I was lucky enough to be drawn for an either-sex elk tag in the 2012 Minnesota elk hunt’s first season Sept. 15 through Sept. 23 in the Kittson County Central zone. In anticipation of the hunt I started early by contacting local land owners to gain access to their property.
One week prior to the season, my brother Dave and I took a scouting trip up north where we have been deer hunting since our youth. It took a lot of searching, but at dusk we located the elk herd. We saw a massive alpha bull that appeared to be a 7x8 that we called “Bubba” along with several 4x4’s, some spikes, approximately five cows and their youth. We were able to watch them until dark. Hearing the larger bull bugle over the course of 30 minutes got my blood pumping. I couldn’t believe the size of that animal.
Over the course of the next week, I contacted the land owners where we found the herd and gained access. I also called lifelong friend Don Anderson, who also drew a cow tag for the same hunt. Together, we gained access to the land and there was nothing left to do but wait for the season to start on Saturday.
Dave and I made a decision that we would only shoot if we saw Bubba until the Saturday of the last weekend of hunting.
On Friday, Dave and I went and sat where we had seen the herd one week before and at dusk, we spotted four adult elk come out of the same woods, verifying that they were still in that location. We did not spy Bubba, but seeing some of the herd gave us confidence that they hadn’t moved on.
Early Saturday morning, Dave and I headed over to the area and set up on some willows that jutted out into the field to the east of the woods.
It wasn’t too long after daybreak that we spotted two spike bulls coming from the southern end of that field back towards the woods. They meandered our way and stopped to watch us at about 75-yards, seemingly to not care of our presence. We watched these beautiful animals until they went in to the woods and continued to post them until dusk that night. Though we didn’t see Bubba, we felt fortunate that we could have ended our season successfully on the first day.
By Tuesday, after stalking through the woods without seeing any sign, it was painfully obvious that the herd had moved east the night before the season opener.
Wednesday night we spoke with Don who said that he was hunting some state land out east and at dusk, came across a very nice bull. We scouted the area and made plans to hunt the state land Thursday morning.
There is a lot of state land open to hunting and in particular, there was a clearing where the Minnesota DNR had planted beans and corn in a food plot for wildlife. About 25- yards into the field is a stand of trees that one can easily set up in.
About one hour before first light, Dave and I parked about a half mile down the roadway and walked to the food plot, planning on setting up in that stand of trees.
We didn’t get 20 feet into the dried and loud beans when we spooked the elk herd. They got up and made their own stampede towards the corn. Dave and I immediately sat down in the beans and didn’t move for an hour. We could tell the herd stopped short of the corn which was about 300 yards or so into the field and were mulling around.
When it was light enough to see, we scoped the herd and found what looked to be Bubba. He was running around keeping his harem together all the while bugling over and over. My heart was pumping because the woods formed a makeshift amphitheater for the bugling elk.
Here was my opportunity.
As I stood to get a shot over the beans, the herd took to the corn.
Thursday night we waited, and about 20 minutes before sundown, a lone elk came from the corn on the opposite side of the field and was tracking away from us at a leisurely pace. Through the scope it appeared to be a 7x8 elk.
I had found Bubba.
Don and Dave were sitting beside me that evening and since Bubba didn’t know we were there, we waited to see if a cow would emerge to give Don an opportunity to fill his tag. About five minutes went by and Bubba was still a bit out of my comfortable shooting range so I grabbed my bugle to hopefully draw him in.
Just as I was about to bugle, he turned and started walking towards us, still oblivious to our position. I watched him get closer and closer through my scope until the range finder said that he was about 300 yards away. I told Dave and Don to plug their ears because as soon as he turned I was going to take a shot.
Just then, a pickup came down the seldom traveled road and stopped to take a look at Bubba. Bubba took one look at them and bolted in to the corn.
I’m not going to lie, I was a bit heart broken when I had him in my sights and within five seconds of taking my first shot of the season at an elk of a lifetime the pickup came and scared him away. There hadn’t been a vehicle on that road the entire day. It was a very sleepless night for me.
On Friday we were back in our place, hoping to see him for the third time in two days but there wasn’t any sign.
Bubba had moved on.
Around 2 p.m. on Friday we had a 4x4 come in and stand broadside to us. It was a beautiful animal and would have been a relatively easy shot. As we watched it Dave and I took serious consideration of ending the hunt successfully with this animal.
Dave reminded me of the pact that we made that we would be picky until Saturday morning. To make sure we change our minds, we alerted it to our position and it took off. I hoped that wasn’t a huge mistake.
Going on a tip that Don had received from a local farmer, he and I set up and hunted a field quite a distance to the south of where we had seen Bubba. The farmer said that he had seen a 6x6 the previous two days coming out of a creek into his fields to feed with four cows.
Hunting there Friday night and all day Saturday we did not see anything although the farmer did say that the 6x6 came out and basically walked over where we were sitting within five minutes of us leaving for lunch that morning.
Sunday arrived, the final day of a once in a lifetime elk hunt and I had a shiny unused tag in my wallet.
At this point our goal was to just fill the tag and not go home empty. Don was late getting out to his spot up north, but called to say that as he arrived he saw four cows go into the woods about a half mile north of where he was at. Having already got permission to hunt the land where Don saw the elk, we decided to make our last stand up north.
At 4:30, Don and I met up and took his pickup on an access road further to the south. We got out of the pickup and made our way around the trees and started towards the hay bales to the north. We hadn’t walked for five minutes when I spotted the entire herd break the trees about a half mile to the north and they were headed our way!
Don and I jumped into the woods to avoid being spotted and watched as they got closer and closer.
That’s when I spotted him. If it wasn’t Bubba, it was his twin. There he was and with him were two 6x6, a couple 4x4 and smaller spikes along with about eight cows. They stopped approximately 300-350 yards north of us according to the range finder and didn’t appear that they were going to come any closer. It was now or never.
I set my .270 on my tripod and waited until Bubba cleared himself from the herd. There was a break in the herd and he was standing broadside. I had him in my sights.
I told Don that I wouldn’t shoot until he had a cow in his sights and after what seemed to be an hour, but was probably all of five seconds he told me he had one and I took the shot. It was a clean shot and I was confident that I had him.
He didn’t know he was dead yet and started shrugging like he had been stung by a bee. He cleared himself again and I took a second shot that dropped him quickly.
My Minnesota elk hunt of 2012 will forever be one of my most cherished memories.
Bubba officially was scored by a local scorer as an 8x8 with a gross score of 382 2/8 and a Boone and Crockett score of 362 3/8. It is the largest elk taken in Kittson County and the second largest on record taken in the State of Minnesota.
(Dan Hanson graduated from Detroit Lakes High School in 1992 and currently lives in Dilworth.)