By Keegan Fielder
-- Back in 2001, I was 17 and just getting passionate about hunting. I was also growing quite a bit, so I decided I should probably upgrade from a 20 gauge to a 12 gauge. As I was browsing through our town's local pawn shop for a new shotgun, I noticed some flyers on the counter. I picked one up, and it was an entry form to win one of 30 youth hunts sponsored by basketball player Carl Malone of the Utah Jazz through Pheasants Forever.
Needless to say, I took it home and filled out the form and mailed it in. Well, the months passed, and I soon forgot about the entry I submitted. In January, I attended a Klondike campout with the Boy Scouts. When I returned on my birthday, my parents threw me a little family party and handed me a letter instead of a card.
I thought this was very odd because I normally get a card and some cash. I opened it up, and it was another entry form. I sat there staring at it trying to figure out why in the heck they would do such a thing, when it dawned on me that maybe I had won a hunt. So I asked them, and my parents said that I a man named Don Pey of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) in Utah had called while I was at camp.
The next day, I called the number Mr. Rey had left with my parents. He told me all about this contest and the Carl Malone Youth Initiative Hunts. He went on to say that my entry had been drawn, and I would have third choice of whatever trip I wanted.
For a kid from Kansas who has never hunted anything else other than deer and upland game birds, the choice was pretty difficult, considering I had the option to hunt black bear, mountain lion, elk, mule deer, or pronghorn, not to mention numerous upland bird or waterfowl.
I ultimately came to a decision to hunt elk in Utah after learning that it was truly a once in a lifetime hunt because the odds of drawing a tag there for a nonresident are slim to none.
In October 2002, my parents and I left for Grand Junction, Colo. The next afternoon, we met my guide, Ken Labrum, brother of Shawn Labrum from Wild Mountain Outfitters. Ken is a good ol' boy as I like to call guys like him. He is laid back and very friendly, and a weathered man, who I had guessed to have grown up in this rugged and wild place. That evening, he took me up on the mountain (really a mesa) as he called it, and we parked and glassed for elk.
As I sat in the cab of the truck, several mule deer approached out of curiosity and stayed for a while, browsing on the sage brush and wild grasses. Eventually, elk started to appear off in the distance, some 500-plus yards. As we looked through the spotting scope and binoculars, we saw nothing but cows. Suddenly, as if it were a ghost, a large bull appeared. We studied the bull and Ken told me he had seen this one before. He thought it was a 5x5 and estimated it would probably score close to 300 Boone and Crockett. He asked me if I wanted this bull. I eagerly said, "Sure, he's plenty big."
I awoke the next morning to the sound of elk bugling around camp. We ate a fast breakfast and hit the road for a 45-minute drive to where we had seen the elk the previous night. We parked the truck in the dark and began our hike around 5:45 a.m. As we hiked across this mesa, Ken stopped me and pointed out that we had just bumped an animal out of its bed. He could hear it trotting off in the distance. As we kept walking, I hoped that wasn't my elk running off in the darkness. We approached near where we had seen the bull the night before as it was getting lighter. Moments passed and we began to see cows. Then, just like the night before, my bull appeared like a ghost out of the trees.
Before I could get close enough to get a shot, we had to cross a small ravine, which was no easy task as it was nearly a straight uphill 20-foot climb to get to the other side. Not to mention the thick brush we fought on the bottom. Upon reaching the top, Ken helped me get set up for the shot. I looked through the scope and didn't have a shot! There were so many cows with him that they kept standing in the way. We moved and then a tree was in the way. So we moved again and again and again.
Finally, I had a shot, and I asked Ken which one for sure because at this point several other bulls had joined the herd. He told me to shoot the big one in the very back, so I did. I looked up immediately after I pulled the trigger. I couldn't see the bull. Elk were running all over the place! Then I heard a loud crash, and I asked Ken if I shot the elk. He replied, "Look over there, Keegan."
My bull hadn't gone 10 yards before it fell onto a dead tree and knocked it over. After we retrieved the bull, we noticed it was actually a 6x6. The bull had what looked like a whitetail brow tine on one side. The other side had a split whale tale. The bull scored 322 gross B&C.
Going on this hunt with Ken instilled in me an even greater passion to expand my hunting knowledge, and further pursue more big game species. I will never forget this hunt and would like to go on another hunt with Ken one day.