It turned out the post was made by Eric Bachofner, a guy from Montana that, little to my knowledge, was quite the adventure bowhunter himself. My dad got a call to make sure it was alright if I was sent the bow, and before long the conversation changed to discussing mountain goats. That fall I would make my first “adventure trip” to British Columbia to chase goats with Dustin Roe, as it turns out, Eric had quite the history with goats, killing the #2 archery goat in Montana a couple of years prior. The recurve giveaway soon turned into a friendship. After swinging by Kalispell to show off my (unfortunately, rifle killed) goat that fall, me and Eric continued to stay in touch through my high school days, sending trophy pics and swapping hunting stories. This spring, after discussing last season’s trips and discussing plans for this season, I got a text that changed this year’s plans altogether.
“You mentioned that you were gonna try and line up an elk or muley hunt this fall, is that still in the cards? If you can get a general elk tag in MT and get up here for a hunt I’d be happy to take you.” That was all I needed to hear. A week later and I was in the running for a MT elk tag.
The wait was over. September 1st rolled around and I was on the road. The plan was I get to Montana the 3rd or so, and tag along on Eric’s muley hunt before heading to the elk woods a couple of days later. First stop, Casper Wyoming. Get to the pre-booked hotel room and show them my ID. First hiccup in the trip. Turns out Casper has a city ordinance that requires a person to be 21 to book a hotel room. Well, looks like I’m spending night #1 in my truck. Luckily, the sweet lady behind the desk at my unnamed hotel gave me some great news. “I know a place that might bend the rules a little. I’ll give them a call and let them know you’re heading their way.” Perfect. First hiccup in the trip and with a little local help I overcame it. To the room I go.
The next morning I wake up and start the drive to Bozeman. 20 minutes after I leave the hotel and I get a picture. Eric’s tag was filled the first day and it was a stomper. Don’t know if Eric wants the score out yet since it isn’t official for 60 days, but there’s a picture of it on the Muley Meatpole. Well, the trip took a turn. I wouldn’t be tagging along on a muley hunt but I could still chase some elk on a general tag and tag along on his dad’s LONG awaited tag. I spend a day in Bozeman visiting pretty much every outdoors store they have, and they have plenty!
I spend the third night in Kalispell and woke up the next day ready to meet Eric and head to the woods. I sat down to some Biscuits and Bison Gravy at the coolest hotel in Kalispell when I got a text that read “Better eat a good breakfast, crossfit at noon.” Well, what a way to get acclimated! After storming full speed through the first leg of the workout, the altitude hit me. It’s no joke guys. I was smoked, but I only took one puke break, so I think that’s a win?
We decided to make a quick run behind his dad’s house to see if we could get on the elk his dad had seen a couple weeks before while hiking. 15 yards up the mountain and I realize I wasn’t in Missouri anymore. Not only was I smoked at the 3,000 feet of elevation or so, I was smoked because this stuff was straight up and down (or was to me at the time, my perception of straight up and down would unfortunately change). Eric and his dad were acting like we were taking a sunday stroll down the sidewalk! Definitely a wake up call, and there was no chance I was asking to stop for a break, so I struggled up the trail. At the top, the photographer in me went crazy. A Montana sunrise over a mountain lake?! Yep, not in Missouri anymore. We put on a few miles that morning and I was met with the reality of early season elk hunting in general units. No bugles, but beautiful views. Even though my 5k time was around 20:00 in Missouri, I was smoked after a slow 3.2 miles and 1200 feet of elevation after that morning hunt. That would have to change, and change fast, whether it meant acclimating or just flat out forgetting about how much my legs burnt.
That Friday, we were Mountain bound. Eric had been running around these mountains his whole life, so we were met with some good problems. Which spot to go? Do we spend a half day backpacking in to a spot, or run and gun as many quick trails as possible? Hard to know the answer, but we decided our best chance to find elk was to hammer as many different spots as possible. After all, this was a learning trip, and the goal was to let me experience elk hunting, not necessarily kill one.
