A once-in-a-life­time hunt leads to a mo­ment of truth for a Belle­fonte hunter

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Sports - BY MARK NALE

Chris Stout took a bead on the big bull elk at 80 yards and pressed the trig­ger -- send­ing his 180-grain bul­let on its way.

“I was ex­pect­ing the elk to drop and he didn’t,” Stout said. “The bull dis­ap­peared and things got crazy with elk run­ning through the swamp and the creek. All we could hear were th­ese big an­i­mals splash­ing through the wa­ter. I thought that I had missed.”

The hunter’s shot was a cul­mi­na­tion of months of scout­ing and a long and te­dious stalk. Here is how he ar­rived at this mo­ment of truth dur­ing the hunt of a life­time.

Stout’s name was drawn from over 36,000 ap­pli­ca­tions for Penn­syl­va­nia’s 2018 lot­tery elk hunt. Stout, of Belle­fonte, was selected for one of only 26 bull elk per­mits -- his was one of only two for the newly cre­ated Elk Hunt Zone 14. At 331,451 acres, EHZ 14 is the sec­ond largest elk zone. Al­though th­ese elk have never been hunted be­fore, they are very wary, not at all like the elk that vis­i­tors watch near Benezette.

“The sight or smell of a hunter on foot will drive them out of an area al­most in­stantly,” said Com­mis­sion elk bi­ol­o­gist Jeremy Ban­field.

The week fol­low­ing the Au­gust 18 draw­ing, Tro­phy Rack Lodge

owner Larry Guenot called Stout, in­quir­ing about his pos­si­ble in­ter­est in hir­ing a guid­ing ser­vice. Stout was un­sure. Elk hunt­ing was not new to Stout; he had al­ready at­tempted two elk hunts in the western United States - both un­guided archery hunts. One in Wyoming a few years ago and a sec­ond hunt in Colorado just this past Au­gust.

“I was think­ing about do­ing this hunt on my own, but since I would prob­a­bly never again draw a bull elk per­mit in Penn­syl­va­nia, I de­cided to sign up with Tro­phy Rack Lodge to get the max­i­mum amount of help,” Stout said.

Guenot paired Stout with guide Mike Stone -- a re­tired Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and Nat­u­ral Re­sources Bureau of Forestry em­ployee very fa­mil­iar with that area. “Zone 14 has a good half-dozen Boone and Crock­ett 400class bulls, and at first I thought find­ing one for Chris would be easy,” Stone said.

Ev­ery week­end from Septem­ber on, Stout and sev­eral friends were up there scout­ing. Stone was busy keep­ing tabs on the elk, too. “We saw some re­ally nice bulls, but as we got closer to the season, they all dis­ap­peared. We saw cows and smaller bulls, but none of the real up­per ech­e­lon bulls,” Stout noted.

Luck changed the Sun­day be­fore the open­ing day of the elk season. A nice bull was spot­ted in Ket­tle Creek State Park about two miles above the Alvin Bush Dam, be­low the Leidy Bridge. They checked out the elk be­fore dark and de­cided it would be best to tar­get that bull the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

At 5:00 a.m., they ar­rived in the area where the bull had been spot­ted the evening be­fore. Le­gal shoot­ing time did not be­gin un­til 6:18. “There were about a dozen peo­ple there -- three hunters with cow tags, their guides and friends,” Stout said. “We knew that en­coun­ter­ing other hunters might be a pos­si­bil­ity, but it was a zoo.”

The en­tire group de­cided that they would all walk across the fields to ap­proach where the elk had been ob­served the pre­vi­ous evening. “The cow hunters were gra­cious enough to give me the op­por­tu­nity to shoot first be­cause I had the bull tag,” Stout noted. “Af­ter 200 yards, we spot- ted 15 to 20 elk about 150 yards in front of us. There were cows, a small bull and I spot­ted the larger bull back in the woods.

