NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2017 • NEBRASKAland 61 Once native to the Plains, elk were extirpated from Nebraska by the 1880s, food for hungry settlers. By 1900, they were gone from 90 percent of their historic range, with fewer than 100,000 remaining in the Mountain West. In the late 1960s, elk from Wyoming became established in the Pine Ridge near Chadron. There are now between 2,000 and 3,000 found in the state, mostly in the Pine Ridge, Wildcat Hills, Niobrara River Valley, and the Loess Canyons south of near North Platte. Annual hunts have been held since 1995. Hannah was one of 14 to draw a general bull permit in the Hat Creek Unit. In all, there were 111 bull permits and 210 cow permits issued to the general public and landowners in Nebraska in 2016. "I think this is a very big deal for Nebraska," said Winter. "A lot of people don't even think of Nebraska when they think of elk, let alone Boone and Crockett-class animals of that size. I think it's going to surprise sportsmen all over the place when they see a Nebraska elk making the top 20 in the all-time Boone and Crockett records." Joel Helmer said they were simply hoping to get Hannah a good bull and have a good hunt. They called a small 5x5 bull to within 50 yards on opening morning, but Hannah wasn't able to get a clear shot. A half hour later, Joel's friend blew on his elk call when the bull stepped into a clearing, and when this 8x7 bull stopped and bugled its reply, Hannah made a perfect shot to its vitals at just over 200 yards. Her father, an official scorer for Boone and Crockett who has harvested two bulls himself, knew the elk was huge but didn't tell Hannah how big until after the shot. They had watched the bull from more than 1,000 yards the night before, and were way off when they guessed it would be in the 350 class. "His body was so stinking big that I wasn't thinking 400," Joel said. "You don't even want to think 400 class. That's ridiculous." When they saw it that morning, "I about came unglued I was shaking because I just knew he was world class at that point." Hannah admits she had thought her dad's 260-class bull was big, and knew this was much bigger. "I was just trying not to focus on that, though. I was just trying to focus on getting where I was supposed to shoot him." "It seemed so unreal," Hannah said of the moment that followed. "I'm like, I can't believe that I shot this." Joel had been applying for a Nebraska elk permit every year since 2007, and had been putting his two sons in as well. This was the first time he entered Hannah in the drawing. It was only the second big game animal she'd harvested, the first being a white-tailed buck in 2015. Hannah's smile in the field photos, and again when the scoring was complete, tells the story. So does her father's. "As a lifelong hunter, this is the best thing that's ever happened to me and I didn't even shoot it. I'd rather she did." Joel had green scored the bull at 428 1/8 inches after the hunt. The score could change again. Hunters who harvest trophies of this class are invited to the Boone & Crockett Club's triannual Big Game Awards event, the next of which will be held in 2019, to be scored by a panel of judges. She may well headline the Generation Next banquet at the convention, an event held to recognize the youths who harvest the top new entries in the record books. This is definitely one of them. As a Boone and Crockett official simply put it when Winter called to give him the news on the score: "Wow." ■ When Randy Stutheit of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission completed the official score sheet for a bull elk harvested by Hannah Helmer of Seward, he opened the 13th edition of Records of North American Big Game, the records maintained by the Boone and Crockett Club, to find its score of 430 6/8 put it 16th in all-time list of non-typical American elk.

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