My Elk Hunt...The Good...The Bad...And The Ugly


Well-Known Member
Jul 10, 2001
Well I just got back from my elk hunting trip to Montana.

The good news is that I had an excellent guide this time. Unlike my ill-fated trip to the Wind Rivers range in Wyo two years ago, this time my guide actually KNEW HOW TO HUNT!

The bad knews is that I didn't get an elk.

The Ugly was the weather, it was well just sort of TROPICAL. In my six days of hunting only the first one or two days had any sort of decent elk-hunting weather. For the last four days the temp's were in the high's in the 60's and 70's. I remember thinking that it was kinda odd to be standing at 7500 feet in the mountains of Montana in the early winter, while looking at my Kestrel 4000 reading 75 degrees (in the shade). It was colder in frigging San Diego for those four days then it was in the moutains of Montana.

Which leads me to the conclusion that I don't think that I'll go elk hunting again out west. I just can't plan a trip for a year and a half, put all that money into it, drive for three days out there, and have everything get screwed up by the weather. Man, like who would think that the mountains of Montana in the early winter would have weather on a par with Miami??

(Just as an aside, for those of you who aren't elk hunters: warm weather screws up an elk hunting trip more then anything. In early winter elk are coated with a layer of thick fat and can easily overheat. In hot weather they just spend the entire day laying under some tree somewhere and not moving. They are virtually impossible to find. With little to no snow on the ground they can eat around the same tree where they are lying. Hot weather also makes for crunchy snow, so any attempt to stalk them in the trees is fruitless.)

I now understand how elk hunting is just a sport for locals. With a season five weeks long, the locals just hang-out during the season waiting for the weather to turn cold and snowy (perfect for elk hunting). They can then pick and choose their weekend for maximum success.

As an aside, I had some interesting interactions with my guide regarding long range hunting. My guide was used to guiding guys with meodocre, if best, rifles. Trying to get him to understand that I could take an elk at greater then 150 yards was a challenging thing to do. When I first arrived in the camp he told me that my rifle was quote: "the talk of the camp". He told me that in twenty years of guiding he had never seen a rifle like mine (AI/AWM in 338LM). I also get the feeling that he and the other guides (whom I also spoke with about shooting) didn't really understand how to shoot long range (as defined by any shot greater then 200 yrds). I knew something was up when my guide asked me "what do the three little knobs on your scope do?" My scope is a NSX 5.5-22. Although very smart and able to hunting very well, he just had never seen anybody like myself with a rifle like mine before. As he stated, "some guys will come back the next year and say that they hadn't shot their rifles since they last sighted them in at the camp the year before".

But finally as the week wore on, I educated my guide and finally he was taking me to open parks where I could set up and cover large pieces of territory. But unfortuately by then the weather had turned warm; and no elk was ever seen again.

Sorry for the long post.
Sorry to here about the lack of success. I have guided in the past and know how disappointing it can be for a client to do all that planning and dreaming only to have it be t-shirt weather. The numbers are down this year and the next week looks to be more of the same weather. The elk are here I've seen them by the hundreds but are extremely difficult to get to. Like you said they are laying around real high probably on some north face so thick you wouldn't get a 15 yard shot. Some are lounging in pastures on private ranches in the shade (I saw about 200 head yesterday 1/2 mile from my house). No big bulls tho just 1 rag horn/ a couple of spikes and lots of fat cows. If it makes you feel any better I haven't had any luck either and I know this area pretty well. I wish I knew the owner of that ranch well enough to get permission. He doesn't let anyone hunt there at all and the elk know it. Hope you had a good time anyway, see you next year?

[ 11-13-2004: Message edited by: Cowboy ]
Some hunts are just great trips, I had one a while ago also. Best to bite the bullet and enjoy everything else that is worthwhile, not finding game is frustrating but being in the mountains with good guys is always a huge bonus. Just beats the hell out of being in an office.

Have been on hunts were we ran out of food, guide could not tie his boots without an instruction book, horses disappeared every morning, no water to land a floatplane on the moose hunting lake, spent more time searching for a place to hunt than hunting for game, guide gets the entire pack string hungup and lost - about ten times has to retie the panniers since they are constantly falling off, three hour ride turns into a 9 hour ride to hell, wrangler asks me to shoot a horse so he could retrieve the panniers (no thanks...), cook throws a chicken into a huge pot of dirty boiling water, doesn't even peel the potatoes etc. tosses vegies into the bubbling mass of floating chicken fat and grease, waits till the mess cools off and informs us that supper is ready, lots of freeze-dried ice-cream bars but no real food in the pannier, guide has a pee then starts to make a shore lunch without evening rinsing his hands in the lake, no water for three freaking days because the spring ran dry, mouse **** in the crackers, guide sweeps garbage down through the cracks in the floor of the cabin, guide stabs himself to the shinbone as he is fleshing a cape, rooky pilot cannot find a lake you are to camp on in the arctic, your rifle gets lost so you have to share with another hunter (has happened three times), miss three airline flights in one day due to weather, no outfitter or representative at airport, wrangler does not tie saddle properly on horse so you do a slow-motion 180 degree roll off the horse (horse looks back at you like you are really stupid - you are), horse snags your rifle on a four inch tree and lunges forward, breaks scabbard off saddle and moves your kneebone about three inches to one side, partner gets bound-up - chews a half a box of chocalote tasting laxitive - not pretty about twenty minutes later, glasses knocked off your face while trying to stay upright on a frigging horse, outfitter got us tags for wrong zone, elk bugling outside cabin as we tried to sleep but could not hunt them since tags were for another zone, (season had closed in the cabin area), seven hunters and one guide on a two on one hunt - this is only a tiny sample of how much fun hunts can be.

