After 138 entries and 8,858 votes in the Rapid City Journal's Best Buck or Bull contest, it's safe to say that South Dakota hunters had another great year.
Here are some of the stories that stood out, the winners in the three categories have hunting tales similar to many who take to the field or the woods. They involve persistence, patience and a love for the outdoors.
Dean Rothenberger, Lennox, Elk
It was a once in lifetime hunt that almost didn't happen for Dean Rothenberger.
In June after waiting 11 years he finally drew the elusive Black Hills elk tag that tens of thousands of people apply for every year.
When he received the news, however, he was in the hospital. He had torn the Achillies tendon in his ankle and was told by the doctors that it could be a long time before he would be able to hunt again.
But Rothenberger was determined, because chances like this don't come around very often.
"I was doing physical therapy. I was in a boot and trying to get better," he said. "I told my therapist what was going on and what my goal was."
His goal was to be healthy in time for the hunt, and the goal became a reality when his son Ryan and friend Dustin set out for the Black Hills on Aug. 31, and arrived in time for opening weekend.
"I was going to go anyway, but I didn’t know how much ground I could cover," he said. "Those were hard days. It was tough, but I think adrenaline helps you with that and keeps you going."
Adrenaline pushed him and his group through 13 days, 98 miles and 30 bull sightings with still nothing to bring home. Rothenberger admitted, he was starting to feel discouraged.
So he told his group that they would not pass up another bull, the next one he saw, he was going to try to take. It turned out to be the trophy bull he had been waiting for.
At first sight, there wasn't a clear shot for Dean to take, but just more frustration set in Rothenberger got another chance just a few minutes later when they heard another bull and attempted to call him in. It was the exact same one as before.
The bull stood behind a tree, 65 yards away, out of the range that Dean was comfortable shooting at. The bull being behind the tree, however, gave him a brief moment to move 10 yards closer and be in range when the bull finally moved from behind the tree.
When Rothenberger took his shot, he didn't miss.
"Ryan, behind me, seeing everything, threw his arms up, knowing it was a lethal hit," Rothenberger said in a written account of the story. "We watched him go 100 yards, lay down, and expire."
The bull recorded a gross score of 340, and had a genetic formation on the right side of his face that is only found in bull indigenous to South Dakota, something that made the hunt even more special to Dean.
"I would not want it any other way," he said in the written account. "I was born, raised and lived my whole life in South Dakota. What better bull elk, in a 'once in a lifetime' archery tag could I have harvested than a bull elk that only comes from South Dakota?"
Eastan West, Union Center, mule deer
Sometimes, hunters can get lucky on opening day. Eastan West combined luck and a long day to bag a trophy mule deer on the first day of the season in a field in Hereford.
West and his father had spotted the trophy buck just days before opening day, and sure enough when the two took to the field he was there again.
Although he wasn't going to make it easy on 13-year-old Eastan.
"I was getting tired of walking, we walked about three miles all together," West said of his day-long pursuit. "I wasn’t getting frustrated, just wanted to wait for the right shot. I didn't want to mess with him too much so he’d go to the neighbors, patience is what it was."
His patience paid off, as the two first saw the buck early in the morning as he was heading away from the party, the two followed the deer hoping to sneak up on him but the buck had surrounded himself with around 40 doe, making a shot impossible.
A change in the wind moved the deer closer to them, but West still didn't have a clear shot. He and his dad decided to let the deer wander for a few hours while they went to the truck and had lunch.
When they went out to the field, they found the buck again, still West didn't feel he had a clear shot. So patience was employed again, as the two waited for about three hours before another deer started to give chase to the prized buck the West's were pursuing. That's when Eastan took his shot.
He breathed in, breathed out, and fired.
The shot hit the deer, and he began to stagger towards a canyon. Not wanting to venture down into the canyon with the sun starting to go down, West fired one more perfect shot, and dropped the deer right where it stood.
The buck gross scored at 214.5.
"I was pretty excited, I was really happy," West said. "(My dad) was smiling from ear to ear. We both were."
Dylan Tramp, Rapid City, white-tailed deer
A hunter has to have a keen eye and a long memory, just because they don't take down the perfect 10-point buck the first time doesn't mean the opportunity won't come again.
For Dylan Tramp, the journey to take down his elusive prized buck began in Spring of 2015. He set up two trail cams, and returned later in the summer to take a look at the activity.
"The biggest takeaway from the 2015 season was that there was a lot of deer activity in the area and one buck in particular had become a regular on the trail camera," he said in a written account of his hunt. "Little did I know that this would be the deer I would start to follow through the next three hunting seasons."
He hunted hard in 2015 and only saw the buck once, too far out of reach for the archery equipment Tramp was using. Tramp didn't see the deer during the 2016 season, but trail cam footage proved he had survived another tough winter.
So, Tramp figured the third time was the charm.
"Fast forward the clock to my first trail camera check in September 2017, I was beyond thrilled to see that the veteran white tail was back once again, and this time bigger than ever," he wrote.
On Nov. 6, Tramp found himself in his tree stand, waiting patiently for the deer he had wanted for many years to come strolling into sight. Two other bucks passed him, but they were smaller than Tramp's taste would permit.
Then, at 3:50 p.m. he heard a leaf crunch, and everything started coming together.
"Already standing, I turned to my left only to see a large bodied deer with a pearly white rack headed down the trail, directly towards my location," he wrote. "It only took one quick 25-yard glimpse to conclude that it was indeed the deer I had been daydreaming about for the last three years. A well-placed arrow later and I have a freezer full of fresh venison and a story that I will not soon forget."
The deer gross scored a 155 6/8.