My name is Len Castro and I’m a retired Marine. I specialized in advanced infiltration tactics and techniques.I had the honor of training Marines,Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen in these disciplines. I have been deployed on several occasions and was blessed to be able to come home to my family each time. After 20 years active duty, I hung up my boots and moved on to the private sector. I decided not to dive completely into the civilian side for work and slid into a job training U.S. and allied forces both here in the U.S. and abroad.


I discovered the Arizona Elk Society (AES) through word of mouth. Lou Sisneros, a retired veteran I work with, had heard about the AES through a workout buddy of his. Lou subsequently mentioned the organization to me. After discussing our interest in the outdoors and hunting, Lou and I decided to submit applications to Heroes Rising Outdoors, AES’ veteran outreach program. We were contacted by Mr. Tom Wagner shortly after that. During phone conversations with Tom, we learned how the program was set up and what we could expect. Lou and I were excited for what might possibly happen that coming hunting season. Tom called us a couple months later notifying us of the opportunity to go elk hunting together–two elk tags had been donated for the same cow elk hunt in Unit 10. We jumped at the chance!

I’d had an ongoing desire to hunt with my own handloads rather than factory ammunition. I had been experimenting with working up custom loads for my 7 Remington Magnum rifle, but couldn’t quite get it dialed in. When I had a hard time finding even mediocre components for this cartridge, I decided to hunt with an old Remington Model 700 chambered in 30-06 instead. I began load development for this rifle and found something I was happy with. Next was to pick up gear that I would need for the hunt — pack, field dressing kit, and other essentials that I didn’t already own. Lou and I then headed to the gun range to sight in our rifles. It didn’t take long to get the rifles zeroed in for different distances. Then with everything prepped, it was a waiting game for the weekend of the hunt.

Lou and I decided to take his truck for the hunt, so he stopped by and picked me up. We then headed to meet up with Tom on the way out of town. As we were all about to turn onto the freeway, a bungee cord popped loose and a folding table slipped out of Tom’s truck. Although about four vehicles ran over the table, Lifetime’s reputation remained unscathed! Tom just shook his head, stating he hoped that was as bad as things would get.

 Upon arriving in Flagstaff, we stocked up on snacks and block ice for the coolers. It began to sink in as we headed west that we were really going elk hunting! Lou and I had been stoked for the chance to hunt together. We already agreed that if only one of us tagged out we’d share the harvest. We still had high hopes that we would both be successful though! As we drove, we talked about what we thought the country would look like and how challenging the hunt might be. Just over ½ of Unit 10 is composed of the Boquillas Ranch, which we all had access permits for and where we’d be hunting. The next few days would reveal much! After many hours on the road, we arrived at a site Tom had camped at before. Since the camp site is one that’s been used by hunters for years, Tom’s decision on our early arrival was a smart one. We unloaded tools and got to leveling out the ground to pitch our individual tents. Lou and I then helped set up the HRO canopy for the kitchen area, collected firewood and stacked it near our fire pit. Our volunteer cook wasn’t scheduled to arrive until the following morning, so everyone pitched in to fix that night’s dinner.

We set a wake time of 0300 for the following morning (opening day!). We looked over our rifles and prepped our gear. It reminded me a little of how I did this so many times before a combat mission, making sure everything was in its place and Op checking gear prior to use. Tom explained a lot of hunting tips and techniques that night, all of which were appreciated very much. Neither Lou or I had been elk hunting before and needed all the tips we could get.

 Before we turned in, Tom asked us “the” question, “Who is going to shoot first?” Neither Lou nor I wanted to sound greedy so we both just looked at each other. That’s when Tom suggested we just flip a coin. Inside my head, I laughed! I knew I would lose this coin toss --- Lou is one of the luckiest guys I know. So, we tossed a coin and sure as heck Lou won! With that settled, we turned in for the night with high hopes for the following day’s hunt. 0300 and the alarm went off! Tom got the coffee going and set out some breakfast rolls. Packs and rifles were loaded into the HRO Toyota Tundra and we headed out. We were the first ones to arrive at the spot Tom knew about which gave us high hopes for a successful morning. We all got our gear and started into the walk-in area that was open to foot traffic only.

