- Lynn Burkhead
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In the popular Disney flick "Monsters, Inc.," parents everywhere had confirmed to them what they already suspected: The nighttime dreams of children are often filled with big, shaggy brutes.
That revelation comes as little surprise, however, to scores of hunters snuggled next to hunting campfires this autumn.
With their own visions of shaggy, heavy-antlered whitetails, muleys or elk roaming the woodlots, fields and mountains, many hunters will finally doze off while dreaming of a world-lass buck or bull turning broadside within bow range.
For bowhunter Nick Franklin, that dream became reality Sept. 18 near Williams, Ariz., where he arrowed a massive non-typical bull elk nicknamed "Grandpa." In fact, that specimen appears to be unlike any other wapiti to ever to wear an archer's tag.
The bull, estimated to be 8 years old, was green-scored by Safari Club International measurer and elk hunting guide John McClendon, according to Franklin. After the numbers were added together, the huge elk was given a green non-typical gross score of 453 0/8 inches and a net non-typical score of 439 6/8 inches.
If the unofficial preliminary figures are verified after the mandatory 60-day drying period and pending any future panel scoring efforts the Franklin bull would appear poised to shatter the Pope & Young Club world record for a non-typical Yellowstone elk, also known as an American elk. That standard is a 420 5/8 inch net non-typical bull arrowed by Steve Mullin in Shoshone County, Idaho, in 1981.
Franklin, 33, a Phoenix suburbanite, admits that like most hunters, he has dreamed of tagging a world-class bull elk in his home state of Arizona. But then he notes, so too have thousands of other starry-eyed hunters since the record books were first published.
Still, once the bowhunting veteran discovered he had drawn a 2003 archery elk tag for Arizona's Unit 8, Franklin's hopes were high on arrowing the second bull of his hunting career. Specifically, the archer was hoping for a chance at the monstrous "Grandpa Bull" that was known to roam the area.
"You spend a lot of time up there and you kind of get to know where these big animals are and where they're hanging out," Franklin said.
Arizona Game and Fish Department spokeswoman Shelly Shepherd said there are indeed plenty of big bulls in the region.
"These units that we have around Flagstaff, Units 8, 9, and 10, they've produced pretty large bulls in recent years," Shepherd said. "This year, we're hearing of bulls (scoring) 340 and above."
With limited hunting pressure (approximately 128 archery tags were available for Unit 8 this year) coupled with fair winter moisture and timely summer rains, conditions are ripe for a banner elk-hunting season, including a strong rut for the first time in several years, according to Shepherd.
"We've had some real nice rains and there is some real nice green grass in most of our units," agreed Steve Sherwood of TnT Taxidermy in Williams.
"Last year was kind of crappy and the elk didn't rut real hard. Not a lot of archers killed bulls last year. I guess (the elk) feel they missed out last year, because they're rutting really hard right now."
That was good news for Franklin, who had a solid game plan in place for his archery elk hunt.
"I figured that I would hold out for the 'Grandpa Bull' for the first week, but, after that, your standards start going down a bit," Franklin said.
Six days into his hunt, Franklin, who to that point had not yet seen the legendary bull, found himself next to a watering hole being worn out by the thirsty wapiti.
"Right at daylight, we heard a bugle about three-quarters of a mile off," Franklin said. "We went right after him and really started trucking."
Nearly a half-mile into the fast-paced stalk, Franklin and a hunting buddy ran into three satellite bulls also heading in the general direction of the ruckus being raised by an unseen bull elk.
"The bugle from this bull, this thing sounded like a 3x3 that was probably 3 years old," Franklin said. "It was not a hoarse bugle, but a real clean whistle. A lot of people try to judge a bull by his bugle, but you couldn't on this one."
After slipping by the three satellite bulls undetected, Franklin and his buddy had to slow their pace as they eased within 150 yards of the bull's position. Complicating matters was the presence of two other satellite bulls and several cows in close proximity to the bellowing elk.
At 80 yards, Franklin's sidekick stayed behind, allowing the archer to slowly trek his way into shooting range.
"He (the bull elk) pushed all the cows away from him, came back around and started raking a tree really hard," Franklin said. "Every time he would put his head down to rake, I would make some ground on him."
"There were a lot more bulls down in there bugling that we couldn't see. I would venture that there were a half-dozen to eight bulls bugling all the way around. It was exciting as I worked in to get the shot."
After five minutes of playing cat-and-mouse with the bellicose wapiti amidst a veritable elk symphony, Franklin found himself at full draw, aiming for a double lung hit 35 yards away from the monster bull.
"As soon as I shot him, the arrow went clean through him and hit rock behind him," Franklin said. "When that happened, he picked his head up and looked over at the rocks to see what happened. He stood there for about three or four seconds, and then started moving off."
As the bull began to move away, Franklin nocked another arrow as his hunting buddy cow-called in an attempt to try and stop the bull dead in his tracks. As it soon turned out, however, neither hunter needed to have worried.
"He went about 35 yards from where I shot him and went down and never moved again," Franklin said.
A few moments later, the husband and father of a 5-year-old son found himself standing over a bull of dreamlike dimensions.
"After I shot him, I thought, 'Yeah, that's a great bull,'" Franklin said. "It takes 10 minutes or so for it to start soaking in.
"We figured that he was a 390 (-inch bull). But after we started looking at the mass of the bull, we really knew we had something."
Sherwood, who does in excess of 30 elk shoulder-mounts along with a number of European-style mounts, said he has never seen an elk as large as the "Grandpa Bull."
"Pictures don't do it a lot of good," Sherwood said. "But when you get a hold of it, you sort of go, 'Whoa!'"
Despite tagging a potential world-record bull elk, Franklin doesn't expect the glare of hunting's spotlight will change him much, if at all.
"I came out and did this because it is a sport that I absolutely love," Franklin said.
"If a little bit of fame and money comes my way, that's great. But it will not change who I am. I do this because it's who I am and what I love to do."