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500 inches of antler! Utah produces potential world-record elk.


This is an Editorial Opinion piece

We reported earlier this week the harvest of what is likely to become the new world-record non-typical elk. The "Spider Bull" was shot in Utah's Monroe Mountain unit in mid-September and green-scores just over 500 inches of antler mass.

It's a helluva trophy, and is a testament to Utah's management in its hard-to-draw trophy units. And the hunter, Denny Austad from Ammon, Idaho, should be recognized for his ability to home in on what is likely the elk of the decade, and possibly the trophy of the century.

But there are a couple of unsettling aspects to this story. For hunters who are passionate about America's tradition of free, public hunting and fret the implications of trophy hunting at any cost, the Spider Bull represents a troubling trend.

For starters, look at Utah's elk management itself. The state's Division of Wildlife Resources, heeding the preference of many of its most influential constituents, is well on the road toward trophy management, not strictly wildlife management. It's harder to draw a premium elk permit in Utah than anywhere else in the West, and while most permits are fairly distributed in the draw—and largely according to preference points—hunting in the state has become akin to winning the lottery.

When you raise the stakes as high as Utah has on its draw, you promote commercialization of the resource. Utah has essentially privatized wildlife on its Cooperative Wildlife Management Units, in which ranchers can sell trophy tags for a public resource, and has promoted outfitting for its most selective units. Who wouldn't hire an outfitter for a once-in-a-lifetime sheep or elk or mule deer hunt in order to boost odds of shooting a record-class animal? With a steady supply of clients who expect success—and will pay five figures to ensure it—outfitters are motivated to lease land, to invest in a stable of guides to find and keep tabs on trophy animals, and to keep intact and advertise a high-percentage track record.