LANCASTER, Minn. – When Lacey Lupien got a letter in early July from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, she thought it was junk mail at first glance.

“I actually was going to throw it away,” she said. “I just happened to catch the window that said something about elk hunts so I thought, maybe I should open this.

“And sure enough.”

Sure enough, in this case, was a letter from the DNR notifying Lupien, of Lancaster, that she’d drawn a Minnesota elk tag for Season B, which began Saturday, Sept. 5, and wrapped up Sept. 13.

That was a shocker, Lupien says, because she and her husband, Lance, had been applying for a tag to hunt elk in Kittson County since the DNR began offering the season several years ago. The odds of drawing a tag for the once-in-a-lifetime northwest Minnesota hunt aren’t particularly favorable; 4,425 prospective elk hunters applied in the lottery that selected this year’s 42 license recipients.

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Three either-sex licenses and four antlerless elk tags were available for Season B, the second of six, nine-day seasons that continue into December.

“We’ve been putting in for the lottery for years,” said Lupien, a nurse at Kittson Healthcare Clinic in Hallock. “And we’re not landowners, so we didn’t get the landowner tag, either.”

On Sunday, Sept. 6, Lupien made the most of her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, shooting a trophy 7x8 bull elk only 3 miles from her home. She’d had her eye on that particular bull since learning she’d drawn the tag.

Scouting became a family ritual on evenings when her husband, who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Pembina, N.D., wasn’t working the night shift, she says. On the nights he worked, Lacey and son Lincoln, 8, and daughter Leah, 6, still would make the drive.

“We’ve had the herd every year around our house,” she said. “We’d just watch the elk until dark, and it was a nightly thing for the last couple of months.”

The big bull had been with a herd of 20 to 30 elk eating in a soybean field in the days leading up to season, Lupien says. They’d seen the bull again while scouting the night before season. But that night, instead of going back into the woods, the bull headed west, Lupien recalls.

“I was just sick,” she said. “I’m like, ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’ ”

Opening day came and went without seeing a single elk.

Fortunes took a turn for the better the next day, Lupien recalls, when she got a tip the big herd again had been spotted. They set up for the afternoon about 1:30 p.m. in a stand on a neighbor’s land they’d gotten permission to hunt.

So began a waiting game that lasted maybe 45 minutes.

“We were just sitting there and I was looking on Facebook,” Lupien said. “I looked up, and here he came. I said, ‘There’s an elk,’ and Lance is yelling, ‘Shoot it! Shoot it!’”

One shot at 250 yards with the .300 rifle, and Lupien’s hunt was about to come to an end.

“He did run some,” she said. “And then I said to Lance, ‘Did I get it?’ He goes, ‘I don’t know.’ The gun echoed so loud back in the stand that it was unreal. So, we immediately got out of the stand, and the 250 yards to get to where I shot him felt like miles.”

The bull had gone maybe 50 yards into a patch of woods when Lacey found him. A good friend and neighbor with a tractor came to help with the hard work and share in the excitement that followed, she says.

“And then that just draws the crowd, so we had lots of help,” Lupien said. “People showed up from everywhere. ”

The kids, she said, “were just pumped.”

That Sunday also happened to be their 12th anniversary, Lupien says. As anniversaries go, a successful once-in-a-lifetime hunt will be tough to top.

A shop in Newfolden is processing the meat, and a taxidermist in Greenbush will mount the head of the trophy. The rack is too big to fit in their house, but her husband didn’t go for the idea of building an addition, Lupien said with a laugh.

“We have a big shop that he’s going to redo and make part of it into living quarters and move all of the horns and head mounts,” she said. “The basement’s too small and it’s not going to fit anywhere in the house.

“It’s insane how big they are.”

Living in the area definitely made the hunt easier in terms of scouting and lining up places to hunt, Lupien says.

“You have more access to the land,” she said. “There’s just been so many people from out of the area that call these people and ask to hunt on their land. And that’s nobody's fault, but landowners are getting phone calls nonstop. It helps to be local; they didn't hesitate to say yes.”