3 Bulls Down, 3 Bucks To Go

3 Bulls Down, 3 Bucks To Go

Good fortune rained down on the Noble family in 2003. After drawing Arizona elk tags for a rut hunt, this father and two sons drew three Arizona Strip mule deer tags.

By Tony Mandile

As far as hunting is concerned, Lady Luck stood in the corner of the Noble family in 2003. John Sr., John Jr. and his brother Richard took a chance that most hunters in Arizona would classify as a long shot of the worst odds by applying for permits for an elk hunt that occurs during the rut and for a mule deer hunt on the Arizona Strip. Less than 1 percent of the applicants are successful for either.

In 2003, more than 5,000 people applied for one of 40 elk permits, and over 6,000 sought a deer permit. The Nobles, applying as a group, drew one of each.

After a successful elk hunt in Unit 7 (see the October 2004 issue of Rocky Mountain Game & Fish), they had less than a month before their deer hunt in Unit 13B, an area west of the North Kaibab Plateau, between the north rim of the Grand Canyon and Utah's southern border.

Unit 13B harbors some monster deer, but many of the guides who hunt the Strip claim it's one of the toughest hunts in the state. The remote country and the scattered deer population make locating a decent buck a chore in itself. Finding three over a week's time would make it even tougher. But that was the task the Nobles had ahead of them.

"The drive from Phoenix to the Strip takes at least 11 hours each way. With only a short time to get ready for the hunt and our air conditioning business to run, none of us could effectively scout. So knowing we had permits that other hunters coveted, we opted to hire a guide," John Jr. said.

"After doing a bit of research, we settled on Goswick Outfitters. They were waiting for us when we arrived in camp the day before the season. The crew consisted of six people because there were three other hunters in our camp. Matt Schimberg was assigned to guide us," he added. "He had been scouting for several days."

When the Nobles arrived in camp, the wind was blowing just below gale force, but when they awoke at 3:30 a.m. on opening morning, the gusts had turned into a more respectable 25- to 30-mph wind. The three hunters and their guide set out on the half-hour drive to the hunting area.

It was a long day, according to John Jr. "We glassed until our eyes bulged," he said. "Then we tried walking, hoping to perhaps rouse a buck out of its bed. Neither method produced."

John Noble Sr., left, and John Jr. show off their trophy Arizona Strip bucks. The elder Noble's buck has a 34-inch spread and a gross score of 208; Junior's buck scores 185. Photo courtesy of John Noble Jr.

And so it went for days - glass some, hike some, and then glass some more. A front that plunged the nighttime temperatures into the teens had moved in on the third day, giving the Nobles hope that the colder weather might prompt the larger bucks to start moving. On the fifth day Matt decided it was time to move. He chose an area of open, sparsely vegetated rolling hills.

"We spent the first few hours of that day glassing. Then Matt, my dad and brother walked to another spot while I stayed put. They settled down to glass and spotted antlers sticking up above the tall grass. The bedded buck was at least a mile away. Before the hunt we had decided Richard would get first crack, so he and Matt went after that deer," John Jr. said.

Because the area was so open, Richard and his guide had to detour about a half-mile. "There wasn't much around to hide our approach. Just getting within rifle range meant crawling on our hands and knees for the last 200 yards. An hour after we started the stalk, we saw the bedded buck right where he had been," Richard said.

The tall grass prevented a shot from the prone position, so Richard had to kneel. His first shot at 220 yards connected, but the buck jumped to its feet. A second shot put Richard Noble's first mule deer - a 5x6 with three broken tines and a 28.5-inch spread - down for good.

The Nobles had hunted from 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day so far and estimated they had hiked better than 15 miles over the season's first five days. Still they had only one buck tagged, and only two days remained. Matt went back to the area they had hunted earlier. However, when the sun set on Day 6, the tags of John Jr. and John Sr. were still unfilled.

John Jr. felt the pressure. "My daughter, Maddison, had drawn me a picture of a 4-point buck and told me I needed to kill one just like it. But we were down to the last day, and I was starting to wonder if I would fulfill her wish."

While the hunters were still in camp the last morning, word spread of a big buck that was spotted the previous night. The sighting occurred about five miles from where Richard had shot his deer. To make the most of the situation, three guides and their four hunters, hoping at least one of them would get a chance to hang a tag on an antler, banded together.

"When we got to the area near Poverty Knoll, we spread out over about two miles along a ridge to glass. Except for the mountain, the country was mostly wide open with few trees. Within minutes, we spotted movement. Although we couldn't see the antlers too well because it was just getting light, we knew one of the deer was a buck," John Jr. said. "Then as it got lighter, we watched them bed on the mountain. We decided to split up and go after him."

John Sr. set up at the base, while John Jr. and Matt headed up the mountain. Crossing some deep ravines, the pair got a surprise. More deer had been bedded in the cut and took exception to the disturbance. They headed toward the other bedded buck.

"I couldn't believe it," John Jr. said. "It was the first deer I had seen all week. As we stood still, I watched this huge buck trailing four does. But since I was already heading after the other bedded buck, I decided to pass and let someone else have a crack at him."

Noble's forecast played out.

"We were set up and glassing when I saw the does again. They were headed back to where they had been originally bedded. With rifle ready, I was lying prone across a boulder with a point of the rock sticking me in the ribs and a tree branch blocking my view. So I painfully rose up a bit and waited for the buck to show himself. When he did, he was directly downhill from me at 200 yards. Knowing my shot might spook the other buck, I decided to take him anyway. The shot buckled him, and a second one finished the job," Noble said.

"He had fallen at the bottom of the mountain, not too far from where my dad was sitting.

Amazing, the other buck never moved. That meant Matt and I couldn't move either. Finally, with no end in sight after five hours, it was time to flush out the second deer," Noble Jr. said.

As one of the other guides started to move in from the opposite side, John Jr. saw the buck jump up. Rather than heading downhill, however, the deer came toward him. He immediately thought, "My dad is in the worst possible place." Perhaps because the wind carried the scents of the guide and hunter to the buck, it stopped suddenly, did an about-face and headed downhill toward John Sr.

"I watched as the buck closed the distance to my dad. He was trotting slowly, and when he was less than 35 yards away, I saw my dad raise his rifle. A second later, I heard the shot, but the buck seemed to speed up and was now running right at Dad. Just as Dad was ready to shoot again, the buck fell only 10 yards from his feet," Noble said.

The pair of bucks died less than 50 yards apart. The elder Noble's trophy had a 34-inch spread and grossed 208 points. John Junior's scored 185 points and had a 29-inch spread.

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