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May 2023
Story by William Heinselman
State: California
Species: Elk - Tule

I always had a passion for Tule elk, and to say I was excited to have a Grizzly Island elk tag last year was an understatement. I called up my good friend, Jonnie Kellogg, who owns Kellogg Trophy Hunts to let him know the good news. We were hunting Grizzly Island!

For those who don’t know, Grizzly Island is a 12,000-acre wildlife refuge operated by California Fish and Game. It’s not an island but more a marsh/grassland area with sloughs bordering a large portion of it. On the other side of these sloughs are private properties which cannot be hunted. The land is flat and covered in short vegetation with giant sections of 10'+ tules that hide entire herds of elk in seconds. The Grizzly Island herd moves freely onto private lands and back to the island. I live fairly close and had been watching the bulls from this herd for the previous two years. Although I’d never seen a bull over 320" on the island, I knew there had been a few giants taken from here in the early 2000s.

Jonnie and I started scouting the island in May, and in early June, we spotted a giant body and framed bull way off the island on private land and knew he was the one. This bull had a giant 10x10 frame, crazy mass, and a triple dropper off his left beam. He was so much bigger than any Tule we had ever seen on the island. We nicknamed the bull “Pennsylvania” because he looked like a giant non-typical Rocky Mountain elk that Pennsylvania state might produce.

Pennsylvania was a strange bull. He spent most of his time off island and away from other elk. We weren’t sure he’d be on island to hunt. All summer, we checked in on him, taking photos and videos and guessing his score. The previous years, he was so small we wouldn’t even consider hunting him. It was crazy how much he blew up in just a year.

The rut was in full swing by the beginning of the hunt, and we had our bull located on island. Opening morning, we bedded him down and the stalk was on. I was using archery equipment, which takes this hunt from easy to extremely difficult as the ground is flat and offers little to conceal yourself. Everything was looking good. I had belly crawled into range and waited for my opportunity. Another bull that was with him got up and decided to walk almost over me and ruined the morning stalk. Our evening hunt got exciting as I had belly crawled to within 150 yards of him. As the sun set, Pennsylvania got up and started feeding into 80 yards. I knew this was my opportunity. I checked my range and let an arrow fly. The arrow looked great, but it ended up hitting a couple inches high, barely catching his shoulder blade. My heart sank. Knowing he was hit but unable to get another arrow in him tormented me. We watched him feed for the remainder of light.

The next morning, we found Pennsylvania out feeding with a group of bulls on private property. Other than a cut on his shoulder, we could not tell he had been hit at all. Our plan from here was to watch him daily until he moved back on island and start hunting him again. Sounds easy, except he disappeared the next day. We didn’t know if he had died or was just hanging out on private land as over half of the Grizzly’s herd was off island. Local landowners told us they had seen him on their land, but we were still nervous.

Fast forward 23 long days, and Pennsylvania still hadn’t been seen. My hunt only had six days left. Although there was not a bull remotely close to his caliber, we decided it was probably time to hunt another bull. There were a couple 320" types we were going to target.

The next morning, the hunt was back on. Right out of camp, we glassed up a couple nice bulls a mile out. They were so far out that they didn’t look like anything good; however, I saw something odd on one and pulled out the big glass. The odd thing ended up being Pennsylvania.

He had finally showed back up. He was within 500 yards of private property, so I carried my rifle in addition to my bow. I was not letting him disappear on us again. We snuck between him and private land. We made a couple stalks with the bow to try to put an arrow in him, but we just didn’t have the cover. Pennsylvania continually moved towards private land, and when he was 150 yards away, I knew this may be the last chance I had to harvest this truly magnificent bull. A well-placed shot from my Gunwerks ClymR 28 Nosler and he was down.

This hunt had been anything but easy, and walking up to this bull was a moment I’ll never forget. Putting our hands on him, we began to realize how special he was and how far off we were guessing his score. Pennsylvania grossed 375" Boone & Crockett. We are waiting for his final score but expect him to be the new #3 Boone & Crockett Tule elk all time and #2 all-time Tule elk hunter-killed (#1 was a pickup). Aside from score, Pennsylvania was truly a one-of-a-kind bull that I love and feel so honored to have hunted. Thanks to my buddy, Jonnie, and his subguide, Mason, for all their help out there. Good times, fellas!

California Elk