Ed­i­tor’s Jour­nal

Outdoor Life - - NEWS -

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.

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