It has been almost a decade since I moved out to west to Montana. Next to God and my wife it has been one of the best decisions of my life for a variety of reasons. I always tell people that I may not have been born in Montana, but I got here as quick as I could.
This thread is a recap of my 2017 season.
April 2nd and we just had a blizzard come through. Cabin fever is at an all time high here in Montana.... Lots of great season recaps here as of late. I wanted to wait till May or July to post this up with the intention of helping to kill the summer doldrums, but I gotta kill the winter doldrums right now before I go crazy......
To give a back drop, 2016 was a great year as well. I spent a lot of time in the field and was very successful, so going into this past season I wasn’t sure if it would carry over, or just be an average year. Either way I was going to give it my usual 100%.
(Viewer discretion advised - There are a few guns pics to come with lots of bow pics so if that makes you to want to miss out on some great bow hunts then now is the time to turn the channel;)
For those of you who like in-depth recaps, stay tuned, it's going to be a good one.... Lots of pics and video to come. (And no peeking at my trophy photos;)
Quick cautionary tail.... After filling my last tag on a nice public land buck in 2016, I decided to bone him out before crossing the river. I had tagged him on the front leg with a zip tie before dragging him to the spot I wanted to bone him out. Before beginning I decided to cut the zip tie in order to keep the tag from getting covered in blood and to put it in my pack along with the meat when I finished. I have used a Havalon for years, boned out multiple elk, deer, antelope, and always say to people "It's an awesome knife. You just can't make a mistake"!
Well.... I made a mistake... I know the rules of knife safety, but a momentary lapse cost me. While trying to get the zip tie off I slipped, stabbing length ways into my left ring finger. The pain was unreal. I had severed the nerve, and I could instantly feel the tendon retracting into the lower part of my finger. I ended up gutting the buck with one and half hands, dragged him across the river, somehow got him into my truck, dunked the finger in the river to clean it off (major ouch) , and drove to the hospital. A few days later I went under to get the tendon and nerve re-attached. Long story short, be careful out there. I do all my own butchering and have cut on dozens and dozens of critters. I'm super thankful I wasn't in the back country on an elk hunt, but I learned a valuable lesson. I have been pretty fortunate as far as injuries my whole life, but it really can happen to anybody.
Thankfully it was at the end of season and was healed up by the time 17' season rolled around.
Summer was over in a blink and antelope archery season was upon me. I am fortunate to be able to hunt them close to my house. I had plenty of close encounters, but was having trouble finding a “good one”.
I was cruising the back roads when he and his does ran off the edge of the road and stopped around 50 yards into the field. “Oh wow!!!!”
To say I was excited was an understatement. I look at a lot of goats every year, but to my recollection I had never seen a buck of this caliber in years of hunting this area. I knew right then and there that was the buck I wanted. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to hold off if I got a chance on a decent buck, but I certainly was going to focus on this one. The more I thought about it the more I realized that in order to get higher end caliber animals one has to be willing to eat their tag and not settle. I didn’t want to eat my antelope tag for the first time in five years, but I also really, really wanted only that buck! I pushed the thought of tag eating out of my mind as the game was far from over.
Shortly after I spotted him from the road he bedded down in the middle of the field with his does. I was able to snap some pics through the spotting scope, and then secured permission from the landowner. I looped around and made a stalk with the only cover available which eventually ran out. I popped my Montana decoy at around 120 yds and got his attention. He stood and started my way, but hung up and turned to follow his does when they decided they didn’t like the imposter.
Two days later I relocated him with his does in the same area. I put another sneak on him, but was not able to close the deal. I waited as they fed out of sight, but then the whole group decided to backtrack a little bit and saw me as I headed back to my truck. They took off and ran ½ -3/4 of a mile and disappeared. I got back into my truck and drove around until I relocated him with his does standing next to a gas well 2 track. I sat and watched him for a while trying to decide how to make a sneak, until a gas worker pulled up in his truck and told me he was going to spook them off when he went down the 2 track. Just before he pulled away, he changed his mind and said he could go check some other wells. He said he used to hunt and knew how it was. Super solid of the guy.
The buck was around 175-200 yards from us and never left while we were talking with our vehicles running. After the guy turned around and left the buck began to slowly feed back towards his does. (I couldn’t see them but I knew they were just over the edge of a rise in the terrain). If he continued, his path of travel would take him into a little depression with the rise between us. I couldn’t get out of my truck unseen at this point so I decided to risk pulling forward in my truck until I could get out and start the stalk. I calculated that these antelope were used to seeing rigs driving around checking wells every day. There were four or five other goats with him, and I waited until all their heads were down and slowly started creeping up the road. I finally made it to where they couldn’t see me exit my truck, then parked and quietly got out.
Thankfully there was a huge square hay bale at the top of the knoll, and I knew that if I could make the distance to that bale undetected I would be in the chips. I shimmied along the ground and finally got to the bale. At that point knew I hadn’t blown them out, and that this was getting extremely for real. As I peeked over the bale I saw him standing there, and knew right away he was within bow range. When you spot stalk hunt antelope a lot you find that closing the distance to 100-150 yds is not that hard, and you get used to seeing them at a distance..... But it is an extreme rush to get bow range close to them! (Especially after multiple blown stalks)
My range finder read 80 yards, however, a mild but stiff breeze made me hold off. There was no way I was going to lob a hope-to-get lucky shot at this buck. Based on the way they were all feeding I knew that if I was patient he would get closer.