We take a lead from his buddy who had drawn a moose tag and consistently seen elk on his trail camera off a trail that happened to be fairly close to another favorite trail of Eric’s. We made it nearly to the top without getting a response to our bugles and decided that the best play was to head to the other trail of Eric’s that evening to try and locate some bulls for the next morning’s hunt. “Well, do ya wanna go back to the truck, or back to the trail?” Perfect, my first experience with trying to take a shortcut. (Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson this time…) What seemed like a long ways through some straight downhill lodgepole timber and Eric turns around with a nervous look on his face. “Hey man, I think we’re gonna have to go back… This isn’t looking right.” Coming from the land where the farthest walk was a half mile to a deer stand, he had me hook, line, and sinker. I get a sort of uneasiness to me whenever he cracks a smile and takes one more step… right out to the trail a half mile from the truck… Very funny, Eric, very funny.
We made it to the top and again, no bugles. Luckily, I believe I was starting to acclimate nicely. 7.2 miles between the two hikes that evening and I still felt fresh. After the first hunt Wednesday I was beginning to worry, I didn’t come all the way to Montana to wimp out and not be able to cover ground.
That Saturday morning we went on our furthest hike, and even though I was beginning to acclimate nicely, it was still a smokeshow. 6 miles total that morning, but I got some extra motivation near the top. There, laying 5 steps off the trail, was a moose shed. A freakin good one. Barely touched by the squirrels with great color on the bottom. We didn’t have those in Missouri, but there’s one here now!
Unfortunately, like a skipping record, no bulls. Lots of wolf sign, as well. I did get my first heart attack from a grouse though! We had 3 of them blow up about 3 yards from us, but being first thing in the morning, I didn’t want to have to pack one around all day, so we let them live to give a hunter a heart attack another day!
We stopped at a roadside burger joint that afternoon for some lunch and decided to fill up with gas before heading back out. We drive across the street to get gas and notice yellow bags covering all the nozzles… Out of Order. Eric went in to find out what the deal was and comes back out smiling. “Well, the station got struck by lightning and the computers are fried, but I got a guy to help us out.” Turns out, there sitting in the gas station, was a guy that Eric helped kill a 184” bighorn a couple years prior, and the guy just so happened to have a few gallons of gas laying around.
That was probably the most Northwest Montana thing I had ever experienced. Walk in to a gas station and see someone who you’ve helped on a sheep hunt? Yeah. That’s gotta take the cake.
I get to Missoula at around 4:30 and meet my buddy, Garrett. Me and Garrett met last spring at Missouri State. I heard of a “Backcountry Hunters and Anglers” club being started at Mo State so I decided to drop by a meeting. Knowing it took a certain kind of crazy to have an itch for backcountry hunting, I went in with high hopes. It turns out Garrett was the one who started the Missouri State branch of BHA, and holy crap was it scary how similar we were. We instantly became great friends and after he graduated in May he moved to Missoula to volunteer for BHA. Turning down a 6 figure financial job to be in Montana is a bold move, but one he gladly did. This kid flatout loves the outdoors.
He decides to give me the full Montana experience, so after a quick “how have you been” convo we head to the National Bison Range. What. A. Trip. Bulls absolutely everywhere and screaming their heads off. Not to mention big muleys and countless bison. “Hey man, you think there’s any general units around Missoula?” After driving through the park we were flat out itching to chase bugles.
We get back to his apartment and start sifting through GoHunt. We find a trail he’s been on that looked elky and decided to go for it. Garrett stopped to point out a unit that he thought would be a honeyhole. “Dang I want to chase elk in there, that has GOTTA be loaded.” Not thinking any more of it, I agree and move on to browsing draw odds for moose, sheep and goat, pipedream tags.
I get set up and Eric begins a calling sequence. No answer. Crap, we gave him 2 days of rest! I was anxious and was getting annoyed that this bull wouldn’t cooperate. We hear him bugle again, this time 100 yards beyond his previous bugle. We decide to close the distance, so we began up the trail when we hear branches break. Eric looks up above the trail, and I look down. Pretty sure it was below the trail, we turn our attention down hill. “There he is!” Eric says. “I’m pretty sure I can see him” I say as I try to focus through the alders surrounding the trail. “Alright, I’m gonna go back and try to make him follow me, get set up here.”
Knowing I couldn’t shoot through the wall of alders, I decide to inch my way through the wall of brush. Too antsy. I crossed the line of “aggressive” and ventured into “idiot” territory. I saw a wall of tan hide running away, catching a glimpse of a huge rack running through the trees on top of it. Crap. There was my chance. A big bull at less than 50 yards, and I blew it.
