Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Hundreds apply, but only 5 get tags for bull elk

The largest elk in North America can be hunted affordably in Del Norte.

The 15th annual Del Norte Roosevelt Elk Hunt hosted by the Del Norte Rod and Gun Club offers the average hunter a rare opportunity.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Mark Duarte, who drew one of the five bull-tags that are offered every year. Last year, 1,005 hunters applied for the tag.

Elsewhere, such tags usually cost a few thousand dollars, but Green

Diamond Resource Company, a timber company that owns the land used for

the hunt, offers tags for a few hundred dollars.

"Hunting's a tradition here," said Steve Bigham, vice president of

the club. "Green Diamond doesn't charge a lot to come on the property to

hunt because the owners are past hunters."

For most people, winning the tag lottery is "once in a lifetime," but

this is the second time that Duarte and his brother, Neil, have

ventured north to Del Norte County for this hunt.

The last time, 11 years ago, both brothers drew tags and bagged

bulls. This time, Neil Duarte is just here in hopes of transporting out

the desired Roosevelt bull, which averages over 660 pounds.

"We're after that big one - no little ones," said Mark Duarte, of

Mariposa, Calif.

The Duartes said they appreciate the collaboration between the timber

company, gun club and the Department of Fish and Game that makes this

possible.

"Usually it's all about money, and they could sell this tag for

$10,000 a pop," said Neil Duarte, of Jamestown, Calif. "But they keep

this open for the hunter without the endless pockets."

For this hunt, hunters only need $400 and a strong resolve for

dealing with the thick-brush conditions.

"If you're going through this brush, you better have a machete,"

Bigham said. "It's a rainforest."

Mike Ronlund, who's been running the hunt since its inception, knows

the area well, but even he admits that the woods are dense.

"Everybody's seeing animals but it's hard to get on them with all the

brush," Ronlund said.

Despite the brush, four out of the five hunters with bull tags have

shot a bull since the hunt began Aug. 31. Seven of the 10 hunters issued

cow tags snagged success as well. The hunt ends Friday.

The Duartes hope to land another tag sometime because they say

Ronlund runs a great operation.

"He's up at 4 a.m. with the coffee ready," Duarte said. "The guys

that aren't hardcore hunters, Mike will take them out in his own truck

and show them around."

Bigham has never drawn a tag despite applying every year, but last

year he was able to go with his dad, who used to be president of the Rod

and Gun club.

Harvey Bigham postponed brain surgery when he scored a bull tag, and

although the father and son did not shoot a bull, they enjoyed a week of

hunting together before Harvey died.

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