Members' Best 2020

posted on July 19, 2020
courtesy Tripp Baird

It's hard to say who enjoys our annual Members' Best feature more: you the readers, or us, the lucky editors who get to open and comb through hundreds of the emails and letters as we attempt to whittle down a selection. It's a wonderful anticipation knowing that every submission is filled with positive tales of hunters like us, who've earned with hours on the ground, miles on their feet, blood, sweat and tears, the wide smiles that stare back. 

Be it on unfamiliar mountaintops or from forests so engrained with family heritage that you likely share DNA, hunting creates a bond between man and nature, between family and friends, that should be cherished, celebrated and most of all, shared.

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Two hunters with Marco Polo sheep on hunt in Kyrgyzstan
Bobby Lowe, Idaho Falls, Idaho
At an Idaho Wild Sheep banquet, NRA Life member Bobby Lowe became the lucky winner of a Marco Polo sheep hunt in Kyrgyzstan. In October, he crossed 12 time zones on his trip to “Kyrg” on the border of northern China. Elevations for the 10-day mountain hunt ranged from 12,000 feet at base camp to upwards of 14,000 feet where the rams called home. Riding mountain horses to navigate the rugged terrain, the hunters covered miles of steep, rocky country as they searched, and on day four spotted a group of rams—12 of them—with a potential giant among them. Leaving the horses, the hunters climbed to a high point where Bobby was able to make an incredible 442-yard shot with his .300 Win. Mag. to drop this magnificent old ram.

Hunter with Kansas buck taken with Mathews Vertix bow

Carl A. Vitanza, Beaumont, Texas

Carl shot this 280-pound, 8-point bruiser during a November hunt in southeast Kansas with K&K Outfitters. Hunting with a Mathews Vertix bow, Carl drew back and settled his nerves as the 148-inch buck came in and presented a broadside shot at 25 yards. Carl estimates the buck to be at least 5 years old.

10-year-old girl with her first buck taken with a crossbow

Avery Baird, Arlington, Va.

It’s a Baird family rite-of-passage to go after a buck after your 10th birthday, and Avery didn’t disappoint last year when she downed this Ohio dandy with her crossbow at 34 yards. You never know how a daddy-daughter hunt may go, especially with an all-male camp, but to say she was a rock star would be an understatement—she took to it like a duck to water. Blessed to tag out on the first day, Avery was allowed to hold court at every meal for the next few days while telling a smiling audience of seasoned hunters how it’s done and how “you have to get 'em in the boiler room.”

Hunter with beceite ibex taken in Spain

Shawn Lucas, Brazil, Ind.

On a quest for the grand slam of the four subspecies of Spanish ibex, Shawn Lucas returned to Valencia, Spain, in November 2019 for an opportunity at his No. 2, the beceite ibex. Taking an SUV until they could ride no further, the group began climbing on foot, eventually reaching their glassing point on the spine of the mountain range. They spotted several juvenile males and some females before peering over a steep canyon rim where they found a large herd of ibex—maybe 30 in number. The guide quickly picked out the herd bull, and Shawn used his daypack as a steady rest for the single, 170-yard shot to collect his second ibex.

Hunter with wolf taken in Montana

Jay Sheffield,
Libby, Mont.
Jay had gone a month without seeing a track or hearing a howl when a pack of wolves finally began to sound off. With wind in his favor and a loud pack to cover his sound, Jay hustled. When the wolves quit howling, he quit moving. Now close, a squeak from his call brought two wolves into view, and Jay put the post of his 7.62x39 AR-15 on the rear wolf and put a 123-grain Federal into its vitals from 14 yards.

Atlantic black brant taken in New Jersey

Gary Horvath, Bordentown, N.J.

An NRA Benefactor Life member, Gary was hunting the salt marsh near Atlantic City, N.J., when he hit a last-afternoon, last-day-of-the-season limit of Atlantic black brant! Gary was hunting with his Charles Daly Chiappa triple-barrel shotgun loaded with heavy-hitting Kent bismuth ammo. New Jersey is one of a few places in the U.S. where hunters can take these rare and beautiful birds.

