August/September 2012 EHJ (Issue 132) - Like so many of us, I had been putting in for a coveted Nevada bull elk tag for many years. After nearly two decades, I finally drew that tag in 2011. Fate was possibly involved in the long wait because this allowed me to spend those years helping others get their elk and do some elk hunting of my own in other states. This situation also allowed me lots and lots of practice! Little did I know at the time how important all that practice would be for this hunt.
I had become complacent about actually drawing a tag so I saved up some money and went on safari in South Africa with my family. At the end of a very successful day, we were all sitting around the fire having a drink when the professional hunter, Erik, mentioned he had received an email on his Blackberry. He said the message was from John Bowlen, my nephew stationed in Germany at the time, saying something about an elk tag. I immediately jumped to my feet and rushed to see the email. It was true! My nephew had checked the draw results from Germany and emailed Eric the results while we had been hunting in the Kalahari Desert! I was elated although Erik really couldn’t understand why.
The trip home was a blur from going over ideas I had about my upcoming hunt. I scouted every weekend and kept elaborate lists of what animals and how many were seen in each of my favorite spots. There was also shooting practice every weekend, hiking every promising-looking hill I could find, and countless miles scoured with binoculars and spotting scope. All this was done in preparation for the beginning of the hunt. Most importantly, I put together a team of guys I had hunted with and trusted thoroughly for their judgment, talent and personalities (we all know how important that one is). I was ready.
As the sun came up on opening day, we were separated scanning my three favorite honey holes. I had told them I hoped for a bull around 360 B&C with good mass. Casey and I spotted eight bulls in a dark canyon, but the biggest of the bunch, although he had a great spread and superb beam length, was just a five-point…not for me on the opener. Gary Powell was watching three bulls with one in particular that would probably tape out at 380 B&C gross. He put them to bed in a patch of trees. Gary, Casey and I went over and met up with Chris and Michael for lunch as they were looking from another ridge. While we were eating, Chris told me they had seen only one bull but it was very distinctive. The bull had forked fifth tines. He thought it looked like something we should look at again and that’s what we did.
We finished up lunch and did a gear check. We made sure our packs held everything we needed and we hiked up the mountain. There were intermittent snow squalls and a steady wind (sometimes gale force) blowing out of the west. Against the biting wind, we climbed higher. Once on the mountain, we glassed and glassed but never even got a glimpse of the elk. It was a big disappointment! After some time I decided to try and sneak into the area the bull bedded in. Chris and I snuck in, and I do mean snuck. We were moving only inches at a time; then waiting and looking. Step after painfully slow step we worked our way through the juniper trees and then we froze. About 250 yards to our right flank was an elk looking at us through a small opening in the trees. It seemed to take an eternity for us to shrink back to the ground and behind a small bush.
I put my bipod down, chambered a round, pushed the safety off and waited. I could make out the eye, of course, and some of the lower tines of his rack. It was around noon and the wind was miserable. A thousand scenarios rushed through my head and then there was movement! The bull got up. I got a complete look behind him and at the whole rack. I determined he was a shooter in anyone’s book, but I couldn’t shoot because of thick juniper covering all the vitals. The bull turned around, walked a couple of steps and laid back down again. I still had a chance. The bull was now bedded with a patch of hide the size of a basketball visible without any branches in the way.
By this time, I had been sitting on this ridge for about three hours. I didn’t know if the elk would move again or if I was going to freeze to death first. Gary couldn’t stand the suspense any longer so he slithered down to my position getting my attention by tossing juniper berries at my head. He wanted to know what I was going to do as it was around an hour before we would start to lose shooting light. I told him I was going to shoot the bull through the shooting lane I had picked out. I just needed to know which part I was looking at to get the shot angle right. Gary wiggled his way over to my right, checking the bull intently. He motioned me over and then proceeded to give me an anatomy lesson. This 30-yard movement provided the right angle for a clean shot.
Gary watched the elk as I squeezed off a shot. The shot was true. The bull lurched to his feet, so I fired again. After just a few steps, the bull finally crumpled right where we had first found him. I have seen a lot of elk get shot, but this one was more tenacious than any other I have seen.
We immediately went over to the elk and were speechless. The bull actually got bigger with each step forward. The tines that looked adequate from 250 yards in the riflescope were deceptively heavy which had made them look shorter. The mass started at his 12-inch bases and continued right through each and every tine; nine on one side and seven on the other. The rack was perfectly symmetrical with no broken points. We were amazed; this elk was truly a marvel!
After taking hundreds of photos the real work began. We broke down the elk and we loaded our packs numerous times to pack him out of the field. Let me tell you that it is really nice to have a hard working crew with you when you have to pack out an elk. That evening we all celebrated a great bull with incredible mass. However, Gary seemed a bit quiet and hit the hay early.
The next morning we assembled and worked on cleaning the meat. I found out what was troubling Gary. He told me he had gone over numbers in his head all night and couldn’t escape one conclusion. This bull had to be over 400 inches B&C! After we completed the work on the meat, he got out his tape and we started measuring…Gary was right, as the bull was over 400-inched.
After the 60-day drying period, my bull officially scored 414-2/8 B&C. A dream bull indeed and to think he was taken on a do-it-yourself hunt on public land makes it that much more of a trophy in my eyes! I guess when the gurus talk about all the big ones being gone, maybe, just maybe, a few are still out there.