It was the second day of rifle elk season in New Mexico, and Mike and his guide, Keith, headed out before daylight to glass the canyons and creek beds of the Vermejo Park Ranch. As the duo watched a group of cows, this bull—all antlers through their optics—appeared out of the creek bottom. When Mike hustled to get into position for a shot, the cows spooked and took off up the mountainside, taking the big bull with them. With a screaming cow call from Keith echoing across the valley, the bull stopped for a split-second, and Mike steadied his Browning .300 Win. Mag. and put one right behind the shoulder. While this monster 8x8 bull scored more than 360 inches, Mike says the real prize was getting to spend the time with his wife, Lynn, who treated him to this hunt for his 60th birthday!
Gary met up with some good hunting buddies in October, converging on their usual spot deep in Idaho’s wilderness for their annual mule deer hunt. Like in years past, the season lived up to all of the anticipation and rewarded their extensive preparation. They all tagged great bucks, saw amazing scenery and made lifelong memories. Topping it off, the guys all passed on this old fella, allowing Gary to make a clean 810-yard shot with a .338 Edge firing a Cutting Edge bullet. The 7x8 non-typical giant is Gary’s biggest buck to date.
In August of last year, Tony had a fantastic 18-day safari in Zimbabwe’s Deka Tail area with Nengasha Safaris and PH Wayne Bartlett. After 11 days, they were finally able to bring this big tom leopard to bait about 45 minutes before dusk. Situated in a blind 110 yards away, Tony made the shot with his Remington .30-06, then in its 39th season, using 180-grain Remington Core-Lokt ammunition. This cat measured 7 feet, 7 inches and weighed about 180 pounds.
In January, 10-year-old Ashley was on her fourth hunt of the year in Jackson, La., hoping to take the first buck of her life. On that morning, she had two “shooters” get by her because she was not able to get steady enough. Ten minutes later, this stud walked out and she buckled down without hesitation. Her first shot at 247 yards missed the mark but as the buck wheeled around, she steadied her Smith & Wesson M&P AR-15 and made the 239-yard second shot count.
Jon spent 12 years collecting preference points to draw a coveted Nevada mule deer tag. On the fifth day of his October hunt, after many miles of country and passing on 11 other bucks, he spotted this deer and another good buck more than a mile away. Though his initial interception tactic didn’t pan out, Jon scrambled to another hill where he finally saw the bucks appear at about 400 yards. One shot anchored the muley at 360 yards. This is Jon’s best deer in 53 years of hunting!
It was more than 40 years ago when Richard first began to dream of the brown bears of Kodiak Island. His dream came true in May, 2015 when he took this great trophy. The bear's estimated weight was 1,000 pounds, and it squared 91/2 feet. The brute earned an official B&C score of 2714/16, qualifying it for the book—truly the trophy of a lifetime. “Thanks to the NRA and others for defending our rights for all these years. It is my sincere hope that somewhere a youngster is dreaming like I did and will have the same chances to enjoy hunting as I have,” said Richard.
Seven-year-old Fritz of North Pole, Alaska, christened his new Savage Rascal youth rifle by providing a hot meal in the form of this slow-cooker-filling pile of Western red squirrels. His best shot was taken from 25 yards, offhand. That’s even more impressive considering it was Fritz’s first squirrel hunt. We sure wish we could’ve been around for that meal!
David knocked one off his bucket list in September by traveling to the Alaska Range for a moose hunt with Xtreme Xpeditions near the Hartman River. After watching this giant fight off a smaller bull, David and his guide stalked him for nearly 2 miles before the bull bedded down. After they closed the gap to just over 100 yards, two shots from David’s .300 WSM took care of the rest. “I’ll remember the sights, smells and sounds for the rest of my life!” he said.
Eleven-year-old Alyssa and her father, Robert, were sitting in a blind on her grandfather’s lease in Bandera County, Texas, in late November when this magnificent 10-point came in following several does. Unfortunately for the buck, Alyssa was sporting her 7mm-08, and a single shot brought him down. She now asks regularly how long it will be until the taxidermist returns her mount. We would, too.
On the last evening of the six-day season with less than 90 minutes remaining, Jan, left, bagged this 511/8-inch moose using a Winchester Model 70 in .300 Win. Mag. Jan was hunting in the North Maine Woods in October, guided by Scott Brown of Scents of Adventure Guide Service, when the bull came in to a series of calls with a smaller bull and provided Jan with a perfect shot.
