A behemoth male elk dubbed the "Spider bull," taken by a hunter on Monroe Mountain in central Utah last fall, carried the largest antler rack ever recorded by the Boone and Crockett (B&C) Club and has been recognized as the new world record for a nontypical American elk.
The antlers did more than land at the top of the record books - they also proved to be points of contention among hunters.
The final measurements -- 478 5/8 -- shattered the existing record of 465 2/8 taken from a bull found frozen in a lake in British Columbia in 1994. The points based on a combination of measurements from the antlers.
Doyle Moss, head guide for Utah-based MossBack Guides and Outfitters, led hunter Dennis Austad of Ammon, Idaho, to the bull.
"We all knew he was a special bull, but the reality of just how big he was really set in when we walked up to him," Moss said.
A quick measurement by Moss in the field turned up a gross score of more than 500 points. And that's when the controversy started.
Online hunting forums buzzed with rumors that the bull had escaped from an elk farming ranch or a hunting preserve. Columnists from national hunting magazines joined the fray and criticized the program that allowed Austad to bid and win a $150,000 elk conservation permit to hunt anywhere in the state for several months.
Money from the permit program funds conservation projects around the state. More than $17 million has been raised by the program in the last 12 years, $2.9 million of it in 2008.
But investigations by the state of Utah and B&C confirmed the animal was wild, was taken on public land, and was killed legally, which qualified it for the record.
"We are confident it was not a farmed elk," said Terry Menlove, director of the animal industry division of the Utah Department of Agriculture. "We keep an inventory and there were no missing animals and it had none of the required markings for an elk on a farm."
Moss can understand why some people figure the bull must have escaped from a breeding facility. He first heard about the bull when friend e-mailed him some pictures.
"Even I questioned how he could be so big," Moss said. "There had never been a bull killed on that mountain that scored 400 inches. It was kind of shocking."
Moss says anybody who spent time trying to find the bull during hunting season will confirm it was born in the wild.
"After seeing him disappear like he did during the hunts it is easy to see how he could have survived the last couple of years," Moss said. "He was very nocturnal. We would see him the last few minutes of light before dark and at first light, but that was it."
Jim Karpowitz, director of the DWR, uses that point to counter the argument that only a hunter with the means to pay $150,000 for a permit and guide fees could take such a trophy.
"All the other permitted hunters - archery, rifle and most of the muzzleloaders - had a crack at that bull," Karpowitz said. "A lot of other people knew it was there and they all looked for it."
Austad hunted with MossBack guides for 12 days in early September before leaving due to other obligations. He managed one shot at the "Spider bull" during that time. A Mossback guide spotted the bull, alive and well, on Sept. 28, two days before Austad was scheduled to return. Early on Sept. 30, Austad dropped the bull with one shot from a rifle he designed himself.
Karpowitz was impressed with the bull, but said it has never been the agency's goal to produce a world record.
"Our objective is to maintain healthy population of elk and provide a diversity of hunting opportunities," he said. "It's exciting that we produced the largest elk ever known in the wild and an indication of the high quality elk program we have in Utah."