Montana elk and a buffalo too

SSU Sports Information

June 29, 2013

Sam Piatt

Outdoors Columnist

Jim Epling left Old Russell in the year of twenty twelve, left for the mountains smack in the middle of Montana, about 200 miles east of Helena.

He said, “Sam, I was lookin’ for a trophy bull elk, that’s all, last fall, and I’d trade all the gold that’s buried in that land for one big spread of antlers to hang upon my wall.”

And he got him. In the snowy mountains outside the little town of Moore, he killed a bull whose antlers scored a tremendous 333 inches.

“A little item of side interest is that we were hunting in the same mountains where Jeremia Johnson hunted and trapped - may even be where he pried that 50-caliber Hawken from Hatchet Jack, who killed the bear that killed him.”

Jim is familiar with the Hawken bear gun. He made one for himself, an exact replica of the original built by Sam Hawken of St. Louis, who made Hawken rifles for the mountain men making their way into the Rockies at a time when grizzly bears were as thick as squirrels in a Kentucky hickory grove.

“I got the plans from a museum in Nebraska,” Epling said.

He’s used that gun to bring down seven bears, mostly on hunts into Canada.

And last fall, on the trip to Montana, he used it to bring down an animal he hadn’t counted on getting.

“I killed a 1,500-pound buffalo,” he said. “The herd of about 60 buffaloes charged us. They turned and tried to gore the wounded bison. At least that’s what I thought, but the guide said they were trying to get it back on its feet.

“It was pretty scary for a while and I began to wonder how the Indians got them with their bows and arrows. I’m sure a lot of them lost their lives in doing so.”


Jim’s great year of hunting success continued after he returned home to Russell.

Before he left on the Montana hunt, a trail camera he had set captured an image of a big whitetail with one of the biggest set of antlers he’s ever seen.

With the gun season still open, he made his way to a point on a brushy ridge in Greenup County where the camera had snapped the deer.

The weapon he carried might be considered a bit unusual by most area deer hunters. It was a 54-caliber muzzleloading pistol.

“You might call me the luckiest hunter of all. The big buck presented me with a quick shot. I nailed him shooting through thick brush at 35 yards.”

The deer had a 13-point perfect rack, except for a forked brow tine.

It measured 177 inches green and after allowing six months for drying it measured 171 and one-eighth - good enough to put it on the Boone & Crockett listing.

It’s recorded as the biggest deer ever taken in Kentucky with a 54-caliber muzzleloading pistol.

“It was divine intervention,” said Epling, who is a firm believer that Christ directs events in the lives of those who believe in him and put their trust in him.


This time of the year is deer fawning season. Many people will come across fawns while mowing hay or working in their yards. Since it appears on the surface that the fawn has been abandoned by its parents, it’s tempting to bring it home…bottle feed it, keep it, raise it.

Not a good idea, wildlife officials say. The baby deer probably hasn’t been abandoned at all. The mother is probably within 100 yards, watching. You pick the deer up and take it home, she may then truly abandon it.

The peak of the birthing season is the first two to three weeks of June. Fawns weighing only six to eight pounds at birth and have hundreds of white spots to conceal them from predators. They are also born scentless and stay bedded down during their first few weeks of life, with twins and triplets bedded separately. The mother may leave them hidden like this for hours at a time while she feeds. But she doesn’t abandon them. She returns to feed them and care for them. The last thing needed is human interference, regardless of how good the intentions may be, said

David Yancy, senior wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Also, it’s against the law to keep wildlife in captivity without the proper permit from fish and wildlife.

“We never issue permits for people to keep deer they find in the wild,” said Yancy.

There are “licensed rehabilitators” and they are the only people permitted to hold and rehabilitate injured wildlife. If you find an injured animal, call Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at toll-free 1-800-858-1549 to find a licensed rehabilitator near you.

“Generally, the best way to care for wildlife during this important season is to leave animals alone,” Yancy said.

G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or gsamwriter@aol.com.