Posts

WorkSharp Pocket knife sharpener, hunting, sharpener

Key Gear from the Field – Worksharp Pocket Knife Sharpener

Every year new gear makes it into our kit. It gets tested and either meets the mark or it doesn’t. I want to start sharing with you guys pieces of gear that we add to our kits that rock. Over the years we have carried small knife sharpeners with us in our kill kits. They helped put an edge on dull knives while in the process of cutting up deer or elk. They worked well enough to help get the job done but never really wowed us either. I recently wrote a blog about knives which you can read HERE. I talked about my progression from a fixed blade knife to a Havalon which is a replaceable blade knife. The reason for the switch was that I couldn’t get my fixed blades sharp enough. Now that I’m able to sharpen a knife to my standards, I’m once again carrying a fixed blade knive.  The only downside, they often need a touch up while you’re breaking down an animal. This September I was with the Trent and Steve from Born and Raised Outdoors on a hunt in Wyoming with Trail and Brady from GoHunt. Trent killed a nice six point bull and the process of breaking it down began. Half way through the work Steve pulled out the WorkSharp Pocket Knife Sharpener to touch up his knife.

worksharp, pocket sharpener, hunting, elk

Steve tuning up his knife

Mine was getting dull so I asked to borrow it. A few strokes on the ceramic rod and I was back in business. I was impressed. It not only got my knife edge smoking sharp but was lightweight and a bright yellow so that it would be hard to lose in the field. After that day it went directly into my kill kit.

worksharp, pocket sharpener, hunting, elk

If you carry a fixed blade knife into the field and don’t have a sharpener currently you should definitely check them out. You can view the product and learn more at www.worksharptools.com/pocket-knife-sharpener. And Christmas is just around the corner, for only $14.95 these make for an awesome stocking stuffer.

Zack Boughton

knife, hunting, sharp

A sharp knife is a safe knife. That’s definitely true and regardless of your hobbies or lifestyle there’s a solid chance you use knives on a regular basis. Whether that’s cutting meat in your kitchen, filleting a fish at the boat launch or deboning an elk deep in the wilderness. As society has adapted over the years some of the simple skills we should know have slowly eroded. Take sharpening a knife for example. Go back 20-30 years and it would have been a basic skill. Today millennials exist and we have electric sharpeners and disposable blades and a society that expects things to be done for us. I’ll be honest I’ve never been great at sharpening a knife sharp enough to shave hairs and I’ll be the first to admit it. As a hunter a sharp knife is key especially when you have an elk down and the only way it’s coming out is on your back.

elk hunting, zack boughton, idaho, elk, archery, diy, public lands

Zack beginning the process of breaking down an elk in the field

As Travis and I started hunting we used some different knives on our hunts and always wished they were built a little different in one way or another. A few years later we met James Behring, a custom knife maker based in Missoula, MT. Through our friendship we eventually came up with the idea of designing our own hunting knife. After over a year of testing we finished our design and named the knife The Outlaw. You can read more about that process HERE.

the outlaw, hunting, knife, knives, outdoors, montana, wild

One of the first few Outlaws made

That year we used the Outlaw on multiple hunts and were stoked on it with one exception. It ideally needed to be sharpened after cutting up an elk and neither myself or Travis was exceptional at the process. I purchased a Spyderco sharpener and tried that but couldn’t get a sharp edge that I was happy with. Now I’m sure that sharpener does the job just fine but I couldn’t manage to master that thing after sharpening dozens of knives. I’d often drop by James’ shop and have him sharpen it but that wasn’t always time effective with my schedule or James’.

James behring, knife maker, custom, knife, hunting, missoula, montana

James grinding and refining a blades edge

Eventually we reverted to just carrying a Havalon knife. I wasn’t a fan of disposable blades but it was sharp and light and so I conceded. Now a Havalon has it’s place. Caping an animal or any detail work needed, the knife is hard to beat. On the other hand, trying to tackle some of the meatier places on an elk resulted in broken blades, blades pulling off and if you use it long enough, some nasty cuts.

havalon, knife, elk, montana

Travis tackling trimming some blood shot meat off an elk front quarter with a Havalon

hunting knives, the outlaw, havalon

The Outlaw (fixed blade, beefy) and a Havalon (replaceable blade, fragile)

This spring I got my hands on a Worksharp Ken Onion Knife Sharpener as well as a Guided Field Sharpener. My girlfriend has been telling me how dull all my kitchen knives are for a while and so I got straight to work. The Ken Onion Sharpener was so easy to use. To get started I looked through the manual to make sure I knew how to use the sharpener properly. From there I took their guidelines on what type of belts to use and how many strokes on each side based on a style of knife and got to sharpening. The first knife off the sharpener was razor sharp. I was impressed.

Worksharp, knife, sharpener, hunting, montana, deer, elk

Sharpening a blade

Some cool features of the sharpener are the easily adjustable sharpening guide giving you a range between 15 and 30 degrees, premium belts, an adjustable speed motor, and a blade guide.

Worksharp, knife, sharpener, hunting, montana, deer, elk

LEFT) Angle adjustment CENTER) Motor speed adjustment RIGHT) Sharpening a blade

For me I have been using this sharpener to get a razor sharp edge on my main hunting knife and my kitchen knives.  The included manual goes through the process but most knives I sharpen require grinding with the three main belts.

Worksharp, knife, sharpener, hunting, montana, deer, elk

Extra belts and the manual that specifies best practices for sharping all kinds of different knives and tools.

The sequence of order is generally 6-10 strokes on one side and then the other with the X65 belt, 6-10 strokes alternating between sides with the X22 belt and then finishing with as many strokes as necessary on the X4 belt.  For me this has resulted in a razor sharp edge every single time.  I’ll be honest it has been rewarding to be able to get my knives shaving hair sharp after struggling for many years.

