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[Well September is a busy busy month.  Archery season is only so many days long and throw in time spent filming and getting some work done and it always seems like time is too short and the personal days you get to hunt too few.  This fall has been a whirlwind and we’ve been very blessed so far.  I just wanted to give a quick update on the elk hunting and some recent success I had before we head back out the door to chase mule deer.  Enjoy!]

Two days prior to opening day Zack and myself wandered the hills, searching for bugling bulls. Our ears were instead filled with the buzz of little pests.  The mosquitoes were like the plague.  The heavy rainfall that this area had received at the end of August rejuvenated the mosquitoes in the area to biblical proportions. We quickly made a detour to the closest town to buy mass quantities of bug spray and cross our fingers that our Thermacell would deter a small portion of the hungry critters.
mosquitoes, sitka solids
Zack was up first, while I had the camera in tow. The elk hunting was difficult, between hunting pressure and avoiding the mosquito swarms. Stalks on bedded elk usually ended in a blood buffet for the mosquitoes. Staying still for more than five minutes was a chore and  spending time behind the glass was rather frustrating.

hunting mosquitoes, sitka shooter glove, vortex summit

Zack still managed a bunch of great encounters and passed on multiple bulls, hoping to lure the herd bull in close. Before we knew it another heavy rain storm was upon us.  The gumbo mud appeared in full force and our boots instantly turned into ten pound weights.  Living out of the truck became quite the task.
Gumbo, mud, montana, bad, nasty
After battling the elements, the sun regained its strength, but not without a price.  The mosquitoes had flourished in the new rainfall and we were now on the brink of insanity. Zack was frustrated and gave myself the opportunity to hunt the last four days of our trip. I made the best of my time, finding multiple bulls, and breaking the 100yd mark on numerous occasions.

elk, bull, wapiti

Our final morning we found a large herd we had been following. Our wind was swirling all morning and half the herd split for cover. A lone bull stole 6 cows and wandered elsewhere.  We pursued, seeing opportunity in the landscape they were headed. Removing my boots and going into ‘full ninja’, I crept in to 35 yards, cow calling the bull to his feet before deploying an arrow.

Ninja socks, hunting, stalking, socks

The shot looked good, but the penetration was not as expected.  Lung blood littered the ground, but slowly dissipated into a timbered coulee.  After an hour of searching we relocated the bull, who was bedding and standing every hour in the thick brush.  With no opportunity for a stalk, we waited the bull out for 6 hours, before he finally bedded in a position where I thought a shot might be possible. I got back into my ninja socks and crept in to within bow range.  The bull was about to stand to re-bed once again, I came to full draw, fighting the heavy crosswind before putting pressure on the trigger.  The bull stood stunned as I put two more arrows in his chest before taking his final breath.

Metcalf 2, mystery ranch, sitka gear, core, merino, elk ridge, snapback, knife

After examining my first shot, I found out my arrow placement was too low given the downhill angle.  My arrow had pierced one lung and struck the sternum. I thanked the good Lord above that I was able to recover this animal and felt relieved to know that the animal would not go to waste. This elk season has brought about so many challenges, yet this season has been my best elk season to date. Once again I have been overwhelmed with the knowledge you gain elk hunting year after year. The confidence is high going into the remainder of the season.  Elk meat is in the freezer!

elk, hunting, bowhunting, missouri breaks, bull, montana, wild

mystery ranch, hunting, metcalf, 2, II

-Travis

Elk hunting.  It’s my passion and if I had to pick one hunt it would be a bowhunt for elk, in the mountains, during the rut.  Again this year I was blessed enough to do just that.  I won’t bore you with all the details but let’s just say I had my chance at my dream bull.  Bad luck or a poor decision, you can chalk it up however you see fit when you see the footage next fall, but as quickly as he came to my bugle, he left equally as fast.  As I searched the mountains for bugling bulls I had the opportunity to see some of the deepest, darkest, and most beautiful timbered slopes a man could ask for.  To say my archery season was a failure would simply deny the fact that something positive always comes from time in the mountains.

elk, hunting, photos, timber, gps, bull, elk, montana, wild, stock

I explored new areas and hoped I could once again lure a mature bull into bow range.  I did one other time but busted the bull as I moved to get in position for a shot.  As I continued my search it seemed the odds were stacked against us.  September and early October saw lots of heavy rain and snow, variables that make filming a hunt quite difficult.  We pushed on despite the difficulties and seemed to always be on the heels of the big bulls that called these woods home.

