No doubt about it, last week's GazOutdoors.com blog poll question stirred up a lot of emotion among hunters - the decided majority of it negative.
The poll had to do with Idaho hunter Denny Austad's taking of what the Boone and Crockett Club has announced to be the new world record elk. I had written about the new record in a Jan. 8 Montana Outdoors column in the Gazette.
The elk was taken on Sept. 30 and tagged with the Utah governor's license, purchased at auction by Austad for almost $170,000.
The elk, nicknamed the "Spider Bull," came off public land in a limited-entry hunting unit in Utah with the help of Team MossBack, the paid guides, scouts and spotters of MossBack Guides and Outfitters, which had been working to track the bull since sometime in summer.
The big bull had a gross score of 499-3/8 points and a final, panel-judged score of 478-5/8 after deductions. The bull was taken with a centerfire rifle - a custom-made .30 Austad - after 13 days of hunting during a time when other hunters were limited to archery only and the final day during a time period when others were limited to muzzleloaders only. There was a 10-day rifle season in between during which Austad didn't hunt due to health problems.
In looking it all over, Boone and Crockett determined that the Spider Bull was taken in a fair-chase hunt.
The poll question asked: "Was the Boone and Crockett Club correct in calling the circumstances surrounding the taking of the new world record elk, the Spider Bull, a fair-chase hunt?"
As for the official vote, it was just over 3-1 against it being a fair-chase hunt - 76 percent to 24 percent. And, quite a few voters sounded off on the hunt by writing some pointed comments to the blog post.
Among them were these, all of them direct quotes, pulled out of much longer comments they wrote on the subject:
Billy wrote, "Using a gun during a muzzleloader hunt is not fair chase. Having six guides and spotters on the elk until it was shot is not fair chase. Hunters should boycott the Boone and Crockett Club which sold the ethical hunter out!"
Brett wrote: "Maybe Boone and Crockett needs to reconsider its record book and set one aside for the guided hunters."
Straight Arrow wrote: "Boone & Crockett, RMEF, Montana FWP, NRA, and most hunting/wildlife organizations are putting the focus on high-dollar trophy hunting and are detracting from the positive traditions of healthy wildlife management and ethical, safe hunting."
Ron J. Fenex wrote: "If the guy who killed the 'Spider Bull' is a hunter - I'm a diamond cutter."
Jay wrote: "The fact that B&C is going to allow this bull as a new world record and under the circumstances it was taken makes me want just puke."
Lynn Walker wrote: "To my way of thinking it is about as fair chase as paying a rancher to go out in his pasture and shoot his herd bull."
Les S wrote: "I feel that anybody with the right amount of money can buy their way into the record book. Modern day hunting has become the sport for the wealthy and this gives us proof."
Hiline4444 wrote: "Our very own lottery 'super tag' and the Mt. Gov's tag are the same thing.
Austad paid for his tag and hired a crew to help him … so far no allegations of illegal activities. Where does anyone get off telling him what he can/can't do, when apparently NO LAWS were broken? I say quit whining and congrats to Austad."
Dave Tyrrell wrote: "The US was founded by our forefathers because of what was happening in Europe and England. We now seem to be regressing backwards where the wealthy have special privileges and money can buy anything if you spend enough of it."
Chaser wrote: "When a bull of this caliber is discovered, and the videos and pictures get posted on the internet, many people fix their bullseye on it, and with that many people chasing one animal, it's bound to go down. As has been said, Austad had the means to stack the deck in his favor. But regardless, the animal was still taken on public land where any other hunter with a tag for the unit had an opportunity to take it."
Sid Mornan wrote: "My opinion … yup, it was legal, yup, it was unethical. Simple as that."
Daniel wrote: "Get some maturity, just because this guy has more money than you does not make him bad, give up on the criticism in giving anti-hunters more fuel for the fire. It was legal. Congrats Denny!"
Andrew W wrote: "In criticizing the methods used in the taking of this bull, we are showing the PETA crowd that we care about our sport and that there are hunters out here who are willing to take a stand against unfair chase methods."
Wyowind wrote: "Mr. Austad's elk was certainly taken within the legal hunting season, by him, even if he did have help. Even Teddy Roosevelt, one of the B & C founders, had lots of help in scouting, finding, and acquiring trophy big game animals, even if he did the stalk and shooting himself."
HAL 9000 wrote: "Mr. Austad did not hunt this bull. He had others do all the work for him - and they did so using an array of gadgets and gang tactics - just so he could show up and shoot it. That's not hunting. And again, it's not enviable, it's pathetic."
Roger Oblander wrote: "Next thing, you will be able to hunt at night with a spotlight and use a land mine to get the big one."
Obamageddon also wrote in a previous blog post on the Spider Bull: "It's a record in my book - a record of how hunting has been sold out to the most outfitter-dependent bidder! In my years as a former guide, I found that 90 percent of guided hunters don't "measure up" and have to hire others help them to compensate for their inadequacy! I hope this travesty sparks some serious discussion over what is fair and what is equal. Outfitted hunting needs to be exposed for what it is - Game Pimping!"
I added that last comment from Obamageddon on a previous blog post because if there is any good to come out of this, it will be in those future discussions of hunts like this one. Fair chase is a critical issue.
It's fairly easy to decide if a hunt is legal or not. By all indications, this one was legal under Utah's hunting laws. In Montana, it may not have been judged that way because it involved electronic communications - the phone call from the outfitter to the client that the bull had been relocated and he should get to camp to go after it again - which are not allowed in any aspect of hunting here.
The issue of fair chase is an ethics call which is far more difficult to define. Everyone looks at ethics through his own eyes and we're all different. But obviously, Boone and Crockett doesn't see eye-to-eye with many hunters on this one.
Gazette Outdoors editor Mark Henckel can be contacted at email@example.com or at 657-1395.