“The elk were get­ting ner­vous and the weather was nasty -- rain­ing and foggy -- and the big bull did not present an open shot,” Stout said. “I told the other hunters that I was not go­ing to shoot. One of them shot a cow elk and the other elk all bolted across Ket­tle Creek, back into the woods and out of sight.”

The crew -- Stout, his guide, and his two friends, Ben Shockey of Cen­tre Hall and Kurt Van­de­grift of State Col­lege -- headed north to Ole Bull State Park where they saw two small bulls while walk­ing a pipe­line. They ar­rived back at the area south of Leidy Bridge around 2:00 p.m. and walked across the fields.

“We slowly walked in to a downed ap­ple tree and from on top of the trunk we could see the elk feed­ing on a large is­land in Ket­tle Creek about 300 yards away. “I left my friends at the tree and Mike and I be­gan to stalk the elk,” Stout said. “The stalk was slow and through a sorghum field. We had to be care­ful that we didn’t spook any of the elk.”

“The bull was still bugling and chas­ing cows and at one point we saw the bull rake a sycamore branch with his antlers,” he said. They waited for over an hour, hid­den near the edge of the sorghum. At about 4 o’clock cows started to fil­ter off of the is­land, across a swampy area and into the field about 100 yards to their left.

“I thought this was pretty good. If the bull follows the cows out, I should be able to get a shot,” Stout said. “At about 4:15, the half­dozen cows that were in the field un­ex­pect­edly trot­ted back into the woods. We thought -- what the heck!”

Then they saw a cow hunter walk­ing into the field, but he backed off when he saw Stout. At about 4:30, the big bull stopped in an open­ing on the is­land, but Stout saw that a cow was right be­hind the bull. He did not take the shot for fear of also hit­ting the cow.

“The bull started push­ing the cows down­stream and off to my right,” Stout said. “They dis­ap­peared be­hind a berm and into the swampy area. I thought that they were gone.” Stout and his guide waited. At about 5 o’clock, they saw a cow pop up over the berm about 100 yards to their right and then dis­ap­pear be­hind the sorghum. Stout ad­justed his position slightly for a bet­ter view.

An­other cow came out and started walk­ing right to­wards Stout. “I was kind of ex­posed at this point, but the wind was good and I think that saved us,” Stout said. Four more cows fol­lowed the sec­ond one, and they won­dered if they would see the bull. It was now 5:10.

“Here he comes,” Stone whis­pered and Stout saw the antlers above the brush. The bull fol­lowed the cows -- the first cow was now only 40 yards away. Stout took the first clear shot and they waited about ten min­utes af­ter the woods qui­eted. It was rain­ing and they could not find any blood. Stout was dis­ap­pointed, think­ing that he had missed. They fol­lowed tracks, but saw no blood or hair. Dark­ness fell.

As a last-ditch ef­fort, Stout used his head­lamp and just walked down­stream along the creek. About 30 yards down­stream, he found the bull ly­ing in the wa­ter. “It was all that the four of us could do to move the elk out of the wa­ter. We called Larry and he ar­ranged to have a man with a draft horse come and pull the dressed elk to the high­way,” Stout said.

It was well past mid­night when they had the car­cass packed with ice and safely back at their camp in Cross Fork. At the check sta­tion the next morn­ing, Stout’s 7x7 bull was weighed and es­ti­mated to have a live weight of 780 pounds. It turned out to be the third heav­i­est elk har­vested this season. Stout re­lated that the elk meat was de­li­cious, and he plans to have the head mounted for dis­play in his home.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Ea­gle Val­ley, is a mem­ber of the Penn­syl­va­nia Out­door Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and can be reached at MarkAn­[email protected]

Photo pro­vided

The Cen­tre County crew with Stout’s 7x7 bull elk. (Left to right) Ben Shockey (Cen­tre Hall), hunter Chris Stout (Belle­fonte), and Kurt Van­de­grift (State Col­lege).

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