Tag Archive for: scouting

It’s now August and most bucks have put on about as much antler growth as they’ll get before shedding their velvet.  With season starting soon this is a good time to get in a few quality days of mule deer scouting in hopes that your season will be a success.  With that said, scouting for mule deer in the high country can be a daunting task if you aren’t sure where to start. Ever wonder where you can learn about the necessities of backpack scouting? Below we’ll take you through some of the process so your next trip into the mountains is time well spent.

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Your first order of business should be deciding where you want to go. Mule deer have a wide range of habitats ranging from sage flats, to high mountain peaks above tree line. Depending on your physical ability, and willingness to hike, you’ll have a wide range of options to chose from in Montana and many other western states. I personally like to scout in more remote locations and at higher elevation. If you are willing to do the hiking it takes to get into the backcountry, you’ll eliminate many of the struggles that people sticking closer to roads and town will have due to human pressure on the animals.

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When preparing to scout the high country, I try to look for a few key things that will be essential for deer to live there. Food, water, and cover are the main three, but other things come into play as well. When looking over country on Google Earth, it can be hard to figure out where all of these necessities are located, but if you pay attention to detail, you will be much more successful at finding deer. For instance, much of the high country in western Montana is rocky and rugged. This means that in an area that’s super rocky, you’re going to want to look for grassy meadows in bowls, basins, and on top of ridgelines for food sources. Another great food source for high country bucks are burns. Burns provide regrowth, and abundant amounts of food for deer and elk to feed on in the summer months, but can make glassing much harder, and make the animals much less predictable due to the abundance and wide range of feeding locations. When looking at a spot on google earth, I always try to think about: “Where are they going to eat, how are they getting there, and what are they eating?”

montana, mule deer, scouting, wildlife

When scouting high country mule deer, you will want to have a very select list of gear in your arsenal, and know how to use it well if you plan on being successful at finding that giant velvet buck you’ve been dreaming about. When packing for a trip, I try to keep three important things in mind: space, weight, and durability. You’ll want to make sure you have everything you need, while eliminating items that you don’t think will be necessary. As a general rule, I tell myself that If I’m not going to use something three or more times on a trip, then it’s not going in my pack. This obviously excludes necessities like first aid kits, bear spray, and emergency survival gear, but you get the point. Below is a list of some of the items that always come with me into the backcountry, that are easy to find in different weights and sizes depending on how much money you are looking to spend.

  1. One or two person lightweight tent (I prefer a two-man tent to keep myself and my gear dry in the event of a storm.)
  2. Lightweight packable sleeping pad
  3. Sleeping bag & compression sack
  4. Water purification pump
  5. First Aid kit
  6. Bear Spray or a side arm
  7. Mountaineering boots (Although not a necessity, a stiff boot with added support will make your hikes and time scouting much more enjoyable, avoiding unnecessary foot fatigue.)
  8. Binoculars
  9. Spotting scope
  10. Lightweight compact tripod
  11. Freeze dried food items (Mountain house, Backpacker’s Pantry, etc.)
  12. Snacks ( anything from Cliff Bars to trail mix/jerky to a bag of M&M’s. You will want to bring something to snack on while glassing / have a way of getting some calories in you without stopping to make a Mountain House)
  13. Eating utensils
  14. A 100 Ounce water bladder or a couple one liter Nalgene bottles.

Now that we’ve gone over what gear to bring on your trip, it’s time to discuss packing your pack. Ideally, you are going to want to have a good sized pack that can easily hold all of your gear. I like to keep in mind when packing my pack that if it were hunting season, I may need more room on the way out in the event that you do harvest a buck. When putting your gear in your pack you will want to make sure you are distributing weight evenly, and that you aren’t putting the important things that you may need to access quickly at the bottom of your pack. I know it sounds like a no brainer, but the last thing you want is to be desperately digging around for your spotting scope as a stud buck is heading for the timber off in the distance.

scouting, summer, deer, montana

A couple of weeks ago I went scouting in Southwest Montana, and it was an eye opening experience for me, in the sense that I had no idea how big the country was going to be. This was my first time scoutng in that specific spot, and had an awesome experience. Over the course of the two days we spent in the backcountry, we spent time scouting between 6,500 – 8500’ and were able to locate a good number of bucks, in a wide range of locations. On the first day we packed in at dark hoping to reach a solid glassing point by daybreak. After reaching where we had planned to start glassing, I quickly realized that the country we were in was much larger than I had imagined. As the day went on we covered more country, locating multiple water sources and stopping at a few more good vantage points to glass, but only located a few deer. After a midday nap, followed by hunkering down in a hailstorm, we moved to the next ridge and sat down to glass.

