Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

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seazofcheeze
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Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby seazofcheeze » Sat Sep 30, 2017 8:20 am

I wanted to post a recap of my 2017 Montana elk bowhunt. If you are reading this and ever get a chance to go on a western hunt, just go. Do whatever it takes and just go. Something about the mountains, at least for me that makes me feel completely alive. Anyway...

I have a friend who is in the Navy, currently stationed in Virginia. He is a native of Montana, and sometime this winter, he mentioned that I should get a Montana big game combo tag (elk & deer) for this fall. I've been hunting out of state the last few years for whitetails, and had some limited success, so it sounded pretty appealing to me. I also lived in Montana for a few months back in 2012, but not long enough to get any hunting in. In the five years since leaving, I have often wondered why I left (it was for a job) and regularly daydreamed about returning. I applied for the tags way back in February 2017, and sometime in April I found out I drew the tag. Fast forward to September 9th, 2017.

My girlfriend and I drove to Toledo, OH to meet my buddy, who had driven up from Virginia. My buddy was running really late due to work and D.C. traffic. We met at a wally world parking lot around 11 p.m. and hastily swapped my gear from my truck into his. We were a bit short on space with only the back seats of a quadcab truck and 5 1/2" truck bed. We tarped, bungied, and ratchet strapped our gear in and ended up looking a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies hunting edition. Off we went. I drove the first leg, 6 hours through the night until I couldn't drive anymore. We changed seats and kept driving. We did that a few more times. It turns out, Montana is a long drive from Michigan, but we got there eventually.

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We ended up staying with some of my buddy's relatives in eastern Montana Sunday night. My buddy had some errands to run and some family to visit, so we killed most of Monday and Tuesday making the rounds. Got to see some great looking country, eat some good food, and stopped at every sporting goods store we passed :lol:

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Tuesday night, we stayed with my buddy's friend, Scott. Scott shot a pretty nice elk with his bow once upon a time...380" nice :o

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Scott also found a pretty nice set of whitetail sheds this spring. The mass was unreal. Did I ever mention Montana is the last best place on earth? Especially for sportsmen.

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On Wednesday, the 13th, we finally drove up area we would be hunting to do some glassing. It's a fairly large area, 10,000 acres+, with some Forest Service and some Block Management Area (BMA). BMA is private ground where the owners let the public hunt, and, in turn, the public hunters sign in at designated sign in areas and then the state pays the landowners based on the number of sign ins they receive. I think most states have similar programs, but I've seen them called several different things. Anyway, the first night, we ended up seeing one or two cows and a "rag horn." Rag horn was like a lot of western hunting terms, new to me. A rag horn is bigger than a spike, but not yet mature....usually a rag horn is a 2 year old bull. That night, we went to a local watering hole to fuel up on craft beer and elk taxidermy. Scott also told me about the bowhunter that had been seriously mauled by a Grizzly Bear the week before. The guy got 90 stitches...in his head! Thanks for putting that thought in my head, Scott! Here is a link to the story http://idahostatejournal.com/outdoors/x ... b0c6e.html

Pic of the brewery. It looked like the ultimate man cave.
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We were pretty exciting to get out Thursday. The first morning hunt, there were four of us. My buddy (Brandon), his friend (Scott), my buddy's younger brother (Sam), and myself. Brandon and I started low and worked up the mountain, and Scott and Sam started up high, and worked down. Sam and Scott spotted a 6x6 bull shortly into the morning hunt. Sam worked around a park (western slang for an open grassy area) and ended up getting within 25 yards of the bull, but it was already heading away from Sam. It never turned, so with nothing but the ol' Texas heart shot, Sam elected to pass up a marginal shot.

That night, a bunch of fog and weather rolled in and it cut visibility down to literally 75-100 yards for the next two days. The mountain ended up getting 8-10" of snow, which was pretty wild considering it was nearly 80 degrees two days prior. We hunted, but we might have been better off sleeping in.

Saturday the 16th, the weather really cleared up and a high pressure system moved in. It was still cold, but blue skies, and it just felt like one of those days where the animals would be moving after the first major front of the year had rolled through. I told Brandon several times, "I have a good feeling about tonight." It turns out that the night of the 16th was the best hunting day of the trip for us. We started out around 3:30 and were working across the top of a N/S ridge that had several coulees running downhill to the west. We cut some fresh tracks in the snow on the ridge.

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Around 5:30, we heard the first bugle. At first, we thought it was another hunter. Then we heard a second bugle in the same area, and then a third from a different area. It sounded real, and it sounded like two different bulls. Game on! We figured we were 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile from the bugles, so we started working down hill to catch up and keep our wind advantage. It took 30-40 minutes, but we really closed the distance and we could hear that we were close. We ended up spotting a fence line along the border of the BMA and some private ground. Then, as we glanced downhill, we saw brown about 70 yards out. It was a cow. A second later, a bugle, very close. A few seconds after that, we spotted the bull, a very respectable 6x6. Both of the elk were about 100 yards onto the private, but heading towards the public/private barbed wire fence. We hunkered down on the edge of a good sized pine, and I got an arrow nocked. More bugles. The bull was pushing the cow uphill towards us. We spotted another bull down the hill, which looked to be a 5x5. Within a minute or two, the cow was right at the fence, 25 yards from us, looking back at the bull. I was getting VERY excited. The wind was right, the cow was moving uphill about to jump the fence onto the public land, and the bull was in hot pursuit...sure to follow...I thought. Well, after a minute, the cow turned 90 degrees and started heading straight away from us, but still inside the private fence. 30 seconds later, I was drawing on the bull. Ahhhhh, my peep sight is twisted. Brandon had to straighten out the peep while I was at full draw. The bull stood just on the wrong side of the fence, 29 yards, let out a bugle, his nostrils jetting steam into the crisp evening air. It was a pretty surreal experience. "Jump" I said to myself as I tried to will the bull across the fence so I could take my shot...but he wouldn't. After a minute or two, I finally let down my bow. He turned to follow the cow, but then he stopped after 10 yards, now 40 yards away. It looks like he is going to jump the fence again. I draw again...I'm aimed, again, trying to will him across. Another minute at full draw. After a minute, he continues after the cow, but only goes 5 more yards, and he again looks over the fence. Now he is standing at 45 yards. I draw again, pray again, but he loses interest on the void across the fence, and refocuses on the cow and moves down the fence line. "Crap!" I can't believe we were that close.

We can still hear the elk not more than 50-60 yards away. We quickly come up with a game plan. My buddy will circle behind me to a pine tree 60-70 yards away and start calling, and I will move across a little opening to get in a tree closer to the fence, and where the wind is much safer. Well, we make it maybe 25 yards, and a spike appears out of the pines. We freeze, caught out in the open, two camo blobs on a snow white backdrop. The spike stares, and stares, and stares. It feels like hours, but is probably more like 5 minutes. The bigger bull bugles, and the spike turns his way for a minute. We adjust to sitting positions. My leg is already going numb from the awkward position I was caught in. After another 2 minutes, the spike finally decides to give chase to the cow and bigger bull. On the way to the setup, I feel like Black Beard on a peg leg. My right leg is completely asleep, and I'm certain I'm going to face plant at any moment. Turns out its pretty hard to be stealthy with a numb leg.

