RENO, Nev. (AP) - Jerry McKoen knew the bull elk he spotted in the remote mountains of central Nevada was a big one. Only later would he learn how big it really was - one of the largest ever bagged in North America.
The antlered trophy McKoen claimed last fall earned a spot in the record books and epitomizes what other hunters are coming to realize: For really big elk, there's no place like Nevada.
''It's a once in a lifetime deal,'' said McKoen, 45, a potato farmer in Malin, Ore.
''I was just going down there to have fun. I was just going for a nice one,'' he said.
The ''there'' McKoen referred to is Table Mountain, in the Monitor Mountain Range north of Tonopah.
The six-point bull with typical antlers scored a whopping 425 3/8 points under the internationally recognized Boone and Crockett scoring system.
The main beam of the elk's antler was 5 feet long; from one antler to the other measured 55 inches.
It turned out to be the second largest bull taken in all of North America during the 20th Century, according to Stan Stiver, a Nevada Division of Wildlife biologist and member of the independent Nevada Wildlife Record Book Committee.
''I knew he was big, but I didn't know he was that big,'' McKoen said in a telephone interview Wednesday from his home in the small farming community near the California line.
McKoen's was not the only lunker-beefy bounty bagged in Nevada during last fall's elk season.
One animal taken from the Muleshoe Valley area in Lincoln County scored 400 4/8 points. A non-typical elk - one where the antlers are asymmetrical - from Elko County scored 406 4/8, a world record in that category, according to Stiver.
Mike Cox, a state wildlife big game biologist, said Nevada's reputation for big elk has been growing since 1994, when the state's first bull to score 400 was recorded.
''Ever since, this underground network of big elk hunters knew the potential existed that, if you could draw a tag, the opportunity to kill a big bull was definitely there,'' Cox said.
But being lucky enough to draw a tag may be the hardest part of the hunt.
Nevada's elk population is estimated at 5,400, much smaller than populations in other Western states.
Last year, 15,980 people applied for a Nevada elk tag. Only 1,280 tags were issued and of those, only 277 were for bulls.
''We know we can't compete with other states like Colorado or Montana,'' Cox said. ''We can't put out 10,000 bull tags each year.
''But what we have going for us is we allow the bulls to grow old. When you have more bulls growing old, there's a higher probability of having one of those bulls being very, very big.''