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Montana Archery Elk 2018 By Cheetah


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This year I got the bright idea of buying some leftover Elk B tags in a unit in SW Montana that we had never been to before. Originally my dad and I were planning on going back out to Idaho where we hunted two years ago now that we had some experience there.   MT Elk B tags are less than half the cost of an any elk tag in Idaho, and 1/3 the cost of a MT general elk tag.  In addition we could buy up two two Whitetail B tags each for a reasonable fee, and it looked like there were plenty in the unit to go around.  It did not take much convincing for my dad. 

 

Some quick research on the internet showed this unit had a good amount of accessible national forest ground, plus state and Block Management areas.  Access was a little limited to a handful of major trailheads and short road sections, but I felt there were enough options to give it a go.  Another plus was that the elevation in this area had camp at 6000ft and most of our hunting no higher than 7500ft.  This was important because Dad turned 69 during the trip and I wanted to make sure he wouldn't have a heart attack in the middle of the hunt.  I also subscribed to the OnXMaps service and put the app with my account on both of our phones so we could share waypoints, and waypoints I saved ahead of time from home could be visible on the phone app.  


The drive across MN/ND/MT was uneventful, except that because we had so much extra junk in the truck that the seats could not lean back properly to allow for decent sleep at 2am...  I forget where we had breakfast, maybe it was Billings.  Dad likes to eat at local cafes whenever possible, and he found one attached to a cattle auction facility.   We were the only non-ranchers in attendance.  The food was very good, and provided leftovers for a second meal.

 

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We arrived in our unit in one piece, and my first choice area turned out to not have anyone camped at the trailhead!   So we set up shop and made camp.  As per the usual with my dad, he packed everything plus the kitchen sink, in double...  I lean more towards the minimalist side, and have learned that any food I pack likely will not be eaten as he prefers full cooked meals instead of whatever I can muster up on my whisperlite.  Our truck camp is usually pretty comfortable.   I'm sure you will all recognize the Eskimo pop-up ice shack.  These work great as cook shacks on hunting trips!  Dad has one of the tall models you can stand in, with quilted sides.  Even without the tarp on top it will keep out quite a bit of rain, and the propane cook stove heats it well in the morning/evening.  During the day the open windows and doors provide great ventilation to relax in the shade, while the Cabelas Alaskan tent was roasting hot inside. 

 

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Turns out there are a decent number of cattle in this drainage with us.  We were constantly dodging cow pies and herding them off the trails ahead of us.  

 

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As luck, or bad luck, would have it the first evening was one of our luckiest.  We hiked up the main logging road that took us to the front of the drainage overlooking some prime grazing areas.  We hiked back to where we hit a private ranch fence that had timber on the other side, hoping elk would come out to feed and we could observe.   We no sooner arrived at our observation point and a raghorn bull across the valley saw us coming and blew out ahead of us...   

 

We found a place to sit by a grove of shorter quaking aspens (I think).  We waited and waited, and I scouted behind the grove and came back to let my dad know there was a lot of elk sign on the hillside above us...  

 

As sunset rolled around we heard something behind us, Dad though it was birds.  There were birds in the aspens, but this was much louder.   I figured there were elk coming right to us, so we knocked arrows and waited.  Fortunately they wind was right, and now thermals kicked in to further assist. 

 

Sure enough elk had moved right into us.  If we were facing uphill instead of out across the valley we would have had easy shots.  Unfortunately the elk sensed something was wrong, so we each snuck around opposite sides of the grove.  I went high side, and saw an elk 40yd in front of me, but I thought I saw antlers so did not move further for a shot.  I waited.  Dad had gone low, not as quietly, and the elk were moving off now.  I saw a huge herd bull crest the hill above, and a cow and calf stood in front of me at 80yd.   I drew on them, but did not shoot.

 

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After the frustration wore off, we headed back to camp.  We crossed the last cattle gate above camp just before dark, and I looked up to see two whitetail does standing there staring at us.  I couldn't believe it...  I quickly confirmed they were whitetail, and we both ranged them for 35yd.  I drew to shoot, settled in for the shot, and watched as my arrow sailed right over the does back...  I couldn't believe it.  I made sure I was using the right pins, and even doing a test shot the next day showed the bow was shooting accurately...   Throughout the week we learned the whitetail deer were consistently feeding and bedding right around our camp.  Dad set a tree stand not more than 100yd above camp.  