After about a minute's wait I peeked back over the bale and ranged him again, this time my rangefinder read “60 yards”. I ranged it again to be sure I was getting an accurate reading and got another confirmation of 60 yards. At that point I felt very confident in my ability to make the shot. This is plenty close enough. I was riding a fine line. I knew the original does were just to my right, and at any minute could pop over the knoll and blow the whole thing.
For those of you who haven’t spot/stalked antelope they can be incredibly difficult to get close to, and there was no way I was going to let this opportunity slip from my fingers if I had any say in the matter.
I was on my knees behind the bale. I pulled my bow back, took a deep breath, and came out from behind it, raising up on my knees. I knew that as soon as I exposed myself I would have about a half a second to release.
As I came out from behind the bale I couldn’t believe it! All their heads were down!!!! I don’t know that I have ever been tempted to rush a shot more than at that moment. Almost everything in me wanted to immediately shoot! Thankfully the logic side of my brain won out. I knew they hadn’t spotted me, and I had more time than the adrenalin side of my brain was screaming at me I had.
I forced myself to settle the pin. When I finally released I couldn’t see the arrow, but I heard a faint thunkkk! I knew that it wasn’t the sound of arrow meeting dirt. and that I had hit him, but couldn’t tell exactly where.
As he tore out of there I fumbled with my binos, and finally got them up to my eyes. I could see blood all over the side of his white fur. I was still very nervous because he continued to tear across the field at antelope speed. Most of you know that nail biting feeling where you’re excited, but not sure enough to start the fist pumps. It’s only a matter of seconds, but it’s like it happens in slow motion, and your holding your breath like your teetering on a tight rope! About 120 yards out he slowed, and I noticed an almost imperceptible sag in his rump. He whirled around to face my direction, and I saw three big spurts of blood. I knew at that point it was a done deal. As he fell over I was almost in disbelief that I had actually killed him!!!!! There was no ground shrinkage at all when I got up to him. I was totally shocked and humbled that I was blessed to harvest such a magnificent buck.
I had been wanting for years to have an antelope mount, as I think they make beautiful mounts, but I hadn’t yet tagged the right one. I knew right away this was the one that would fit the bill. One of the really cool things about the day was that it was my oldest daughter’s 8th birthday. In addition, I had shot my first antelope almost exactly 8 years earlier 3 days after she was born. At the time my mom had just come into town to see the new born baby, and was there when I brought my first antelope home. Unfortunately my mom passed away unexpectedly 2 years ago. Ironically the last animal she saw a picture of me harvest was my 2015 antelope. Pretty neat as I think back on it all.
This year I was going to be hunting solo for elk. My anticipation was at an all-time high. Going into the hunt I felt very confidant after harvesting my antelope. Friday I spend all day loading gear, then horses and head out. I get into camp late, set up and crash. I decide to sleep in on Saturday as I have 14 days all to myself and am in no time crunch.
I head out that evening to the same spot I had killed my 2016 bull. As I ride into the drainage, planning to tie off and hunt up, I bust a small herd of elk up into the hillside. There is a good bull in it, and for one reason or another I don’t spook them too bad. I quickly hide the horse and begin making my way up the hill. The bull is chasing a cow, and as I near the meadow they are hanging in he begins to rake a tree just above me. I try to close the gap as quickly as possible, but the wind gives me away before I get the chance. I decide to trail the direction they ran, and before long find myself on the edge of elk central. I see a good bull up ahead, and begin to dog him. About the same time a cow heads my direction and before I know it I have her at 20 yards. I know she is about to walk into my scent stream and chuckle when her head snaps up and she decides that particular trail is not a good choice. I still have a play on the bull and end up closing the gap to 25 yards. A split second before I get drawn the mountain winds give me up again. Oh well…. First day, I almost killed a good bull, and I have 13 days left!
I make my way to a different area and am greeted with a massive herd of elk in a frenzy. They make their way up some steep country I do my best to catch up. During a 4 hour stretch I have multiple encounters with multiple bulls, including a couple serious jaw droppers (one insane 8x7!). I zig, zag, side-hill, up hill, and just about everything in between trying to make a play, before deciding to call it. I can still hear them bugling as I walk back down the mountain. I run into another hunter, a 65 year old NR , who flat out impresses me in his willingness to climb this particular mountain. As we quietly chat a nice 280ish 6 pt bull with a broken 3rd on one side starts our direction, but neither of us are interested in him at this point. I continue on my way and soon have a decent 5X6 bull at 20 yards. I come to full draw for practice, but once again, not what I came here for.
I head back to my horse, pull out the hammock, eat lunch, and curl up for a nap. The sound of elk bugling the entire time has me feeling good about tonight.
I wake up to something hitting my face. Small hail, great… I quickly pack up my stuff and throw up my Big Agnes 2 man. The snow storm hits full force and I think about heading back to camp. Ultimately I decide I’m here, bulls are bugling (literally the whole time), I came here to hunt, not sleep, and at this point I’m getting snowed on regardless. Around 4:00 pm I begin to shake my tent off and load up. I ride over to the edge of the timber where they had gone up that morning, hoping they’ll do the same thing again coming back down. As I tie off and begin to head in the bugles are getting louder. Looks like I made the right choice.