We stopped in the dark about every 5 minutes to listen for elk activity. Several bulls’ bugles drifted to us from a distance. Lou and I stood there in the quiet pre-dawn, stoked at hearing those first bugles! We continued our hike in towards a location where we could set up to glass for elk once it got light. The sun was just creeping above the horizon when we caught movement on a hillside about 1 “click” (1,000 yards) in front of our position. I quickly realized it was cattle and not elk. A few minutes later I spotted a bull elk at some distance with some lady elk in tow. We lost sight of them as they topped a ridge moving away from us. We continued to glass.

Nothing much was happening, so it was decided that Lou and I would try to close the distance on the herd we spotted earlier, leaving Tom as a spotter. Making our way across the juniper studded drainage, Lou and I were able to get within 300 yards of the elk. We moved slowly closer until we had an unobstructed view of a cow. Lou started to get into a solid prone position for a shot while I kept the elk in view with my binoculars. The cow appeared to be broadside to us and I waited for Lou to pull the trigger. However, seconds ticked by and no shot! My mind was racing --- why wasn’t Lou shooting? Lou was positioned a little forward of my position with a tree between the two of us. I tried whispering to him that he had a good shot, but he couldn’t hear me due to the Ear Pros he was wearing. The cow elk moved slightly, quartering a bit towards Lou but still pretty much broadside --- still no bang. I started to get seriously antsy at that point, thinking that maybe I needed to take the shot. But no, I didn’t want to be “that guy.”

As I battled with the idea of taking the shot, a calf elk moved up behind the cow eliminating any ethical shot. We waited for the situation to clear, but instead of that happening both elk moved up the hill into some trees. Lou and I retreated to rehash things, ending up agreeing that in not forcing a shot, Lou had made the right decision. We made our way back across the basin to where we’d left Tom. That’s when we learned that Tom had been trying to raise us on the radio for the past hour. He had spotted elk just to the left of our position, feeding undisturbed the entire time. Unfortunately, my radio wasn’t working due to a faulty battery connector. Oh well, what was a little more frustration to add to things at that point. It was then about 10 a.m., so we decided to call it a morning. As we hiked the couple miles back to the truck, we chatted about what Lou and I had learned during our first elk stalk. We had gotten to about the ½-way mark when the morning air was disrupted by a barrage of rifle shots. It sounded like a shooting gallery at a county fair. We counted to what ended up being a total of 14 shots over about a 5-minute span. 14 shots! My confidence about our continuing to hunt that area took a quick nosedive. After the shooting ended, we all stood there shaking our heads. You can imagine our ensuing conversation with regards to the hunters we’d heard shooting.

Our demeanor was bruised as we continued back to the truck along the 2-track we’d hiked in on before first light. Less than 5 minutes later Lou happened to look back and saw a herd of about 10 elk (with a nice bull!) about 400 yards behind us. It was clear they were hightailing it away from the previous gunshots. They continued to mill about, waiting for the lead cow to jump over the fence we’d been paralleling. We all hunkered down and started moving single file back towards the herd, hoping to get into shooting range. We closed the distance to about 300 yards, but the thick junipers and moving elk didn’t afford Lou an ethical shot at an elk’s vitals. We didn’t want to shoot one and have it jump the fence to other land we were not allowed to hunt. We didn’t want to think what recovering an elk under those circumstances would entail.

 We arrived back at camp mid-morning to be greeted by our camp cook Billy Aiton. He proceeded to cook us a proper breakfast (which really hit the spot!), after which we sat around going over the morning’s events. With the number of hunters in the general area we’d been in, we decided to hunt a different spot that evening. We also decided that it would be my turn to shoot should we find more elk. Billy would be going out with us to help glass. For the evening hunt, we went to a spot up on a hill where we could glass almost 360 degrees around us. We were able to see several hunters driving along the dirt roads below. It didn’t take long to realize this area probably wouldn’t be very productive with so much traffic. It turned out we didn’t see a single elk during the several hours we glassed from there. Saturday rolled around and we blanked locating stalkable elk both on the morning and evening hunts, although we did hear some bugling in the distance.

