Eastern MT '09 trip
We got our camp loaded up and hit the road Saturday evening before opening day of Montana's big game general season. We drove five hours to Great Falls, and got a room. Next morning we finished the drive for another four hours to where we set up our camp. We set up two wall tents. One for sleeping in, and one for eating in. There were picnic tables at the camp ground that we stayed in, and low and behold a picnic table fit perfectly into our cook tent. Worked great.
My hunting partner, Brian, and I both had either sex elk tags that are draw only tags in the area that we were hunting. These tags are fairly hard to get and afford an opportunity for some of the best trophy elk hunting around. We also had our deer "A" tags and an antler less "B" tag each. Needless to say, we were anxious to get going.
Monday morning came and we headed out for our first day of trophy elk hunting. We had picked an area not far from our camp on the map that had alot of area that is roadless in hopes that we could hunt country that had less hunting pressure.
It was not long into the first day, and we spotted a herd of elk working across some flats to the south of us about two miles. We worked down thru a coulee and up a ridge towards where the elk were moving to. We got up the ridge to where it flattened out into a basin. We spotted a bachelor herd bedded down out of the wind and made a plan to get a bit closer to get a good look at them in hopes that there was a trophy bull in the bunch. On the sneak to get closer we spotted a small herd of mulies that were in the way. We could not risk spooking them and in turn spooking the bachelor herd. So we went back to where we originally spotted them. Now I have done some trophy hunting, and it is not easy to look at bull elk and not shoot him. Brian is on his first trophy elk trip. As we snuck up to a vantage point to look at the bulls thru the spotting scope, I looked at Brian and could see he was getting anxious. So I put my rifle against a bush and told him to do the same. I told him we need to look at them before we decide to shoot one. I thought I was about to get in a wrestling match. So we set up the spotter. Sure enough there was very big old bull in the bunch. He had long eye guards out to the end of his nose, main beams back past his flanks, and fourth points in the two foot plus class. But he had no third point on one side and on the other side it was about 3". Bummer. There was one other six point, a couple fives, and couple rag horns and spikes. Nothing here worthy of the tag. So we moved on. Later we spotted another herd down in a deep coulee that had a nice six point, but still not large enough. From that same point we spotted a large herd about three miles away. In that herd was a bull that we could make out in the spotter. There was alot of rough country between us and him, but knew we had to get a better look at him. We busted down through the deep coulee past the nice six point about 500yrds, he was a 320 class bull, and got to a vantage point where we could look at him. This was a very nice bull, perfect in every way. Dark horns, white tips, perfectly symmetrical. This was a very nice 340 class bull. We watched him with his heard of 23 cows for about an hour. It is now getting late in the day and we have to make a decision. We decide that it is the first day and that is a great bull, but not great enough. We marked him on the gps and started the six mile hike back to the truck. Not far from where we left the bull, we spot another herd in a patch of timber. So we get the spotter out and get a good look. Another six point in the 310 or so class and a five point along with a few cows. We headed out. Three hours after dark we finally got back to the truck. What a first day, epic.
Back at camp we hear that there are two bulls not far out of camp, one in the 360 class and one in the 340 class. We decided that we should go after them the next day.
Next morning we head out after the two bulls that we had heard about. Bodies a bit stiff from a very ambitious first day. The day was very windy and the game was holding tight. We jumped one spike bull out of a tight hole and that was it.
That night we decided that we needed a bit of a break just to rest the out of shape bodies. I had a list of land owners that we decided to contact about getting access through their properties the next day.
The fourth day we headed back to the area that we went to on the first day. Made the same route that we had on the first day and can not find any elk. There was evidence that there had been a couple of guys on motorcycles that ran every ridge and drainage. It was very disappointing. The elk were no where to be found. That night we got the maps out and studied for another area to hunt.
The fifth day we decided to go back to where we had marked the big bull on the first day. Still no elk in the area. The pressure had been just too great. We hiked back to the truck and decided to drive to some other areas and do some glassing and scouting. We found an area in an old burn that had covered alot of area. Made a plan to head there the next morning and glass the area at first light.
The next morning we did just that. To our disappointment, we were unable to spot any elk again. We are starting to really regret out decision to walk on the one bull in particular on the first day. The pressure of having a trophy elk tag is starting to be felt. We found an area of BLM ground that came in contact with the road. It is a huge drainage that was also burned. It is now late morning and we headed into the drainage. Hunted our way towards a high burnt ridge. After making our way thru some very deep finger drainages we head into a bowl at the base of the high burnt ridge. Something caught my eye, I quickly looked thru my bino's and thought at first that it was just another burnt stump. On further scrutiny, it was a bull elk. We had no cover, so our only choice was to lay down on the little ridge were on. Got the spotter out and could see that he was a 5X6 raggie bull. Brian had his fill of trophy hunting and wanted to take him. We watched him bed down in the burnt timber. No shot here, just too much stuff in the way. He spooked at one point, and another bull joined him. They bedded down again, still too much junk in the way, and we are in the wide open. No choice but to wait it out. Four hours later, just as the sun was setting, they finally got up and started feeding down into the open ground below the ridge. They headed behind a large pine tree and we could not see them at all. We could hear them sparing, and then they finally came back into view. Distance was 348yrds. Brians 300 RUM cracked and I watched the bullet hit through the spotter. The 160g GS HV did it's job. The bull traveled maybe 10ft. Interestingly the other bull (small rag horn) just stayed there feeding. He didn't notice us walking up on him until we closed the distance by half. We skinned and quartered the bull, and hung the quarters in a tree.
