In 40 years of hunting, Steve had taken a number of fine big-game trophies. However, a good mule deer buck was not ranked among them, despite multiple attempts. That is, of course, until last October, when in the foothills of Alberta Steve put the crosshairs on this wide, 192-inch muley with a 30-inch spread, ending his curse and landing him the opening spread of American Hunter’s “Members’ Best 2015.”
Talk about a bear with some character: Alex was rewarded with this blazed beauty after five years of lottery entries and a good 12-hour stalk in Maryland’s Savage River State Forest. Alex and a friend closed the final distance from 100 yards to 60, and the black bear finally presented a shot at 45 . Alex’s .270 roared once, securing him this rare, white-chested trophy.
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Vicente Alcala and Kaysie Tosch, Carbondale, Colo.
Vicente and his girlfriend, Kaysie, spent Valentine’s morning snowshoeing for snowshoe hares in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. It was a tough hike at 9,000 feet, but the pair managed to bag a few hares and memories that are sure to last a lifetime. If that’s not romance at it’s best, well, it should be!
It was a cold Thursday evening when 10-year-old Jackson and his dad spotted a deer from their hilltop blind in Montgomery County, Va. With encouragement of “shoot fast, or I’m going to” coming from his dad, Jackson pulled the trigger on his .243 and connected at 300 yards. Having only a thin blood trail to follow, however, the duo had to wait till morning to recover the buck. With Grandpa in tow and brother Carter looking in a different direction, it wasn’t long before Carter returned to exclaim he’d found the buck, but that it was only “a little 6-pointer.” Ha, not quite: Jackson and his “little 6-pointer” made the cover of American Hunter magazine!
Sam, right, was elated to go on his first-ever hunt with an outfitter, and chose to seek out a bull moose in Buchans, Newfoundland, for his weeklong adventure. Calling and stalking with his pal Rich over the course of an hour, Sam bagged this bull with a 52-inch spread, the largest ever shot from that camp, with a perfect heart/lung shot from his Tikka .30-06. Talk about choosing the right outfitter!
After using horses to get into elk country, John took a 250-yard shot to drop his bull in the Teton Wilderness south of Yellowstone National Park. This impressive 7x7 was one of two bulls taken from that rim on what was the opening day of gun season, as partner Larry Morton spotted and shot a great 6x6 only minutes later.
Malcolm, 16, killed this hefty whitetail Nov. 10, 2014, near Vergas, Minn. After passing up a bunch, his patience paid off when on the third day of his hunt this 185-gross, 1667/8-net typical 6x7 showed up. One shot from his Ruger M77 .270 and the giant was his. Oh yeah: Malcolm’s buck took first place in the youth division firearm category at the Minnesota Deer Classic.
Stanley traveled to British Columbia to take on a challenge to be remembered: a hunt for the largest of the elk species, the sought-after Roosevelt elk. He hunted the Campbell River area of Vancouver Island, which happens to be the home of the purest strain of Roosevelt elk in the world. This awesome 10x7 bull, with tines reminiscent of a European stag, is well deserving of Stanley’s smile that stretches from ear to ear.
After killing this awesome Dall ram on the sixth day of his hunt in the Alaska Range, Phil’s trip turned into an extended stay as severe fog forced him to spend another week in the bush. No worries: Phil couldn’t have been happier to spend 22 days in Alaska on this once-in-a-lifetime dream hunt.
Hunting with Grandma and Grandpa on a friend’s farm in northern Missouri, Emma got to see a show before taking this big tom. The bird came in at first light and walked around a bit before some enticing calls and a jake decoy fired him up. After watching him rough-up the decoy long enough, Emma took the shot. Not only is this Emma’s first turkey, but she shot it with a bow at only 13 years old! Katniss Everdeen has nothing on Emma.
Sitting in the blind on the first morning of his very first deer hunt, 13-year-old Jacob and his dad, Quade, spotted a few does, and then this dandy 8-point trailing 60 yards behind. His practice with the rifle paid off, as he fired his Savage .243 through the thick standing pine to bag his first buck at 80 yards.
The trip was a late 41st anniversary gift from his wife, Sandra, who went along but stayed in where it was warm. Bill, however, wasn’t going to sit around on his January hunt in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, despite the brutal weather. Based on the size of this cat, we can’t argue with his choice.
This image holds a special place in Dan’s heart not only because of the amazing setting in which he tagged this New Zealand tahr but because his wife opted to accompany him on the hunt. The guide told her it would be an event she would never forget and, true to his word, she’s still raving about it.