 

 

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Unfortunately this is where the trip gets boring.   That herd we accidentally set up on the very first evening moved across the fence and taunted us from the other side all week.  We knew it was a good spot, but wind directions did not cooperate, and no more elk would cross the fence there no matter how much we wanted them to or how good the sign was on that hillside. 

 

The second morning I went higher above to glass back up the main drainage.  Far up on the rim of the drianage I saw a few elk walk across the spine.  I knew from the map there was one chute that could access the national forest behind us, and as far as I knew there were no other ways back up there.  I added some waypoints to onx.   As I worked around the hill glassing, I eventually walked into a spike bull bedded.  Unfortunately he was alone, and some cattle fed into him and bumped him out.  He then saw/smelled me and busted out never to be seen again.  

 

The drainage behind camp:

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Elk on the high rim of the drainage:

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Looking down to camp where the whitetail deer live:

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Spike bull elk at 90yd. 

image.thumb.png.62b9ea9def1cb23b27e2a438904f1057.png

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Dad had seen a black bear below him that first morning, and when I walked down the next day with him I was able to snap some photos in the early light with my bigger camera.  They are grainy, but it looked like a nice bear to me.  We did not have a tag.

 

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Herd of elk way out on private range land:

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Interesting spider:

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I think it was the third morning when I walked back up the big drainage behind camp to get a good look on the ground for elk sign.  On the way I saw more elk way up on the spine of the drainage.  Lots more elk sign in the back cuts.  It was clear this area held a lot of elk during the summer, but they got busted out by hunters during the early part of the season. 

 

I decided I was going to get a closer look at the potential trail to the top of the drainage spine.  I am a rock climber, so heights don't bother me so much.  I was more concerned about footing and if my dad could get up there, and if I did shoot one how would I get it down...   The top of the spine where I was targeting was 1600ft above camp, the last chute is about 700ft alone and very steep.   I slowly picked my way up the chute, sweating profusely in the sun, but was rewarded at the top. 

 

The view back to camp:

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The view down the back side, one square mile of almost entirely private landlocked national forest.  

 

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The elk highway along the spine that I was seeing elk use, and was covered in fresh tracks.

 

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The elk trail at the top funnel together at a rock outcropping that I knew I had to use as a blind. If I shot an elk up here it would have to be at the very top, because hauling meat down the hill behind me was bad enough, but I did not want to have to haul any up the hill either as it was just as steep on the other side!   I made plans to come back early the next morning and kill an elk at this spot.

 

That evening I sat on the other hill we had been hunting more consistently, and watched the herd of elk taunting us from a far off ridge.  Here is one of the small satellite bulls.  

 

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I told my dad that he should not follow me up that hill, it might kill him.  He did not take me seriously...  He followed anyway.  We left camp very early as it was a long walk up the drainage, and I wanted to be on top before the elk, but I still needed daylight to get up the dangerous last 700ft.  

 

Sunrise behind me on the way up:

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I made it to the top and set up in the rock outcropping.  Time passed, Dad was nowhere to be seen behind me.  I saw a group of elk below me in the next drainage, a nice bull and what might have been the cows/calves I was seeing on the spine the previous days...  

 

I waited, and waited, and saw lots of fresh tracks in the dirt.  Dad showed up, still no elk up high...  We waited until about 10am, long past when they had passed through the other times.  The elk below us bedded and a satellite bull moved in on them.  Another bull was bugling to the one below us, and we heard one lone bugle to the right.   We had no intention of going down to try to shoot one, because if we did it would be a nightmare for us to get the meat out again. 

 

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We gave up and picked our way back down the chute and all the way to camp.  After doing this walk two days in a row my feet hurt like hell and I was beat.  I would not be able to do it again a third day in a row. 

 

 

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Unfortunately the weather turned bad on us and it rained over night, I forget if it was day four or five.   In any case a cloud system rolled in and low cloud ceiling filled the drainage behind camp.   

 

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We went up the front side of the area hoping elk would be out there to get out of the clouds.  It was extremely windy now as well.  I went high back where I saw the spike days earlier and was glassing back up the drainage when I saw a bull and three cows in the wide open up high!   I considered running down the cut between us to try to intercept in the creek bottom below, but did not want to risk bumping these elk when they were the only elk in the entire drainage!

