Being an avid outdoorsman, I have been fortunate to live most of my adult life in the Payson area. One of the greatest success stories for big game has been the expansion of the Unit 22 elk herd from a relatively small number in the mid-1970s to a healthy herd which has expanded into the lower elevations.
I remember having one of those precious elk tags when there were only 50 issued for the entire local unit. If you had a permit, the chances of running into another hunter were slim unless you were planning to intercept an elk on the Control Road by driving the 25-mile distance from the Beeline south to Tonto Village.
During the last 14 days, Unit 22 North has had two separate bull elk hunts with a total of 750 tags. Understand that the concentration of elk is from the base of the Mogollon Rim to the area just south of the Diamond Rim. Most of this land is very accessible with roads and quad trails located in literally every major drainage.
Not surprisingly, most high points had a hunter or someone who was assisting by glassing the surrounding terrain. I was glassing for a friend from a small set of bluffs and we were visited by two groups of hunters within an hour at sunrise. Needless to say, not many elk go unnoticed with their white sides shining in the morning sun.
The technology of advanced optics can aid in detecting an elk a couple of miles away. Then, add to this, rifles that are capable of downing big game out to a thousand yards.
Consequently, there were not many elk that were left unseen by the hundreds of hunters in the woods of Unit 22 North.
With this number of hunters in a very concentrated area, a large percentage of young bulls were harvested. In previous seasons, elk that were passed on by hunters in hopes of finding a mature 5- or 6-point were shot this year.
When this happens, fewer bulls will get the chance to grow to that trophy class size that hunters want to pursue.
The Payson area has been known as a unit that holds many trophy bulls, but I believe that this era has come to a close. Yes, we are certainly providing hunter opportunity, but one thing for sure, the quality and number of the elk herd in Unit 22 North has certainly diminished after this season of hunting.
Understand, that I am a strong proponent of hunting and enjoy every moment in the outdoors pursuing game. But, there are too many hunts and too many tags for one of our very precious natural resources, the bull elk.
To hear that bugle in the fall is one of those special times for all of us who live under the Mogollon Rim.
This weekend, enjoy the outdoors, God’s creation.