In the past I had seen only hunters in the high country using trekking poles for sheep hunts. I never really thought they would benefit my everyday hunting endurance and performance. This last summer I finally tested a pair of trekking poles, primarily using them for summer scouting hikes and during parts of the hunting season. I was greatly surprised how beneficial they were, while still being lightweight and not cumbersome. Below are 4 reasons why you should think about adding a trekking pole to your hunting gear arsenal.

1) Trekking poles help you balance. When hiking steep inclines, declines, and sidehills, trekking poles give you a third contact point with the ground. This allows you to have better balance and stability. I found that trekking poles in wet or snowy conditions was a life saver.

2) Gain better rhythm & hiking pace with trekking poles. On my first scouting trip using a trekking pole I noticed not only that I was able to hike faster, but also able to gain a rhythm in my hiking pace. Over long periods of hiking I noticed less fatigue, not to mention being able use arm strength to aid in pushing uphills and slowing impact on downhills. This was critical for long hikes, steep ascents, and also when packing out heavy loads.

 

3) Feel safer on technical hikes. When scouting this past summer, I had a steep ascent to a ridgetop that was covered in downfall. This stuff is nasty and I had no choice but to leap frog through the fallen trees. Having a trekking pole to help aid my balance, allowed myself to not fall and get speared by short branches on fallen trees. Overall I felt more comfortable in sketchy hiking situations when using a trekking poles.

4) Trekking poles have multiple uses. Not only are trekking poles a great hiking aid, but they can also double as a rest for your binos while glassing. I can’t stress having a steady rest when glassing enough. If your binos are shaking, your not picking up those small details on the hillsides.  Also, if you need a shelter you can use the trekking pole as a support for your tent or rain fly. This allows you to leave tent poles behind and possibly cut weight out of your overall backpack weight. The uses are endless, but creativity is a must. There is an Easton Connex accessory that makes your trekking poles into a pair of shooting sticks, which comes in very handy.

I highly recommend the Easton Carbon 3 Trekking Pole. Its easy to make height adjustments, lightweight, comfortable to use, and stays locked when heavy weight is added onto pole. The Carbon 3 poles come with powder baskets and tips for hardpack or snowpack conditions.

 

-Travis

 

Our scouting  before season was paying off, as we marked rubs, fresh sign, and wallows on our GPS. The next morning we scouted another new area and found plenty of fresh rubs and beds, where large bulls had pissed and marked their home.  The area was looking good and we headed back into town to hang out with our family and gather supplies for opening day.

hunting, gps, maps, onX, hunt, iphone, app, hunting, satellite, imagery

While at home our Dad convinced us to take him out archery elk hunting for his very first time.  We told him we would be sitting a wallow all day and would require a lot of patience.  He didn’t care, he just wanted experience the hunt and the plans were made.  We checked the weather one last time before heading back into the mountains.  The forecast was looking iffy.  Opening day looked as if we might get scattered showers, continuing through Sunday night.  Zack and I unloaded the truck, flung some last minute arrows, and prepared ourselves for the following days sit.

Ultimate Steel

The next morning my alarm sounded off and almost instantly I saw headlights pull up behind my truck.  An older man walked up, asked my Dad where he was hunting and proceeded to say “I’m sitting that same spot”.  It was kinda a bummer being there all night and to have some guy just charge out in front of you to go sit where we had originally planned to sit our father for opening day.  We made the best of the situation and decided to have our Dad sit the wallow Zack and I had planned to hunt.  We bushwacked into our location, hoping for a wind from the west.  We snuck into the area, Zack and myself setting up in a small ground blind we had built this summer, which was only big enough for two people.  With no choice we set our Dad on the north end in a small area of trees.

wind, checker, dark, timber

The wind blew out of the south most of the day, which was not the wind we were looking for.  The only thing we saw all day from 6am-745pm was two hunters.  Opening Day was a wrap. My Dad was more than satisfied, and headed home that evening.

