It was the opening day of rifle season, and 10-year-old Lauren, center, was on her first hunt under the Pennsylvania mentored youth hunting program with her father, Josh, and sister, Jacklyn. The first morning the trio actually saw lots of deer, but no buck. As lunch rolled around, a few does meandered into range. Lauren was taking advantage of the opportunity by practicing finding deer in her scope when this 4-point stepped out from behind a fallen tree. With the gun already in position, Lauren quickly lined up the vitals of the buck in the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger of her Savage Youth Axis in .243. The buck ran 50 yards and dropped.
If one of these girls looks familiar it’s because Lauren's sister, Jacklyn, graced these pages last year after tagging her first buck, too! We were so impressed by the hunting spirit of the entire Hajnosz family we couldn’t resist putting them on the cover this year.
Seventeen-year-old Lylia shot this tall-tined California blacktail as one of only three junior hunters chosen to participate in the 2017 Chimineas Ranch Junior Deer Hunt. On day one, Lylia and her guide put the stalk on this buck while he was bedded down with some does. At 140 yards, they were forced to wait him out. When one of the does stood, so did her buck, and Lylia flipped off the safety of her Ruger M77 rifle chambered in .257 Roberts and sent a single, 100-grain Barnes Triple-Shock loaded by DoubleTap to end the hunt.
Hunting on the V7 Ranch bordering the NRA Whittington Center just south of Raton, N.M., was an exceptional experience for Dan and his family. Arriving a few days early allowed the group to take advantage of the many activities offered at the Center, including long-range shooting and a tour of the Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest located there. Making the family trip even more memorable, two members of Dan's hunting party tagged out on opening morning before 8:30 a.m., and Dan shot this whopper of a bull later that evening from 300 yards with his Winchester Model 70 in .30-06.
A distinctive bugle sounded in the Montana distance and every five to six minutes it grew closer to Kelvin's hide. His Stinger broadhead was fixed to a Victory VAP shaft that was nocked, looped and ready to go. Unthinkably, the next bugle sounded from behind him as the ivory-tined giant and its cow dropped into range. Without thinking, Kelvin pivoted, moved to full draw, centered his 25-yard pin and let the arrow fly. As Kelvin nocked another arrow the 6x8, 406-inch giant's gait slowed, allowing only a dozen more steps before the bull crumpled, motionless.
This cat caught Sheriff Scott Mascher's attention while he was assisting his buddy Lance on an elk hunt outside Prescott, Ariz. The pair had just closed a mile-wide gap between them and a nice herd, and they were glassing from 250 yards when Scott caught the cat eyeing the same quarry. With a lion tag in his pocket, Scott ranged the beast at 326 yards and squeezed the trigger of his .300 Win. Mag. The cat jumped from the hit, and disappeared into a patch of manzanita. With Lance watching from their firing position, Scott made his way down to where the cat was last seen. Only 10 yards from the cat's last known location, Scott heard a growl, and the injured lion pounced. On instinct, Scott leveled his rifle and shot, scoring a hit just below the cat’s chin.
Inclement weather during the first few days of her Dall sheep hunt forced Amy and her guide to push it if they wanted to be successful. They hiked 9 miles before spotting this ram, and after some discussion, decided it best to make the final pursuit the following morning. One more hike put the hunters on equal ground with the ram, and as the ram stepped onto a ridge at 30 yards, Amy dumped it with a 143-grain Hornady ELD-X from her Proof Research rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor.
As any good hunting father would, Jim was taking his daughters into the field long before they could shoot. Now they all look forward to the trips every year. Jim hunts with a Benelli SBE 2, and each of his girls hunts with a .410. While they might seem a bit under-gunned for geese, the girls have bagged their fair share of trophy birds. Last year, the family donned white body suits for a trip to Arkansas for snows.
John took this albino pronghorn near Buffalo, Wyo., after two hours of glassing a large herd. The outfitter had spotted this buck before, and so the hunters waited to see it. Once they did, it took another two hours to get a proper shot lined up on the unique trophy. It eventually came together, though, and John placed a round from his .30-06 Ruger M77 Hawkeye in the goat’s boiler room from 300 yards.
Megan, with a self-imposed 25-yard shot limit, was hunting alongside her husband, Chris, when this buck passed by just beyond her range. The team tried to bring back the buck with snort and grunt calls, to no avail. Switching to rattling horns did the trick. The big 9-point turned, came back and stopped broadside at the brink of Megan’s range, providing her a window for a perfect double-lung shot!
