Photo courtesy of Doyle Moss, Mossback Guides & Outfitters.
Larry Ball endured more than his share of Viagra jokes and black balloons for his 50th birthday, but he was able to take it all in stride thanks to an early and thoughtful gift from his wife, Angie.
Long before Ball took the field in the fall of 2004 with a vaunted Boulder Mountain limited-entry bull elk tag, his wife and Doyle Moss, one of the most recognized big-game guides in Utah, were planning his adventure.
“She knew what I really wanted. She also knew that I wouldn’t go with anyone but Doyle,” said Ball.
Ball had hunted twice with Moss and after a successful mule deer trip on the Paunsaugunt Unit in 2003, he mentioned to his wife how much he enjoyed hunting with Moss.
Angie Ball listened and set in motion her plan. Little did she know her gift would end up near the top of Utah’s big-game records. Knowing her husband had taken several large mule deer bucks, Angie decided it was time for her husband to chase his first Rocky Mountain elk.
She called MossBack Guides and Outfitters in December 2003 and explained to owner Doyle Moss that she wanted to surprise Larry with a Utah elk hunt for a quality bull.
Moss and Larry Ball first met during a Nevada deer hunt in 2000. Ball called Moss in 2003, wondering if the guide knew how to get a deer permit on the famous Paunsaugunt Unit in southern Utah. Ball’s good friend Phil Bassetti had drawn a non-resident tag on the limited-entry unit, and Ball wanted to join him.
Moss knew how to get a permit and helped Ball nail a buck that sported a 32-inch spread. The hunt was all that Ball could talk about. Nobody really knows whether he was dropping hints to his wife for an upcoming birthday present, but he ended up getting his wish to hunt with Moss again.
Moss pondered the request, considered the price range Angie was shooting for and told her he would try to find something in the $10,000 range when the state’s conservation permits came up for auction.
The Utah of Division of Wildlife Resources’ conservation permit program, which provides hunting tags to the highest bidders, has raised millions of dollars, which are in turn used for habitat improvements and land acquisitions to help big game down the road.
Moss found his opportunity at one of the banquets in which the permits are sold when the Boulder Mountain permit did not draw as much attention as it had in the past.
“The Boulder happened to come in at a really good price and I purchased it for them,” Moss said. “The way I understood it, every other check they got went toward this hunt. It’s pretty cool that a wife would go to such lengths to help her husband get a hunting permit.”
Angie Ball could not wait for her husband’s birthday (Dec. 31) to give him the tag, but she had wanted to surprise him as close to the hunt as possible. Her cover was busted when it came time to pay for the tag.
“I had no idea she had done it until she started asking me for money. She had never asked me for a dollar since we got married. I knew something was up,” Larry Ball said.
DON’T YOU DARE SHOOT
But a tag in hand does not mean a rack on the wall.
Ball would soon learn that the tag just gave him the right to hunt a bull elk on the Boulder. Angie had done her part, now it was up to Moss to find an animal worthy of the price tag.
“We probably saw 30 bulls the first day, and I wanted to shoot any one of them,” Ball said. “Doyle gave me that look of his, the one that says, ‘Don’t you dare shoot,’ about 20 times. They were all nice, but that look worked every time.”
Ball arrived in south-central Utah a few days early hoping to acclimate his body to the elevation and maybe scout a few bulls.
“I got there a couple of days early. Doyle was hunting with someone else. I was driving around and I never saw an elk until I went out with those guys,” he said.
At one point during the first day — Ball had only booked MossBack for the last five days of his hunt — the hunters found themselves surrounded by 10 bulls wrapped up in strutting their stuff.
“They were fighting all around us,” Ball said. “We were right in the middle and it was the neatest thing I’d ever seen. I’d seen it on videos, but it was different to be there. We had one big bull 10 yards away snorting at us.”
Even for a veteran guide like Moss, the action was intense. “We got into some major elk frenzies. Not too many people get to experience things like that. They were fighting and chasing hard, they didn’t even know we were around,” he said.
After that long, hard first day, Ball wondered if the birthday present was really just an opportunity for Angie to get rid of him and collect his insurance money. Ball even wondered if Moss was in on the scheme.
“They about killed me. I had all kinds of blisters. I told him I didn’t think I could handle another day like that. There was probably also something to do with the altitude. We were pretty high and I’m coming from sea level,” he said.
Moss and MossBack guide Kalan Lemon grew worried on the drive back to the hotel. “I had no idea how sore his feet were. You could just tell he didn’t feel good. He wouldn’t even eat dinner that night,” Moss said. He promised to make the next day an easier hunt and then promptly broke the promise.
“We didn’t take our backpacks or anything. We were just going for a jaunt and we heard some bugling. Doyle said he wanted us to get up to them. We just kept going and going and going until we got to the ones we wanted,” Ball said. “After I shot the bull, Doyle and Kalan left for the truck. I was staying there. An hour later they called me and said, ‘You won’t believe this, but we still aren’t to the truck.’ “
Amazingly, Ball’s feet had quit hurting. Either they were numb or pumping with adrenaline.