The next day Brian, my Uncle (who was deer hunting on the trip with us), and my self headed in to bone out the meat and pack it out. We took three meat packs and two game carts, thinking we would take the game carts as close as we could and back pack the elk to the carts. On the way in we spotted a couple of does between five and six hundred yards. Wind was good, so I decided to set up on one. Got the range at 562yrds. Dialed the come ups and held about 6" to the right for the breeze. Squeezed the shot off, and she was down. High shoulder shot from the 30-338 Lap imp running the GS HV 177g bullet didn't even let her twitch. When we got to her, her legs were pinned under her the way she fell on them. No meat damage by the way. So my Uncle and I got her quartered up while Brian continued on to the bull to start boning it out. My uncle and I packed the quarters back to the game carts and went to catch up with Brian and load the back packs with meat.
We caught up with Brian, and he had for the most part gotten all the meat boned out. So while Brian and my Uncle loaded packs with meat and finished deboning the rest of the meat, I went to the top of the ridge to do some glassing in hopes of finding elk. While glassing, I spotted a pretty nice mulie buck bedded down at a little over a thousand yards. So went back down and got my Uncle to see if he would like to harvest the buck. After looking at him in the spotter for a bit he decided that he would like to take the buck. We decide that if he crossed down thru the bottom of the drainage that he could get to about 200yrds or so. He headed down and across to the next ridge for a shot. I had set his rifle up a couple of years ago with GS 150g HV's out of 30-06. He and I reviewed his drops at distance, but I could not remember for sure how I had set rifle. I thought that he needed to hold about 8" high at 400yrds, and everything else below that was a dead hold. Turns out that when he got to his shooting position that he was 397yrds out. Well unfortunately I should have told him to hold top of the back. He over shot the buck and we didn't get him. He would have been the largest buck any of us saw on the whole two week trip. He was a solid 4"wider than his ears on each side. We just need to make sure he has his drops with him from now on. So from there we packed out all the meat. Each of us carrying about 80lb packs to the game carts. Once to the game carts we loaded all the meat on the carts and the three of us drug the two carts out to the truck. What a day.
The next day Brian and I decided to go back to the same high burnt ridge early in the morning before light to see if we could spot some elk as the sun came up. We got to the same little finger ridge that he shot his bull from just as the sun started to come up. I spotted three mulie bucks on the far side of the bowl near where he had shot his bull two days before. There was just enough light to see that the buck on the left of the three was a pretty fair buck. So Brian decided that he would like to take him. The bucks were at 297yrds. As Brian was getting set up I decided that if he was going to take one, that I might as well take one too. I told him to hang on while I got ready as well. I got set up, and told him that I would shoot on the sound of his rifle. I laid there aiming at my buck with pressure on the trigger waiting for sound, like an Olympic archer shooting a clicker. As his rifle barked, mine went off. So close to a simultaneous shot that I am sure that from a distance it sounded like one rifle shot. The three buck went over the hill and were gone. We hiked up to where they where at the shot, and then over the top of the hill. My buck was just over the edge at about 30 yards and his was another 30 yards farther. We could not time those shots together like that again if we wanted to. While we were starting to take care of the bucks, we spotted another herd of deer about 600yrds out. Brian had been wanting to stretch his 6.5-06ai's legs a bit. So we set him up on a doe at 576yrds. The 110g GS HV bullet hit it's mark and the doe went about 50yrds and laid down. He had hit the doe a little high and back and unfortunately had to go ad put a finisher in her. Now we had three deer on the ground. We got the two bucks cleaned out and hung up in trees and Brian hiked over to his doe to bone it out while I headed up to the top of the burnt ridge to glass for elk. Brian came back and found me at my vantage point, after he had finished taking care of his doe. I hadn't spotted anything so we took about a six mile hike along the ridge of the burnt drainage in hopes of spotting some elk. We did not find any, but once again, what a day.
The next day, Brian and I hiked into our deer and began the process of boning out the two bucks, and loading the three deer on our two packs. Once loaded we began the trek back to the truck thru the deep draws. Each carrying a pack of about 75lbs, it was a heck of a hike back to the trucks.