stars

The next morning we pulled the same routine, same location.  This time the guy didn’t waste his time hiking back in through our campsite.  As we finished loading the truck with our gear, we started to hear the sound of rain drops.  The weather had showed up, and it was not going to be pretty.  Zack and I hustled into our raingear and made the hike into our ground blinds.  The wind was once again coming out of the south.  With no choice we sat on the north end of the wallows, taking cover under some large trees.  It was time to wait, and the wall of rain thickened.  About a half hour into the sit and we heard our first daylight bugle.  Faint bugles could be heard throughout the morning, and I assumed the bulls would swing by the wallow.  Soon enough I could tell the elk were working farther away, and I decided to bugle.  I was getting consistent response, but decided to hold our position and not risk totally frying our camera gear chasing bulls in the rain.  The bugles slowly faded as late morning hit.  No dice.  Zack and I held out until 1230pm, before making the decision to head back to camp and try to judge the weather for the afternoon hunt.

sitka, gear, stormfront, bear, archery, motive, 6

The rain had calmed around 4pm, and we headed into the general area where we heard those bulls move earlier that morning.  I set up at various locations, calling with no bugles in response.  Once again the rain had picked back up and it looked like thunderstorms rolling over the mountain.  We decided to hike back through some old timber and hopefully call a bull in from cover.  We found plenty of great sign, but we failed to encounter a bull.

Rain, sitka

The next morning we again ventured into an area where we felt we had a good chance of calling a bull in.  This part of Montana is nasty.  The brush is thick and seeing an elk doesn’t happen on a daily basis.  This morning was particularly nasty because we needed to be silent in the area we would be calling, so we hiked raingear free.  The brush was still dripping wet from the weather from the day before.  Once again we had a downright miserable hike, soaking wet.  We heard one small bugle, and took a handful of spills on the slick downfall.  Beaten we headed back to the truck midday.

The afternoon was slightly more pleasant, the sun peaked his head out and dried up some of the water.  I decided to head down another ridge within a mile of our wallow.  The area was littered with monster rubs, some fresh, some old, but the elk still didn’t vocalize that evening.  It seemed the rut was still a week away.

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That night we checked the forecast, which was calling for sunny weather with a high of 75F.  I knew the elk hadn’t hit the wallow recently, and with the wet weather transitioning back to hot, I felt like the wallow could be a great option for day 4. That was the plan, back to the wallow in the am!

Zack and I chose to hike into the wallow from a different direction that morning.  Hoping to maybe locate a bull on the way in.  The route proved longer and we didn’t hear a single bugle.  Once again the  wind was coming out of the south!  Sitting in the trees and not being able to sit either of the blinds we had built was a little frustrating.  All morning was silent, other than the hundreds of squirrels chirping and chucking pine cones around our location.  I motioned for my bow multiple times, thinking an elk was coming.  Nope, just pine cones flying out of the trees hitting logs and branches.

camo, optifade, open, country, sitka

We caught up on some reading, soaking in the hot weather and drying out our gear.  We rotated taking small naps as the afternoon progressed.  Around 5pm I thought I heard a very light bugle coming from the timber to the southwest.  “Zack did you hear that bugle?” I whispered.    “No,” he replied.  I checked the wind, which was now coming out of the north.  “Zack the wind switched, lets move the decoy and sit the blind on the south end”.

I grabbed the decoy, moved it to the east side of the wallow and we got comfortable in our best blind at that location.  I had to plan on setting up for a bull coming from the southwest, and I hoped I wasn’t just imagining I heard a bugle.  We sat and waited.  About 30 minutes later I heard that distinct rumble of brush.  “Zack somethings coming,” as I sat upright and grabbed my bow.  Silence was all I heard for the next couple minutes, until I finally saw long browtines poke through the brush to our left.  My adrenaline hit, this was awesome!!  The bull worked slowly into the water, raking his horns in the muddy water a mere 70 yards from our blind.  Zack followed the bull with the camera as he wallowed and eventually laid down in the water at 65yards.  I shifted to my right in the blind, giving me a clear view of the bull.  The bull stayed there, enjoying his muddy bed for a good 6 minutes.  I ranged the nearest clump of grass as a marking point, 63yards. The bull stood, and I drew back.  He faced away from me instantly, giving me just a view of his butt.  I held full draw for 1minute 15seconds, almost letting down once.  The bull turned perfectly broadside, dragging his horns in the mud.  I held my sixty pin, settled for 7 seconds, felt 99.9% sure of the shot and squeezed off.  I heard the smack as the bull took off towards our blind!  I quickly mouthed two cow calls and nocked another arrow.  The bull slowed to a walk only 35 yards away as blood flowed from the exit wound.  The bull wobbled and tipped over only 30 yards from us.  It was over! Finally I had arrowed my first bull!  I sat there in disbelief, still having an arrow ready in case something happened.  The bull quickly expired and I still sat there, wondering if it was all real.