The other sharpener I have been using is the Guided Field Sharpener and honestly I’ve used this much more often. I have one in the door of my truck and another in my hunting gear box.

hunting, gear, box, worksharp

Having one in my hunting gear box is key so I know I can always sharpen my hunting knives and broadheads if necessary on a hunt

Using it is simple and the sharpener has a diversity of surfaces to aid in sharpening knives, tools, hooks and more.  The sharpener has four main sides.  There are two diamond plates, one course and one fine to help shape and refine the edge of your blade.  There are two ceramic rods and a leather strop.  Under the diamond plates is a broadhead sharpener for bowhunters who need to sharpen and re-tighten their broadheads.

Worksharp Guided Field Sharpener

To sharpen my knives such as my hunting knife The Outlaw, I simply just start on the smooth grit and give about 5-6 strokes on each side. From there you go to the carbide sharpener which refines the blade edge. The carbide cylinder has 3 sides to it 1) coarse grit 2) fine grit and 3) a fish hook sharpener. I generally just use the fine grit side for another 5-6 strokes on each side and from there go to the leather strop to finish.

More of a visual learner?  Watch the video we made about this same story and process.

Between these two sharpeners I know have no excuse to not have a sharp knife. You can learn more about both sharpeners as well as the Worksharp brand at www.worksharptools.com and by following them on Instagram and Facebook. Their products are very affordable and would make a great addition to anyone’s gear.

Written by: Zack Boughton

Archery season here in Montana has been a blur and September is almost gone.  As I look at the calendar rifle antelope looms and will be here quickly.  October 6th is the opener and I plan on being there and ready.  So yesterday I decided to go put some more trigger time in behind the Weatherby and try to find out which bullet it would shoot best.  Often a gun will shoot one type of bullet or even one weight of bullet much better than others.  With 3 new boxes of ammo, each a different bullet style, I set out to go attempt to shoot some 200 yard groups.

rifle, mountain, hunting, weatherby

Now shooting groups is actually a fairly difficult thing in my opinion.  It’s very results oriented and one bad squeeze messes up the group.  Eliminating the human error is all but impossible.  I tend to shoot better at longer distances so I like to shoot groups at 200 yards if possible.  This day I had three rounds to test out.  A) 180 grain Accubond B) 180 grain Norma Spitzer & C) 180 grain Nosler Partition

weatherby, mountain, rifle

Bullet testing and a trophy bull for motivation

I started out by cleaning my rifle as it’s only had about 40 rounds through it and I’m trying to help break in the barrel even though it is hand lapped.  I shot a round to clear the barrel of oil and then started in on my 200 yard groups.  Each group I’d shoot 3-4 rounds.  Sometimes you know when you made a bad shot and I like to eliminate that shot and shoot a fourth so that I don’t have to restart on a new group and burn through more ammo.  I shot a group with each different ammo and then cleaned my rifle once it had cooled down.  I also made sure to let the barrel cool down some before continuing through my groups.  I shot my first round off the concrete bench but found out it had a little wobble in it.  I was wondering why my reticle was moving left to right on me and that was it haha.  For the second round I laid prone off my bipod.

From my first round the 180 grain Nosler Partition was the easy winner.  I didn’t take an official measurement but it was well within the 1 MOA standard and close to a 1/2 MOA group.  Plenty good for a rifle that I’ll rarely push past 5-600 yards in a hunting scenario.  Now between groups I’d been shooting my other rifle, a 300WSM at distance trying to dial in my ballistics through my Kestrel, so by the time I got into round 2 of my groups my shoulder was getting a touch sore and my shooting seemed to go downhill a bit.  I still put some good rounds downrange but had more flyers it seemed.  The Spitzer and the Nosler Partition were close and the Accubond just didn’t perform.  To end my session I took two of the Nosler partitions and took shots at metal gongs at 458 and at 620 yards and got hits on both.  I’ll be shooting another round here in the next week or so to pick between the Partition and the Spitzer and then from there zero in and start extending the distance.  With antelope coming and general rifle just around the corner I’ve got my work cut out for me but things are looking promising given I get a few more quality days in at the range.  Setting up and getting acquainted with a new rifle is a process but doing it right from the beginning makes all the difference and helps you develop a level of confidence with your rifle that will translate to more one shot kills in the field.

weatherby, rifle, hunting, montana, kestrel

Zack Boughton

The ultralight craze has been going on for years now, ounces turn into pounds as they say!  Much of the advancement in technology that saves us weight is and has been a good thing.  That said, there is a fine line between counting ounces, and maintaining performance and comfort.  Take backpacks for example, I’d definitely go 1-1.5 pounds heavier to have a pack that feels good on my back and will reward me when I turn my 35-50 pound load into an 80-100 pound load.  Food, cut ounces where you can but if you don’t get the nutrition and calories you need your physical performance will suffer.  A sleeping pad/sleeping bag, lots of weight can be cut here on many guys setups but at the end of the day I pick a pad that gives me the best sleep even if it does weigh an extra 8-16 ounces.  All that said I believe the same theory applies with rifles.  For the past 6 years or so I’ve been hunting with a 300WSM built by Snowy Mountain Rifles.  We picked components that would yield a durable and extremely accurate hunting rifle.  It weighs 12lbs 1oz without ammo so add in bullets and a sling and we’re right around 13lbs.  Not light by any means but a tack driver and something that once you lay down behind it it’s not going to move on you.  The past few years I’ve done more backcountry hunts for multiple days and although I can handle the weight I’d be happy to shave 2-4 pounds off my setup if possible.  This year I decided to build a new Mountain Hunting Rifle, one that would fall more in the middle of too light and too heavy.

