Staff Reporter

Stirling Bronson ’19 received an early Christmas present this year when he took down a 290-pound elk while hunting with his uncles and cousins just outside Gaylord. Not just anyone in Michigan can hunt elk, Stirling had to go through a strict process to even get the chance.

Each year a raffle is held by the Department of Natural Resources to win a tag which allows 100-200 people the opportunity to hunt a herd of elk that live on public land. The hunt is actually in the best interest of the elk to preserve the health of the herd, the land and other animals.

Stirling’s name wasn’t actually pulled in the first drawing and he thought he wouldn’t ever get to be a part of this hunt. “About 3 weeks before the scheduled hunt, one of the tag winners broke both his legs and put his tag into a transfer program. The tag was then approved for a youth hunter to win and my name was drawn,” Stirling said. He also had to pay $100 to actually get the tag.

Winning the tag was just part of the process Stirling underwent to be ready for this hunt. He has been hunting for 2 years which gave him lots of previous experience. He takes a Hunter’s Safety course to earn his hunting license. This requires taking an online course and a 4-hour class on a Saturday. “My cousins actually taught me to hunt and I’ve been hunting with them in the thumb area many times,” he said.

The weekend came for the elk hunt but the process to prepare wasn’t quite complete. “I had to go through a 2-hour orientation the day before the hunt began,” Stirling commented.

The next day Stirling’s uncles and cousins ventured out with him to finally hunt the elk. He wasn’t guaranteed to shoot one but had to use hunting and tracking skills, with the help of his family, to get an eye on part of the herd.

“My uncles drove me all over the land and kept me company as we looked for tracks and evidence of the herd. We finally spotted a small herd of about 15 elk. My cousin went with me as we narrowed in on the herd. We climbed up a hill and crawled across the snow on our stomachs to get a look at the herd. They were about 50 yards away and I just kept watch. Eventually the herd began to move but 2 elk stayed behind so I focused my sites on the female because she was the bigger of the two. I watched for about 15 minutes before I pulled the trigger.”

Complete pandemonium followed Stirling’s shot. “I was breathing uncontrollably as I jumped up and down waving to my uncles and cousins down the hill to signal that I had got one! I was breathing uncontrollably and was just so happy! Words can’t describe the feeling. It was like a kid getting the best Christmas present EVER or a poor person winning the lottery.”

Stirling and his family took the elk to his uncle’s garage where they all worked to clean and dress the elk. They cleaned, processed and packaged the meat all by themselves, giving some to the family that housed them during the hunt.

Hunting isn’t just a sport for Stirling, he actually eats the meat. “The elk tastes like prime rib, better than deer venison. I also ate some of the heart because it was so big and looked weird. I wanted to see what it would taste like. I also eat the meat from the doe I shot last year. My favorite is venison steak.”

Because he shot the elk, Stirling won’t be eligible to enter that lottery again for 10 years. However, that doesn’t mean he is done with hunting.

“I will go back to deer hunting and I really want to get the opportunity to hunt a bear. The process for the bear hunt would be very similar to the elk hunt. I would have to get in a lottery for a chance to win a spot in the hunt. Bear hunting is very selective like the elk hunt so that the hunt actually benefits bears and the ecosystem. Only so many bears are allowed to be hunted each year in the Upper Peninsula to maintain a healthy bear population. I want to get into a hunt like that so that my hunting actually helps nature, allows for bears to stay healthy and other animals in the chain are better off because of the selective hunting as well.