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3 Epic Elk Hunts From 2022

Here are the awesome stories behind three of 2022's biggest bow-killed bulls.

3 Epic Elk Hunts From 2022

Mahlon Barkman of Ohio poses with the gigantic 6x6 he harvested while hunting New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness with New Mexico Professional Big Game Hunting in 2022. The bull grossed 404 5/8 inches, with a net score of 395 5/8. (Photo courtesy of Ben Chapel)

Gila Wilderness Giant — Mahlon Barkman

When Mahlon Barkman opened an email from the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish in spring 2022, he was shocked to learn he’d drawn a tag for one of the coveted elk-hunting units in the Gila National Forest in his first year of applying. Securing the permit, however, was just the first step on an incredible journey that would take him to great highs and lows by hunt’s end.

Barkman, who would be bowhunting with New Mexico Professional Big Game Hunting, immediately reached out to guides Ben and John Chapel, since he still wasn’t fully convinced he’d pulled a tag.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes. I wasn’t expecting to get drawn, because it was a pretty hard unit to draw,” Barkman said. “I texted John to ask if this was for real. I sent him the screen shot, and he said, ‘Yes, what’s the hunt code?’ I told him and he was just like, ‘That’s a bad-ass hunt.’”

A few months later, Barkman, along with the others in his hunting party — Andy Nisley, Abe Miller and Leroy Miller — headed west from their home state of Ohio to the Land of Enchantment, stoked for their opportunity to pursue bugling bulls. After arriving at the Chapel family’s ranch, the group made its way into the mountains to a base camp that would be their home for the next several days.

“The first morning we went out there and we climbed this big hill and heard some bugles up there…,” Barkman said. “We went after this one bull we called, and [we] set up and called him in…I thought he was 40 yards, and he was only 30 yards.”

As a result of misjudging the distance, Barkman hit the elk high. Although he and Ben, who was guiding him, found some good blood at first, eventually it petered out and they lost the trail.

“He wallowed up and after that we didn’t find a drop of blood,” Barkman said. “I think he’s still with us. I couldn’t get that out of my head.”

Despite the missed opportunity, Barkman trudged on. And while days two and three were rather uneventful, the fourth day of the hunt found them getting into some good elk action. After hiking over a couple of mountains that morning, Chapel and Barkman came to an open area that had been scorched by fire a few years earlier.

“It was pretty nasty. There were deadfalls, and it was a hard walk,” Barkman said, “We were going through these aspen patches and open areas and spooked a cow and a spike. We waited a little bit, cow-called and didn’t hear anything, so we kept on going.”




Suddenly, Chapel told him to nock an arrow.

“I just looked up and here comes this huge rack over the mountainside,” Barkman recalled. “He was probably already 30 or 40 yards (from us) at that time and I just got my bow and got an arrow, nocked it and drew back. I remember asking him how far it was and he said, ‘Thirty-five yards.’”

Blocking the other bull out of his mind, Barkman let one of his Victory arrows fly from his Xpedition X30. The Helix broadhead hit its target, with the bull taking off at the shot.

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“He ran maybe 20 yards and started tumbling back down the mountain,” Barkman said. “He rolled over probably 60 yards in front of me.”

With the big 6x6 going down within eyesight, Barkman couldn’t believe his eyes. The huge bull ended up grossing 4045⁄8 inches, with an official net score of 3955⁄8. In addition to an impressive spread, the rack sported solid mass all the way around. Barkman said packing out the bull was an arduous task that required several hours over two days.

“We couldn’t get horses in because of all the deadfalls that were around. There was no way to get a horse close,” he said. “Ben and I caped it and quartered it up and put the meat into shade. I believe it was 3½ miles we had to pack out.”

In addition to Barkman, Nisley and Abe Miller also scored on good bulls during the hunt, with Nisley taking a 6x6 that scored 338 and Miller downing a 6x6 that measured 320. Barkman said he highly recommends New Mexico Professional Big Game for anyone looking to pursue elk in the state.

“They work hard for you to try and get you what you’re looking for,” he said.

Although he ended up taking a world-class bull, Barkman says he still has mixed emotions about not the first elk he shot. He estimates that bull’s rack would have been in the 350-inch range, a fine specimen for anyone's first archery elk.

“Some people have asked me, ‘I bet you’re glad that you didn’t get that [first] one?’ But I was like, ‘Well, I can’t really say that. I hate wounding animals,’” he said.

“But it was a true blessing that I got this bull. It didn’t sink in until a couple months after the hunt.”

Early Graduation Gift — Anna Hartman

Anna Hartman knew the fall of 2022 was the last real opportunity she’d have to get away and hunt with her dad Price before heading off to Rutgers University to continue her education and play volleyball for the Scarlet Knights in fall of 2023. So, even though the high school senior had taken a nice bull while hunting with Y3 Outfitters of Wyoming the previous year, she was super excited to head back to the Cowboy State for one last chance at a wall-hanging elk.

