To: Boone and Crockett Club Big Game Records Committee
From: Eldon L. “Buck” Buckner
Date: December 23, 2008
Subject: Austad N.T. Elk Entry Investigation
As per the committee’s direction, I investigated the circumstances surrounding the harvest of this bull and found no evidence that would disqualify this elk from listing in the B&C Records. The following is a brief of my findings:
I personally discussed Denny Austad’s hunt for this bull via telephone two different times. Having met Denny previously and having performed confirming measurements on 3 other trophies he has taken, I know him to be a passionate outdoorsmen to the degree of engineering his own cartridge and rifle designs. My personal feeling is, while Denny is passionate about selectively hunting for trophy specimens, he does not overly advertise his accomplishments in the field and has a great sense of responsibility to conservation. He does like to hunt big deer and elk and has several mounted in his modest home in Idaho.
I asked him to write a narrative of his hunt and send it in with the entry materials after his bull was initially measured by B&C Official Measurer, Rusty Hall after the 60-day drying period, which he did. His written account is a very brief version that mirrored our previous telephone conversation. I would add that I was at the FNAWS–Mule Deer Foundation–Sportsmen for Wildlife joint show in Salt Lake City when Denny purchased the Utah elk tag at auction. It was the first time he’d ever purchased such a tag, and he called his wife from there to tell her and ask if they were still married!
I talked with outfitter Doyle Moss via telephone, who personally guided Denny on the hunt. I last spoke with him about the hunt on Dec. 16th. They first saw the bull about July 1, in velvet, and sent Denny a video of the bull. At that time, and into early September, the bull spent a lot of time feeding on various parcels of private land surrounded by Fishlake National Forest Land in the Monroe Unit east of Richfield, Utah, in high country which is very accessible by road. I learned that as news of the bull spread, other outfitters and hunters begin scouting for the bull. According to Doyle, they did not have anyone trying to maintain constant surveillance on the bull. As Denny stated, he believed the bull must have grown weary of all the unwanted attention because he had moved into thick, rough timbered country before his hunt started on Sept. 1st. They found him on Sept. 12th at long range, made an unsuccessful stalk, then stumbled across the bull on their way out, which resulted in a missed shot. Denny returned home sick on the 13th, with carbon monoxide poisoning. He was still recovering from that when Doyle called him on the 29th to say that his guide living at Richfield, Clint Bigelow, had seen the bull a couple days earlier. The bull had moved about 12 miles south with some cows toward wintering range. Doyle felt they could find him if Denny could resume his hunt. Doyle met Denny at the Utah-Idaho line and they drove together to Richfield, got a few hours sleep, then accompanied by guide Bigelow, drove out in the dark of morning to look for the bull, which they found with about 14 cows in high sagebrush/aspen stringer country. Denny made a one shot kill, a high lung shot, with one of his custom designed .300 magnums.
On 12/18/08, I contacted Vance Munford who is with the Utah Game Dept. and is the biologist for the area that includes the Monroe Unit where the bull was shot. He and other officers verified that the bull was shot on public land within the Fishlake National Forest, that all applicable permits were in place, and that the bull was legally taken. Responding to rumors that the bull was a “stocked” bull, they examined the cape and head at the taxidermist for any evidence of old ear tags, lip tattoos or other game farm ID that are both required and typical of such animals, and found no evidence of such.
I also reached Mike Fowlks, who is head of Law Enforcement of Utah game department (also an official B&C Measurer). He confirmed that the bull was shot on public land, and further that they had investigated claims (by unidentified third parties) that Austad and Moss had trespassed and hunted on private property. They found that Austad and Moss had indeed approached private land boundaries, but, by their tracks had remained on public land and had not trespassed. He said that there also had been reports of National Forest roads being illegally blocked, supposedly by Mossback Outfitters, but they could never find a person who actually saw this – it was always 3rd party info. Mike also said that they had done considerable checking, and confirmed that at least 55 other hunters had opportunity and did hunt the area during the archery, rifle, and muzzle-loader seasons. Any of them had the opportunity to find the bull.
On 12/18/08 at 6:30pm, I also talked with Fishlake National Forest Biologist Craig Rasmussen by telephone. He has 15 years experience in the area. A friend of his believes he saw the same bull the fall before, as many antler characteristics were the same. He said he saw the bull during the rut a couple times, and was amazed that someone hadn’t harvested the bull before Austad did. He said the increased traffic and business brought to Richfield by the notoriety of this bull was unbelievable. From sales of binoculars, meals, motel rooms, fuel, etc., he thinks the bull was a great economic factor for the town. He also said that so much pressure caused the elk to move from their usual feeding ground into more remote country. He said also that the cows started migrating toward winter range about 3 weeks ahead of the usual time this year, dragging some bulls with them, including the Austad bull.
According to Rasmussen, various conservation groups such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have contributed a lot of money in improving 30,000 acres of habitat on the Monroe Unit, and some 75,000 acres have been improved on the Fishlake National Forest in total. This improvement is from prescribed burning and pipe-harrow treatment of stagnant sagebrush stands on transition range.
Rasmussen stated that he was constantly in the unit during the elk season and that he never observed any illegal activity by Mossback Outfitters, nor was he able to substantiate any of the rumored unethical practices they were being accused of via internet blogs, etc.
After just reading the investigation of others who have, or planed to publish stories in the media about this bull I can find nothing there to conflict with what I’ve discovered in my own investigation of this trophy and consider it a legally taken trophy that complies with our entry affidavit requirements and is eligible for B&C Awards.
Eldon “Buck” Buckner
V.P. – Records Division
Boone and Crockett Club