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A few years ago I had the idea to make a short 1 minute ad piece that would showcase the work that occurs over the year and the lead up to filling a tag you’ve worked so hard to fill.  That piece would be called “Enjoy The Challenge” and our good friends at Vortex Optics decided to pick it up and be the lead sponsor.  The goal was to slowly build up all the pieces of the process from summer scouting, reloading, working out, eating clean, and then of course hunting, all culminating in a kill and awesome organic meat in the freezer.  The shoot was a blast despite not finding many mature bucks.  Take a look and let us know how you liked it.

And here’s a few stills from the hunt as well.

mule deer, mountains, montana, deer, high country, rifle, wall tent, camp, hunt, hunting

One deer, one to go

mule deer, mountains, montana, deer, high country, rifle, wall tent, camp, hunt, hunting

Glassing was and is the name of the game here

mule deer, mountains, montana, deer, high country, rifle, wall tent, camp, hunt, hunting

Mule Deer Country

mule deer, mountains, montana, deer, high country, rifle, wall tent, camp, hunt, hunting

Travis with his solid mountain mule deer

-Written by Zack Boughton

Six years. It seemed like forever before I drew my first rifle antelope tag. Finally it would be me behind the trigger on a Montana antelope hunt and stoke was high. I’d been on a few other rifle antelope hunts and they always were a blast ending with a good goat on the ground and tasty meat in the cooler.

antelope hunting montana, maddie sieler, travis boughton

Maddie with her 2017 buck and Travis with his from 2015

SCOUTING

Some hunts I try to get some intel on and others I just go in blind and use my skills built over the years to try to find success. I chose the later on this one. It was just me, my gear and some maps. It would be a lot of miles but I knew if I spent the time driving and glassing, driving and glassing I’d find some good bucks worthy of my tag. The first day had me rolling into my unit about 5:30pm. Just enough time to look over a little country and start inventorying bucks. That night I found the first good buck.

montana, antelope, hunting, rifle, public land, diy

I really liked the look of this buck from head on with both cutters and horn tips curving in

I knew he wasn’t huge but he wasn’t small either. A few text messages confirmed that he was a good goat. I had 4 more days before opener so I knew I’d keep searching. The next morning I woke to rain and fog. Visibility was pretty minimal.

montana, antelope, hunting, rifle, public land, diy

I’d actually camped in a spot where I’d hopped to hike down into a coulee and glass for mule deer. With the fog I decided to hit the road and move to my next target area for antelope. After about 3 hours of driving dirt roads I’d only turned up a few smaller bucks. Antelope seemed to be a rare commodity in country that seemed like ideal habitat for many, many more animals than was present. My map was a combination of mule deer spots and antelope spots. I’d drawn this tag with the intent of scouting for mule deer as well and before I knew it I was again in a spot that screamed mule deer. With fresh snow on the ground and a stiff 20mph wind I wasn’t excited to get out of the truck but finally I manned up and hit the hills.

montana, antelope, hunting, rifle, public land, diy

Muley country

Soon I was at the head of the coulee and it was much deeper than I’d expected. As I crest over the top I spotted multiple bucks bedded on the other side. A quick look through the spotter revealed a few 4 point bucks but nothing over 150”.

montana, antelope, hunting, rifle, public land, diy, mule deer, buck

The “big” buck, pretty typical for Eastern Montana.

Pretty standard for Montana. They really need to do something about such a long rifle season and allowing it to run straight through the rut. It’s made for poor age classes of deer in much of the state and good genetics quickly get shot out. I snuck closer and decided to make a quick stalk on them for practice. As I got to the last ridge I looked below me. There was a smaller 4 point buck bedded facing away. I quickly ranged him at 40 yards and drew holding my pin on his vitals. It wasn’t easy holding in the wind but was good practice. I let down and headed up the hill looking for the main group of bucks. As I crested up higher the buck below me caught my wind and spooked up the draw collecting about a dozen does. That group stopped on the hill and I could see my group of bucks was now on alert. They were just 66 yards away. They slowly crept up over the top of the hill before fleeing to the next draw. Oh well, at least he wasn’t a big one. I glassed a few other pockets before heading back to the truck and going back to searching for antelope. That night I found one antelope buck. It was slim pickings out here but at least it was a buck and not a terrible one either.