Female hunter with 6x6 elk taken with bow

Megan Gibson, Belgrade, Mont.

Megan has hunted for many years, regularly joining her dad in search of deer, elk, antelope and turkeys and taking many whitetails and mule deer with her rifle. Elk, however, had somehow always managed to evade her. In 2019, with a Missouri Breaks archery elk permit in her pocket and her boyfriend, Chad, by her side, Megan changed all that. Spotting her target bedded early in the morning, Megan stalked alone to within 22 yards and pulled to full draw. Chad chirped on a cow call, the bull stood, and Megan let it fly. The big 6x6 was found a short blood trail away.

Three generations of hunters with Wisconsin bucks

Dean Nankey, Muscoda, Wis.

For Dean, his son Kevin and his granddaughter Kristen, the single-day event that took place during the 2019 deer season is one that probably will not be repeated anytime soon. It all started when Kevin, from his stand that morning, made an incredible left-handed shot on this 11-pointer. Taking advantage of their limited time afield, the dairy-farming family continued with a deer drive  later that day. That's when Kristin, a first-time hunter, was able to get the drop on a deer, her first buck! Later on it was Dean's turn, and when the drive pushed a massive 10-pointer his way he was able to get off a well-placed Hail Mary long-shot to drop his buck! Three generations shooting three bucks all in one day, that's a memory the Nankeys won't soon forget!

15-year-old hunter with first bull elk taken in Montana

Brekken Meznarich,
Kalispell, Mont.
Living in Australia, 15-year-old Brekken learned the fundamentals of shooting from his grandpa, Darren Meznarich, in Montana. For his birthday, Darren bought Brekken a Savage in .300 Win. Mag., in anticipation of his first elk hunt in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. Now hunting, and with his dad by his side, the team crawled on hands and knees to get into view of a good bull. Laying in the snow, Brekken was able to connect with a 100-yard shot, sending the 3x4 bull on a 30-yard trot before a second 180-grain Federal bullet put it down.

New York goose hunter with two children

Tom Bartlett, Collins, N.Y.

The second day of goose season started out so windy that Tom's regular hunting buddies stayed in bed. The good news is that Tom is raising his future goose-blind buddies, his daughters Arizona and Avery, who had helped him scout all year. It was the perfect opportunity to get them on a hunt together for the first time. The first bird to come in and fall was a loner, followed a short time later by another lone goose. Finally, at around 10 a.m., the flocks were up and Tom managed to get the last three of his five-bird limit with the three shells in his gun!

Hunter with South Dakota Black Hills bull elk

Jason Schuldt, Spearfish, S.D.

After waiting for 17 years, Jason finally drew a 2019 South Dakota Black Hills elk tag. Summer scouting revealed little, but a good bull was spotted a week before the season. On opening morning, with his brother-in-law by his side, Jason returned to the area. They heard a good bull bugling within minutes of their hunt! With the wind in their favor, the pair simply followed the music, which led  them directly to this awesome bull, and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

Hunters with antelope buck taken in Wyoming

Doug Lemm, Bella Vista, Ariz.

A week spent camping, fishing and hunting together southeast of Lander, Wyo.—home of the famous “Lander One Shot Antelope Hunt,” now in its 77th year—was beyond enjoyable for Doug Lemm and his sons Matt and Josh. With so many antelope spotted over the course of the hunt, the most challenging part was deciding on which of the three distinctly unique trophy bucks they would focus. "Mr. T" was exceptionally tall. The “Freak" buck was also tall but his right horn didn't curl naturally, and the “Cutter" buck had exceptional cutters and mass along with  an estimated 16 inches of length.

After two days and multiple stalks on these three “Houdinis,” the debate was settled with a single, 222-yard shot from Doug’s trusty old Remington Model 700 BDL SS chambered in .264 Win. Mag., stoked with a 140-grain Nosler Partition custom loaded by his son Matthew.