You are correct, some hunts are more weather sensitive than others. How about this one.... The pilot taking you in to camp says, "I don't know why you are at this camp, there ain't no critters for twenty miles from here... been too warm." - and things go downhill from there - you just got to make the best of it.

Hope you do get a good elk hunt some day. Thanks for a great story, not many guides believe rifles will kill as far as our do.
Sorry 'bout the hunt you had. Here we were telling you to bring lots of cold weather clothes and such, and the weather made idiots out of us! Same thing here. I have hunted ridge lines, draws and springs from Twin Bridges north to Boulder, and have not cut much sign! Cold in the morning, and then toasty by 10:00 am!!Crunchy ground, dusty, BAD!!! I am outta time as Thanksgiving is around the corner, and as a meatcutter in a grocery store in Bozeman, much to do now!!Of course we can all say"wait till next year" but this year has been very disapointing. I have two more days off till the end of season, and it dosn't look good with the weather forcast. Sorry to hear that you are giving up on Western Hunting. I can understand, but when it's good, it's real gooooooooooood!!
Meathead - Thanks for your concern, but you didn't make the weather tropical. And your warning about taking lots of warm clothes make it much better to be safe then sorry. It's way, way better to have a ton of warm stuff and not need it, then to have it the other way around. With only two more days off to hunt, I certainly hope that you get one. Maybe I won't completely give up on Western hunting, but I'll have to rethink it in a whole new light.
Cowboy - Sounds like you're a local, of ?Montana? or the equivalent State? I'm sorry to hear that you haven't got one yet. Season's not yet over for you yet.

Ian M - That's quite a list of mishaps. Laughed so hard I had to wait for a while before I could type straight. Glad to hear that others have also had less then perfect hunts. However on this hunt, the guide and the outfitter were excellent. The ONLY thing that screwed it up was Mother Nature.
Mother Nature has a weird sence of humor when it comes to hunters!!! I've been doing the snow dance twice a day for the last 10 days and still no snow
yup... she is a warm one this year... still pretty warm here in NW Wyo.... the migration of the Mulies has just begun .. it is 3 weeks late this year because of the weather...

When I moved here 7 years ago.. I was suprized to see that no one really did much in the realms of LR Hunting.. hell most had no concept of how to shoot over 150 ( like you mentioned ) I have done my share of shooting at the local range and now a few of the regulards think they are into the LR thing.... hell I bet some are on this board... ( got tired of explaining things so I gave them this addy ) just the other day I was there.. I saw a guy shooting a 300WM and he had his much less knowledgable friend with him... so he was showing off.... he was calling out to his buddy that his 300WM needs 45 MOA up to hit a target at 500 yards... what he meant was 45 clicks... he obviosly has trouble grasping the whole click thing...


the weather has been real bad the last few years for hunting.. and I don't see it getting any better in the future... the Elk I have see are way high ... I don't even see many on the private ranchs yet...
I feel your pain also. A few years back I had the Elk tag for South Dakota. They were all still hanging out in the national parks. I know because we drove through and saw them.

The day I had to fly out was such a blizzard that my flight was delayed 6 hours out of Rapid City.

I also have enough friends in various states that I have never had to pay for a guided hunt. I've also had very good luck over the years and just arriving at some place that I have never been before and going into the local bar and talking to the locals.

You can buy allot of drinks for locals instead of that $5000 to some guide. My buddy got a 9'6" griz in Alaska the day after flying and renting a 4x4 two days later he had a nice bull moose.
Ian M, sure got a laugh out of your post, probably because it was too close to home, sort of. The first camp I was hired to run was supposed to have 7 guys. It was cabins on a leased ranch, and the clients drove in. At the end of the day before the first hunt, I had 16, yes 16, very uptight hunters in camp. To make matters worse, previous scouting had indicated there wasn't a deer or elk on the place, not even an old track. When the outfitter finally showed up, the next day, there was nearly a lynching. Fortunately no one took it out on me. Then there was the redneck cook from louisiana I hired years later for my own camp. He was squatted down in the dirt in front of the cook tent stirring a pot of stew with absolutely filthy hands, repeatedly sticking his finger into it to taste it. One of my guides and I were watching him from across camp. He tried to lie when I called him on it, and really squealed when I made him throw it out and start over, after washing his hands. I fired him before any clients showed up.
What is it about camp cooks
Seems to attract a lot of strange personalities. Also have been in many camps where the cooks saved the day - a good meal sure makes up for a crappy day in the field. Now a bad day in the field, followed by a meal that the dogs wouldn't eat - that is not my idea of fun.
Ian M, camp cooks have been some of the quirkiest folks I have ever met. I did have one the last several years I outfitted that was just a lifesaver. He was an old packer himself that was tired of guiding, and a bit past the point that he wanted to run a pack string full time. No matter how tough things got or how tired we all were, he could be counted on. He never drank in camp, but spent the rest of the year making up for opportunity missed
One night I pulled into camp after midnight, a regular occurance, with a string of eight pack horses to unload. Mike came out of the cook tent with eyes not quite open yet, but a hot cup of coffee just the same. As I took a drink I thought it was bubbly looking coffee, and it sure was! He had heated the wrong pot and poured me a cup of the dirty dish water. :eek
Warning! This thread is more than 20 years ago old.
It's likely that no further discussion is required, in which case we recommend starting a new thread. If however you feel your response is required you can still do so.

Recent Posts