THE GUN

Already having a custom rifle I wanted to get my hands on a gun you could purchase over a store counter and see how I liked working with a factory gun.  After some research I finally decided on the Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight in 300 Weatherby Magnum.  This caliber requires a 9 lug bolt and comes in weighing just 6 3/4 pounds.  A few things that attracted me to the rifle were weight, the sub-MOA guarantee, a 54 degree bolt lift, and a hand lapped and fluted barrel.  The rifle also looks great and with a muzzle brake should be a great shooting gun.

Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight, rifle, weatherby, mountain, hunting, lightweight, mountain hunting rifle

COMPONENTS AND SETUP

Getting the rifle is one thing, but setting up the gun to shoot is another.  First was the scope.  I wanted a few things in my scope: durability, high quality glass, and precise and repeatable elevation and windage adjustment.  I decided on going with the Vortex Razor HD AMG 6-24×50.  This scope is made in the USA and is an amazing scope especially with a weight of only 28.8 ounces.

vortex optics, razor hd, amg, built in the us

To mount the scope I decided on an EGW 20MOA Picatinny Rail as my starting point and then Vortex Precision Matched Rings would hold the scope firmly in place.  I also had purchased a Timney trigger in hopes of getting my trigger weight down close to the 1 pound threshold that I’m accustom to.  To finish it off I’d be putting a Triad Tactical check piece on the stock to help get a better cheek weld and still be able to comfortably see through the scope.

To install the optics and trigger I dropped into the Snowy Mountain Rifles Custom Shop and had old friends Greg and Jim help me out.  First things first we tried to install the new Timney trigger and set it to the 1.5 pounds that they advertised.

Jim installing the new trigger

Jim installed the trigger but anytime the trigger was set to less than two pounds the firing pin would go off as the bolt was racked forward.  Not good.  After working with it we decided to see what we could get out of the stock LXX Trigger which was advertised as being able to go to 2.5 pounds.  It had felt great initially and the only reason I wanted a different trigger was that I’m used to shooting a 15oz Jewell trigger and am a big proponent of a light trigger.  Jim worked on re-installing the factory trigger and after some work and testing it was safely pulling right around 2 pounds.  Sweet!

1lb 15.9oz

Greg then threw the rifle in the vice and began the process of mounting up the scope.

tactical gun build, EGW picatinny rail

Lining up the mount points

weatherby, mark v, ultra lightweight, mountain hunting rifle

Level, level and more leveling

After the rail went on the rings were mounted.  We adjusted the scope to fit my eye relief and then began leveling and tightening the rings.  Each ring was tightened accordingly with a torque wrench and soon we were in business.  At this point we added a Flatline Ops 30mm Sniper Accu/Level and called it good.  We took it over to the scale to see what our weight was.

The final measure: 9 pounds 9 ounces without ammo and before we added the cheek piece.  The hunting weight should fall just over 10 pounds.  Now by industry standards this is not an ultra light rifle but in my opinion it’s a lightweight rifle ready for multi-day backpacking trips in the mountains of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

mountain hunting rifle, weatherby mark v, ultra lightweight, razor hd amg, hunting, rifle, gun

INITIAL THOUGHTS

At the start of this process I was shooting for a build that would be in the 9 pound range so I went a little over my goal, but after shooting it I think it will be the perfect blend of weight, accuracy, and durability.  I’ve shot guns in the 8 pound range and to be honest they are hard to keep on target from hunting positions if you don’t have a lot of practice with them.  My 300WSM is on the heavier side of the spectrum but when you lay down on either bipods or a backpack, it’s rock solid and all you need to worry about is leveling the rifle and a smooth squeeze.  That has made for lots of perfect one shot kills over the years.  I’m hoping this new rifle will do the same while shaving about three precious pounds.  On my way home from Missoula I decided to get out and put a few rounds through the gun to start getting acquainted with the rifle and my new setup.  One thing that I quickly noticed after shooting a few rounds was the 54 degree bolt action.

weatherby mark v ultra lightweight, building a lightweight hunting rifle

Bolt closed

weatherby mark v ultra lightweight

Bolt open

This made for quick and easy reloading while staying on target.

flatline ops, sniper, accu level

Flatline Ops bubble level

The Flatline Ops bubble level was great as flipping it out made it easily visible while prone and shooting.  Being able to flip it back behind the turret means less pieces of the gun to catch on clothing and brush when in the field.

Vortex Razor HD AMG

Locking turrets on the AMG are money.

Weatherby Mark V, hunting, rifle, montana

Fluted barrel and a flawless stock finish

Triad Tactic cheek piece

Kestrel, Elite 5700, hunting, rifle, Mark V, Weatherby

This pocket perfectly fits my Kestrel and will mean less fumbling around when a longer shot presents itself.

So far I’m excited about this rifle and will be working on breaking in the barrel a bit more and finding out which bullet and grain combination work best in the rifle.  As I continue on the process I’ll post up further blog posts.

Zack Boughton

 

 

deer hunting, elk hunting, applications, March 15th, stoke, hunting, rifle hunting, bow hunting, applications, bull down, elk hunting, organic, meat, carnivore

With spring quickly approaching, it’s easy to have our minds fixated on bear season, fly fishing, and other outdoor activities. PS: We’re excited for all of those things too, but let’s not forget about an incredibly important deadline that’s rapidly approaching – Deer & Elk special permit, and non resident big game combination license applications. By now you’re either thinking “No worries, already got em’ in.” or “oh crap I totally forgot.” If you’re saying the latter, don’t worry, you’ve still got (a little bit) of time. Until March 15th to be exact. Haven’t applied yet? Apply HERE.