I slowly ease through the timber with very limited visibility due to the storm. Soon I see elk about a hundred yards ahead. Thankfully they can’t make me out. I side hill, getting the wind in my favor, and have 5 cows come from behind me heading into the herd in front of me, which seems odd. I mark the flat ledge they were on and position myself thinking there’s a good chance the herd will come through that way. As I strain through the binos I see 4-5 different bulls including a really nice 6X5, a 330 class 6, and a monster 8x8 non typ. The situation is almost surreal. Soon the 6X5 walks by on the ledge and disappears going the direction the cows had come from. This confirms my plan to wait in ambush near the trail ledge. A few minutes later he comes back by me and circles stopping 20 yards away broadside. This is a great bull. 300 class for sure with super long mains. For some reason this year I know I need to wait. The sight of the big 6 and whopper 8 probably help. I hope I don't regret it.
As I stand there frozen in place the big 6 comes up over the knoll and screams at the 6x5. At this point there’s nothing I can do except watch. Wow…. What a sight. Elk are big animals as it is, but a mature bull at 20 yards uphill seems monstrous. They head back to the main group at which point they all start heading down the trial I’m waiting near. This is perfect, second day in and I am going to tag out.
Unfortunately, a cow stops directly on the other side of him. At 34 yards, I’m not chancing it. With my setup I’ve passed through too many critters to chance it. I wait until she clears and he stays put. I release and watch my arrow go high, like top of back, in the hump high….. Arrgghhhh!!! What in the world????
He tears down the hill and I as I move forward to get a better view, I catch movement to my right. Here is the giant 8 pt on par to come down the same trail. Had I waited I would have had a shot at him. Man…. Double Arrgghhh!!!
Whatever…. with that display of shooting I guess it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I watch the 6 pt until he disappears and then take up the trail. I saw where the shot hit, and have played the game long enough to know this is a high back strap muscle hit. The blood trail confirms it, but I follow it regardless. He joins back in with the herd, and off they go. Bummer. You do this game long enough and it sometimes happens. Confident the bull will be fine I ride back to camp in the dark, disappointed but not discouraged by any means.
That night I get to test out my new 12 man tipi in a blizzard. (Pic is before the snow)
I wake up and the walls closed in overnight. It sounds like it stopped snowing until I tap the walls and the piles of snow fall off. Then I hear the familiar sound of snow hitting the tent. With this much time still to hunt I have no desire to run out in the heavy snow and get my gear, saddle, horse, bow optics, etc, soaked. I tidy camp, read, sleep, eat. Eat some more. Snow keeps up hard. I re-organize my gear, eat, read, feed the horses, relax then finally go to bed for the night.
Morning, it’s still snowing. Finally mid-day, after a good 8-10”, the snow begins to let up and the sun appears. Clear skies and bright sun, man this evening is going to be good! I Head out around 2:30-3:00. I’m not even close to where I am planning on going and I run into a good sized herd standing on the trail ahead of me. They move up the steep hill and I have no play so I continue on.
As I near the creek bottom I plan to head up, I see 200 elk moving through the bottom towards an area I am very familiar with. There are elk in the trail drainage so I tie off and ease up. I can see more elk still coming down the creek bottom to my right including the big 8x8 non typ from Sunday. Some of them turn off early and head up a steep hill. I tell myself I ought to just wait and try and ambush them if they come down the creek bottom to the pinch point I am at. I decide to cross the creek bottom and make my way up the steep hillside and try to intercept them. Should have went with my first instinct.
The going is incredibly tough due to the steepness, deep snow, and slippery rocks underneath. About half way through my I look down ahead in the creek bottom and see HUGE 360” class 6 pt bringing his cows and some small bulls down center of valley. Why didn't I stay put?!?!
I scramble back the way I had just came to try to get low enough for shot. They hang up to get a drink in the creek, but I am now exposed on the hillside. In retrospect I should have risked getting spotted in order to get lower. They come through below me at 90 yards. I watch with 12x binos as the big boy moves through and then on up the hill he goes. I realize there is a good chance there are more elk coming, and I decide to stick with my original idea of hanging tight at the pinch point. If only I could go back in time a half hour and tell myself to stay put. Man...…
A few minutes into my wait a nice 300” class 6 comes down the same way with his cows. He stops 45 yards broad side and rips out a bugle. Awesome. With nothing but air between us I try to make him bigger with my binos, but after what I’ve been seeing I elect to pass. Wow…. Hard to believe I am passing up bulls like this on public land.
The faucet seems to have shut off and I decide to cross back and continue my sneak up the other side. I see the giant 8 again. I parallel him below the ridge, but he moves off, and I never catch up.
It gets dark and I make my way back to my horse. I slip on a rock under the snow taking my feet coming out from under me and I smack my elbow on a rock, hard...... Ouch…..