 

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Dad sidehilled across to join me, followed by a herd of mule deer does... 

 

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Selfie with cloud covered hills. 

 

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We watched where the elk bedded and decided to ambush them in the evening.  We decided to drive out to town to hit the grocery store so Dad could have more fresh food and not have to resort to eating what I brought.  The cloud system over the area did not look good from below at all...

 

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That evening we went to the hill the elk were on in the morning so we could see where they were bedded.  The clouds were so thick now in the drainage we could not see up to where the elk were.  It was very windy and cold. The elk never showed up.  We left before sunset.

 

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Another selfie in the clouds, so cold and windy I had to break out the facemask and extra layers while hunkering down behind a blowdown.  

 

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It rained that night, and the next morning we went up high to glass back where we left the elk.  They seem to have never left the cut we saw them bed in.  

 

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Some interesting low clouds.

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It rained all afternoon, but the forecast said it would clear a couple hours before sunset.   We observed snow on the high peaks in the distance.   

 

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Once the rain stopped and the skies looked clear we went back to see if we could finally shoot an elk.  We worked the wind back up to where we had last sat so we see the elk and still move down to intercept if they came down for water/feed.   The elk were still up high, but shifted left a couple cuts.  We were now close enough to confirm that the bull was in fact a smallish 6 point.

 

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We waited a long time watching the cows get up to feed and then bed down again repeatedly.  As sunset neared the lead cow looked ready to commit to coming down.  Our plan was to run down fast to intercept, watching as we fast-walked down to the bottom.   It was clear now the elk were following the left most ridge, and moving quite fast, they definitely wanted to get to the bottom for the good creek water and green grass!   

 

The plan was I would run ahead to intercept as I could get their faster.  I knew the place they were going, having scouted it earlier in the week.  It was a perfect funnel.  The cows went behind the narrow ridge they were following, but the bull stayed high watching the drainage.  I managed to get up through the saplings quietly and in position, and could see the bull up high, and the cows feeding and walking right to me on a string!   

 

Unfortunately behind me I heard a loud stick break.  The bull did too and was pacing back and forth rapidly trying to figure out what was below him...  I could see my dad standing in the creek bottom.   I adjusted my position, the cows were coming closer, I ranged for shot options, they would pass within 40yd and the bull might walk right over me... 

 

The bull unfortunately had had enough.  He swooped down to the cows and herded them back up the hill...  The cows had no clue what was going on, but the bull clearly was not stupid.

 

After waiting until it was close to dark I picked my way back down to my dad, who was standing on the cattle trail we had gone up previously.  It turned out that he tripped over a downfall fell badly.   He was not hurt, but he thought the bull could not see him, but I had a better view from above as to what was going on.  Those elk were not seen again for the rest of the hunt.  

 

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22 hours ago, Cheetah said:

I told my dad that he should not follow me up that hill, it might kill him.  He did not take me seriously...  He followed anyway.  We left camp very early as it was a long walk up the drainage, and I wanted to be on top before the elk, but I still needed daylight to get up the dangerous last 700ft.  

martin bowstring

Sunrise behind me on the way up:

image.thumb.png.455ff0db61de845f4a3b3cf27736cb3e.png

 

I made it to the top and set up in the rock outcropping.  Time passed, Dad was nowhere to be seen behind me.  I saw a group of elk below me in the next drainage, a nice bull and what might have been the cows/calves I was seeing on the spine the previous days...  

 

I waited, and waited, and saw lots of fresh tracks in the dirt.  Dad showed up, still no elk up high...  We waited until about 10am, long past when they had passed through the other times.  The elk below us bedded and a satellite bull moved in on them.  Another bull was bugling to the one below us, and we heard one lone bugle to the right.   We had no intention of going down to try to shoot one, because if we did it would be a nightmare for us to get the meat out again. 

 

image.png.2dbe7c31aa6f9c134e6417c2d09858e3.png

 

 

We gave up and picked our way back down the chute and all the way to camp.  After doing this walk two days in a row my feet hurt like hell and I was beat.  I would not be able to do it again a third day in a row. 

 

 

4

enjoyed the story but this view is incredible  your lucky you get to hunt there

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  • Your Responses - Share & Have Fun :)

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