Lebanon's Mike Graves bagged the biggest elk of the four tagged during the recent TWRA hunt in East Tennessee, and the 290-pound bull is believed to be the biggest of 22 harvested since the hunts began in 2009.
"It's an impressive elk," said Graves, a 61-year-old mechanical contractor. "It ran a ways when I shot it, and when I got over to it, I was in shock."
Graves, who has killed four elk on past hunts in Colorado and New Mexico, said this one is bigger than any of them.
The bull had massive 7X6 antlers (seven points on one side and six on the other.) Another hunter also killed a 7X6 bull, but Graves' was more than 100 pounds heavier.
TWRA biologists determined that the elk was one that had been born and raised in the rugged North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, where 50 animals were stocked in December 2000. Since them additional imported elk have been added to the herd, but all of them carry tags. The bull Graves killed had no tag, which meant it was a genuine born-and-raised Tennessee elk.
"That makes it all the more special," said Graves, who is having the head mounted by Foster Butt Taxidermy in Madison.
Graves was accompanied on the hunt by guide Chris Nischan and Barry Cross, who videotaped the hunt for an upcoming episode on WNPT's Tennessee Wildside. The date of the airing has not been set.
Graves was one of four successful hunters out of the five adults who had tags -- four drawn by random and one auctioned off.
A fifth elk was taken during the second annual Youth Elk Hunt by 13-year-old Laurel Allen of Jacksboro.
Graves killed his elk on the third day of the five-day hunt.
"I saw an elk on the second day but couldn't get a shot," he said. "On the third day, around 6:15 in the afternoon, we were on a bluff overlooking a field when the big elk walked out. I took the first shot at 255 yards and it ran toward me. I shot three more times, and on the fourth shot it ran back into the woods where it fell."
Each hunter was assigned an 8,000-acre zone in which to hunt, and all the elk are free-roaming, with no fences or other confinements.
"It's the roughest hunt I've ever been on," Graves said. "It was a hard hunt -- harder than the ones I went on out West. We walked miles and miles over some of the roughest country I've been in. It was not a gimmie."
The fact that he had to work hard for the elk, combined with the fact that it was a huge trophy bull, "made it an extremely satisfying hunt," Graves said. "It's the kind of hunt that will be enjoyable to look back on and remember for a long, long time."
Elk are indigenous to Tennessee, but began to disappear in the 1800's due to habitat loss and over-hunting by settlers. Tennessee's last known wild elk was killed in 1865 in Obion County -- the last, that is, until the TWRA held its first managed elk hunt in 2009.
The goal of the elk-restoration program, when launched in 2000, was to build a herd large enough to sustain limited hunting. TWRA biologists say the program has progressed on schedule, and additional hunts are planned for the future.