Jennifer Kowalski was unaware her husband had been applying for a Michigan elk hunt for her for years until she received her bull tag in the mail. She then harvested a trophy, non-typical Michigan 8×8 elk.

Jennifer Kowalski received some mail from the Gaylord DNR Office and just figured it was another turkey survey. Once she got into the house and opened it up, she discovered that she had received a bull elk tag for the 2023 season. The odd thing is that she has never applied for a Michigan elk tag. Her husband, Dave, has been applying for both of them since day one! This was the year for someone in the Kowalski family to draw a bull elk tag, and it was Jennifer.

Both Jennifer and Dave were very surprised and excited to learn of their once-in-a-lifetime tag they had drawn in Michigan. Now, it was time to find a guide for this once-in-a-lifetime hunt. It is very important to find the right guide for such a prized tag. Pick the wrong guide, and you may regret it.

Jennifer and Dave decided to hire Joe Ferguson on the recommendation of another successful elk hunter. After talking to Joe, they figured he was their man.

Joe Ferguson had several clients who had drawn elk tags—some for bulls and some for cows. One of the guides working under Joe was Heidi Wiltes. Jennifer spent most of her 8 days of elk hunting with Heidi as her guide.

On day one of her hunt, Jennifer passed on a 5×5 bull. It was the first elk she had ever seen. Throughout the next several days of hunting Jennifer saw the 5×5 again, a 6×6 bull and cows. Jennifer, at times, was wondering if she had made a mistake passing on those bulls, thinking that if she saw the 5×5 on the last day, she would take it.

On the eighth day of the hunt, Jennifer was hunting with Joe and guide Ashton Burns. All of Joe’s other elk hunters had harvested their respective elk. Joe Ferguson hunts on both private and state land. They have cameras set up in certain areas. If one hunter had a bull tag and they see a cow, they contact the hunter with a cow tag and that hunter comes over and tries to fill their cow tag. There is a lot of teamwork going on in order to get all of the hunters to fill their tags. This is a type of hunt that the DNR wants, with everyone successful. The goal is to maintain the elk herd at a certain level.

Each morning started at 4:30, and they normally hunt until about 10:00 am. Rest during the afternoon and then hunt again in the evening. That morning, they were notified that there was a giant bull on some private property that Joe had permission to hunt. Jennifer and her guides headed to the area. At one point, Austin got Jennifer within 300 yards of the giant bull, but Jennifer did not feel it was within her range. Cautiously, they worked their way closer until Jennifer felt comfortable with the shot. She got set up on her shooting sticks and made a great shot. The bull did not move off, which is not uncommon with elk. Jennifer set up for an insurance shot and hit the bull again. This time, the bull ran off into the woods.

After waiting about 20 minutes to track the bull, they spotted it still on its feet, and it moved off again before they could shoot again. The bull moved onto state land. The hunter and guides were contacted by the DNR, who came across the bull’s tracks. They had tracked the bull about ½ of a mile and decided to call in a tracking dog.

Darrell Maggert of Committed Deer Tracking arrived with his tracking dog, Oakley. Oakley had never tracked an elk before but had tracked many deer. It only took Oakley about 20 minutes to find the bull.
In total, they followed the elk for about one mile. As they walked upon the elk, they were very excited and surprised to see just how big their trophy was. The bull was an 8×8, and it was aged at 11 ½ years old. It field dressed at 730 pounds and scored as a non-typical at 311 5/8 inches and netted 302 2/8 inches.

Jennifer has been hunting for about 10 years. She normally harvests a deer each year and has taken some turkeys. While writing her story, she was still trying to fill her spring turkey tag.

Not many hunters would have passed on a 5×5 bull, especially when you can only draw one bull elk tag in Michigan. There must have been a lot of pressure on her to harvest a bull. However, she held out for a bigger bull and her persistence paid off on a trophy most of us can only dream about: a Michigan Trophy Bull Elk!

In 2023, the MDNR issued 260 elk tags for the fall hunting season. The total number of applicants was 47,724. The odds of drawing an elk tag are said to be extremely low. But someone has to draw a tag and if you do not apply, you cannot draw unless someone does it for you, as in this case. Thanks to Jennifer’s husband for applying all those years. From talking to both Jennifer and Dave, you can tell they really enjoy hunting together, especially this trophy bull elk.

The Author is Jeff Pendergraff, a retired Captain from the MDNR Law Enforcement Division.