Bull Down

I approached my bull completely in awe of its amazing characteristics.  He was a true dark timber bull.

elk, horns, blood, kicker, dark

My #1 archery goal had finally been achieved, four years in the making.   I studied the bulls muddy horns, which had great mass and unique tines.  After looking the bull over I  searched for my arrow and to my amazement it was floating in the wallow!  As I fished the arrow out of the water, I noticed large wolf tracks in the mud from the night before.

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Zack and I snapped photos as we transitioned to the real work, cutting up the bull.  We used the gutless method to butcher the elk, hanging the two front quarters in a tree to avoid losing meat to the large number of bears and mountain lions in the area.

sitka, gear, lone, wolf, knives, archery, elk

Zack and I loaded our packs with the de-boned hind quarters, backstraps, and tenderloins.  Our packs rang well over 75lbs with our gear and meat.  The journey in the dark began, as we crossed downfall and brush, using our GPS for direction.  Soon we were heading the wrong direction as the satellite was putting us in the wrong location.  S*#%!  We hit walls of brush, impassable with our heavy loads, backtracking and cussing as we crossed nastly 3.5ft tall snags and downfall.  I finally busted out my iPhone and used the “my location” GPS function.  The iPhone instantly showed our location on the satellite imagery.  Back on track, we eventually made our way through the timber, safely making it back to the truck at 1:15am. I don’t know why the Garmin GPS satellite was misrepresenting our location, but I’m glad we had a backup source for direction.

After a short 4 hours of sleep, we busted back into the kill location, hearing bugles echoing around us.  Zack and I  loaded our packs once again and ventured back into the thick brush with the final load.  I battled every tree, branch, and log that morning.  The rack did not find its way smoothly through that environment.  I have no idea how those bulls travel through the brush so silently, but they are truly masters of their domain.

mystery, ranch, metcalf, elk, hunt, horns, montana, wild, sitka, gear

We let out some final war cries as the last load made it to the truck.  To be able to notch my elk tag by the fourth day was unreal.  That morning it really resonated with me how amazing the elk hunting experience is.  To be able to enjoy it with your best friend and brother is pretty special.

-Travis

This past December we got the chance to collaborate with an amazing Bozeman based company, Seacat Creative.  Seacat Creative owner, Mark Seacat, asked Zack and myself to put together a Sitka film from the footage he shot on Carmen Island with the Foss family.  Mark captured some decent footage.  We had 5 days to put the film together.  Right away we had our hands full organizing foreign footage.  This was our first time piecing together a film with video that we had not shot first hand.

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Adam Foss and Steven Drake would be helping the process by helping create storyboards and recording voiceover.  Adam Foss and Mark Seacat had a first person account of the whole desert sheep hunt, so their input was critical in the creation of Band of 3.  The next week we spent most of our days working til 2am.

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Zack busted out the main sequence, while I worked on audio, motion graphics, and titles for the film.  The long nights were aided with  numerous Salmon Fly Honey Rye beers and the Adam Foss favorite,  a large batch of dark and stormy cocktails.

band of 3, desert, sheep, hunt, archery, adam, foss, sitka, films, gear, salmon, flies, beer

Finally after a grueling week, we were in the final stages of post production.  The final cut turned into a film that intertwines hunting and conservation into one inspirational piece. Most people don’t know that we were the editors behind this piece.  Below is Band of 3.

 

-Travis

If you missed Part 1 be sure to read it HERE before continuing.

The crack of dawn arrived quickly and we all slowly emerged from our tents to tackle another day on the mountain.  The hours were getting long and full days on the mountain will mentally take a toll on you.  This morning the goal was to work the upper end of a drainage we had yet to hunt.  We were hoping the warm weather would push a bear or two up into the newly exposed areas.  We slowly climbed up and around the mountain.  It was just after 8am when we crested over the final ridge.  A small basin of lush green grass was below us.  We glassed for an hour without any luck.  We grabbed the predator call and began a series of calling, hoping to entice any bears in the area to show themselves.  After twenty five minutes we called it quits.  We relocated to the top of the hill and settled in for a long day of waiting for a bear to emerge.

