The tradition of hunting in Rim country extends back to the beginning of mankind. Native Americans relied on harvesting of animals as an important food source. As Spanish explorers and eventually Anglos began settling in the region, hunting became critical to sustain life. As years passed, the written hunting exploits of Zane Grey, Jack O'Connor and other authors captured the imagination of the sport hunter worldwide.
Over the last century the quality of hunting in and around Payson has had its share of the so-called "good" and "bad" years. The region offers a variety of big game animals including mule deer, coues whitetail deer, javelina, black bear, mountain lion, elk and turkey. We constantly heard stories about tremendous "trophy" animals being taken by hunters, but for years there was no clear explanation of what that meant. To some hunters a trophy elk is a spike bull, yet others feel it must have at least six antler points to a side.
To solve the dilemma of what a trophy animal is and how to keep a record of them, The Boone & Crockett Club of America devised a complex system of "scoring" big game animals by measuring their antlers, horns or skulls. Using this same scoring system, the Arizona Wildlife Federation later decided our state needed its own record book, with the first edition of Arizona Wildlife Trophies being published in 1975. Since the original book, there have been revised editions printed every five years, with the latest published in 2000.
A review of the Arizona record book indicates there have been several truly fine big game animal trophies taken in the Payson area. Of particular interest to every hunter in the Rim country is the magnificent Cervus Canadensis, more commonly called the Rocky Mountain Elk. Payson lies within Game Management Units 22 and 23, which gained an early reputation for quality elk hunting. One of the reasons for this is Unit 22 and 23 were among the few places in the state that offered an early firearms bull elk hunt taking place during the "rutting" or "mating" season. Hunters know this provides a great opportunity to hunt, as the air is filled bulls bugling their brains out as they are worked into a mating frenzy by their female counterparts.
We often hear stories around Rim country of huge bulls being spotted that will score 350 B&C points or better. My recommendation is take such comments with a grain of salt. The fact is most hunters in the field are unable to tell the different between a 300 B&C 6x6 bull or one that might score 350. If you examine the 2000 edition of the record book, you will find there are 208 listings for "typical" elk entries that meet the minimum score for listing of 345 B&C points. Units 22 and 23 account for only nine entries.
Of particular interest is the fact there is only one book entry for a "non-typical" bull elk. A non-typical bull is one whose antlers have unusual points and/or structure. The one entry was taken in Unit 23 in 1997 by Aaron Petermann and was a monster with eight antler points on one side and six on the other and scored a whopping 375 B&C points. Although not listed in the book, local resident Tiffany McDaniel took a conga non-typical bull in 1998 just south of Payson that had a gross score of 410 B&C points and a net of 368.
There have been more "book" bulls taken in the Payson area other than the listings described above, but for whatever reason, the hunter chose not to enter it into the Arizona record book, such as was the case with the McDaniel bull. But the point still stands, that to harvest a large, trophy bull elk, requires a lot of luck and usually hard work, and Units 22 and 23 are no "cakewalk" when it comes to hunting. We have steep terrain, thick stands of manzanita and oak, and at times every fork you step on seems to roll under your boots.
If you are lucky enough to draw one of the coveted Unit 22 or 23 elk hunting permits and you do harvest a good bull elk, you better have a few friends with strong backs to help carry the animal out. I speak from experience, as I have lost count of the number of times I have carried a full pack frame of elk meat through the brush -- and it was usually uphill.
As an official measurer for the Arizona record book, I have had the opportunity to score several big game animals for local residents. When someone like local resident Brent Ruttle brings in a bull for me to measure, I get as excited as he does when it ends up scoring nearly 363 B&C points. If you are a lucky hunter who collects what you feel is a truly fine trophy big game animal that might make the Arizona book, give me a call and I will be happy to score it for you. If your big game animal makes the minimum score for listing in the Arizona record book, it will be a source of personal pride to you, while at the same time honoring the quality of hunting we have in Rim country.
As a suggestion, I recommend every serious hunter obtain a copy of the most recent edition of Arizona Wildlife Trophies. The book is loaded with information about trophy hunting in Arizona as well as a complete record of all trophy big game species harvested within the state. It also gives you general instructions on how to "measure" or "score" an animal. To order your own book, simply contact the Arizona Wildlife Federation at 644 N. Country Club Drive, Suite E, Mesa, Ariz., 85201, (480) 644-0077.