WILLISTON, N.D. — An archery hunt that followed a couple of weeks of scouting along the Missouri River — and included a little luck — landed a Williston man a state-record archery moose on a day when he hadn’t even planned on hunting.
Rick Ellingson used his bow to put down a bull with an antler spread of 53 2/8 inches. Official and more extensive measurements taken after a 60-day drying period show it to be the biggest North Dakota moose taken with bow and arrow and the third-largest taken in the state by either bow or rifle.
Ellingson was headed up the river in his boat on Sept. 8, the third day of the archery season. He was on his way to get a friend to help him with a hunting-related task when he spotted the moose on the bank. His knowledge of the area and the river kicked in.
So did his adrenaline.
“They say your heart beats 3 billion times in your life,” Ellingson said. “I think I used most of them up that day.”
Ellingson, 44, spotted the bull on public land in an area known as Magnum Point. He’d scouted the area a few times in the weeks leading up to the season and found several moose, one day counting 14 from a vantage point east of Williston. The task he wanted to accomplish Sept. 8 was to put up a double-ladder stand, which he hoped would get him a chance at two bulls he’d seen during the scouting trips.
“I scouted the others from a mile away, but I couldn’t tell how big they were,” he said. “This one just appeared one day.”
Muddy conditions halted the tree stand effort, and Ellingson got in his boat and headed back up the river. When the moose saw him, it turned away and headed for different country.
Ellingson used a back channel in the river that he thought would get him close to the bull. He left the boat and waited, and it was only a few minutes before he spotted the animal through the willows. It was about 25 yards away, facing him, and the willows presented “a basketball-sized hole to shoot through,” he said.
The arrow hit its mark, striking a lung, and the bull turned and stopped but didn’t immediately go down. Ellingson’s second arrow was deflected by the willows. A third found the bull’s femoral artery. It went down 600-700 yards away in flooded timber.
Ellingson got a tag this year after applying “at least” 10 times, he said. He’s hunted for three decades — mostly big game and predators — but the moose hunt has turned out to be quite memorable.
“It’s the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve had in my life,” he said.
Trained volunteer scorers make the official measurements and calculations of the antlers, said Patricia Stockdill of Garrison, who maintains the North Dakota Big Game Record Book. A difference in uniformity between the two sides results in a deduction. Ellingson’s trophy, after deductions, measured 190 6/8 inches. The archery record previously stood at 166 7/8. That moose was taken in Renville County in September 2012.
The state record for moose is 205 7/8. It was taken with a rifle in 2015 in McHenry County.
Ellingson built a pedestal on which the trophy will be mounted after a taxidermist is finished with it. The hanging weight of the moose was about 600 pounds, from which will be made roasts, steaks, jerky and "lots of sausage," he said.
People have told Ellingson they believe his record will stand for quite a while, but he’s not so sure. The quality of the moose he saw this year makes him think a bigger one will be harvested in the next couple of years.
The number and quality of moose in the state has increased in recent years, said North Dakota Game and Fish Wildlife Division Chief Jeb Williams. Herds in the north central and northwest parts of the state are expanding into prairie areas, but Williams said he and others "have scratched our heads" over the exact reason. The higher population means more animals from each age class — including the trophy bulls sought by hunters, Williams said.
Game and Fish issued 479 moose tags in 2019, an increase of 140 from 2018. Forty more tags were issued in 2018 than in 2017.