Not gonna lie, that hurt, but there was still a lot of daylight left. We make our way to the top and thought we heard a bugle back towards the truck. We begin to creep through the timber but the bugle was a lone one, and we don’t hear any elk from then on out. About halfway back to the truck and I hear all sorts of commotion right in front of us. Elk! Not 40 yards away! They must have been bedded and heard us coming down the trail. We get set up and try to call them back in, but it wasn’t productive, apparently the elk knew we weren’t one of them! Getting dark in Grizzly country we figured the best bet was to make it back to the truck and head home, get some rest, and hit the road early for his dad’s hunt.
What if there’s any general units between Eric’s dads tag and my way home? Then it hit me… Garretts unit! The one he insisted held elk! That wasn’t too far out of the way and seemed to have some good trail systems through it. The next morning I share the idea with Eric.
I don’t think he was thrilled with the idea of me running around on my own in Montana, but loved the fact that I was going to do everything I could to kill an elk. I show him the unit and he says “Yeah, ummm, I’m pretty sure dad’s friend worked the Forest Service in that unit… Let me give him a call.” Bingo. I was going to get to hunt Garrett’s unit and I was going to get from-the-ground-intel on it as well? This seemed too good to be true! Me and Garrett had been brainstorming some trails that looked good and I downloaded some OnX maps of the trails I was planning to focus. It just so happened our trails were almost directly where the Forest Service buddy of Eric’s dad told him would be a good spot!
Okay, so I might not be done chasing elk after all…
Bulls bugling everywhere. Everywhere. We see probably 60-70 elk that evening and a couple of absolute stomper bulls… We get back to the lodge and Eric asks me the question I had been wondering all day… “You sure you wanna leave this to go chase elk on your own?”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure. Deep down I knew I had to. I couldn’t go home feeling good unless I knew I did absolutely everything I could to put a bull on the ground, even if it meant leaving screaming 300 inchers...
The next morning I follow him and his dad around for the last time, again, we see a couple of stomper bulls but none in a good enough spot to make a play on. We make it back to the lodge and here it was… Time to make a decision… Stay or go. I knew I had to go.
C’mon now. A 19 year old Missouri kid going out on his own to the elk woods of Montana, and did I mention the kid didn’t own a bugle tube until he came up with this idea?! That was beside the point, after all, I had 3 hours to practice my bugle before I would be at the trailhead me, Garrett, and Eric decided on. What a joke. I just put myself in the mentality of “C’mon Chase, you know you won’t kill anything, but you might atleast glass up some elk and atleast you will know you will have done everything in your power to get it done!” Off to the general unit I went, leaving Eric and the countless screaming 300 inch bulls I had seen the previous two outings…
Now I’m on a mission. I can’t just get a good luck charm by seeing the most American of all the wildlife and not somehow pull off an elk! Still, I’m doubtful. I arrive at the previously agreed-upon trailhead and am now almost 100% sure I won’t get in elk… Campers and horse trailers are everywhere. Crap. It’s drizzling rain so I sat in my truck to brainstorm. “Well, this place is probably pressured like crazy, should I make the hour run south and hit the other spot we thought looked good? Or just forget about the other hunters and hunt this place anyway? Another truck pulls in with a four wheeler on the trailer and I figure thats another sign. Head south.
Well, maybe. There’s another trail that runs on the other side of this basin, and the trailhead is right around the corner form this one… the only difference is that the original trail I was going to hunt stayed at around 5800 feet of elevation, whereas this one ran up to 7380 at the top… Yikes…
I pull in the trailhead and there are no trucks… Okay, now time to take a more serious look at this thing… Looking at the topo map I notice a meadow up at the very top of the trail overlooking the whole basin.. Perfect, I’ll just make the 4.5 mile run up to that meadow, glass for a bit and get a feel for the bottom, and then come back to the truck for a dinner of Clif Bars and Huckleberry flavored water. Seems simple. I slowly make my way up the trail, after all, I figure being at the top by 6:30 will give me plenty of time to glass and be back to the truck just after dark.
I remembered a interview with Rob O’Neill in which he talked about overpreparing as opposed to overplanning. You should always be able to roll with it whenever plans go wrong, plans went wrong and I went with the “new” trail. No excuses, gotta roll with it. I figured I would chalk this one up as experience and move to the other trail the next morning when all of a sudden I hear a bull scream.
