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Dandy bull for Velva hunter

Rare second chance results in a once-in-a-lifetime elk

Submitted Photo Travis Leier, Velva, and his once-in-a-lifetime bull elk taken in the far southwest part of the state. Leier drew an elk tag this year after applying for 17 consecutive seasons.

Who ever gets a second chance at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Well, Travis Leier of Velva. That’s who.

After 17 years of applying Leier finally was selected in this year’s elk permit lottery. It is a once-in-a-lifetime tag in North Dakota. Leier was drawn for Unit E3 in the far southwest area of the state. The day before the September 3 opener he was in his hunting area, scouting the terrain and glassing for bull elk.

“I has permission to hunt on private land and saw a big bull through the spotting scope. I kind of liked him,” said Leier.

Leier returned to the same area the following morning, day one of the season. Shortly after sunrise he had several bull elk in sight, 16 for the day, but none on the land in which he had permission to hunt.

One day two, a Saturday, Leier saw the monster bull he spotted during his Thursday scout and it presented him with a great opportunity.

“I actually had him ranged at 228 yards and missed the shot,” said Leier. “It was just one of those things, the old jitters and buck fever. I just couldn’t control myself.”

Disappointed and disgusted with himself, the experienced hunter said he “beat himself up pretty bad” over his failure to bag the big bull.

“He just stood there for a moment and then bolted,” recalled Leier.

That day, said Leier, he went back to camp to take a nap and try and recover from what many other hunters have experienced as well — the reality of buck fever.

When Leier woke from his nap, he grabbed a bite to eat and returned to the field for an evening hunt. He chose a spot atop a gravel pile as a high vantage point from which to observe the surrounding terrain in the hopes of spotting elk.

“I wanted to see what would come out,” remarked Leier. “I was sure the one that I missed wasn’t coming back. I was perched there for about four hours, getting ready to leave, when I glassed him in the distance.”

The distance was 1,200 yards, too far for a shot, and sunset, the end of shooting hours for the day, was only a few minutes more than a half hour away.

“Then he started making his way toward me, to a cornfield,” said Leier. “I knew where he was going and there was no point in trying to close the distance. In five the bull was 600 yards out.

“It was getting real,” said Leier. “It was the one I had missed earlier that morning. The nerves came back, not as bad through, but everything that went wrong in the morning was going through my head.”

Confident he knew where the bull was going, Leier took advantage of the terrain to close the distance in the hope of getting close enough for a good shot.

“I got behind some little hills and used a shallow draw. About three-quarters of the way to the top I stopped to catch my breath. About that time I could see the tips of his antlers as he lifted his head up in the corn,” said Leier. “He was right there! We were eye to eye!”

The distance was 100 yards or less. Leier rested his rifle on shooting sticks and tried to compose himself, not wanted to repeat his miss from earlier that day.

“I was nervous. He turned broadside and was looking right at me,” said Leier.

This time Leier’s shot was placed perfectly.

“When I walked up to him I was flabbergasted,” said Leier. “One, that he gave me another chance and, two, it was the first elk I’ve ever shot. A lot of emotions, man!”

Leier said it took about four hours to get the big elk quartered for transportation out of the field. It was exhausting work. Fortunately for Leier, he was able to contact the landowner who was more than happy to head out into the field to help, bringing a couple of others with him.

“He said to drive right up to it,” said Leier. “We washed it. Cooled it down. They were awesome. A great group of people. For me, the biggest things, not only was it a once-in-a-lifetime tag but it was the people I met doing it.”

Leier said an unofficial measurement of the elk was 331 4/8ths, placing it among the largest ever taken in North Dakota.

“The mass was unreal. I couldn’t get my tag on the thing,” said Leier. “Normally it would go by the base but I had to go all the way up and still it only fit by half an inch.”

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