It’s not always as easy as everyone says...
This year I had the pleasure of elk hunting with Koby Orndorff from Oklahoma. Koby was one of two non residents to draw general season bull tags for the 2019 PA elk season. Koby’s good buddy Trey Sperring from Texas was to come along for Kobys hunt also. Trey is a junior partner at Neal & Brownlee, the leading name in the worldwide hunting consultant realm. Koby and Trey are both accomplished world traveled hunters that have hunted with the best of the best and to say I was slightly intimidated by their backgrounds and experiences would be an understatement!
After Koby booked with Elk County Outfitters I stayed in contact with him all summer and fall throughout the rut sending him pics and video clips trying to internally develop a rough game plan based off of our conversations. Koby knew his tag was world class and this was likely the chance for a bull of ten lifetimes so by the time the hunt was only a week out we had narrowed our focus to two bulls...two bulls that came with two totally different sets of circumstances. I had located and secured permission on a piece of private property for a mega giant bull. The bull had it all...width, mass, tine length and even a drop tine. The other option was a monster public land bull that checked all the same boxes as the private land bull!
I saw the private property bull Thursday morning before the hunt and the public land bull Friday morning before the hunt. It was looking to be a toss up but Koby seemed to be more intrigued with the idea of an old public land giant. Well the decision on which bull to go after became an easy one as the private land bull pulled up shop and disappeared not to be seen again after the Thursday sighting. Our Sunday evening scout, the evening before the first hunt day, turned up our public ground bull nicknamed “Sandy”. I would be lying if I didn’t say I had an overwhelming sense of confidence that we were going to have a quick hunt in the morning. Well as it usually turns out there was nothing quick about the hunt.
After passing multiple bulls, and several good ones, all week we never saw Sandy again until Friday morning just after a heavy snow squall blew though at day lite. I’ll never forget the scene of this giant public land bull lumbering out onto the ROW where we were set up. His body and rack were covered with snow and it was a majestic scene straight out of National Geographic with the now clear sky allowing the sunlight to beam brightly.
Unfortunately Koby’s shot was not true and seven hours later we determined it was a non lethal hit and had to call off the search. It was a somber ride back to camp to say the least. Koby was upset and was internally replaying the shot over and over in his mind trying to pinpoint what went wrong. I was quite frankly disappointed that a bull I had been after for three years and finally had the stars aligned had gotten away and was now wounded to boot. We all three discussed the scenario at length as we had already done throughout the day previously and we were still at a loss as to what went wrong. Some times things just don’t go your way.
We had gotten the green light from the PGC to continue hunting but Koby had said he wanted to spend the last day back in the same area still searching for Sandy. Saturday, the final hunt day, dawned cold and crisp on the same ROW as the day before. With the ground now snow covered light came a little earlier than previous days and a huge wave of disappointment came over me as we looked out at vacant ground. I was going to send a PA zone12 bull hunter home without an elk...something that regardless of the circumstances would be consider a failure by many and I was having a hard time myself not using the same logic.
Koby, Trey and I were whispering back and forth as to what game plan we were going to try to execute when out of nowhere a bull steps out onto the ROW about 400 yards away. It still wasn’t fully light as our binos went up but right away we could see a large frame and the bull had a very bad limp...NO WAY...Could this be Sandy?
After several minutes as better light came we determined it was not Sandy but rather another bull with a good frame and some sort of front leg injury. 400 yards was out of the range of Koby’s rifle so we decided to make a move to get a better look. As we closed the distance on the bull from a different vantage point we could see a large frame with dark beams and points with white tips. Also the bulls limp was extreme with him almost falling over with each attempted step. It was as if he had to think about each and every step he took as he fed.
Koby whispered “Lets take this bull” and it was game on as we worked our way into final position. We were absolutely positive it wasn’t Sandy but given the circumstances of the bulls condition, the last day of the hunt and what was Koby’s desire all along...an old public land bull...the rifle rang out and the bull fell with one shot. The dark, heavy 7x8 rack carried several characteristics of an old mature PA bull. He was missing a left side second point that never grew and his right side second point was underdeveloped at just a little over seven inches long. He has large pedicles and bases on both antlers that show signs of age regression. Also the bull only had one ivory as the other was broken off at the gum line. His teeth were heavily worn and the local taxidermist that caped the skull, and has handled hundreds of PA bulls over the years, guessed he was at least 10yrs old.
At the butcher shop, with the hide off, his right front shoulder was severely atrophied with noticeable muscle loss. There was no gang green, puss or any other type of visible indicator as to what was wrong other than a swollen right front knee but regardless the bull had been hurting bad and for quite sometime.
While here in PA we don’t have anywhere near the rugged, remote, “tuff” terrain that many western states have but what we have here is a different kind of tuff hunt...a mentally tuff hunt. PA has mega giant bulls and it is thought amongst many that the next world record is likely to come from PA. A short season combined with slim odds on drawing a once in a lifetime tag and other big bulls being harvested around you can play havoc with your mind...especially when things aren’t going as you had planned. You have to stay mentally tuff and stick to your plan but at the same time be realistic when it’s time for plan B. Koby was fully prepared to eat the tag and honestly that scared the ---- out of me. Luckily that’s not how the hunt ended.