montana, antelope, hunting, rifle, public land, diy

One lone buck in dozens of square miles of perfect habitat

The next morning I kept moving west headed for new country. Right off the bat I spotted a few groups in a field. A quick rip down the road put me just a few hundred yards from them and I threw up the spotter. There was one buck in the group that I’d say was a shooter.

montana, antelope, hunting, rifle, public land, diy

The group’s leader. Unfortunately never to be seen again

I watched him for a while before they trotted off to the north end of the field. I kept searching that day only to find a few other small bucks. Over the last month I’ve been working on getting a new rifle all dialed in and setup for mountain elk and deer hunts. It’s a Weatherby Ultra Light Mark V in the 300 Weatherby Mag caliber. Overkill for antelope but this hunt would be in-the-field practice which I wasn’t going to say no to. I needed to double check my zero and then shoot 400 and 500.

montana, antelope, hunting, rifle, public land, diy, weatherby, 300 mag

Trying to verify my zero at 200 in a strong wind. Not fun

Of course the wind was ripping so I tried to find a spot where it was at my back. I shot and quickly found my zero wasn’t exactly on. Weird, I’d just shot it at the range a week ago and it appeared to be on. I fiddled with it and adjusted it to the best of my ability given the winds. I wasn’t ultra confident in it but would have tomorrow to shoot more before the opener. That night was a hearty dinner of mule deer backstrap courtesy of Maddie and some mashed potatoes. The next morning I decided I needed to shoot the rifle while the wind was calm. I quickly verified my zero at 300 yards on my coyote steel. First shot was money and actually blew a hole right through the steel. Ouch.

steel target, hole, hunting, rifle

I’m pretty sure my bullet will penetrate on an antelope

From there I drove down the road to some state land and shot 400 and 500 to verify my drop at each distance. First shot hits at each yardage told me all I needed to know and my confidence was restored after yesterdays tough shooting.

That evening I went back to the area I’d seen one of the better bucks and glassed from a high vantage point.  I saw antelope spread out over a 2-3 mile range and were well back off the road.  With an idea of where to expect to see antelope I found a camp spot and prepared for opening morning.

THE HUNT

The next morning started with a beautiful sunrise but no antelope in the usual spots by the main road.

montana, sunrise, prairie

I drove back around onto a county road and started glassing into a field they had been calling home.  A few small bucks showed up in the field down low but they were small.  A drive further down the road revealed two other larger groups of antelope, but all the bucks appeared to be medium sized through my spotter.  I wasn’t sold on a stalk yet and decided to check one last area before going and hiking to the back end of the public section.  As I pulled up on top I looked down to my left and saw a buck.  He was on the small side and I decided to go up and turn around and see if some hiking could produce something larger.  After turning around I was coming back down the road when I looked back down where the smaller buck had been.  There now were four other antelope and one buck that looked to be worth a closer look.  They were just about a 1000 yards off the road and I quickly grabbed my stuff and headed down on the back side of a ridge.  I thought the ridge would have a lower field on the backside where the antelope had fed to but I was wrong.  It actually just came straight up onto the field by the road.  By the time I got down there and peeked over the antelope where now up on the flat only a few hundred yards off the road.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get close enough for a shot and they crossed the road and ran way out into a large flat field.  Dang, I should have just stayed up by the road and could have easily shot a buck just a few hundred yards from the truck.  Oh well.  I put the spotter on the buck and verified that he was right on the cusp of what I was hoping to shoot.

