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Duffy's Wyoming Bull

When you've been raised in the woods and then trained as a biologist, you know you've arrived as an expert when you kill a state-record elk.

by Daniel D. Lamoreux This article was originally published in Rocky Mountain Game & Fish magazine. Visit their website at http://www.RMgameandfish.com.

You’ve seen this place.

The air is thin, the timber dark and foreboding. Sitting on the edge of a high mountain meadow, you wait patiently until the high-pitched whistle and guttural grunts of a magnificent bull elk shatter the silence. As he steps from the shadows, ivory tipped tines mirroring the sun, you freeze. Even your breath has left for parts unknown.

This is where most of us bolt from our sleep and that familiar dream disappears. For Duffy Brown, it was no dream.

As hunters, we recognize the preparation and work that goes into producing the success a record-book bull represents. Subscribing luck to an event that ends in the killing of a world-class animal is mere folly, a sentiment not lost on Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” In the real world, we make our own luck. To do otherwise diminishes the hunter, the majesty of the trophy itself and the core of our sporting traditions.

At 33, Duffy Brown is still a young man. Nonetheless, his outdoor skills are the product of two decades of personal experience coupled with shared knowledge, handed down from father to son over generations.

“We started Duffy when he was very young,” said Doug Brown, Duffy’s father. “He was brought up in the woods with me, my Dad and my Grandpa. He was always hiking, fishing and observing nature firsthand.”

The importance of this upbringing is not lost on Duffy. “We lived a lifestyle that shows important values by example,” he said. “I was taught a love for the outdoors, ethics and a general appreciation for where we live.”

That beginning made a serious impact on the course of his life. In fact, he made the outdoors his career. Today he is a wildlife biologist who works primarily with private landowners to develop and improve wildlife and fisheries habitat. This background helped bring him into the bull’s neighborhood.

“The ranch I work for grazes on that allotment of the national forest, so I spend time up there monitoring range conditions,” Duffy explained. “That hunt unit has a history of producing big bulls — the genetics and the potential are there — but normally I wouldn’t hunt that area because there is a lot of hunting pressure.”

Instead, he concentrated his efforts elsewhere and spent a few days hunting and scouting other locations. But habitat conditions simply weren’t good enough to hold elk in those other places. His understanding of his quarry and their needs prompted him to change his game plan.

As was their tradition, Doug was hunting alongside Duffy on this momentous September day.

COW-CALLING DUO

“We had started calling these bulls in the afternoon,” Doug recalled. “But not too seriously.” Warm temperatures kept the elk in dark timber. “As it got later, we had elk all around us within one-half mile to one mile.”

Doug and Duffy had set up about 80 to 100 yards apart on the edge of a long meadow and were cow-calling in sequence. “The bulls’ bugling increased, and we got more aggressive with our cow-calling,” Doug explained. “And then the bruiser came in. It was like a dream come true.”

“I knew one or the other (of us) was going to get the shot. Then the cow he was following veered toward Duffy,” he said. “Good thing, because I was so nervous I’d probably have shot myself in the foot!”

The cows came directly at Duffy and were within 70 yards of him. He composed himself in preparation, watching as he waited.

“When the cows were at about 18 yards,” Duffy said. “A bull from down meadow bugled. The cows turned to go in his direction and crossed in front of me. The (trophy) bull followed and also crossed in front of me at about 18 yards.”

As Duffy came to full draw, the bull apparently caught a glimpse of his movement. He whirled around and bounded away. Duffy reacted, cow-called with his voice, and stopped the bull at 40 yards. As the trophy turned to look back, Duffy released his arrow.

“I heard the twang of his bowstring,” Doug remembered. “And I heard a rib crack, so I knew he had him. The bull took off and we both bugled to slow him down.” The bull then disappeared into the timber and all went silent.

“Duffy probably sat there for 10 minutes before he came over; I think he was in shock,” Doug said with a laugh. “Then there was a lot of hugging and total excitement. It’s a super thing to be with your son when he did something like this!”

As the adrenaline surge subsided and calmer heads prevailed, night fell. The pair was forced to take up the trail of the bull the following morning and found him only 150 yards from where it had all begun. Then the real work began.

“It was tough getting him out,” Duffy recalled. “We weighed the head, cape and antlers: 137 pounds. We had to pack him a mile out on our backs!”

When the tapes were finally applied to this beautiful 6×6 rack, Duffy’s bull had a green gross score of 405 and a green net score of 398 4/8. After the mandatory 60-day drying period, this bull will probably qualify as Wyoming’s new state record and tie for the rank of sixth largest elk in the world.

His upbringing, professional education and devotion to the sport are the elements Duffy credits most for his good fortune. “There was a lot of luck,” Duffy explained in his soft-spoken manner. “But I put myself in a situation where I was going to have some success.”

Duffy Brown made his own luck.

CREATING HIS OWN LUCK

Learning how to read the habitat and understanding the habits of elk go a long way toward putting a hunter in the right place at the right time. In this regard, Duffy says his training as a biologist has helped him become a better hunter.

“I think it helps quite a bit,” he said. “By recognizing the needs of wildlife, I eliminate a lot of the wandering around. I can recognize good habitat and concentrate in those areas.”

Duffy considers three main factors when assessing habitat. “First and foremost, there has to be grass available that hasn’t been utilized,” he said. “You should also find an area with dense lodgepole for hiding and thermal cover. Elk also need water. You need to find a place that has all three available.”

“Get to know your hunt area summer and fall, scout it,” Duffy added. “Be willing to put in the extra mile. Bull elk in general don’t come easy during archery season, let alone a big bull.”

“You need to develop a mental toughness,” he continued. “And you have to be flexible, to be able to move and make the best use of your time. Anyone who is willing to do his homework and put in the effort has a chance to take a trophy. They’re not common, but they’re out there.”

Getting “out there” is what it’s all about, and the Brown family has their priorities in proper perspective.

“I wished I was where he was,” Doug said, chuckling. “We rib each other about that, but maybe it will be my turn next time. Seriously, I’m really glad for him. The important thing is that Duffy and I will hunt together until, well, until I can’t hunt.”

With all the joy, excitement and pride that comes from an experience like this, there is a bittersweet ending to this story. Duffy’s grandfather, Kenneth Brown, had been admitted to the hospital at the start of the hunting season. An ongoing battle with cancer had moved into its final chapter. Fortunately, Duffy got to share his amazing experience with his grandfather before the elder Brown passed away several days later.