As a taxidermist and avid outdoorsman, Trace Armstrong had been buying tickets for the North American Game Warden Museum’s moose license raffle fundraiser for five years without ever really expecting to win.
With 5,000 tickets sold, the odds of winning were slim.
“But as far as I was concerned, I was donating my money to a great cause either way,” Armstrong said.
That changed Sunday, June 18 – Fathers Day – when Armstrong, of Rolette, North Dakota, learned he’d won the raffle for the coveted statewide 2023 North Dakota moose license.
He certainly made it count.
Armstrong harvested a massive bull Sept. 1, the opening day of archery season, with his bow while hunting near Powers Lake, North Dakota. If the score holds, the rack will be the Pope & Young Club’s new world record for a moose in velvet, a category that’s only been around for a few years.
It won’t be official until after the mandatory 60-day drying period and a panel of Pope & Young judges can also measure the rack, Armstrong says. That could take a couple of years, but certified measurer Jason Zins of West Fargo, who founded the ND Bucks & Bulls social media page, measured the rack last weekend, tallying a gross green score of 187 2/8 inches and a net score of 182 inches after deductions.
That’s about 32 inches bigger than the largest North Dakota moose in velvet, which scored “like 150,” Armstrong says, and 14 inches more than the current world record velvet Canada moose – the official name for the category in the Pope & Young record book.
Based in Chatfield, Minnesota, the Pope & Young Club keeps records for big game animals taken by archery.
“After getting the bull officially scored, I plan on mounting him on a large pedestal to not only show off the size of the body, but the size of his antlers,” said Armstrong, owner and operator of Tall Tines Taxidermy Studio in Rolette. “I’m also planning on bringing him to taxidermy shows so others can enjoy this amazing bull.”
News of Armstrong’s bull generated considerable buzz on social media at the time, and news of the potential world record will likely take the hoopla to a whole new level.
Armstrong wrote an article about the hunt for the Turtle Mountain Star, the local newspaper, and submitted the piece to Eastmans’ Hunting Journal in Powell, Wyoming. He also shared his account of the experience – which he describes as “the hunt of 10 lifetimes” – with the Herald.
“It’s been pretty surreal,” Armstrong said Tuesday, Oct. 17, in an interview. “It’s kind of weird, because I’ve never had this much attention for anything I shot my entire life. It feels like I almost don’t deserve the fame. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s been a pretty humbling experience for sure.”
In his account of the hunt, Armstrong said the opening of archery moose season was only a few weeks before his wife, Dawn, was due with their first child.
“We all knew that with the moose season opening on Sept. 1, that it was going to be a lot of work to get a bull before the arrival of baby Armstrong,” Armstrong said. “I’m sure everyone could agree that a statewide North Dakota moose tag was about the best Father’s Day present I ever could have received at the time.”
With help from his wife and close friend Caulen Haase of Powers Lake, Armstrong spent the next several weeks making scouting trips to search for trophy North Dakota bulls.
“There was no shortage of great bulls across the state, including one with great paddles and a nice long drop tine, which I had really taken a liking to,” Armstrong said. “We spent many hours trying to locate him, but it always seemed that he was in the right place at the right time for him to become almost ghostlike.”
Armstrong also had his sights on another bull that was about half an hour from home.
“He didn’t have the greatest paddles, but he had to have been 50 inches wide,” Armstrong said. “So, by the time the week before season came around, my decision was down to these two (bulls). Whichever one I would have had the opportunity to harvest, I would have been more than happy with.”
That all changed Aug. 31 – the day before archery season – when Armstrong and his wife decided to make an early morning scouting run before a doctor’s appointment in Minot. As they were driving around, Armstrong recalls, he got a call from Haase, whose wife had reported seeing “a giant bull” on her way to work.
He chuckled about the report initially, but that changed a few minutes later, when another buddy sent a photo of the bull. The “sheer width and mass” looked like something you’d expect to see in Alaska, Armstrong said.
“Dawn and I both looked at each other and knew that this was the bull that was worthy of the coveted tag,” he said.
With Haase’s help, Armstrong then secured access to all of the land where the bull had been seen, only to find out a few hours later that his wife’s due date had been moved up about three weeks from the original Sept. 29 due date.
“Dawn and I both knew that I had six days of hunting before we possibly were new parents,” Armstrong said.
As things turned out, that would be more than enough time.
With excitement for opening day building, Armstrong hastily packed for the three-hour drive to Haase’s place to scout the bull before sundown. When they spotted the bull about 400 yards away in a canola field, it looked “like the size of a Tahoe,” Armstrong recalls.
Sleep was hard to come by that night.
Joined by Haase and Dave Brown of Stanley, North Dakota, a friend and taxidermy customer who’d been part of nearly 20 North Dakota moose hunts – and “knew the ins and outs of moose behavior” – Armstrong was unable to locate the bull on opening morning.
Haase left for work while Armstrong and Brown stayed in the field.
“Where could this bull have gone?” Armstrong said. “It was like he vanished into thin air.”
Later that afternoon after Haase got off work, they went back out for the evening hunt and spotted the bull in a canola field. The bull was about 250 yards away, and while they only had about 100 yards of cover, the wind was in their favor and they had time “to make it happen,” Armstrong said.
They started the sneak and were within about 90 yards when the bull decided to bed down.
“All we could say was, ‘perfect,’ ” Armstrong said. “The next hour and a half of the stalk were filled with crunchy canola, thistles in our feet and lots of sweat.”
Crawling through the canola in 90 degree heat, they were within about 35 yards when the giant bull finally stood up shortly before 7 p.m.
“Caulen whispers, ‘breathe – pick a spot,’” Armstrong wrote in his account of the hunt. “I touched off my arrow and – whack! – the sound every bowhunter loves to hear.”
The bull ran about 70 yards, and they watched it drop.
“The size of this animal was beyond anything I have ever seen or could imagine,” Armstrong said.
Then came the work – and the celebration of a successful hunt. The bull’s rack was so large, Armstrong says, that he could barely wrap his hands halfway around the base of the antlers as their white velvet glistened in the sun.
Live weight, the bull likely weighed between 1,600 and 1,700 pounds, Armstrong estimates. A professional photography company, “Little Farmhouse Photography,” would later produce a Photoshop image of their new baby boy, Beau, born Sept. 9, in a makeshift cradle tied between the antlers, which were 58 2/8 inches wide.
“The mass, width and height of this bull were larger than I have ever seen with my own eyes,” Armstrong said “This incredible creature was a moose of 10 lifetimes, and everyone standing there knew it.”