Ask lifelong hunter Dean Pederson where the best places in the Rim Country are for hunting and he laughs and says, “We try to keep those secret.”
Pederson started hunting when he was only 7 or 8 years old, going out with his father when they lived in Flagstaff.
“I first hunted for big game when I was 10,” he said.
That first big game hunt was in the Flagstaff area for deer.
“I was eventually successful, after about 20 shots,” he said.
When he first started hunting, and for many years after that, hunting was a way to fill the family freezer. His father taught at Northern Arizona University and his mother stayed at home to take care of the family.
“So, we took hunting very seriously.”
Pederson went into teaching, and hunting helped supplement his family’s food supply. Even today his family’s freezer is almost always filled with wild game.
Over the years, Pederson has hunted all over Arizona and most of the Southwest.
He even took a job teaching in Alaska, so he could hunt up there.
Harvesting a game animal is not the most important aspect of hunting for Pederson.
“It’s more about the experience with family and friends,” he said.
The true sport for Pederson is looking for the game and then studying their habits. In spite of all his experience in the field throughout Arizona, he still scouts his spots.
“Everything changes and that (scouting) is the most fun,” he said.
“A perfect day for me would be starting every morning on a mountain with my binoculars,” Pederson said.
He said he is not big on getting in the record books, instead, he likes the challenge of trying to find something bigger than he has in the past.
“I have a reverence for the animals. I respect them. They deserve dignity. I try to find a mature animal that’s had a healthy life. That’s important to me.”
He said the ideal hunt for him is to be drawn for a place where there are very few tags released, a place where there are no people and he can find only one or two animals to figure out.
“I love figuring out their patterns. It doesn’t matter what the species. It’s just a joy to go because it’s so relaxing,” he said.
He doesn’t like hunts where 600 or more permits are issued. He would rather be in a small area with fewer people.
Pederson spends a lot of his “hunting” time helping other people. He actually had a guide business for 15 years, but he gave it up.
“It became hard to deal with the lack of reverence. It only took one or two bad experiences to sour me,” he said.
Taking out a novice hunter is the most fun, especially the people who really appreciate it and can have some success, he said.
“Harvesting an animal is just gravy,” he said.
Pederson said hunting has really changed a lot over the years as more and more technology is incorporated.
“We just used to walk and had binoculars that were so bad you could hardly use them to see across the street,” he said.
The binoculars became better, then spotting scopes were introduced, better vehicles and better optics followed and now there are radios and cell phones.
“There are a lot of good hunters in Payson. I’d say Payson has the best hunters per capita as any place in the state. A lot of our kids (in Payson schools) and their dads spend quality time together hunting, and that’s good.”
Pederson speaks from experience, he started taking his sons out when they were each about 7 and he has taken his stepdaughters out as well.
His most recent hunt is one of his dream ventures. He and a friend from Alaska were drawn for archery bull elk in Unit 22 — the 600 square miles that incorporates the Mogollon Rim. It is a hunt in which only 25 tags were issued.