I Head out after daylight in the morning via the same trail over to the area I saw the big herd move into last night. I run into a decent 6 with a few cows in the middle of the trail. Not what I’m looking for. I can hear and see elk in the open up ahead. I get as close as I dare and tie off. My good bud Buck occasionally whinies to let the elk know there’s a killer on the loose. “Thanks, I certainly appreciate that Buck!” LOL…
There’s a good 6 pt in meadow halfway to saddle. I try to slip straight up to the left side of the saddle, but run into a real nice 6x5 peering down from the rocks above me. Amazingly, he beds down and watches the goings on of the herd. I am pinned, but he finally leaves and the other elk move off into the timber. No use trying for them now. I would most likely bump them out. I drop over the back side of the steep ridge the 6x5 disappeared over. I can see elk, but have no play. I head back to camp decide to ride up back side of the steep ridge and park below the top. I sneak up to top edge of the timber. I‘m in it now. There are elk all throughout and seem to be transitioning along and through the rock line.
I creep into the herd with a mature but small racked 5 pt bugling, and get 40 yards from a bedded cow. I wait for them to move off, which they finally do. I carefully zig zag down to bottom of timber with elk all throughout meadow below me. A stiff wind and snow on the ground hides my movement. I get to the bottom, and have a herd to the left and to the right. I see a monster heavy beamed 6x7 with herded cows 150-200 yards out. I get as close as I can before I have no cover and wait for 2 hours. He runs back and forth glunking, chasing cows, the works. What a display. I’m able to get some footage of him, but unfortunately, he never runs a cow by me.
Eventually they move off farther out into the open meadow. I can also see elk two valleys over to the south with the big 8X7 from Sunday. I decide to slip up back to top, and ride Buck back down to the trail. It starts to lightly drizzle.
I decide to take Buck up and over the ridge towards the bugling I am hearing. This is the same area I had just seen the 8x7 an hour and half earlier, but on the back side now. I drop down into a steep trail – tie off and creep forward. The area I needed to be was to the right, but as I move along I see the 6x5 from Sunday on the left of the trail only 100 yds up. I watch him for a bit, hoping I made the right decision in giving him a pass on Sunday. Man, hope he makes it another year, he’ll be scary.
I have to bump them as I go by, but no worries. The elk I’m after are in the opposite direction. I head left up to the timber and creep through a rocky bouldered hill. I find the elk including the big 8X7 from Sunday morning, in a swale and they appear to be coming my way. I try to move into a better position, but bump a cow and calf. Not enough to spook the herd, but they hang up. I drop back down and sneak around the other side. I watch the herd with the 8X7 and 2 other shooter bulls mill around. I’m out of room, and calling is pointless with 200 cows and a dozen bulls.
A good borderline 6 pt breaks off and heads to meadow to my left. I try to call him back with whiny cow calls, and he turns around to head my way. It almost works, but he never fully commits. The bulls and cows slowly work toward bottom of the timber I had been at hours before and it gets dark.
I wake up to heavy fog. I head out well after shooting light, and go up the same trail as the night before. I can hear elk bugling up in the same area. I park the horse, my mare "Princess" this time, and slip up to the rocky line below the timber. The fog is crazy thick and I can barely see 100 yards in front of me. Luckily neither can the elk. I can hear a bull bugling to the left of timber in swale.
I sneak that way and run into a couple small bulls looking at me in the fog, but they can’t make me out. I can hear the bull getting closer. I creep his way and finally see him at 65 yards broadside. Nice herd bull (6 pt) but he has broken 3rd. Bummer .... I decide to pass the opportunity and backtrack the way I had just come.
I find another group at the bottom of the timber. It has some decent bulls but nothing huge. I hear what sounds like a giant which turns out to be broke rack bull I had seen earlier in the week. Just above his 2nd brow on each side the mains were snapped clean off. You could tell from his body and what was left of his rack he was a monster. Hope he makes it through till next year!
The group moves up through steep timber and I follow them. I get close at top near fence with good 6 pt, but he bumps off to the left along a fence line. I see the herd from last night go from a big meadow over a hillside and towards a different set of timber. I decide to ride up to top of the timber and park. I sneak along the top and find their tracks in the snow where they came through not an hour before. I can hear bugling down at bottom of timber, but know it’s not an option. I do see nice 6 pt all by himself in an open hillside. I try to make it to him, but he goes up, over, and back away from me, then drops into the timber to join the rest.
I decide to go back to camp to shoot and verify my bow is still pointing where it needs to be. Good thing I do because it’s off. My sight or rest must have got bumped a bit in all the jostling/hiking/riding over the past days. In a short time it’s dialed and zinging out to 80.
No time to rest. I take my horse back to the top timber where I put the elk down for their nap. The huge herd is still in the bottom. Half of them split off, moving along the bottom into the meadow and then staging up.
I see a great double 3rd, 7X6 with cows in the same saddle I'm in. First instinct tells me to go to the point of the timber/rock edge and see if they mosy that way. I decide to loop back across to the other side where I figured I would have more options once he made his move. Once again I out maneuver myself. Sure enough during this time the big bull walks to within easy bow range of where I had instinctively thought to wait. Arrggghhh…. Need to start trusting my gut instinct a little more. Oh well... Stay the course.
A calf comes by at 60 yards, runs back and Is joined by 3 cows and 2 small bulls.
The 7x6 and cows begin to move to the right towards a steep meadow. I run around to try and cut them off, but too late. I take a moment and get some footage of him. He is a very distinctive bull with a double 3rd on his right side. More on him later......
