Originally published Monday, December 2, 2019 at 05:00p.m.

Arizona residents know that our state Game and Fish Department is “youth friendly.”

The AZGFD is very proactive when it comes to recruiting and retaining young hunters.

Its programs aren’t just for residents, either. Arizona allows for youths from other states to enjoy some of the benefits, while neighboring state agencies aren’t so youth friendly.

It all starts with the price of licenses and tags. A general hunting and fishing combination license for Arizona youths is just $5. It is the same for nonresident youths as well.

Big game tags are very affordable as well.

Arizona offers youth deer tags for just $38 for residents, while nonresidents pay $40. For youth javelina tags, AZGFD charges a fee of $28 for residents, while nonresident youths pay $30.

With fees so reasonable, it is no wonder that out-of-state sportsmen with children look at our state for hunting opportunities for their kids.

Such was the case with Utah residents Corey Larsen of Enterprise Utah and his cousin John McCabe of Cedar City.

Corey’s 10-year-old daughter Harley and her 15-year-old cousin Peyton McCabe applied for and received two of the 30 youth-only muzzleloader mule deer tags in Unit 16A. Both had taken Hunter Education in Utah, as Arizona does require that youths ages 10-13 take and pass a hunter education class before hunting big game in this state. It is interesting to note that in Utah, young hunters must be 12 years old before they can hunt big game in that state.

The two young hunters and their parents had never been to the unit before, but in reading information online it looked like a good unit for the kids to hunt.

In addition to the deer tags, young hunters could also pick up javelina permits that are called “companion tags” for those who were successful in the deer draw.

With tags in hand, the hunters from Utah headed down towards Wikieup to start their hunts. Corey had read online about some successful hunters who had been hunting off of the Chicken Springs Road.

The hunters arrived early on Saturday morning and set up camp. After a few hours of sleep, they headed out to see what they could find.

The first day of hunting produced some sightings of a few does, but no bucks or javelina.

On Sunday morning, things got a little more exciting. While they saw over 20 does, no bucks were seen, but they found a herd of about 15 javelina.

The hunters got into position at just over 120 yards and Peyton and Harley both got shots —but missed. Reloading quickly, the kids got ready to shoot again. This time Peyton’s shot on a big Mohave County boar javelina hit the mark.

Sunday afternoon didn’t produce any deer or javelina sightings.

Monday morning the group headed out and Lady Luck smiled on them when a herd of 12 javelina crossed the road in front of them. The hunters bailed out of their truck and Corey and Harley headed off after the pigs. Harley soon got a shot but unfortunately missed.

Corey and Harley decided to go after the herd and after a long hike they caught up with them in the bottom of a wash. Harley bagged her first javelina at 50 yards.

With both kids now tagged out on javelina, Corey and John were concerned that they were not seeing any bucks.

That’s when I got a call.

I often post online and Corey called me to ask for help on where they might find some bucks.

In talking to Corey, I learned that he is my kind of sportsman! He is not only a hunter education instructor in Utah, but he is also a passionate hunter and enjoys being with kids in the great outdoors. Of course I would help.

I gave Corey some information on where he might want to try based upon my experience hunting deer in the Hualapais.

The next evening I got a call from Corey. He said that they had found bucks where I had told them to hunt. Corey was happy as he told me that they had seen six bucks that day; and his daughter had got three shots. None had connected, however.

Corey said one thing they didn’t expect to see that morning was a huge mule deer buck. “That (buck’s horns were) over 30 inches wide,” Corey said. Peyton headed off and before the stalk ended they would hike nearly four miles through very rough and steep country in search of the monster buck. They got to within 127 yards of that buck; but Peyton never got a shot.

The good news was they had found a lot of bucks, and they had a couple more days to hunt.

On Wednesday morning, after a quick trip to town for supplies, the hunters were back in the same area.

“We were driving in our side-by-side when I saw a big buck standing in the brush alongside the road,” Corey said.

This wasn’t the monster buck they had seen the previous day, but it was a mature 4x4, plenty good enough for the hunters to go after.

After a slow and methodical stalk, Harley got set up and took a shot at 178 yards. The buck dropped in his tracks and she had her first big game animal. They found that the buck, in addition to a nicely developed 4x4 rack with good eye guards, even had an extra point near the base of the antlers.

Peyton, who had taken a big buck in Utah with his muzzleloader, had the opportunity to take some smaller bucks, but he decided to pass.

“The kids had a great hunt in Arizona,” Larsen said.