After five days in the Wallowa Mountains trying in vain to call in a Rocky Mountain elk, Larry Dean decided to shake up his tactics.
With the wind in his face, the Central Point bowhunter heard two sex-crazed bulls jousting close by, so he did what you never see hunters do in videos or weekend cable shows.
"I could hear their horns cracking and I could hear their hooves stomping," Dean says. "So I ran after them."
About 75 yards later, out stepped a 7-by-6-point bull with antlers as wide as the man's wingspan.
"I saw his horns and I was thinking, 'Don't look at his horns. Don't look at his horns. Don't look at his horns,' " Dean says. "I started shaking. But I pulled back and shot."
After tracking the wounded animal through the night and the following day, Dean eventually found it standing in the woods not 20 yards away. His second and last arrow put Dean among the class of bowhunters who have bagged a really big elk.
"He's a monster," says Dean, 50. "The whole thing was too surreal."
At a Saturday dinner party among friends outside of Jacksonville, I watched Dean pass around his smartphone showing off his elk-porn images, garnering oohs and cat-calls from both bowhunters and nonhunters, all agog at the massive rack.
A taxidermist tallied up the various tine and point measurements at more than 370 inches. Should it not shrink significantly during the requisite 60-day drying period, the antlers should land the bull and Dean in the top five of Rocky Mountain nontypical elk shot by a bowhunter in Oregon, according to the Oregon Record Book of Big Game Animals.
Not bad for a guy who can count his bow seasons on one hand.
"And you know what? It's my first elk," Dean says. "I've bowhunted four years. I had tag soup for all four of those years, so this is pretty cool."
The Wallowas have been anything but cool for most of September, with hot weather and dry winds leaving the woods dry and the elk easily spooked.
Dean and his companions tried each morning to set up in brush among elk, using cow calls in an attempt to lure in a bull.
The futility was overwhelming.
"Any time anyone called, they'd run the other direction," Dean says.
Then came the first cold snap. Frost hit the forest on Sept. 21, and Dean sensed things would change.
Standing off a decommissioned logging road shortly before 8 a.m., the sounds of a bull battle filled the air.
With a slight breeze in his face, Dean knew the bulls couldn't smell him and were far too occupied with each other to hear him.
So the unconventional sprint toward the action proved perfect.
When the bull appeared 40 yards away, Dean froze. He aimed for the shoulder and let loose an arrow. The twang of the bowstring caused the bull to lurch. The arrow hit him in the rear, and the animal bounded away.
"It's hard to imagine an animal that big moving that quickly," Dean says.
After waiting a few hours, Dean was on the blood trail.
It was tough. By afternoon, a sense of urgency and dread hung like a shroud.
Dean felt like he'd lost him.
"That's one of the big fears of wounding an animal," he says. "We were on our hands and knees looking at blades of grass," he says.
The bull seemed to zig-zag through the forest in a confusing manner. For about a mile the trail snaked along, but it was always downhill and never back up.
"That was my saving grace," he says.
As he made his way downhill, Dean and the bull again stunned each other.
"Sure enough, he popped up and I shot."
Once the bull was down and dead, Dean had another strange sensation.
He found an arrow in the bull's rump, but it wasn't his.
"I thought maybe I shot someone else's elk," Dean says.
Then he found his arrow. Turns out someone else had superficially wounded the elk before Dean stumbled upon it fighting over cows the previous day.
"He's a pig," Dean says. "A monster."
It's not only one of the best hunting stories to swirl around Medford this bow season. It's likely the best elk porn and story Dean will ever bring to a September dinner party.
"I'm sure I'll never top that," Dean says. "Dumb luck."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.