If you drive far enough east of downtown on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, you will find yourself in no-man’s-land. As far as the naked eye can see, there are no signs of civilization in sight. Drive even further and you’ll eventually lose cell service. For awhile you can tune into KYAY, San Carlos’ radio station, but eventually that too becomes static, along with every other station on the dial. It is both exhilarating and slightly unsettling to head into endless green, counting as few as two other cars within a 45-mile stretch.
If you are a hunting guide, however, these are just the kind of conditions you are looking for. (Hunting season just began, after all.) Two world-renowned hunting guides are based right here in Globe and San Carlos. The game in this region is that good. Between Globe and San Carlos you can find mountain lions, bighorn sheep, buffalo, deer, elk, antelope, wild turkey, javelina and a world class population of black bear.
Hunting Trophy Elk in San Carlos
Five years out of the month, starting in September, hunting guide Homer Stevens guides trophy hunters into 1.8 million acres of huntable land in San Carlos wilderness to catch some of the finest elk in the world.
Since Stevens began Stevens’ Guide Service in 1987, he is one of the most sought-after guides by hunters across the country. This year he had clients from as far as Portland, Texas, California and Washington.
To hunt certain species, such as elk, you have to buy a “tag” for each kill. Tribal members buy elk tags for $250 a piece. Elk tags are sold to non-tribal members for about $31,000 each, and only eight are available per year (four to Dry Lake and four to Hill Top). All eight of Stevens’ clients bought a trophy elk tag this year, which allows them access to a 15-day elk hunting season. His other client paid $75,000 for the chairman’s tag, which provides access to the whole reservation from August 15 to the end of December to hunt elk.
Needless to say, it’s a money-driven sport.
“It’s a social thing,” Stevens explains. “You know how golf is considered a gentleman’s sport? Taking a typical elk is like being in that class of golfers.”
A “typical elk” is most desirable of any trophy elk. It has a rack of antlers that form six to eight points, three to four on each side. They are judged based on the symmetry of their antlers, and deductions are made for differences in length.
There was a time when Stevens and his team would cover themselves in camouflage paint and carry bugle horns and 15 different calls. Nowadays, he walks up to an elk with hardly any camouflage on, and only uses calls when he has to.
“You got to know the animal,” he says. “You get a lot of guys who are not as experienced who buy every gadget in the store and still spook the animals.”
When I meet with Stevens at his camp in Dry Lake, he and two other guides are just preparing to take some clients
for an afternoon hunt. They slam their Monster energy drinks, lace up their Schnee’s (hunting boots), and load up their gear. Then I follow them to meet the Friedkins just down the road.
Dan Friedkin is from Houston, Texas. He has been hunting for 40-plus years all over the world. We stop near some cliff dwellings, where Stevens and his crew unpack their Swarovski scopes and binoculars to pinpoint an elk in the distance. Meanwhile I ask Friedkin why he has come all the way to San Carlos to hunt with Stevens for the last 11 years.
“Knowing there are some of the biggest bulls in the world here,” Friedkin responds.
“Homer works hard and has killed more big bulls than anybody,” he adds. “He’s kind of a legend in the elk world… I just wanted to hunt with the best.”
As well-known as he has become, nowadays Stevens has to turn down a lot business.
“There are a lot of people who want to pay for an expensive elk hunting tag,” he says. “We turn away five times the amount of people we actually book.”
The reservation has been regulating hunts since 1972, and, according to Stevens, has come a long way managing its wildlife. The government has gradually cut back on the number of hunting tags issued, allowing the animal populations to live longer, and as a result, providing better quality animals to hunt. But because so few tags are issued, they are highly desirable. Tags go on sale to the tribe Feb. 1 of each year on a first-come, first-serve basis. The lines are massive, Stevens says.
It wasn’t always this way.
