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REBOUNDING FROM DEFEAT

“He was right there…..” I beat my fist on the ground and looked up at Jordan, embarrassed, upset and elated all at the same time. We had been working an area I’d just found a few days prior and had already passed on two bulls. Our day was going well until a dream archery bull spun and ran out of my life. Lets backtrack a few days though. Two days earlier I’d been just a few ridges over with my girlfriend Maddie. I wanted her to experience the thrill of archery elk hunting and we were lucking out as I had just found a great bull and him and a few others were all bugling. We had bumped him the night before and relocated him the next morning. We slowly tailed the herd as it was too noisy and open to try to move in close and call. As we crept up the ridge I could see him raking the ground about 120 yards up in the timber. He was a dandy and my heart beat increased instantly. We took the boots and backpacks off and started a sneak attack. Soon I saw a cow and she forced us to stay ultra low as she was bedded and facing our direction. As I neared the 90 yard mark the bull swung back around to chase off a spike. He then pushed the cow that had been facing us back towards the rest of the herd. Long story short either another part of the herd saw us or smelled us as we tailed him and they ran out of our lives. We went back to the packs and could hear bulls bugling across a nasty, nasty valley. I figured there was no sense in calling to them as it was almost 10AM and they’d soon bed. Maddie urged me to bugle and so I fired off about 3 bugles in 5 minutes. About 10 minutes later we could see a tree swaying just over the ridge. It was a bull raking a tree. The raking stopped and I patiently waited. Nothing came up the hill so I fired off a bugle and sat waiting with an arrow nocked. Moments later a rack appeared over the crest of the hill. A nice six point bull appeared and was coming towards me and too my left. I was kneeled down and as the bull passed behind a tree I drew and waited. The bull walked into my opening and turned uphill. I cow called and stopped him at 27 yards. He was facing me at a very hard quartering to angle, almost straight on but not quite. There was a good pocket in front of his left shoulder and I took my time to settle my pins on my spot. The bow went off and the bull quickly spun and disappeared. I’d seen my arrow as he turned and it looked like I’d hit him in the front of his shoulder with no penetration. Agghhhhhhh!!! All that practice all summer and I’d somehow screwed up a chip shot. Low right. Dang it.

bowhunting, montana, elk

Settle pin and slow squeeze

I knew sometimes the arrow will pull out when the bull runs and I hoped I was wrong and had got better penetration. We decided to wait 4 hours and then go look for blood and the arrow. As we waited I proceeded to bugle another 6 point into 25 yards. He got the pass for obvious reasons. Four hours later I found my arrow just yards from the point of impact, broke off right at the back of the insert. It was a direct hit on the shoulder blade with zero penetration. The bull should be alright just with a bit of new hardware.

bowhunting, montana, elk

Yaaaaaa, that’s not any penetration.

Fast forward to the next day, it’s 5:30pm and we are on top of a ridge where we thought a bull had bedded in from the morning. We slowly worked down the ridge calling occasionally. Finally I got a response down to my right. I knew the wind would be bad if I called him to me now and we quickly pushed lower. As we dropped about a 1000’ I bugled or chuckled at him about 4 times. Each time he responded allowing me to pinpoint his location and also slowly get him worked up. As soon as I got to his level I fired off a bugle which he quickly responded to. He was close and before i could have Jordan move downwind he had pushed his cows up into eyesight just 80 yards away. We both knelt quickly to stay out of sight. I could just see his horn tips. He looked around and then turned to go back the way he’d come. I slowly turned and ripped a bugle behind me. Instantly his cows ran up on the bench we were on and to our right. I shifted on my knees towards them assuming the bull would follow. Right as I asked Jordan how far the cows were I could see horns moving to my left. The bull was going to parallel our bench just below us. I quickly drew before his eyes crested the hill. He soon walked into full sight but with limbs in the way. I knew I’d have to pan with him as he closed the distance and thought at such a close distance he would key in on the slight movement. He was soon inside 25 yards with only small windows between limbs. I knew if he stopped it would give me the split second to find my gap and then shoot. But he kept coming. I had one last clear window and a cow call in my mouth. Unfortunately my brain had expected the bull to stop and look for his challenger by now and with yesterday’s events in the back of my head I wasn’t going to shoot until he stopped. Before I knew it he’d passed my gap and then hit my wind. Boom he ran off and I cow called and stopped him at 25. Of course there was a tree over his vitals. He then spun and ran off and over the mountain. I hate bowhunting. I’d just had a big, big bull at 15 yards and didn’t even get an arrow in the air. Deep breaths. I was mad, disappointed, and embarrassed since Jordan had just watched me royally mess up what should have been a slam dunk call in. I vented and then told myself it was an awesome experience and I was blessed to just be here. In the back of my head I was upset though.

