GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- No one can ever accuse Jared Lothspeich of doing things the easy way when it comes to big game hunting.
A high school junior, Lothspeich, 17, in 2006 shot a record-book mule deer in the Badlands of southwestern North Dakota that scored 158 1/8. He and his dad, Mark, spent the next three hours hauling the buck about 200 feet down the far side of a deep draw -- and about 200 feet up the other side -- to reach the truck.
Even with a cart made especially for hauling deer, the trek was an ordeal.
"It about killed me," Mark Lothspeich said at the time.
That would be a relative walk in the park compared to the massive bull elk the younger Lothspeich shot Sept. 4, the opening day of North Dakota's elk season in rugged Unit E3. He'd already done a lot of walking before getting a chance to pull the trigger about 10 a.m., and the bull fell to the bottom of a deep ravine that was nearly three miles from the truck, as the crow flies.
Adding to the adventure, Lothspeich's uncle, Randy Byzewski, and Byzewski's son-in-law, Calvin Rehbein had drawn cow tags and shot cow elk within 15 minutes of when Lothspeich dropped his trophy bull just a few yards away.
That meant the hunters had not just one elk to haul out, but three. Even with help from Lothspeich's dad, Mark, brother Seth and two others -- uncles Pat Lothspeich and Steve Lothspeich -- it took the crew of seven more than a dozen trips in 87-degree heat to pack the meat from three elk and the caped-out bull back to the truck.
They loaded the meat on a cart and used ropes and muscle to wrestle it out of the ravine.
"I shot the elk at 10 a.m., and the last piece of meat hit the truck at 6:30 that night," Lothspeich said. "First, we had to haul it out of the bottom, then another 2 1/2 miles to the truck. And it wasn't straight ground, either."
The hunters might have taken the elk in rugged country, but Lothspeich says the bull he shot made the effort all worthwhile. The elk has a 6x6 rack that should score about 350, he said, easily surpassing the 275-inch minimum for North Dakota's big game records book.
The North Dakota record for typical (symmetrical) antlers scored 403 0/8 and was taken in 1997 in Billings County.
Lothspeich said it took everything he and his uncle could muster just to lift the cape and head onto the cart for the trek to the truck.
"We figure he weighed 1,200 to 1,300 pounds," Lothspeich said.
A quick finish to Lothspeich's elk hunt hadn't seemed likely after a scouting trip the previous weekend. They'd scouted two days in the Little Missouri National Grasslands north of Medora, N.D., without even seeing an elk.
Lothspeich's uncle, Pat, had seen elk the Tuesday before opening day, but that was the only sighting going into the morning of the hunt.
Fortunes took a turn for the better almost immediately.
Lothspeich said he would have had a shot at the bull at 250 yards as early as 6:30 a.m., but he wasn't in the right place at the right time. He spotted the bull about 8 a.m., and the hunters tried blowing a cow call to draw the bull closer, but the elk only came within about 600 yards.
Letting the bull bed down and waiting seemed like the best option.
The strategy paid off a couple of hours later, when Lothspeich again spotted the bull at the bottom of a steep trough with 12 to 15 cows and one smaller bull.
Lothspeich, at that point, was standing atop the ledge about 200 yards away. No doubt, this bull was something special.
"When I looked at it through the spotting scope, I thought, 'holy cow, if I can get that thing, it would be pretty impressive,"' Lothspeich said.
He raised his 7mm Tikka and fired, hitting the bull on the first shot.
"He didn't go down on the first shot," Lothspeich said. "He ran up the hill, and I shot over his back the second shot, but he didn't move because he was in pretty bad shape. The third shot dropped him, and he probably slipped 35 feet." The bull landed against a juniper tree, and the impact snapped the 2 1/2-inch trunk like a twig.
The work begins After a couple of quick photos, Lothspeich and his brother, Seth, started skinning the bull. They quartered it, caped it out and removed the back straps, which Lothspeich said were about 3 1/2 feet long and 4 inches thick.
That's when the real work began: Seven people, three elk and three miles of some of the most rugged country North Dakota has to offer.
"There were probably 10 trips out of the bottom of the draw and 15 trips across to the truck," Lothspeich said.
Lothspeich's dad, Mark, wasn't there to witness his son shoot the bull but he arrived just in time to get in on the hard-work part of the day.
"I was beat by the time I got to the animals," Mark Lothspeich said. "It wouldn't have been so bad if it was 50 degrees. We didn't have much time to horse around. It was just like a military operation." By that evening, though, the work was finished, and the hunters had the rest of the weekend to kick back and enjoy the western North Dakota countryside at Pat Lothspeich's cabin near Fairfield, N.D.
Jared and his dad took the caped-out elk to a taxidermist that night, and even though it was 3 a.m. when they returned to the cabin, at least part of the crew was still awake and hanging out on the deck.
"The adrenaline was so high, all of us wanted to go to bed, but we couldn't sleep," Jared said. "That lasted two-three days." The taxidermist is making a full head mount of the elk, which eventually will join Jared's trophy mule deer on the wall of the Lothspeichs' Grand Forks home.
Will there be enough room? "I don't know," Mark Lothspeich said. "We might have to buy a different house." At 17, Jared already has encountered more success than many hunters experience in a lifetime. But he still has his sights on a big buck with his bow. And later this fall, he plans to head west to tag along with his brother, who drew an antelope buck tag.
The mule deer was exciting, Lothspeich said, but the bull elk is going to be difficult to top.
"It's much bigger," he said. "It's probably about the biggest thing you can get for the cheapest tag in the U.S. The tag cost just $23." Providing, of course, you're lucky enough to get drawn for one of the once-in-a-lifetime tags.
That's not easy, either.