Somehow we get setup in our new trees, and my buddy starts calling immediately. Almost as quickly, there's a bugle from down the hill, maybe 100 yards away. Another cow call from my buddy, another bugle, 80 yards away. Another cow call, then I see legs. Then I see antlers. It's the 5x5. He's walking up the draw to my left straight to the fence. The fence is 21 yards away. There's a picture perfect 6 foot tall Christmas tree looking pine tree between him and I. As soon as he jumps the fence, I can draw while he is behind the pine. When he emerges, I will be at full draw and have a 15 yard shot. My buddy calls, the bull bugles his frustration at the phantom cow that won't reveal herself...he's at the fence now, 21 yards away. I'm sitting motionless, again, trying to will this bull across the fence. He's pacing back and forth, looking for the best place to jump. His head is literally at the fence. PPPOOOWWWWW!!!! "OMG, what was that?" I think someone just shot a gun along the fence line? Maybe its the private land owners scaring away this elk? I have no idea. Then I realize, it's a tree branch. All the wet snow just snapped off a 3" pine branch 10 yards from me. Well, that was all Mr. 5x5 needed to get out of dodge. Down the hill he ran, and out of my life :violin: But...my buddy calls again after a few minutes of silence, and we hear both bulls answer not more than 150-200 yards away.

There's still hope we think. We sneak down the fence line another 250 yards purposely looking for the lowest spot in the fence. When we find it, we setup similar to our last setup. I'm 20 yards from the fence, my buddy 80 yards behind me cow calling. A few calls, a few more bugles, and then I see an elk head break the horizon in front of me. It's getting close to dark now. I think it's a cow, but then I see it's our friend the spike. And, of course, he jumps the fence without hesitation. He's broadside at 40 yards on the public without a care in the world, because we are in a "brow tine bull" only zone, and we can't shoot spikes. Oh, the agony, hahahaha. And then, in a very anti climactic fashion, we run out of daylight and have to give up the chase. It's heartbreaking, but at the same time, WOW!, what an awesome hunt. Definitely the most fun I've ever had with a bow in my hand. I'm instantly addicted to archery elk hunting.

We went back the next evening and ended up seeing what we presume is one of the bulls from the close encounter the night before...only this time they were 1000 yards onto the private. I took these pics with my cell phone cam through my binos, so forgive me for the poor quality.

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We decided we needed a cow elk Montana decoy, so we went and bought one the next day. We also decided we needed some good mojo, so we went to the local archery shop and did a "techno hunt" mid-day. It's a video screen that you shoot at with blunt tipped arrows. That was a good time, and I managed to kill several nice elk here :lol:

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We hunted hard for the next several days and had a few close-ish encounters 100-250 yards, but we never managed to get right back on them like we did on the 16th. We decided that we had burned the area up pretty good, and that it was probably best to hit the maps, and find some fresh ground. We also suffered from my out of state hunting curse and had some mechanical issues. The logging roads through the mountains claimed a rear shock. The piston actually broke in half somehow. We kept hearing a rattling noise under the truck, so we stopped to investigate. Hitch? No. Spare tire? No. "Oh, whats this?...The shock broke in half" :lol:

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We also took the time to savor a "wop chop", which is a Butte, MT staple. It's a deep frien pork chop. Don't get too crazy with the hot mustard though, or you will regret it!

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On the 21st, we got back into elk, but on the new piece of ground. I hunted with Sam that day. It was probably the second most fun hunt of the trip. We cut a few tracks in the pickup in the morning. When we got out to investigate, we noticed we weren't the only hunter on the elk trail, there was a set of big, fresh, wolf tracks. It snowed the previous night, so the tracks were less than 8 hours old, and they looked fresher than that.

We looked at the maps at lunch time and formulated a plan. Headed out about 2 p.m. and around 3 p.m. we spotted 2 elk bedded way up high just below a rocky outcropping. We had to make a ~2 mile loop to get the wind if our favor and gain some elevation. In our haste, we jumped a second group of elk, 2 cows and a 5x5 bull at about 30 yards :violin: It took an hour and a half to make our loop...the climbs were BRUTAL.

We glassed the bedded elk from about 600 yards out and they were still bedded In the same positions, but this time we were able to see that one of the elk was actually a very nice bull, so we climbed more and planned to ambush from the side and just behind the elk. They were bedded hill country whitetail style, just down from the top, wind blowing over their backs. So we figured a side attack was the only chance we had. It took another hour and a half to close the last 600 yards as it involved more climbing, lots of map checking and as much stealth as we could muster. We finally peaked into the rocky area where they were bedded, AND....they were gone. Full ghost mode.

