In years past there have been seasons that due to the nature of success were easy to write up and recap here on Bowsite. Not that 2018 was a bad year by any stretch, but it was a process of challenges overcome by determination, with many ups and downs throughout. It is the challenges that I often find difficult to convey through written words, but I hope to successfully articulate my 2018 season accordingly. If you like long stories and good reads I hope this won’t disappoint……
It started in the spring after booking a hunt with Dave Cole at TSI. I have only ever been to one other outfitter in my whole life, and that was more or less semi/self-guided. I have wanted to hunt black bears in Canada for some time and Dave’s price was so incredible I couldn’t pass it up. I had never visited New Brunswick, and looked forward to seeing new country.
It was a beautiful place, very different from the plains of Montana I had just come from. Dave is a total character and a true woodsman. We had a lot of fun talks on our way to and from the baits each day. Bears sightings were plentiful and entertaining. The guys in camp were great, and we made friendships fast. A couple of them (Bowsite guys) killed some slammers, and I kept waiting, hoping that a NB giant would give me a chance.
(Sorry about the iphone rotate. I'm going to post them individually to avoid that)
Dave had been tracking a big one at one of the baits since the previous year. I sat there twice, hoping to get a crack, and on the last evening I was there waiting. The action was plentiful with bears running around the woods just out of sight, popping jaws and making all sorts of racket. Two cubs that had come in earlier in the week with a big sow were on the bait most of the night, and would run up the tree every so often while the chasing was going on.
I kept my fingers crossed that the big boy would come by, but as I came into the last 10 minutes of light I realized my chances were slim that it would happen this trip. 5 minutes later, just as my time was about to expire I see a bear coming from behind the bait. I couldn’t tell if it was the big boy or not, but based on its’ cautious approach, I decided to take the chance. I knew if I held off my trip was done, there was no tomorrow. I had passed opportunities all week and decided there was no reason to pass this last opportunity. I wasn’t sure if this was the one I was after, but with 5 minutes left, I wasn’t about to be wrong and potentially be passing up a good one. Regardless, I had nothing to lose at this point.
The bear came in and immediately made a hard left behind the bait. It was just about to go into the brush when I lip squeaked to stop it. I let it go and watched the lighted nock flash through the black fur, with a loud thwopp.... I got down and checked my arrow. There wasn’t an overly large amount of blood on the shaft, and I noticed it smelled like fish. I guessed liver, and we decided to wait until morning. After getting hosed by the airline for a change of flight time I went to bed hopeful for the morning.
(Quick side note: One of Dave’s first questions was which broadhead I was using. I told him a Rage hypodermic, and Dave’s immediate response was a confident “We’ll find it”. This from a guy who has been on an approximate 800 plus bear recoveries. He doesn’t bow hunt himself so he has no dog in the fight. I grilled him about his experience with hunters and broad head selection and his summary was that he rarely, if ever, has lost a bear shot with a Rage.….. ;)
The next morning Dave and I set out to recover the bear. I decided to look down a trail that I believed the bear might have ran down from the sound the night before. 5 minutes later I found it. Turned out it wasn’t the big one, but I was happy. It had a real nice coat and capped off a fun trip with lots of memories.
Justin Howell, aka WV Mountaineer, is as true blue as they come. He drove 3 hours to pick me up and take me on his annual Shenandoah fishing trip with his brother and lifelong buds. What a blast! Catching catfish and smallies while standing waist deep in the Shenandoah was something I won’t soon forget.
I’m a milk it till the last drop kind of guy and just as they were packing up for the night I fished my way to shore and hooked into a beautiful 19” smallie! I told them “I think I caught a good one” but Justin and his brother didn’t take me too seriously until they came over and looked. Then they got real interested all of the sudden! LOL That’s when I knew I had a good one. I asked them to cook it up for me along with one of my catfish, and they graciously agreed. Good eats!!!
The summer flew by, as it always does, with lots of fun with the kiddos, camping, fishing, and killing gophers. My dad was able to make it out and we had a great time catching rainbows and shooting gophers from my buddie’s “Gophernator”.
By August I am starting to gear up for antelope, but this year I decided to try something I have always wanted to do. I found a steal of a deal on a Bear Montana longbow, and decided I would make it my goal to kill an animal with a trad bow. With only a few weeks until deer season I spent a lot of time trying to get proficient enough to take it out.
In the meantime I tried finding a decent speedgoat with my compound. I did make a beauty stalk on a nice buck bedded with some does, but got busted when I was too focused on a curious doe watching me hide behind the deke that I didn’t notice the buck come up the hill to my right. He trotted off a little ways, I guessed the range, then watched as he blew out after my arrow whistled under him. Oh well… If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
For those of you who have read my threads in the past you may remember my friend Terry who helped get into hunting. He had bought a bow earlier in the year, and because I am a bow hunter Ed instructor I was able to get him certified in time for season. I really wanted him to kill something with his bow, and added this to my list of goals for the season. We went out together that first week, me trying for my first with trad gear, and him for his first bow kill. I lucked out when I had this doe give me a 20 yard shot and drilled her through the heart! It was a rush, and made me feel like a kid again!
A couple days later I drop Terry off, and go in search of a speed goat. I text him to see how it’s going and he calls to tell me he shot a doe, but he doesn’t think it was a good shot. He says it was way back of where he knows it should have been. I meet up with him and we can’t find a drop of blood anywhere. I tell him we need to give her lots of time, and head home for the morning. We come back hours later, and with no blood to go on we start to grid trying to locate her. I am hoping the many magpies in the area will help us out, but no dice. After a number of hours we reconvene at the tree, and are about to give it up, but I decide to have him get back in the tree and direct me to the exact last spot he saw her, and walk me through it point by point. Originally he had told me she ran into the field and made a hard right to the tree line, but now he says she may have veered toward the tree line. Big difference.
