Plute trophy elk sells at auction but will remain at CB Visitor’s Center

Former record holder goes for $121,000

By Mark Reaman

The one-time world-record elk rack that has been located in the Crested Butte Visitor’s Center for years sold at an online auction for six figures on Wednesday, September 21. But the new owner, Matt Miles, a passionate elk hunter from Montrose, wants to keep it in its current home for the foreseeable future.

“There isn’t a real elk hunter on the Western Slope who doesn’t know about that elk and I think it is important it be available for the public to see. It is very iconic,” said Miles.

Known as the John Plute elk rack, the elk was the World Record Typical Bull Elk as scored by Boone & Crockett for 115 years. It was shot in 1899 and sat atop the record book until the 1990s, when an elk killed in Arizona’s White Mountains relegated the Crested Butte trophy to second place by about a quarter of an inch.

Legend has it that John Plute shot the elk for meat in Dark Canyon. He left the rack but went back to retrieve the antlers after telling people how big it was. In 1915, he gave the rack to a bar owner to pay his tab. The Rozman family eventually inherited the saloon where the antlers were hung.

Ed and Roger Rozman took the advice of their real estate broker and auctioneer, Gary Hubbell of Hotchkiss, when they were looking for income to help them in their later years. They put the rack up for auction and the sale concluded last week.

“It has worked out in the best possible scenario,” said Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce director Eliza Cress. “It is staying in the Chamber. I am sort of stunned and amazed.”

Miles said he saw the elk hanging in the old Tony’s Conoco about 30 years ago. He viewed it again about 10 years ago while on a trip to Crested Butte for business. It made an impression.

“I saw the auction notice, but as an elk hunter, if it’s not your antlers, it’s worthless as a personal trophy. But I got to thinking about it and was worried it could end up in some office in Dallas,” Miles explained. “I felt it needed to stay in Crested Butte so decided to make a run on it and try to keep it in the public eye, as opposed to it disappearing.

“I want him to stay right there,” Miles continued. “There are no aspirations to take him out of Crested Butte. I feel humbled to have the opportunity to be a part of history like that and keep him available for the public. I place a high value in respecting the animals as a hunter and a hunter on public lands. Unfortunately elk have a tough life and our job as hunters is to make sure we cleanly harvest the animals with respect and do what we can as stewards.”

Hubbell said the rack sold for $121,000. The Rozmans will receive about $100,000.

“I am confident Crested Butte will be happy with the new steward of this great piece of American history,” Hubbell said. He believes the antlers sold for the highest price of any North American big game trophy.

“There’s an old saying in the auctioneer business that it only takes two to make an auction, and that’s what we had. The second bidder had a technical glitch that prohibited the price from going even higher. But his plan was to do the same thing as the eventual winner. They had their hearts in the right place.”

Hubbell said his original estimate that the antlers could sell for $250,000 was probably an “unrealistic expectation.” But he said he was not surprised to bring in six figures for the trophy.

Miles said he discovered this week that at the time Plute shot the elk, there weren’t many of the animals in Colorado.

“In 1901, just a couple years after it was bagged, the state banned elk hunting because there were only about a thousand of them left in the state,” related Miles. “It’s pretty amazing that the elk population at the time was so low and that big guy was still up there. I’ve become a passionate elk hunter in the last 35 years and been a guy who hunts on public lands. The photos of the trophy don’t do it justice. It needs to be in a place where people can see it and I don’t have any intention of getting him out any time soon. There will come a time I’ll want to take him to some exhibitions. We’ve got to keep him popular. It’s quite a story that he was taken up there and stayed in Crested Butte this whole time.”

“We were lucky with the Plute elk to get a buyer that wants to keep it in Crested Butte,” said Hubbell. “He knows exactly how magnificent it is and how important it is for history. When I was a kid I too saw it several times in Crested Butte and as an elk hunter, I loved it. If you are an elk hunter and you walk through those doors and see that trophy, it is truly impressive.”

Hubbell said the Rozmans treated the trophy as good stewards as well. “They kept it on display and despite being asked many times, they never made copies of the antlers. So this trophy is absolutely unique and was never duplicated. Ed has been a remarkable owner of that trophy over the years.”

Cress said the Chamber board would now explore how best to insure the elk so that it can remain safe inside the Chamber of Commerce. “We will come up with an official agreement to protect the owner, Mr. Miles, the Chamber and the elk itself into the future,” Cress said. “The other thing we need to do is have a discussion with the town about the ability of the owner to remove the elk from time to time to show for brief stints on other locations. This will require permanent changes to the Chamber building as [the rack] currently does not fit out any of the buildings’ existing doorways or windows.”

As described by the auction site, the trophy is indeed massive: 7 points on one side and 8 on the other, with a gross score of 459 7/8″ and a net score of 442 3/8″ after deductions.

“As long as the town takes care of the elk like it has and keeps it publicly displayed, it will stay there. That’s the whole idea,” concluded Miles.

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