idaho, backcountry, wilderness, bear, hunting, spring

We settled in and layed under a tree for the next 8 hours.  The only animals to show themselves were a few lonely mule deer who were traveling up the basin.  No one was feeling super confident about the area and we made the call to work back down to the low clearing which we had spotted three bears in over the past five days.  We stealthily worked back down the mountain but didn’t turn up a bear.  With only an hour of light left we decided to try calling again.  Zack began a sequence of distress calls that went on and off for the next half an hour.  Nothing had emerged and Travis and I had thrown in the towel.  I was slowly working back to my pack when Travis motioned for me to get down.  Zack had stayed back on the rock and had spotted a good bear that stepped out into the clearing.  He was 400 yards up the hill and slowly feeding left to right.  A scramble ensued as we quickly set up the packs so I could get a solid rest.

Travis had moved away to check a small clearing to the left, Zack was stationed on a small rock and I had started making my way back to the packs. All of a sudden I looked up to see Travis frantically pointing up the hill, Zack had spotted a bear above us and motioned for me to get ready for a shot. Anthony VonRuden, Montana Wild, Mystery Ranch, Vortex, Long Range Shooting, Snowy Mountain Rifle Company, Idaho Hunting, Montana Wild I made a solid rest out of the packs as Zack got the camera ready. I steadied my breathing and Travis called out the yardage, 405 yards. I turned the dial on the Vortex to 2.75 MOA and settled the crosshairs. The bear turned broadside and I squeezed off the shot. It was a solid hit but the big boar turned and ran uphill, he slowed to a walk and I sent another round his way. I missed him just high but it didn’t matter the bear tipped over and rolled to a stop twenty yards down the hill. My emotions overtook me and I had to take a minute to gather myself. I told the guys that this was my most meaningful trophy to date. Bear Hunting, Sitka, Montana Wild, Vortex, Idaho Bears, Idaho Bear Hunting Our work was not finished, we snapped some photos and started taking care of the old boar. We made it back to camp at around two in the morning. After a few hours of sleep we broke down camp and loaded our mystery ranch packs to brim. It was still another twelve miles to the trailhead and we would all be carrying packs in excess of seventy pounds. This hunt was a true test of our resilience and determination. I know that I will not soon forget the adventure that we shared and look forward to many more challenges to come! Lone Wolf Knives, Bear Hunting, Punching Tags, Bear Hunting

Zack and Travis got the cameras rolling and I settled my sights on the black chest of the unaware bear.  This time I would wait for a prime shot.  As if to tempt me, the bear took a few long minutes before turning broadside.  As he did I slipped my finger onto the trigger and began the slow squeeze.  At 15 ounces the trigger cracked easily and my shot connected with a loud “thwack!”  The bear looped uneasily uphill and began to slow.  I quickly fired another round.  It missed him just high but it didn’t matter as he tipped over on the steep hillside.  I rolled to the side as a surge of emotions overcame me.  We had overcome the previous night’s failure and had come back in epic fashion.  Thoughts of my dad and his history with this place made the moment one of my most memorable and I told the guys that this was my most meaningful trophy to date.  We quickly grabbed our gear and began the hike up to my first Idaho black bear.

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black bear, hunting, snowy mountain rifles, vortex, razor hd

Our work was far from finished though.  We snapped some photos and started taking care of the old boar.  When we finally finished our work on the bear we threw him in the Mystery Ranch Metcalf and began the short hike back to camp.  We rolled into camp and enjoyed another night by the fire with fresh backstrap roasting in the golden flames.

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We crawled into our tents that night at 2AM.  It had been a long six days in the mountains.  Our feet we’re blistered, our hands cut and dirty, and our legs sore and achy.

camping, idaho, wilderness, backcountry, msr, tents

Sleep came easy that night, but was quickly disrupted as our alarms began ringing at 5AM.  No one wanted to get up, but with 12 miles ahead of us it was necessary to get an early beat so we could make it back to civilization in time to check our bears in before heading back to Montana.  We quickly broke down camp and distributed our gear amongst the three Mystery Ranch packs.  It was twelve miles to the trailhead and we would all be carrying packs in excess of seventy pounds.  This hunt was a true test of our resilience and determination and the test would only be over when we finally laid eyes on the truck.

black bear, hunting, idaho, montana wild, mystery ranch, metcalf

As we dropped elevation our packs buried deep into our shoulders.  The pain was there but it was some of the best pain I’ve felt.  Pushing yourself to your limits and seeing what your capable of is something that is so rewarding and I’d encourage everyone to get outside their comfort zone this year.  You just may surprise yourself and I know that I will not soon forget the adventure that we shared and look forward to many more challenges to come!

