As the sounds of bugling elks soared toward him, Joe Rotert waited with hope and anticipation.
It had taken the Omaha man at least six years to even get a chance at a big bull, and then another two days of tracking the animal with his bow.
“I had about 20 minutes of buck fever going on,” Rotert said. “It was an exciting experience.”
He watched as a 5x5 raghorn, two cows and then the big bull walked into view, heading toward their beds in the cornfields of Morrill County in western Nebraska. The bull had been bugling with another in a pre-rut frenzy, so Rotert knew it was coming.
He took the shot with his Remington model 700 rifle with a 300 win mag caliber from about 60 to 65 yards, yielding a 7x7 trophy that weighed about 850 pounds.
The setting and the bugling made it seem just like something you’d see on TV, Rotert said.
Rotert, the director of facilities at Omaha Brownell-Talbot, had been around plenty of hunts growing up in Halbur, Iowa, near Carroll. As an adult, he’s chased after wild boars in Texas and Oklahoma, bears in Canada and Minnesota, elk in Idaho and Colorado and whitetail deer throughout the Midwest.
But his name never got called in the lottery drawing every year to hunt elk in Nebraska. He found out in early August that this time he’d gotten lucky, one of 16 tags allocated for the North Platte River Unit.
The Game & Parks Commission authorized 326 permits statewide this year, after a documented harvest of 191 elk in 2012.
Rotert left nothing to chance. He made the 6½-hour trip three times to scout the area, where the elk come down out of the Wildcat Hills to feast and live in the cornfields for several weeks.
“With a once-in-a-lifetime tag,” he said, “I took it very seriously.”
He heard the elk on the first day but couldn’t get closer than 365 yards. On Saturday, the wind shifted and Rotert got his chance.
He field dressed the animal and then dropped it off at a locker in North Platte for processing. He bought an extra freezer for the steaks, brats and elk burger he planned to enjoy after picking up the meat Saturday.
The mount, which is being done at Bade Taxidermy in Fremont, will join those of bear, deer, fish and bobcat in what his wife, Karmen, not so fondly calls the dead animal room, his office in their home in Millard.
It wasn’t his No. 1 hunt.
That was when he came home empty-handed after spending a week in an elk camp at 9,000 feet in Colorado, just because of the whole experience. But the elk hunt was in the top two or three.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime hunt,” Rotert said, “and I was very happy with the bull I harvested.”