Second-year trapper and long-time NRA member Andy caught this female coyote on public land in Wisconsin’s Jackson County using a cable restraint. He dispatched the furbearer in early February with his 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser, just three days before the end of the season. With Wisconsin’s thriving coyote population, Andy, like many hunters, took to targeting coyotes to help keep the population in check and as a chance to enjoy the outdoors during the state’s long winters.
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Rick DeWitt, Patrick Skipper, Ed Carroll, Allen Vickers, Lewes, Del.
Rick, Pat, Ed and Allen journeyed to Arkansas in hopes of cashing in on the state’s Light Goose Conservation Order. Suffice to say they were successful—they challenged triple digits in a single morning during the trip, and with only five guns (guide included) in the field, at that. Being proud NRA members, they decided to pay homage to their favorite civil rights organization during the aftermath. Once the photography was done, they moved on to what must have proved to be an even greater challenge: cleaning all the birds.
Talk about luck: After six years of applying, Mollie finally drew the Colorado Youth Bosque Del Oso State Wildlife Area bull elk tag. The best part, the season was to start on her 18th birthday! After hiking in several miles, Mollie spotted this bull on the opposite slope of a canyon and was eventually able to make a great shot with her .30-06 to bring down the beautiful 6x6. Not bad for your first elk, Mollie!
It was bitter cold and raining at 6 a.m. on the second morning of the Illinois gun season. Soon snow began to fall "like goose feathers," and Richard’s coveralls nearly froze. Hitting a doe bleat as loud as he could drew nothing from the woods, at first. Then Richard spotted antlers moving through the brush and made ready. When the buck reached an opening, Richard yelled to get him to stop and bagged the deer of a lifetime.
Thanks to some great scouting, Nevada was able to get within 10 yards of bedded rams and ewes on his New Year’s Day hunt with his father, Brett, near Glenwood, N.M. The real test, though, would be making a clean shot at such a short distance. Seeing nothing but hair through his scope, Nevada looked down the side of the barrel to line up his target. The shot with his .270 WSM was clean, but the ram tumbled off an estimated 100-foot cliff. Fortunately, the big ram was intact when they found him.
After obtaining 15 preference points for a limited elk hunt, Marshal, left, finally drew one of eight licenses for the early October season in Unit 1 in northwest Colorado. Though his hunting buddies and son Mark harassed him for passing on a 6x6 the first day—one Marshal thought was only a 5x5—on the second day, near the south border of the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, he shot this thick-beamed 7x7 with an old Winchester Model 70 in .30-06.
In July, Shawn traveled to Namibia to hunt with Jaco van der Merwe of Namibia Safari Corporation after purchasing the hunt at a Safari Club International auction. They were nine days into the 14-day hunt when this large tom hit a fresh bait in a dry creek bed about 35 miles from camp. He visited for two consecutive nights so the group set up a blind on the third night, and Shawn was able to collect him with a single shot from a Thompson/Center .243, shooting Jaco’s handloaded 80-grain Barnes bullet.
The Montana general wolf season had been open for about three weeks, and after numerous stands and hearing not so much as a howl, Jay decided to head out before daylight to a fairly remote basin. To his astonishment, his first howl was instantly answered by an entire pack of wolves. Certain he knew where they were located, Jay pushed on, sat down and let out another very short howl. Though seven wolves appeared, the big pale one stood out among the pack. As they came to within 35 yards, Jay, feeling the jig might be up, took his shot. “Being totally alone in a remote mountain basin 30 miles from civilization and experiencing an event this primal is something few people will ever do or understand. It is also the reason that I am positively obsessed with wilderness predator hunting,” said Jay.
Good friends, good hounds and fresh snow made Dec. 6 a perfect day for lion hunting northwest of Canyon Creek, Mont. Steve was never so tired in all his life when he reached the tree where this big cat made its stand. Of course, that’s when the real work started. Over a mile of deadfall lay between the hunters and the truck, and this cat was big!
Closing the distance to 630 yards in the Apache National Forest in eastern Arizona, Thomas had the perfect setup for his custom Western Precision .300 RUM rifle. Misjudging the steep angle, the first shot went right through the buck’s right antler. Two clicks on the Leupold VX-6 scope and this 5½-year-old Coues of a lifetime was on the ground.
This big ol’ black bear, Mike’s third, biggest, and the high point of his hunting career, was taken in New Brunswick, Canada, with Dyer & Sons Outfitters. It was 9 p.m. and pouring rain when one shot from Mike’s Steyr Scout .308 using Federal 165-grain Fusion ammo laid this 400-plus-pound bear to rest.