Yeti, coolers, bear, hunting, idaho, montana wild, travis boughton

Special thanks to the following killer companies for making the best gear out there: Snowy Mountain Rifles, Sitka Gear, Vortex Optics, Mystery Ranch, YETI Coolers, Hunting GPS Maps, Danner Boots, Lone Wolf Knives, MSR, and Garmin.

-Written by Anthony VonRuden.  Edited by Zack Boughton

Words by Anthony VonRuden

Last light was fading as I left our viewpoint and made my way over to the heavy pack that I had become all too familiar with over the course of this six day hunt.  Another day had passed and we still were in search of another black bear.  Our Idaho backcountry hunt had us located twelve miles back in a basin full of thick brush, broken up by small grassy meadows and a half dozen creeks. This hunt was very special to me because I had roots in the region, my dad was a logger back in the 80’s and worked in the very same area that we would be hunting.  Zack and Travis Boughton, the co-founders of Montana-Wild, were alongside on the hunt.  Travis would be hunting with myself and Zack was manning the camera during our week long adventure.  These two spend as much time in the woods as anyone I know and with the combined expertise of the three of us the expectations were running high.  We all had a role to play on this trip and I was in charge of research and logistics.  We all wanted to do something that would test our limits both physically and mentally and our destination would do exactly that.  After countless hours scouting Google Earth, checking outfitter websites, and talking to fellow hunters, I had scouted a basin that looked like a black bear haven, the only catch was that it was over 8 miles from the trailhead.  We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the reward if we pulled it off would be more than worth the effort.

idaho, bear hunting, yeti coolers, mystery ranch, backpacks, coolers, ford, f-150

After a five hour drive from Missoula we finally were close to the trailhead and ready to hit the trail.  As we drove along the river upstream we actually spotted a bear from the road.  Unfortunately he was inaccessible and we just watched him feed for a while before continuing on our way as planned.  We rolled into the trailhead and began making final adjustments to our packs before leaving the truck for seven days.  After a short time we we’re ready.  Our packs were far from light as they were loaded down multiple cameras and lenses on top of our basic gear such as tents, food, and other backcountry necessities.  We weighed the packs prior to leaving the house and the lightest pack weighted in at 60.4 pounds.  Not exactly lightweight.

Bear, Hunting, Idaho, Sitka, Mystery Ranch, Vortex, Snowy Mountain Rifle, Backcountry Hunting

We made good time and were soon eight miles back and at the base of the hill that we would have to ascend to reach our campsite. The brush was unbelievably thick and far from what we had expected after looking at Google Earth.  It was nasty and steep and home to a few moose looking to evade the local wolves.  The 1600′ of vertical climb took us two hours of solid climbing to complete.  The hike made us all want to quit but we pushed through and finally emerged on the top to a wonderful view and a chance to finally rest.

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Once at camp we were treated to a king’s view of the basin and it quickly became evident that we would see plenty of bears throughout the trip.  We threw up camp and hurried over to a rock outcropping that would give us a commanding view of the drainage.  After five minutes of glassing we had turned up four bears out feeding.  Light was fading as we all exchanged high fives.  We began to strategize a game plan for the following day as we cooked up our meals in the soft light of an awesome Idaho sunset.

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The glow of the morning light was just becoming visible as we crawled out of our sleeping bags and began gathering our gear for the mornings hunt.  The plan was to work our way down the ridge that would take us to the head of the basin and into some clearings that looked promising the night before.  The brush was over our heads and the going was tough, but it seemed that every time we broke out into a clearing we would glass a bear feeding miles away on the other side of the drainage.  We just had to get closer to some open areas and hope we could locate a bear in a stalkable location.

Idaho, Hunting, Wilderness

Seeing those bears gave us the motivation to keep pushing forward until midday when we finally reached our destination and set up to glass.  Almost instantly Zack spotted a beautiful cinnamon bear about 800 yards below us.  Zack and Travis were gathering themselves for a stalk when I saw a little cub zip out of the brush to its mother’s side.  We just sighed and went back to glassing, hoping to turn up another bruin.  Hours passed and nothing showed itself, so we moved locations to get a better view of the area.  As we did, a spring storm blew in forcing us to take shelter under an old pine tree and wait for a break in the weather.

