Shotgun start: 14-year-old Montrose student has big success on opening day

At the tender age of 14, Justin Mahan has enjoyed elk-hunting success that eludes most men many times his age.

Or maybe he just has the right friends in high places.

Either way, you can’t argue with this young hunter’s success.

On the opening day of this year’s first rifle elk season, Justin went into the hills outside his home near Montrose and killed a 7x7 bull elk that measured a green score of 386, just under the Boone and Crockett Club’s record book for non-typical elk.

That’s the second massive elk Justin has killed in the three years he’s been old enough to hunt on his own. Two years ago, he also shot a big bull, although this year’s model was much bigger.

Other than making less-successful hunters wonder what they’re doing wrong, it might be reassuring to those who wonder if the efforts of hunting public land will produce trophy-sized elk.

Justin and his father, Mark, were hunting public land in Game Unit 62, the north side of the Uncompahgre Plateau, when they encountered the latest big bull.

“I always get the first season ‘cause they’re all pretty fired up,” recalled Justin. “We had gone off into this little canyon, it was really steep, and we heard one bugle, so we started going toward it.”

With Mark doing the calling, it wasn’t long before the two hunters heard another bull, this one close enough to be interesting.

“We looked down in this little canyon and this bull was rubbing and rolling around in the mud,” said Justin. “My first thoughts were ‘Thank you, Jesus, the good Lord has blessed me with seeing this elk.’”

The bull was 50 yards away and nearly hidden by trees, and Justin’s first two shots with his 7mm Browning missed.

So Mark, like all good dads, simply added to the pressure.

“My dad said, ‘This could be a world record, don’t miss,’ ” Justin said. “My dad kept calling and (the elk) moved about 25 yards and one shot killed him.”

Mark said his oldest son (another son, Tyler, is 9) is “a natural” when it comes to hunting and fishing.

“I think the good Lord has blessed him,” said Mark. “When we first saw that elk, we knew it was a dandy, but I didn’t figure it was that big.”

The hunters spent the next day packing out the elk, which will be mounted and Justin hopes somehow to fit it next to his first bull.

Having a son who loves to hunt is a “blessing,” said Mark Mahan.

“I was raised thinking (hunting) is something you pass on to the next generation,” he said.

Mark and Justin also archery hunt, and to show Justin’s hunting talents might run in the family, Mark has a couple of big elk to his credit, including one that measured 368 and one that went 340.

Justin said he’s ready to focus more on traditional bow hunting.

“I used to hunt with a compound bow and am going to start hunting with my recurve,” he said.

He said his schoolmates (he’s in the ninth grade at Montrose High School) are a bit jealous at the size of his elk, but like all good hunters Justin knows when to play his cards tight.

“I don’t tell them my secrets, I pretty much keep to myself about that,” Justin said. “But if this thing wasn’t an elk, I’d think it was the biggest beef cow you’d ever seen.”

Other reports from the first season say hunters largely did well, with most mountain areas covered with a few inches of snow.

The one exception came from the Bears Ears area east of Craig, where two feet of snow was reported.

“Things are going well, the first season was pretty productive for most guys,” said Darby Finley, Division of Wildlife terrestrial biologist for the Meeker area. “We’ve seen a good number of nice bulls harvested and I think people are pretty happy with the animals.”

Hunter numbers, particularly nonresident hunters, were a bit lighter this year in some areas, likely in response to the soft economy and recent reductions in elk licenses as herds reach desired population levels.

The first real indicator of the economic impact started Saturday with the opening of the nine-day combined deer and elk season, which includes the first sales of over-the-counter elk tags.

“It’s pretty busy in town right now,” Finley said. “The last time I saw Stan Wyatt (of Wyatt’s Sports Center), he was surrounded by hunters.”


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