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2012 MT Public Land DIY elk/muley


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My buddies, Jon and Gabe, and I went to Montana on September 14th. We came home on the 23rd and we had quite the adventure! Below is the summary of the happenings while we were on the mountain chasing elk (and our tags were good for mule deer too). As always, our trip was do-it-yourself (DIY), but as you’ll see in the end, we got a hand from a local gentleman and his friends before the trip was over.

A couple heads up- this was very different country than we’ve hunted elk in during the past. The country we hunted in during the ’07 and ’08 seasons was more like this.


However, this country was thick, dark, and almost entirely covered in lodge pole pines, big and tall evergreens, and brush of all kinds. The typical view from most locations looked like this.


This made for some hurdles we weren’t used to jumping while elk hunting, but it also made for extremely difficult conditions for taking pictures. I’ll tell you up front- we didn’t take one picture of an elk on the hoof during the entire trip. The question is, did we take some pics of elk with us smiling behind them? You’ll have to follow along to see…

Another heads up that I was really frustrated with- my camera gave me problems the entire trip. For some reason, the flash quit working and even when I didn’t need a flash, I got a lot of poor quality pictures- stinkin’ camera problems! I’ll make use of the best pics I got, but I’m afraid they are generally of poor quality. I’m glad Jon and Gabe did a nice job of taking plenty of pictures too.

Further, many of the days of our trip were clouded by smoke from fires all over the West. This made glassing tough, but also made getting pictures of the scenery difficult. So, with all of those excuses in mind, here are the happenings of the ’12 DIY Public Land Elk Hunt for Team Elkblood (this team name was the direct result of two factors: 1) immaturity, and 2) too much time on our hands on the drive out).

A little background about the trip: Several times before this trip we were reminded that the success rate of non-guided, non-resident hunters in general units of MT is 4-7%. Even though those odds weren’t encouraging, we knew we were ahead of the game by being willing to pack into an area that was miles away from the nearest trail that allowed motorized vehicles. We were armed with bivy gear- lightweight packs, tents, sleeping bags, etc. This would allow us to pack into our hunting area with everything we’d need on our backs. Importantly, getting away from the well traveled roads would get us to an area where few people were foolish enough to go to for an elk.

The Trip- Day 1:

We were up at 2:00 AM on Fri, Sep. 14th. Jon and Gabe met me at my house on the way out of town and we were on the road fifteen minutes later. Before too long we reached the Eastern border of our destination state.


I was brimming with excitement and was meticulously planning the final details of our trip.


A small wrong turn on a gravel road and a small wrong turn on a dirt trail, but the trip in went pretty well. While crossing private land we saw several deer.






A coyote whose sneak on some muleys we ruined- haha!!!


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Once on the public land we were treated with a view of a sow and cub bear feeding on the carcass of a cow. They ran off, but not before we could get a picture of each of them. Momma got outta there fast, but we caught a pic of here just before she made it to the trees.


Junior wasn’t nearly as quick to leave, but figured it out eventually.


We got to the trailhead and were ready to leave at 3:15 PM. Here’s a look at our packs all loaded up and ready to go. I’m not sure what happened on this picture, but here’s the last shot of us before we left civilization and disconnected almost completely for over a week.


Here's what we looked like before we disappeared onto the mountain.


We headed off down the trail looking for fun and adventure!


On the way in I was lucky enough to find a blue grouse that could add a little protein to our diet for the evening (which is great when you have to carry in all of your food).


About 3.5 miles down the trail on the way to camp we saw a small herd of elk going up and over the mountain we were trying to make our way over- yeehaa, elk! Another ¾ mile down the road we found a wallow (the first of many) and bumped a different small group of elk. Again, yeehaa, elk!!! After I mislead us to the wrong location for a while, we finally found our place to camp for the night, about 4.25 miles from the truck. We were ready to crash and hit it hard early in the AM.

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Day 2:

The morning of our first day of hunting was interesting. Jon and I worked our way across a steep sidehill that eventually relented into a more gradual slope. We bumped a muley doe that had us excited for a bit, until we saw it was a doe- too dang far to haul out a doe! Half an hour later as we worked up onto a ridge I saw a smallish mountain lion slinking away from us about 60 yards ahead of us. Sweet! I’d never seen a mountain lion before- a cool thing to see for sure! Jon was behind me and didn’t get to see it- bummer. We didn’t see anything else of mention that morning.

Jon and I sat a couple wallows we found that evening and all was quiet through the night for us.

Here’s the wallow I sat.


Here’s my view from my little hidey hole.


Here’s the wallow Jon sat.


Gabe had a more interesting day… in the AM he saw a small 6x6 cross an open park, but couldn’t relocate him again. In the afternoon Gabe heard water being splashed at a nearby mountain lake. He quietly sneaked in to check out what was raising the ruckus. As he peered through the trees, Gabe was treated the chance to watch a cow, calf, and a 6x6 bull splashing around and playing in a mountain lake. He couldn’t get close enough for a shot, so enjoyed the view as they fed, played, and splashed.

Here’s a pic Gabe later took that shows the lake the elk were in.


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Although the pics above give you a flavor for some of the country we hunted in, they are a bit misleading. The places we hunted (as opposed to snapped lots of pictures of scenery) were almost entirely thick and dark timber. Shooting lanes often disappeared within 20 yards of where they started. We found a few areas where there were elk where it wasn't quite as thick (40 yard shots possible, but really no more), but that's only relative- even these areas were pretty thick. As you'll see as the story unfolds, the thickness of the woods on these mountains was a significant hurdle for us and it was something that kept some elk from coming home in the back of our truck with us.