Sitka, Vortex, Hunting, Fire, Montna Wild

After the storm had passed we pulled out the binos and Travis spotted a monster bear.  The large boar was on the move and never even slowed down to feed, finally making his way into the dark timber.  We were pretty dejected and decided to start working our way back towards camp.  We stopped at a small creek to fill our water bladders for the night.  As Travis was pumping water I looked up and something caught my eye.  The binos confirmed my suspicions and I excitedly whispered to Travis to get ready for a shot.  A beautiful blonde bear was feeding through a series of small clearings above us.  After a few tense minutes of scrambling to get Travis set up, fire up the cameras, and relocate the feeding bear, we we’re ready for the shot.  As the bear fed into a good clearing Travis settled the crosshairs and made a perfect heart shot at 388 yards.  A short blood trail led us to Travis’ first Idaho bear.  We all exchanged high fives, snapped a few photos before breaking the bear down for the pack back to camp.

300 WSM, Shooter Glove, Sitka, Snowy Mountain Rile, Montana Wild

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By the time we got the bear in the pack and started working back to camp it was pitch black and pouring rain.  We slowly followed a grown in horse trail back down the basin.  Our camp was located only a mile away, but with a 1200′ ascent in the wet jungle we decided that our best option would be to spend the night under a tree.  When your that far back safety takes a high priority and it was decided that we would find the best shelter available and tough it out.  After finding a group of large, old pines, we quickly scraped together a small area where we could all sleep around the fire.  We got a fire started and roasted some bear backstraps as we dried out our wet gear.

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I can honestly say that if we hadn’t invested in the the best gear available we could have been in serious trouble.  Fortunately we all had quality gear that mainly kept us dry and happy despite the poor conditions.  After fully drying out and filling our bellies, we began a long night huddled around the campfire.  Constant attention was required to keep the fire going through the night.

Sitka, Minimalyst, Danner, Montana Wild, Sitka Gear, Seeking Shelter

The next morning it was decided that we would forgo returning to camp and instead try to get on another bear.  It was a smarter decision to hunt during the day rather then waste our energy just to bust back to camp.  We hunted new country all day in an attempt to double up but were unable to turn up any bears.  As the sun sank lower in the west it was decided that Travis would pack his bear back to the trailhead and sleep in the truck.  Zack and I would make our way up the mountain to our camp and in the morning we would pack up camp and relocate to the opposite side of the drainage where the majority of bear sightings had occurred.  Travis would meet up with us at the new camp after his twenty four mile mountain marathon.

GPS, Hunting GPS Maps, Navigation, Sitka Gear, Montana Wild, Stream Crossing, Backcountry

Tuesday and Wednesday passed slowly as we were forced to change tactics.  A lack of any good vantage points forced us to hunker down and wait out promising areas hoping that a bear would show up.  It was slow hunting but it was going to give us our best chance at a bear.

Anthony VonRuden, Black Bear Hunting, Idaho, Wilderness Hunting, Sitka, Mystery Ranch Packs, Vortex Optics, Hunting, Bear Hunting

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Wednesday afternoon I spotted a bear across the drainage feeding in the highest clearing.  It was a large chocolate black bear and I was eager to burn some rubber off my boots.  To much sitting around will make you itch to climb a mountain.  Zack and I quickly assembled our gear and began the trek.  We hoped the bear would feed while we crossed the basin.  As we crossed the creek and began to climb we soon realized the apparent stupidity of the idea.  What had seemed simple enough turned into a grueling two hour journey.  As we neared the top we elected to circle around the ridge and glass a few adjacent meadows.  The country was beautiful but all we turned up were two large elk in velvet.  As we made our way back down the avalanche shoot I spotted a large black bear across the drainage.  We quickly hustled to close the distance.  Five minutes later we were five hundred yards away but the bear was no where to be seen.  We had missed him by a matter of minutes.  A long nasty hike took us back across the creek and back to our camp.

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Day 5  was much of the same.  Our morning turned up zero bears and the temperatures were reaching the high 70s.  We spent the day napping amongst the aspens and waiting for the high sun to fade to the west.

