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bow, breaker, bucks, mule, deer, bowhunting, archery

This past year we had the chance to chase mule deer on public land in October. In less than perfect conditions Zack found a buck worthy of an arrow, but could just not seem to connect with a shot. Its never easy to shrug off a miss, especially when your bow is still on. Sometimes its all a mental game when archery hunting, and if you can overcome that mental hurdle, you will most likely succeed.

More hunting videos are on the horizon!

pack, out, elk, quarter, quartering, gutless, method, montana, wild, hunting, bowhunting

elk, hunting, pack, out, quartering, backpack, archery, montana, wild, video, mystery ranch

You’ve seen the photos before, a guy packing out the bull of a lifetime.  The pack looks like it could easily weigh over a 100 pounds but everything appears to be packed nicely and the rack is held in perfect placement.  How did they do that?  Well more often than not this is a process of trial and error for many and from the beginning we had to learn the hard way.  The first few seasons were a quick learning curve that showed the importance of a quality pack and the knowledge of how to properly use it.

mystery ranch, backpacks, metcalf, elk, hunting, deer, packing, out, montana, wild, video

In just the last year I personally have been involved in the packing out of  11 big game animals.  Over the previous years the number has been double that.  With that much time spent quartering and packing elk, deer, and bear we’ve quickly found out what works and what doesn’t.  Last fall we partnered up with Mystery Ranch Backpacks to create an elk hunting film that broke down the process of quartering and packing out a bull elk.  The following is the culmination of many days spent hunting elk, fighting off mosquitoes and hiking heavy packs back to the truck.  Enjoy!

 

We will follow up this post with a blog post here very soon on the same process.  If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or us the “Contact Us” tab of our website to shoot us a message.  If you enjoyed the film please share with fellow hunters in hopes that more people will have a comfortable and awesome pack out this fall! (FYI it takes 3-4 trips to packout an elk if you are solo. In my case I had Travis pack out a quarter during each trip while he was filming back to the truck.)

-Zack

montana, wild, bull, elk, bowhunting, archery

There would be no dark timber, no wallows and downfall this September. The subsititues would be coulees filled with sage and brush, patchy timber, clay buttes and grassy bottoms. The elk would be more visible but also much more educated. The name of the game would be spot-and-stalk, which was fine with me. When we arrived at our campsite a few days before season we were welcomed by seeing a dozen bulls trotting off from a pond nearby. The elk were here, we just needed to find the half blind, deaf and dumb ones and we’d be ok.

montana, wild, video, elk, bowhunting, track

The first day started quick. We spotted a herd feeding up back towards the hills as the east was beginning to lighten. The wind was still working in our favor and we quickly looped ahead. A couple bugles littered the morning as we dropped the packs. I snuck up to the last bush before the saddle I figured they would travel through. Travis stayed back with the camera in a more hidden position. I slowly stood to see if they were still coming. A small raghorn was looking my way but didn’t appear to recognize me. There were a bunch of bulls behind him and I crouched back down and put my release on the string. A minute later the first of about 10 bulls came through at 56 yards. Raghorn, spike, raggy, raggy, raggy, damn raggy! The last two bulls came into view, both small immature bulls. I cow called and one stopped perfectly broadside. I held my pin behind the shoulder. He was toast if I wanted him. I let down and they trotted off. Well things were off to a good start but where did the herd bull go? We dipped over to the next small ridgeline and sat down. Soon we saw a good bull emerge across the basin, pushing cows and softly bugling. They had made it to the timber and the game was over at the moment.

glassing, elk, hunting, montana, film, videos

Right now your probably thinking it’s just another cheery day in Montana out elk hunting but I’ll give you one word that will change your mind, mosquitoes. Heavy rains dropping multiple inches of moisture in late August had spawned the gnarliest hatch of mosquitoes that anyone had seen in many many years. At any moment you could have 20-100 mosquitoes swarming your body thirsty for blood. It made life miserable as they were there 24/7. Any semblance of scent control was out the window as you had to constantly be spraying bug spray to have any degree of comfort out there. The daily bite average had to be over 20 bites even with bug spray and head nets, which were worn during times of the most intense attacks.