With this new info I have a hunch where she may have went. I walk to a trail 200 yards away and within a few steps look down and spot our first drop of blood. I tell Terry that our chances are really good she’s close by. I let Terry take over and 15 minutes later he has his first deer with a bow! We were both jacked, and I have a huge relief Terry’s first was a success and I’m thrilled with the valuable tracking experience he’s gained.
I now am divided between trying to tag an antelope buck and try to fill my deer tag before my upcoming elk hunt. I find a really good whitetail for my area and hone in. A few days later I have an opportunity at him and take the shot only to have him hit the deck and I graze the top of his back.
Down but not out I keep after him and a few days later have another encounter. This time I decide to hold a little low and let him drop into it. Wouldn’t you know he stands perfectly still and the arrow goes just underneath him! Sheesh….. Some deer just have 9 lives…… But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Now it was time for the Coup de grace of my year. Two weeks in the mountains, on my horses, chasing stinky, bugling bulls. This year my guest is none other than Ron Dare, aka Bear Track. I was excited to have Ron along, hear his stories from all of his years of guiding and see his face when we get into a group of bugling bulls. Ron had just sold his business and we were both riding on cloud nine, full of expectation as we made it to camp. After a chilly night sleeping in the horse trailer we wake up early and load up. We decide to take in enough to be comfortable for the long haul and end up taking the whole day to pack in.
Thankfully Ron has heeded my advice and spent the summer getting experience on top of a horse. I was very impressed with this 63 year old’s determination and moxy to learn a new skill and follow me around some sketchy terrain on the back of a horse. I don’t think there was a single place I wanted to ride that he shied away from, in spite the fact that I could tell he was hesitant at times. This made it way easier for us to run and gun hard looking for elk.
The hunting is tough, but I find a grouse dumb enough to hang out a little too long. The shot is an extreme angle up hill. At impact my arrow blows through and straight up in the air! I think it’s still somewhere in orbit. Makeshift BBQ and we eat like kings.
Each season’s elk hunt presents its’ own set of challenges, new and old. This season was a whole new deal. Try as we might, elk were scarce, a far cry from my 2017 season. We were putting dozens of miles on the horses, but to no avail. Finally one morning we spot a group of about 70 elk including a good bull. We loop around, tie off, and sneak along the rocks, finally spotting them across the drainage. I call and try peel off a satellite with some whiny cow calls. One bull seems interested, but not for long. The calf is running around us calling like crazy, but finally also loses interest and trots back to the main herd. We watch them bed, and we decide to go for broke and put the sneakaroo on them. We loop back around, but come up a little shy of where we need to be. We get busted and they go further down into the drainage, before forgetting about us and we watch them meander out of sight. It was fun, but not what we need.
Thanks Adam! (Funny thing about that was I posted some questions over on the Leatherwall, and had guys telling me there's no way, I'd have to wait till next year before I could hunt with it. LOL........ Sometimes I like to prove people wrong....)
Try as we might things are just plain tough. I get intel from a friend that this particular area was overrun with pressure in the previous weeks. Not to mention that there had been a lot of human activity in the area due to the many wildfires Montana had been experiencing. I add up some other influencing factors, and things are starting to make sense as to why the elk are not co-operating. Occasionally we spot a good herd, but they won’t come off private land, and we’re forced to watch from a distance. I am pulling out all the stops trying to find a bull for Ron. We try a new area and I let out some cold calls. We stop and sit for a few before getting up and slowly easing forward. We don’t go 20 yards before I spot a decent bull to my left coming in for a look. Unfortunately we’re not in position and he catches us with our pants down. Ron tries his best to position for a shot, but the jig is up.
It doesn’t take much time spent with Ron to know that he’s been around once or twice. Tough hunting conditions doesn’t get him down. He is the constant optimist, and appears to be having a great time in spite of the tough hunting. As some of you know he is a master story teller, and the tipi is filled at night with laughs as Ron regails me with hilarious tails from decades of guiding. We are having a great time together in spite of the un-cooperative elk.
(Link is a video of Ron doing what he does best, completely unaware I'm filming him! hahaha.....)
Every day we have deer coming near camp, and Ron decides his deer tag needs to be filled. One afternoon we set up Ron sticks a doe, with ol’ TBM hamblaster!!! Doh!!!
We are still hoping to get out for the evening, but with the rain dropping on us we decide we have to finish what we’ve started. We track her into the willows, and I’m thinking this doe is in trouble with Ron “the bearman” Dare and the deerslayer hot in pursuit. It doesn’t take long and Ron is able to put her down for the count. We have some good laughs, and decide to spend the evening quartering her up and getting a good tenderloin meal.
We hunt hard for the next few days, but Ron lets me know his time is up, and he needs to get back to Jeanine. I fully understand and give it my best shot to find him an elk on the last day of his hunt. He sleeps in that morning for a much deserved and needed break, and I ride out to see if I can scrounge up a last day elk for him that evening. I find the big herd, but yet again they are on private. I have high hopes that they will be come our way that evening and trot most of the way back to camp in record time.
The links don't work for me here. I'm curious which story I may have been telling. That is about as nasty a picture of me I've ever seen!!!!! Ha! Justin did not tell you that I said, if convinces that calf to come back near me, I'm killing it. It was evident that so far in our hunt, and the factors that he'd mentioned and a huge impact on the elk and my opportunities were going to be limited. Justin is a great host and one of the finest people any of us could ever meet, and I've met plenty. I learned to ride a horse and took lessons one on one from a great gal. Justin told me to learn how to rope halter, bit halter and saddle in the dark with my eyes closed. I did and holy molly, I know why he told me to be prepared. If he had that job exclusively, he'd of had to get up even earlier than we were just to get it done. My horse injuries were very real but I bounce well and never once blamed the horse, though she has her way about her and it was her fault once. My boot getting stuck in the stirip (3 times) was my boot's fault and in the dark hanging upside down is just another story of adventure for me. He says insanely steep? I can't swear on here but pictures do NOT do that hill justice! I've never tobogganed down a hill that steep, nor would I ever!
