Rack Magazine

Out of the Mist

Out of the Mist

By Ken Kastely

Nonresident’s nearly 400-inch bull one of two that scramble Pennsylvania’s elk records in 2011.

After seven years of throwing my name in the hat, I finally drew one of 18 coveted Pennsylvania bull elk tags in 2011. Almost 19,000 people had put in for it.

In their attempt to notify me, wildlife officials found my father Bela’s telephone number in the phone book and left a message for me at his house. When my father called with the news, I was certain he was pranking me. I didn’t believe him until he started throwing out facts that he simply wouldn’t have known.

After I landed back on Earth, my first priority was to research my drawn hunting zone. One of my many phone calls was to Jack Manack, owner of Elk County Outfitters. After only a few minutes talking to him, my anxiety vanished about locating a good elk area.

Elk season was only a few months away at that point, but it felt like years.

My father and I arrived at camp outside of Benezette, Pennsylvania, the day before the season opened. After meeting Jack, the guides and the other hunters, we stowed our gear and then sat down for an incredible home-cooked dinner. The main hunting camp was a mountainside cabin with a view that can’t be described adequately.

Day one began with glassing a nearly 200-acre field between a known nighttime feeding area and a piney woods bedding area on adjoining property we could not hunt.

Per my many phone conversations with Jack regarding his scouting trips, I knew he had seen several bulls there, including two that might top 400 inches — one a clean 7x7 Typical, the other a 9x9 Non-typical.

Jack had been watching the 9x9 closely for two years. That one was given the name Ol’ Crabby because of claw-like tines on his antlers and because of his intolerance of other bulls.

We glassed the open bottom that was obscured by patches of fog. That giddy hunting-season-is-open feeling was almost more than I could stand. That and four cups of coffee made it tough to regulate breathing and to keep my lens from clouding.

After glassing for a couple of hours, we heard a rifle shot about a half-mile distant. Right away, Jack new it was one of his hunters with another guide.

Midday rolled around too fast. After seeing only a couple of cows and rag-horn bulls that morning, we headed back to camp to grab some lunch. The shot we heard earlier did in fact result in a very nice 330-class bull taken by another hunter in Jack’s camp.

Seeing a bull down just added to the excitement.

We scoured a couple other places that afternoon, but saw no respectable bulls.

As the sun rose on day two, so did my hopes for seeing elk. The fog soon dashed them, however. I had never seen fog so thick, and the sunlight was of no help in burning it off.

My guide that day was Kerry Bollman. He, my father and I had taken up position overlooking the same large field we’d glassed the first day, but we were on the opposite side and closer to the known feeding area. When we started glassing the field, I realized just how truly thick the fog was that morning. At times you could barely see 15 yards.

We kept our eyes strained on the field, searching the dense fog for antlered silhouettes. The fog kept teasing us by lifting a little, giving us maybe 50 to 75 yards of visibility, and then falling back like a curtain. Again, I was certain the elk would cross the field under the protection of the fog and be into their bedding area where we could not follow.

Just when my frustration was ready to peak, I heard Kerry whisper “Elk … Bull … BIG BULL!”

Instead of going for my binocs, I quickly shouldered my .300 Win Mag, rested against a pine tree and nervously searched my scope for the bull. I soon located the elk at 130 yards. It was walking slowly in the direction of the bedding area.

I wasted no time in settling the crosshairs on its shoulder. I did look at the antlers first, but I knew if I stared at them too long, I would not be able to keep the gun steady.

After the rifle barked, I searched my scope for the result. The bull was still standing, but it had stopped and was facing us. I had invested a lot of time at the range, and I was very comfortable with the rifle. I didn’t think I’d missed.

But the possibility was all too real. The thought of missing that monster was like a shot of adrenaline. I was certain the bull could hear my heart beating.

Both Kerry and my father forcefully whispered “Hit him again!”

I chambered another round and searched my scope for the bull. By then, it had turned and was slowly walking back the way it had come. I shouldered the rifle just like I was shooting trap and put an off-handed shot right into the shoulder.

The bull was still standing, but had stopped. I grabbed another round and was closing the action when I heard Kerry say “He’s down.”

The first bullet had double-lunged the bull. The second had taken out its heart.

Out of the MistTo this day, I still don’t remember walking those 130 yards to my elk. Once I was standing over it, the realization of how huge it was initiated the next surge of adrenaline. I had to sit down on the ground to keep from falling.

Many hugs and high-fives followed. For nearly 15 minutes, I never touched the elk. I simply walked circles around it, making sure the experience was real before I finally reached out and grabbed an antler.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission takes their game management very seriously, and officers visit the site where each and every elk falls to make sure everything is kosher. In case the elk harvest location is not extremely obvious and close to a road, the game commission supplies all elk hunters with a harvest care package that includes yellow trail tape so you can mark the trail to the harvest location.

To aid in research of the elk herd, all successful hunters must collect items from the elk carcass including blood and tissue samples from the lungs, liver and brain stem. A tooth is also taken from each elk to determine its age.

The commission also requires that the whole field-dressed elk be brought into a check station so it can be weighed.

Luckily, my elk fell smack dab in the middle of a huge field where we could drive right up to it. Jack soon arrived in his F-350 flatbed with unbelievably two more bulls as large as mine. Soon after, several of Jack’s guides and the other successful hunters arrived.

It was a sight to behold, but 10 of us heaved and inched my elk up and onto Jack’s truck next to the other bulls. Three huge bulls with over 1,100 inches of antler on the back of one truck definitely turned some heads on the way to the check station.

It was a bit of a surprise when we arrived and saw hundreds of people gathered at the check station, waiting to see the elk brought in that day. Apparently the check stations become very popular during the one-week season.

Pennsylvania’s original wild elk herd was completely gone by the late 1870s. There are currently 900 animals, which can be traced back to the original 50 that were reintroduced into the mountains in 1913. Those 50 elk were captured and transported by train from Wyoming.

In 1915, an additional 95 elk were brought in from Yellowstone National Park. To protect the newly released elk, the state created a law to protect them until Nov. 15, 1921, when a two-week elk season was planned. Only bulls with at least four points on one antler could be legally taken during that season.

My bull was aged at 7 years old and field-dressed at 625 pounds, which means it could’ve easily weighed as much as 1,000 on the hoof prior to the rut. Its gross B&C score is 407 3/8 inches. With a net of 390 3/8 (non-typical), it ranks No. 5 among Pennsylvania bulls.

This article was published in the June 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

Read Recent RACK Articles:

One Man’s Trash: A $65 pawnshop bow, a determined nephew and a missed shot at an 8-pointer combine for a life-changing buck.

Extra Tines: Now here’s a buck that’ll make anyone phone home.

Rain Deer: Sometimes you curse the weather. Sometimes you thank it.

Copyright 2022 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd