After Twenty-Year Search
||Lendell Benefield, of Marshall County, proudly stands next to the mounted head of the massive bull elk he harvested near Craig, Colorado.
By Ben Norman
“When we first spotted them they were so far away they looked like rabbits walking single file down a hill. But as I watched them get closer through my binoculars, my heart began to pound uncontrollably. I could see several legal bulls in the string of elk, but one in particular had such a rack he reminded me of a slow moving boxcar lumbering down a hill with a gentle side to side sway,” says Lendell Benefield as he describes spotting the 6 X 7 point trophy bull elk that now adorns his den wall.
Benefield, who lives near Albertville in Marshall County, owns and operates Farmco Builders Inc. (256-878-5776), a construction company specializing in building poultry houses and other farm buildings. He has been hunting elk and mule deer in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado for the past twenty plus years. Benefield harvested several nice mule deer bucks over the years but remained elkless until this last season, when he was rewarded with a trophy bull beyond his wildest expectations.
Benefield said he got hooked on hunting when he was given his first shotgun at eleven years of age. “Like most young hunters in Alabama, I cut my teeth hunting squirrels and rabbits. There were no deer to speak of when I started hunting. I didn’t bag my first white tail buck until I was in my thirties, but that was enough to give me the big game fever. I had been thinking about a western hunt for years but never pursued it,” says Benefield.
“I was building a poultry house for a client, Ronald West of Ellijay, Georgia, who had been on several elk hunts. He invited me to go with him in 1984, and we have been going ever since. I saw a lot of game over the years including bear, moose, antelope, and elk, but the elk were either not legal bulls or were too far away,” says Benefield.
After all those years of being skunked, Benefield says it’s impossible to describe how excited he was when he saw that massive rack headed his way. “By the time that bull had gotten to within 400 yards, my heart had slowed down and the ‘shakes’ were subsiding enough I could begin to think about making the shot if he approached closer.”
Benefield and his guide, Bill Green with Pinnacle Mountain Outfitters (970-824-9269) near Craig, Colorado, continued to watch the bull approach them when suddenly he turned and followed a cow elk out of site. “Man, my heart sank as that giant bull walked away. My guide said there were two legal bulls in the herd within range but after seeing that big bull I decided to play the odds that maybe he would reappear. We decided to get closer and set a course to intercept the bull within shooting range.
“It worked—he followed a cow out into a meadow and gave me a broadside shot at about 200 yards. I placed the cross hair for a heart/lung shot and squeezed the trigger on my 7mm Sako bolt action. My first shot was a little far back of his vitals and didn’t put him down, but my last shot was right in the boiler room. It was only 200 yards to my bull, but with the thin air and excitement, my heart was beating in overdrive by the time we got to him,” says Benefield.
According to Benefield, all outfitters in the west are not as reputable as Pinnacle Mountain Outfitters. “We have been on some hunts that can only be described as rip-offs. One outfitter we went with in the early years just boarded us in old dirty trailers and basically left us on our own as far as hunting. Being new to elk hunting and the area, we didn’t have the foggiest idea where or how to hunt,” says Benefield.
Western big game hunts are usually conducted in one of three ways: one, you are lodged and fed, assigned a guide who stays with you, transports you to the hunting area, and generally assists you in finding game. Two, the outfitter provides you with a place to stay, but you are on your own without the services of a guide. Three, a do-it-yourself hunt where you provide your own lodging and hunt public land.
Benefield recommends hunters planning an elk or mule deer hunt out west consult guide associations, various fish and game agencies, fellow hunters, and get maps and regulations from The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service.
“Get references from the guide and check them out.” However, he cautions about putting too much stock in the references the guide furnishes. He recommends talking with someone you know who was pleased with the guide and facilities and then book your hunt. Apply at the same time for tags through the guide if he offers that service as you may have a better chance of drawing a tag this way.
Benefield says the average Alabama deer hunter will have most of the gear they will need for a western big game hunt. “You may need a larger caliber rifle this way. if you have anything less than a 30.06, and be sure to take a good sleeping bag and some warm clothes, including waterproof insulated boots. Make sure those boots are well broken in before your trip,” says Benefield.
Hunters headed west should be prepared for hazardous driving conditions at the higher elevations. The author once had to drive over the Continental Divide in a blizzard. As I was slipping and sliding on that narrow ice-covered mountain road, I remembered some advice an elderly farmer once gave me.
He said, “Son, if you don’t get no lower than digging taters or no higher than breaking corn, you will be safe.” As I looked down at the jagged snow-covered cliff to my right, I realized I was definitely higher than breaking corn.
Ben Norman is a freelance writer from Highland Home.