Ron had a couple of falls that really had my heart racing. It can be par for the course when you're on your first horseback elk hunt, but it is still spooky when it happens. I can't tell you all how impressed I was with this young-at-heart 63 yr old guy going on a first time venture like this. Ron is a tough son-of-a-gun that I can tell you. I really hesitate taking anyone on this trip, because while my horses are pretty good, they're still horses and this is some extreme riding terrain. Ron was certainly up to the task.
It quickly becomes obvious they won’t be coming our way, and we ride posthaste to a different ridge hoping to come across a straggler. As we come into the last ½ hour we both agree it’s time to put a fork in it, and we sit on the rocky ridge and soak up the evening sunset.
Ron can tell I am super bummed that I wasn’t able to help fill his tag, but his years of experience as a guide shine through as he tells me not to beat myself up. He is thrilled to have had the opportunity to do this trip. I have a friend hunting the area that is also leaving the next day, so he agrees to take him home.
Unfortunately some nasty weather blows in and I decide to sit it out. I have almost never seen a buck near camp, and even then only after dark, but I figure I have nothing better to do, and decide to give it a try. A little while before dark I see a decent whitetail mountain buck on the edge of camp! I can’t believe it!
I wait and eventually he makes it my way and I ready for a shot. He comes into around 20 yards, and I am up against the clock. I decide it’s now or never and let it fly. I can’t tell exactly where I hit, but it sounded good. I pick up his blood in the snow almost immediately, but the blood is dark. I follow it for a ways and mark it before turning back to camp. I eat a hot Mountain House and turn in. After a while I hear frozen snow hitting the tent, and decide to get up and follow the blood a little further before it gets snowed over. I go a little ways and get a good idea of where he might be. I go back to the tent and get some sleep.
I wake up 3 hours before daylight, hoping to find him, and then get in a morning hunt. I follow his blood to the creek. I am sure he crossed it and begin looking for his sign on the other side. No luck. I walk up and down the creek in both directions, still nothing. The snow has bent over the willows on the edges of the creek, so I am sure if he had went through there it would be obvious. After circling for 45 minutes I am baffled how his blood and tracks have just vanished! I go back to original blood multiple times and finally almost trip over him! He walked about 10 yards up the creek and died, but his head was half submerged. I walked within 2 feet of him multiple times, but in the dark he looked like a rock in the water! I get him tagged, dressed out, and am on the trail in a flash.
I spend almost the entire day riding like a mad man trying to locate the elk, and put 20 hard miles on my horse Buck. He can be a pain at times, and I try to tire him out to get him to comply a little better. However after years of trying I have finally come to the conclusion I simply can’t wear this horse out. In spite of his shenanigans he is a beast in the mountains, and a great bud when I’m solo.
The weather keeps things down to a minimum, but it finally breaks. I am coming down to the wire time wise. I make a few phone calls, pull hard on some strings at work, and get approved to be gone through the last day of season.
In the morning I spot some bulls making their way up a steep burn and follow them up, getting to within 65 yards, but not in a position I’m comfortable taking a shot, and eventually they move off. That evening I spot a group of bulls making their way across a drainage and try to set up and cut them off. As elk so often do, they go off script and feed out into the middle of the meadow. It looks like they are going to go straight through and over the top of the hill, so I race back around trying to get in front of them. I watch them start angling towards where I just was so I retrace my steps back. This goes on for a half hour with me trying to guess which way they’re going to go. Normally I try to let them make the moves, but I am tired, and desperate. Daylight comes to an end and I never get a shot.
The next morning I ride out to the same area looking to get high and glass. As I crest the hill I almost ride into a group of bulls.
I can’t believe they haven’t seen me and I back up, side hilling over to the nearest tree, then tie off. I loop around to the top of the ridge hoping to get the wind in my favor and come down on top of them, ambushing them as they feed on by. As usual, elk are faster than you think and they are already level with me. I am within range and although there isn’t a mature bull in the bunch, I only have 2 days left I’m okay with a raghorn. I am trying to find a shot on one of the branch antlered bulls, but they aren’t giving me a chance. A spike stops broadside giving me a shot, but even as late in the game as I am I just can’t do it. It’s hard to go from a season the year previous passing up 300 class bulls to shooting a spike. A man has to draw the line somewhere, and for me this is it.
They are moving in and out too quickly to get a clean shot, and before long the wind gives me up.
The next morning is the last day. At this point I have been in the back country for 16 days, and a week solo. I am tired, missing my wife and kids, but I am still determined to kill an elk. I’ve made it this far, I have to push through to the end. I get up high and glass some elk up in a place I know well. I hop on Buck and trot him down into the bottom and make it over to the bottom of the ridge in short order. I tie off and start making my way up the steep hill where I had last seen them. I don’t see any elk, but I know they’re likely in the timber at the top.
As I make my way across the open I look up to see a good 6 pt staring down at me! I freeze and after a couple minutes he goes back to doing his elk thing. I wait until his head is either down or behind a tree and sneak across the open hill at the bottom. I see another elk materialize at the top of the ridge, and it’s a beast!
I am super careful not to get caught, which means I can’t go as fast as I need to. Eventually they feed over the top of the ridge and I muster all the energy I have in the tank after 16 days and climb as fast as I can to the top.
By the time I get there I am guessing they are well inside the timber line and start cat footing it through the trees. I catch some movement out of the corner of my eye to the right, and stop to pull up my binos. It’s just some tall grass blowing in the wind, and I put the binos down. Not a half second later I catch more movement to my left and glance over to see the beast bull not 30 yards from me, completely unaware of my presence!
No matter how often I see elk, or how many I kill, every time I see a truly big, mature bull that close, especially standing uphill, it takes my breath away…. It puts my adrenaline at warp speed. I know this is my last day, and most likely my last chance. Almost simultaneously the smaller 6, which I hadn’t seen, catches a whiff, and crashes down the hill through the timber. For some reason that big toad bull just looks at him and doesn’t move. I know it has to be mere seconds before he follows suit and I have to do something, now!multaneously the smaller 6, which I hadn’t seen, catches a whiff, and crashes down the hill through the timber. For some reason that big toad bull just looks at him and doesn’t move. I know it has to be mere seconds before he follows suit and I have to do something, now!
I slowly raise my bow and pull back super slowly. There is a small dead pine in front of me, and I know the chance for it to deflect my arrow is there, but I have to try. As I come to full draw my arrow pops off my string and clatters on my bow! Are you kidding me!!!??!?!?!
I have never had this happen, but I recently started shooting a Hamskea. Somehow the arrow had got caught between the fork and the arrow guard. My broad head blades sit behind the front of my riser and when I hit full draw it pulled the arrow off the string! Again, I have never had this happen, but there couldn’t have been a worse time to have an equipment failure.
Of course the big boy didn’t stick around for that and crashed off joining his buddy down the hill. To say I was mad, frustrated, and disappointed would be a massive understatement. I decide to make my way further down the ridge and unbelievably find another group of elk! I put a beautiful sneak on the next group, getting within 20 yards. As I ease up over the rocks I can see a spike and cow. I knew there are a few reasonable bulls in the group, but before I can make anything happen the mountain winds give me up again. I've been out here for over 2 weeks straight and have had more close call action in this one morning than the rest of the time combined! It was awesome to see things turning around, but it was now a little too much, a little too late.
I hunt out the day with no luck and darkness settles on my archery season. I am tired and have given it my best shot. I know tomorrow is another long day of packing camp out so I trot Buck down the trail in the dark. A half hour into the ride and I catch a whiff of elk. No sooner had I smelled them, than a nice six pt with 2 cows run across the trail 20 yards in front of me!!!! As we run by them I see 2 beady eyes slink down in the grass 10 yards from the trail. This is crazy. No way there are any house cats our here. I reign Buck around and get close enough with my headlamp to see a bobcat slink down in the grass!!! I can’t make this stuff up. I should add it to the “Coolest things you’ve seen” thread. We stare at each other for a few seconds before he runs off.
I make it back home safe and sound, bummed but at the same time satisfied that I had spent 17 days straight in the mountains without giving up or giving in. I had tried and failed, but I was told the old saying as a kid “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.
I also had drawn a muley doe tag and take the chance to bring my girls out for a daddy/daughter hunt. They get to watch dad harvest this doe. As I bone it out they each pick up a hoof and started playing princess and prince while I work. LOL….. Guaranteed they won’t be snowflake city kids!
Mid November and I have a trip coming up with a couple of crazy Canucks that both go by the last name of Pauls. You may have heard they kill moose or something like that. Anyhoo, it’s early November, and with that hunt soon upon me, I will not have a chance to go after elk when I get back.
Time is super limited, and with only 2 days to spare (Including travel) I know it is a loooooong shot, but I decide if I don’t fill my elk tag this year it isn’t going to be for a lack of trying. I haven’t rifle hunted elk in a few years, but I know a spot that might work. By the time I get there and ride in it is getting late. I pass a ton of other hunters on the ride in, and as I set up my Big Agnes I am thinking my one day to hunt the next morning is probably a complete waste of time. I can see a flashlight coming by my tent and I strike up a "howdy" with the guy who I can’t even see. He tells me he shot a raggie and is going back to pack it out tomorrow. Oh great….. If I wasn’t confident before I am surely convinced now. I get up early and am just about to hit the trail before two other hunters blow past me in the dark without saying a word. This is just getting ridiculous.
Regardless, I’m here, I have a tag, a rifle, and a give er’ heck attitude. I saddle up and ride to the top of a ridge and tie off. I poke my way along glassing for elk in the bottoms and parks. I realize my rifle is in my pack on my back, and in the crazy, no-way-it-can-happen, off chance I run into an elk I’ll feel pretty stupid if I don’t have my gun handy. I go back and forth with myself for a few moments before giving in to my smarter side and take off my pack, get my rifle, make sure I have a round chambered, and safety on. This may prove to be a good decision.
I finally spot a few elk way off. I’m not even sure they’re still on public land, but figure I have nothing to lose and if nothing else I should make my way over there and maybe they’ll be back in the evening. As I try to find the best way down the ridge I run across some fresh elk tracks! I decide this the best way down anyway and decide to follow them. A hundred or so yards down the ridge and I come across a quartered raggie. I'm pretty sure it belongs to the hunter I talked to through the tent through the night before. There are still elk tracks leading away from the quartered bull, but I'm sure the elk that made them are long gone. I decide to follow that direction downhill anyway.
I am not really trying to be stealthy at this point, but just casually picking my way down the steep hill. There are scattered tree throughout, but it’s pretty open. Certainly not a place I would expect to walk into an elk.
I haven’t gone a couple hundred yards more down the hill and I catch some commotion out of the corner of my eye. I am in total shock when I look up to see a bull running from my left to right 60 yards from me in the wide open!!!! Thank God my rifle was slung on my shoulder instead of in my pack. In one motion I swing it off my shoulder, clicking off the safety, and find the bull in my scope. (I try to always keep my scopes on the lowest setting for just this reason). By now he is running through the pines, and I know my chances of squeaking one through are slim to none. As I’m sure you can all relate these are millisecond thoughts, and success or failure hinges on 1/10 of a second decisions. I know I need to find an opening, but at the same time realize when I scan ahead of him there is a good chance he could turn downhill and I could miss my only opportunity. Regardless, I choose to scan ahead with my scope, and find a 10-20 ft opening in the trees, and wait for him to run into it. Thankfully, for a much needed change, I make the right decision, and he almost instantly appears in the opening. Crosshair meets fur and instinctively I fire.
All of this lasts maybe 3-5 seconds or less. As I come out of the recoil, cycling the bolt at the same time, I see his rear end slam down in the dirt!!!! I hit him on a dead run. It was exactly like those deer hunter arcade games. I am delirious with adrenaline, but I level off and fire again. He manages to turn around with his front legs and drags himself back towards the way he has just run from, dragging himself through the trees. I am aiming, but not really settling. I fire again. I “know” he is spined and just want to finish him quickly. My rifle only holds 3 and I throw another one in there and fire a fourth time. By now I am getting worried about ruining meat. As I open the bolt and slam in the next round I glance up to see another bull running right at me! It’s a dink 4 pt and he has no idea I am standing there. For a moment I look at him through my scope. He trots off downhill, and I turn my attention back to my bull to see if he requires another shot, but now I can’t see him. Regardless, I am convinced he must be just down the hill either dying, or laying there needing to be put down quickly.
I run down the hill 60 yards, and still don’t see him. No matter, I can see his sign in the dirt. The hill is steep and drops way down into a creek bottom, but I just “know” he is down the hill just a little ways. I run down the hill and am following his tracks. Wait a minute….. tracks….. that means he is on his feet. Not good. No worries, I just put 4 holes in him right?.....
I run past a fist sized spot of blood and think “He’s just down in the creek bottom here. I just gotta go finish him off” I run downhill to the creek and am not seeing any sign. I follow the creek for a hundred yards and still no sign of him. We’re talking mere minutes since the shot. There’s no way he made it up the other side of this creek. It’s a steep son of a gun, and I just spined him! "What the heck is going on right now?!!!" My adrenaline is still spiked through the roof, so I quickly run up the mountain on the other side thinking he’s got to be right here somewhere. "There's no way he’s gone." Minutes turn into a half hour. Now I’m getting worried.
A half hour turns into an hour. I am beyond frazzled. I should be quartering this bull right now. I go back to the blood, and begin to painstakingly follow it. Sparse isn’t the word. I find a drop every 20 minutes or so. I am still sure that this bull has to be right here somewhere that I run back up the other side of the creek looking for birds or hoping to see him lying there. I am also still so wound up on adrenaline that I am not noticing the steepness of the hill and how many times I have went up and down it. "Come on Justin. Use your head man. You have a lot of experience and know this isn’t the way you track an animal." Back to blood.
I’m now hours into this and have only found enough to know he crossed the creek. I find a few more drops going up the other side, but quickly run out. I am racking my brain and I have a sick feeling that I must have hit him just above the spine. I’ve seen it before. They react just like a spine shot, but it is non-lethal. Enough to floor a running bull into the ground for 10 seconds, but not enough to keep him there. I can’t believe it, but I must have missed my follow up shots.
This season has been one hard fought battle after another, and I am beyond frustrated at this point. This is my 19th day in the mountains this year, my last chance, and I am incredulous with how bad I have just blown it! I look for 5 hours straight without so much as a drink of water. It’s now past noon, and I realize that I have some decisions to make.
At this point I fully believe I have made a non-lethal shot, and missed the follow ups. If that’s the case I am wasting my time and energy looking for a bull that is now bound to be miles away nursing a sore back. I need to decide if I should go back to the horses and pack up camp, or try to finish out the evening and see if there’s another elk dumb enough to hang around these parts after my shooting exhibition.
I decide I need to get back to the horses and reassess. Here’s the thing. I’m nothing if not persistent. Try is my middle name and I can tell from the last spot of blood that the bull went in the general direction of the horses. For those of you that know mountains, I’m talking very general direction. I "kind of" have to go that way anyhow, so I decide, however unlikely it may be, I’m going to go to the last spot of blood and try to follow whatever seems to be the most likely path a wounded bull might go. Sheesh…. What’s the point? This isn’t a dead elk, and I’m wasting my time. Oh well….. I have nothing to lose.
Not sure what the differences were in the story about the bear hunt. Justin’s writeup and he can tell it his way.
The only bait references in the above story have been with respect to the bear hunt. That was in New Brunswick where it is legal.
Baiting bears should be legal everywhere as it is the best way to get a good look at the bears and determine which ones are the bigger boars and which ones are sows with cubs. Too bad the animal rights groups have had such a bad influence and it has been made illegal in so many states...
If you think looking for a wounded whitetail in the swamp is bad, imagine looking for an elk in the mountains. The proverbial needle in the haystack doesn’t cut it. I amble along coming to openings, meadows, brush, and timber, hazarding a guess at where I would go if I was a wounded bull.
I come through some thick stuff, and stop next to a tree, trying to figure my next move. I casually glance to my left. On the other side of the tree, obstructing by limbs, I see some blonde fur through the limbs. My first thought is, “That’s weird. Someone must have shot an elk up here” “Wait a second, that’s an intact elk!” We’re talking 6 steps from me, but with the limbs obstructing my view I still can’t make it all out. As crazy as it sounds I put my gun up to scan it through my scope and see antlers! “That’s a bull!’….. “Wait… that’s gotta be my bull!!!!!!” I scan up to his head and I see his eyeball staring at me....... alive as can be!!!!! U-N-R-E-AL!!!!!
It may have taken me 3 or 4 seconds, but I’m tracking now. In my head, so clearly it was almost out loud, I say “You’re dead”, and fire point blank.
The bull gets up and starts slowly walking away. I come out from behind the tree and this time say it out loud “Not today buddy” I fire again and he stops and looks at me. I swear this bull is immortal! I fire again. We’re talking only 10 yards. I put another shell in and am really thinking “There’s going to be no meat left on this thing”, but there’s no way I’m letting him get out of my sight for a second time. I am getting ready to hit him again when he starts to shudder. I’ve done this long enough to know what’s happening now. He finally tips and I put my hand on the beautiful brown fur of his neck as he finally gives up the ghost. It’s a surreal moment in my life.
It is now 6 hours after the initial shot. I am in total shock as to what has just transpired. I carefully look him over and determine I hit him just under the spine, in the stomach. It was enough to knock him down, but did not sever his spine. The gut shot was enough to make him sick, but not enough to make him bleed almost at all, especially that high up. I believe I missed him with the follow up shots. I don’t know if I hit the trees or not, but I do know I took that gun to the range afterward, and found it was wayyyy out of zero. I can only guess it came out in the harshness of riding and hiking in the mountains.
Either way I am still in awe all these months later that I filled my tag and how it all went down with finding a very much alive wounded bull in the mountains, and especially him just lying there as I literally walked up on him, completely unaware he was there. I believe there are many times in life some things are just meant to be. I give complete credit and thanks to the Lord for this one, because I believe he led me to that elk. After some of the talks I had with Him out there I can say I learned a lot about who I am and who He is through this experience.
It was time to get to work. I hiked back to the horses, led them down the ridge, and worked as fast as I could safely go. In around 3 hours I had him mostly deboned and loaded on the horse. 9 miles later, around 1 am, I finally get back to the truck and head out of the mountains for the final time in 2018.
Now my time had arrived to hang out with my brothers from another mother. I would be hard pressed to find two guys I have more in common with than Matt and Adam Pauls. I can honestly say I enjoyed the fellowship more than the hunting which is saying something, because the hunting was stellar. They’re both very unique, but both similar. The chemistry between the three of us was awesome and rare. We laughed and laughed, swapped stories, laughed some more, and totally soaked up each others’ intense passion for hunting and life. I was hunting through Eastman Outfitters, with Adam as my registered guide.
The second day we hung out too late in the afternoon so Matt suggested we should grab his decoy and ground blind, and go a 100 yards behind his barn, mainly to watch the field from a distance, but also try to pull something in should a good buck show up in the field.
We spent the first hour chatting away through whispers, me thinking this was just a good chance to hang out some more. That is until Matt puts his binos up and hisses there’s a good buck that just came out. Matt has history with this buck and calls him high tower for obvious reasons. I give the buck a grunt and his head snaps towards the decoy. I follow it with a snort wheeze, and in the most aggressive behavior I have ever seen this buck comes running, literally, like a coyote right at us!
There is no way this is happening right now. I am more nervous than a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I get ready and Matt is running the camera, and calling out the ranges as he gets closer. I am jacked out of my mind. This is crazy! I decide to come to full draw as he hits 40 yards. I don’t want to spook him while trying to draw as he gets closer. He is walking towards the deke now, and I have full intention of letting him get closer and stopping him when I’m ready. He stops on his own and Matt whispers “28”.
What in the world I watch as my lighted nock hits high. Too high. I know right away this is not a lethal hit. We watch the buck run for 400 yards until he is out of sight. I am not sure how that just happened. We replay the footage and slow it down. We mark the spot where the arrow impacts then back roll the footage and we can clearly see the buck dropped just in time to cause the arrow to miss its mark. The shot was good, but for the second time this year I have had a great buck string drop on me. I am bummed, but we take up the buck’s trail long and confirm what we already know. He's not lethally hit. Crazy thing is Matt’s wife sees him walk through the yard at 10:30 am the next morning!!!! Matt sees the buck at the end of season and he’s doing fine.
Well…. If at first you don’t succeed try again right?
It is brutally cold, and my Montana gear is not cutting the mustard. I tell Adam to take me to the nearest decent store and see what they have. I luck out big time when we go to his local archery shop and they have some First Lite Sanctuary bibs and coat, in my size no less, for a clearance price of 50% off! Add in the wonderful USD/CAD exchange rate and I walk out with an awesome set of cold weather gear for a fraction of the cost.
The next two days Adam does his best to put me on a good buck, but as hunting so often goes things seem to have dried up. Adam decides to put me in a new spot and gives me his climber. He knows I like climbers, and even though Manitoba trees in this area are not very conducive to this method, he turns me loose. He drops me off and shows me a satellite image of the area I need to be and cuts me loose in the darkness.
I follow the tree line of poplars, with no clue where to set up. It all looks the same, but I finally cut some tracks leading into the trees. I decide this is as good a spot as any and head in. After fighting with Adam’s climber (XOP, just a seat and platform, no hand rails) I finally get setup. It’s well after daylight, I’m hot, sweaty, and soon cold. These woods are thick with undergrowth and my farthest shot is about 15 yards, and that’s given the huge improbability that a deer comes by. I honestly contemplate getting down, as seeing a deer in this spot seems about as likely as killing an elk in a last ditch day hunt, but hey I’m here and I didn't come all this way to be a quitter. I let off a short rattle sequence and settle in hoping to make it till noon. 10 minutes later I see a buck pop out of the tree line across the field from me. No way!!!
He quickly makes his way over to a lone tree in the middle of the field, freshens a scrape, and heads my way! I’m a little startled and still on the fence on whether I should shoot this buck, but I am not convinced I’ll get a shot opportunity anyway. Well, he didn’t give me much time to decide. Of all the places he can walk he follows the deer tracks I had originally seen leading me to this spot, and walks past me at 13 yards. I’m still super bummed about my shot a couple days prior, and the camera is running. I am in kill mode now. This time the deer doesn’t string drop, and my "try again" arrow sails through him effortlessly.
I text Adam and Matt both to let them know I got one. They think I'm pulling their leg, as there was a little of that going on previously in the week, Ahem.... Matt, but I finally convince them I'm no little boy crying wolf and it’s on. Adam comes to meet me, and Matt shows up with his boys. We find the buck in short order.