Thick, tough, relatively unforgiving country (at least to us flatlanders), but it was still awfully fun to hunt there!

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Scoot, what mountain range did you end up going to?

Sorry Cheetah, my buddies and I agreed that all we'd tell people is that we were in a general unit in MT. I'm not trying to be rude or secretive, but that's what we all agreed on, so that's what I'll stick to. I will tell you that I was West of Wibaux, MT and East of the Bitter Root Valley. laugh

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Day 3

Day 3 started with us getting up earlier than the day before- I wanted to be in the area we were hunting as the light of day started to peek through the trees. Gabe and I went the general area we originally considered camping in. This was a nice North facing slope and should make for a good bedding area. We had only give a couple hundred yards when we heard a bull bugling down below us. The thermals were pouring down the mountain, so we sat quietly waiting for them to switch and make their way up the hillside. Nearly two hours later, we moved in a set up to call. We hadn’t heard the bull for a while, so we moved in to the area we last heard him and did some soft cow calling- nothing. We repeated a couple hundred yards down the slope and got the same result. We had lost this bull- he either relocated or simply wasn’t interested in our calling.

Random filler pic:


After sidehilling several hundred yards down the slope, we came to an area that was a mess- there were sticks, pine cones, and bushes everywhere. It was tough enough to walk quietly anywhere out there given how dry it was, but this was a mine field of snaps, cracks, and pops! It would have been like walking across a tile floor covered in corn flakes. I mentioned to Gabe that I’d make lost cow calls while we walked through it in an effort to disguise the noise we’d be making. About ¾ of the way across the mine field I was calling away and suddenly from less than 100 yards a bull, the bull from earlier we assumed, bugled from his bed and lightly chuckled, in an effort to get this “lost cow” to come on over to him. I sent Gabe ahead as the shooter and I knocked an arrow too, just in case. I softly dropped a few whiney estrus calls and in came our bull- dope on a rope! After the initial bugle and chuckles he came in silently. He sneaked in past Gabe at a distance of 20 yards and stood broadside. However, he was on the far side of a bunch of bushes and trees and Gabe had no shot. He came in and checked my area out, walking right through my shooting lane. However, he was facing me the whole time and I had no shot. As he turned broadside I tried to stop him with a cow call. Unfortunately, he took two more steps and stopped behind several evergreens. He stood there for several minutes waiting to see where this “lost cow” was. After not seeing the cow, he turned a 180 and resituated a bit. There was a small window, a little smaller than a cantelope, about 20 yards between him and me- through it I could see the crease right behind his shoulder. If I could thread an arrow through this window, I could make a perfect shot to the bull, which stood about 35 or 40 yards from me. I looked, I stared, I thought- should I take a shot like that? I stood my ground and hoped he’d walk out the exact way he’d come in, giving me a much better and quartering away shot at his vitals.

Random filler pic:


…of course this didn’t happen. The bull walked behind some other trees and casually sauntered away, giving neither Gabe nor me a shot. I cow called a little more and the bull zipped right back to 20 yards from Gabe. Again, no shot! Eventually he had enough and left, never again to be seen by us. What a beautiful bull! He was a nice, clean, big 5x5. He had an impressive mainframe with great beam length and he had an enormous body. Although just a 5 point, he was clearly a mature bull and would have made a fine trophy for any of us. Instead, he’s somewhere on the mountain still wondering what ever happened to that “lost cow”.

Random filler pic:


Later that day in a new area we called in a cow, which totally busted us, and got a small 4x4 to bugle back and forth with us, but he wouldn’t commit to coming into range for a shot. In total, it was a very fun day and I was happy I accomplished my #1 goal of the trip- I really wanted to call a bull into range of Gabe. I’d done that, but the sneaky old bull didn’t cooperate for a shot opportunity and lived to tell about it.

Random filler pic:


Jon hunted alone this day. His morning was a complete bust, but he got in a war of words with a bull who was more than happy to bugle back and forth with him. As is usually the case, the bull won the battle. After once again bugling back to the bull and waiting for a reply, nothing happened. Jon patiently waited, but the bull didn’t respond. When he went to cut some of the distance between him and the bull, Jon was surprised that the bull had sneaked inside of 30 yards and was looking for the outspoken bull who was “lipping off” to him. After just one step the bull blew out of there at 1000 mph and Jon never even got a glimpse of it. Sneaky bulls and thick country make for tough hunting!

Random filler pics:



Wallows in an open park viewed through the smoky air from one of the few areas we could glass from.


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Did I mention we were seeing a lot of sign in pockets of the mountainside? Some places had a little sign, some places had a lot of sign. Here are a few examples…





Elk track


This picture answers an age old question about bears…


It’s hard to see it well, but this is a mountain lion track.


A rub.


…and we saw lots of blue grouse.




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did you guys shoot alot of the grouse, or just pictures... Im surprised no bigfoot pix i would imagine in those dark woods is where he lives

No, we only shot one grouse. After I shot the first one we cooked it up for supper and quickly discovered we were ill equipped to cook them. I ended up boiling the grouse meat and it didn't work too well... On most days each of us could have shot half-a-dozen or more of them.

Yes, many of the areas were very "squatchy"! grin We never did see a squatch, but Gabe claims he heard one on one of the evenings. I think it may have just been Jon moaning and groaning about his messed up foot (pics to follow), but I could be wrong. laugh

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