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August Miller, Deseret Morning News
Two bull elks spar. Utah has more than 80 trophies listed in the latest Boone and Crockett big-game rankings.

It wasn't that long ago, roughly 20 years, that Utah was recognized for its big deer and small elk.

The 1981 edition of Boone and Crockett's big-game records for North America listed 29 Utah entries among 311 listings for typical deer and 22 Utah entries among 205 listings for nontypical deer.

There was not a single listing among 360 entries for typical American elk or as many for nontypical elk.

Today, Utah is rapidly becoming recognized for its big elk.

In the latest Boone and Crockett rankings, Utah has more than 80 trophies listed in the top 700 typical elk, including eight in the top 100, and 11 trophies among 200 nontypical elk listings, including three in the top 100.

Consensus is that the reasons for greater antler growth among Utah's elk are based on good food, fair weather and controlled management programs, that is, limited-entry hunting introduced in certain units over the past 20 years.

Limited entry hunts allow for a limited number of permits, resulting in a limited number of bull elk being shot. Hunter can wait years to draw one of the permits. The permits are, among big game hunters, pure gold.

Craig McLaughlin, big game manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said one factor in having larger elk is the agency has been very conservative on the number of permits it recommends to the Utah Wildlife Board.

"As a result, we have an over abundance of large bulls right now," he noted. "It's reflected in the scores you're seeing. If we're going to maintain a healthy herd, however, we're going to have to offer more opportunities in the future."

Hunters have been against increasing permit numbers. They prefer to avoid change, arguing that they want the same opportunities for a trophy elk five or 10 years from now that hunters have today.

"But it's counterintuitive. We need to harvest more if we want to maintain bull/cow ratios in order to maintain a healthy herd," said McLaughlin.

Looking back into the history of elk in Utah, records show there were elk in the area when early settlers arrived. Uncontrolled hunting, however, nearly wiped out elk. Hunting was stopped in 1898. In 1912, when natural production failed to increase herds, elk were brought in from other areas, mainly Yellowstone National Park. The first authorized hunt was on the Cache and Mount Nebo units in 1925.

By 1967 there were five elk units in Utah. By 1983 there were 27 units. The Pahvant unit, where Utah's largest elk was taken in 2005, was first hunting in 1984. Currently there are more than 60,000 elk in Utah. The management objective is to have 68,400 elk.

More recently, Utah has gone to offering hunters three options — hunt spike only, any bull or limited entry.

The success of the DWR's management program is best told in the number of trophy elk now listed by the Boone and Crockett Club.

As noted, in its 1981 book, there was not a single entry in either of the American elk categories — typical and nontypical.

The four biggest Utah elk were all shot between 2003 and 2005. Lloyd Jacobson, No. 19, shot his elk on the Pahvant unit in 2005; Brian Gilson, No. 28, shot his elk in Emery County in 2003; Larry Ball, No. 36, shot his elk in Garfield County in 2004; and Ryan Brindley, No. 59, shot his elk in 2003. The top 12 Utah trophies were all tagged after 1999.

Looking at the top 25 on the overall list, Jacobsen's elk, at No. 19, and an elk shot in Gila, Ariz., No. 25, were the most recent entries. Both were shot on 2005.

Four of the top 25 elk were taken prior to 1900, and eight were taken between 1900 and 1970.

All of which points to the fact that Utah is producing some of the largest and most recent entries, confirming, as McLaughlin said, that Utah is, indeed, being recognized as trophy elk country.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com