Ex-NFL player tackles world-record wapiti

  • Editor's note: The following feature is an exclusive to ESPNOutdoors.com.

    CHANDLER, Ariz. — Through his years as a defensive lineman at Arizona State University and with the Green Bay Packers, Shawn Patterson has grown accustomed to seeing things on a grand scale.

    Big stadiums, big crowds, big offensive lineman and the challenge of winning big games.

    But last fall Patterson found himself staring down his biggest challenge, yet — the chance to arrow a typical bull elk in northwestern Arizona that would rock the hunting world, if not the record books.

    When the shot was loosed from his bow, the 41-year-old Patterson had done just that, harvesting a brute of a wapiti the likes of which no other bowhunter has ever tagged.

    The Patterson bull, a clean 7x7 typical, has been given 60-day entry scores of 423 6/8 inches gross and 414 0/8 inches net.

    Should that net score be upheld during panel scoring at the 2007 Pope & Young Club convention next April in Lancaster, Pa., the Patterson bull appears set to ascend to the wapiti throne by overtaking the current archery-elk standard — a 409 2/8-inch Montana monster tagged by legendary bowhunter Chuck Adams in 2000.

    Patterson, who played in Green Bay from 1988-93 and now builds homes while residing in Chandler, Ariz., said he still sports a big grin on his face after tagging the bull of a lifetime.

    "I'm a deer in the headlights," he laughed. "When I think about it, my eyes glaze over, my mouth is wide open, and I think, 'Wow, what an incredible experience.'

    "It never ceases to bring me to a place of total humility and awe to be able to harvest an animal like that."

    While taking such a bull is indeed an unforeseen blessing, Patterson had reason to have his 2005 bowhunting hopes set high after drawing a prime Arizona elk tag, only his second in 12 years of trying.

    "Last year was a great year of rain," Patterson said. "Actually, it was the second year of rain, so the animals were recovering from eight years worth of drought.

    "With all of that moisture, their bodies (and antlers) were ready to explode. There were huge elk everywhere."

    Patterson, a longtime hunting enthusiast who has been seriously bowhunting since bad knees forced his football retirement in 1993, knew that in most years there is
    no better place to hunt big bull elk than in his home state of Arizona.

    But given last year's exceptional habitat conditions, he decided not to take any chances and hired the services of John McClendon & Son's Guide Service in Flagstaff, Ariz.

    "John and his sons, they're the best," Patterson said. "They spend months scouting beforehand, and they guide the governor's tag every year. They spend the time necessary in the field to know the elk and what they're doing."

    This is why Patterson found himself in elk heaven on opening morning Sept. 16, surrounded by several enormous bugling bulls that sported racks measuring 375 inches and greater.

    "That morning, every elk in the area was going ballistic," Patterson recalled. "It was that cold, misty autumn air that seems to kick everything up to the next level.

    "It was a perfect morning; they were really sounding off."

    That included one particular bull that Patterson and his guide, Levi McClendon, knew was extra special in a locale chock full of mega-bulls.

    "He bugled and bugled and bugled," Patterson said. "This guy was really vocal."

    While Patterson and McClendon spotted the bull in a small clearing at about 200 yards, the pair could only see one side of the monster's antlers.

    While the brief look left McClendon unsure as to which elk they had seen, Patterson was convinced of the bull's worth and the pair began to crawl their way into position.

    After Patterson knocked an arrow, McClendon began calling to the massive wapiti, now about 100 yards away.

    As the bull began to close the distance, all appeared to be going well … until, that is, an unseen raghorn bull interrupted the pre-rut party.

    "All of a sudden, that raghorn came around a tree at 10 yards," Patterson said. "When he saw us, he scattered and made as much noise as he could and all of the bulls scattered at that point."

    While most archers would succumb to a serious case of big-bull jitters, Patterson remained calm, he said.

    "It might sound weird, but I loved it (the challenge)," he said. "The appreciation to me is higher the harder you have to work for something."

    So, back to work McClendon and Patterson went.

    "We saw which direction the bull had gone and we went after him," Patterson said. "But we went about 400 yards through the thick stuff and lost his tracks in the rocks.

    "When that happened, I thought, 'We're done. There's no way of getting to him. He's in his hometown now and there's no way to get at him.'"

    When the bull failed to respond to McClendon's symphony of cow calling and bugling, the pair decided to quietly slip out of the countryside to regroup.

    But then the big bull suddenly decided to test his lungs once again.

    "He bugled and, boy howdy, we both looked at each other and had smiles from ear to ear," Patterson said. "He had a distinctive bugle, so we knew it was him.

    "Now we just had to find a way to get to him."

    Something easier said than done, thanks to the area's rocky terrain filled with dense pinion-junipers and brush.

    "There were rocks everywhere and it was noisy with a lot of deadfall," Patterson said. "Everything you don't want to have to walk through or go through was pretty much there on this hunt."

    As the pair picked their way on hands and knees through the noisy terrain, the bull continued to sound off, giving them the cover necessary to close the distance.

    Suddenly, the bowhunting opportunity of a lifetime knocked for Patterson.

    "We literally saw him moving behind a tree and saw that it (the rack) was tall and long," Patterson said.

    Unsure of exactly just how grand the bull was, Patterson came to full draw.

    "I knew it obviously wasn't a raghorn when I saw the rack through the trees," Patterson said. "I couldn't identify the rack, but I knew from looking at the royals and fifths that it was a big bull."

    As he steadied his sight pin on the bull's tawny hide, Patterson's intense offseason-bowshooting practice kicked in as the wapiti moved into a narrow shooting lane.

    So, too, did years of learning to control his nerves gained on the collegiate and NFL gridiron stage.

    "I put it on his breadbasket and let it fly," said Patterson, a husband and father of four.

    Patterson was initially concerned that his medium-distance, quartering-away shot might have been too far back and too low. As it turned out, it was nearly perfect.

    In fact, while Patterson and McClendon backed quietly out of the area to give the bull time to expire, the majestic wapiti traveled less than 100 yards before toppling over.

    "We left for a couple of hours, but when we came back, we literally walked 15 feet over a rise and saw the elk where (he had fallen)."

    Patterson, a devout Christian, immediately uttered a prayer of thanks.

    "'Praise God,' that's what went through my mind and came off my lips," he said. "It's the worst feeling that a hunter can have, in my opinion, to wound an animal and not be able to recover it."

    If that would be the worst feeling, kneeling next to such a majestic creature must be the best feeling a hunter can have.

    Patterson, whose record-elk story will appear in North American Hunter magazine this spring, doesn't disagree, noting that he is humbled by what has happened to him.

    "I have got to give credit where credit is due," Patterson said. "I'm a believer in Christ, and I believe this is a gift and a blessing that God has given me and I give credit to Him.

    "To me, being able to be in the field, that's the cake. To actually shoot something, that's the icing. And to actually harvest something like this, that's the cherry on top."

    Hunters around the continent who have spent a starry night around the campfire dreaming of tagging such a heavenly bull can nod in agreement and say amen to that.

    To contact John McClendon & Son's Guide Service, call 928-213-3414 or
    visit the Web site.