Adventures Hunting Elk in Arizona and New Mexico
Editor’s Note: Corky Richardson of Laveen, Arizona, either has guided or hunted for himself on more than 150 elk hunts, and he’s harvested over 80 bulls. On many of the elk hunts that Richardson has guided or been on, his dad, George Richardson, or his wife, Cindi, have been there. Richardson also guides hunters to take free-ranging buffalo with their bows.
How Corky Richardson Started Bowhunting Elk
Where I live in Arizona is home to some of the biggest elk in the world. I’m fascinated about the size of elk, their speed and the keenness of their senses. I also like to call elk. I’ve always enjoyed calling critters. Elk hunting can be physically demanding, and my style of elk hunting is often run-and-gun. I’ve been skinny, I’ve been fat, and I’ve been in good shape. I like to go 100 percent all the time – regardless of the shape I’m in – and the only difference I can see is when I weigh more, the hunt seems to hurt more at night when I lay down at the end of the day. I’ve never lost the enthusiasm I had on the first elk hunts I ever went on back in the early 1970s. My dad would pick me up from school on Fridays, and we’d go to the Arizona Game and Fish Department and pick up one of the elk tags that were unsubscribed. Back then, the Game and Fish Department was trying to promote elk hunting with a bow, and they actually had left-over elk-hunting permits at that time. So, Dad and I would stop by and pick up a tag that entitled us to take any elk we wanted to take with a bow.
On my first elk hunt, we drove up to an area that my dad and I knew really well. The first day of the hunt was Saturday morning. When I woke up, snow was falling in the middle of September. I got up early. I didn’t want to wake up my dad and mother. I just took off elk hunting. At 12-years old, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was just in the mountains walking around with my bow. I probably shouldn’t have gone out on my own. But in youngsters, I’ve learned that enthusiasm often outruns good judgment. I knew this country really well, because my family and I had spent many summers in this region camping and hiking. When I got about a mile or so away from camp, a fog rolled in, the ground was muddy and wet, and I couldn’t see very far in front of me. I went into a thick fog bank. When the fog cleared for just a second, I looked all around me, and elk were bedded everywhere. Seven of the elk were bulls. About 40-yards away, there was a big 6×6 bedded in the wide open. I spotted a spike bull bedded about 6 yards from me. I decided that the surest shot was the spike closest to me. I nocked my arrow and shot the spike. The spike only went about 20 yards before he fell over. I can still feel the adrenaline rush I had when I saw that elk go down. I ran straight to him, put my little daypack on him, laid my bow and quiver on the elk, took the tag out of my daypack and put it on the elk’s antlers. Then I took off running like I’d been struck by a bolt of lightning all the way back to camp and pounded on the door of our camper. Because the weather had been so bad, my mom and dad had decided to stay inside until the weather broke. As soon as my dad opened the door, I said, “I got one.” Dad was so excited he tackled me, and we both fell out the door into the mud. Dad said, “You got a deer.” I said, “No, no, I killed an elk.” At that time in Arizona, you were more likely to see a deer than you were an elk. The elk numbers were very few in those days.
Today, you’re more likely to see a lot of elk and very-few deer. I think my dad was more excited than I was. He hardly could believe that his 12-year-old son had taken his first elk with a bow. He asked, “Are you sure he’s dead?” I said, “Yes, sir. He’s dead. I left my bow, my pack and my quiver on the elk and my tag on his antlers.” I was still excited and really not expecting the next question. “Where were you when you shot the elk?” Dad asked. I gave him this blank stare and answered, “I have no idea where I was. I’ve been running for the last 10 minutes to get back down the mountain to tell you I shot an elk. I don’t really know where I was.” Dad paused and said, “Do you remember any landmarks at all?” I thought for a minute and said, “I crossed a big road on top of the mountain.” So, Dad and I loaded up in the jeep and drove up the mountain until we found my tracks. Then Dad retraced my tracks, and they lead us right to the elk. Dad and I loaded up the elk and took him back to camp. Mom and Dad didn’t even know I’d left the camper, because I wanted to hunt so bad and get out in the woods early regardless of the weather, I hadn’t bothered to wake them up. I still get that excited every morning in elk camp. Back then I was shooing the old PSE Phaser. I never really realized how important that first elk hunt with me and my dad would be, or that this first hunt was the beginning of a lifetime of hunting elk with my dad.
When Corky Richardson Took His Biggest Bull Elk with His Bow One time I had been guiding for other elk hunters for a couple of weeks in New Mexico, but I had a bull elk tag for an Arizona bull. I had had 2 weeks of tough elk hunting, although we were taking a lot of elk. The hunt was tough because of my frustration with my clients. For instance, we had been working really hard to get within bow range of a really-nice bull, I had the bull coming within bow range, but my hunter didn’t even have his arrow nocked. As a guide when I’ve worked hard to get my client the shot, but he forgets to put the arrow on the string, works on my mind. So, I was really looking forward to going on a hunt and not being responsible for anyone but myself. On the first morning hunt in Arizona, my wife, Cindi, went with me. Finally, I said, “Cindi, I’d really like to go out on my own, be by myself, find a nice bull, take him with my bow and let the solitude of the mountains renew my soul and my spirit.” Luckily, I have a wife who understands this type of mentality. I didn’t not want to hunt with her. I just needed to be alone. I guess I was over-peopled. So, Cindi didn’t take any offense, and honestly, she had rather hunt by herself. But then we hunted together the next day. A friend of mine who had been scouting earlier in the season told me about a place where he’d spotted a bull elk. He told me, “Although the elk had long tines, I don’t know how many points he had, or what he would score. I saw him late in the afternoon. I was looking at him from a mile away with a spotting scope, and the bull was all by himself.” My friend told me about this bull the day I got into camp. He also mentioned that the bull had gone out on a big, long flat. He suggested I hunt there the following morning. So, the next morning, Cindi and I got up on top of a mesa and started glassing. Early in the morning, we heard a bull bugle. Cindi actually saw the bull before I did.
When I finally saw the bull, I said, “Oh, yeah, I really want that bull.” We were on top of a mesa, and the bull was in a wide-open field, feeding toward me. Cindi and I hurried down off the mesa to intercept the bull. As I got closer to the bull, I saw that he had about 13 cows with him. However, he was having a difficult time keeping his harem together. The lead cow wanted to go in a different direction than the bull was trying to push the herd. Cindi and I split up when we came to a ravine. We felt certain the bull would come up the left side or the right side of the ravine and should present one of us with a shot. In a little while, I could tell the bull was coming up my side of the ravine, because he kept bugling. Since he was calling, I didn’t want to call very much. He was letting me know where he was and the direction he was traveling. So, I didn’t think there was any reason to call to him, if he was coming straight to me. I decided I’d save my calling until I really needed it. Once the bull got to the spot where I needed to take the shot, I gave a little chuckle to sound like another bull. When the bull I wanted to take heard the chuckle, he realized he’d gotten separated from his cows. Now he was concerned about the rival bull he thought was trying to move in and take his girlfriends from him.