Bulls, Bullets and Broadheads - Arizona Elk Hunt

By Dr. Jim and Mary Clary

Dr. Donny MacDougall with AZ trophy elk
Dr. Donny MacDougall with his AZ trophy elk.

This is definitely not your typical story about an elk hunt. This is the tale of how a New Mexico veterinarian, Dr. Donny MacDougall, patiently put in for nineteen consecutive years for Unit 10 in Arizona. Finally, with 21 points, his hunter education point and loyalty point, he drew for a rifle hunt during the rut. For those not familiar with this unit, it is one of the biggest elk units in the country. In fact, it is larger than seven states in the U.S. A major portion of the unit is owned by the Navajo Nation, since the purchase of the Boquillos Ranch. It is one of the top three trophy elk hunting units in the world.

This hunt was undoubtedly going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With that in mind, Dr. Donny hired Arizona Elk Outfitters run by the McClendon family. These folks are absolutely the best of the best. In fact, you can find some of their DVDs on long range elk hunting on the internet. When they accept you as a client, you can be assured they will find you a quality trophy bull. Of course, it is up to you to bring him down.

At this point, it seems to us that a bit more information on the good doctor is in order. Dr. Donny is a world class SASS and CMSA champion mounted shooter with a .45 revolver. In addition, he has been to Africa on several safaris and hunted big game in just about every western state; he is a top-notch hunter.

Donny spent most of the summer prior to the hunt practicing on the local range. We were pleased that he asked us to tweak the loads for his Kimber 7mm WSM rifle to develop the most accurate load. We played with several powders and bullets and finally settled on Chris Hodgdon's Ballistic Extreme 4350 powder behind a 160 grain Nosler Accubond bullet. We developed a load that produced 1" groups at 200 yards off the bench. That is about as good as you can get with a production hunting rifle.

Unlike other guided hunts that Donny had been on, the folks at Arizona Elk Outfitters contacted him well in advance of the hunt. (In June, when the hunt was for late September). They briefed him on the gear he would need for the hunt and the accuracy he would need with his gun. They asked him to send them periodic updates of his progress at the range (including targets). The accommodations and guide were handpicked to match the hunter (Donny) and the hunter's style. That is real professionalism.

After months of waiting, September finally rolled around. Donny drove to Seligman, AZ where he was met by the outfitter and his wife and driven to the base camp in Unit 10.

"My accommodations were a very large outfitters tent with a comfortable cot. Once settled in, Tyne Heckethorn, my guide, informed me that we would see large numbers of elk every day and that I was absolutely not to shoot until he says, no matter what." That turned out to be an understatement.

Day 1: Opening morning there were elk everywhere. Donny passed on bulls larger than most elk hunters ever see. Right off the bat, they passed on a very nice 350 bull at 250 yards. Trusting what Tyne said, they hunted hard the rest of the day (and every day thereafter) and passed up bigger and better bulls. Each time, Tyne would say, "We're waiting for a giant."

That night the area was flooded with a deluge that dropped two inches of rain and turned all of the fields into muddy quagmires. As expected, all the roads were trashed.

Day 2: Despite the miserable conditions, Donny and Tyne went out. Not much they could do, except glass a few slopes and pray that there was no more rain in the forecast. Tyne did manage to call in a nice 370 class bull with half a dozen cows at about 300 yards, but again Tyne told the Donny to hold fire, which he did.

It continued to drizzle rain off and on throughout the day. By evening, Dr. Donny was having some regrets about having passed on that bull, as it was the largest he had ever had in his crosshairs. However, he decided that Tyne was the expert and knew best.

Day 3: Lots of bulls, any one of which would be larger than most hunters see in a lifetime, and always Tyne would tell him to hold fire. At the end of the day, they spotted a monster bull in the 385+ class headed uphill about 500 yards. Donny took a "Hail Mary shot" and was high. Oops, shooting uphill or downhill, your impact will be higher than you expect. (They should have used the Slope Doper!) Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

Looking for any excuse to explain why he missed, Donny shaved his beard down to a short goatee, reasoning that the whiskers on the stock got in the way. Mary smiled and didn't believe that tale any more than when Jim told her the reason he missed that pig last year was because of a wasp buzzing around his head. (Mary's comment: "And they say fishermen have excuses for the one that got away. I guess they never met Dr. Jim or Dr. Donny.")

Day 4: By this time, Donny was beginning to wonder if his luck had run out. He and Tyne were sitting on top of a rocky knoll and glassing all manner of elk. It was almost like being in Yellowstone. All of a sudden, Tyne exclaimed, "Whoaaa, that guy is a shooter."

Donny and Tyne bailed off the mountain and drove four or five miles in an attempt to locate the monster they had seen from the knoll. They left a spotter on a nearby hill to guide them to the big boy's specific bugle.

It worked, they found him. After jogging and then crawling through the pinion and junipers they got to within 440 yards. However, there was a problem, the sun was down and daylight was fading rapidly.

Dr. Donny is a man in pretty good shape, having to deal with cattle and horses in his practice. However, jogging with a back pack and rifle had left him winded and short of breath. His first shot (again) went over the bull's back. All he could think was, "Not again, please, not again."

After a couple of deep breaths, the good doctor's second shot hit home. Tyne told him to finish him off with another shot, so that he wouldn't go far after dark. As the bull trotted into the trees, Donny fired again. The Nosler notched one of the T-2 tines and embedded itself in the T-1 brow tine. The good news is that the bull dropped almost immediately after that shot. He didn't need a second shot after all. Donny now has a rather unique set of antlers.

While dressing out the bull, they found a broken off broadhead lodged just above the spine and completely healed over. Then, when Donny sat down to take a break while Tyne finished dressing the elk, he placed his hand on the ground and felt an arrowhead. That arrowhead was identified by our daughter, Susannah Clary-Drake (a graduate archeologist), as a San Pedro point dating from 1,500 - 1,000 BC.

San Pedro point broadhead found by Dr. Donny
The San Pedro point broadhead found by Dr. Donny.

An omen? Who knows? No matter, that bull's luck finally ran out and Dr. Donny MacDougall's hunt of a lifetime was a success, thanks to the skill and hard work of Tyne Heckethorn and Jabe Warner of Arizona Elk Outfitters. If you are ever lucky enough to successfully draw for a trophy elk hunt in Arizona, you should check out Travis McClendon's website at http://www.arizonaelkoutfitters.com

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Copyright 2014 by Dr. Jim Clary. All rights reserved.