Hunter with mule deer buck taken in Game Management Unit 591 in Colorado

Michael Skalisky,
Colorado Springs, Colo. 
The new year started off with a couple “bangs” and two dandy Colorado bucks for Michael Skalisky and his hunting partner, Harry Riemer. Hunting in Game Management Unit 591, Michael shot his buck on Jan. 2, and Harry shot his buck two days later. Sadly, Michael’s deer (above) tested positive for chronic wasting disease, but thankfully Harry’s deer was given a clean bill of health.

Hunters with 42-inch bull moose taken in Alaska

Enlow Walker, North Pole, Alaska

Enlow and his family have lived in Alaska for 37 years and take moose hunting very seriously. Hunting is a family endeavor for the Walkers and the kids are always included. At times there may be 12 to 15 of them out and about searching for meat for family freezers. On this day, Enlow and his wife, Pat (“Gram” to the grandkids), as well as their oldest granddaughter, Bethany, and oldest grandson, Jonah, were out hunting when Gram shot this 42-inch bull moose. The grandkids were thrilled and  the moose provided plenty of delicious meat for the family.

Hunter with Colorado archery bear taken in Gunnison National Forest

Thomas Becker, New Braunfels, Texas
The result of his 2019 Colorado archery elk hunt was unexpected for Thomas Becker. Luckily, he had a bear tag in his pocket. Following a game trail within the Gunnison National Forest, the hunters jumped a bear feeding on choke cherries. In seconds, the bear turned and went for them. Thomas quickly nocked an arrow, found anchor and shot the bruin as it closed to 20 yards. They found the bear,  Thomas' first, piled up 60 yards away. The skull measured 20 9/16 inches. 

Disabled female hunter with bull antelope taken in Montana

Mary Ellen Salys,
Billings, Mont.
Mary Ellen (Mel) has been a disabled  hunter for many years, but it hasn’t stopped her from filling countless tags. Years of competitive silhouette shooting allowed her to make a 203-yard offhand shot on this great antelope. She is still shooting her Remington 700 in 7mm-08 that she shot in competition, though the scope has been swapped from a 24X Leupold to a 3x9. A 140-grain Sierra GameKing bullet pushed by a load of IMR4895 brought this antelope down.

Young hunter with buck taken with .30-30 Winchester

Harrison Lampert,
Manassas, Va.
Hunting with Grandpa is a special time for Harrison, and with a .30-30 in his hands and a pack loaded with snacks, he and his grandpa were ready for the long haul. While listening to gunfire erupt around them all morning, this buck was eventually spotted running down the mountain. A shout from Grandpa stopped the buck and Harrison was able to get off a shot. After a long search with help from the whole family, Harrison's buck was found on a neighboring farm.

Female hunter with bull elk taken in Colorado on a DIY elk hunt

Laurel Downer, Berthoud, Colo.

After hunting elk for 25 years and never getting a shot opportunity, NRA Life member Laurel proved that persistence pays off when she connected on this fine 6x6 bull on a Colorado DIY elk hunt last November. A true DIY hunter,  Laurel  also shot a great pronghorn buck on another solo hunt earlier in the year.

Hunters with geese while hunting in Alberta

David Morgan, Santa Maria, Calif.

Sometime after his mother passed away in December 2018, David asked his father if there was anything he had always wanted to do. His dad said goose hunting was on his bucket list, so David arranged for his dad to accompany him for a three-day guided duck and goose hunt near Edmonton, Alberta. They were both amazed at the number of waterfowl they saw, and on the first morning of the hunt, just shy of his 87th birthday, David’s father harvested his very first goose, a lesser Canada. The two followed that up with a snow goose each, and over the next few days enjoyed each other's company while adding many more ducks and geese to their bag. While David said Dad had a little difficulty standing to shoot from the blinds, he assured us his enthusiasm for getting up early each morning and braving the cold and wind equaled the vigor with which he goes to many dozens of gun shows and Friends of NRA events each year to raise money for The NRA Foundation. 