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Seventeen-year-old Anna Hartman (right), accompanied by dad Price, took this 350-class bull with Y3 Outfitters in Wyoming. (Photo courtesy of Morgan Forbes)

On the first morning of her September hunt with Y3 Outfitters’ owner and guide Morgan Forbes, Hartman quickly got into elk, encountering a nice bull with a group of cows. But the trio — she was also accompanied by her dad — lost sight of the animals as they moved away from them. Still early in the hunt, the group moved on, climbing several hills and mountains hoping to catch up with that group of elk or others. Eventually, they heard another elk bugling and decided to try and move in on that bull.

Following a short break, Forbes and Anna left Price behind, striking out on their own. A short time later the pair were working their way around a mountain when Forbes looked back toward the valley from where they’d just come.

“Mo’s scanning the trees and stuff, and all of a sudden, he holds up his hand and he’s like, 'Shhh.' He gets out his binoculars and he sees the bull. It’s bedded down,” Anna said. “We hadn’t heard it in the past 30 to 45 minutes. The bull was staring right at us for like 5 minutes. Eventually, it kind of looks away and very slowly we moved away.”

The pair decided to circle all the way around the valley, perhaps a mile in all, to reposition themselves downwind of the animal. About 10-15 minutes after they slipped into position for a shot, the elk stood up, giving the 17-year-old her opportunity. Anna said the experience was both awesome and nerve-racking at the same time since the bull was less than 30 yards away.

“It was still the first day, but I was like, ‘If I have this chance now, I may not get a chance again.’ As soon as that bull stood up, I had the crossbow against my shoulder; I was looking through the scope…I was like, ‘If I can’t make this shot, this might be it. I was nervous, I was excited, I was shaking.”

Following the shot from her Ravin R10 crossbow, the bull bolted downhill, expiring after only a short run. But before going to retrieve the elk, the duo went to get Price, so he could be part of the experience as well.

“We walked down to the bull and it’s just massive,” Anna recalled.

According to Forbes, the big 6x6 likely scored more than 350 inches.

“I’m thinking that was the best bull we killed last year, but if not, for sure in the top two or three,” he said. “I’ve always had a great time having Anna and Price out. They are part of the team and will put in the work to get into mature herd bulls. It just seems like when I’m hunting with Anna things just work — we’re going to get close encounters and lots of action.”

As far as retrieving the bull from the woods, Anna said it took seven people to hoist the bull into a truck to transport it back to camp. Even so, the entire crew was back at the lodge for a late lunch, wrapping things up well before the sun set on the first day of hunting. And, amazingly, Anna was on her way home to Murfreesboro, Tenn., the next day to return to school and the volleyball team since the season was in full swing.

“It was one of the best feelings — (an) awesome, great trip,” said Anna, now 18. “I made my dad proud. It’s not just for him, but it’s one of those things we can do together, and I loved how he supported me through it.”

As for Price, he said the opportunity to hunt one last time with his daughter in Wyoming is an experience he’ll remember the rest of his life.

“It was the last big trip before her college and volleyball career, which will limit my hunting time with her, but I’m excited about her starting her next adventure,” he said. “We’ve got many great memories in the field and have been blessed with her opportunities. As with all dads, her success is more important than my success.”

Second-Chance Bull — Kaden Titus

From deep dejection to total elation, Kaden Titus experienced a range of emotions as he pursued a once-in-a-lifetime bull last fall. In the end, the Summerville, Ore., resident stood at the precipice, literally and figuratively, as he pondered if he’d blown everything, not realizing his state-record bull was lying less than 40 feet below him covered by the approaching darkness of night.

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Kaden Titus of Oregon harvested his state-record archery bull elk in September 2022, with the 7x7 having a net score of 392. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lanman)

Hunting on private land in Eastern Oregon, Titus had set his sights on a large bull that he and friend Jordan Lanman had located while scouting in August. However, when the season opened in early September, the bull was nowhere to be found.

“We hadn’t seen this caliber of bull in this area for a long time,” Titus said. “So, we were obviously pretty excited and we basically decided all right, now we were going to [try to] kill that bull, went out opening weekend and hunted him hard for the first week and half. He ghosted me — I couldn’t find him. There were other elk in the area, but I never found him. Honestly, I kind of got discouraged.”

After hunting a new area for a few days, Titus decided to return to the area where he’d originally seen the bull, giving it one last try and hoping for a miracle.

“I said, ‘Oh, man, I need to give it a shot,' so I went back up in this area,” Titus said. “My buddy was actually pretty sick so he couldn’t go with me. I went solo.”