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The golden time had finally arrived and we were set up over a wide high alpine hillside.  Time passed and we continued to patiently wait.  All of a sudden the silence was broken as Travis exclaimed “Bear, bear, up on the far hillside.”  A large chocolate bear had worked out into a clearing on the far side of the basin.  It was too far of a shot where we were at and we quickly scrambled to close the distance.  Five minutes later and the .300 was resting over my pack and a bear was in my sights.  The shot was 602 yards and the bear was feeding on fresh green grass.  His head was down and facing directly towards us.  As I settled the crosshairs on him I felt that instinctual moment when you know your ready to pull the trigger.  The shot rang out and the bear ran off to the left.  The guys were yelling saying I missed him.  A disappointing few minutes ensued as we all sat in disbelief.  I had taken a shot that felt right but wasn’t.  I got lectured on taking a broadside shot at that distance and we quietly retreated down the mountain for the night.  With only two days left to hunt it was coming down to crunch time.  Food was running low and our bear sightings were slowly declining in number.  It was now or never to redeem myself and make the trip a success.

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Crunch time was upon us.  The vibes were refreshed that night in camp and we hoped that the following day would allow me an opportunity to redeem myself.

Read Part 2 here > Part 2.

Predator vs. Prey.  It’s a dynamic balancing act.  During most of the hunting season I am the dominant predator, or so I thought.  Seeking to find my prey, preferably elk or deer.  This is the time of year when I get the chance to harvest my own wild meat and enjoy all the amazing wild places found here in Montana.  I never realized how many other predators were out there until the past two years.  Wolf tags have been issued in Montana for a reason.  In 1995 & 1996 federal Fish and Wildlife Service transplanted 66 Canadian wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho. By the year 2002, the Northern Rockies wolf population surpassed the federal recovery goal of 300 wolves in 30 packs. In the past decade, Fish and Wildlife has killed about 7% of wolves annually (1,200 wolves in total over the years).  The wolves have expanded into most mountain ranges now in Montana, and we are seeing a decrease in elk & deer populations in many areas.  As of now, the population has grown to over 1,700 and stronger measures were taken this year to help hunters reduce the population.  One thing is clear, hunting is conservation.  As a hunter I feel I should do my part.  That’s why I bought a wolf tag and if the opportunity arose, I would be glad to use it.

This past weekend we met up with our Dad for some time spent elk hunting.  He was looking for his first elk, and we were excited to help him try to achieve that goal.  Unfortunately the trip started out with a flat tire just a few short miles from camp.  We threw the spare tire on and got geared up at the trailhead.  That night and the next day we spent our time attempting to still-stalk elk through the dark timber.  A tough venture when there’s three guys and frozen, crunchy ground.  With a stormfront moving across western Montana, I made the decision to change locations for the night.  We navigated our way through the falling snow, often not able to see more than 50 yards in front of the truck.  We knew with the fresh snow in the morning we would have a great chance to get close to some elk.  The snow would allow us a huge advantage come morning.

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After my 6AM alarm, I opened truck topper door to a fresh 3 inches of snow covering our two-truck campground.   Zack and I gathered ourselves in time to eat a quick meal and move our Dad’s truck 1.75miles to where we planned on exiting the timber later that day.  We dropped the truck off and made it back to the trailhead for a 3/4 mile hike through the squeaky fresh snow.  I made sure not to tell my Dad exactly how far we were going to be hiking, for I wanted him to forget about miles hiked, and just focus on shooting a bull.  Fortunately we made it over halfway up the first ridge before shooting light was upon us.  Once making it to the top of the ridge, I saw my first set of animal tracks on an old logging road.  It looked like snowshoe prints from a distance, but upon further examination it was a fresh set of grizzly tracks!

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Of course the bruin was walking in the direction we were hunting, so I carefully followed the tracks, hoping he jumped off the game trail further ahead.  My Dad was getting antsy, always thinking the worse is going to happen.  I reassured him that the bear didn’t want anything to do with us.  Soon we came across two sets of elk tracks heading the opposite direction we were hiking.  They obviously had sought out lower ground during the night.  We pushed on, glad to see the grizzly tracks head off the trail a 1/4 mile later.  As we hiked we passed multiple sets of deer tracks, but never caught a glimpse of a single deer.  My Dad was in awe of the beautiful white landscape before him, helping to keep his mind off of his aching legs.  We finally got to the location where I shot my very first elk.  Unfortunately, the elk were not there feeding in that same spot.  We sat down and ate a quick bite, boosted our energy, and set out looking for fresh elk tracks.

