The nucleon axial form factor is a dominant contribution to errors in neutrino oscillation studies. Lattice QCD calculations can help control theory errors by providing first-principles information on nucleon form factors. In these proceedings, we present preliminary results on a blinded calculation of $g_A$ and the axial form factor using HISQ staggered baryons with 2+1+1 flavors of sea quarks. Calculations are done using physical light quark masses and are absolutely normalized. We discuss fitting form factor data with the model-independent $z$ expansion parametrization.