This very well could be the eighth largest nontypical elk ever taken by a hunter. But this bull wasn't killed on a Montana slide or in a New Mexico drainage. It was shot by Bill Zee (pictured right) in the backwoods of North Central Pennsylvania.
For years the Keystone state has been turning out gigantic wapiti, and Zee's is the biggest. It's the pending nontypical state record scoring 442 6/8. Here's the inside story of how Zee took this incredible bull.
Perhaps the hardest part of hunting Pennsylvania elk is drawing a tag. Out of about 20,000 applicants, Zee was 1 of 18 hunters to draw a bull tag in the state. He was placed in Zone 9, in the northern, rugged regions of the state.
Zee had been applying for an elk tag for a decade.
Pictured: Taxidermist AJ Lynch
Zee was scheduled to hunt in November, but he headed up to his hunting area in September to scout with guide Jack Manack.
They spotted more than 150 elk after a few days of hard scouting. The bulls were rutting hard, bugling across the mountains. November couldn't come soon enough.
With November finally at the doorstep, Zee headed up to scout for a few more days before the season opened. But he wasn't alone. He had a small platoon of about 25 guides and scouts helping to comb the Pennsylvania woods and fields for bulls. Manack was guiding nine hunters that season and each hunter had a guide and a scout.
Former PA elk hunters who hunted with Manack in the past also chipped in. Because it's so hard to draw a tag, many hunters who get hooked on elk but didn't draw, spend the fall scouting just to be part of the hunt, Zee said.
One of the guides spotted this gnarly bull on Saturday night, two days before opening day. He was with a group of three other bulls feeding in a cornfield on a hill. Zee met the property owner and got permission to hunt the field when the season started on Monday morning.
On Sunday they glassed the field again and watched the bull slip out of the timber. At twilight Zee could see his massive antlers silhouetted against the sky.
"I've seen some big bulls, but this was just unbelievable," he said.
First thing Monday morning they were set up on the edge of the cornfield, but the wind had switched 180 degrees and was blowing in the wrong direction. Two bulls slipped by in the dark and Zee and his guide worked their way slowly down the field. Then they spotted the massive nontypical bull in the corn. They could see his rack sticking high above the corn stalks, but Zee had no shot.
Soon the bulls smelled the intruders and headed down the field. Zee and his guide hustled down the other side of the hill hoping to cut them off at the bottom. Zee got in position just in time to watch the bull go by, but he didn't get a shot.
Zee, who is a diehard whitetail hunter, said the PA bulls in his area were just as wild and wary as any mature buck.
"My guide looked at me and said 'I don't know if we're going to get this bull now,'" he said.
They hunted the field again that night with no luck. Knowing that the big bull wouldn't come out to the field in the daylight, they got permission from a landowner to hunt a hollow about 300 yards back into the woods. They knew that the bulls were bedded in a stand of thick pines high up the hill and they would pass through the hollow to get to the woods.
Unbeknownst to the hunters, a herd of nine cows had also moved into the area. As the sun started to sink, the elk got up to feed.
"It sounded like someone was driving a truck through the pine trees," Zee said.
Cows started filtering through the hollow and with about 15 minutes of shooting light left, Zee spotted the bull. Cows farther down the trail had cut Zee's scent and started barking in alarm. The bull stopped at 75 yards. Then he turned and Zee was sure he was going to head back up into the pines. He didn't have a clear shoulder shot, so he steadied his crosshairs on the big bull's neck and squeezed the trigger.
The bull flinched and then ran past Zee and his guide. Zee swung his .300 Mag. on the bull and took a broadside running shot. The bull dropped dead less than 100 yards away.
Everything about this elk is impressive. He scored 442 6/8 and had an estimated live weight of 930 pounds. He's a 9X8 and stretches the tape 69 inches from tip to tip.
Biologists estimated that the elk was 8 1/2 years old.
"There's just no comparison," Zee said. "This was just the hunt of a lifetime."
While Pennsylvania might not offer elk hunters the epic alpine views of Montana or British Columbia, it does offer huge bulls and real, fair-chase hunts, Zee said.
Hunting elk in the Keystone State lot more like hunting Eastern and Midwestern whitetails than it's like traditional elk hunting. The trick is to find and pattern a big bull. The best bet is finding his food source which is usually a cornfield or large food plot. From there you have to find his bedding area and then ambush him somewhere in-between.
Even though elk were first reintroduced in Pennsylvania almost 100 years ago and there are currently about 500 wapiti in the state, hunting them is still a novelty. All the way home, Zee was stopped by people wanting to hear the story of his hunt and take pictures of his bull.
Zee said he probably won't enter the PA elk draw again because he feels that experiencing this hunt once in a lifetime was enough. But once his two sons get old enough, he looks forward to entering their names in the draw and tagging along on their hunts.
Zee said his hunt never would have been possible if it wasn't for help from the PA Game Commision, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Keystone Elk Alliance, the landowners who gave him permission (including Bill, who donated an ATV for the evening) and the guides from Elk County Outfitters.