mosquitoes, elk, hunting, montana, vortex optics

After a few days of this we were greeted by heavy rain for two days. Our boots were wet and with nothing to build a fire near our truck we were stuck in the truck with wet layers, socks and sleeping bags courtesy of a leaky topper. We camped it out, it’s part of the adventure right?

elk, hunting, montana, mud, danner boots

When the rain had resided we began hunting again. The mud stuck to your boots in large amounts. Turning your boots into 5 pound mud clogs. We still found elk and even a couple nice deer but stalking in mud that was multiple inches deep that squeaks and sloshes makes a quiet approach almost impossible.

elk, hunting, montana, wild, films, bowhunt, sitka gear

A day after the rain the hordes of mosquitoes were back which made for equally difficult stalking conditions. Trying to sneak through the timber within 100 yards of a bull with 10 cows is tough when your trying to swat mosquitoes out of your eyes and ears, add in a second guy filming and it gets even harder. Over the next week I was within 100 yards of 7-8 bulls that I’d be more than happy to tag. It seemed the elk had a sixth sense and would do everything opposite of what they had been doing prior to the stalk and contrary to what you thought they’d do. Add in a few stalks blown by dumb hunters (me) and a couple by death by mosquito and I was feeling a bit angry and frustrated. My time was up for the time being and it was my turn to pick up the camera and get to filming. Four days later Travis had a bull down and we were headed back to Missoula with an elk in the truck.

elk, browtine, bull, hunting, montana

We knew we had to return. We had about a week and a half until we had to head east for mule deer and I had a grudge to pick with these bulls. As we pulled into our morning spot the truck read 74 degrees. This was at 5:30 am. It was hot and daily temps for the next two days would easily surpass 85 degrees. The elk were back in their first and last hour regiment and sightings were minimal. The third morning the bulls were pumped up though, with 5 different bulls firing off in one small basin. After a couple hours we had closed the gap on the one bull staying vocal after the sun had risen. He was up at the head of a small draw. The boots came off and we headed up the side of the draw. After twenty minutes we heard coughing and hacking about 70 yards in front of us. After sneaking around a couple bushes I could see a cow shaking her head and blowing her nose trying to clear her airways of something. It seems she had sucked in one of those pesky mosquitoes. I glassed around her but saw no elk. I decided to loop up around a hundred yards. As we started dropping down into the timber I heard a bugle right back where we had been just ten minutes ago. They had circled under us and they were now up and moving. A few minutes later as we closed the gap on the bull a collared cow busted us and the gig was up. As we got back to the packs Travis says, “I wonder if that bull smelled the estrus I sprayed while I was waiting as you were watching that cow?” All I could do is laugh and shake my head. Sabotage at it’s finest.

elk, hunt, stalk, sitka, bear archery

Two days later we quietly slipped down a ridge. It had once again rained and everything was quiet. As we sat down to glass we quickly spotted two bulls. One fed over the far ridge and the second bedded in a group of brush. It looked like a stalk was possible and we closed the gap. We peeked up over the ridge across the basin from him and he was still there looking complacent as he chewed his cud.

elk, montana, wild, hunting, bow, archery

I got landmarks, took off my raingear and headed off. As I crept over the ridge I knew the brush was taller than I had expected. I kept sneaking in closing the gap and the far hill was only 60 yards. He was close but I couldn’t see anything. As I stepped back to move further down the hill I heard grass being ripped up. I turned back and saw antler tips through the brush. He was now on his feet feeding. I stepped back up but my only gap left a shooting lane that only revealed his upper back and head. No shot. He soon had wandered downhill behind the brush. I looked down the hill and noticed one small gap and the area behind it looked grassy. I hoped he’d head that way. After a tense moment that felt like ten I saw him coming. I was ready and as soon as he was a step from hitting my lane I drew. He proceeded to turn downhill and then enter my gap quartering away too hard. He was 45 yards and after just over a minute of being at full draw he turned broadside. My pin settled behind the shoulder and the arrow was off. It made a loud smack and he ran down the hill. I could see my arrow sticking out and as soon as he disappeared I heard crashing and wheezing. I knew it was over, all the effort fighting the elements and matching wits with some of the most educated elk in the state had finally paid off.