That morning of Sept. 16 started off with Titus having a 300-inch 6x6 in his sights, but the elk got downwind of him, so he backed out. Two other bulls were bugling in the basin, and Titus thought one of them was bedded down, so he decided to go after that elk. But, as he was hiking around the basin, he ran into another bull that bugled much closer to him.

“I’d walked within probably 75 yards of him, but it was so thick I couldn’t see anything,” Titus said. “So, I sat there and waited. Hopefully, that other bull would lure him out and get him moving or something. I sat there for probably 20 or 30 minutes and he never did anything, so I figured he was still bedded.”

A lengthy game of cat and mouse ensued. “I sat there and just let out a cow call. I was going through my sequence…and his bugle instantly changed. He just screamed at me. I could never see him, but I had to be 70-75 yards from him. I thought that would be enough; he’d come check it out that close.”

After cow calling for 45 minutes, Titus switched to bugling.

“He would scream over every single bugle I did…he would absolutely just unleash on me, but he would not budge,” Titus recalled. “Then I went to a challenge bugle, everything. He just wouldn’t budge. I guess in my mind that told me he had cows behind him, and he wasn’t going to leave them.”

After five hours of waiting patiently, Titus decided to try and sneak close enough to the bull to attempt a 50- or 60-yard shot if the animal got up. Picking a large pine tree as his destination, it took him 90 minutes to go 15 yards. That’s when he spotted the elk, which had gotten up to rake its bed.

“When he snapped up, I finally got a glimpse and saw it was him,” Titus recalled. “Obviously, my heart started pumping pretty hard. I watched him…probably four to five times he got up, raked his bed out and laid back down. I was able to maneuver when he had his head down to where I could have a shooting lane there.”

Titus ranged the animal at 53 yards and when his chance finally came, he raised his bow, drew back and let an arrow fly, shooting two inches over the elk’s back.

“I hit a pine tree behind him. I heard the big smack and he blew out of there and down the hill…,” Titus said. “I literally threw down my bow and was sitting there second-guessing myself, thinking how could I miss that when he doesn’t even know I was there.”

Shockingly, as Titus was lamenting his blown opportunity, the bull moved back into the area he had been bedded in.

“I will never understand why he went back up there,” Titus said. “The only saving grace is he didn’t have a clue what had happened. And I came to find out he did have those cows behind him, so he wasn’t going to leave them.”

Amazed at his second chance, Titus tried to sneak closer to the bull, but the animal caught his movement and began circling to pick up his scent. However, when the elk was almost directly downwind of him, the bull turned, offering a quartering-away shot. Titus drew back his Prime Rize, unleashing an Easton Axis arrow.

“I heard it hit but didn’t see it hit. He whirled around and took off. I cow called to him and barked at him and that was enough to get him to stop and look me,” Titus said. “It took about 10 seconds and you could see his ears flip back like he was hurt. He just turned around and walked away from me and I could see my arrow sticking out.”

Titus then texted Lanman, who although ill, insisted on coming out to help look for the elk. A few hours later, the pair were on the trail, trying to locate the bull.

As they were following the blood trail, Titus caught a glimpse of the bull and its wound, which looked to be a little high, leading him to believe he got the top of one or both lungs. Eventually, he was able to sneak within 20 yards of the animal, but the bull caught his movement and bolted. It was now almost completely dark, making any further pursuit a risky endeavor.

“I took off after him just to see where he went, so I’d have a spot to go in the morning, [at least] a direction anyway, and he went out of sight,” Titus said. “I just kind of took my time walking over there and I realized it’s just a sheer cliff. I walked out to the cliff thinking he just fell off [the edge] or something.”

Not sure if the animal went over the side or found another way around the cliff, Titus slowly walked the cliff’s edge to see if he could get a better look at the ground below. That’s when he caught movement at the base of the cliff.

“He was just sitting there under a tree and his head was bobbing side to side like he was kind of going in and out of it…,” he said. “Three or four minutes went by and I could see his back legs kick out and he was lying over on his side.”

A short time later, Lanman’s uncle Mike and cousin Tanner joined the pair to help retrieve the animal, and when the quartet approached the downed elk, they were blown away.

“We knew he was big, obviously, but we didn’t know he was that big,” Titus recalled.

According to Titus, the 7x7 grossed 4034⁄8 inches, with a final net score of 392, making it the largest typical Rocky Mountain elk ever taken with archery gear in the Beaver State.

“I never actually thought we’d get it done,” Titus said. “Those elk move so much, and when we didn’t see him for that first week, I was pretty convinced he had left the area.

“Walking up on him, it was just pure emotion and tears. There were a lot of thank yous and a lot of high-fives.”

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