Return to hunting after 50 years

by Debbie Saari
(Overgaard, AZ. USA)

I would like to submit a story about a successful Az. elk hunt.
This story is about my return to hunting after nearly 50 years. It is written with humor, love, and a woman's perspective.
It was a four day hunt with dramatic weather changes. and ends with three generations involved with the recovery of the animal.

MiMI the Elk Slayer


By Debbie Saari

Coming from a family of hunters my first deer was shot in 1972, I was 17. I knew I wasn’t done hunting, not yet…

The dream of elk hunting started back in 2014 after visiting Belt, Montana with my husband Ken, daughter Abby and son in-law Ben. Ken and Abby each shot their first elk at The Ranches of Belt Creek. Ben had an elk under his belt from a New Mexico hunt. I wanted to join that elk club.

Ben and Abby had a dream of their own, and began working towards building their own hunting cabin in northern Arizona on the Mogollon Rim at 6600 foot elevation. When that dream came true, Ken and I applied for elk tags in units 3A/3C. Here in Arizona it is a lottery system and one could wait 20 years before getting pulled for a tag. We got lucky, both of us were awarded a tag for 2020!

With Ben as my guide and Ken by my side, elk hunting for the first time is pretty darn exciting. Did I mention I just turned 65?

My hunt started on a beautiful 70 degree sunny day in Apache -Sitgreaves National Forest in Heber-Overgaard Arizona.

Two hours into the hunt Ben spotted an elk bedded down under a juniper on the next ridge to the left. Ben placed the shooting sticks and measured a 96 yard shot.

As I looked, I thought, oh my gosh, I can’t shoot an elk laying down. After all I had never practiced that shot and felt unprepared. The elk was laying in such a fashion that all I saw was hind end and head. Surely I would not shoot an elk in the back side and a head shot did not seem right either.

I decided to try and hit a shoulder, I squeezed the trigger, the gun roared and to my disappointment, I missed. My target and two other cows made a hasty exit right.

I was glad I did not wound an animal, but I did feel bad that I missed my opportunity to “catch” an elk that day.

It was a good day.

Day two the weather turned nasty, it rained all day with temperatures in the 50’s. We decided to start the day in a draw and settled in amongst the junipers. We waited in the cover of darkness, about mid morning we started our trek through the woods. We saw deer and elk without the opportunity of getting a clean shot.

Later that day while standing on top of a high ridge we looked down on a rainbow. What a sight that was, I will never forget it. It felt like we were on top of the world. Although I got drenched, I stayed warm and dry in my new high tech outfit. Camo

At the end of the day we felt grateful for spending the day together in Gods outdoors.

It was a good day.

The next day of the hunt, the winds blew in. Temperatures now in the 30’s, wind gusts of 40 mph. Today we would start on top of a hill as we had seen elk come through the cuts below us on our scouting days.

We did see two other hunters on the next ridge over and an hour later we heard a shot ring out. They had intercepted the elk coming through. Yea for them! They shot an elk.

We hunted all day.

It was a good day.

Day four…18 degrees, snow on the ground, snow in the air and sunshine. An amazing beautiful day, crisp and clean. We walked for several hours and each step of the way Ben assured me that the elk were just around the next hill or in the next draw or on the next mountain side.

Ben was so sure that on the next hill, in the next draw that the elk would be there. He turned to me and said, “Get your gun ready”. I readied the scope by opening the covers, I readied the hold on the gun. I prepared for a shot, just liked we practiced.

Ben was right. It all happened so fast, 5 or 6 seconds from when I saw the elk until I pulled the trigger. A cow elk was moving to the right and away. If I waited an other second my opportunity would be lost forever. It was an 89 yard shot. Ben set the shooting sticks, I lifted the rifle. I aimed for front center mass, hoping to hit the lungs. She was moving and no time to think about hitting the heart.

We could hardly believe it. With the shot of the gun she bolted to the right and up the draw. Surely I had hit her, it’s what I had been practicing for months. Two other elk stood up and slowly exited to the left.

Ben ran to the hill side where she was when I fired. He saw blood splatter and knew I had hit her. She collapsed 50 yards up the draw, both lungs penetrated by the 300 Winchester Magnum. This cow was big, really big, estimated 600 pounds.

I was thrilled and could hardly breath. I was so happy I did not disappoint Ken or Ben. Ben was the most excited as he is the most seasoned hunter of our party. He has had successful hunts in Alaska, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico and Arizona. This is another hunt story under Ben’s belt. Did I mention I have the best son in-law! We named the draw, “Deb’s Draw”. We had walked it everyday of the hunt.

We hunted hard, walked 25 miles, climbed 165 “flights” per Fitbit. I maneuvered over rocks and fallen trees, carrying that rifle that would not stay on my shoulder, heavy boots and “tight long underwear”. Always hiking up a hill or down a hill, it was tough for this ole babe, but I did it. Slowly! It was all worth it seeing the smiles on my two boys faces, job done, dream come true.

It was a very good day.

Ken had worked so hard to prepare me for this adventure. Multiple times to the shooting range, countless dry firing sessions out our back door and me learning how to use a shooting stick, standing, sitting and shooting prone. The exercising, walking, biking, and time spent in the gym proved to be well spent. We wanted to be ready for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

I needed new camo and not knowing what the weather would be, I need to be prepared for 70 degrees or 18 degrees. Women’s camo has come a long way since 1972! I got three new “outfits”, one for warm, cool and cold weather. As luck would have it, I got to use all three.

We worked hard at staying healthy, with Covid 19 in the air, we avoided people, avoided our friends… please forgive us… Didn’t want to chance getting ill before the hunt.
Abby, Keller and Holland, the two grandsons, who call me MiMI, had arrived on day three and were able to join in the recovery of the animal. It was a family affair, three generations, and it felt so right. It took two ATVs, and Ken’s ingenuity to get the elk in the back of the ATV. It was a Kodak moment!

The memories made out in the high desert and the ponderosa pines, was truly a blessing from God.

Deb’s Draw, it’s about a half mile from the Mountaintop cabin, where dreams are made and dreams come true.

Eighteen days later, Ken shot a wall hanger, 6x6 bull.

I feel like one Lucky Woman.

Ken is one Lucky Man.

Comments for Return to hunting after 50 years

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Jan 02, 2021
As long as you can walk, hunt Elk!
by: Pat Cassidy

Great hunting story!
You surely are not old at 65, put in for another tag!

Jan 02, 2021
Return to Hunting
by: David

Debbie, I enjoyed your hunting story. Glad you had such a great time with family! I've never hunted Arizona. I see you hunted in my state once. I've been hunting in Montana since my wife and I and sons moved here in 1991. I have hunted only in Montana every year since then. I hope to hunt Arizona some day. I'm 64 and I have recently gotten all of my businesses set up so that they can be done from anywhere. No more buildings to go to! Feel free to email pictures of the hunt to me and I will post them on your story. Happy New Year from our family to all of yours! dave @ elkhuntingtips.net. (No spaces.)

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