elk, bowhunting, montana, video, bear archery, wild, 2014

mystery ranch, elk, backpack, hunting, montana, wild, sitka gear

elk, hunting, camp, fire, montana, wild, video, archery

 

-Zack

[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

Work, work, work.  What many don’t realize is we don’t spend every day out hunting and fishing.  Don’t get us wrong we spend plenty of time out in God’s country.  The past week had been spent tirelessly staring at a computer screen for 12 hours a day, editing video, drafting emails, planning 2014, and editing photos.  Tomorrow we would be hitting the road and I had not even looked at a map to make a gameplan.  It would be a roadtrip filled with exploration at it’s finest.  A map, a gps, and some optics would be the only compass on this trip.  We’d drive and look for any likely buck hangout.  I won’t rehash Travis’ hunt for you as he’s already written a solid piece detailing the first part of our roadtrip which ended with him shooting a sweet looking 3×3.  Please take a few moments and read about his hunt and the beginning of our roadtrip HERE.

montana, hunting, wild, sunrise, mule, deer, rifle, eastern, badlands, ford, f150

What we had learned over the past 3 days is that a lot of the ground we could hunt has little access that doesn’t have roads or ATV trails criss crossing through it.  There is no map that will accurately show the roads in an area.  This means you must be willing to drive entire days just to see where and how you can access the land you intend to hunt.  Areas that look amazing might be total crap if a road is beat right through the middle of it.  Take enough time to do the ground work and you will be rewarded though.  After getting Travis’ buck on ice in the YETI it was my turn to grab the rifle and start sifting through the country searching for a mature deer.  Our first evening was spent driving into a new area with a GPS glued to my hand.  It appeared that multiple areas existed that would provide enough seclusion for a big mature buck to exist.  One thing we had found was that there is no shortage of small bucks.  This night was no different.  We spotted deer about two miles off the road and could tell there were a few bucks in the group.  A closer look would be needed.  As we crested the last grassy knoll a group of 20 mule deer were feeding in front of us.  Immediately my eye was caught by a buck harassing a doe who must have been in heat.  He chased her back and forth across the field with ruthless authority.  Again though, the buck was just not mature.  With 4 points on each side many would put a tag on this buck.  As a hunter I try to find mature bucks and let the little ones grow.  If I don’t find one I’ll eat my tag or shoot a doe.  As the sun faded this buck finally had pestered this doe long enough to be granted a quick mount.  We headed back to the truck, mildly frustrated and hoping that hard work would eventually pay off.  That night we drove over an hour on a rough dirt road accessing the far reaches of a peninsula secluded land.

night, photography, YETI, coolers, hunting, montana, wild

As sun broke the horizon in the east a few deer could be seen grazing the rolling hills.  Again only small bucks were visible.  As I glassed the hills multiple truck and ATV tracks could be seen in the yellow grass.  The area was closed to motor vehicles but we all know these signs mean nothing to some hunters.  I had felt good about the area, but I was now questioning that thought.  As I looked through the spotter Travis said he had seen three does further up the adjacent coulee.

hunting, montana, wild, mule, deer, vortex optics, eastern

I figured we could go take a quick look before heading back to the truck.  As I slowly peeked over the ridge I instantly spotted a buck feeding.  I dropped my pack and crawled up over the edge.  As I raised up my binos I was instantly impressed.  He was a narrow and tall 3×4.  I had hoped to find a bigger buck but sometimes you just know when you’ve found your buck.

