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Once-in-a-lifetime hunt: A lost elk is found when strangers join the search

Vergas hunter has been applying just four years when she was selected for Minnesota's once-in-a -lifetime elk hunt in Kittson County.

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Ally Osborn looks over a watering hole on her elk hunt in late August 2021 in northern Minnesota. Contributed photo

LANCASTER — Among 30 lucky elk hunters picked to hunt the 2021 season in Minnesota, Ally Osborn considers herself one of the luckiest.

Her once-in-a-lifetime elk hunt included a lot of work, a lot of tears and some new friendships from her neighbors to the north.

Osborn, a Vergas resident, works in Detroit Lakes. Her husband Eric, is a Verndale native and has been applying for the Minnesota elk hunt since he was old enough to do so. He’s been helping Ally apply for four years.

And after just four years, Ally got the magical letter in the mail notifying her she was the lucky winner of a cow elk tag for the first week of the season in late August.

While Eric has hunted his whole life, Ally barely fired a gun before marrying her husband. She recalls being almost scared to tell him that she was the lucky one, and not him.

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“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going to kill me,” Ally remembers thinking.

The two practiced heavily together, even shooting out of a blind and on the ground. There were many unknowns about what hunting would be like just 10 miles from the Canadian border. So they took a trip to the area back in early August to make some connections with private landowners. Then the couple took a class in the last week of August at Lake Bronson to learn further about making sure of their target to avoid shooting a deer or someone's cow.

Finally came the day to hunt. The early contact helped make a difference in getting multiple locations to hunt. They managed to find a Vergas resident who had connections to the area the hunt was taking place. The relationships they built with the people still amazes Osborn. Even so, the elk were not cooperating.

“It took us a while to even see an elk,” Ally said.

The first day was a brutal 14 hours in a blind without an elk to be seen. On day two, they managed to call in a bull elk. An amazing experience, but not the cervid they needed.

On day three, they were invited out to some private property after a landowner saw their dedication. Before they did that, they sat in a public hunting spot and just as the day was breaking they could hear a herd of elk moving into an opening.

The first elk to step out was a cow elk just as legal shooting hours began. She was all by herself and Ally knew she had a good shot at her.

So she fired. But for good measure, she fired two more shots. Then they waited a half hour before stepping out to find the elk.

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“I was just praying that I hit it,” Ally said.

Eric went first to try to find first blood on the edge of the soybean field. They both joined the search and after about 2.5 hours of looking they figured they only found about a tablespoon of blood.

They went from one super excited couple to feeling defeated and at a loss of words.

It was at that point Eric suggested that Ally punch her tag out of respect for the animal that they couldn’t find.

“I didn’t want to take another shot at one not knowing if I did kill an animal,” Ally said. “It was the first time not finding an animal I shot at.”

Feeling a bit sick, the couple drove around to all the landowners they had previously met with and thanked them for their help. They were, of course, sorry to hear of the outcome.

On the three-hour drive home, Ally couldn’t stop crying.

They landed at home, picked up the kids from grandmas, started unloading all their gear and surprisingly Ally got a phone call from the Kittson County Sheriff. His children went out and found Ally’s elk within about 15 feet of where they had searched. When they heard that the meat was still good, they loaded up the kids and took the three hour drive back to Lancaster with a found excitement and adrenaline rush.

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“The whole way up there I was calling people,” Ally said. “It was just crazy. I knew I was going to be holding my elk.”

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Ally Osborn with the elk she harvested during a once-in-a-lifetime hunt near Lancaster, Minn. Contributed photo

These people they never met not only found the elk, they gutted, quartered and brought it out of the bush and into a cooler.

“It was amazing,” Ally said of the kindness they were shown in their situation. In seeing the elk in quarters, the sheer size of the elk came to realization for Ally who said each front leg and shoulder weighed about 120 pounds.

The family made it back home to Vergas at about 3 a.m., exhausted, but smiling about the happy ending to their hunting story.

“I will probably never forget just meeting everybody,” Ally said.

Looking back at the hunt, Eric expressed that one thing that should have been mentioned about hunting an elk is that these big animals require a larger caliber rifle than Ally was using. She was shooting a 7mm 08. While she was surprised to find out she had hit the elk with all three shots, none had done enough damage for a quick kill. Luckily, she took the advice of locals who told her to keep shooting until the elk went down.

Ally regrets not getting a picture of her with the full elk, knowing it may be her only elk. She did get a photo with the head after the family brought the elk’s head to the DNR to have it’s lymph nodes checked for disease.

As for Eric, he was happy to be along for the ride, but he’s really hoping someday he’ll be as lucky as his wife.

Want to go on your own once-in-a-lifetime Minnesota elk hunt?

While you may one day get a license for this one-time hunt, you still need to find places to hunt them. Ally Osborn recommends making contact with landowners in the area to get their first hand knowledge and permission to hunt on private property. There is also a fair amount of public hunting land, but that too takes time to get to know. Do your homework and talk to people who know.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Minnesota residents may apply individually or in parties of two:

  • A party of two only receives one elk tag to share and is both individual's once-in-a-lifetime hunt.

  • Elk hunters are required to attend a mandatory pre-hunt orientation meeting the Friday before each hunt.

There is a non-refundable application fee of $5 per hunter. Total license cost for selected applicants is $288.
In 2021, the seasons were broken up into four time frames with just 30 licenses available through the entire season.

To find out more visit the Minnesota DNR elk page.

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This was home for a few long days in August near Lancaster, Minn., for Ally and Eric Osborn of Vergas, Minn. Contributed photo

Related Topics: NORTHLAND OUTDOORSVERGAS
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