Hunting, outdoor media, fly fishing, application, big game, deer, elk, deer hunting, elk hunting, rifle hunting, stoke, send it, public land, conservation

Living in Montana, we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to hunt a wide variety of species year after year, including deer, elk, bear, antelope, and much more. That being said, it’s something that we need not take for granted. Needing a little bit of stoke to get you to apply? Click on the video below to see Travis’ 2013 public land archery elk hunt unfold. Do yourself a favor, and set yourself up for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Gear up for the 2018 hunting season in the sickest outdoor apparel around. Click here to shop Montana Wild Apparel

huge mule deer buck

For many hunters their season ends with the close of rifle.  Honestly by then we’ve had plenty of hunting and sleeping in sounds about right.  BUT, then you take a few days off and you instantly wish you were back out there.  About three years ago we looked into extending our season and late season archery hunting seemed like just the ticket.  Rutting mule deer bucks pushing out of their summer hideouts would cover hillsides for miles right!? Not so quick bud.

late season, mule deer, hunt, hunting, archery, idaho, bucks

Zack wondering where the heck a good buck can be found.

That first year was definitely one where we learned a lot.  Deer were plentiful but finding a buck pushing into the 150-160″ range was difficult.  In a week we saw two and made stalks but the steep country and crunchy snow made life tough for bowhunting.  Swirly winds sealed our fate and we went home empty handed but ready to tackle year 2.  The following year we put in a little more time researching areas and decided to move to a new unit.  This time we had more realistic expectations but also knew that finding a true 200″ deer could definitely happen.  With some snow moving in we were able to find more mature bucks although navigating the public/private landscape made approaching some deer almost impossible.

mule deer, hunting, idaho, phoneskope

Using the truck and spotter to cover country. Not a bad option when your new to the area and it’s cold.

As a hunter new to the area most of the first 4-5 days really felt like 90% scouting and 10% hunting.  After starting to hone in on some of the habits of deer moved in on the winter range we decided to hike up onto a ridge that would allow us to glass into a couple key basins that the deer used to bed in.  Sure enough that morning a few hours after the sun was up we found a big buck slowly feeding up through the juniper.  He was a stud.  His gait was characterized by a solid limp and I’m sure he’d had a long night chasing does and fighting with other bucks.

mule deer, hunting, buck, montanawild, late season, bowhunting, late season archery hunting

I think he’s a shooter.

We were able to bed him and watch him eventually fall asleep, head rested in the snow in front of him.  With the snow frozen from cold overnight temps we had to wait till the sun heated up the west facing hillside.  I finally decided on a long zig-zag path that would eventually lead us to within 40-60 yards of his position.  We weren’t sure what the wind would be like on the other side but he was the kind of deer we came on this hunt for and there was no way we weren’t going to give it a shot.  Two hours later we hit the last patch of open dirt and now it was snow and over 80 yards to go before we would be within shooting range of his last position.  We slowly crunched through the snow.  I figured there was no way the buck hadn’t spooked by now as it was very loud.  As I slowly crept ahead I saw antlers ahead amidst the thick juniper.  It was him and he was only 40 yards away.  My heart went from 0 to 100 in an instant.  The bucks rack shifted back and forth a few times but he never spooked.  After about ten minutes of observing him he stood up.  I could see his chest but branches made for an obstructed view of his vitals and there wasn’t any ethical shot.  He slowly began to feed downhill.  As soon as he was out of sight we looped ahead of him and waited.  After twenty minutes we hadn’t seen nor heard anything and again figured he was gone.  We went back up the hill and grabbed the packs.  I was curious as to what he had done and wanted to go follow his tracks to learn more.  Sure enough as we got to about 30 yards of his last position I saw horns again.  Apparently he had only fed a short distance and then re-bedded.  We again were pinned with no shot.  We were so, so close but eventually the wind betrayed us and he bolted.  Game over.

hunting, mule deer, sunset, montana wild, film

Another day in deer country.

The next morning we returned to the area but this time a few ridges over.  We watched another great buck chase does and fend off a smaller but still impressive buck.  As sun began to rise the deer began their daily route back up to the juniper covered hillside.  I knew two good bucks were in the group and we quickly shifted into position.  After a few minutes I saw a doe 70 yards to my right.  They’d picked a trail one away from the one we were sitting on.  The big buck hit a gap at 70 but it was too long of a shot to make quickly and they eventually hit our wind.  One buck spooked and one still to go.  We began to creep down the hill.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement.  It was a doe being pushed by a buck.  I crouched down and saw 4 points on one side through the juniper as the buck nudged the doe once again.  The doe was on to me and bounced up the hill.  The buck wasn’t quick as keen.  He stepped up into my opening at 20 yards and my arrow flew true.  He bolted and I thought I’d shot the smaller of the the two big bucks.  Emotions were high.  After a half hour we began tracking.  A short ways later I saw tan in the snow.  As I walked up on my buck I had a mix of emotions.  I was ecstatic that I’d been able to fill my tag on a 4×4 on such a difficult hunt but I was disappointment that it was a young deer and not one I’d shoot if I’d been able to identify him better prior to the shot.  Lesson learned.

idaho, mule deer, bowhunting, late season, montana wild

Zack pumped to overcome the odds and fill his tag.

We took a few photos and then proceeded to quarter him up and make the relatively short trek back to the truck.  Year Two had ended in success but given the circumstances of the prior day it felt as if we had unfinished business.  We’d surely be back next year.

mule deer, camp, wall tent, bowhunting, late season archery hunting

Back for year 3. This time a wall tent came to help stay warm during the cold nights.