The knowledge of 3 different herd locations makes it easier to get up early. I pack my gear, saddle up my mare, and ride back to the top of the saddle. I’m tied off before shooting light. Daylight breaks and the 3 herds are still in their same spots. I have 1 group to the west of the ridge and 2 to the east. The group closest to me begins to move up the hill and towards the edge of the timber. I run ahead and think this may be it! They stop short ¾ of the way up then head down into the timber to join the other herd. Now I am behind the ball, and I run down the timber. I know full well that with the steepness of this hill, and deep snow it’s going to be a treat coming back up if this doesn’t work out.
Too late now, I’m committed. Long story short I’m into them and have some close calls. I see the big 8x8 from Sunday and Tuesday evening at 100 yds but no dice. Before I can make any good moves the whole herd crosses into the private land, with bugling and pandemonium going the whole time. I look like the kid who didn’t get any presents for Christmas. I am fumed about wasting all this energy for such an ill-fated play.
Before I can stew for too long I hear a bugle ring out ahead of me and look to see a great shooter bull standing 80 yards from me on the edge of the timber. Before I know it he turns and walk into the timber towards me.
He’s up the hill from me but walk my general direction. I wait till his head is obscured and move closer to clear the brush in front of me. At this point he’s at 50 (quartered to angle) and closing. I wait thinking “This bull is dead walking and just doesn’t know it yet”….
Out of nowhere he whips his head up, clearly smelling me, and whirls around and beats feet out of there. The wind seemed to be in my favor, and the only thing I can think is that the thermals gave me up. Double Arrgghhh!!!! Now I’m really irritated and begin my Bataan death march through the snow back to the top.
After a good, long, exhausting hike up the mountain, through the deep, crusty snow I get to the top of the saddle. I plan on going back to the horse, eating lunch and taking a nap. The herd to the west is still there. It’s around 10:00 am, and I tell myself I didn’t come here to eat and sleep. I came here to kill a bull. I decide there’s bedded elk, I have a tag, a bow, and lots of daylight, forget about it….. I’m going……
I creep down the opposite rocky ridge line feeling more like a sheep hunter than an elk hunter at the moment. The 7X6 with the double 3rd from the night before is in the herd, and I get to within 100 yards. After a while the herd decides to pack up and move out. They make it 2 ridges over in no time flat, but hang up again. It is obvious to me that they are going to stage up at the top of the hill, at the edge of the same small patch of timber I had gotten close to the heavy beamed 7X6 from Wednesday afternoon (pics/vid above). I pause to consider that if I go after them I am looking at an very long hike back to my mare. I don’t have much food or water on me at the moment. Ah, what the heck…. I didn’t come here to eat and sleep, I came here to kill a big bull, so off I go.
As I near the top of the hill they’re on, I can hear a cacophony of bugles. I run into a bedded bull in the wide open, but see him before he sees me! Thankfully there’s a lonely, mature pine off to my right on a fence line and I slowly make my way to it. I cross the fence (all public) in plain view of the bull and he never looks at me. Unreal…. I slither up to the tree and nock up. He is not a giant, but I am halfway through my hunt. He looks to be over 300 and I think he’s a pretty good one.
A cow jumps the fence 30 yards above me which causes him to stand. I draw back, but the wind is really pushing my bow. I try to wait for a lull in the gusts to steady up, but before that happens he takes off after the cow. Triple Arrrggghhhh!!!!! That's twice now today I've came to the edge of killing a bull and not got the shot!!!!
As I scan the open hillside in front of me I count over 20 (yes 20) different bulls from spikes to 6 pts. One or 2 warrant a careful look, but I know that dark horned, double 3rd 7X6 is somewhere above me on the top of the hill, I just can’t see him. I am in no position to make a move at this time anyway, so it’s a moot point. They’re still bugling above me, so I decide to wait it out as long as necessary.
That necessary turned into 4 hours. A few pieces of jerky, a couple mini snickers and no water. Huh…… it is what it is. I didn’t come here to eat, I came here to..… you get the idea. I had a strong feeling that if I stayed put the herd above would move down the fence line in the evening. I decide to snap some pics of the bulls for the guys on BS.
The wind was brutal. It's gusting strong from the west and isn’t going to betray me, but it sure feels like it 's going to freeze me. After an hour or two I can't take it anymore, and decide to climb the big pine to warm up and maybe get a better view. I slowly crawl up and can see the mature but small racked 5 above bedded with some cows
Around 4pm he gets up and moves off down the other side of the hill, but I see him pop back up to gather more cows and then he disappears again. At this point I began to realize that the herd above was dropping down the back side and was not going to be coming this way.
I carefully creep backwards to avoid blowing the bulls in front of me and loop around the hill. As I crest the top I see there is a deep valley they are in and I can see elk all over the opposite hillside. I realize I have no options and go back the way to within a hundred yards of the elk I had around me by the tree. I realize I needed to cut in between them in order to get on the timbered side of the valley the herd with the 6x7 was in. I know if the elk to my right blow out and go to my left they will likely take the herd in the valley with them, but I have to risk it. I move slowly forward take two steps at a time, hoping to nudge them off to the right.
I can’t believe it…. Here I am standing in the wide open taking a couple steps here and there and those elk would look at me, but when I freeze, few seconds later they disregard my presence.