I watched them feed off and drove around to start a hike back into the area I felt they were headed.  Forty five minutes later I was hiking up a draw trying to gain some ground yet remaining low and staying out of sight.  I looked up and spotted white up ahead of me.  I pulled up the binos only to see that it was a coyote hunting his way down the draw.  I rarely pass on the chance to hunt a coyote and I quickly put a bullet in the chamber and grabbed my distress call from my cargo pocket.  I knew if he was going to come it wouldn’t take much coaxing.  I blew on the call just a few times and got ready.  Soon I could see a head bounding over the grass.  He came down intently looking for the dying critter he had just heard.  I put the crosshairs on the coyotes chest and started to pull.  Nothing.  My safety was on and before I knew it he was coming closer.  The coyote was on a mission and I thought for sure he would key in on me sitting behind my backpack in the knee high grass.  I panned my gun with him as he swung to my left side.  He was oblivious to my movement and was soon about to hit my wind just 30 yards away.  I barked and he finally stopped.  I aimed low and squeezed one off.  He spun a few circles biting behind his shoulder and then was dead.  I’d made a perfect shot and the new Weatherby had it’s first kill.

coyote hunting montana, montana, coyote, hunting

I took a few photos and looked the coyote over.  His buddy came up on the hill while I was dinking around and I could have shot at him but he was skylined and I only had 7 more rounds of ammo for my hunt.  I passed and soon had my pack back on and was headed to find these antelope.  Soon enough I spotted the main group.  I backed around and shortly was within 400 yards of about 15 different antelope and 5-6 bucks.  The problem I soon had was that they were all smaller than I had hoped for.  The stalk and being able to get within range gave me confidence that I would be able to put the hammer on one as soon as I could locate a shooter.

antelope, rifle scope, hunting

A small buck with no idea how luck he is

antelope buck

A better buck that decided to peel off the main group. I’d end up passing on him later in the day.

I went back to the truck and made lunch and considered my options.  I’d seen 2 if not three bucks in this area that I’d shoot and I just needed to find one.  It was too early to relocate and I’d noticed that a portion of the antelope were using an adjacent state section that I needed to drive around to access.  I couldn’t glass into it but figured it would be worth a shot for the afternoon hunt.  I drove around and again grabbed my pack and gun and headed out.  I dropped into the bottom and soon was glassing up mule deer bucks and does across the drainage.  Nothing special and they just watched me from a distance as I proceeded down the draw.  Soon I saw a buck just a few hundred yards out.  He saw me at the same time and stood up.  I was able to put my spotter on him and noticed he was the same buck I’d seen earlier that left the large group.  He’d moved about a mile and half and was by himself.  I deemed him not quite a shooter and started walking towards him.  He wasn’t too scared and would run off to about 2-300 yards and just snort and blow at me.  I kept going and wished he would give it up and just run off, little did I know he would soon come in handy.  As I slowly rounded the next bend I saw a buck bedded down the draw facing me.  I quickly ducked down and worked up about 50 yards to the last roll of terrain I could get to before being exposed.  As I peeked up over it I saw the buck on his feet and moving to my right.  He apparently had seen me or heard the other buck and was inquisitive.  At this point he was looking towards the other buck behind me and too my right but circling my position and not coming closer. He was just over 500 yards out and with the wind this was just too far.  I knew I needed to get closer or else he would run off and that would be it.  There was one knob down below me about 150 yards and I knew if I could get there I could make a shot.  He’d see me but I didn’t have any other options.  I grabbed my gun and back bag and started jogging down to the hill.  The buck looked at me and I soon was out of sight behind the rise.  I snuck up and quickly laid down on the hill top as the buck looked my way.  I was breathing heavy and thought the buck would run very soon.  I hustled to range him and get a round in the chamber.  He was 360 yards out and as soon as I got him in my scope he started moving.  This time though he was coming closer.  I don’t know if he was mad the other buck he’d heard and saw was in his area or though I was possibly another antelope but he was going to find out.  Soon he was at 300 yards and I put the gun on him again.  Before I could settle he was on the move again.  He stopped about twenty yards later and this time I was ready.

My crosshairs were on him and I knew the wind would cause a slight shift in my point of impact.  I held 1 MOA left for wind and squeezed one off.  The shot was crisp and in my follow through I saw the buck drop right in his tracks from the frontal shot out of the 300 Weatherby Mag.  I’d done it!!! I’ve hunted antelope a lot with my bow and with other people but this was the first time I’d got to kill one with a rifle and it was a blast!  I gathered my stuff and was soon headed to check him out.

zack boughton, antelope, buck

I shot some photos and then proceeded to cut up the antelope.  The temps were perfect for cooling the meat and flies were nonexistent!  Soon the meat was off and I was ready to load up.

