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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

bear hunt, montana, spring

As I approached the start of Montana’s 2016 Spring black bear season I didn’t really know where to start. Growing up in Wisconsin, spot and stalk bear hunting was far from the ordinary. In Wisconsin it’s a waiting game. Ten years of applying for a tag, and you might get lucky. Even then you will have to get even luckier if you plan on killing a bear over five feet. With that being said, your odds of success and a guaranteed tag make Montana a much better option for the aspiring bear hunter. In Montana, Spring bear season runs from April 15th to June 15th (in most units). This gives you two months of time to stop tying flies, forget about your fishing withdrawals, and hit the hills of western Montana in search of a big old black bear.

bear hunting, montana, wild

With short notice, I quickly gathered as much information as I could from reading articles and talking to a few seasoned bear hunters, and prepared to hit the hills come mid April. During opening week of bear season I was fortunate enough to be floating Montana’s famous Smith River. This would not only turn out to be an awesome experience, but it gave me the opportunity to hunt bears on a section of remote National Forest land.

Stars, Bear Hunting, Smith River, River, Hunting

Smith River Stargazing.

After a mild hike from camp to the top of the ridge, we found ourselves in the snow. As we worked our way up the ridge, we cut a set of tracks, and shortly after Sam spotted another bear on the other side of the canyon in some of the gnarliest country imaginable. As we sat and glassed the bear for a few minutes we exchanged a wide range of opinions on the bear’s size and distance. The bear was too far away. We chose not to lob one across the canyon, and returned to camp empty handed, but it was an exciting adventure none the less.

Smith River, Hunting, Bears, Fishing, Bear Hunting

Snow covered cliffs along the Smith River.

As the season continued I went out in search bears in Western Montana. The rugged landscape combined with the green grass made for some of the best scenery my eyes have ever seen, but to my surprise I was having a lot harder of a time finding bears than I thought I would. It quickly became apparent that if I wanted to fill my tag, I was going to have to check out some new country, and gain a lot more elevation than I thought.

Rocks, Hunting, Bears, Montana, Mountains

Chance making his way up a gnarly rockslide.

After crossing two creeks and packing into a gnarly canyon, we quickly bumped a bear off of a dead deer, and shortly after we were surrounded by bear sign. We hunted hard the next couple of days, but to my surprise, I still had yet to have a shot opportunity at a bear.

Deer, Bear, Hunting, Conservation, Mountain

Chance checking out a fresh bear kill.

The following Wednesday I texted Zack asking him what he wanted me to work on that day. He quickly responded with “I want you to work on killing a bear today Calvin.” and so I went. Having already missed the prime hours of the morning, I headed into a spot that I was very familiar with, and that I had seen some bears in the past. After glassing a large clear cut for the better part of the morning, I was left scratching my head wondering “Who would have thought I would have this much trouble finding a bear.” Little did I know, that was all about to change. As the afternoon rolled around, I found myself working a logging road to a point where I knew I would be able to glass an entirely new section for the next couple of hours. After glassing and again coming up with nothing, I decided to work my way up the ridge.

Glassing, Hunting, Bear Hunting, Bears

“Where da bears at?”

After hiking a few hundred yards up the ridge, I found myself surrounded in fresh bear sign. Although the wind was blowing my scent directly uphill, I decided to get settled in a patch of timber, and start calling. Not 30 seconds into my call sequence and I spotted a bear no more than 300 yards away standing on a log looking directly at me. Before I could get my rifle settled for a shot, the bear started running directly towards me as I kept screeching on the call.

Rifle, Gun, Hunting, Bears, Montana

Ready to roll.

With my heart racing, I quickly realized that this bear was going to get a lot closer to me than I had hoped. As the bear got to 50 yards at a dead run, I screeched one last time, stopping the bear. I settled my crosshairs, squeezed the trigger, and just like that I had harvested my first black bear.

Hunting, Brass, Guns, Bears, Montana

Bear, Hunting, Bear Hunting, Mountains, Montana

Bear Down!

A quick phone call later and I had help on the way to get my bear off the mountain in one trip. Gus and Tex quickly made their way up the mountain, and the work began. We made quick work of the bear, quartering out the meat, skinning the hide, and heading back to the truck with full packs.

Bear, Hunting, Meat, Conservation, Montana, Spring

The work begins.

The best kind of text message to send after a day on the mountain.

Hunting, Bears, Stoked, Bear Hunting, Montana, Mountains

 

– Calvin