Upon drawing a once-in-a-lifetime Colorado bull moose tag after applying for 14 years, Kelly McKibbin, left, with his dad, Dennis, right, and his brother and son, headed to Lake City, Colo., for the rare opportunity. Spotting a moose emerging from the aspens 155 yards away, Kelly rested his Kimber Montana in .325 WSM on a stump and fired. The moose was hit well, but Kelly fired again to seal the deal, this time dropping the bull. The hunt was over by the third day of the two-week season. This allowed Kelly to hunt with his dad, Dennis, the following weekend, when Dennis shot an antelope from 220 yards with a Remington .308 Win. given to him by his family.
Vance wasted no time deliberating a last-minute opportunity to hunt Cape buffalo; he dropped his whitetail gear and jumped on a plane to Mozambique. On the third evening of his November hunt, after days of stalking close to herds with no shot opportunity, this old dugga boy presented a shot at 36 yards. The first hit with Vance’s Ruger Guide Gun in .375 Ruger put down the bull, and two more kept it there. The guide claimed the 14½-inch-wide boss made Vance’s buff the biggest he’s taken in 10 years.
The high bidder for a New Zealand stag hunt at an RMEF dinner in January 2016, Shawn just had to add a few more unique trophies to his hunt list. On his first full day in the field last year, Shawn and company spotted this bull tahr nearly a mile away through spitting rain and snow. After cutting the distance, which included a half-mile, nearly vertical climb, Shawn shouldered a Browning A-Bolt and sent a .30-06 bullet across the valley. The bull dropped on the spot.
Spotting a bedded buck is usually a feat in itself. Cutting the distance, in this case nearly a mile, to get within shooting range, well, that’s a whole other can of worms. Ray pulled it off and got within 90 yards of this Nebraska wall-hanger before a doe bedded nearby blew his cover. Shouldering his New Ultra Light Arms rifle in .270 Win., Ray sent a few 130-grain Hornady SST bullets at the fleeing buck and scored. The 7x5 buck has a 20-inch inside spread and a B&C gross score of 173!
What beats a hunting trip to Africa as a graduation present? Nothing. During a 10-day safari to Limpopo, South Africa, Daniel and his father, Marc, wanted one animal more than any other: a big warthog. Professional hunter Isan Van Zyl checked some trail cams, and was able to put each of them on a pig by placing each hunter on one of several waterholes scattered across the area. Marc and Daniel took their respective boars about 10 minutes apart, each with a Remington Model 700 at 80 yards. Daniel used his .30-06 and Marc used his .308 Winchester.
Accompanied by their father, brothers Lucas and Eric Settineri each bagged his first mess of grouse while hunting state land out of the family cabin in Grayling, Mich. Quietly pushing on fresh, rain-soaked ground, with the sun peeking out between the aspens, Lucas and Eric, 20-gauge Remington 870 birthday presents in hand, were forced to take fast shots at close range in the dense timber to bring the birds to hand.
After shooting a spike during her first hunting season last year, 12-year-old Aurora was eyeing something bigger this year. With her grandfather's imposed 3x3 minimum, she hunted the morning of opening weekend on her family’s farm with no luck. In her stand again after lunch, Aurora watched this 7x5 buck walk within range, and she wasted no time taking a perfect, 80-yard shot with her .243. Aurora’s deer is the largest ever taken on the farm, which has been her family’s hunting grounds for more than half a century.
Hunting the family farm once again last year, Erik bagged this 180-inch buck using a suppressed Weatherby .308 on the opening weekend of the season. It was the height of the rut, and Erik and his fiancé watched several deer move about the farm for more than an hour before this buck finally got close enough to their elevated blind. At 125 yards, Erik fired and sealed the deal. Did you notice the brow tines on this buck?
John White, Colton’s grandpa, has been making annual hunting trips to Meeker, Colo., since the ’90s. In 2010 he turned that trip into a family affair. Last October, it was 13-year-old Colton’s turn. With a buck tag in his pocket and his dad, Marc, along for the adventure, Colton spotted a bedded buck. With his .270 in hand, Colton was able to sneak to within an astonishing 10 yards of the buck. Then the buck stood, and Colton laid him back down.
Janet took this wide 5-point muley outside Karval, Colo., with a .243 Winchester that belonged to her father-in-law. It was the last day of the season, and Janet was hunting under the guidance of her neighbor and fellow NRA member Steve Bailey, with her two young daughters in tow. Steve says his goal is to get more women and children into the outdoors. It looks like he's succeeding. We couldn’t be more proud of Janet, or the worthy cause.
Josh and his father, William, have hunted the woods and mountains of north-central Montana together since Josh was a young boy. Last year, Josh shot his biggest buck to date thanks in part to a hot tip from a few good friends about the buck's summer haunts. Come hunting season, however, the mature buck was nowhere to be seen. Confident he was still in the area, Josh and his father kept at it, and after some thorough scouting the team located the buck. Josh made a 230-yard shot in what William called a “wicked crosswind” and downed this 6x7 mule deer with a 29-inch spread with his Ruger American rifle in .30-06.