DON’T YOU DARE MISS
“I had meant to make it an easy day and we started in the
low country, but we could hear those hot bulls bugling, screaming and carrying on,” Moss said. “We finally got to them and I heard two bulls going at it. We raced in and I told him to get ready.”
It was about 10 a.m. and Ball remembers getting a different kind of look from Moss; something more like, “Don’t you dare miss.”
Ball didn’t even know what he was shooting. He had not even seen the bull’s rack. In fact, he was ready to shoot the rival of the bull he eventually would shoot.
“I told Doyle and he told me to take the other bull. I trusted him completely. I never even saw the antlers. If it was anybody else I never would have done it,” Ball said.
Ball could see the kill zone, but brush was hiding the animal’s head a mere 40 yards away.
Ball pulled the trigger. Moss yelled, “You missed! Shoot again.”
“I knew I didn’t miss; all I could see in the scope was hair, but he didn’t even flinch,” Ball said. “So I shot again.”
Moss was on the run and Ball, still breathless, watched the other bull dash off down the mountain.
“I saw the other bull and wondered why I hadn’t shot him,” Ball said. “I couldn’t imagine this bull being any bigger.”
The bull had traveled about 20 yards after the second shot and Moss was at the animal wondering where his client was.
“Are you going to come look at this thing or what?” Moss inquired.
Ball, reeling from the hike and bull fever, was still struggling at the high elevation.
“I still couldn’t breathe and it took me a while to reach him,” Ball said. I came around the bush and saw it. It was big.”
And just as Ball suspected they would, they found two entry points on the animal.
The trio didn’t realize just how big the elk was until they pulled out the measuring tape. “They thought he was about 380 or 390 or something in that area,” Ball said. “They measured one side and decided it was going to be a 400 bull.”
Ball remembered a conversation he had with Moss earlier in the hunt.
“I was just joking with him and I told him I wanted a bull over 400 and he just laughed and said, ‘Yeah, so does everybody else,’ ” Ball said. “Doyle came through. He always does. I would have been happy with whatever. It was my first bull and it was awesome.”
The bull ended up scoring 408 gross Boone and Crockett points and 401 net. It missed the Utah state typical record by just 1 1/2 inches.
A CLOSE-UP VIEW
Moss said the bull’s antlers were deceptive.
“The bull had 59-inch beams and one of his royals was 22 inches long with 30 inches of mass. His thirds were 21 inches long,” Moss said. “The main thing is the beam length. He was gaining 20 inches over other bulls there.”
Moss, like Ball, was not positive what they were shooting at, but he had seen enough to know it was the bull to go after. “I didn’t get a good look when they were fighting, but I knew he was an awesome, awesome bull,” Moss said. “It wasn’t until we walked up to him that I realized just how big he was.”
Moss, who guided a Utah resident to the state record non-typical bull — 412 net B&C points — in 2002, said he had been hearing rumors about the big racks on the Boulder Unit.
“I was excited, but not really surprised,” he said. “That area has the genetics and mass.”
Back on the mountain excitement reigned supreme. Ball passed around his cell phone. Doyle went first and called his wife. Then it was Ball’s turn to tell Angie that he had finally unwrapped his birthday gift.
“I told her my part was easy, well sort of, and that she had done the real hard part. She saved and saved and saved to get the money,” he said. “I thanked her for the opportunity and told her it was the best present I could ever get.”
In retrospect, Ball says he would only have paid the price they did to spend time with Moss.
“I wouldn’t have done it if she had bought the hunt with anyone other than Doyle,” Ball said. “He knows animals and the land. Sometimes you go hunting with a guide and there is something you don’t like about the trip. I’ve never had that happen with Doyle. I pretty much like everything about him and his guides. He has become a good friend.”
The hunt was special one for Moss as well.
“Larry just wanted a bull and that was great. I love to see guys who just really enjoy the mountains and the experience and appreciate the animal more than those who just wonder what it will end up scoring,” he said. “Larry is one of those guys that it takes a while for it to sink in what they have done. It is nice for the guide to have higher expectations than the hunter. There is no greater feeling than being able to be a part of taking a really neat animal with hunters like that. It just makes it all the more rewarding.”
When Ball’s feet and wallet recuperate he says it is likely the only person he will hunt with again is Moss.
“I’ve got some things going on that will probably keep me from hunting for a while, but when I do it will be with Doyle and we will be going after a big mule deer buck,” he said.
If you are wondering what Larry Ball did to deserve such a gift from his wife the answer will probably just be that he is a great man with a strong passion for hunting. Then again there was the time he surprised his wife with more than 100 family members and friends on her 40th birthday.
“I had her believing that I was having some things done around the house and we spent the night in a motel,” he said. “I told her I didn’t want her to see it so I had a sheet over her head as we walked through all the people. It was pretty neat.”
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Video footage of Larry Ball’s No. 2 typical bull can be seen in “MossBack Bulls Gone Wild: Volume 1″ and can be purchased at