In the meantime the long beamed 6x5 from Sunday and Wednesday pops up out of the valley to make a brief appearance and then disappears back into valley. Finally, after a hundred yards of 2 steps freeze, repeat, I feel I am centered enough between the 2 groups to keep the elk to the right from blowing into the valley, and now is the time to go for it
I start walking at a brisk pace towards the timbered side with those elk literally just watching me! It is truly amazing what you can get away with when they can’t smell you. Eventually they bump off to the right and I am in the clear.
Now it's go time. I peer into the valley and immediately make out a big bull, and can tell there are A LOT of elk in that valley. They are right at the bottom edge of my side of the ridge, and are paralleling the ridge down the valley. I begin to quietly but quickly move through the rocks, boulders, and trees, staying out of sight. I run into a couple spikes that have already started to transition over, but decide to bump them in order to catch up to the main group. It works. I can’t yet see the main herd, but my ears tell me I am in the red zone.
The thought literally goes through my head “This could be it”, and I am on full on alert. For those of you who have dogged a herd you know how touchy it can be. You have to keep pace, but at the same time have to be careful not to go too fast and blow into some stragglers.
I come around some boulders and there is an opening in the meadow in front, and slightly below me. In almost the same instant I see an elk standing directly out in front of me. The herd is to my left out of view, and this elk is turned facing the herd and is to my right. There is an internal fence that unbeknownst to me, they had clogged up on and this elk was one of the first ones over, and is now looking back at the other ones trying to cross. I throw up my range finder and see horns…….. big horns…..
I don’t look longer than a second or two, but I have no doubt this is the double beamed 7X6. Without a hesitation I get a range…. 55 yards. Perfect. Slightly down hill, going to put the 50 dead on. There is some brush between us, about 10 yards out, but there is a hole in the branches perfectly lined up with his vitals. I feel completely confident I can center my arrow through there.
(The arrow points to where I was standing and the hole I had to shoot through)
Zoomed out pic... This is the top of the ridge line I was sneaking through. The elk were down on the other side and were just beginning to transition over when I saw the bull standing in the open where I took the pic from.
Almost on total instinct I draw, center, and release. I wouldn’t guess much more than 2-3 seconds in total. I can see the arrow hit its arc and can tell it’s on perfect trajectory. Just past the downward arc I lose sight of it and millisecond later I hear the thump of broad head meeting hide.
The bull whirls to his right (directly away from me) and bursts downhill. In a half second he is out of view below me, and there is mass pandemonium as 300 elk blow out and run downhill to my right.
I sprint over to the edge of the rocks and try to find the double beamed 7X6 in the herd. I finally locate him as they run into the valley. They slow down as they make their way up the other side. He doesn’t look hurt at all! They come to a stop, seeming as if to wonder why they’re running. As they start to mill around the 7X6 rips off a bugle and gores at a smaller bull. What in the world is going on?!?!?!......
I am completely baffled at this point. I saw the arrow arc…. it was perfect…. immediately followed by the sound of it hitting him! What is going on?!!!. This bull is clearly not hurting at all. All I can think at this point is to try to find where he was standing and if, by some miracle, I can find my arrow maybe I can figure out where I hit. With the steepness of the shot angle, my arrow is most likely 100 yards down the hill buried in the grass. Whatever, I have to give it a try. Disgusted I walk to where I thought he was standing, and look back up hill to range the opening to get a better idea of exactly where he was.
I start to look around at the ground hoping to find some sign. I glance down the hill toward the elk across the valley. I catch some movement right down the hill below me, just in time to see an elk laying on its side, blood bubbling from its rib cage, and I watch It breathe its last two breaths. Now I am totally confused….. I can see antlers sticking out of the grass, but they don’t look like the big bull I shot at.
Either way my tag is punched now. The bull is laying 100 yards or less from where I shot him. I sit down to just take in the moment and for the first time in 8 days totally relax and soak in the beauty of my surroundings. What a moment. 300 elk are still across the valley doing their elk thing, I know now that the bull I shot at was not the double beamed 7X6, which makes since why he didn’t appear hurt. Apparently in the rush of the moment I didn’t realize the bull I was shooting at isn’t the bull I thought it was. Regardless I have a bull down.
After a couple minutes of soaking it in I make my way to him. I am still not sure what he is, and to be brutally honest I’m a little aworried I somehow mistakenly shot at a raggie. But, wait… I know the bull I shot at was big, and I know my arrow hit him.…..
I can tell he rolled/skidded down the hill and I can see his 5th is freshly broke and covered with dirt. His right side has 3 different tines busted at the tops, but he is a great bull regardless. I am a little bummed about the busted 5th as I know he broke it in the death run, and I can see a big patch of fir missing where he scraped a rock on the slide down. I look for the busted tine, but I’ve got a big bodied bull to get broke down, a horse a ½ mile and 3 ridges away, and a lot of work ahead of me. I look for about 10 minutes and can’t find it. Only later did I figure out his tine must have dug into the dirt and snapped when he rolled. Good thing taxi’s can fix tines.
I make tracks back to get the equine, adrenaline taking me up the hills faster than I thought I would go. I am able to get the mare and ride her back to the downed bull before it gets completely dark, but my pics need the flash.