Hunting his 10-acre property just after his 75th birthday, Lowell took this 4½-year-old buck during the November rifle season. After two does passed his stand, the dandy 10-point snuck in, cautiously eyeing a doe decoy Lowell had set out. When the buck appeared in a clearing 50 yards away, Lowell made the shot with his .30-06.
David killed this public land behemoth near Gunnison, Colo., in October 2015 on the seventh day of a tough DIY solo hunt. After locating this big boy, David had to stalk him for a mile before sneaking around and up a ridge to take the 403-yard shot with his Winchester Model 70 in .300 WSM. This buck scored every inch of 190 on the Boone & Crocket scale.
Spot-and-stalk was the name of the game on opening morning of South Dakota’s East River deer season. It was late November and Loren, right, and his son-in-law, Tim, both filled their tags on a pair of great 6x5 whitetails.
After getting hit with EHD two of the past six years, deer numbers around Ken’s hunting spots in Cass County have fallen. This past fall, however, decent numbers of deer started showing up on trail cameras—including this big 11-point. The deer survived sightings by Ken’s son and his son’s friend, but when it came into Ken’s stand on Nov. 16, a beautiful morning became that much better. The buck scored 168 gross B&C and netted out at a little more than 158. It’s Ken’s best deer to date and proof that Michigan still does grow ’em big.
If there’s one thing necessary for a successful hunt, it’s the gun. Of course, Kendra, her dad and brother-in-law forgot hers when heading out the Friday after Thanksgiving and had to rush home to get it before returning to their hunting spot. Undeterred, the group set out again and walked for only 10 minutes before Kendra bagged this nice buck as it came up behind them.
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Chris and Payton Odehnal, Skyler Schlick, Quincie Kelly, St. Louis, Mo.
This mess of 27 rabbits set a new record for Chris Odehnal, his wife, Payton, friends Skyler Schlick and Quincie Kelly, and Chris’ uncle Dan Terry. On Jan. 1 in northwest Missouri, the group walked fields and brush piles to kick out the rabbits. Snow on the ground made the bunnies easier to see and slowed them down just enough for almost everyone to bag a six-bunny limit.
Dennis and his buddies have been hunting this area in central Ohio for more than 15 years. After experiencing borderline bucks and missed opportunities for the last seven years, Dennis had high hopes for the 2015 season. Passing up two bucks that first morning in early November, he decided to try a new location with a climbing stand. After about an hour he spotted movement and could see that it was a decent buck. During what seemed like an eternity, the buck slowly moved his way closer, stopping to feed on acorns, checking the wind and surveying the area. With the buck finally quartering away, Dennis loosed an arrow and this 200-plus-pound 149-inch bruiser was on the ground.
Sarah, 13, took her first buck while hunting with her family and grandparents in Zavala County in the South Texas brush country. She dropped the big 8-pointer at 100 yards with her 7mm-08 before celebrating the moment with her dad, Steve.
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Eric Williams, Gregg Williams, Andy Williams, John Smith, Royal Center, Ind.
Andy, Gregg and John had been making a 15-hour trip from Royal Center, Ind., for many years to experience the ultimate in pheasant hunting. Last year, they were finally able to convince little brother, Eric, a middle-school history teacher, to step out of the classroom and into the CRP fields and cattail sloughs of Faulkton, S.D., along with them. With a limit of birds every day on his first trip, Eric had a blast and can’t wait to go again!
Fifteen-year-old Molly watched this pronghorn buck with his 11 does the day before the youth opener, as they lay 1,200 yards out in a flat plain in Lake County, Oregon. Due to the buck’s unstalkable position and multiple lookouts, the plan for the next morning was to wait him out until he picked up his does and moved into the timber to escape the heat of the day. The following morning, just like clockwork, the buck pushed his does toward the timberline and that was when Molly made her move. She closed the gap to 205 yards and, from a standing position, dropped him with one shot from her little .243 Winchester.
Jeff’s DIY mule deer spot-and-stalk bow hunt in southern Arizona last January resulted in this great old 180-inch warlord that was more than 30 inches wide. Jeff spotted him on day one of his hunt and finally got a shot at him on day eight as the buck let down his guard after an intense fight with another great buck.
Bird hunting in western North Dakota in the ’60s and early ’70s meant the occasional pheasant and sharp-tail grouse for Morgan. He was able to put a big Canada goose on the wall in the ’90s, and in 2001 a trip to Texas landed him a snow goose. And though he had to wait till he was 60, last December a flooded rice field in Arkansas provided Morgan with a specklebelly for the wall, too.