antelope, montana, hunting

kifaru, antelope, montana, hunting

Kifaru 22 Mag is hands down my favorite day pack

Soon the Kifaru 22 Mag was loaded with all my gear and my buck.  I hoisted the pack and began the mile and a half back to the truck.  Life was good and the setting sun made for a beautiful end to an awesome day.

montana, antelope, hunting

This hunt ended on a high note.  I had many points leading up to this that had me down though.  From no visibility, to snow and cold temps, to few antelope, muddy roads, gun sight in issues, bucks disappearing and lots of gas burned.  A hunt with no challenges is not much of a hunt and to end up on top with a respectable buck in the cooler made what started as a tough hunt one that I will remember and cherish forever.

montana, antelope, hunting

Mud and my 2018 antelope buck

Written by Zack Boughton

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

rifle, mountain, hunting, weatherby

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

weatherby, mountain, rifle

Bullet testing and a trophy bull for motivation

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

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

weatherby, rifle, hunting, montana, kestrel

Zack Boughton

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

THE GUN

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

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

COMPONENTS AND SETUP

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

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

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

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

Jim installing the new trigger

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

1lb 15.9oz

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

tactical gun build, EGW picatinny rail

Lining up the mount points

weatherby, mark v, ultra lightweight, mountain hunting rifle

Level, level and more leveling

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

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

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

INITIAL THOUGHTS

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

weatherby mark v ultra lightweight, building a lightweight hunting rifle

Bolt closed

weatherby mark v ultra lightweight

Bolt open

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

flatline ops, sniper, accu level

Flatline Ops bubble level

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

Vortex Razor HD AMG

Locking turrets on the AMG are money.

Weatherby Mark V, hunting, rifle, montana

Fluted barrel and a flawless stock finish

Triad Tactic cheek piece

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

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

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

Zack Boughton

 

 

tahr, hunting, new zealand

NZ Tahr Hunt – Day 3

tahr hunting, nz tahr, tahr hunt new zealand, new zealand, hunting, nz, free range

Some backcountry essentials: headlamp, inReach, cell phone, and water

Day 3 started with another slow morning of tahr meat sizzling on the wood stove as Josh finished fleshing and salting his tahr cape.  The sun provided some Vitamin D and warmth for a mid-day snooze.  Finally we got our gear together and once again headed up the mountain.  The weather was turning a bit more cloudy and the wind had picked up.

tahr hunting, nz tahr, tahr hunt new zealand, new zealand, hunting, nz, free range

Roll out

tahr hunting, nz tahr, tahr hunt new zealand, new zealand, hunting, nz, free range

Rokosch trusting his waterproof gaiters and surefooted steps

tahr hunting, nz tahr, tahr hunt new zealand, new zealand, hunting, nz, free range

Boulder hopping up the creek

With our pressure from the past two days putting the tahr a bit on edge we elected to go up the creek bottom to just underneath our glassing knob.  From there we’d hike straight up and pop over and be ready to glass and locate tahr.  We would stay out of sight and hopefully the tahr would feed off the mountain one more time.

tahr hunting, nz tahr, tahr hunt new zealand, new zealand, hunting, nz, free range

Tahr on both sides of the drainage, looking for the biggest one

We quickly located a large mob of tahr high in the cliffs and once again settled in to see if they’d feed down to the areas we could safely access.  After about an hour and a half we decided they would come off the mountain and we better close the distance now or else they would see us.  We dropped back off the ridge and looped further up closing the distance to about a 1000 yards and the tahr slowly working closer and closer.  After about thirty minutes they had worked into under 400 yards.  After getting closer they winded us and started back up the mountain.  When the biggest bull tahr stopped clear of the others the Tikka barked and made a lethal hit.  The bull came downhill before one more shot put him down quickly.  Fist bumps and high fives went around and we quickly scrambled up to the bull.

tahr hunting, nz tahr, tahr hunt new zealand, new zealand, hunting, nz, free range

Zack with his New Zealand bull tahr

Three tahr in three days.  A darn successful trip with great guys.  We knew the routine and quickly had the bull in our packs and headed down the mountain.

tahr hunting, nz tahr, tahr hunt new zealand, new zealand, hunting, nz, free range

A successful tahr camp

Success and good times with a great crew!