Sarah shot this huge 6x6 whitetail during Ohio’s youth deer season. The big-bodied buck came in from the field to where she and her father, Craig, were standing. After the buck entered an opening, Craig let out a bleat to stop him, and Sarah took the shot with her CVA muzzleloader. It’s quite the trophy for her first deer.
This red hartebeest bull made the mistake of thinking 380 yards was a safe distance to stop and look back—not with James behind the trigger. The herd had winded the glassing hunters and took off down the valley. With sticks set, James watched through the scope of his .270 Wby. Mag. until the big bull turned, and then stopped him for good.
This is one of two big Sitka blacktail deer that Greg downed during his November trip to Kodiak Island, Alaska. The first he shot offhand at 40 yards as he spotted the buck chasing a doe. And the second, also chasing tail, was this 100-inch buck that Greg took from a stump at 180 yards with his .270.
After 38 years of applying for a Rocky Mountain goat tag, Mike finally hit the jackpot. On the fifth day of his hunt in Montana’s Madison Range, after climbing well above 10,000 feet, he caught this billy lying down and made the shot from a mere 7 yards. Perhaps even more amazing than the hunt itself, the goat made it off the mountain in only 15 minutes, strapped next to Mike’s son on a tandem paraglider—that’s a first for sure.
It was opening day south of Rawlins, Wyo., and David and fiancé, Erin, had been looking for a doe to fill her tag when this goat appeared. Thinking it was too small, they prepared to let him walk—that is, until the non-typical turned his head to reveal the crooked antler. After stalking this unique buck for close to a mile, David put him to rest with a single shot at 100 yards.
Dad hopes he didn’t set future expectations too high because he knows that not every trip ends with a full strap. But Aidan, age 11, sure has reason to relish the moment. Along with his dad, Eric, Aidan was able to take a limit of fat mallard ducks in Salina County, Mo. We think that look says he’s hooked on waterfowl for life.
After finally drawing a bighorn tag in southwest Montana, Mike spent two months tracking and stalking sheep until on Nov. 15, 2014, he spotted a small herd containing this single ram. He snuck to a high point atop a small knoll and was able to drop the trophy with his .270 Win. from 150 yards.
Erika christened her brand-new Browning X-Bolt in style last year. Cutting short her New York whitetail season, she ventured to Colorado for a chance at something bigger. And on the second-to-last day of her hunt, with buck fever pumping through her veins, she made an awesome 125-yard shot on this classic muley buck.
For her senior-year hunt (credit Dad for creating such a thing), Jessie chose to chase bears, and so the duo traveled to northern Maine’s Eagle Lake to make it happen. You better believe Dad took a ribbing when, after taking boars 50 minutes apart, they found Jamie’s bear was 20 pounds heavier.
Greg’s “Halloween Buck” was almost more trick than treat. Spotting this great 5x5 desert muley north of Tucson on Oct. 31, 2014, he made a 200-yard shot to drop him. Then it took Greg a quarter-mile of tracking—likely through no small amount of self-doubt—to find the tall-tined buck. Later, he’d still have to pack him out more than 2 miles.
Meet Blondey, the mountain cur that trees coons at night almost as fast as she trees squirrels during the day. Along with Melvin, she had one heck of a season chasing bushytails. And while Melvin tries to get ’em with .22s, he can’t resist using the shotgun when the squirrels start to jump through the trees—it’s just like sporting clays.
After 17 years of applications, Bob Collyer finally drew a coveted Nevada desert (Nelson) bighorn sheep tag. Concentrating their efforts in the Hot Creek Range, Bob and his brother Jim scouted the area for six days prior to the season opener, locating a group that contained several mature rams. The rams wandered some during the night, but this one was still in the area at sunrise. After a short stalk, Bob was able to take him with a single shot.
It was the third day of the Oregon bow season. Dieter was in his stand on a 6,000-acre cattle ranch, overlooking a large meadow in the midst of thick parcels of ponderosa pines. An hour before sunset, light rain began to fall, and with it an eerie silence fell across the meadow. Suddenly, this bruiser emerged from the pines, walked to within 32 yards and turned broadside. Dieter watched as his arrow hit its mark, seating the bull not 50 yards from where he shot him.
Fortunately, with the help of several organizations and countless volunteers, sportsmen once again defeated the anti-hunting Humane Society of the United States in its efforts to ban traditional bear hunting in Maine. That, of course, is why Joe and his son Joseph were able to take this bear with the aid of hounds in the western Maine mountains.
