New World Record Elk?

500 inches of antler! Utah produces potential world-record elk.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

What is being reported as the potential new world-record non-typical elk was killed last week in Utah's uber-limited Monroe Mountain unit.

The bull, nicknamed the "Spider Bull" both because of its webbed 9x14-point lattice of antlers and because hunter Denny Austad got the help of Mossback Outfitters (www.mossback.com) was shot September 30 on public land after nearly two weeks of pursuit. It's one of the most remarkable big-game trophies I've ever seen; the bull's abnormal points alone total nearly 130 inches of antler mass, and the main points are heavy and impossibly long.

The bull was green-scored at 500 4/8 total inches of antler and netted 488, also as a green rack. If those measurements hold up after the required 60-day drying period and Mr. Austad enters the bullÂ--and it meets Boone & Crocket Club's trophy entry standardsÂ--it could be accepted as the potential new world-record elk. A B&C Special Judges Panel would be required to officially certify the new record.

The current non-typical world-record elk is a 465 2/8-inch behemoth that was found dead in British Columbia in 1994. The current typical world-record elk is a 442 5/8-inch wapiti shot by Alonzo Winters in 1968 in Arizona's White Mountains.

Austad reportedly hunted for 13 days in the central Utah unit before connecting with the bull, which had been seen and videoed in the summer, but disappeared for nearly two weeks before Austad's team relocated it and got the hunter in position to close the deal.

As is often the case with world-class specimens such as the Spider Bull, Austad's success is receiving special scrutiny and derision is being heaped on the achievement like so many sour grapes. Some of the criticism may be deserved simply because the ugly hand of commercialism colors the story (more to come on this aspect), but it's hard to dispute that this is a remarkable animal that was hunted hard and fairly.

Denny Austad didn't have to draw the super-selective Monroe Mountain tag because he bought a Utah governor's tag for elk this season, reportedly paying $170,000 for the ability to hunt any open unit in the state. Some hunters are dismissing the achievement because Austad had the ability to hunt with a rifle during a season when other elk hunters were relegated to archery equipment. So what? That's the appeal of the governor's tag, and Austad's investment in the license will go toward elk management in a state that has become the best big-bull destination in the country.

Other hunters are belittling Austad's achievement because he hired Mossback and outfitter Doyle Moss' stable of guides to keep tabs on the bull and help Austad in the hunt. How is that different than the team of friends and hangers-on who help out most of the hunters who draw super-selective tags?

Other hunters in the field had an equally fair chance to connect with the Spider Bull, and I suspect some of the, uh, arrows being lobbed at Austad are from bowhunters who missed their chance at the record.

The fact that Moss and his guides were paid for their services may have given Austad an advantage, but there's a long and healthy tradition of outfitting in the West, and the fact that Austad hired his team shows he's as smart as he is wealthy.

More on the Spider Bull and what it may mean for the Western tradition of public access to public wildlife tomorrow.