He was right below me. I look down into the bottom. Holy crap, that is steep… the steepest terrain I have had to go down yet…. The topo said it was over 1000 feet down and he was at the very bottom. I shoot a text out to Garrett.
“This place is a good spot. Glassed two elk and hear one pretty close bugling. Gonna make a play.” “Heck Yeah Bro! Go for it!”
Looking back down at the canyon I remember how steep it was… I also sent a text to my best friend from Missouri. “Hey man, I’m being serious here. Don’t worry or anything, but this stuff is getting steep and I have a bull bugling. Going down to the bottom so I won’t have any service but if some freak deal happens then it’s been fun! Love ya bro.” Off I went at 6:40.
Okay. Here’s the deal, Chase. You’re within 150 yards of this bull. You’re a 19 year old kid with basically no elk hunting experience besides what you’ve learned the past week. Even though Eric taught me a TON about elk hunting, THERES A 99% CHANCE THIS DOESNT WORK! But that leaves a 1% chance that it does... And that’s enough for me.
A creek ran through the bottom where I heard the bugle, one side was gently sloping lodgepole timber and one side was the steep open hillside I had just traversed, with conifers spread out incrementally. The bull has got to be on the lodgepole side, that just flat out made sense. I let out a bugle, my first bugle outside of my truck… somehow I didn’t completely mess it up. He answered immediately. Holy crap. This is happening. Ummm… Ummm… Okay… Bugle again? I let another one go and again, he answers right back… Crap, don’t forget the fundamentals. Check your freakin wind!
Uh oh… wind is blowing right to him.. Okay, so the only play I have is to somehow try to get deeper in the lodgepole timber and leapfrog him, then call him back down whenever I get the wind in my favor…. I start heading down around him when I catch a glimpse of tan out of the corner of my eye…
There’s a bull. HOLY CRAP THATS A BULL ELK RIGHT THERE. I see him walking on the other side of the creek, about 80 yards away on the open side. I got to make something happen, and I gotta make it happen fast. He moves behind a conifer and I cover as much ground as I can, as quickly as I can. Somehow, I made it almost to the creek bank. I get settled behind some brushy conifer as soon as he steps out from behind his tree.
Range him, he’s gotta be no farther than 25 yards, right? Turns out elk look a lot closer than deer do… 42 yards. Perfect, he was even giving me time to dial my single pin to the exact 42. I was confident out to 60, so this was well within the wheel house. He is 100% broadside and eating on some shrubs on the other side of him. Holy crap is this really happening right now?
Most of his vitals are blocked by the tree, but I had been studying elk vitals and knew that the “V” that their front shoulder makes can deceive you. I knew his heart had to be exposed where he was, but as calm as he was at the moment, I would draw, wait for him to take another step to open up more “kill space” and then let it fly. Perfect! How was this happening? I don’t know, but it was!
I slowly bring my bow back to full draw as the bull snaps to attention, he must have caught me drawing. Oh no…. The sure thing suddenly turned edgy. I had two options, and a split second decision to make… Either hope he somehow calmed back down and took another step, or trust my instinct that his “V” was true, and let an arrow fly right at his heart.
I decided that there was no way I could hold full draw steadily until he calmed back down to take another step, he was looking right at me and would bolt as soon as I inevitably had to let down. Well. Here it goes. My one shot… Man I really hope his front shoulder bone isn’t deceiving me… Put the pin right in the middle of that heart on the anatomy chart I had seen oh-so-many times on bowsite. Squeeeeeeze. There goes my arrow…
The arrow made no sound at all when it hit him, but it looked like it hit perfect? This made no sense… Turns out it was a perfect pass through heart shot. All of a sudden, not 15 seconds after the shot, I heard what I thought to be a crash…
Holy Crap… Was that him? Did I just kill a bull elk on my first solo hunt as a 19 year old? There’s no way this Missouri boy just got it done whenever he didn’t even own a bugle tube the day before…
It was starting to drizzle rain so I knew I had to find him fast, man I hope that was him crashing… I start up the other side and start looking for blood… I cant hardly see any since this vegetation was nothing like the crisp oak leaves I am used to looking for splatters on… Crap. How can their be no blood? I don’t see my arrow… Well, I guess I’ll just walk a little farther.
