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Well the calendar keeps rolling forward and Montana’s General Archery opener is quickly approaching.  This past week we were able to get the time off to go brush up our archery skills by chasing around some of the elusive antelope.  Conditions started off with temps in the upper 70s and low 80s but deteriorated quickly by the time mid-week hit.  The last 4 days of our hunt saw rain for the most of every day.  Quality gear was a must this year as the rain can quickly put you back in the truck if your not prepared.  After getting some real good stalks in early we decided to go meet up with our good friend Branden VanDyken who is the co-owner over at BeTheDecoy.  We quickly got started with him as Travis was able to lay down a nice goat our first day out as a crew of three.  I was able to get one down on the last day after a long and stressful day prior spent in a constant downpour.  Life is total chaos right now trying to get ready for elk/deer so I’ll leave you with some photos from the hunt.

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This is what it looks like when the 3 bucks you just stalked in their beds pop up and don’t give you a shot at 30 yards.

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The sun sets on Day 1.

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Zack hunts smart before hunting hard on Day 3. Being able to wake up and pull out the spotter is the nice part about living out of your truck.

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Travis uses some natural barriers to get to 30 yards before slipping an arrow through this bedded buck’s chest.

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Travis with his 2014 Montana antelope.

 

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The guys packing out Travis’ goat. Not much weight when it’s split in half.

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Looking for the “Hundred Dollar” buck in the pouring rain.

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Tony being a turd and forcing us to bump him out of the wheat.

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The final stalk. The antelope was bedded below the rock and Zack was able to slip down the hill using the rock as cover. After getting to the rock it was an easy 20 yard downhill shot that ended our day with the 2nd tag being filled.

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Zack with his 2014 speedgoat.

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The final pack out and the lightest we’ll have all year.

If you have never bowhunted antelope I’d highly encourage it.  When we set out on Day 1 I told Travis that I didn’t feel very deadly.  I hadn’t hunted in months and it was awesome to get back out and start hunting again with the bow in hand.  By the end of the trip we definitely felt ready to tackle just about anything we could encounter come elk and deer season.  Good luck to everyone this year!  And thanks to the companies we work with that make some of the best gear out there – Vortex OpticsBear ArcheryMystery RanchSitka GearYETI CoolersFHF GearDanner BootsTrophy Taker

-Zack

Montana was in the midst of one of the coldest stretches on record and Saturday was quickly approaching.  With the big game season over it was time to start thinking about trying our hand at some predator management.  Our good friend Matt Piippo had invited us to come coyote hunt and with the temps dipping well into the negatives, we knew the conditions would be ideal to find some hungry coyotes.  As we drove to our first stand the temperature read -18F.

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The coyotes would definitely be on the prowl today.  As we walked into our first stand the wind just wasn’t right.  After a short set up calls we noticed a coyote sitting down in the bottom of the draw at about 420 yards.  Neither Matt or myself were prone and with the cold temps it was a poor shot to take.  The coyotes slowly drifted off knowing that human scent didn’t mean pleasant things.  As they did another two coyotes came flying into view, chasing the other two off.  A small territory battle was ensuing and we knew the day was only going to get better.  Our next stand happened about 5 miles to the west.  We parked the truck and hiked up to the top of a small plateau.  Matt began coaxing the call and soon two coyotes were coming in on a string.  As they closed the distance they dropped down through the small coulee and Matt quickly switched to the shotgun.  The lead dog came up the hill and stood broadside at 10 yards, still unaware of our presence.  Click.  The shotgun misfired and Matt quickly switched to his rifle.  Click.

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Some choice words probably went through Matt’s head as the coyote surprisingly still stood there looking for the dying rabbit.  Matt quickly dropped a fresh round in his gun and put the 1st coyote to rest.  As the other coyote spun and began hightailing it a second shot put a quick end to an exciting stand.

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We rounded up the two males and replayed the series of events.  None of us had experienced multiple gun failures only to finish strong with a double.  Apparently -18 does a number on the lubricants in a rifle as the firing pin had only just barely made it to the primer.  We scooped up our gear and headed back to the truck.

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As soon as we reached the truck we discovered that Matt didn’t have his usual rack to load the coyotes onto.  I quickly chimed in that the front grille guard would work equally as well and really add a nice touch to the Predator Quest rig.  Our motto for the day was now to “fill the bumper.”

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It was only 9:20 and we had a lot more country to cover.  After talking to some locals and a few landowners we finally made it back out to an area Matt has called in many coyotes over the years.  Right off the bat a coyote came flying out of the trees only to stop and sit at 300 yards.  A few series of calls failed to bring him closer and Matt knew it was time to let one rip.  Boom!  Snow flew behind the coyote as his round missed just high and the coyote went Mach 10 back into the timber.  A simple miscalculation of his bullet drop in the cold temperature left this coyote very alive for another day.  We laughed it off and headed off to some new country.  Over the next 45 minutes we saw 4 coyotes off the road.  Unfortunately, they also saw us and plans to call these areas quickly vanished.  As we were moving locations Matt pulled over to glass a common coyote hangout.  Sure enough he spotted a nice coyote mousing a mile and half up in a cut field.  Matt turned to me and said “We’re going to kill that coyote.”  We parked the truck and made our way up to the center of a nearby pivot and got ready.  A few minutes into calling and a coyote trotted over the ridge and closed to 240 yards before stopping to try to locate the sound.  I was ready and one shot left us with a 3rd dead coyote for the day.  I was all smiles as it’s been some time since I’ve had to chance to get a crack at a wily coyote.

