At times, Steve Felix seems almost embarrassed by his celebrity status. Felix, the Montana hunter who last fall killed the largest typical bull elk ever taken by an archer, and who appears along with his trophy rack on the cover of this issue, says he was just in the right place at the right time.
The details of Felix’s remarkable hunt (“World Record,” p. 34) confirm that his achievement was much more than accidental. He’s an accomplished hunter who knew that trophy elk roamed the area he hunted. And experience gained through a lifetime of stalking game and practicing with his gear equipped him with the knowledge and skill to find and arrow the bull.
But Felix is partly right. Chance played a role in his encounter. If he hadn’t trusted his gut to hunt that weekend, or if he had slept in his tent another 15 minutes that fateful morning, or if the wind had been out of the north that day, he wouldn’t have had this story to tell.
Or if the bull had been across the fence on private land, Felix probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity. That’s because Felix, like the majority of elk hunters, hunts public land. The worldrecord bull lived—and died—on U.S. Forest Service ground.
“I didn’t grow those horns,” Felix told me when we met in Missoula, Mont., to discuss his story. “Public land grew those horns.”
Felix’s experience—and his perspective—is a rarity among America’s trophy hunters.
Increasingly, those hunters are managing private land for antler dimensions. And even on public land, the use of remote cameras to inventory and pattern outsize animals is on the rise. Some publicland managers in arid areas report as many as two dozen trail cameras pointed toward individual water holes, all positioned to take a photo of the next record-book buck or bull that might happen by for a drink.
This stretches our traditional definition of hunting. How satisfying is it to hold a record-book rack of an animal you spied on remotely, or bought access to hunt exclusively, or grew over the years through various forms of animal husbandry, as if it were a grand-champion steer?
Felix’s record bull isn’t remarkable only for its quantity of antler. It’s remarkable because it was taken through old-fashioned field skills, honest work, and, sure, a measure of dumb luck. It’s remarkable because it could have been any of us holding that rack on the cover.
To me, that’s the best measure of a trophy: The possibility that anyone—everyone—could have had a shot at it.
Felix and the record rack.