I turn the corner and holy crap.. THERES MY BULL. and holy crap… that thing is huge… Okay… so that whole scene played out in about 5 minutes, but it’s still getting late… I have an elk down 4.5 miles from the truck, and literally up and over a mountain… Crap is an understatement. I snap a quick selfie for proof and start working on the front shoulder. This is gonna be a long night… I get the front shoulder off and deboned just as darkness set in. I load it up and pull out a backstrap and start planning a route back to the truck.
Well shoot, theres a mountain between me and the truck… I check OnX and look at the topo… Okay, so I’m at about 6300 feet right here, That means I can side hill all the way around this thing and there’s no way I won’t run around into the trail. Perfect!
Those 4 hours and 6ish miles back to the truck were probably the longest 6 miles I’ve covered in my life. My boots got wet almost instantly, which led to discomfort that stretched into the next day.
I kept thinking back to the text I sent my buddy from Missouri. Surely he was smart enough to not do something stupid like call search and rescue? I didn’t have any service down in the bottom, so all I could do is hope. Every plane that flew over made me cringe. “Well, if it is SAR, maybe they can help me pack this thing off this godforsaken mountain!”
Finally, I make it to the trail. I get back to the truck around 12:30, exhausted and my back screaming from not spending the time to cinch the pack down correctly, and I know that all I gotta do is make the 30 minute drive to cell service to let my friend know I’m good, and let Eric know I have a bull down.
I remember Eric didn’t have any phone service in the lodge, but he had wifi, which means he could get iMessages. I let him know the situation and tell him that he should feel free to hunt the next morning with his dad, and that I would be getting some long awaited sleep. I then give a call to my friend from MO who, luckily, was smart enough to not freak out over the last text I sent him. My last call was to my buddy from Missoula, Garrett Titus.
Miraculously, at 2:30 in the morning, he answered. “Bro, you’re not gonna believe this, but I just freakin shot a bull!” “No way, buddy! That’s freakin awesome! Im pumped for ya!” “Okay now I’m gonna pass out since I’ve been bushwacking for the past 4 hours. I don’t think I’ll need you to help pack, since Eric can come down tomorrow morning, but if I need ya I’ll call ya!”
Garrett must’ve been anticipating the call because he picked up almost instantly. “Hey man, I really hate to ask this of you, but Eric’s dad shot a bull and I’m gonna need your help with mine…” “Dude, don’t worry about it at all, I’m stoked. I’ll be there in 3.5 hours.” Now THAT, is a solid friend, gentlemen!
We agree on a meeting place and I head to town to get some ice for the meat and something to eat. The past 24 hours had consisted of Clif Bars, Clif Bars, and more Clif Bars. The only thing he asked for was a can of Copenhagen Mint. Buddy, I would’ve bought him 100 cans of that stuff in the given moment, he was saving my trip.
He shows up and we start the 45 minute drive to the trailhead. As sore as I was the night before, I was feeling fresh and my body was used to putting on 7-8 miles a day at this point. We get to the trailhead and start the hike. What took me 2 hours the night of the hunt only took us an hour that afternoon, we were flat out ready to start this pack.
We make it to the top meadow and I start warning him. “Hey man, now I told you that this was down a steep canyon, but this thing is down a STEEP canyon.” We get to the edge and he looks over, “ummm, yeah, yeah that’s a steep canyon!”
What took me a matter of minutes the night before was going to be a little more planned out today. We look at OnX and see a bit of a finger going down just to our right, which lead straight to the bull. Perfect! About halfway down I realized just how stupid it was to run down this thing the day before, but, it paid off. Garrett, a little more fresh than me, beat me to the bull.
Holy crap, this thing is big. I didn’t realize how big bodied elk were until the day before, but seeing them in the mid-day light made it look even bigger. We snap a few pictures, since I wasn’t able to get any the day before, and went to work quartering and deboning.
This went almost exactly on schedule. We wanted to get about 30 minutes of rest before heading up the canyon, but by the time I got my skull cleaned up for a euro mount, we didn’t have a minute to spare. Garrett sat there laughing as I messed with removing the jaw and as much of the extra meat as I could. “Get that freakin jaw off and I’m throwing it over the mountain, that thing is screwing up our rest time!” He did, too.