bowhunting, montana, elk, big bull, archery, public land

Ouch….

It’s days like this that we dream of but moments of failure that make them unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. I know from years past these moments can quickly ruin a season. The mental side of it makes you rush from that point onward. You start thinking, “I should have already killed a bull, I need to get another opportunity quick,” “Time is running out,” “There’s only so much of the rut left I need to be aggressive from here on out,” and so forth. Being that close to killing makes you rush to try to get back to that point. That rush though often means you screw up well before you ever got an opportunity to let an arrow fly. You soon quickly add failure to failure and end up wasting days in the field rushing to try to kill your elk. You lose the ability to enjoy the experience and just focus on the kill. After years of hunting I’ve learned to slow down and reset my mind after a failure. Learn from it and count your blessing that it even happened in the first place. It could always be worse and hunting is more about failure than it is about success. How you rebound from those failures will determine the kind of hunter you are and show you more about your character as a human being. I’ve come to respect and appreciate failure when it happens and take the time to scrutinize it and learn from it. Don’t just try to forget about it. Scrutinize every detail of that encounter. What went right? What went wrong? Store that info so that you’re better on the next encounter. And remember, it’s just hunting. We are so blessed to just set foot in the mountains that we should have a smile on our face punched tag or not. Being able to rebound from failure will make the rest of your season more enjoyable and you’ll also have a better chance of filling your tag when the next opportunity presents itself.

Zack Boughton

Read Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.  Well it’s been about six months or so since we were in New Zealand and it seems like forever ago.  Time is short as we are in the midst of hunting season so there won’t be much words for this final installment but be looking for some content to roll out around the New Year.  For now enjoy the photos and be looking for more here on the website and through our Instagram page.

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Hiking to the next zone

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Josh wrangling a cicada eater from a backcountry zone

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Starting the day off with a one hander

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Zack hooking up and about to get schooled by a backcountry brown trout

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What a specimen. Caught in a creek only two rods lengths wide.

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Long, wet hikes were the name of the game in the backcountry

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Front country sunrise

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Hatch of the day boys!

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Josh with his biggest brown of the trip and life

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Exploring a wild, tiny creek with big browns

new zealand, nz, fly fishing, brown trout, diy, bucknasty browns, huge browns, backcountry, fishing, helis, zack boughton, new zealand browns

Zack with his personal best and the biggest weight fish of our trip

Zack Boughton

nz, new zealand, fly fishing, diy, backcountry, brown trout, south island

Read the first part of this series HERE.  After a few weeks on the island we had put some great fish in the net but conditions had been tough.  The rivers had blown out twice and most of the fishable days had overcast skies which made spotting tough in lots of the water we were fishing.  We pushed through and made the best of it.  We spent some time fishing the flats for kingfish which was a wild experience.  I think we were a few weeks behind on timing and it seems that the locals feel the fishery is getting heavily pressured and there’s some shady tactics being used by guides with boats.  We had a good time despite few kingfish sightings and wen’t back to town before being flow deep into the backcountry.

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Headed into the abyss, and hopefully home to many big brown trout.

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NZ flats tugger

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Headed out in search of kingfish

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Kahawai headed back to go smash baitfish

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Target spotted. Clear water made it easy to see fish but harder to catch.