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As we worked our way back over the steep ridge, we came across 4 sets of elk tracks.  I asked my Dad, “you have the energy to follow these tracks a ways?”  He replied he did, so we started following the tracks.  Soon enough we found some fresh beds, but no sign of elk.  We followed the tracks further, as they spread out in the same general direction but a good distance apart.  We positioned my Dad in the lead so he would get a shot if he caught view of a bull.  Zack was between us with the camera hoping to have enough time to film if we saw an elk.  After about a 1/4 mile of slowly creeping through the dark timber, my brother stops us dead in our tracks.  He mouths “bull”, pointing to the hillside 150yards away.  My Dad and myself look, unable to make out an elk.  The timber was blocking our view and before either of us could move he trotted off.  Zack was smiling, thinking it was funny that the cameraman could have just shot a nice 5×5 bull elk while the two hunters could see nothing.  I didn’t share the same feelings at the moment.  We continued following the set of tracks through the overgrown larch trees, hoping for the best.  After tracking another 1/4 mile, I see another bull looking at us through the trees!! As I raise my Vortex scope up to see the bulls rack, the bull takes off once again.Elk tracks, tracking elk in snow

The whole time we were tracking these elk we noticed that there was dirt kicked up along their tracks.  Almost as if they were trotting through the woods.  We knew it wasn’t us pushing them so we pushed on hoping to catch up to them if they slowed to feed for the morning.  There were 5-7 sets of tracks in the snow so we knew there were more elk to find than just the two bulls we had bumped.

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As we bypassed a small clump of thick brush I saw a dark figure moving through the timber to our left!  At first I thought bear, but I saw a long tail!  I instantly dropped to a knee and said “wolf” to Zack behind me.  I quickly aimed my rifle into the only clear gap I had in the trees.  The wolf finally trotted into my shooting lane.  I settled the crosshairs and let the 8mm Ultra Mag rip!  The wolf dropped instantly, my quartering away shot killing him instantaneously.  “I just shot a wolf!” I glanced back at my brother, with the camera on me.  “I just shot a black wolf!”  I was so amped up and couldn’t believe what had just taken place!  One second I’m following bulls, the next I’m seeing wolves hunting the same group of elk as we were!! This was my first real up close encounter with a wolf.  I’ve heard them howl, and seen fresh wolf kills, but have never had the chance to get this close undetected.  I approached the black mass of fur, completely in awe of the sheer beauty these animals behold.

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To see the size of these animals is quite amazing.  Upon further investigation of the area, we found multiple sets of wolf tracks, some being larger than this black male.  Obviously a pack of wolves had the same idea we did that day.  To be able to share this moment with my brother and Dad was priceless.  My Dad only gets time to hunt a couple times during the year and this was truly an eye opening experience for him.

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After knotching my tag and getting a handful of photos, I loaded the jet black wolf into my Mystery Ranch Long Bow and began arduously placing one foot in front of the other as we climbed the steep snow covered hill.  It would be a good 500 vertical foot climb to the ridgeline and then 2 miles downhill to the truck.

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After cresting over the small peak we came across the logging road which would take us back to our truck.  Before I stepped foot onto the road, I noticed once again a set of large tracks?  It honestly looked like bigfoot had ambled through.  Of course we knew better and upon further investigation it was another set of grizzly tracks, this time even larger!  Once again the tracks were going in the direction we were heading.  Another 1/4 mile down the logging road the tracks made their way back into the forest.

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We peacefully made it back to the truck, all things intact.  No we didn’t get a bull for my father, but we did have one heck of a hunting experience! I couldn’t believe it, I had just put down an elk killing machine, another predator.  The same predator that was hunting the same prey as I was.  Not to mention we saw grizzly tracks twice that day.  As humans we feel we are at the top of the food chain, when in reality, grizzlies and wolves rank very close seconds.  We all have the same motive, survive.  If it weren’t for grocery stores, humans would have to go out and harvest their own meat, which today is the healthiest meat in the world!  The wolves are taking a toll on elk here in Montana, and I have seen this first hand.  There out there, and we cross paths more and more often.  This time we crossed paths a little too close.  I may have just saved those elk I was pursuing today, and ya that feels good!  The balance between wolves and elk is off right now and it felt great to help do my part of the management that FWP sets out for hunters each year.

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-Travis