Bozeman, Montana. November 2013.
My unfilled elk tag seems to stare at me these days like an old bird dog does after a miss. One of those “back over the shoulder” looks. Like, “Hey, I am working hard here, lets get this done”. The easy hunting, if there is such a thing, is behind us as we enter the final two weeks of elk season here in southwest Montana. Conditions deteriorate with deepening snow and bitter cold. But what creates discomfort for we humans keeps the elk out feeding and moving longer. Some of the best elk hunting occurs after the late November snows push the bulls from the highest ridges.
I tell the elk tag to be patient, we may cut a notch in you yet.
Its been a good year either way. It started with a week of solo hunting during Montana’s elk archery season. I missed a huge bull but didn’t miss a nice heavy mountain mulie, my first with a bow. He returned the favor by expiring over eleven miles and five hours from the trailhead.
I followed it up the next week by calling in a bull for Dan that turned out to be his lifetime best archery elk, a heavy 6×6.
We made the trip to Wyoming for a DIY public land antelope hunt where I introduced two good friends to the joy of chasing antelope on the prairie. Dick took his first antelope buck with a single shot at 394 yards and “Two Shot Tom” became “Three Shot Tom” after leaving a nice buck at home on the range. I keep telling him that catch and release hunting has its benefits but he just looks at me funny.
After Wyoming, Dick and I returned to Idaho’s St Joe National Forest to chase the elk around that steep country again. We hit the country hard for six days and didn’t even see a bull. It was a beautiful fall their though and the vibrant colors of central Idaho’s forests are something to behold. We spotted two really nice Shiras bull moose that got my blood pumping. I think a moose is next on my list! We gave it our all but public land DIY elk hunting can be tough. I think we are going to try somewhere else next year.
I finally drew a mountain goat tag in Montana’s unit 314 after 12 years of applying. I would find out how tough goat hunting is, both physically and mentally after Dick and I packed into the Gallatin Range and lived out of bivy sacks as the weather deteriorated in the face of an approaching cold front .
We left the mountains exhausted and empty handed hiking out in advance of the winter storm that dumped a foot of snow in the mountains . We rested a day then hiked back in to a world changed, the goats absorbed in snow and clouds, as invisible as ghosts. A couple of weeks later I ended up taking a great billie while hunting with my brother only a couple of days after winter storm Atlas dumped another foot of snow in the Gallatin Range. It was one of those days that started at 3:00 AM and ended almost 24 hours later.
October ended in eastern Montana with Tami and I hunting antelope on some BLM land that has always held a few goats. She took her first buck with a clean shot at 226 yards with the little Kimber rifle.
I tried out a lot of new gear this year, including an ultralight bivy system from Mountain Laurel Design and a new pack from Stone Glacier. Between the two they carved over 10 pounds off my typical back country load. And while I am still a Sitka Gear fan and believe they continue to produce superior clothing and accessories, I made the switch this year to KUIU, picking up several pieces of their gear to try. I wasn’t disappointed. Based on a 2012 Outdoor Life review of spotting scopes I took their recommendation and purchased a 60 power scope from Zen-Ray to use on my goat hunt. It was a third of the cost of a Zeiss or Swarovski and the optics are outstanding. A lot of great pieces of gear and I hope to get reviews written soon.
I learned a lot this year about DIY public land hunts in other states and plan on discussing the topic of quality vs. opportunity. There is a reason some units and tags are relatively easy to obtain and it needs to be taken into consideration when planning your hunt. At the least, your expectations need to reflect the conditions that you will likely encounter.
Elk season has been tough this year in parts of southwest Montana. The Northern Yellowstone herd has dropped from over 20,000 animals in the 1990s to less than 3600 today. On opening weekend in the Gallatin Canyon, Fish and Game would check in only six elk out of 274 hunters, a 2 % success rate in an area that once was a premier elk hunting destination. Emotions run high on the subject and there are rational and irrational positions being taken on both sides of the fence. I have spent the last three years reading about it, talking to biologists, outfitters, and wolf advocates. I am feeling the need to weigh in. Expect my two cents on the matter soon.
Until then, drop a line, share some pics. Good Hunting ! Mark