November 27, 2003 11:00 pm
POSSIBLE STATE RECORD: This bull elk taken by Zach Eckstein of Elgin on Oct. 29 may be a new state record for youths age 12-17. (Photo/Toni McLaughlin).
POSSIBLE STATE RECORD: This bull elk taken by Zach Eckstein of Elgin on Oct. 29 may be a new state record for youths age 12-17. (Photo/Toni McLaughlin).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Zach Eckstein knew the elk tracks he had spotted were fresh. What he didn't know is that they would lead him into the state record book.

Eckstein and his father, Neil, were hunting near Shaw Creek on Oct. 29 in the Catherine Creek Unit when they came across the tracks. The sight of them heightened their level of excitement just hours into the opening day of the first elk rifle season.

The hunters followed the tracks out to an old logging road along the top of a canyon.

Zach, 15, knelt down and took a longer look when he heard some snapping branches to the right. He suddenly realized that he had walked into the middle of a scattered herd.

Minutes later he spotted a bull 100 yards to the left. He did not know how big the bull was.

"The only thing I knew for sure was that he had nice tines at the end of his antlers and he was probably a six-point since his last three points reached over the middle of his back,'' Zach said.

Zach fired at the bull with his Remington 243 around 7:30 a.m. As the bull fell his antlers came into view and the young hunter realized that he had something special. Just how special is something he is just beginning to realize a month later.

The bull elk's antlers have an unofficial green score of 340. Its unofficial green net score is 329. The net score is the total after deductions are made for things such as broken tips.

According to the third edition of the Record Book for Oregon's Big Game Animals, the top elk taken by someone in the youth category, age 12-17, was scored at 321 points. The record bull was taken by Brian Neer of Umatilla in 1997.

Should the score of Eckstein's bull hold up after its antlers are officially measured following a 60-day drying period, Eckstein will become the new state record-holder. Whether it will be listed as a state youth record in the fourth edition of Record Book for Oregon's Big Game Animals is unknown.

David Morris of Long Creek, the book's editor, noted that other people could come forward with bigger bulls before his fourth edition is published. Some of these people could be hunters who took their trophy elk years ago when they were age 12 to 17 but did not submit them at the time. These individuals can still submit their elk for consideration of a youth record.

One thing is for certain: Eckstein's elk will qualify for the Oregon record book in the youth and overall categories. The minimum score needed for the youth category is 260 and the minimum for the overall category is 310.

Eckstein, a sophomore at Elgin High School, is excited about the possibility that he may be a state record holder.

"That is cool,'' he said.

Neil Eckstein admits he had no idea that his son had taken a trophy elk until he heard him tell what he had shot.

"I couldn't believe it when he told me he had shot a six-point,'' Neil said. "I was just out of range and didn't get to even see the bull until it was all over.''

Zach took the elk out with the help of his grandfather, Dallas Eckstein, who had a four-wheeler. Without his help, "They would have spent the rest of the day packing it out in packs,'' said Leatha Eckstein, Zach's mother.

Zach took the bull with a branch-antler elk tag. This is the second elk he has taken. He took a spike last year. He also has taken four mule deer.

His mother feels philosophical about the hunt.

"You have to admit the antlers on this one are just an added bonus that will bring back the memory of that hunt every time they look at it on the wall,'' Leatha said.