montana, mule deer, buck, grass, morning, rack, antlers

This buck was one that I’d gladly put my tag on and he was only 100 yards away, unaware and feeding in the shade.  I snuck back to Travis and we quickly made a gameplan.  As I crawled over the hill with gun in tow I found that a small buck had feed up towards our position and was intently staring up at our location.  He finally disappeared and I thought he had gone back to feeding.  I continued to crawl to a position where I could see down to the big buck.

hunting, montana, wild, mule, deer, vortex optics, eastern

As I finally slowly sat up I noticed the does looking up to my right.  The small buck had circled to our right and had pinned us.  He slowly trotted off.  The does had taken note and anxiously glanced up at the ridge where we were quietly waiting.  True to their nature the does began running up the hill.  The buck followed and I quickly got my gun setup on my knee.  The does stopped half way up the hill to look back (a tragic mistake for many mule deer).  The buck stopped, the sun shining off his rack as he stared back at me.  My crosshairs mildly shook over his vitals and I slowly squeezed the trigger.  BOOM!  The buck instantly dropped.  The adrenaline quickly began to flow.  We quickly gathered our gear and dropped down through the coulee to go take a look at my deer.

hunting, montana, wild, mule, deer, vortex optics, eastern

As soon as I layed my hands on him I knew I had made the right decision.  This deer was a mature 3×4 with a narrow and tall rack.  He was a handsome deer and his rutted up neck told us he was a dominant deer.

zack, boughton, montana, mule, deer, buck, 2013, wild, vortex optics

After getting some photos of him it was time to drag him down into the shade and begin the real work.  As I quickly quartered him up I milled over the past few years and how they had all come down to this moment.  So much effort had been put into this success.  Finally the buck was de-boned and packed neatly against our NICE frames.  It was time to load up and head back to the truck.

hunting, montana, wild, mule, deer, vortex optics, eastern

The load fit my back nicely and I felt like a million bucks.  It was only a short mile and a half to the truck and the quiet hike gave me time to reminisce the past weeks of the hunting season.

hunting, montana, wild, mule, deer, vortex optics, eastern

When we finally made it to the truck it was time to lay the meat out in the shade to cool and crack a beer.  Our annual mule deer trip had been a success and we kept the tradition alive by drinking only the finest, Keystone Light.

hunting, montana, wild, mule, deer, vortex optics, eastern

The trip was all we had hoped it would be.  Two bucks in six days and memories for a lifetime.  Tenderloins were cleaned and cooked and it was nice to relax and watch the sun set with no pressure to find deer.

hunting, montana, wild, mule, deer, vortex optics, eastern, sunset, ford, f150

As the sun set we began talking about next year and how we could make our trip next season even better.  Plans are already slowly being etched into the calendars, and we can’t wait to return.

-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

 

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

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

idaho, backcountry, wilderness, bear, hunting, spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Written by Anthony VonRuden.  Edited by Zack Boughton

It was sometime in February after a day of fishing when Zack, Travis, Anthony and I huddled around a computer reviewing pictures and reminiscing the past hunting season.  As always the conversation turned to the coming hunting season and plans began to materialize.  We decided that Travis and I would start hunting the last weekend in April.  Zack and Travis had hunts planned for the first two weeks of May when the hunting would be ideal for spot and stalk hunting with a bow.  The goal was to try to get me my first bear with a rifle to start the season off with a bang.  After juggling school and work we finally made time to get out to the range and get the rifle dialed and ready to go.

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We made quick work on the range as we sighted in and then took a few shots over on the 600 yard range.  It was go time, now we just had to wait a few weeks until our schedules meshed and we could get up in the mountains.  After two long months of waiting the call finally came.  Zack and Travis would have a few days to get out after a win at the Simm’s Shoot Out competition.  They were on the road back to Missoula and it was time to load up the pack.  On Friday afternoon I met up with Zack, Travis, and Brandon to get ready for our hunt.  Before long, the bikes were loaded into the back of the truck and we were off to the trailhead.  After an uphill ride we reached the base of a steep ridge where we stowed the bikes and took off on foot.  The hike was steep but it felt good to be back in the mountains.