That night we decided to try and hunt the same area that we had hunted on the first day of the trip, the next morning.
The next morning came and we headed out on the quest for a trophy bull once again. Sure enough shortly into the morning we spotted some game. A beautiful whitetail buck on the hunt for does. Quite a nice buck, but we no longer had any deer tags. It was fun to watch him just the same. Shortly after seeing him we spotted a very nice bull elk. We moved to get some high ground, but he was gone. After some glassing for a bit, I spotted a few cows moving out of sight. We hurried to cut off the herd in the direction that they were going. We caught up with them in time for me to get all set up for a shot and see them move out of sight. Loaded back up and took after them again. Got set up for a shot again in time to see them go out of sight again. Did I mention that there is three large bulls in the herd, the largest of which is a good 370 class bull. Just what I have been hiking my rear off for, for the last week or so. We caught up with them again, and I set up again. These elk had no idea we were there, but they were not acting like normal elk. They were basically on the move. They were grazing, but on a full walk, covering ground. These elk had been pressured, and were not dilly dallying in the open. This is where I lost my patience and made a bad shot that I should not have taken. It was not too far, but I was hurried. Call it buck fever or what ever you want, but I made a rookie mistake and lost my patience. After my ill advised shot, we spent the rest of the day looking for the bull. No trace of a hit. Not a proud moment. I had all day to hunt this bull. I should never have taken a shot at nearly 600yrds when I could not set up and comfortably shoot at ease.
At camp that night I told the guys that I would hang up my trophy hunting hat and just go out and hunt elk. We are now running out of time, and need to start thinking about heading home soon.
The next morning I headed out alone to the same place that I missed the bull the day before. Brian stayed behind and went deer hunting with his father-in-law who has been hunting alone for the last week and a half.
I got to the area of the missed shot and started glassing. I spotted some elk a couple of miles away in the bottom of the next coulee over to the west. I hiked down the drainage to the next coulee in time to see the last cow and calf head up into the timber. I sat there for a while watching and wondering what I should do next. Then I spotted a large bull up on the far side of the coulee feeding. I loaded up and started down to the bottom of the coulie and up the other side. As I was gaining elevation up the other side thru a path of thick timber, I noticed how heavy the smell of elk was. Thinking to my self that they have sure been spending some time in here just as the wind changed dirrection. The mountain side blew up into a crashing ruckus. Elk about 30yrds away from me blasted up the hill. Shortly afterward I had a couple of cows come into an opening up the hill about 80yrds away. I stood there thinking about how the night before I had told the guys at camp that I would just take an elk for the meet so we could get on home. I couldn't do it, not after seeing that big bull just up the hill. I tried to sneek my way up thru the timber, but I just kept bumping into elk and spooking them. I sat down for a while and ate my lunch trying to let me and the elk calm down. I decided that I could not get to them with out spooking them, and I couldn't wait them out, so I took off for higher ground. Later I spotted a couple of cows bedded in a little patch of timber about two miles or so away. I got the spotter on them and was able to spot a bull in the timber with them. I set out to get closer. I got to within about 600yrds and there was no way to get any closer. So I made my way to a high point of ground. From there I range the bull at 586yrds. I set up my rifle on the shooting stix and my backpack. Got the spotter on the bull and decided that I needed him to get out of his be in order to get a shot. Just not a clear enough shot, and there was no reason to hurry. After about an hour of waiting he stood up. Now was the time. I got on the rifle and started the squeeze. The rifle barked and recoiled and I scramble to get my binos to see what had happened. My bull was gone. Out the top or the timber patch came some cows and then a bull. I thought, oh no I missed. But then he started to look bigger than the bull I shot at. Just then I saw an elk sliding down the hill. It was my bull. He stopped on a little flat spot and started to get up. I took two click off the scope and took aim again. The rifle went off and I lost him in the recoil again. Quickly picked him up sliding down the hill again. He got to the bottom, but was still alive. I watched him for awhile and decided that I needed to hike over to him and finish him. Turned out that both of my shots landed about 3" apart, but too high. Both shots hit him in the spine. Did I mention that I really do not like having to put in a finishing shot. Now the work starts. I got him cleaned out and skinned so that we could come back the next day and pack him out. Got back to camp about 3 1/2 hrs after dark. What a day.
The next day we went to pack out my bull. As it turned out my Uncle shot a buck down the same coulee that I was in. I had herd the shots and wondered if it was him. So we went to pack out his buck on the same trip.
On the way into his buck we ran into a very nice 350-360 class bull. Just a day too late. Got half my bull and his buck out on the first trip. Then just one more trip, 5 miles one way, and we are done.
This was one magnificent trip. Very challenging physically and mentally. I did not get the trophy that I wanted, but you can't get the trophy if you take one smaller.
Hope you enjoyed,
To hunt... or not to hunt...? What a stupid question.