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Teamwork as Zack tries to bring a brown trout to the net.

nz, new zealand, fly fishing, diy, backcountry, brown trout, south island, zack boughton

A medium sized backcountry brown. A hell of a fighter though.

nz, new zealand, fly fishing, diy, backcountry, brown trout, south island, travis boughton

The longest and arguably the prettiest fish of our trip to NZ.

nz, new zealand, fly fishing, diy, backcountry, brown trout, south island

Josh making light work of a bank side brown trout.

nz, new zealand, fly fishing, diy, backcountry, brown trout, south island, josh rokosch

This day we got worked for hours until Josh picked the right bug and flawlessly drifted it until this brown took.

nz, new zealand, fly fishing, diy, backcountry, brown trout, south island

Chasing brown trout in big water meant a slip was inevitable.

nz, new zealand, fly fishing, diy, backcountry, brown trout, south island

Got him netted baby!

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Small guy but big engine.

nz, new zealand, fly fishing, diy, backcountry, brown trout, south island, heli, fishing

1st fish after the heli drop. Stoke was HIGH

The backcountry was amazing but the fishing was tough!  Coming that late in the season meant that the easy to see fish were insanely spooky and picky on flies.  We all got into beautiful fish but our hookup to sighting percentage was definitely in the single digits.  Finding fast water and taking extra time to try to spot fish in that water made things easier as it seemed these fish hadn’t been pressured as much.  Be looking for Part 3 soon.

new zealand, fly fishing, diy, south island, montana wild, brown trout, dry fly, fishing

If you didn’t catch some of our posts through social media you missed out on the fact that we went to New Zealand this spring in search of big brown trout.  It was amazing and we could write a whole book about it, but it’s summer in Montana and we are insanely busy.  We also hunted Himalayan tahr which you can read about and watch HERE.  With that said New Zealand is almost as amazing as it seems.  Some days it’s better and some days worse, but overall a place we were stoked to finally make it to.  This had been a bucket list trip for myself and to finally see it realized was something special.  For now I’ll leave you with photos from this amazing trip and be looking for two more parts down the road.  If time allows we will definitely write more about the trip.  Shoot us an email if you’ve got questions or want us to talk about something specific.

new zealand, fly fishing, diy, south island, montana wild, brown trout, dry fly, fishing

Months of preparation both researching maps and also flies. The final organization takes place just days before we leave.

new zealand, fishing, brown trout, south island, travel, simms fishing

Travel was about 14 hours from Bozeman to NZ. Not bad considering we were leaving winter and headed to brown trout paradise.

new zealand, fly fishing, diy, south island, montana wild, brown trout, dry fly, fishing

Flying in and seeing river after river made what once was a dream now a reality.

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Day 1 on the river and this was Fish #1. Life was more than good!

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Next Level Stoke

new zealand, fly fishing, diy, south island, montana wild, brown trout, dry fly, fishing, Alpen Reels, Smith Optics

Zack’s 2nd fish of Day 2. We started the trip off hot and thought this was going to be the daily occurrence. Rain had bumped the creek and a streamer sealed the deal on the hike out.

new zealand, fly fishing, diy, south island, montana wild, brown trout, dry fly, fishing, toyota highlander

We soon found out that we were going to see unusual amounts of rain for this time of year. Blown rivers, wet gear, and minimal dry fly fishing made some days tougher than others.

new zealand, fly fishing, diy, south island, montana wild, brown trout, dry fly, fishing

Fishing on the front of an impending cyclone. Beautiful water but no fish this day.

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Dry fly eater after almost a week of down time. Rivers clear fast after big rains and a risk to hike deep into the backcountry paid off.

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Upriver in search of more hungry browns.

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Trails in New Zealand don’t always exist even though they are supposed to. Having wet feet is pretty much a necessity even when there is a trail. Fortunately the rewards are always worth the effort.

new zealand, fly fishing, diy, south island, montana wild, brown trout, dry fly, fishing, cicada, dinosaur

Cicada smasher. We missed the best part of the hatch but still found a few eager to look up and take the big dry fly.

Written by 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

september calls, montana wild, elk hunting, hat

September Calls is all about the instinctive draw to one of the most special times of year, September.  Here in the West September marks the elk rut and for archers it’s the time of year they most patiently wait for.  Beautiful landscapes, bugling bulls, crisp mornings, long hikes through God’s country and hopefully a punched tag and full freezer.  Get your September Calls Apparel today!  All September Calls apparel products are part of our 3% For Conservation offering and will help assist in conservation efforts here in Montana and across the West.