It was a bitter, 10-degree January morning during the last weekend of the Illinois archery season, but Todd wasn’t about to let the weather keep him from the woods. Sneaking into his stand, Todd knew the deer (and, he hoped, a big buck) would eventually filter past him after feeding in an adjacent field all night. His instincts were spot on; this big buck walked just under Todd’s stand. The hunter followed the giant at full draw until a shot presented itself at 30 yards. Todd loosed an arrow from his Mathews No-Cam bow, and the 181-inch 14-point ran 60 yards before hitting the dirt.
After speaking with friend and guide Craig Hill of Alaska Challenge Outfitters, Rick, right, was convinced to escape the Arkansas heat in favor of a “cooler” opportunity—a grizzly bear hunt. Craig mentioned he’d seen several bears. After setting up camp, the trio spotted this bear nearly 6 miles away. Six hours and one camp-move later, Craig, left, guide Lee Bybee and Rick had cut the distance to 189 yards. From the vantage of a high ridge, Rick made a great shot with his .30-378 Weatherby to drop the 8-foot sow.
Jeff’s 19 years of patience paid off when he finally drew a bighorn sheep tag in Wyoming's Shoshone National Forest. Two trips with his dad provided a glimpse of several rams, but nothing close enough for a shot. That’s when friend and outfitter Josh Martoglio offered help. After a horseback ride into country, Josh spotted a good ram and the hunters hiked within 200 yards then waited out the sheep for 45 minutes. When the big full-curl stepped out on a ledge, Jeff seized the opportunity and dropped the 11-year-old ram with a 140-grain Berger VLD from his Best of the West rifle in 6.5x284 Norma.
It was the second weekend of rifle season in western New York, and Bryan McLaughlin waited out the morning darkness amid a temperature of 25 degrees and fresh snow. Just after 8 a.m., Bryan saw what he initially thought was a deer at 200 yards running straight toward him. As the critter closed the distance, Bryan realized it wasn’t a deer at all, but a coyote. What luck! At 40 yards, he dropped the hammer on his target of opportunity. Without a call to blame, Bryan surmises it might have been his "rabbit-looking" beard that brought in the coyote.
Those who reload know the extra reward that comes from a successful hunt using your own recipe. Paul experienced that excitement firsthand during an October hunt in Wyoming’s Laramie Range. Topping a rise just after 9 a.m., he saw a herd bull. The bull, along with roughly 20 cows, must have been all of 2 miles away, but this satellite 6x6 was much closer at 328 yards. Dropping his pack for a rest, Paul steadied his Kimber 8400 Montana in .300 Win. Mag. and lit the charge of IMR4350, sending a 165-grain Nosler Accubond just under the bull's windpipe and into its chest. This was the third bull claimed by Paul’s 8400.
Thirteen years passed before Joel drew a limited buck tag in the Bookcliffs area near his home in Vernal, Utah. Joel and his wife hunted for days without seeing sign. Not wanting to miss any opportunities, the family went out again on the last day of the hunt. That’s when one of Joel’s daughters, above, exclaimed, “Papa, look!" At 40 yards, this buck was trailing some does. Unfortunately, pulling the trigger of his Ruger M77 in .30-06 resulted in a click, revealing that Joel hadn’t yet chambered a round. Joel fixed his mistake in record time, and the deer fell as the right sound echoed across the range.
Patricia and her husband, James, spotted this amazing trophy red stag on day two of their New Zealand dream hunt. James had already taken a massive bull the day before, so this one, the first game collegiate sharpshooter Patricia had ever hunted, was for her crosshairs only. After an exhausting stalk, Patricia went prone and steadied her Sako as the majestic stag re-emerged from a ravine. She sent a .308 bullet 200 yards into his shoulder, and the giant, 37-point stag teetered and fell. Patricia’s stag now hangs with this photo as proof in James’ man cave next to his smaller stag.
Bob missed opening day, but still managed to set up camp—albeit a day late—and hunt the next morning. Trail cams indicated there were several 8-pointers around, but Bob wanted this 23-point that had made repeat appearances. It was the best deer Bob had seen in 70 years of hunting. But the big boy was only active in the middle of the night. Bob went to the blind at 7 a.m. anyway, and eventually his dream deer stepped out of hiding at 80 yards to strut its stuff for three does. The buck continued coming in, and at 50 yards Bob dropped the hammer.
After returning home empty-handed from a December hunt marred by snowstorms, Pete was able to return to Turkey in January for another shot at a chamois. While cobbling together the January hunt, his father, George, the very man who taught Pete how to hunt, died shortly after celebrating his 100th birthday. Pete and his family were crushed by George's passing, but they encouraged Pete to return to Turkey. He agreed, and when the chance came to take this chamois over a Turkish canyon, Pete’s shot flew straight and true, providing him with an unbelievable trophy and the opportunity to purge the emotion that had been welling inside him. It was a special hunt for what turned out to be a very special animal. Pete’s chamois tied for the No. 2 all-time SCI record. “Thanks, Dad," he says. "This one’s for you.”