Hunter with moose taken in Alberta, Canada

Gary Bergen, Lewiston, Idaho

NRA Life member Gary Bergen was in Alberta with Timber King Outfitting and Alberta Dark Horn Ltd. to pursue moose and giant whitetails. With his heart set on a moose for the freezer, Gary  tagged a mature buck on day four to allow himself to focus on moose for the remaining five days. Post rut made things tough, as the bulls were all locked down in the bush. But patience worked in Gary’s favor. On day eight, his guide spotted a bull 110 yards distant. Gary tried to locate the target, but the foliage was incredibly thick. With his Vortex HD AMG he found an antler tip, then a nose. Finally the bull's shoulder came into view, and Gary squeezed the trigger on his Seekins Precision HAVAK PH2 .300 Win. Mag., sending a 165-grain MTH from Cutting Edge Bullets to drop his bull.

Hunter with bighorn sheep in Wyoming

Todd Anderson, Sycamore, Ill.

After 23 years of applying, Todd Anderson finally drew his Wyoming bighorn sheep tag. Todd and his guides spent three days climbing and glassing the rugged Shoshone National Forest before a group of rams worth pursuing was spotted miles away. The next morning, they made a five-hour trek to get into shooting range. But as Todd got into position, he moved a hollow log, which  sent a swarm of stinging hornets on the attack. Though he was stung multiple times, Todd and his team were able to back out without spooking the bedded rams and reposition 40 yards up the hillside. On target from a safer vantage, the range was called at 608 yards, and as the ram stood broadside, Todd squeezed the trigger. Despite his ordeal, Todd’s shot was true and the sheep dropped and rolled down the steep canyon. Two hours later, Todd found his hard-earned ram at the bottom of a waterfall.

Hunter with coastal brown bear taken on the Katmai Preserve in Alaska

Michael Moddrell,
Lawrence, Kans.
On a hunt with Alaska Wild Wind Adventures, Michael, Don Dygert and professional guide and outfitter Cabot Pitts were targeting the big coastal brown bears of the Katmai Preserve. Michael was carrying his Remington 700, chambered in .375 H&H Mag. and topped with a Swarovski Z5 3.5X-18X, and shot this bear at 180 yards with a 250-grain Sierra SBT bullet traveling at 2750 fps. This bear measured 9 feet, 9 inches with a 27-inch skull. 

Hunter with Coues deer in Arizona

Thomas Guffin, Chandler, Ariz.

One week after finishing radiation and chemo treatments for throat cancer, Thomas was in southern Arizona chasing the elusive Coues deer—the gray ghost. Though very weak and unable to eat solid food, on the fifth day, Thomas closed the distance to 540 yards on a great buck, and his Sauer 100 in 6.5 Creedmoor took care of the rest. Thomas says this was one of his toughest hunts he's ever been on, and we say he is one of the toughest hunters we’ve ever encountered!

Young hunter with Turkey

Matthew Evans,
Benson, Ariz.
Matthew got his first shot on a tom during the opening weekend of Arizona's youth hunt, but missed. He and his dad chased a few more turkeys that weekend, but never got close enough for another shot. Returning the last weekend of the season, the father-son team woke up late to the sound of a gobbler about 500 yards from their camp. They made a stand at the bottom of a hill and waited for the gobbler to fly down from his tree. They tried to call him in, but the bird turned tail and ran up the hill. Matthew and his dad pursued without luck, but as they crested the hill's peak, they heard another gobbler sounding off back near the camp. Now headed toward this new bird, Matthew and his father followed the gobbles until they felt they were close enough and started to call. The bird was hot, and after two minutes of hiding he finally stepped out, giving Matthew the shot he needed with his 45-year-old 20-gauge Savage Model 944, and the bird fell. The tom weighed 22 pounds and had a 9½-inch beard. What’s more, Matthew is the first person in his family to shoot a turkey with that gun.