Now, Garrett had been talking some confidence on the way up there, which made the hike go way smoother. He had been loading game bags while I worked on the skull. Turns out he only put a deboned hindquarter in my pack, along with the skull, whereas he was loaded down with a hindquarter, as well as the other backstrap and other front shoulder that I had packed out the night before. This guy was gonna earn his elk meat!
I had learned from last night’s mistake. This time we were gonna go right up the way we came down. About 200 feet up the canyon we realized our bodies weren’t as confident as we had been talking up the trail. Our legs were screaming, but we were bound and determined to get up there by dark. “Alright man, we’re not stopping until we make it to that rub.” Garrett would say. Me, with the lighter of the two loads, was ready for every bit of rest that Garrett would allow.
Step by step, we made it up the mountain. We got to the top in 2 very hard fought hours, and managed to get enough phone service to make some calls out. Garrett called his dad and let him know what a freakin smokeshow we just went through, and I called Eric. “Hey man, how are you doing?” I say lightheartedly. Luckily, he informed me that they had found his dad’s bull 200 yards from where the shot was. Perfect. He was stoked that my elk’s meat was still in good shape and that we got it all in one trip. I told him to tell his dad congrats and I headed on down the mountain.
After all, we still had 4.5 miles to cover before we could truly relax. About a mile down and we take another break. I look at Garrett and his legs are visibly shaking from fatigue. About delusional at this point, I almost died laughing. We HAD to be insane for doing this. “Dude, there isn’t a college football workout in the world that has pushed me close to what this has.” Nobody said backcountry elk hunting was easy! “Guess who has Cody Jinks’ newest album downloaded on his phone?” I ask Garrett, not to be outdone he responds with a smile and “Guess who has ALL of Cody Jinks’ albums on his phone?” Perfect.
We play some music and grind out the remaining 3.5 miles to the truck.
After something like that, we made the call. There was no way we were eating Clif Bars and sleeping in our trucks. We’re driving to the nearest town and getting a hotel room and 2 pizzas. I think we had deserved that!
Back in town, I decided to add up all the miles I had put on since I had been in Montana. 51.3. FIFTY ONE POINT THREE MILES?! It didn’t seem possible, but it was. Let alone the 12,400+ feet of elevation I had climbed as well. And to think I was smoked after 30 steps of the first hunt. Anything is possible.
We head to breakfast the next morning for a “last meal” before we each hit the road. Garrett laughs and says “Hey man, I know I said I would see you soon, but I didn’t really mean that you had to call me 3 days later needing me to pack elk!” To be honest, I didn’t even think I would need him to pack elk. I still don’t know how I pulled this off… I pay him with gas and elk meat and we head our separate ways. Volunteering for a 7 hour round trip drive to help pack elk. What a freakin guy.
I hit the road and it finally sets in. Holy crap. I did it. I didn’t kill a monster, but I killed an archery bull elk on a DIY hunt. That, my friends, is what I would call a success. I know I won’t be able to go back for atleast 4 years, and even then I might go 10 years without arrowing another bull, but this year everything worked out.
I can’t thank Eric (chasin bugles) enough for the opportunity to come out and the crazy amount of knowledge I gained from our short time hunting together, and I can’t think Garrett enough for not only starting a BHA club on his own, but also being crazy enough to volunteer for that smokeshow of a packout. This guy will without a doubt do huge things for conservation and the hunting community.
Orionsbro, you need to add this one to the Hall of Fame thread.
When I clicked on the thread and saw your handle I got excited! This is one of the best write ups I’ve read on this forum. Getting a bull on Montana public land by yourself as a 19 yr old non-resident is an awesome accomplishment. Great job and big congrats to you man. I don’t even personally know you and I’m proud of you!
And Eric is a solid guy. Proud to live in the same state as him. Major props to your buddy Garrett as well. That’s a true friend. Treasure it, because those types of friendships are rare, and get more rare the older you get.
Thanks for sharing with us all
Good luck, Robb
Congrats and thanks for sharing your story!!
Post up a pic of your euro when you get it finished!!!
I've been asked before, "how do you start doing that?" That's how you do it....... you just DO it....... figure it out later....
Very nicely written, you did well, young man! Welcome to the addiction, that will last you a lifetime!