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September Calls Hats

To purchase September Calls Hats click HERE.

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STONE COLORWAY

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MIDNIGHT BLUE COLORWAY

To purchase September Calls T-shirts click HERE.

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september calls, elk, elk hunting, apparel, montana wild, archery, bowhunting Montana, September, september calls apparel

 

elk hunt, archery, montana, wild, rmef, sitka, sub alpine, film, bowhunt, bowhunting

FINALLY!!!! To finally be able to release this film to the public is a relief. AMBUSH 2 was shot in 2013 during September and has been sitting in our archives since then. We didn’t know what to do with the film, but have come to the conclusion that it is best to release the film to view for FREE. This archery elk hunt captures my first successful archery elk hunt and it was truly a monumental moment for myself. To wait for days, just to get one opportunity…. The encounter is pretty remarkable. We sat watching this bull wallow for 15 minutes before he stood. Watch AMBUSH 2 below and please share if you enjoyed the film.

To read the original blog post click here > FOUR YEARS IN THE MAKING

 

Travis

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

archery antelope hunting, montana, antelope, archery, bowhunting, film, video

Montana’s Antelope draw results came out today.  If you put in go to MyFWP to check your draw status.  With that said we decided to put up a short film we shot in 2013 that documents our first successful archery antelope hunts.  We learned a lot and were fortunate enough to come back with two bucks.

Also, be sure to check out our store.  We have updated our inventory on some of our hats and T-shirts as well as added a few new products.  Our Outlaw knife is also back in stock.  You can check it all out here > Montana Wild Store

-Zack

bear camp, montana, hunting

Bear Camp, a most underrated event.  Montana bear hunting has to be, hands-down, one of the most fun hunts we go on each year.  You get the opportunity to test out new gear and work on fixing parts of your system that failed you the previous year.  You get to hone in your hunting skills and senses after a few long months off.  You get to lace up the boots and start busting you butt back into mountain shape and the things you see rarely disappoint.  The icing on the cake is tagging a bear and helping out the local ungulate population.  This year bear camp was going to be a little different than last year’s inaugural camp.  You can read all about why bear camp is so badass in our post > 10 Reasons Why Spring Bear Hunting Is The Cat’s Ass.  For 2016 we’d be a small trimmed down crew of three hunting in a new, more rugged location.  This year we’d be hunting the mountains and looking for those small pockets of green amidst a sea of dark timber and scree fields.

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Heading up the first canyon of the trip.

Camp started with a flat tire, rain, snow and general poor conditions.  With only three and a half days penciled in to get it done we knew we’d need to hunt hard and put some miles on the boots.  The first full day was spent driving and hiking into various locations we’d scouted on Google Earth and seeing if they translated in real life.  All the areas we hunted looked like they could hold bears but nothing screamed “hunt here!” The second afternoon was spent glassing green hilsides when the fog and rain allowed.

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A necessary hike up the scree revealed more of the opposite hillside.

With a few hours left we split up into two groups to try to locate a bear.  That evening turned up a sow and two cubs and a few elk and sheep.  With little to go off we trudged our way back to camp and fired up the wood stove to dry out and refuel for the next day.

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The wall tent is always welcome when the weather is bad.