The next day we cleaned gear and all the tahr skulls and hides.  Unfortanately a storm blew in that evening and we were unable to hunt or fly out.  The following morning we had a chopper show up just after sunrise.

nz, heli, hunting, tahr

Stoked

A beautiful but bumpy ride took us back to the hangar and our New Zealand tahr hunt was complete.  If you are interested in hunting free range tahr, stag, or chamois definitely give Ben a shout over at BGHNZ > https://bghnz.co.nz/ A big thanks to both Ben and August who provided much comedic relief in camp and on the mountain! Good times boys, till next time!

-Written by Zack Boughton

TACTIC, Bozeman, MT, shooting school, long range, rifle, hunting, class

As hunters shooting a rifle is something we all should take very seriously.  It’s the means we use to kill the prey we hunt.  Over the years I’ve had a solid track record as a rifle hunter.  Most of that comes from taking shots at 300 yards or less and having a quality firearm built for distances of over 1000 yards.  Having a rifle with those capabilities makes the short shots easy and with practice I feel comfortable out to 600 yards on almost any animal in good conditions and with a solid rest.  Almost all of that confidence is built entirely off my own experience and teaching.  That said they’re sure must be some flaws and is why I’ve limited my range and not pushed it out further.  And lets be real, ethics is what limits us, not our equipment.  That said when Nick Costas from TACTIC Shooting School approached me about coming and shooting their Long Range Rifle School I was ready to make it happen.  No matter how good you may think you are there is always room for improvement, and I knew this class was going to give me great foundational skills and renewed confidence as we headed into a new hunting season.  I invited a few close friends who are avid hunters and would benefit from the course as well.  We linked up with the guys over at their classroom at 9am and got things started.

TACTIC, long range, shooting, school, Bozeman, MT, Montana, hunting, rifle, tactical, military

Sam breaks down the more advanced elements of bullet flight

The class started with Rob and Sam going through much of the foundational knowledge and skills we would need to apply to our shooting when we hit the range in the afternoon.  Both are ex-military and extremely knowledgeable on all things firearms.  To top it off they’re both cool dudes and were always kind and positive at every step of the process.  The great thing about the courses they offer is that they can tailor each course to your specific needs.  Their mission is to empower you and in doing so try to understand what it is you want to learn most and how they can teach you the skills to do so.  Our course would be a mix between their Long Range course and their Practical Rifle.  Classroom work started with us going through gun safety and making sure we knew all the parts of the rifle and the corresponding names.  Being able to stay safe and communicate quickly between shooter and teacher/spotter on the range would be key in taking advantage of our time together.

long range, shooting, hunting, course, class, TACTIC, Montana, Bozeman, rifle, custom

Rob going through rifle components

From there we learned more about projectiles AKA bullets.  Learning about different bullet designs, how they work with different twist rates and velocities as well as how the ballistic coefficient of each bullet affects its flight was great.  Then we talked about internal ballistics which included learning about what happened within the rifle when a round is fired.  Understanding shell case lengths, shapes, primer and powder combinations as well as barrel twists and lands helped us learn more about how all these effect the bullet as it travels down the barrel and exits towards the target.

TACTIC, long range, shooting, school, Bozeman, MT, Montana, hunting, rifle, tactical, military, HSM ammo

Taking notes on areas to be applied in the field

From there we went into external ballistics.  External ballistics are all the elements that effect the bullet once it has left the barrel of the gun.  Being able to understand these elements is helpful for all shooters but even more so for hunters headed to the mountains or prairies where conditions are constantly shifting and being able to judge these is key between a quick kill and a miss or wounded animal.  External ballistics included wind, elevation, temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, Coriolis Effect, and spin drift.  I can say both for myself and the group that we learned a lot of new and very valuable information as Sam and Rob took us through each of these areas of shooting.

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From there we went into shooting positions.  Over the years I’d developed a position that I’d basically established just from seeing others shoot and finding a comfortable position when I shot.  Typically my torso and spine would be aligned diagonally back from the butt of the rifle.  I learned that this was incorrect and that I wanted my spine to be inline with my rifle barrel.  This would put me in a solid shooting position and help keep the barrel inline and on target after a shot rather than shifting left or right off target.  Other key areas were head position as well as how we grip the rifle and pull the trigger.