Our original plan for year 3 was to come down for the end of the season.  When a good friend wanted to join we shifted the dates to accommodate his schedule.  We would now be hunting the opening week of the season.  We knew there hadn’t been much snow but we’d give it a shot.  When we showed up the day before the opener we were sorely disappointed to see a rifle cow hunt ending with guys on 4-wheelers everywhere.  This pressure would surely make the big bucks extremely hard to find and with no snow it was shaping up to be a tough hunt.  Sure enough 4 days later and we’d only seen small two and three year old bucks and many, many does.

bowhunting, mule deer, late season, hunt, idaho

Long hikes and few bucks characterized the early part of the hunt.

With our film permits limiting where we could hunt in the unit we went back to where we’d seen a few good bucks in the past.  We turned up a nice 4×4 and proceeded to hunt him over the course of the rest of the hunt.  Each morning we could find him somewhere out among about 30-50 does and small bucks.  They’d eventually fill their bellies and start working back up the mountain.  Cutting them off was a guessing game and trying to avoid all the other deer proved to be a challenge.  We got close but his daily routine never had any pattern to it.  With a hundred elk in the area it was a zoo some mornings and keeping tabs on this buck proved to be quite the task.

mule deer, deer, buck, hunting, late season, idaho

The best of the bunch, protected by numerous does.

The weather was warm and sunny one minute and cold and blistery the next.  We covered country mid day hoping to find other bucks.  We went miles in to the nastiest areas only turning up does with little bucks.  The snow wasn’t present in the mountains and the big bucks hadn’t pushed into their wintering area.  Our timing was off and we re-focused on our target buck.

mule deer, hunting, idaho, controlled tag, late season, bowhunt, late season archery hunting

Enjoying another beautiful night in God’s Country.

Again we relocated him.  His general pattern was there but there was no consistency in his path back to bed each day.  One day it would be a 1000 yards different from the day previous.  As we neared the end of our hunt we found him honed in on a hot doe.  It was just two of them and there were far less other deer in the area that morning.  As we moved to cut them off they shifted their path at the last minute, rounding the hillside away from our position.  We looped ahead and picked them up again.  They were now in the bottom and we watched from above.  They moved slowly and worked up into a shaded and snow covered face.  After a short time the two bedded.  It wasn’t the best area but it appeared I might be able to make a huge loop and get behind and above them.  If the snow was soft enough in the shade I might be able to close the distance.  It was now or never and again I set off on a stalk that we hoped would end with an arrow airborne.  Tune in on December 5th to see the trailer for the film and December 12th to watch the full film and see if I can fill my tag on a mature mule deer buck.

Zack Boughton

 

It’s now August and most bucks have put on about as much antler growth as they’ll get before shedding their velvet.  With season starting soon this is a good time to get in a few quality days of mule deer scouting in hopes that your season will be a success.  With that said, scouting for mule deer in the high country can be a daunting task if you aren’t sure where to start. Ever wonder where you can learn about the necessities of backpack scouting? Below we’ll take you through some of the process so your next trip into the mountains is time well spent.

mule deer, scouting, mountains, high country, summer, mule deer scouting

Your first order of business should be deciding where you want to go. Mule deer have a wide range of habitats ranging from sage flats, to high mountain peaks above tree line. Depending on your physical ability, and willingness to hike, you’ll have a wide range of options to chose from in Montana and many other western states. I personally like to scout in more remote locations and at higher elevation. If you are willing to do the hiking it takes to get into the backcountry, you’ll eliminate many of the struggles that people sticking closer to roads and town will have due to human pressure on the animals.

scouting, maps, montana, mule deer, mule deer scouting

When preparing to scout the high country, I try to look for a few key things that will be essential for deer to live there. Food, water, and cover are the main three, but other things come into play as well. When looking over country on Google Earth, it can be hard to figure out where all of these necessities are located, but if you pay attention to detail, you will be much more successful at finding deer. For instance, much of the high country in western Montana is rocky and rugged. This means that in an area that’s super rocky, you’re going to want to look for grassy meadows in bowls, basins, and on top of ridgelines for food sources. Another great food source for high country bucks are burns. Burns provide regrowth, and abundant amounts of food for deer and elk to feed on in the summer months, but can make glassing much harder, and make the animals much less predictable due to the abundance and wide range of feeding locations. When looking at a spot on google earth, I always try to think about: “Where are they going to eat, how are they getting there, and what are they eating?”

montana, mule deer, scouting, wildlife

When scouting high country mule deer, you will want to have a very select list of gear in your arsenal, and know how to use it well if you plan on being successful at finding that giant velvet buck you’ve been dreaming about. When packing for a trip, I try to keep three important things in mind: space, weight, and durability. You’ll want to make sure you have everything you need, while eliminating items that you don’t think will be necessary. As a general rule, I tell myself that If I’m not going to use something three or more times on a trip, then it’s not going in my pack. This obviously excludes necessities like first aid kits, bear spray, and emergency survival gear, but you get the point. Below is a list of some of the items that always come with me into the backcountry, that are easy to find in different weights and sizes depending on how much money you are looking to spend.

  1. One or two person lightweight tent (I prefer a two-man tent to keep myself and my gear dry in the event of a storm.)
  2. Lightweight packable sleeping pad
  3. Sleeping bag & compression sack
  4. Water purification pump
  5. First Aid kit
  6. Bear Spray or a side arm
  7. Mountaineering boots (Although not a necessity, a stiff boot with added support will make your hikes and time scouting much more enjoyable, avoiding unnecessary foot fatigue.)
  8. Binoculars
  9. Spotting scope
  10. Lightweight compact tripod
  11. Freeze dried food items (Mountain house, Backpacker’s Pantry, etc.)
  12. Snacks ( anything from Cliff Bars to trail mix/jerky to a bag of M&M’s. You will want to bring something to snack on while glassing / have a way of getting some calories in you without stopping to make a Mountain House)
  13. Eating utensils
  14. A 100 Ounce water bladder or a couple one liter Nalgene bottles.