elk, hunting, montana, photograph, stock, rub, sitka gear, bowhunting

Eventually time ran out and my #1 goal for the season was unmet.  I chalked it up as a loss and turned my focus to deer.  Again the weather put a dampener on our ambition and kept us holed up in a tent during our first five days in the mountains.

camping, montana, hunting, mountains, deer, elk, wild, outdoors, snow

The mountains won that battle and Travis and I turned our attention to lower elevations.  We decided to continue the tradition of heading east to hunt mule deer in the flatlands during November.  We both bagged nice bucks and you can read our stories by clicking either of the following links (All In Character) / (The Bumpy Road – Part 1).

mule, deer, horns, antler, montana, wild, eastern, 4 point

After that I again began to think about those wily wapiti.  I had never truly hunted for elk with a rifle and would definitely consider myself extremely unknowledgeable about elk movements and habits during this time of year.  I had a few spots in mind that I knew elk lived in and afforded us the opportunity to use the binos and spotting scope to our advantage.  As we turned off the highway I was excited to begin the hike up the mountain.  As we continued down the road we soon had already passed three trucks that had hunters pouring out of them in the inky black.  As we pulled up to our spot my stomach began to turn.  Six other trucks were already parked there.  As we sat there wondering what to do another rig pulled up next to us.  The sun was beginning to lighten the sky and I knew it was too late to go somewhere else.  I figured we would hike as far back as we could and hope someone spooked some elk to us.  We threw our headlamps on and clamored up the mountain.  As we crested onto the final logging road we saw another hunter ahead of us.  He was a older gentlemen in his mid 60s and I was surprised he was back here.  He must have been hiking for about an hour and a half in the dark.  I was impressed to say the least.  We quickly passed him as he split up the hill.  A light snow covered the hillside and with temperatures in the single digits it was a crunchy mess.  We quickly made it to a good lookout and built a fire.  No sooner had we finally got the fire roaring a group of 3 bulls appeared from the timber 700 yards below us.  A rocky deep valley lay below us and I knew we wouldn’t be able to close the distance without completely losing sight of the bulls.  We scrambled to get the cameras on the elk and I got positioned on my pack.  My adrenaline was raging and I struggled to get the elk in my 20 power scope.  By the time I located the biggest bull he was already moving to the right and I was way to shaky to think about taking a shot.  They disappeared into the timber and we grabbed our packs and began to slowly slip down the ridge.  We proceeded to move about 300 yards down the mountain to an area where we could see across the creek bottom.  No elk were in sight, but I could hear the faint noise of rocks crashing.  I knew they were somewhere in the bottom.  A few minutes later Travis spotted them directly to our right on a grassy, timbered ridge.  I quickly laid down and began to look the bulls over.  They were feeding slowly and I knew I had a moment to pick a bull and get settled in.  After a few minutes I had found the biggest of the group and I lined up my reticle right behind his shoulder.  As he stepped forward a slightly quartering away shot presented itself and I sent a 168 grain Berger right through his boiler room.  He moved up the hill about 15 yards before toppling over and quickly expiring.  I jumped up and yelled like a wild man.  I honestly had planned on going for a nice hike, and had no plans of shooting a bull that would eclipse the 300 inch mark.  Travis and I celebrated before finally grabbing our gear and crossing the small valley to go inspect my first rifle killed elk.

elk, bull, 300, inch, montana, wild, rifle, hunting, photo

The bull was a great 6×6.  He was on the tall and narrow side and very symmetrical.  I couldn’t have asked for more and spent the next hour admiring the beautiful bull.  I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to take such an amazing animal and with my brother at my side.  Travis has been there for all of my elk kills with the camera rolling and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Travis and I both were blessed with great bulls this year and we quickly snapped photos of the fallen warrior.