That evening back at camp Lou was upset with himself for not taking the shot opening morning, and I kept thinking I should have told Lou I’d take the shot. Morale was low as we realized we only had one more hunt in front of us. Sunday morning, our last, we returned to the area we’d hunted opening morning. Ten minutes after we left the truck we heard a couple bulls bugling, one closer to the boundary fence, a second in the direction of the herd we’d glassed up Friday morning. Tom immediately made the decision to go towards the second bull which we guessed was just over 1 “click” away. The wind was in our faces as we hustled forward in the dark. The elk were moving away from us through the junipers but had no idea we were after them. As it got light, we slowed down, continually glassing ahead. We were hoping to spot elk through the junipers before they spotted us. We thought we’d be almost on them, only to see another dip in the terrain ahead of us. It was slow going as we zig-zagged between the tall junipers. We finally had one large ridge a little over 200 yards in front of us. We stopped and listened to a couple intermittent bugles as Tom glassed across its face with his binoculars.

 “I’ve got elk!” he whispered. A cow elk had edged forward on the skyline facing us, showing just the top of herself. “Don’t move!” She hesitated for over a minute, then one after another more elk appeared. The mature herd bull then rushed forward pushing all his cows over the ridge and down towards us. It suddenly became a very target-rich environment and was about to get “Western!” Yep, it was our first rodeo! My heart was pounding as the entire herd raced down across in front of us --- it was hard to determine what was a mature cow and what was a calf! The thought also raced through my mind “This is it! If you don’t make it happen now, you’re going home empty handed!” Tom was standing behind me and said to me “Get ready, stay calm, pick out an elk and make sure it doesn’t have antlers.” He cow-called loudly and the elk came to a stop. I picked out a cow that was standing broadside, centered my scope’s reticle on it and pulled the trigger. The cow was so close that my shot missed high. I chambered another round, aimed a little lower, and squeezed the trigger.

The cow dropped where she stood. All the while Lou had been to my left and had shot a cow of his own! We both shouted to each other “I got one, how about you?” After the shooting stopped and the herd had left the area, Lou and I stood there dumbfounded. Lou made his way over to me. We silently high-fived and celebrated with a huge hug. Tom and Billy congratulated us both. It was a very humble and thankful moment. Then we proceeded to jabber back and forth, laughing uncontrollably. Lou and Tom went over to Lou’s cow and Billy and I went over to mine. We tagged both elk and took pictures for memories’ sake. After the pictures were taken it was time to get to work! Lou and I had a lot to learn about field dressing. Billy assisted me in breaking down my cow while Tom helped Lou. We got both elk skinned, quartered, and into gamebags. We used the gutless method which I’ll be sure to use on all my future hunts! We set up the packs to haul the meat out to the truck. It was only about a mile hike out to the nearest road, and every step made me prouder. On the way-out we all stumbled upon several elk gut piles with tire tracks leading to each one of them. We realized that the hunters that had shot up the herd of elk opening morning had driven into the vehicle restricted area. It is sad that hunters make these selfish decisions.

This is the type of behavior that causes landowners to cut off hunter access completely! All because a few hunters’ moral compasses are off --- they think regulations don’t apply to them. Thinking back about the entire experience, Lou and I would have been hard pressed to be successful with no elk hunting experience under our belts. A huge thank you to Tom Wagner and Billy Aiton for helping us find elk, getting us into shooting range and talking us through our shots, walking us through the field cleaning process, and helping haul our harvests back to the truck! Unfortunately, as soon as we returned to camp, Lou and I had to load his truck and head home (we both had to work the next morning). I wish we could have stayed another night to unwind with the men that assisted us. If I could have changed one thing, it would have been that --- reliving our hunt while sitting around a campfire looking up at the thousands of stars overhead. Thanks to AES I was able to experience the outdoors with very experienced hunters like Tom and Billy. Lou and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to have hunted elk here in Arizona (and for the first time ever) with these gentlemen. I felt like the stresses of my life were moved to a distant horizon as I got away from the city and into the wilderness hunting elk. It was very therapeutic for me and introduced me to a brotherhood not dissimilar to what I’d had while in the military. I would like to thank everyone who supports the Arizona Elk Society and its Heroes Rising Outdoors program. This experience would not be possible without them. In addition, a sincere “thank you” to all those who donate their big game tags so disabled veterans can get outdoors and back in touch with their inner selves. God bless you all!