Donald’s group was hunting logging cutovers on an extremely foggy October morning in the mountains of Oregon’s southern coast when this Columbian blacktail buck presented himself. Due to low visibility, the buck wasn’t spotted until he was right on the hunting party. A quick shot from Donald’s 7mm Rem. Mag. and the buck was down for the count.
Hunting with friends south of Hayes Center, Neb., a little after 9 a.m. on a cold opening day of rifle season, Keith suddenly spied this 187-inch bruiser buck beneath his treestand. At 15 yards, Keith’s Tikka 7mm Mag. spoke, and his “dream buck” was headed back home to Montana.
After 20 years of trying, AJ finally drew a Henry Mountain Utah Bison Hunters Choice tag for what is perhaps the nation’s largest free-roaming bison herd, located in southeast Utah. It took six days of hard scouting over many miles to finally find the critters. Then after a good hike, a sneak across an open flat and a shot from AJ’s .338 Marlin Express, the huge bison plowed downhill and piled up atop a mess of juniper deadfall. It took AJ’s group the better part of two days to cut up the 2,000-pound bull and pack him a half-mile to the truck.
“It was goose-hunting bliss”: That’s the way Tim described his early-season goose hunt with buddy Scott. They had scouted the field the day before and knew where the birds wanted to be. When they set up on the proverbial “X” the following morning, the birds worked perfectly. Bagging these 10 geese was a great start to what would turn out to be a stellar waterfowl season.
Thirteen-year-old Abby bagged this gorgeous Eastern tom, her first bird ever, while hunting her grandfather’s farm. “This is what it’s all about,” she wrote to us. We agree. It’s a great sign for today’s youth, the future of hunting in America and the future of your NRA.
Crediting her shooting skills to her air-rifle coach and her hunting skills to her dad, Faith took her first muzzleloader buck on a cold, foggy morning. Fortunately, the fog cleared just enough for her to squeeze off a shot at 60 yards at this big boy she dubbed the “Foggy Bottom Buck.”
Mike, left, and his guide, Max, hiked several miles for days before coming upon this barren ground caribou on the fourth day of his hunt in the northern region of the Brooks Range just south of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Though the caribou were few and far between, Mike was able to drop this shoveled beauty after spotting him running on a distant slope.
Bobby drew a once-in-a-lifetime California bighorn tag in Idaho’s Owyhee River Wilderness but he’d never been in the area—so he scouted 24 days during the summer. To launch his hunt, he rode 19 miles on his ATV then backpacked an additional 9 miles to get to the dry river bottom that held the sheep he’d scouted. At 286 yards, Bobby’s .280 Rem. downed this 10-year-old ram.
At 8 a.m. on a cool opening morning, Rick and his wife, Cindy, were about 8 miles southeast of Jackpot, Nev., when they spotted antlers 400 yards away down a deep canyon. Six bucks were feeding in the morning sun, and Rick was able to work within 230 yards of them before taking the biggest one, this dandy 5x5. It was a well-worth-it, 10-hour chore to pack out the meat.
On Oct. 1, 2014, 10-year-old Aubree shot this 11-point buck near Waukesha, Wis., during a mentored hunt with her father, Andrew. Aubree made the 35-yard shot with her crossbow, killing her first deer on only her third time hunting. After the shot, she and her father tracked the deer for almost 150 yards. Aubree’s opportunity occurred thanks not only to her father but also to new regulations put in place by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that include mentored hunting for 10-year-olds and crossbow hunting.
Ruby was in Anne Arundel County, Md., with her crossbow when this bruiser buck chased a doe right to her stand and proceeded to breed 10 yards away. Ruby was able to get a perfect broadside shot at 25 yards, and the buck went only 40 yards before expiring. To say this split-G2 buck died happy is an understatement.
Russ and his hunting partner, Howard, saw this bull moose on the third day of their hunt in Newfoundland, Canada. After a long stalk and some excellent calling from guide Fred, the bull was in the crosshairs. One shot at 125 yards from Russ’ .30-06 and the paddles that spread 49 inches were on the ground. That’s one more off the bucket list.
Robin, age 10, began her second year of hunting by drawing seven tags in her home state of New Mexico. Over the course of seven months, with her daddy by her side and her stuffed animal Clarice (Rudolph’s girlfriend) in her backpack, Robin completed an incredible do-it-yourself season. She filled every single tag with one-shot kills from her .243. Her most challenging hunt was for this Persian ibex as it involved bivouacking in 6 inches of snow for three nights and four days. Robin credits her success to her daddy, confidence, perseverance and trust in the Lord.
