HomeOutdoorsHuntingOregon Archery Hunter Sets Unbelievably Big Elk Hunting Record

Oregon Archery Hunter Sets Unbelievably Big Elk Hunting Record

by Brett Stayton
Roosevelt Elk In Cascade Rainforest
Photo by Galen Rowell/Getty Images

There are actually 4 distinct subspecies of elk in North America. An Oregon bowhunter just set a new state record for the largest rack ever recorded on one of those subspecies.

There were once 6 species of the animal, but the Eastern Elk and Merriam’s Elk of the southwest were both shot to extinction a long time ago. The Rocky Mountain Elk is the most common and widespread. The Tule Elk is the smallest subspecies. They also have a lighter-colored coat that almost looks orange shimmering in the west coast sunlight. About 6,000 Tule Elk exist only in the state of California. As its name suggests, the Manitoban Elk is native to the prairies of Canada. Their range also stretches down into the Dakotas. The largest elk species is the Roosevelt Elk. They inhabit the pacific northwest. The best places to hunt them are Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

The Cascade Mountains of Oregon are some of the most rugged peaks in the world, but also one of the best places to hunt Roosevelt’s elk. Josh Kelsey is 35 years old. He started scouting and hunting the record-breaking bull he shot last fall when he was just 30 years old. Outdoor Life recently took a deep dive into the storyline. “Five years ago he was a heavy 7×7. But we never even came close to shooting this animal. He was just smart and shy,” he said. “He got big for a reason. It just took us a while to figure it out.”

The State Record Elk Made Him Work For It Though

You won’t find many hunters who hit it harder than Josh Kelsey. A few years ago he changed his hunting style to include 3-5 backpacking trips. Wherever they are is wherever he sets up his makeshift camp for the night. “Instead of going home or back to camp every night, I had camp on my back, so I could just pick up where I left off the night before,” Kelsey explains. “That was the biggest game changer for me because it gave me the ability to stay with the elk and live with the elk.”

His success as an elk hunter skyrocketed when he changed his approach. He could never quite connect with the heavy beamed 7×7 bull that filled his dreams though. He’d hunted the record-breaking bull every year since he first saw it. However, each time he’d get winded, blow his cover, or spook the bull. He would then try to learn from his mistakes, move on, and fill his tags with other bulls while honing his craft.

He was able to get within close proximity to the bull on opening day this year, but he wound up running it off with an overly aggressive call. Kelsey kept at it though, and in September he finally connected with the record-setting bull of a lifetime.

Josh Kelsey Snuck Into The Heart Of The Herd Looking For A Fight

Kelsey used his woodsmanship, camouflage, and experience to sneak right into the middle of the herd of cows that the big dominant bull had rounded up. He got a quick glance at the bull and drew his bow back at about 50 yards. The bull got startled and bounced away though. With the bull out of sight, he decided to use the surrounding cow elk to his advantage.

“I was told by my elders that if you ever get in the middle of elk and that bull is hot and heavy, you have to act like a challenger,” Kelsey explains. “Chase the cows, get in the middle of them, and rip a bugle that’ll challenge the herd bull to make him defend his cows. Make him come to you.” Soon the bull came running in from behind his setup.

“Nothing happened at first,” he says. “But then I start to hear something, and sure enough, he’s coming in right behind me. I’m caught red-handed. So, I do the slow turn. I make it slow—very slow. I finally get my eyes around and could start to see an elk coming into my peripheral.” Time froze for a while as the elk slowly ushered around him. Finally, the elk slipped through a shooting lane at 47 yards and Kelsey let an arrow rip. The arrow connected, the rest is history, and now his name is now at the top of the Oregon elk hunting record book.