I’m having way too much fun to just pack it up and go home. I decide to spend the next three-four days just hanging out. I wasn’t disappointed. I also jumped at the chance to visit Ron “the bearman” Dare and put Jeanine’s world famous cooking to the test. Most definitely lived up to the hype and then some!
Before the end of my trip Adam connects on beauty buck. He thinks we need to give it some time and we wait to head in and track it for a few hours. When the time is right Adam, Me, and his buddy Manny head in to look. The buck didn't go far, and it doesn't take us long. As soon as we find his buck and take pictures Adam says he "needs to get his treestand". Now I’m a good sized dude, but his buddy Manny is no slouch either. Between the two of us we manage to drag Adam’s buck out of this nasty hole he calls a hunting spot. Somehow that little Canadian got of dragging his own buck! LOL…. I’ll remember that for the future….haha….
Adam and Matt are just what you would expect and more. I kept telling them I wish we would have met 10 years ago! I have a feeling there are some Montana critters that might be in trouble this next year. Few guys are at the level of intensity many of us here are. When you meet that person, and connect with them, it’s a rare find and a valuable friendship. These two crazy Canucks fit that bill for me.
Season was basically over at this point, but my good buddy Terry (from the beginning of the story) had yet to fill his buck tag. He put in a lot of effort this year during archery, but wasn’t able to connect on a buck, so I figured it would be best to end the season the same way I started it, trying to help put him on a critter. Sunday was the last day of the season, and all I had available to go, and only after going to church in the morning. We meet up after church, check the zero on the rifle, and head out. I have an idea of where to go, but not exact locale. Terry had the general tag, so buck or doe he just wants to put some meat in the freezer.
Just the previous year's hunt between the two of us here we are down to the wire. We try one spot with no luck, but we are running out of time. I find some public on a map and decide to give it a look before dark. We head that way, but have to drive pass a private land field that always holds deer. I am talking with Terry about my season and have no clue it’s about to end on a very high note.
As we pass the field we see some deer and notice one of them is a nice buck! I check OnX maps and see the house that looks like it belongs to the land owner. We’re down to the last 45 minutes and we decide have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by knocking on the door. Terry has no fear of knocking on doors and is as about as likable as a guy can get! There are a couple outside checking cows, and he chats with them for a minute. He comes back and tells me that they just lease the land for their cows, and some retired pastor owns it who doesn't live there. A huge light bulb goes off in my head! A year and half ago I had met a guy through work that lives in this area and we got to talking about hunting. He tells me his old pastor has some land there, and he would he could probably secure me permission. He followed through on his word and had left me a voicemail saying he had got me permission. He later called to let me know the landowner had said yes, but I never followed it any further because my tags were filled and I don’t get out that way often. He had also left me the landowner’s number and even though I have been looking at the landowners name on OnX it hadn’t clicked until just now. I get super excited and tell Terry “I know who this guy is!” I have just enough juice left on my phone to listen to the voicemail, and write down the landowner's number. I then use Terry’s phone and pray the landowner answers. Sure enough he does, and a minute later he gives us the green light!!!
We are more excited than midget at a mini skirt convention. We grab our gear and make a plan. A short time later we crawl to the brush pile on the edge of a field and glass. We should be within easy range. I can only see two fawns, but no buck. I notice a big doe to our right, a 120 or so yards, walking into the heavily wooded, dry creek bottom behind us. I have no idea what’s on the other side, but I have a hunch that the buck must have headed that way. As quickly and quietly as we can we cut back through the woods, and pop out the other side with a huge CRP type field. We are below them, but can see the heads of the buck and 4 does a long ways down the line. We slip back into the bottom and try to cut the distance. We are now down to the last 10 minutes of light. We very cautiously creep to the fence line, (Still part of the land we can hunt for the wanna-be game warden's info) and spot the buck with his does. He’s clearly rutting hard, and I tell Terry to rest the rifle on a fence post. Terry is still learning, and tells me later that he was having a super hard time steadying the gun. I give Terry the hold point and tell him to squeeze when he’s ready. The gun goes off and it looks like a hit! The buck and 4 does run about a 100 yards and stop. I can tell pretty quickly the deer doesn’t look hurt at all. I tell Terry to rack in another one and let him have it. The gun goes off again......... nothing. The deer just looks around and walks a few more yards. Terry racks another one in. He fires again. The deer just look around. I cannot believe this.
Now he’s out of rounds in his gun. He’s having a hard time reacquiring the buck in his scope in between shots, so I tell him to stay on the buck. I grab a shell out of the stock holder, open the bolt, and put a round in for him. (The scope had somehow got stuck on 12 power, and I couldn’t move it) He fires again. Nothing. I have NEVER seen deer just stand there like that while getting shot at. I can understand the love sick buck acting crazy, but I still have no idea why the 4 does stood there as well. Every shot or two they would slowly walk a few yards then stop and look around. This scenario repeats itself for a total of NINE SHOTS!!! Just before the ninth I glance at the shell holder and realize Terry is literally about to run out of bullets! He is super frustrated by now, and I am doing my best to coach him through it, but can't tell where he is hitting in the CRP grass. He finally tells me he is having a super hard time staying steady, and I notice the fence post is a little too tall for him to be rock steady. Fortunately we are at an H brace and I have him get setup on the horizontal pole. This helps immensely. The ninth shot goes off, and the buck jumps like he’s been stung, immediately followed by the sweet sound of the bullet meeting hide. HIT!!!!
The buck runs hard back to the fence line we’re standing on. 30 yards shy of the fence he stops, goes wobbly legged, and goes down for the count!
