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When it comes to big elk, Arizona's got game

1/12/2006

Put simply, if you want to kill a big elk — a mega-bull — there's no better place to go in the world than Arizona.

Sure, Nevada can crank out some real gaggers. Ditto for Utah. And, yes, Montana is home to Chuck Adams' current Pope & Young Club world-record typical elk monarch and other extra-large specimens.

But for all of those states' big-bull accolades, none comes close to the stranglehold Arizona has on the Boone and Crockett Club and Pope and Young Club record books.

"In terms of our elk hunting, if you've got a tag (to hunt Arizona), I would be hard pressed to imagine a better situation," agreed Brian Wakeling, big-game management supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Why is that?

To start with, Arizona has the perfect ingredients necessary to grow mega-bulls — a mild climate that allows bulls to use nutritional energy for antler growth instead of wintertime survival; superb habitat; limited elk numbers (approximately 24,000, at last count); and top-end genetics.

And don't forget the state's excellent elk herd age structure that allows bulls to reach the mature ages necessary to put all of those previous ingredients to massive-antlered use.

"The unit where this particular elk (the Shawn Patterson bull) was harvested, it's got a lot of pinion-juniper country and a pretty good elk population in there," Wakeling said.

"It has a fairly high bull-to-cow ratio, so it's not a total surprise that such an animal was harvested in there.

"In fact, there are a lot of reports of really good bulls in there. That's largely a reflection of the age structure in a lot of Arizona's elk population."

When all of the above is added into the fact that Arizona restricts the number of hunters who can chase those elk every year, and you have nothing short of big-elk heaven.

Licensing for elk is limited entry. "And for us, that has certainly proven to be the way to get older age class animals, or world class bulls," Wakeling told ESPNOutdoors.com in a previous interview.

"A lot of people argue avidly for antler-point restrictions in some places, but I would just add that down here it seems that what we're doing with limited entry is working."

And while Wakeling indicates his state isn't necessarily opposed to increasing hunter opportunity, he also notes that Arizona chooses to manage for the best bull elk in the world.

"We're investigating whatever possible options we can come up with, but, at the same time, our commission has continually confirmed that they want to manage our units to have world-class animals in there," he said.

There can be little doubt as to the accuracy of Wakeling's last statement, considering Arizona yielded the Boone & Crockett Club world-record typical bull elk (a 442 5/8 inch wapiti taken by Alonzo Winters in the White Mountains in1968); Nick Franklin's recently crowned Pope & Young Club world record non-typical elk (a 2003 bull that stretched the tape to 442 0/8 inches); and now Patterson's 414 0/8 inch pending Pope & Young Club typical world record taken in September 2005.

In fact, when it comes to the biggest of big bulls across North America, Arizona has indeed got game … and then some.