Fifty years ago, Stevens made his first kill. He killed a coues white-tailed deer with a .22 Hornet that belonged to his great grandmother. He was just five years old, and his father held the barrel of the gun while he shot. He still has the gun, four-digit serial number and all.
Back then, living in the woods in the ‘60s, you hunted for a living, he says.
“It wasn’t about sport back then, it was about survival,” he says.
Throughout his childhood, Stevens continued hunting with his father, who was a hunting guide on the reservation. His father would trade knives, tires and guns in exchange for guiding.
By age 14, Stevens was just as good of a guide, and started guiding on his own. Instead of bartering for his guiding services, he charged cash.
He has hunted and guided on San Carlos ever since. All of his children, three daughters and a son, hunt. Through guiding on the reservation, Stevens put three of his children through school back East. Now it is a lifestyle.
Hunting Stories to Last A Lifetime
Bill Marshall has a lot of stories. One he will never forget is the day he jumped down into a cave to pull his three hound dogs away from the jaws of an angry cougar. His client waited above with her rifle until Marshall jumped out of the cave and then delivered a single shot, killing the cougar instantly. The cougar snagged one of the hounds’ jugular, but Marshall managed to stop the bleeding and saved its life.
This is just one of many of Marshall’s guiding stories.
Since the late ‘70s, Marshall, an avid hunter, has led more than 1000 hunts as a licensed hunting guide throughout
Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Mexico.
For Marshall, the appeal of hunting is being in the outdoors.
“It’s to get away from the crowds and get out into the boonies,” he says.
And, for the love of open space, he has spent the majority of his time hunting in Gila County, where the wildlife populations are top notch. Marshall spent 14 years guiding in San Carlos, plus years guiding in 24A and 24B, the two hunting zones surrounding Gila County. He grew accustomed to the wildlife populations, monitoring their water consumption, food, and reproductive activity. In any given year, he guided and outfitted 40 to 50 hunts on horseback, mule or jeep, with a 95 percent success rate.
Take a seat inside Marshall’s house, and you will see head mounts and framed photos covering the walls of his living room. Every mount and each photo has a story to tell.
He pulls out photo albums filled with magazine clippings and photos from his hunts, of bears and cougars cornered or run up trees, sniffed out by his hounds. His hunts easily lasted three to five days, and required as much as 50 to 100 pounds of gear.
For one of his largest catches, he caught a six-by-six typical elk that weighed around 900 pounds. It took four people and two days to pack and carry out the meat.
Like Stevens, Marshall’s hunting career began 50 years ago when he was just a kid.
“We could barely afford to feed the family,” he remembers.
His dad asked him to trap animals and sell the furs to make money, which he continued for the next nine to 10 years.
When Arizona Game and Fish outlawed trapping in the early ‘80s, Marshall began hunting, and like his father, he began hunting with hounds. For the
next 40 years, he guided hunts for black bear and mountain lions throughout Globe and San Carlos.
Since he first took up hunting, game populations have declined dramatically, Marshall points out. Contrary to belief, this is not because of hunting, but because of loss of habitat, as human development continues to drive species from their homes.
Believe it or not, Marshall is a conservationist.
For every kill he has made, the meat was used. His kids grew up on a steady diet of elk and deer meat. For many years, “they didn’t know the taste of beef,” he says.
On countless hunts, Marshall released an animal whenever he found out it was female.
Many times his clients would ask, “You’re going to catch me a mountain lion, right?”
There are no guarantees, he replied, except that they would know they have been hunting.
Five knee surgeries later, Marshall is semi-retired. He has passed on his legacy to his son and granddaughter, however, who are both guides.
He can only hope that populations will continue to thrive, and that Gila County will keep its wide open spaces.
Jenn Walker began writing for Globe Miami Times in 2012 and has been a contributor ever since. Her work has also appeared in Submerge Magazine, Sacramento Press, Sacramento News & Review and California Health Report. She currently teaches Honors English at High Desert Middle School and mentors Globe School District’s robotics team.