In my life I have very seldom been that excited while hunting. We are screaming at the top of our lungs. I pick Terry up of his feet and bear hug him like a toddler!!! I don’t think we stopped jumping up and down, hugging, and laughing for a solid 5 minutes. It’s almost dark now, and we find the buck piled up in the CRP. It is a beauty buck and there isn’t two happier dudes in the world at this moment. In fact to this moment whenever the story comes up we both start grinning like a fat kid in a candy store.
It is a big bodied whitetail, and I don't feel like dragging it all the way to the truck. We see there is a road much closer to the deer than the truck is parked, so I tell Terry to help my hoist it onto my shoulders, and I'll carry it to the road. Somehow we get this brute on by back, and I squat it up. The first hundred yards wasn't too terrible, but by the last 150 my back was burning something awful. I somehow made it, and we walked back to get the truck, loaded up, and drove home giggling like a couple of teenage girls on prom night.
(Terry snapped this shot of me as I humped it to the road.
This season was full of ups and downs, but something I have come to believe over the years is that persistence is a main ingredient in hunting success. The odds may be low, but they are rarely impossible. While I certainly like to go for the higher odds, when the stakes are down the only choice is giving up and giving in, or pushing through and trying harder. What this year showed me is often the try again/harder attitude will produce in spite of the odds.
It was also a year full of memories made with friends and awesome Bowsiters. TSI, WV Mountaineer, Bear Track, Adam and Matt Pauls, all great guys and a blast to hunt with. Looking forward to the next time.
Though I was the subject of the middle of deerslayer's recap, I am saddened that a TBM wannabe would try to taint this man's story. I do know of the Pauls brothers and their faith plus deerslayer's conviction in his faith. I would bet that is why they chose not to chime in on MTbownut's attempt to tarnish this story with his weak interpretations of the Montana Wildlife Act. Listen, I was up there for 10 days and I know what I know and saw. The attraction to those state camp sites begins with what seems to be broadcast on the ground so these camp areas are not a muddy mess. I know wheat or oat straw when I see it and long before any hunters pitch a tent, the state in spots, seem to broadcast either of these fast growing grains to protect the soil, and for sure right where we were camped, along with many others doing the same. It was me, 2-3 times a day uncovering and covering the alfalfa bales plus the oats that were brought up in those mountains and I never once saw enough left overs cast on the ground from those hungry horses to satisfy a mouse, let alone any deer. My perspective, is the oat field we were camped on which is a designated camp site, was the big draw long before anyone got there and we were camped on top of it. I know Justin now and would bet money he would never intentionally break any wildlife laws. So MTbownut, it's now your "sad display of ethics that have me puzzled". Maybe the place that you more fit in, would be the community forum?
There's a lot of things I'd like to say, but I don't want to join "the fray." Congratulations on a great year Justin, and outstanding job on the write-up. Even though I'd heard all the stories in person I was still glued to the screen hanging on every word. It's obvious you put some time into it purely for the enjoyment of others. Another year where you spread the hurt equally across all species!!
Another thing that is clear from Justin's thread, and many here on bowsite, is the value and pure enjoyment we can get from fostering new and old relationships through the joy of hunting. Justin came up to hunt and we had a great time, having never once met in person before that time. I know many here on bowsite have done such a thing, and I just want to take a moment to encourage people to do so. There are people that you feel like you connect with, and most likely can! Justin hunted with a number of people in 2018 whom he's never met before ever and had a great time. We also, had a great time! There's a lot anyone can learn from others, there's learning, there's encouragment, and there's just plain fun.
Unfortunately we had one of those swings of cold cold Canadian weather when Justin was up here. As you can tell he had already busted his balls all fall before coming up, and then having his tits froze off. We've had colder, but that's as cold as you could ever expect it to get in early to mid November. Matt and I were bummed Justin never left without a giant "poper" but we were encouraged that he did get a shot at one, and in essentially 2.5 days of hunting we was able to get another shot at a quality buck. It really crushes a guy to watch that video in slow motion and see that big Canadian whitetail duck his arrow. Doesn't matter how fast your bow is, if they're not under 20, they can duck it! Justin put it where it needed to be, it just couldn't be that easy for him, not this year. Otherwise it wouldn't have fit the mold of his 2018 lol On the 3rd day we did some scouting in the afternoon while it was brutally cold and got to witness another beautiful 145" or so buck chasing some does mere 50 yards from the truck at dusk. Sure was fun to watch. Congrats again Justin.
I hope I didn't embarrass you with my shooting Justin, I'm surpised you didn't post this video...but to me, this is what hunting with friends is all about. When you can literally hear the grins, and camaraderie through the laughter.
Yeah man, I meant to post it for that very reason, but got a little sidetracked. Your face when you opened the door cracks me up every time!!!! hahaha..... That snippet pretty much tells the story of the whole trip!
Poof the magic dragon seems to have worked some magic.
Debate free thread now, just as it was intended. (Spoke with at length with Fish and Game my interpretation was correct. Intent is the issue, and covered hay intended for livestock does not qualify as baiting. I could go into more detail, but it isn't necessary or appropriate. Suffice it to say the former statements and interpretations by the individual were wrong.... On all accounts)
It was an awesome, hard fought season with great people and grand adventures. Hope you enjoyed it.
The power of persistence is frequently underestimated. Glad that you got closure.
On an unrelated note, in the ninth photo of this thead, (the hero photo of your black bear) you have a STRIKING resemblance to Tony Romo (ex-quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys)….while it isn't as obvious in all of the other photos, there are a few other pictures that also show quite a similarity.
Finally had some time to read through the whole thing here Justin. Great read! You sure get down to business for a few months, thanks for taking us along on your amazing adventures!! You’re a killer at heart no doubt!
It was fun hunting here in MB together, and next year SkiHi will be that much higher!
Great Stuff. Only pic that is missing from this thread is the one where about 12 inches of your feet are sticking over the end of that little bed in the fishing cabin. :^) Dude is a lot taller then any of us.