Six years after tagging the largest buck deer ever killed with a bow, Steve Felix can still see his arrow hurtling toward the bull’s ribcage. Hunting federal land in eastern Montana on September 10, 2016, the Seeley Lake hunter had spent just 30 minutes watching the massive wapiti slowly walk within range of his bow. In the 15 seasons he and his hunting partner, Chad Tiffney, invested in learning the dens and habits of deer in the area, it was the first arrow Felix had ever shot.
“That’s the only thing that sticks out to me, seeing the arrow go,” he says. “I’ll never forget it.” In an interview with Field & StreamFelix relives that memorable hunt, describes how the Pope & Young world record has impacted his life, and shares the ups and downs of managing a famous 430-inch rack, including the time he disappeared just hours before his wedding. his.
The hunt of a lifetime
The first year Felix and Tiffney hunted the public land that would eventually yield the world record, they went eight days before laying eyes on a deer. “A lot of guys would have given up before then,” says Felix. But they were convinced the area could produce trophy bulls, so they kept hunting year after year. Drawing a firearm/archery tag one season, both used rifles to harvest deer scores in the mid-300s. With the combined tag in their pockets again in 2016, their goal was to book Boone & Crockett.
Normally they hunted together, but Tiffney was busy and Felix — who works for the Montana Department of Transportation in Missoula — had to clear his head after investigating a fatal car accident. “I decided to make a quick run to see if I could find any deer,” he says, “so we’d have a head start when we got back.” Over his shoulder in the pre-dawn parking lot, he heard the deer dozing. It was a good sign. “A lot of guys want constant deer action, they want to sleep, but this is not that kind of place,” notes Felix. “Hear one deer trick in a day, that’s success.”
Climbing inside, he heard more noises and realized the bulls were going to the same place he was – a grass bowl they preferred. He got there at 8:00 a.m. and was about to take off his shoulders when a deer crashed nearby. He moved 300 yards downhill toward the call before it sounded again. “I put the binoculars on and it was like, ‘Oh, my! That’s a big deer!’” A big bull was standing 400 yards below, chopping up a patch of brush.
A 60-yard shot 15 seasons in the making
Another bull crashed on top of Felix. Although he did not see any cows, he knew where they lay nearby. He expected the bigger bull to push the smaller bull away from the cows and thought he could use a finger ridge to get closer. He reached his place, shot an arrow and looked over the back: the bull was gone.
“I told myself to wait, he likes this place, it’s cool and shady, he will come back. Five minutes later, I heard a noise, looked into the bowl and a hundred yards away the smaller bull was walking towards the top of the bowl. If the big one is still here, I thought, he’ll be right behind. Thirty seconds later, the big one bends over and comes out all positioned behind the smaller bull. I said: ‘He will come to me. Don’t call, just let it happen’”
Felix had shoulder surgery a year ago and rehabbed a lot to draw a bow again. Sixty yards was his outside range, and he watched through his scopes as the bull closed slowly from 100, finally standing by at 61, head down, calmly feeding. “I said, ‘It’s now or never, man.’ I made a clean draw, put the 60-yard pegs where I wanted and let the arrow fly.”
He saw the shaft buried to the bottom as the moose ran for the bank and stumbled just before disappearing over the edge. Thirty minutes later, Felix crested the hill to see massive antlers on the grass. “I always dreamed of killing a really big bull,” he recalls, “and there he was lying. I knew it was a tremendous deer.”
A shelf for record books
It would take some time for Felix to realize just how extraordinary his bull truly was. He thought the rack would mark 380, but Tiffney thought it would go bigger. So did Felix’s taxidermist, whose conservative estimate came in at 390 inches forward spread credit was added. Boone & Crockett scorer Fred King posted the very symmetrical bar around 447 gross, 430 net. The 60-day drying period produced almost no shrinkage: The panel’s official score was 430 par.
In 2017, Pope & Young presented Felix with its highest honor, the Ishi Award, a special bowhunting recognition for outstanding North American game, noting that “the massive score of the bull, the Fair Chase hunt on public land and the story behind how Felix harvested this incredible animal makes this incredible trophy truly well-deserved.” Felix was only 19 years oldth hunter to win Ishi since 1963, and only the third to win it for a deer.
“It’s as pure a story and as pure a hunt as you’ll ever get,” says Felix. “It was not equipped. It was a do-it-yourself hunt on public land, a story of perseverance and familiarity with the area.”
It is also a success story for North American wildlife conservation. “Everyone had their share: government agencies, biologists, managers, landowners and DIY sportsmen who live, breathe and eat hunting,” says Felix. He’s done his part to make sure the story is told, lending the pedestal shoulder mount to public displays at venues around the country – and even showing up in person to tell the story himself.
Sharing the trophy with the public
During the two years the elk lived at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula, Felix would sometimes stop to touch it. “I’d be working on it, and someone would walk up and say, ‘Boy, that’s a big deer. Pretty impressive.’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah? You should have seen it when it was alive!'” Once they realized he wasn’t an employee, but the hunter who harvested the animal, he would tell the story of the hunt.
“Overall, it’s been a good experience,” he says. “I wouldn’t say it has changed my life, but it has improved it.” He’s sometimes recognized when he’s out on the town, he’s experienced some jealousy here and there, and he knows some crazy talk has been floating around the internet. But most people have been really interested.
“It’s been fun. I wouldn’t say I’m too attached to it, but I like it,” says Felix of the mountain, who he hopes will one day find a permanent public home. “It’s a big animal historically and I feel like I have a responsibility to share it.”
Felix met his future wife shortly after shooting the deer—“I had good luck for about a week there,” he says with a laugh—and their 2019 wedding at his Seeley Lake home was one of the few times he prioritized private possession over public display.
“Mount had been to the Boone & Crockett awards banquet,” he recalls. “Cabela’s was shipping it and they assured me it would be here in time for the wedding. But for 36 to 48 hours no one could tell me where he was.”
Justin Spring, Boone & Crockett’s director of big game records, found the mount at a distribution center in Utah and drove down to retrieve it, delivering the world record rack the morning of the wedding day—much to Felix’s relief. “We had people fly in from all over the country and we ended up having a great time,” he says. “But not knowing where the mountain was for a while, that was a little unsettling.”
The archery world record for non-typical deer was reset just last year, after a Pope & Young panel scored Shawn O’Shea’s Alberta deer in September 2020 at 449 4/8. Felix expects his record to be at the top as well. “I’m sure it will happen at some point. It’s kind of the golden age of deer hunting. There are some big deer coming out of Pennsylvania right now. If I had to pick a place – I’d say Pennsylvania, Arizona, or maybe the area I was in in Montana.
How would he feel about giving the spotlight to another hunter? “I would be fine with that. It is not something that anyone has any control over. I would greatly congratulate the hunter. I mean, it’s nice to have the record. It’s fun. But good luck guys. That’s what I say. Good luck.”