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It wasn’t long, and Zack had spotted a group of bucks bedded down. As the evening went on, we worked our way around the bowl, glassing it from multiple vantage points, and turning up more and more deer. A lot of times the key in scouting the high country is finding the pockets where the deer like to frequent. Many times when you find one group of deer in a basin, there will be many more as well.

montana, summer, deer, hiking, camping

The following week, I headed into another promising backcountry area with a good friend in hopes of locating more bucks and bulls before the fast approaching season. After my experience the week before, I knew going into it that the country was going to be much larger than it looked on Google Earth, so I planned accordingly bringing extra food and water for the hike in. After a six mile hike, we set up camp and glassed the last hour of the evening, turning up one small buck. As the next morning rolled around, we got up and glassed the first couple of hours on the other side of camp from where we had glassed the night before. Just as I was about to move to a new spot, I found a group of bucks feeding through the bottom of a basin surrounded by cliffs and shale slides on all sides. Although none of the bucks were shooters, it was nice to know that I was finding deer in areas where I had predicted they would be because of readily available food.

montana, hiking, scouting, hunting, summer

Over the course of the day we hiked an 8 mile loop up to one of the surrounding peaks, and back. This gave us the opportunity to spend the middle of the day checking out new country, and glassing occasionally in spots that looked like they would have the best chance of holding animals. We didn’t turn up any more bucks that day, but it was an awesome way to see the country first hand, and get an idea of what areas we needed to focus on come September. As we got back to camp and built a fire, the wind picked up, and the temperature began to drop as a storm rolled in. Although this was a less than ideal situation, we came prepared, and were able to layer up and hunker down for the night while the storm passed.

Camp

The next morning, we decided to glass a new spot closer to camp, and to our surprise, turned up three more bucks, but again no shooters. That afternoon, we packed up camp, and began our hike back to the truck. About half way into the hike, we came across a ton of bear sign. This was no surprise to us, and if you plan on hunting and scouting in the high country, and wilderness areas in particular, then you’d better be ready to encounter bears. This isn’t something that should scare you, or deter you from going into these areas, but it is something to be aware of and prepare for.

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Whether you are on the drive into the trailhead, or ten miles from the truck, I can’t stress enough how important it is to be prepared for any situation. My final piece of advice would be to double check everything from your tire repair kit in your truck, to your first aid kit in your pack before you leave, because you never know what can happen out there. Luckily, if you come prepared, you can keep a little problem at bay and fix it before it becomes much more serious. Do your research, pack smart, come prepared, scout hard, and have an awesome time doing it.

Written By: Calvin Connor

Edited By: Zack Boughton

Photos: Travis Boughton, Zack Boughton, Calvin Connor

mountain goat, scouting, hunting, blog post, draw, tag, permit, montana

I guess I just figured I’d never get lucky drawing a Big 3 tag without a lifetime of points.  When I logged into MyFWP to check my status I stared blankly at the screen seeing a 2016 Goat License under the Successful category.  Travis was home and I quickly told him that I drew a goat tag.  He didn’t believe me, but one quick look at my computer brought him to life.  It didn’t seem real and for the next few days it still hadn’t set home that I’d be chasing mountain goats in some of the most rugged country around.  This year I would be able to say I was going mountain goat hunting!

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Montana’s high country. Beautiful yet rugged!

Once I started looking over Google Earth and planning my first scouting trip it started to set in.  I quickly realized I needed to get in better shape, learn more about mountain goats, and start making some phone calls.  Over the next few weeks I spent many hours dissecting my unit online and with maps.  A trip to the Forest Service office gave me the right maps that outlined open roads in the area and before I knew it I was packed up and headed for the mountains.

mountain goat, montana, high country, rough road, backcountry, 4x4, offroad

Rocking and rolling our way up to the trailhead.

As soon as we climbed up out of the valley I realized this would be an epic hunt.  Huge basins, rocky ridges, huge cliffs and wild, vast country spread all around.  My legs burned as we climbed to 10,000′ crossing over our first big pass.  It was setting in and soon we had located the first group of goats.  A set of nannies with kids and one billy scrambled through a steep face with huge boulders and loose rock and dirt.  I was quickly reminded they feel at home in some of the gnarliest country around.

mountain goat, montana, high country, wild, scouting

Climb, climb and then climb some more.

At this point I’ve spent four days scouting my unit.  Not a lot by any means but enough to start learning the lay of the country and how to navigate to each zone that holds goats.  With only a handful of days in this unit I’ve definitely learned a few things.

Google Earth Is A Liar!

I knew this but always seem to forget this when I go somewhere new.  That ridgeline you though you could hike across, Nope!  That little knob will be a ten minute hike, try 45 minutes.  If you’ve used Google Earth you know the drill.  Everything looks smaller and easier than it actually is.

mountain goat, montana, high country, scouting, hunting, wild, hiking

Frosted scree makes for an interesting morning hike to the glassing knob.

