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New World Record Elk? Part II

500 inches of antler! Utah produces potential world-record elk.
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This is an Editorial Opinion piece

We reported earlier this week the harvest of what is likely to become the new world-record non-typical elk. The "Spider Bull" was shot in Utah's Monroe Mountain unit in mid-September and green-scores just over 500 inches of antler mass.

It's a helluva trophy, and is a testament to Utah's management in its hard-to-draw trophy units. And the hunter, Denny Austad from Ammon, Idaho, should be recognized for his ability to home in on what is likely the elk of the decade, and possibly the trophy of the century.

 

But there are a couple of unsettling aspects to this story. For hunters who are passionate about America's tradition of free, public hunting and fret the implications of trophy hunting at any cost, the Spider Bull represents a troubling trend.

 

For starters, look at Utah's elk management itself. The state's Division of Wildlife Resources, heeding the preference of many of its most influential constituents, is well on the road toward trophy management, not strictly wildlife management. It's harder to draw a premium elk permit in Utah than anywhere else in the West, and while most permits are fairly distributed in the draw—and largely according to preference points—hunting in the state has become akin to winning the lottery.

 

When you raise the stakes as high as Utah has on its draw, you promote commercialization of the resource. Utah has essentially privatized wildlife on its Cooperative Wildlife Management Units, in which ranchers can sell trophy tags for a public resource, and has promoted outfitting for its most selective units. Who wouldn't hire an outfitter for a once-in-a-lifetime sheep or elk or mule deer hunt in order to boost odds of shooting a record-class animal? With a steady supply of clients who expect success—and will pay five figures to ensure it—outfitters are motivated to lease land, to invest in a stable of guides to find and keep tabs on trophy animals, and to keep intact and advertise a high-percentage track record.

 

That's business, and the best outfitters are very good at what they do. But they seem to forget that they're building their business on the shoulders of a public resource. The bigger these outfits become, the less regard they have for the rank-and-file hunter who funds wildlife management, buys sporting equipment and makes their business possible in the first place. Utah's Cooperative Wildlife Management Units and Colorado's Ranching for Wildlife are closer to a European model of wildlife management in which the property-owning aristocracy profits from wildlife on their land than the egalitarian model of North American wildlife management that promotes public access to the public resource.

 

Unequal Opportunity
Denny Austad shot the Spider Bull because he invested nearly $170,000 in a Utah Governor's Tag, which allows the holder to hunt with any weapon in any open unit in the state. Most states have these super tags, the proceeds of which fund wildlife management, and there is no indication that Austad bent or broke any rule or hunting regulation.

 

But his success raises a question, one that trophy-recognition outfits such as the Boone & Crockett Club should answer. Does Austad's achievement merit the same recognition as a hunter who competed against the masses to harvest an animal? Austad hunted with a modern rifle in an area that was open only to muzzleloading hunting at the time for most permit holders. In essence, he bought the chance to participate in a special hunting season. Does that still qualify as fair chase?

 

The Spider Bull is remarkable for its outsize mass of antler points and beam length. It's fun to look at a rack of these dimensions. But we shouldn't confuse the animal with the action of hunting it. Austad had the help off a profit-minded outfitter and a heap of payrolled guides. I will argue until I die that his achievement is less remarkable than a do-it-yourself hunter who invests a season hunting hard for a bull that may have less headgear but was earned with more sweat, boot leather, patience and passion.

 

So as you gasp at the picture of the Spider Bull, remember that you are seeing an animal produced by serial exclusivity, not by the American tradition of equal access for all.

Be sure to check out more of our recent Elk Hunting articles:

New World Record Elk? Part One

The Truth About Elk Hunting

New Washington State Record Bull

Comments (7)

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from bigbuckPA wrote 15 weeks 1 day ago

I say put the elk in the book, but don't put the guy's name with it. To me what he did is cheating. I know he spent the money on it, but it isn't fair to other hunters.

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from Ironarcher wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

The idea that Utah's Cooperative Wildlife Management program commercializes hunting upsets me. Yes, landowners can sell vouchers for clients to buy permits from the state. But what you failed to mention was the fact that a percentage of the permits for the unit go to a public drawing. You also forgot to mention that many of the guides and outfitters do this for a living, not a bonus.