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After a couple of miles we rounded a corner and entered what looked like bear heaven, there were clear cuts separated by dark timber and a creek running through the middle of it all.  We soon spotted fresh bear sign and our excitement levels rose.  It was still pretty brown and seeing some sign definitely took a little bit of the edge off us all.  We continued hiking and stopped to glass every time the trees opened up enough for us to get a clear view of the opposing ridge and basin.   As we hiked single file along the ridge I heard the unmistakable voice of Travis saying “Bear!!…………I gotta bear!”  I turned to see Travis looking up the drainage through his Vortex binos.  Zack quickly set up the camera and got some footage as we discussed the game plan.  Everyone agreed that the bear was big and worth a stalk, but he was over a mile away and there was only about an hour and a half of daylight left.  The race was on and we busted ass up the ridge.  Once we reached where we had planned to camp we dropped our packs and continued towards the spot we last saw the bear.  Forty-five minutes after Travis spotted the bear we came to the corner where we had last seen him.  Zack and Travis turned the cameras on, I checked the wind and it was go time.  We crept around the corner as slowly and quietly as possible while keeping our eyes peeled for the bear.  We rounded the corner and the bear was no place to be seen; we decided to keep moving.  We didn’t go another 10 yards and I spotted the bear in a dip below us not 80 yards away.  I quickly dropped to the ground and everyone else followed suit.  We sat there and discussed the next move.  From where we were located I didn’t have a clear shot at the bear and we weren’t sure if the bear was heading towards us or away.  We decided that we needed to get to a high spot 15 yards in front of us if we were going to get the shot on film.  Travis and Brandon stayed back and filmed from their location as Zack followed me forward.   At that instance I felt what every hunter dreads……..the wind at the back of my neck.  I thought for sure the stalk was blown and the bear would be gone.  As we continued forward the wind switched back and was once again blowing in our face, but the bear was nowhere to be seen.  Still we crept forward until we could see the entire dip that the bear was in….still no bear.   My heart sank as I looked around.  At that point I was sure he had winded us and took off.  I turned and shrugged my shoulders to Travis and Brandon and figured the hunt was over for the evening.  When I looked back over my shoulder there he was, standing 90 away with his head down feeding.  I swung my pack off and sat down; quickly I rested the rifle on the pack and waited for him to come up on the road.  Adrenaline was now strongly surging through my veins and moments later he appeared back on the side of the logging road.  I turned to Zack and he gave me the green light.  I settled the cross hairs and squeezed the trigger.  A few seconds later and my first bear was dead not 50 yards from where I shot him.

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Congratulations and high fives were shared between us all as we headed downhill to the bear.  As I approached him I saw his gray face, split ears and large paws; the sure sign of an old bear.

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I was overcome with excitement to have killed such a big mature boar as my first bear and it was a surreal moment kneeling beside an old warrior of a bear who had seen many hunters in his time.

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I punched my tag and we raced to get as many pictures as we could before dark.  Soon we were all working away to get the bear skinned and quartered.

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Before we knew it the Mystery Ranch was loaded down with meat and hide and we were headed to camp.  The 3/4 of a mile back uphill to camp was grueling.  It’s a lot of work in the backcountry and the four of us all teamed up to pump enough water for 4 meals and gather wood for a fire.  The moon was out and it was all laughs around the campfire.

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Needless to say a warm fire and some freeze dried food put us to bed quickly.  The next morning we were up and heading down the hill with our packs heavier than the trip up.  Though the weight of the bear was a burden on my shoulders I couldn’t help but smile knowing I had killed my first bear with good friends in the backcountry.

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Finally we rolled around the last Forest Service gate and quickly dumped our packs and took a well deserved rest.  We unloaded the meat and threw it in the YETI.  The end of an amazing hunt was here and it had only been one day!

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I can’t thank Zack, Travis and Brandon enough! I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.  The next week will be spent finishing school and then we will be back in the mountains searching for a bear in hopes of sneaking close enough to let an arrow loose.

-Stan Spoharski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-Travis