Our goal for our last full day was to head up into a long draw I’d spent some time looking at back home on the computer.  It appeared about 3 miles up the canyon a few large avalanche shoots opened up and would be a nice, secluded spot to find a mature bear.  5:30 A.M. came quick and a look outside the tent showed us that the visibility had dropped overnight.  With our prospects of glassing looking dismal, we decided to sleep in till 8 and then see if the forecasted sun would start to burn off some fog.  By 9 we were in the truck headed off to find our trail winding up a thick canyon.  As we pulled off the main dirt road we found our access road covered in trees.  I mumbled a few comments that I’ll keep to myself and fired up the chainsaw.  Two trees out and we hopped back in to head up the road.  Around the next bend lay a group of about 10 more trees draped over the road.  As I was cutting Brandon informed me my pull cord had frayed and was laying on the ground.  Well that’s just peachy.  I now had to keep the chainsaw running until we hit our trail.  After cutting the visible trees out I jumped on my tailgate and keep the chainsaw humming while Brandon quickly navigated my truck up the mountain.  Eventually we made it to our trail, a small, grown-in trail that seemed like a bad idea.  We contemplated the options from the comfort of the truck and decided we didn’t cut all those damn trees out for nothing.  We’d start bushwacking up the wet canyon and see what we thought in an hour.  What started out as a decent trail soon faded into a trail that appeared it hadn’t been cleared in 8-10 years.  We navigated wet and snowy brush and downfall for two and a half hours before breaking out into our first big opening.  Within seconds I’d put my binos on a suspiciously black spot and we had spotted our first bear of the day.

spring, bear hunting, montana, kimber, mountains, sitka gear

Brandon sizing up the first bear of the day.

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An epic spot to see a bear but this one had cubs and eventually moved off.

Brandon quickly had a pack down and his gun lined up on the bear staring down into the valley as a light snow fell through the valley.  The encounter was surprisingly calm.  Brandon explained he wasn’t sure how big the bear was and he was going to watch it for a bit.  I snapped away on the camera enjoying the wild mix of conditions.  As Brandon examined the bear two small black cubs came crawling up the mountain navigating the boulders twice their size.  We both were glad we hadn’t rushed into taking a shot at this bear.  It’s a hard thing for new guys and even experienced guys to do when bear hunting, but watching a bear and determining its sex and if it has cubs is a necessity.  We watched mom lead her cubs up through the timber and we threw our packs back on and continued up the canyon.

bear hunting, montana, spring

Brandon picks his way up the canyon among snow covered downfall and an almost non-existent trail.

Soon we had climbed into the next avalanche chute and it was looking good.  Snow was still slowly filtering down and the upper half of the mountain was fogged in but we were starting to see the kind of habitat we were looking for.  After examining the side of the creek we were on we slowly worked out into the bottom of the clearing when Brandon spotted a bear across the creek.  Living in a small alder choked chute in the hill was a black bear, completely unaware of our presence.  Brandon quickly got a good rest on his pack and settled in for a good broadside shot.

montana, bear hunting, kimber, mountains, spring

Patiently waiting for the right shot.

As bears will do they seem to feed in all the right spots that don’t offer a good shot.  We waited in position for about 20 minutes as the bear feed amongst the alders and then climbed the cliff up next to some pine trees where she rubbed her back on a dead tree.  Finally she worked downhill and stood quartering to the right.  Brandon eased into the trigger and the Kimber rang out through the tight canyon.  The bear dropped like a sack of potatoes.  We were jacked!!  We gathered our gear and set out to attempt to cross the creek that was swollen by runoff.

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The second crossing creek crossing. This one was slick!

bear, hunting, montana, spring, wild, mountains

Bears living in crazy zones.

We were able to track down two different logs and made it over the river in one piece.  A scramble up another scree field and up through the alder choked chute led us to a cliff edge and Brandon’s bear laying feet from a 75′ cliff.  A little work and we got the bear off the cliff and down to a safer place to skin and quarter the bear.

montana, spring, bear hunting, wild, black bear

Finding a good spot to make quick work of this younger, dry sow.

From our new vantage point we could see the entire other hillside and new that we had found a nice pocket that definitely held a number of bears.  We pulled out our knives and began the process of skinning his bear and deboning the quarters for the pack out.  An hour later we were finished and I moved off next to an alder to take a piss.  Mid way through I noticed a very tan shape moving on the opposite hillside.  I instantly knew it was a bear and when I could finally put my binos on the spot I knew it was a good one.  I quickly rushed to grab my gun and pack and had to scramble down in the scree about 30 yards to find a boulder big which was high enough to get behind and get a rest to shoot uphill across the canyon.

bear, hunting, montana, spring, mountains

Set up and waiting for a cross canyon shot.