The wind is atrocious, the hill is wicked steep, and I really have no where good to tie Princess up close. The tree line is a hundred yards up hill, and there’s no way I’m humping this bull up that hill to pack it onto her. I find some scrub brush and loop the lead rope around it. Good thing she doesn’t realize how easily she can take off. I have the bull wedged on a big rock for the pics. I break out the Havalon and get to work. After last year’s mishap, I am doubly careful and take it easy, especially out here solo in the mountains. It takes me longer than normal, but I am enjoying the moment. I finally have all the meat loaded in the panniers. I attempt to put the horns on top. She’s not having it, and I don’t need a blow up on this hillside.
I carry the horns on my back. It hurts. They’re awkward and my back is spent from the last 8 days. No worries, bull down, it’s a labor of love now. I have to backtrack up the creek bottom to avoid the steep stuff. More than once Princess gets a little too close and takes a tine to the snout. She may be a lazy horse, but that also makes her calm. Good thing or I might be picking up meat off the ground, and chasing a horse down the mountain. I stop to tie her up and try to load the horns again. She is flustered and experience has taught me there are times it’s better not to push the matter, so I put them on my back again, and keep going.
At 1 am we finally make it into camp. At this point I have been up for 22 hours! I am completely whipped. I get to where I should be seeing my tipi, and I don’t see it. My heart sinks as I know how brutal the wind has been today. Sure enough, half the stakes are pulled out and my stove, chimney pipe, cot, gear, etc is strewn all over the place. Looks like a mini tornado went though. I heard later the gusts were up to 70 mph in that area. I staked it down to beat the band, but I believe when the snow melted it softened the ground and made the aluminum stakes easy to pull out when the gusts hit it. Man, just when I thought my day was over! Two hours later, my stuff somewhat put back together I hit the sack…. Tomorrow’s another big day.
I wake up around 7 and decide not to delay the inevitable. I spend a few hours cleaning up my stuff and organizing camp before I break it all down and start packing the horses. I am still miles from my truck and want to make it in as few trips as possible.
It takes me all day to load and shuttle, but I am able to get camp, meat, and horns out in 2 trips.
I roll out towards home almost 12 hours later at 6:30 pm. I am dead dog tired, but immensely satisfied. I should go back to work and save some leave, but I spend the next 3 days sleeping like Rip Van Winkle….. Gotta get rested up. Season is only half over……..
Opening week of gun I am ready to drop the hammer on something. I have a close call with a 130”whitetail, but no dice. I have a few doe tags burning a hole in my pocket though, and waste no time in adding to the treasure trove of meat in the freezer.
I have a super good buddy/co-worker named Terry who is pumped about getting into hunting, and has the right stuff to become a real good hunter. I love sharing the passion with folks who enjoy it like I do. Time to begin the molding process. Years before moving to Montana was ever a thought, The Realtree Monster Bucks stoked up dreams of someday hunting the Milk River in Montana. Earlier in the summer I had a chance to spend 2 weeks out that way due to work, and began to realize I needed to make a hunting trip to see what is what. Terry and I have a 3 day weekend align for us, so we make plans, and reserve a hotel. I get off work at 12am, get 2 ½ hrs of sleep, then pick him up around 3:30.
We drive 4 hours through an ice storm, but we get there just as it breaks daylight. I have a muley doe tag for one side of the highway and we both have our buck tags which are good for anywhere around here. I’m more about getting him his first buck, but still want to notch my extra doe tag. Earlier that summer on my work trip, I had bought a drink for a tipsy, loud talking, rancher and now it pays off with permission to hunt his place.
It takes us a while, but we finally locate a small group of muleys. A couple of busted stalks and I finally take the mama at 360 yards. I love to bow hunt more than anything, but sometimes it just feels great to reach out and touch them! I take the time to show my Terry how to do the boneless method, and he is soaking it in.
We head back north and find a buck that evening, but just across the boundary line and there’s no time to get permission before dark. The hotel is awesome and we grill up fresh tenderloins on my portable grill, along with some Idahoan instant potatoes and eat like kings. The hotel owner is a great guy and points out a good place to try on the map.
An awesome bull! And you are a great storyteller, deerslayer! I really enjoyed it, and needed it on another crappy cold day in northern Minn.! Thank you for the posting and congrats! And your kids obviously love you!!
The next morning we head out and begin to hike. The wind is wicked cold so we drop down into the bottoms and creep along. We jump a coyote and I can’t resist the urge. I inform my protégé that, with rare exception, a deer hunt should always turn into a coyote hunt when the opportunity arises! I send the pic to my wife who tells me “Good job. Now let Terry shoot something!” Ha, right she is. Time to get serious for Terry.
We find a decent muley buck, but he somehow senses something isn’t right and bolts. I think there may be a good chance he’ll slow down but he takes us on a death march through some breaks trying to catch up. When his tracks hit a wide open sage brush flat I know we aren’t going to catch up and we head back. My bud is a hard core fitness enthusiast, but is impressed at my ability to hike. I tell him it all comes down to motivated desire.
We decide to drive and glass to see where it gets us. An hour before dark we locate a great muley buck, but it too is on private land. I figure this is a good time to have my bud learn how to door knock, and he doesn’t hesitate. A few smooth talking sentences later he secures permission and off we go. The buck moves out of the hay stack before we are able to make it there, but we know where to be at first light!