montana, bull, elk, 300, inch, wild, mountains, rifle, season, photo, western

The temperature was perfect for the task ahead of us.  As we worked the sun kept us warm, while the shade allowed the meat to cool as we worked for the next two hours to get everything in order for the pack out.  Soon all the quarters were in game bags and it was time to load some meat and begin the pack out.  We were three miles from the truck and luckily enough it was mostly downhill.  As I headed up the mountain the weight of the elk bore down on my shoulders, reminding me of the immense  responsibility we take into our hands when we hunt these great creatures.  It was sad to take a life, but it felt good that I’d be filling my freezer with some of the healthiest, organic meat a man can put in his body.  This day was a blessing from God and even though my tag was punched I couldn’t help but think about the next time I’d get to chase the ever elusive elk.

montana, wild, elk, hunting, rifle, packing, out, 2013, photo

-Zack

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

Hunting out of your backpack is something every hunter should try at some point.  The endeavor isn’t easy.  Day after day of hunting in the backcountry with only your backpack will mentally and physically wear on you.  If you haven’t trained in some way to handle the extra stress that a backpack hunt will put on your body then I recommend attempting a 2-3 day hunt about 5 miles back.    Backpack hunting is by far one of our favorite ways to hunt and it can make a big difference in the quality of animals you can hunt.  It allows you to really connect with the land and gain a greater appreciation for the outdoors.

hunting, montana, wild, black bears, sitka gear, backcountry, rifle

With rifle season about to begin it often can pay off to get out further away from access areas.  During the first 3 weeks we’ll be doing just that as we look to hunt in areas that just don’t see many hunters.  Already this year we’ve hunted with camp on our back over a half dozen times, and figured we would give you a quick look into what we carry.  The goal when backpack hunting should be to stay warm, dry, and happy.

elk, hunting, montana, wild, bowhunting, sitka, bear, archery

This past week we did a quick 2 day trip about 5 miles back.  We were searching some high country basins for mule deer.  Despite not seeing any bucks it was still a success and was a good prep for some longer trips we have planned for rifle season.  Below is some of what I generally will carry in my pack for trips from 2-7 days.  Click the photo to enlarge.

backpack, hunting, montana, wild, camping, mule, deer, elk, bear

Pack:  Mystery Ranch Metcalf

Tent:  MSR 2 man

Bag:  Mountain Hardware 20 degree bag

Pad:  Therma Rest Neo Air

Layers:  Merino Wool top, Jetstream Jacket, Jetstream Vest, Kelvin Hoody, Timberline pant, Stormfront pant, Dewpoint Jacket, 1 baseball cap, beanie, Smartwool long underwear, 2 pairs of socks, 2 light gloves, 1 heavy glove.

Food:  Dehydrated meals, Clif Bars, trail mix, jerky, dark chocolate, fruit snacks, candy

Boots:  Danner Crag Rat

Others:  Backpacking stove, water filter, 4 game bags, CamelBak 75L, Vortex Razor 65mm spotting scope, tripod, 2 knives, knife sharpener, firestarter, 2 lighters, GPS, headlamp, 75′ para-cord, extra shoelace, notepad, pencil, toiletries, first aid kit

elk, hunting, montana, wild, backpacking, camping, backcountry

This list doesn’t include everything and is just the essentials.  It’s not a perfect list and should simply get you started in the right direction if you’ve never done such a hunt.  We don’t weigh our gear and get worried over ounces due to the heavy camera gear that we constantly carry.  If you can, go as light as possible.  You legs will thank you and you’ll be able to hunt harder.  As the season progresses we’ll try to keep notes on what does and doesn’t work for us out there on the mountain.  The vibes are good going into rifle season and good luck to everyone out there!

-Zack

 

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

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

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

Ultimate Steel

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

wind, checker, dark, timber

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

stars

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

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

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

Rain, sitka

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

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

sitka, gear, elk, rub, bear, archery, motive, metcalf, mystery ranch, longbow

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

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

camo, optifade, open, country, sitka

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

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

Bull Down

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

elk, horns, blood, kicker, dark

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

sitka, gear, archery, elk, bear, archery, motive, 6, montana, wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Travis

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These guys do some killer work and have Travis’ wolf and spring bear.  We can’t wait to get both back and if we didn’t run our own business we’d probably be trying to work out there.

-Zack

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

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

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

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

Hunting with your dad, Hunting in snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-Travis

Ice, elk, cutties

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Montana Wild, spring fishing, fly fishing, Brownes Lake, cutthroat, brown trout, Highway 200, elk, MT

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-Zack