Gavin Nordby says he doesn't go looking for publicity, so when he posted photos Monday, Aug. 24, on social media thanking landowners in Kittson County for the opportunity to fill his once-in-a-lifetime Minnesota elk tag, he wasn’t ready for the attention that followed.
Within hours, Nordby’s post of the 7x7 bull elk he shot Sunday morning, Aug. 23, north of Lake Bronson, Minn., had been shared hundreds of times on Facebook.
“A lot more than I thought it was going to,” Nordby, 37, of Grygla, Minn., said. “I don’t usually share (photos of) my deer or anything like that.
“Hopefully, a lot of it was landowners up there pinging other people just to make sure they could see that I was thanking them.”
A sales associate for Digi-Key in Thief River Falls, Nordby said he made a half-dozen trips to Kittson County and got permission from at least 15 landowners with elk on their property after learning in early July that he’d drawn a coveted either-sex tag. Minnesota’s early elk season in Kittson County opened Saturday, Aug. 22, and continues through Sunday, Aug. 30.
Five subsequent weeklong seasons continue throughout September, October and early December.
“I wanted to get to know the area, get to know the people and the landscape,” Nordby said. “Without their help and without gaining permission, you’re stuck hunting the wildlife area.
“By putting in the effort and getting that permission and gaining access, it helped a lot because you could scout a lot more areas.”
Staying at a friend’s cabin in Kittson County, Nordby said he took the day off Friday, Aug. 21, and spent the day scouting.
He counted 84 elk; by the next day’s opener, the elk had done a disappearing act, Nordby says.
“Within where I could shoot, I saw one 5x5 bull and three cows,” he said. “Nobody was seeing anything. I was like, ‘How can you see 84 elk, and just like that, pressure gets put on them, people are driving around and they disappear?’ ”
The second morning of season dawned with heavy fog, and Nordby decided to set up in a spot where he’d seen a big bull with a group of 30 elk while scouting two days earlier and after shooting hours the previous evening.
When the fog lifted, Nordby saw the elk weren’t quite where he was hoping they’d be.
“I had to do a little spot and stalk, and it was interesting crawling through water on my hands and knees,” he said. “The first thicket I crawled across, there was an opening, and three (cow elk) were standing there. The wind was right in my face, I knew the wind was right so I knew I had one good thing going. I just got on my hands and knees and I crawled and I paid attention to them.
“If they looked, I would stop, and they didn’t even hardly pay attention.”
Getting within shooting range of the bull he wanted took some doing, but Nordby says he’ll never forget the sight of it standing 300 yards away with its head and massive rack reared back.
“It was a sight you just never dream you get to see in Minnesota,” he said. “It seemed like 10 minutes he stood there looking at me, but it was really only a minute. I just kept telling myself, ‘Turn broadside, turn broadside,’ because I held the crosshairs right on him.”
When the bull turned broadside, Nordby made the most of his once-in-a-lifetime Minnesota elk tag, shooting a trophy 7x7 Kittson County bull.
The work begins
A landowner driving a cattle truck with a hoist mounted on the back came out to load the bull and help Nordby get the trophy out of the field after he’d gutted the animal and collected all of the samples the DNR needed. Nordby took the elk to a nearby shop, where family came to help him skin and quarter the bull and cape the hide for mounting.
Nordby shot the bull at 8:08 a.m., and by the time he was wrapped up for the day back in Grygla, it was nearly 10 p.m. Temperatures soared into the 80s that day, so time was of the essence in caring for the trophy and getting the meat into cold storage.
“I always tell people, when you shoot and pull the trigger, that’s the fun part,” Nordby said. “After that, it’s work. We got him quartered and skinned and caped, but it’s fun. Hopefully, it tastes good.”
Nordby said he hadn’t had a chance to score the bull’s rack as of Aug. 25, but by any measurement, his Kittson County elk is a trophy and a fine example of the quality elk to be found in northwest Minnesota.
Last year, a hunter shot a giant bull with an 8x9 rack, according to Blane Klemek, assistant regional wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.
“Kittson County grows big elk,” Klemek said.
Drawing one of the 44 tags available this year from a record pool of 4,425 applicants and then making the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was winning the lottery twice. Fortunately, Nordby has a spot on his living room wall that’s big enough to accommodate the trophy head mount – and the reminder of a hunt he’ll never forget.
“It’s a different experience that I hope more people get to experience because it’s not an easy hunt,” Nordby said. “It took me 19 years to draw an either-sex tag so it’s not easy, but if you keep applying and keep applying and you love hunting, you just do it and if you ever get drawn, it’s an awesome experience.”