Now that we’ve gone over what gear to bring on your trip, it’s time to discuss packing your pack. Ideally, you are going to want to have a good sized pack that can easily hold all of your gear. I like to keep in mind when packing my pack that if it were hunting season, I may need more room on the way out in the event that you do harvest a buck. When putting your gear in your pack you will want to make sure you are distributing weight evenly, and that you aren’t putting the important things that you may need to access quickly at the bottom of your pack. I know it sounds like a no brainer, but the last thing you want is to be desperately digging around for your spotting scope as a stud buck is heading for the timber off in the distance.

scouting, summer, deer, montana

A couple of weeks ago I went scouting in Southwest Montana, and it was an eye opening experience for me, in the sense that I had no idea how big the country was going to be. This was my first time scoutng in that specific spot, and had an awesome experience. Over the course of the two days we spent in the backcountry, we spent time scouting between 6,500 – 8500’ and were able to locate a good number of bucks, in a wide range of locations. On the first day we packed in at dark hoping to reach a solid glassing point by daybreak. After reaching where we had planned to start glassing, I quickly realized that the country we were in was much larger than I had imagined. As the day went on we covered more country, locating multiple water sources and stopping at a few more good vantage points to glass, but only located a few deer. After a midday nap, followed by hunkering down in a hailstorm, we moved to the next ridge and sat down to glass.

mule deer, scouting, montana, high country, burn, mule deer scouting

It wasn’t long, and Zack had spotted a group of bucks bedded down. As the evening went on, we worked our way around the bowl, glassing it from multiple vantage points, and turning up more and more deer. A lot of times the key in scouting the high country is finding the pockets where the deer like to frequent. Many times when you find one group of deer in a basin, there will be many more as well.

montana, summer, deer, hiking, camping

The following week, I headed into another promising backcountry area with a good friend in hopes of locating more bucks and bulls before the fast approaching season. After my experience the week before, I knew going into it that the country was going to be much larger than it looked on Google Earth, so I planned accordingly bringing extra food and water for the hike in. After a six mile hike, we set up camp and glassed the last hour of the evening, turning up one small buck. As the next morning rolled around, we got up and glassed the first couple of hours on the other side of camp from where we had glassed the night before. Just as I was about to move to a new spot, I found a group of bucks feeding through the bottom of a basin surrounded by cliffs and shale slides on all sides. Although none of the bucks were shooters, it was nice to know that I was finding deer in areas where I had predicted they would be because of readily available food.

montana, hiking, scouting, hunting, summer

Over the course of the day we hiked an 8 mile loop up to one of the surrounding peaks, and back. This gave us the opportunity to spend the middle of the day checking out new country, and glassing occasionally in spots that looked like they would have the best chance of holding animals. We didn’t turn up any more bucks that day, but it was an awesome way to see the country first hand, and get an idea of what areas we needed to focus on come September. As we got back to camp and built a fire, the wind picked up, and the temperature began to drop as a storm rolled in. Although this was a less than ideal situation, we came prepared, and were able to layer up and hunker down for the night while the storm passed.

Camp

The next morning, we decided to glass a new spot closer to camp, and to our surprise, turned up three more bucks, but again no shooters. That afternoon, we packed up camp, and began our hike back to the truck. About half way into the hike, we came across a ton of bear sign. This was no surprise to us, and if you plan on hunting and scouting in the high country, and wilderness areas in particular, then you’d better be ready to encounter bears. This isn’t something that should scare you, or deter you from going into these areas, but it is something to be aware of and prepare for.

flat tire, montana, nighttime

Whether you are on the drive into the trailhead, or ten miles from the truck, I can’t stress enough how important it is to be prepared for any situation. My final piece of advice would be to double check everything from your tire repair kit in your truck, to your first aid kit in your pack before you leave, because you never know what can happen out there. Luckily, if you come prepared, you can keep a little problem at bay and fix it before it becomes much more serious. Do your research, pack smart, come prepared, scout hard, and have an awesome time doing it.

Written By: Calvin Connor

Edited By: Zack Boughton

Photos: Travis Boughton, Zack Boughton, Calvin Connor

outlaw, blade, knife, montana, wild, behring, made, knives

We instantly found common ground when we first met James Behring. We both had a passion for hunting and our overall personalities meshed well. It didn’t take long for us to get a few Behring Made knives in our hands and immediately we were impressed. James craftsmanship is top notch, and his blades have personality to go along with the razor sharp blades.

James Behring, behring made, montana wild, american made knives, knife, hunting, archery, handmade, custom, the outlaw

During 2014 we had the pleasure of using two different Behring knives.  They performed well but we had a few changes in mind that we felt would improve the knife for our use in the field. That winter we came back to the Behring Made shop and chatted with James about various details that we felt would make the knives perform better in our hands. From there the idea took off to build a colab knife between Behring Made and Montana Wild.

knife forging, building a knife, custom, hunting, the outlaw, behring made, montana wild

After our first round of testing, James took our input and went straight to the sketch pad to draw out new blade designs. James came up with two new prototype blade shapes.  From there we decided to stick with an epoxy finished paracord grip, because we felt it added great feel and grip to the blade and also helped us reduce overall weight of the knife.

knife, sketch, drawing, custom, behring, made, montana, wild, the outlaw, knives, hunting

behring made, hunting, knife, custom, montana, wild, the outlaw, elk, deer, antelope

The two new prototypes consisted of different blade and handle shapes, which we got to test on three different bears this past spring.

black bear, behring made, custom knife, bear, knives, hide, tanning, montana

From there James took our feedback and drew up a final prototype blade design. We were now down to the final details, and set out this fall with 3 final prototypes to test.

knife sketch, behring made, the outlaw, montana wild, hunting, fishing, custom, paracord

Our archery season was very successful and we were able to test the prototypes on 4 elk total.  Overall we were very impressed with the knives and the slight modifications we had made from our first round of prototypes. The feel and ability to hold an edge was top notch and the blade handled joints, meat, and caping extremely well.

elk, knife, test, behring, made, montana, wild, sitka, gear, the outlaw, hunting

Overall this has been a great process that in turn created a solid product that we think a lot of hunters will be extremely happy with. In the “disposable society” we live in it’s great to hold a knife built to withstand a lifetime of use and something that will only get better with age.  To top it off these knives are handmade in Missoula, MT!  Below is a video detailing some of the process we went through to get to the end product.