Quail hunter with 12-year-old German shorthair hunting dog

Mike Murphy, Greenwood, Mo.

This past quail season in Missouri was one of the best for Mike Murphy and his 12-year-old German shorthair, Mack. A working man, Matt took advantage of almost every weekend to put boots on the ground. As it happened, the last day of the season fell in the middle of the week, and Mike was torn about whether to go out one last time. In the end, Matt decided he couldn't wait an entire year for the next covey flush, so he called his boss and took a "mental health day" from work. Mike and Mack set out early and found birds fast. It was a blessed day and the hunters were done too soon. Mack has since passed on to the happy hunting grounds where birds are plentiful and always hold tight. Mike will hold on to the fond memories of this season forever. 

Young hunter with first buck in Texas

Trey Conklin,
Wylie, Texas
As if being on your first deer hunt with Grandpa isn't exciting enough, how about watching this big buck come into range? Unfortunately, the buck slipped away. But back the next day, Trey and his grandpa  had a bird fly right into the blind! And as it flew out, this big 8-point, the same buck they had seen the day before, came out! Trey made a great shot and is proud knowing he provided his family with many pounds of delicious winter meat.

Father and 15-year-old daughter with whitetail bucks taken in Minnesota within 20 minutes of each other.

Tim & Jessica Schuette,
Plato, Minn.
With a cold front moving through, Tim and his 15-year-old daughter, Jessica, knew there would be a good chance one of the older bucks they'd caught on camera would show up. This was the first year Jessica was hunting on her own, and the father-daughter team set up 800 yards away from each other. That evening, these two whitetails were taken within 20 minutes of each other! Jessica’s marks her best whitetail in her six years of hunting. An enthusiastic reader of this magazine, Jessica is a passionate proponent of hunting and shooting, particularly with AR-type rifles.

Young hunter with first bull elk taken in Colorado

Hunter Meneses,
Colorado Springs, Colo.
For Hunter's first elk hunt, his dad, Gerardo, pulled him out of school early and drove five hours with him to Craig, Colo., to hunt with Wapiti Valley Outfitters. Opening morning was cold, and early snow eventually gave way to fog, but the team was still able to spot numerous elk. Unable to get within 500 yards, the hunters eventually called it a day and headed back toward the truck. Walking around a bend in their path, the group spotted a lone bull about 300 yards away. Hunter quickly got on the sticks as his dad called out a range of 279 yards. Steadying his Ruger American rifle in .450 Bushmaster, Hunter pulled the trigger and sent a Hornady Black 250-grain FTX bullet into the bull's boiler room. Just as Hunter was told to "shoot again," the bull toppled over. 

Hunter with two sons after taking 174 7/8 inch 14-point whitetail buck in Alberta, Canada

Jim Baney,
Mount Wolf, Pa.
Jim was with his two sons on a Canadian whitetail hunt north of Edmonton, Alberta, with Interlake Safaris "Hunts From the Heart" when he called this dandy buck out of the thicket to 30 yards. The buck's position made a right-hand shot impossible, so Jim went left-handed and dropped him. The large-bodied 14-pointer green-scored 174⅞ inches!  

12-year-old hunter holding blue-winged teal taken in Texas

Mitchell Roberts,
Burkburnett, Texas
Mitchell Roberts, 12, and his dad, Lt. Col. Adam Roberts, spotted these teal on the way home from a fruitless dove hunt and couldn't believe no one had seen them on the tract of public land. After scaring the birds off the water in the dark Sunday morning, it was 20 minutes past first light and still no birds had returned. Then like magic, the sky opened and started raining blue-winged teal! The two couldn’t fire and reload their guns fast enough to keep the birds out of the decoys and had full limits in about 10 minutes! Wishing to acknowledge this fortunate gift from God (who, as the Lt. Col. explained it to his son, must've felt sorry for them and their past “no-bird” hunts), they made sure to be back in time for Sunday school! 


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