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Working on shooting form

We took a short lunch break and then took the trucks and drove up to the range.  First things first we adjusted our scopes to minimize parallax.  Then we verified our zeros at 100 yards and made sure everyone’s rifle was shooting a 1″ group or less.

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.300 WSM ready to send some HSM Trophy Gold Down Range

After confirming our zero we setup the chronograph on each rifle so we could collect muzzle velocities.  That information would be key to input into our ballistic calculators for shooting long ranges.  I personally had the Shooter app on my phone for years but without accurate inputs the app was worthless to me.  Rob and Sam helped me setup and “true” my app so that when I input environmental conditions and my distance I was given accurate adjustments to be made in order to get a first shot hit on target.

TACTIC, long range, shooting, school, Bozeman, MT, Montana, hunting, rifle, tactical, military

Calculating muzzle velocity

From there we took aim at our first target setup at 535 yards and slowly worked through a handful of rounds working on maintaining good form and ensuring quality shots.  Everyone was shooting well and it wasn’t long until we started stretching out the distances.

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Brett making easy work of the 900 yard target

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Slow squeeze………..BOOM

After making hits at targets out to 900 yards we decided to run a drill to simulate a hunting scenario.  Two shooters would run to the 100 yard target and then back to their rifle.  From there each shooter would have to range a plate the size of a deer’s vitals, get setup on their gun, control their breathing, and take a shot within 30 seconds.  From there we continued to shoot and work with both Rob and Sam to shoot different targets, adjust for wind and continue to work on proper form.  Being able to work in a 1-on-1 scenario with an instructor was huge in quickly picking up the skills taught earlier in the day.  After a few hours there we decided to push things back even further.  After re-positioning on the range we were able to extend our range out to 1250 yards.

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Brandon sending lead at the 1250 target

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Snowy Mountain Rifle + HSM Ammo proving a deadly combo.

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1250 yard first shot hits deserve pounds from the boys

1250 is a long, long ways.  A LOT further than I’d ever shoot at an elk or deer but a great test to see if my rifle/bullet combo as well as scope could handle the distance.  After double checking the range I entered my yardage into my ballistics calculator and double checked my environmental variables.  I then calculated my drop and adjusted my scope accordingly.  After getting a good position behind the rifle, I eased into the trigger and the shot broke crisply.  The rifle jumped slightly but returned to the target so I could see the metal gong sway confirming a hit.  The second shot found it’s mark confirming the data I’d used to adjust my scope.  Going from 100 to 1250 in the matter of a few hours only added to the confidence I’d built into my firearm over the years.

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No lack of firepower or optics here

If you’re a serious hunter or even an avid shooter I’d highly encourage you to talk with Nick about one of the courses that TACTIC offers.  You can sign up for a pre-existing course or have them tailor something just for your specific needs.  You can visit their website at > www.tacticmt.com

I’d like to thank Rob, Sam and Nick for their time and graciously hosting and teaching us how to be more proficient with our rifles.  A special thanks to the fine folks at HSM Ammo for providing exceptional ammo that proved to be well suited to long range shooting and has performed flawlessly over the years in all hunting scenarios we’ve tested it in.  Their Trophy Gold lineup is definitely worth a look if your in the market for a new hunting round.

Written by Zack Boughton

hunting, antelope, montana, film, video

With rifle antelope season opening here in Montana on Saturday we decided we’d keep those hunting vibes going by releasing a short antelope film from this past season.  Travis drew his first rifle antelope permit and wanted to take full advantage of the new opportunity.  With only a few days blocked off to hunt he knew he’d have to cover a lot of country and keep his fingers crossed that he would turn up a good buck.  After hunting areas with lots of other hunters, the move was made to an area that was less obvious and very much overlooked.  A buck was spotted and the next day Travis headed back to see if he could punch his tag.

We also recently released an antelope themed T-Shirt.  You can purchase your Fast Food T in our STORE.

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-Zack

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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-Zack

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-Travis

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.

camp, fire, montana, hunting, bear, spring, 2013

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