The knife is now available here> THE OUTLAW

There is also more specs available here> Knife Specs

12:23AM – The glow of my computer screen reveals a map littered with steep faces, jagged peaks, avalanche chutes, and small alpine lakes.  Since this time last year I’d been waiting to return these mountains.  As we bounced up the rocky back road the anticipation built as steep faces grew from the thick creek bottom.  For the past two years I’d wanted to wrap my deer tag around the thick antlers of a mature mule deer.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains

Early last October I began to search the mountainous country of Western Montana with that purpose in mind.  Many days were spent without ever laying eyes on a big deer.  The only glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel was a day in late November when we arrived at a new trailhead only to see a bruiser of a buck down just above us on the mountainside.  A couple of hunters vibrantly glowed off the snow covered hillside.  I knew we were getting closer, but I would have to wait till 2013 to continue searching.

My 2013 deer season began on October 12th.  My Metcalf was full of backcountry gear and food and we headed off up the mountain.  The goal was simply to become more familiar with the area.  Our first day started with a moose sighting.  This bull stood patiently observing the area and quickly had me dreaming about one day having a moose tag in my hand.

moose, bull, fall, montana

We set up camp that night and laid eyes on a few deer through the spotter.  Day 2 was spent looping high onto a rocky ridge and inspecting an adjacent basin.  No deer were spotted, but we gained valuable knowledge of the area.  As we descended back to the truck we spotted 2 bears feeding on berries in the thick brush on the adjacent hillside.  The brush was far to thick for a bow stalk and we simply watched them disappear into the tall bushes.  No bucks had been spotted but we felt confident that we could change that when we came back with a rifle in hand.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains

Montana’s general season found us back at the same trailhead with packs loaded down for 7 days.  We slowly worked our way up the uneven trail keeping our eyes peeled for the tan hide of a mountain buck.  That morning the spotter revealed two bucks nosing does high on the mountain.  Neither buck was the “one” and we pushed onward up the mountain.

Day 2 broke with a storefront rolling in.  Cold temps and snow were being called for.  We were ready for the nasty weather, but unfortunately I had forgotten to tape the drop chart to the side of my stock and only remembered the data for 0-300 and 600 yards.  To top it off Travis had come down with a head cold.  We decided to back out for a few days and then come back for a fresh start.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains

Three days later we were again headed back up the mountain.  Our goal would be to hunt a loop taking us over 3 mountain passes and through some great country to try to find a big buck.  The gameplan was to get camp up to the first pass and spend two days there glassing the adjacent hillsides.  Without knowing where these bucks liked to spend their time meant we would be putting in a full days work behind the glass.  As we settled in for our first night, the sound of snow bouncing off of our tent was something we weren’t sure if we should be happy or mad about.  When our alarms went off the next morning, snow and fog surrounded our camp.  Low visibility, wind, and more snow meant we would be hunkered in the tent for some time, and we intended to wait it out.  To worsen a poor start to our hunt, I’d started the morning with a sore throat.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains, camping, snow

The following afternoon the fog lifted just enough for us to sneak out for the last few hours  of daylight.  We slowly worked down and around a ridge working our way through the rocks.  Nothing.  It appeared that the the game would be found high on the exposed, wind blown slopes or far down the drainage below us.  We made it back to camp where a fire was built, and we dried out before taking refuge in the tent once again.

6:20AM  I’ve already been awake for a few hours.  My sore throat has developed into a full head cold.  Being stuck in a tent at over 7000′ with a cold is no fun, but the weather was clear and it was time to move.  We shook our snowy tent off and loaded up our packs once again.  We slowly began breaking trail through a foot of snow as we moved towards our second camp location.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains, snow

After two days of living in the tent we were low on water and took a detour down to a lake to pump water before continuing on.  As we did the unmistakable tracks of a buck crossed the trail and went up the hill.

With our water refilled we pushed on with high hopes of getting an opportunity in the next three days.  Just as we reached the flat bench we would be calling home another storm began rolling in.  We quickly got our tent up and immediately got out of the weather to avoid getting wet.  A few hours later the visibility had decreased to about 200′.  The decision was made to still stalk that evening and see if we could cut a track.  With no tracks found we headed back to camp.

As I unzipped the tent the following morning I was very displeased at what lay before me.  Another foot of snow and zero visibility.  Enough was enough and I made the decision that sometimes the mountains win.  This time, just as many times before they won.  We quickly packed up camp once again.  With two feet of snow it now complicated our descent back to the truck.

hunting, montana, wild, backcountry, mule, deer, elk, mountains, snow

The plan had been to traverse some avalanche chutes where the deer liked to live and then work down to the trail and finally make our way to the truck.  With the snow it made the idea of traversing avalanche chutes one that didn’t sit well with me.  I didn’t feel like dying, and we decided to slowly slip and slide our way down through the trees and brush.  Multiple small cliffs had to be navigated around and three hours later we finally set foot back on the trail.  Five days essentially wasted in a tent and hiking through snow.  Again I had failed to even lay eyes on a big mountain mule deer.  No one said it would be easy and when you must teach yourself everything and find your own locations to hunt it makes it even more difficult.  With no time this summer to scout I decided that our annual trip east must once again be done.  This time we’d be exploring on our own in hopes we could fill not one but two deer tags.