To take advantage of a grizzly-hunt cancellation, Bobby made a last-minute trip into Alaska’s Brooks Range. Poor weather battered the hunters, but that didn’t stop them. After glassing more than a dozen bears, Bobby identified a dominant male that had been chasing away other bears, and he and his guide set off on a 2-mile hike to get within range. At a distance of 100 yards, Bobby took a shot with his Remington 700, and this 7-foot griz hit the floor.
While on a Kansas whitetail hunt, 80-year-old Scott spotted this buck a half-mile away through his binocular. Though he initially mistook the deer for a turkey, as the buck moved closer, and Scott donned his glasses, the 9-point took shape. At a bit more than 80 yards, now confident in his target, Scott shouldered his Winchester Model 70 Centennial rifle and put a .270 bullet in the buck's engine room. The buck fell on the spot. A short time later, two more deer with even larger racks passed within 100 yards. Scott’s initial thought was, "Just my luck." We'd say if there's still bigger deer out there then "luck" is just what he has!
Greg Molzahn and a couple of hunting buddies made what Greg described as a “death march” through flooded timber, covering a mere half mile in 45 minutes solely to avoid pressure from hunters in more accessible spots. It paid off, and the gang was rewarded with a “birdnado” of ducks, cranes and geese that steadily flew in from sunup to mid-morning. Greg, middle, Aren, left, and Dean all limited out on Canada geese and shot an assortment of other waterfowl, to boot.
Last spring, Meagan was invited to hunt a Rio Grande turkey on a 600-acre ranch in the Lone Star State. She saw birds during her three-day trip, but feral hogs ruined what rare setups she had to take a tom. Returning home to Missouri, Meagan shot an Eastern turkey on opening day then headed back to Texas the next weekend to try to fill her still-valid Rio tag ... and on the last day of her trip knocked down not one but two birds!
After a grueling hike to 12,500 feet, Mike and his friend “Bird" set up camp and prepared for the first day of their DIY goat hunt. The next day, after glassing for an hour at first light, Mike spotted goats, and the hunters made a two-hour hike to the herd. The goats busted them on that first stalk, but Mike and Bird were able to close back in once the herd bedded down. When this goat came off the cliffs for lunch, Mike anchored him with a 162-grain Barnes from his Winchester XPR in .308 Win. Mike has some advice for future DIY goat hunters who want to hunt Colorado: “It’s not a hard tag to get, it’s just a hard tag to hunt.”
While looking for a buck on a friend’s property, Justin saw more bear sign than deer. This prompted him to get a bear tag on the off chance he ran into the track-maker. Two weeks into the archery deer season, coincidentally on the opening day of bear season, Justin’s path crossed with this 450-pound black bear, and he shot it broadside at 35 yards. While dressing out the bear, Justin discovered he wasn’t the only hunter attempting to tag the bear. Another broadhead from a past season was found in the bear’s back between the top of the lungs and the spine.
After two hard days of hunting Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Jerry was down but still intent on filling his tag. He wanted the Roosevelt elk he and his guide, Sean, had seen earlier. Later, sitting in his designated position on a riverbank, Jerry waited while Sean climbed higher to call. As Sean called, the bull popped out from the brush across the river—just like Sean said it would. At a mere 30 yards, Jerry dropped the hammer on the 6x6 bull with a net score of 317 inches.
On a hunt with Tholo Safaris, Michael and professional hunter Jason Bridger found themselves chasing zebra in the Kalahari Desert near Ghanzi, Botswana. Michael was using a Remington 700 chambered in .416 Rem. Mag., and shot this zebra at 50 yards with his personal load using a 350-grain Speer Hot-Cor bullet traveling 2650 fps. Michael shot other species on his safari, too, including gemsbok, wildebeest, red hartebeest and eland.
If we are to use a single word to define and describe the stories and photos our readers have shared with us this year, there is only one that truly stands out: tradition. It runs strong in you, the American hunter, and in the legacy you carry and continue to share with those around you.
Your hunts over the last year involved a plethora of connections ranging from spouses and parents, siblings and children, and friends and neighbors. Regardless of the nature of the association, it’s the assemblage of like-minded outdoorsmen and women, the willingness to mentor those new to the sport we love, and the unstoppable drive to share and uphold our customs that will continue to preserve our way of life for years to come.
These eight pages highlight you, dear reader, for keeping the tradition alive and well. We at American Hunter are proud to present a small sampling of your successes stemming from traditions to which you’ve held fast, and the ones you’ve recently created.