Because his hard work and excellent grades earned him enough money to cover his own college expenses, Matthew and his dad, Steve, spent his college fund a different way: on a once-in-a-lifetime Africa plains game safari! Matthew bagged a kudu, gemsbok, impala, black and blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, bush pig, bushbuck, blesbok, springbok, warthog, baboon, caracal and this eland!
After 40 years of elk hunting and 13 years of applying, Randy finally drew a Nevada late-season bull elk tag. Knowing the trophy genetics, harvest history and access limitations of the public land he would be hunting, Randy hired the best guide he could. Even so, the group hunted for six days without seeing a quality bull. When a shooter bull was located on the seventh day, Randy had a decision to make. It would have to be a long-range shot, and Randy would have to make the shot with the guide’s rifle, one suited for the task. If it meant taking a trophy bull, Randy was all in. With the gun dialed in, Randy, unaware of the true distance, went through the fundamentals and squeezed off the shot. A second round sealed the already-done deal. Randy killed this 375-class bull, his largest ever, at a whopping 750 yards.
While on safari in Tanzania, John came across this sable—what many consider to be the epitome of African antelope. Slow to get a shot the first time he saw it, John feared he blew his only chance. A week later he got a second chance at the massive bull and was quick to take advantage of his luck.
When Tim passed on this one-of-a-kind impala on the fourth day of his South Africa safari, the other hunters and guides said he was crazy. So with an impala still eluding him on the last day, he went back to the waterhole, waited 15 minutes and loosed an arrow from 20 yards to drop this unique ram in its tracks—quite the trophy for a squirrel hunter from Michigan.
Though he’d seen a big buck on a couple of occasions, Tim had no way of telling if it was the monster that had been rumored to be hanging around his hunting area. It was mid-December when this bad boy showed up on the opposite end of a field from where Tim was sitting. One glance and he knew it was a mature buck. With his elbows resting on his knees, Tim prayed for the deer to stop. When the 172-inch buck obliged, Tim centered the crosshairs of his .45-caliber ThompsonCenter Omega and squeezed the trigger, making an incredible 216-yard shot.
Frank, left, was on an incredible hunt in June of last year with his parents in Zimbabwe at the Bubye Valley Conservancy. After a 4-mile stalk through dry washes, thick forests and dense grasses, Frank was able to get a perfect broadside shot on a massive kudu. It was the experience of a lifetime, and a memory that he and his family will cherish forever.
In September, Steve headed to the tundra of Nunavut, Canada. After a flight to Yellowknife and a two-hour float-plane ride, his group landed on Contwoyto Lake. While they saw lots of grizzly and wolf, and even caught some of the biggest lake trout he has ever seen, it was this giant central barren ground caribou, his fifth and final caribou species, that enticed Steve to take along his .300 RUM.
Mark flew into the glacial inlets of Alaska’s Prince William Sound by float plane before setting up base camp and making a three-hour hike to spike camp. After another long hike to where they spotted a goat the day before, Mark located the trophy, but it was bedded down. Once the goat stood, it presented a broadside shot at 250 yards. All that hiking was worth it.
Greg had always wanted to take a trophy axis deer. He even saved a spot on the wall, knowing he’d eventually get the chance. When Greg was hunting his lease in Junction, Texas, on his birthday in December, God looked down on him and decided to give him a birthday gift. This 34-inch axis showed up at daylight, and Greg’s .270 found its mark. The empty spot on his wall is finally filled.
Your photos provide not simply a review of your accomplishments and endeavors over the past year, but a revealing snapshot of a nation full of dedicated American Hunters. Trends emerge, be it in the game pursued or the hunters pursuing it, and the staff here welcomes both the insight and the stories that come with your images.
We received more than 200 entries this year, showcasing squirrels to sable, taken in the back 40 to the backcountry, bagged by youngsters to veterans of the field. The trend that unfolded is not one of monster whitetails or female hunters, though both categories continued to grow. Judging by last season’s photos, it seems readers hunted a larger variety of game than we’ve ever seen in a Members’ Best collection. That means you’re winning.
Despite efforts by those who don’t agree with your pursuits—the despicable social-network slams laid upon hunters undeserving of such hatred, blatant lies and uninformed misconceptions surrounding your contributions as hunters to the most successful wildlife conservation programs the world has ever seen—you are still finding time to travel, to spend with loved ones, to experience adventure and peace in the wild. You are unwavering in your passion, and you are hunting more now than ever. That’s a trend well worth celebrating.