Read Part 2 HERE.

-Zack

We drove into the sunset after enjoying a day of elk hunting with our friend Ryan.  Our roadtrip east had begun.  Images of big muley bucks clouded my thoughts, navigating through small towns, until finally reaching our destination at nightfall.  We had seen small groups of mule deer off the road on the way in, giving us a small glimpse of what was to come.  I was excited for my first chance to shoulder a rifle of the fall season.

sunset, montana, eastern, hunting, cool, burning

That night I could hear the large snow flakes beating the  outside of the truck. The temperatures dropped as I  hunkered in my 15F sleeping bag. I jolted awake to the sound of my alarm, setting my eyes on a blanket of fresh snow.  Zack and I gathered our gear and ate breakfast in our truck, attempting to gain any warmth we could before heading into the frozen landscape.  As I sank my teeth into a muffin, I pulled up my binos and glassed through the foggy windshield.  Instantly I located the outline of a deer which resembled the characteristics of a muley buck.   Zack and I quickly finished our breakfast and began to close the distance on the deer.

vortex, razor, hd, spotting, scope, montana, snow, toughest, clear, best, glass

The buck was a nice 4×4 with a 3in kicker off his left beam.  The deer was still young and we decided to pass and look for a mature buck. That day we found plenty of deer and passed multiple bucks, ending the day with a close encounter with a decent 3×3.  This 3×3 wanted to do nothing else, but chase does.  It looked as if the rut was in full swing.

buck, 3x3, montana, muley, deer, buck, hunting, wild

At last light we decided to bust out the predator call.   After 15 minutes of calling Zack spotted a coyote 600 yards away along the fence line.  I dialed in my scope to 20x and got setup to take a shot if the coyote presented myself with an opportunity.  I lost sight of the coyote and continued to scan the long grass for the small furry figure.  Quickly I looked left and saw a coyote at 150yds staring at me!  I motioned Zack to get the camera on him, and instantly the yote took off running, with another coyote close by.  I guessed my yardage as Zack stopped the coyote with a bark.  Missed high.  Coyote ran another 300yards before stopping again.  Another miss high and the coyote was gone.  It was an awesome coyote stand, and a spark was ignited inside me.  Calling in coyotes is truly an adrenaline rush and anyone who hasn’t tried calling coyotes needs to buy a distress call and do their best Les Johnson impression!

yeti, coolers, night, photography, ford, f-150, montana, wild, hunting

The next day was spent weeding through more mule deer, once again running into the kicker buck 4×4.  Plans were made and we headed north, looking for new country.  Our afternoon we found an endless amount of smaller bucks and a young 4×4 with great potential in the coming years.  All of the bucks were tied up with does, oblivious most of the time to our presence.  We camped for the night, grilling elk steaks to cap off the day.

 

The next morning we continued further into the breaks.  Finally we found a pocket of land that the landowner had blocked access to trucks or ATVs.  We headed in and instantly saw a couple small bucks chasing does.  We kept our eyes glued to the glass before spotting a large mule deer body in the distance.  It was a buck, and needed a better look.  We closed the distance from 1 mile to 1000yds.  The deer was a tall framed, crazy 3×3, with forks in the back.  The deer’s headgear resembled a small elk rack and  I decided this deer was definitely deserved of a closer look.

facebook-3

Our only option was to sneak through the coulees in front of us, which put us to within 350yds of the herd.  I finally located the buck bedded in some sage.  He stood, chased some smaller bucks away from his does and then bedded back down, directly behind another sage bush.  I knew this was a deer I wanted to take if given the opportunity.  If the deer stood, he would have to clear the brush in order for me to have a shot.  Zack and I setup, waiting for the deer to make a move.

bedded, buck, mule, muley, deer, montana, rifle, season, wild

I dialed in my Vortex turret to just over 300yds and settled into a sturdy rest on my MR pack.  After 45min of waiting, the buck stood, chasing his does with his nose in the air.  It was awesome watching it all take place through my rifle scope.  This buck was doe crazy and his interaction with the other deer was very entertaining.  The deer finally stopped broadside, I squeezed off, hitting the deer slightly high.  I racked in another HSM round as the deer stopped after a couple steps.  I put one more round into the deer’s vitals, dropping the deer within seconds.  The Snowy Mountain Rifle had done its job, buck down!

prone, shooting, long, range, montana, wild, vortex, razor, hd, rifle, scope, montana, sitka, gear, mystery, ranch, longbow

I walked up on the downed deer, checking out his unique looking rack, complete with thick cactus looking bases.  The buck was a cool looking deer, with a ton of character.  Zack said it best at the beginning of our trip, “I don’t hold out looking to shoot a deer that meets someone’s scoring standards, when I see a buck, I just know whether its a deer I want to take or not”.

cactus, bases, montana, mule, deer, muley, crazy, wild, buck

lone, wolf, knives, montana, wild, mule, buck, cutting, debone, deboning, sitka, gear, vortex, optics

We deboned the deer and loaded the fresh meat into our Longbows.  We made the hike back through the numerous coulees and breaks back to the truck.

mystery, ranch, montana, wild, longbow, packout, mule, deer, muley, sitka, gearZack and I cracked open some beers and situated the fresh meat into the cooler, watching the light fade fast in the distance.

ford, F150, montana, sitka, yeti, coolers, montana, wild, mule, deer, rack

 

The Yeti 160 was starting to fill up, and ready for one more deer.  The road trip was off to a great start!  It was now Zack’s chance to search for a mule deer.

yeti, in, action, 160, big, what, size, montana, deer, elk, frozen, freezer, dry, ice

-Travis