Transplanted Texan Kaylee finally drew a Nevada antelope tag, but with no relatives nearby to watch the kids, she had to take her 1- and 2-year-old sons with her when she and her husband left for the season opener. After missing a buck earlier in the day, she spotted this buck on private land. It was a two-hour wait for the buck to follow his herd onto public land. While her husband kept the boys entertained and quiet nearby, Kaylee made good on her 200-yard shot opportunity.
After noticing a white lesser Canada goose the day before, Steve was elated to spy it again among a last-minute flock during a mid-December hunt in Colorado. The flock circled Steve, left, his son Skyler and Skyler’s girlfriend, Jenna, five times before finally committing. Steve got his white trophy and Jenna bagged her first goose.
It was mid-November, and Wayne was hunting southeast Montana with his son Brian. With his .280 Ackley Improved Nosler rifle stoked with handloaded 140-grain AccuBonds, grocery bills were reduced and special memories were made when Wayne dropped this muley buck in the snow-covered landscape.
There is nothing like hearing the early-morning gobbling of turkeys on their roost. The only thing better is to share it with your sons. Set up under a cottonwood tree with two hen decoys, Kirk, left, and son, Jessie, started calling as soon as the birds flew down. Two nice toms came to the calls and Dad and Jessie doubled on the love-struck birds. In case you’re wondering, and we know you are, Kirk was shooting a George Daw underlever hammer gun, made in the 1860s—simply awesome.
It was late November with lots of snow when Bill took this nice 170-inch typical buck while hunting in northwestern Wisconsin. He saw the big buck earlier in the day but had no shot, so he didn’t hesitate when later in the evening it reappeared. As the hunter tracked it in his scope at 120 yards, the critter presented a good shot, and Bill’s Tikka .300 WSM rang once.
At 101 years old, World War II veteran Joeseph D. Altavilla, right, and his son Joeseph J. had a turkey hunt like none we have ever of heard before. After decoys were placed, the duo watched from their makeshift blinds as birds worked their setup almost immediately. But the real feat occurred when two longbeards came in around 10 o’clock. You see, intent on getting his dad a bird, Joeseph J. had carried only one gun into the field. So when the veteran of the Normandy Invasion dropped one tom at 25 yards, Joeseph J. quickly took the gun from his father’s hands and took the second gobbler on the run! The twin 27-pound toms sported matching 10-inch beards and 11/2-inch spurs.
Roy traveled from Charlotte, N.C., to New Zealand to meet up with his guide then spotted this beautiful stag on the first day of his hunt. With instructions from the guide to hold off for a day or two, the pair continued hunting. On the third morning when the stag presented himself again, Roy wasn’t about to let the moment pass. After a 45-minute stalk, Roy made a terrific bow shot at 30 yards to drop the majestically crowned beast.
It was the last day of PA’s rifle season and Alyssa, left, and Abbey had no problem talking their father into taking them hunting one more time. Sitting in a stand large enough for the two of them, at mid-morning Abbey connected with the 8-point—her second buck ever—and shortly thereafter Alyssa downed the button buck—her first ever. Each hunter fired only a single shot. Way to go, girls!
Patrick (Toby) Bourke said a prayer as he sat in a ground blind overlooking a line of massive rubs in Oldham County, Ky., one late November afternoon last year: “Lord, just let me see the buck that made these rubs. I’ll be happy even if I don’t get the shot.” Well, ask and thou shalt receive. The giant came in following a couple of does, and after an 80-yard shot with his Remington Model 700, folks were taking photos of the light shining down on this awesome 14-point, which Patrick calls the “Heaven’s Gift” buck. ah
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Brandon Rich, Ryan Stormant and Scott Wetz, Sorrento, Fla.
These boys had a history with this 12-foot-3-inch gator, having first spotted him in August 2012. Two years and several close encounters later, Brandon, left, Ryan and Scott finally bagged and tagged the monster from a small public lake in central Florida.
Truly great hunters aren’t seen on television. Their names don’t often grace shiny pages in print. The truly great ones are scattered along the open swaths of fertile pasture in the heartland, bogged down in the sultry Southeastern swamps and trekking the peaks of mountains in parts unknown. They succeed or fail not by the bag brought home, but the memories gained, the lessons shared and the inevitable feeling of self-accomplishment. Here’s to them. Here’s to you: the true American Hunter.