My first range on the bear had him at 630 yards.  I practice to 700-800 consistently out in the field and knew anything shooting for 700 or less was fair game if I could get a good solid rest and settle down.  The bear offered two opportunities for a shot in the first few minutes but I couldn’t settle into a good rest and my adrenaline was keeping me from holding steady enough to feel comfortable taking a shot.  I knew the bear wasn’t going anywhere and we watched him as I tried to find an ideal rest and wait for a better shot.  Over the next twenty minutes the bear fed up the hill offering no clear broadside shots.  It was frustrating to say the least.  Finally the bear popped up on top of the large cliff and began traversing across it.  It was a cool moment to watch a big bear cross a cliff like that in such an epic setting and made the whole trip worth it right there.  We knew he was headed to the next avy chute over and I ranged and got settled in for a shot opportunity.  My shot yardage would now be in the 650-670 range.  I had now settled down considerably and found a solid rest.  As the bear came out in the next chute he began moving downhill.  He wasn’t really feeding and wasn’t stopping much at all.  Finally he cleared some brush and stood broadside.  I slowly squeezed the trigger and my .300WSM barked.  I lost sight of him as my gun kicked my scope off the bear’s location.  I reloaded and quickly was back on the bear.  I didn’t know if I’d hit him but sent another shot at him as he slowly ran uphill straight away.  The second shot had good elevation but missed just a foot right.  I was pretty upset.  My track record with a rifle has been pretty much spotless on big game over the past three years and this was my first flat miss.  We knew we’d see that bear on the hillside and we held our spots.  Soon we saw the bear running left through the timber and picked him up again as he hit the next scree field.  At that point we lost sight of him.  We vigilantly scanned the hillside for the next ten minutes without any sign of him.  I was sitting there with my eyes looking for movement when I noticed a bear crossing a lower clearing and this time he was headed towards us.  My binos revealed it was the same bear!  He was going to cross below the cliff he had earlier crossed and the new range was 470.  I spun my turret to 500 and got ready for the boar to hit the rock field.  As he hit the center of the rock field Brandon whistled and somehow the bear stopped.  This time my shot was perfect and I saw the bear spinning holding and biting at his off shoulder.  A quick minute later the bear lay dead in the rock field among a few sparse aspen.  Emotions were extremely high as we’d just had an epic double unfold in some of the most beautiful and rugged country either of us had hunted bears in.  We quickly loaded up Brandon’s bear and set out across the canyon.

blood, trail, montana, bear, hunting

Who says bears don’t bleed?

When we got to the bear it was apparent the bullet had made quick work of this bear.  A quick kill is what we strive for and after my initial miss I was glad I pulled it together and made a great shot on my second opportunity.  As we looked the bear over we both noticed the size of his paws.

black bear, paws, hunting, spring, montana

Big ole smackers.

I’ve killed some 6’+ bears in the past but this one had the biggest paws of any I’d shot.  He was a beautiful chocolate color with thick forearms and a big round head.  A bear any sportsman would be happy with.  This day had quickly turned into one of the sickest hunting days either Brandon or myself had ever had.

black bear, spring, montana, zack boughton

Zack breaking into the color phase club.

With a nasty two hour hike out ahead of us we knew it would be advantageous to not hike out in the dark.  With the day quickly fading we decided to skin and quarter the bear quickly and then hang it in the nearby aspen trees and retrieve it in the morning.  We made quick work of the second bear and soon had the quarters hanging and hide safely hanging in the trees.  We shouldered Brandon’s bear and set off back down the trail.  Two hours later we emerged from the forest at the truck and went back to camp to drink a few celebratory beers, fuel up and get some needed rest.

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Resting after a long hike in.

The following morning we came back up the canyon to retrieve the second bear. After two and a half hours we made it back to the kill site and began the process of deboning the quarters and divvying up the load among the three of us.  The weather was beautiful and with no other bears spotted we headed back down the canyon.  As with every kill the sweet weight of success hung on all our shoulders as we bushwacked our way out of the tight box canyon and ended our bear camp for the year.

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Better be able to handle the bushwack back in this canyon.

Words by: Zack Boughton

Photos by: Travis Boughton, Zack Boughton, and Brandon Purcell