Grizzlies Abound

Only a few hours into our first day on the mountain and we turned up six grizzlies in the same basin.  A sow and three cubs roamed the head end of a grassy meadow and about a 1000 yards away two juvenile bears fed on grass and wild flowers on a long, flat bench.  Living in Missoula the last 6-7 years meant we only really dealt with black bears.  Grizzlies are on a different level and made things interesting when we decided where to camp just across the ridge.  It’s time we de-list these bears and start managing them like we should be.

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Juvenile grizzly bears roaming the vast backcountry.

Glassing Is King

Again we know this but up here it’s very, very apparent.  Perched in the right spot in the country affords you the opportunity to glass a MASSIVE amount of country.  A good pair of binoculars, a spotting scope and a good tripod are must haves.  Finding a spot with little or no wind is key and being able to mount your binos to your tripod makes picking up small details and movements much easier.

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Searching and more searching on a brisk July morning.

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A few miles out a goat appears between passing clouds.

Mtn. Goat Scouting Isn’t Easy

When I first drew the tag I figured it would be real easy to locate most of the goats in my unit.  Get up high and glass the rocky open country and look for white.  We’ll it turns out they are elusive animals most of the time.  Sure sometimes they stick out like a sore thumb but during the summer when it’s hot they often bed in some shaded nook and finding them can be impossible.  They like to dip in and out of timber and if you’re not vigilant on the glass you might miss them when they hit the open areas.  I also found that they seem to move a lot.  Multiple groups have moved thousands of yards in a short period of time and a few groups moved to different basins entirely without being bumped.  Put a dirty goat on a hillside of huge tan and grey boulders and they can blend in with the best of them.

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This billy was in a low elevation zone I wouldn’t expect to see a goat. Staying alert and having two sets of eyes paid off here.

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Getting some photo & video for later review.

Moving In This Country Takes TIME!

With camp on your back travel is slow but add in big, rocky country and it can take some time to move from area-to-area.  With so much country to glass you often find yourself stopping to take a peak into new folds of the mountain and those first trips are a bit rough after a long offseason.  Back here you can’t travel in a straight line.  Sometimes working into a specific basin means you have to loop around multiple miles just to find a route that isn’t cliffed out.  When you do find a route, the vertical is enough to wear you down quick.  2,500’+ climbs are the norm when switching basins without a ridge connecting them.  As it should be, life just happens slower back here.

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Loaded up and putting the test to a new pack, the Kifaru Markhor. So far so good!

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Navigating a no-fall zone. Makes for slow going.

So far I’ve seen about 75% of my unit and found a couple billies that I’d be stoked to put my tag on come September.  Right now the plan is to make one more trip back into my unit and then pack the bow in for the opener.  It’s going to come quick and I can’t wait to be out there with the chance to get close and try to seal the deal!

Zack Boughton

In the past I had seen only hunters in the high country using trekking poles for sheep hunts. I never really thought they would benefit my everyday hunting endurance and performance. This last summer I finally tested a pair of trekking poles, primarily using them for summer scouting hikes and during parts of the hunting season. I was greatly surprised how beneficial they were, while still being lightweight and not cumbersome. Below are 4 reasons why you should think about adding a trekking pole to your hunting gear arsenal.

1) Trekking poles help you balance. When hiking steep inclines, declines, and sidehills, trekking poles give you a third contact point with the ground. This allows you to have better balance and stability. I found that trekking poles in wet or snowy conditions was a life saver.

2) Gain better rhythm & hiking pace with trekking poles. On my first scouting trip using a trekking pole I noticed not only that I was able to hike faster, but also able to gain a rhythm in my hiking pace. Over long periods of hiking I noticed less fatigue, not to mention being able use arm strength to aid in pushing uphills and slowing impact on downhills. This was critical for long hikes, steep ascents, and also when packing out heavy loads.

 

3) Feel safer on technical hikes. When scouting this past summer, I had a steep ascent to a ridgetop that was covered in downfall. This stuff is nasty and I had no choice but to leap frog through the fallen trees. Having a trekking pole to help aid my balance, allowed myself to not fall and get speared by short branches on fallen trees. Overall I felt more comfortable in sketchy hiking situations when using a trekking poles.

4) Trekking poles have multiple uses. Not only are trekking poles a great hiking aid, but they can also double as a rest for your binos while glassing. I can’t stress having a steady rest when glassing enough. If your binos are shaking, your not picking up those small details on the hillsides.  Also, if you need a shelter you can use the trekking pole as a support for your tent or rain fly. This allows you to leave tent poles behind and possibly cut weight out of your overall backpack weight. The uses are endless, but creativity is a must. There is an Easton Connex accessory that makes your trekking poles into a pair of shooting sticks, which comes in very handy.

I highly recommend the Easton Carbon 3 Trekking Pole. Its easy to make height adjustments, lightweight, comfortable to use, and stays locked when heavy weight is added onto pole. The Carbon 3 poles come with powder baskets and tips for hardpack or snowpack conditions.

 

-Travis