Most everyone has a hobby, something they do to pass the time.
But, for some, there comes a time when the pastime becomes a passion.
Hunting is Clifford Pirch’s passion. Sure, he’s a standout on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit and as a competitor, the fishing game gets him as fired up as anything.
Hunting, though, is in Pirch’s blood.
He started going with his dad, Dennis, on hunts for duck and dove when he 5 years old. He tagged along on hunts for bigger game like deer and elk too, and they eventually became his prime quarry.
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When he’s not traveling the U.S. catching bass, Pirch can be found climbing the mountain ridges near his home in Payson, Arizona – more than a mile in the air, bow on his back, tracking the tremendous animals that have populated his dreams since he was a boy. A hunt can take a day, or it could last several weeks. It’s a commitment of time and energy, but Pirch wouldn’t choose to do much anything else.
“I enjoy the challenge and I enjoy being able to eat wild game; good organic, natural meat,” he said. “With archery, it’s an extra challenge. (Elk and deer) have a nose that can smell you at a 100 yards. Working that distance inside 70 yards or so gets really tricky.”
Bassmaster.com reporter Andrew Canulette asked PIrch to share five of his most memorable hunts.
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1. Pirch girls take their first elk
Just like Clifford did with Dennis a few decades before, Kailee and Kassidy Pirch started hunting with their father at a young age. Arizona offers youth hunts when a person turns 10 years old and takes a hunter safety course, and both girls went with their dad hunting cow elk soon after they met those requirements. Kassidy, the younger daughter, bagged her first elk three years ago and Kailee killed her first cow a year later. Kassidy seems to enjoy the sport more than her older sister, Pirch said, and she downed another cow last season. “She filled our freezer for a year,” Pirch said proudly. “Hunting with them was something we could do together.”
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2. Mule in the Canyon
Pirch lives a couple hours south of the Grand Canyon, and he traveled for a hunt near there several years ago after drawing a highly-coveted tag to harvest a mule deer. “Most (big game hunting) in Arizona is done on a lottery system,” Pirch said. “I drew this neat tag and spent 10 days hunting this one mule deer. I found him about the eighth day, but he was about 800 yards away. You invest so much time, to finally (see him) was a big deal. A buddy was hunting with me and we went down to the next ridge, but we couldn’t pick him up. My buddy left, and I found the deer again on the 10th day of the hunt. It was a 220-inch mule deer…He was about 250 yards away. That’s a pretty decent shot with a rifle. It was the last time I had a rifle tag, and it’s a hunt I remember well.”
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3. Bow hunting the rut
“I had an early archery rut tag for elk, and those are hard to draw,” Pirch said. “I’ve only had three in my entire life, and the third one I have is coming up later this year... I had just gotten home from the Angler of the Year Championship, and my dad had been telling me about an elk I had to go after… On the first morning of the hunt, I got within 25 yards of him three different times, but it wasn’t a really clean shot (so I waited.)… Then I didn’t see him for a day and a half. I was listening to how that specific bull sounded. I had his sound memorized. I didn’t hear him for a while, but on the fourth day, I did. I got him on the sixth day. He was a really big non-typical…I was walking about three miles in and three miles out per day. And they’re moving pretty fast when they’re rutting like that…I hunt public land almost all the time, and there was a guy who knew about the bull and I was racing him for two or three days, too. They gave up after three days, but I stuck with it.”
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4. Early bird hunts
Though his first bird hunt came nearly 40 years ago, Pirch fondly recalls hunting dove and duck with his dad in the Arizona evenings. “September 1 is the most exciting day of the year for a 5-year-old in Arizona who loves shooting dove,” Pirch said. “You’re sitting there with your .410 and you get to pull the trigger seven to 10 times in an hour right before dark.” Father and son used to hunt near a few cattle ponds near their home, and birds would pass through the area before roosting at night. They would hunt duck in winter, too. “It’s not as good as the quality in the east, but we’d get a few mallards, some teal, widgeon.”
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5. Two-week hunt
What could have been one of Pirch’s most-disappointing hunts turned into one of his finest. It took place 12 or 13 years ago near his home, and it took 14 days to take the bull elk he was following. “I had been hunting one elk for 13 days. I made a shot (with my bow) that I thought was the perfect shot, but I heard a clank. I thought the shot had gone through him and hit rock on the other side.” Instead the arrow glanced off the elk’s giant shoulder bone. “An elk has a shoulder bone about the size of a volleyball, and the shot bounced right off,” he said. “I got down from the stand and I said ‘Oh no.’ I certainly didn’t think I would get another chance…But he came back through the next evening, just from the opposite direction…He finally stepped out, and I got him that time. “