About The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

Apache Sitgreaves LogoThe Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is 2.76-million-acres which runs along the Mogollon Rim and the White Mountains in east-central Arizona and extending into the U.S. state of New Mexico. Both forests are managed as one unit by USDA Forest Service from the forests Supervisors Office in Springerville, Arizona. Apache-Sitgreaves has over 400 species of wildlife. With its high elevation and cool summer breezes it is a popular weekend destination from the hot desert for Phoenix, Arizona residents.

The forest is divided into 5 Ranger Districts (Clifton, Alpine, Springerville, Lakeside, and Black Mesa) that span almost 300 miles from Clifton, Arizona in the east-central portion of Arizona to the eastern boundary of the Coconino National Forest in north-central Arizona. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest borders the western and northern borders of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. It is located in parts of Greenlee, Apache, Navajo, and Coconino counties in eastern and east-central Arizona, and Catron County in western New Mexico. The more northwesterly Sitgreaves National Forest portion lies adjacent to the north side of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and is located entirely in Arizona, within Navajo, Apache, and Coconino counties.

Apache Sitgreaves Boundaries

Archers in Apache Sitgeaves National Forest Butt Heads With Forest Management

Apache Sitgreaves NFIf you live in any western state and you are a hunter, you know that you have to pay your dues in terms of waiting for a rut elk hunt in a premium unit. Some units in Arizona can take as long as 20 years to be drawn in if you are attempting to get a tag for an early season rifle elk hunt. Archery hunts generally take about seven years to get drawn for. So, with that kind of information readily available to the public and to ALL of the wildlife and land agencies around the state, it was tremendously disappointing to see what happened on a hunt last weekend that I was assisting on.

To set the stage, I will describe the area in question. The hunt was taking place in unit 3A/3C, in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. During the previous weeks we had determined that there was a tremendous amount of activity along the White Mountain Apache reservation and the southern boundary of the Apache Sitgreaves forest. We had found a number of good bulls and they were exhibiting tremendous rutting activity. There was no moon this year the temperatures were cooling down and everything seemed perfect.  With all of this in our favor, it seemed like nothing could disrupt our hunt. WRONG!

50 People Construct A Carnival In Hunting Territory

Carnival Site 1On Saturday late morning we were traveling back from our morning hunt when I noticed that there was some unusual activity right along the reservation line and the forest line. This location is far from the normal camping groups and well past any of the organized camping sites. Somehow there appeared to be over 50 people who had appeared during the night on Friday and had started constructing a massive carnival type arrangement. There were non-traditional cars and minivans and yes, even some Prius vehicles. We also noticed a large delivery truck with a massive generator being set up. I could not fathom what this non-hunting group was attempting to do in a prime hunting area. When I inquired, they simply said it was a camping trip for a large group. During the mid afternoon lull, I went up to the Black Mesa ranger district offices, but of course they were closed on Saturday. I was able to have a message forwarded to their law enforcement group to see if they had a permit for such a large group in such a strange location.

Carnival Site 2Fast forward to Saturday night at 11:30pm. The hunter in our group had successfully harvested a nice 6 X 7 bull on a water tank that I had him sit on. The bull had come in late in the afternoon and it took us that long to get him out of the pond he had expired in and then quartered and brought up to the trailhead. As we began the long ride back to our camp, we passed the aforementioned mass camping group. Low and behold, there were lights flashing and music playing. It appeared to be a carnival atmosphere. I was absolutely stunned at the noise and lights. I am also equally certain that any self respecting elk within a two square mile area also decided to either stay on the reservation or completely vacate the area.

About the Author

John JK KoleszarBorn in Toledo, Ohio circa 1950. I was the oldest of four children and had the good fortune to be inquisitive about wildlife and specifically rabbits and pheasants that were abundant in the area that I was raised in. With later moves to Michigan, I found that exploring the great outdoors was just a short bike ride away and I invested in a Havahart trap at age 11. Raccoons, skunks, squirrels and possum became the choice of prey and that stayed my mainstay until college.

I knew that elk were abundant and of trophy class in Arizona so it sealed the deal for relocating here.  Since 1986 I have spent as much time as possible learning about elk and trying to become a better hunter.

Archery Tags Are Hard To Secure

Sitgreaves National ForestI understand the philosophy of the National Forest System. It is geared towards multi use. Fine, lets all try and play well in the sandbox. What I found unconscionable was the fact that while groups can party on any given week end, it is a rare privilege for someone to have an archery elk tag in that same forest. The group had to let the Apache Sitgreaves know where they were planning on holding this event. The Black Mesa ranger district staff person who gave the permit to this group was either incredibly stupid or simply did not care that this event would ruin a particularly large area for a number of hunters.

On Monday afternoon during my workday, I called the Black Mesa ranger district office and spoke with their new supervisor, one Kevin Holmes. Kevin indicated that he had been on the job only two weeks and was not aware of what had transpired. He indicated that he would look into the situation and would try and make sure that type of conflict did not happen again. My angst is that the person who approved the permit lives in the Heber area. That area has a tremendous financial boom from the hunters who come into that area to try and harvest an animal. She (yeah, it was a she) damn well knew that the hunts were starting last weekend. If she did not know about it she should not be in the position to grant permits.  There was a less than enthusiastic response from Kevin and I am sure an even less that harsh message to the lady who granted the permit.

For those of us who wait patiently year after year for ability to get drawn and hunt in one of the premier units for elk, it was shameful how the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest handled the situation. I would suggest a remedial course for their permit granters so that they take a look at as many different types of possible events that could be happening in our forest.

Permits Are For Hunting Only, Not For Carnivals

Apache Sitgreaves ElkIf you get a chance, place a call to the Black Mesa Ranger office. The phone number is 928-535-7300. I would hope that you would be civil, but please remind them of how hard it is to get drawn in Arizona, how many years and how much money we have to pay for licenses year after year with no ability to hunt an elk. Then remind them that common sense would suggest that their permit person know when premier hunts begin and to not grant permits to Rave parties in the middle of nowhere. I hope that any hunter who also was up there and was not fortunate enough to harvest an animal will let the new supervisor know how frustrating it was for you. Without comments from us, they will continue to do actions that are not meant to enhance our hunts!

JK – The Elk Whisperer