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from Moishe wrote 4 years 27 weeks ago

If I were rich enough I would consider it myself, as I believe many others would. What good is money otherwise? I would also full fill my dream of a Safari in Africa for the "Big 5" and a "full ticket". Bear in mind, many clients not just PH's have died trying to fill the ticket.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from suzi wrote 5 years 7 weeks ago

I learned to hunt animals with skill and knowledge when I was a child , so to see Austad buy a record buck that he didi'nt even hunt ( he just stepped in and got the kill shot ) really get's my dander up , if you are'nt a good enough hunter to hunt the animal you should stay home and knit or take up fishing. You don't pay other people to hunt an animal for you and then step in and take the trophey, this is disrespectful to all true hunters-yeah he get's the record but now what's he going to buy next? To kill this majestic animal just for the record is a blow for the entire collective of true hunters.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from fsneace wrote 5 years 14 weeks ago

give the elk the credit it is due. it was taken legal and is an outstanding bull and well deserving of the title of world record. great job

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from dan jennings wrote 5 years 25 weeks ago

you buy a license to hunt and pay your money. are you concerned about the poor people who don't have licenses or happy that the wildlife people make it possible for you to hunt and use your money to do so. those same people use this man's money also. also did he shoot the animal at over 200 yds? if not then its moot because most ml hunters could drill the animal at that distance. get over your poor boy envy!

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from fwagner wrote 5 years 26 weeks ago

This record is a joke. The "governor tag" is one reason and then the fact that he went into a muzzleloader zone with a rifel is absolutely the deal breaker. Hunting is becoming a rich mans sport and "hunters" like this guy are the worst. He didn't demonstrate fair chase he demonstrated the use of politics to bring an animal down. The people in that state that are real hunters shoul be furious about this even being considered a record. Imagine if in wisconsin we let rifle hunters loose during archery only or something along those lines. Thats a huge advantage. No record no way.

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from suzi wrote 5 years 7 weeks ago

I learned to hunt animals with skill and knowledge when I was a child , so to see Austad buy a record buck that he didi'nt even hunt ( he just stepped in and got the kill shot ) really get's my dander up , if you are'nt a good enough hunter to hunt the animal you should stay home and knit or take up fishing. You don't pay other people to hunt an animal for you and then step in and take the trophey, this is disrespectful to all true hunters-yeah he get's the record but now what's he going to buy next? To kill this majestic animal just for the record is a blow for the entire collective of true hunters.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from fwagner wrote 5 years 26 weeks ago

This record is a joke. The "governor tag" is one reason and then the fact that he went into a muzzleloader zone with a rifel is absolutely the deal breaker. Hunting is becoming a rich mans sport and "hunters" like this guy are the worst. He didn't demonstrate fair chase he demonstrated the use of politics to bring an animal down. The people in that state that are real hunters shoul be furious about this even being considered a record. Imagine if in wisconsin we let rifle hunters loose during archery only or something along those lines. Thats a huge advantage. No record no way.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from fsneace wrote 5 years 14 weeks ago

give the elk the credit it is due. it was taken legal and is an outstanding bull and well deserving of the title of world record. great job

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ironarcher wrote 3 years 51 weeks ago

The idea that Utah's Cooperative Wildlife Management program commercializes hunting upsets me. Yes, landowners can sell vouchers for clients to buy permits from the state. But what you failed to mention was the fact that a percentage of the permits for the unit go to a public drawing. You also forgot to mention that many of the guides and outfitters do this for a living, not a bonus.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bigbuckPA wrote 15 weeks 1 day ago

I say put the elk in the book, but don't put the guy's name with it. To me what he did is cheating. I know he spent the money on it, but it isn't fair to other hunters.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dan jennings wrote 5 years 25 weeks ago

you buy a license to hunt and pay your money. are you concerned about the poor people who don't have licenses or happy that the wildlife people make it possible for you to hunt and use your money to do so. those same people use this man's money also. also did he shoot the animal at over 200 yds? if not then its moot because most ml hunters could drill the animal at that distance. get over your poor boy envy!

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Moishe wrote 4 years 27 weeks ago

If I were rich enough I would consider it myself, as I believe many others would. What good is money otherwise? I would also full fill my dream of a Safari in Africa for the "Big 5" and a "full ticket". Bear in mind, many clients not just PH's have died trying to fill the ticket.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

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