We found fresh walking tracks and fresh scat melted through a thin layer of snow next to the bedding area, so we think they just got up to start feeding before we could get to their beds. Tough luck, but that's elk archery hunting. We did get to enjoy some beautiful late afternoon views.

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Then, then there was the hike...no, let's call it what it was, the DEATH MARCH back to the truck. For sure, 1 of the top 10 most physically difficult things I have ever done. Nothing like topping off 4 hours of hiking in the mountains with 2 more hours of steep descents and brutal climbs. And, just to rub some salt in the wounds, we saw the elk group we spooked with the 5x5 feeding in a opening high in the timber 700yds away but on the edge of daylight we had no time to make a play. Still, I would do it again, probably one of my top 5 favorite hunting days ever, and I didn't even kill an elk.

That night, while hunting solo, Brandon managed to get an arrow in a cow elk. Sam and I were so tired, we literally missed the part of his post-hunt recap where he said he had hit one. We did catch the part about the large bear tracks, and the brownish/orange cow coming through the willow scrub just on the edge of dark that Brandon initially thought was a grizzly bear! Brandon found his arrow, which broke off just 2-3" behind the broadhead. It looked like he had hit the shoulder bone pretty square. He didn't find much blood. There was a mini-blizzard again in the morning, so we didn't get out until mid-day. We decided to hunt the same area. I hunted with Brandon, and he was showing me where he shot at the cow. Well, we found some blood, but not much. About 75 yards later, we found some blood with some bubbles...but we weren't sure if it had just been freshened up from the snow that morning or if it was lung blood bubbles. We tracked another 30-40 yards, and then I looked up the hill and saw something awfully elk like on the side of the hill...there she lay, maybe 150-200 yards from the impact site. My buddy was pretty excited.

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Just wanted to post this pic so it is clear that the elk was properly tagged (green tag on elk's left front leg)

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We didn't finish getting the elk completely packed out until 11:15 p.m. We were just under a mile from the truck, and it was uphill from the elk to the truck the whole way. We had to make two trips. After all the miles hiked on this trip, it was pretty tough going, but definitely worth it. I have a ton more I'd like to say, but I'm tired of typing, and I have whitetail season to get ready for starting Sunday!

Here's a few more random pics that didn't make it into the story.

Sam crossing a creek the day we chased the 5x5 on the rocky outcrop
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Mule deer doe
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A proper reloading section in a sporting goods store. We don't see this kind of stock in Michigan
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This whitetail doe walked up within 50 yards of us one day while we were target practicing with our bows.
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Montana in a nutshell
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Ran across this sweet ride in one of the areas we were hunting
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tbunao
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby tbunao » Sat Sep 30, 2017 9:29 am

I felt emptiness reading this... the mountains are calling and I must go! Awesome trip!
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Dewey
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby Dewey » Sat Sep 30, 2017 9:51 am

Great read while on stand. I am now daydreaming of a western hunt. Love the mountains. 8-)
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby john1984 » Sat Sep 30, 2017 11:51 am

8-) very cool Seaz. Thanks for sharing
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby wickedbruiser » Sat Sep 30, 2017 12:09 pm

Sounded like a great trip!
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Jackson Marsh
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby Jackson Marsh » Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:58 pm

8-)
mibowhunter
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby mibowhunter » Sun Oct 01, 2017 12:21 am

Great pics and recap! I put in for my first points in a few states this year, thinking long term.... will probably hit some OTC states to learn the ropes in the next year or two.
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby jwilkstn » Mon Oct 16, 2017 2:00 pm

Awesome write-up, thanks for sharing!
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby 9pt » Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:49 am

Great read on lunch at work.

Happy for you seaz! Good luck here in MI this fall.
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby muddy » Tue Oct 17, 2017 5:58 am

Fun trip
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Re: Montana Elk Hunt Recap (Pic Heavy)

Postby Edcyclopedia » Tue Oct 17, 2017 6:22 am

Fantabulos!
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