Daylights savings slips our mind and our alarm wakes us up an hour after we should have been up. No worries. This hunt is all about fun and introducing my friend to a new passion. We get to our spot an hour plus after daylight and the field is already empty. It’s our last day, but there’s still plenty of time. A few miles later we spot a group of muleys 150 yards from the road. A quick On X maps check confirm they’re fair game, and the chase is on. We park, loop around and get into position, lying prone on top of the hill. The buck comes up out of the draw and poses perfectly. The camera is running, and Terry takes his time and squeezes off the shot. The buck whirls and disappears into the draw in a blink. I am sure I heard the sound of the bullet smack him, and Terry says he was surprised at the shot. We’re both pumped and before we can celebrate, Terry says there’s another buck.
Now I am not much of a gun guy when it comes to shooting bucks these days. I am also not a big mule deer nut either. I had made my mind up to only shoot a muley if it was a really good one. But…. In the heat of the moment I decide it would be awesome to double up with Terry and grab the rifle. As the buck is almost out of view I let the .300 bark and drop him immediately. We are now both super pumped that we have two bucks down and the trip is a smashing success!
As we make our way over to the spot I begin to replay the event in my mind and start to have a concern that the buck I just shot looked eerily similar to Terry’s buck. When we get to the spot my worst fear is confirmed. We watch the video and can see Terry missed just over the top of the bucks back!........ I can’t explain it but 15 seconds later that buck walked back out of that draw like nothing had happened! Before I shot I thought there had been a second buck in that draw we had not originally seen, that spooked out when Terry’s buck ran down in the draw.
Even though I was happy to have my tag filled, I was also super bummed to have shot what should have been Terry’s first buck. That said, he hasn’t put much time in, and said later he could tell I felt worse than he did, but regardless, I was bound and determined to do whatever I could to get him a buck in the remaining time we had left.
We spent the rest of the day looking for a buck and late in the afternoon we found another group of mulies with a decent buck for Terry to try for. On X maps told us this time it was on private, but we were able to figure whose property it was. So we drove to the house and smooth talking Terry came through again, talking the reluctant rancher into letting him have a try at the buck.
We were both riding pretty high with 3 deer in the buck truck. Terry was beyond excited, and I could tell he was hooked for life. I think he’s still grinning right now! He just purchased his first bow, and is stoked to start the learning process of stick and string. Check back this fall, as I have a pretty good feeling he will be taking care of business.
Her second deer she shot while still in her church clothes!
We had to run to town after church. It was the last day to get her out close to home. On the way back I told her we should at least drive over to the hay field where I had got my doe.
(I originally suggested we go over and sit till dark, but she didn't want to. I talked her into it on the way back, last 20 minutes of light, and wouldn't you know it. A great buck had just walked from the hay stacks and into some private land we didn't have permission on. He stood there with in easy distance just watching us!!! Doh!!!! Guess that's what happens when you don't listen to your husband! ha)
5 minutes later she made an excellent frontal shot at 150 yds. The doe was dead before she hit the ground a millisecond later. Awesome....
The kids were on hand for both. I’m not into raising wimpy, sissified kids so I decided to gut before I boned in order for their little inquisitive minds to see what animals are made out of. They thoroughly quizzed me on each part of deer anatomy. Little hunters in the making!
I still have one more buck tag to fill but decide to wait till the rut was right to roll the dice. The first week resulted in a pretty poor hunt, with lots of guys on public land and unusually slow rut activity. I was down but not out and the following week headed back for round 2.
He was in and out of the thicket all morning long tending a doe. I would catch flashes of him and hear grunts, but couldn't get a good look. Finally he came out in the slough behind me, right on par to get an easy shot. What I didn't see was the doe to his left and she busted me as I got into position.
Seconds later he appeared a little farther down. Thankfully he followed the same trail as her and I got ready. There was some tree brush I had to shoot through, but I was willing to take the chance. As he walked into my lane I pulled and bleated to stop him. The arrow hit hard, but looked a bit low.
Thankfully it wasn’t too low and the Rage cut his heart almost in half. 10 seconds later he fell. The coolest thing was when I later watched the footage you could see the buck fall in the upper left hand corner of the secondary camera!
I make one trip across a high, fast moving river with 80 lbs of tree stands and gear. Then a second trip with meat and head. I find a taxidermist buyer for the cape and as he capes it out he comments on the worn down condition of the teeth. Looks like an older buck. I have the teeth and plan on sending them in to know for sure.
I have some errands to run the next day and plan on heading home until I realize I had forgot a few items at the base of my tree. I still have a doe tag, and decide to give it one last sit for the year and climb up an hour before dark.
20 mins before the end of legal light I figured I might as well get down, get my stuff, and get on the road. Then I think that this is my last sit of the year, I might as well enjoy the sunset, and stick it out till the end. I’m convinced it’s the little things like that, that often separate success from failure.
Shortly after I decide to wait till the end, I hear the unmistakable sound of hooves crunching leaves coming my way, and soon make out a doe. It’s the minute before legal light ends, and she is too far to ethically make the shot in low light. Then she starts angling towards me. Within seconds she gets to 47 yards and I bleat to stop her, then draw. This is the first year you can legally use lighted nocks in Montana and I watch my green nock streak like a missile through the air, disappearing for a millisecond at the same time hearing that sweet, sweet sound.
Agreed with all the above - thank you for sharing! 'Keeps the blood boiling, with just 142 days until Colo opening day (but who's counting?). & ditto - great idea on the fillet glove, Lou. They are now on "the list".