrels, but no elk.
On the second day of the hunt, our friend, Greg Godbehere, came up to help my dad out with his tag again this year. Greg, Shon, our son Peyton, Dad and I all piled in the truck and headed to another waterhole to sit for a while. Greg got Dad set up in a great spot by some more oak trees. Peyton and I sat down in a ground blind and Greg took up residence right next to Daddy. After an hour or so of no action, Shon and Greg decided to do a series of lost calf/cow calls. They set up about 20-yards apart and really put on a show. Peyton and I would periodically sit up to see if the sounds we were hearing were still the elk calls or an actual elk. I even caught Greg and Shon peeking around looking in the direction of the other, just to make sure it wasn’t an actual elk. Finally, we decided to hit the road and see what we could find. Our travels showed us some more beautiful country, squirrels, two outrageous bucks, a flock of turkeys in full strut and a coyote, but again no elk.
On the third morning, we again hit the roads in the truck, but in a different part of the unit. We had Peyton with us again this morning as Daddy said he was his good luck charm. As the daylight started breaking through the trees, we found ourselves bathed in a photographer’s dream. The light coming through the clouds and trees was a soft rose/gold color. The light bathed the forest and the truck in the most magical light I’ve ever witnessed. The elk must have been enjoying the lighting too and all of a sudden, there they were. We had finally found them.
On the driver’s side, 100-yards out and moving slowly were two cows and a calf. Shon got the truck pulled off the road, then Dad and I got out of the truck as quickly as we could. We got all set up and just as Dad went to fire – Nothing. The safety was on! Unfortunately, the delay was enough for the cows to jump the fence and disappear. The calf got hung up in the fence for a minute, but then got free and took off after his mother. As I helped Daddy get back in the truck, I tried to reassure him and manage his disappointment.
Shon quickly go us back out on the dirt road and we continued our search. One left turn and about a half mile later, Dad and I both spotted a cow between the trees, 150-yards out. Shon again got Dad into a great position. I jumped out of the truck and helped Daddy get set up. Looking through the binoculars, I was calling out to Dad, “cow, cow, big cow, another big cow, you’re good, Daddy” and then, “Boom!” I saw one cow flinch and the other three took off running. Dad set his gun back down and looked at me with tears in his eyes. I cried out, “You did it, Daddy! It looked like a great shot!”
After what seemed like the longest thirty minutes ever had passed, Shon, Peyton and I headed out to find Daddy’s elk. The uneven, rocky, muddy terrain along with a stream and a fence line made it just too hard for my Dad to try to get out to his elk safely on his own. So, as allowed by CHAMP, Shon took Dad’s rifle to retrieve the cow. We found her about 75-yards east of where Daddy had shot her. She was down for the count. A beautifully placed shot that pierced both of her lungs made for a clean and humane end for this magnificent animal. At one hundred and fifty yards, through the trees, leaning on the open passenger door, off the side of the road, breathing oxygen, my daddy filled his third elk tag in his 69-years. This was by far his hardest hunt, both physically and emotionally.
One phone call and twenty minutes later, the cavalry came in to help us pack her out. Greg Godbehere and Glen Jones showed up to help Shon and I with the heavy lifting. The three of them even took the time to educate 11-year-old Peyton on proper field dressing of an elk and they even gave me a chance to get my beautiful knife, made by the late and great Ray Everidge, dirty. We finally got her quartered, bagged and brought back to my dad at the truck. The look of pride and humility on my daddy’s face was something I will not soon forget. Then looking at my husband and our amazing friends, Greg and Glen and seeing the mirrored looks of pride on their faces as well, brought tears to my eyes.
Hunting is so much more than just harvesting an animal. It’s the memories that are made in the process, the disappointments as well as the triumphs. The friendships made, re-established or strengthened. It’s teaching young people to respect the land and the animal’s life, giving thanks for both in the process. It’s a young girl’s dream of hunting with her daddy coming true again. It’s the look in a man’s eyes and seeing him believing in himself again and the knowledge that he can still do this and so much more. That sense and feeling of self-worth in a person is priceless.