Coyote hunting

We quickly made our way through the field to collect #3.  A long drag and we were back in the rig and ready for a new stand.

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Light was fading quickly and we decided to call a big basin with no cover.  We split up and made ourselves comfortable on the open hillside.  At first I didn’t think a coyote was going to commit.  The country was very open and it had been a good 8-10 minutes and nothing had appeared.  As quickly as I thought that, I heard Travis lip squeak to my right.  A coyote had just come running over the far hill and was closing the distance quickly.  I shifted my aim and watched as this pretty coyote continued to get closer and closer.  At 325 the yote stopped.  Apparently she didn’t see anything resembling a rabbit.  As she stood there I felt she wasn’t coming any closer and with my gun resting on my pack I slowly squeezed the trigger.  Thwack!  The shot dropped her in her tracks and number four for the day was in the bag.

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Light was fading quickly and with it the temperature was also plummeting.  With coyotes blocking our headlights we decided to call it a day and loaded up the last coyote into the grill of the Excursion.

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It had been an epic day.  We had seen 16 coyotes and went 4 for 5 on called in dogs.  We were able to get a little bit of footage and will be making a short video to share with you guys in the next few months.  Soon we will be off to Idaho to late season mule deer hunt and then it will be Christmas.  Good luck to anyone still getting out into the field and we can’t wait to get back out ourselves.

And for more content not seen here please follow us on Facebook and on Instagram @montanawild.

-Zack

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Words by Anthony VonRuden

Last light was fading as I left our viewpoint and made my way over to the heavy pack that I had become all too familiar with over the course of this six day hunt.  Another day had passed and we still were in search of another black bear.  Our Idaho backcountry hunt had us located twelve miles back in a basin full of thick brush, broken up by small grassy meadows and a half dozen creeks. This hunt was very special to me because I had roots in the region, my dad was a logger back in the 80’s and worked in the very same area that we would be hunting.  Zack and Travis Boughton, the co-founders of Montana-Wild, were alongside on the hunt.  Travis would be hunting with myself and Zack was manning the camera during our week long adventure.  These two spend as much time in the woods as anyone I know and with the combined expertise of the three of us the expectations were running high.  We all had a role to play on this trip and I was in charge of research and logistics.  We all wanted to do something that would test our limits both physically and mentally and our destination would do exactly that.  After countless hours scouting Google Earth, checking outfitter websites, and talking to fellow hunters, I had scouted a basin that looked like a black bear haven, the only catch was that it was over 8 miles from the trailhead.  We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the reward if we pulled it off would be more than worth the effort.

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After a five hour drive from Missoula we finally were close to the trailhead and ready to hit the trail.  As we drove along the river upstream we actually spotted a bear from the road.  Unfortunately he was inaccessible and we just watched him feed for a while before continuing on our way as planned.  We rolled into the trailhead and began making final adjustments to our packs before leaving the truck for seven days.  After a short time we we’re ready.  Our packs were far from light as they were loaded down multiple cameras and lenses on top of our basic gear such as tents, food, and other backcountry necessities.  We weighed the packs prior to leaving the house and the lightest pack weighted in at 60.4 pounds.  Not exactly lightweight.

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We made good time and were soon eight miles back and at the base of the hill that we would have to ascend to reach our campsite. The brush was unbelievably thick and far from what we had expected after looking at Google Earth.  It was nasty and steep and home to a few moose looking to evade the local wolves.  The 1600′ of vertical climb took us two hours of solid climbing to complete.  The hike made us all want to quit but we pushed through and finally emerged on the top to a wonderful view and a chance to finally rest.

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Once at camp we were treated to a king’s view of the basin and it quickly became evident that we would see plenty of bears throughout the trip.  We threw up camp and hurried over to a rock outcropping that would give us a commanding view of the drainage.  After five minutes of glassing we had turned up four bears out feeding.  Light was fading as we all exchanged high fives.  We began to strategize a game plan for the following day as we cooked up our meals in the soft light of an awesome Idaho sunset.

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The glow of the morning light was just becoming visible as we crawled out of our sleeping bags and began gathering our gear for the mornings hunt.  The plan was to work our way down the ridge that would take us to the head of the basin and into some clearings that looked promising the night before.  The brush was over our heads and the going was tough, but it seemed that every time we broke out into a clearing we would glass a bear feeding miles away on the other side of the drainage.  We just had to get closer to some open areas and hope we could locate a bear in a stalkable location.

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Seeing those bears gave us the motivation to keep pushing forward until midday when we finally reached our destination and set up to glass.  Almost instantly Zack spotted a beautiful cinnamon bear about 800 yards below us.  Zack and Travis were gathering themselves for a stalk when I saw a little cub zip out of the brush to its mother’s side.  We just sighed and went back to glassing, hoping to turn up another bruin.  Hours passed and nothing showed itself, so we moved locations to get a better view of the area.  As we did, a spring storm blew in forcing us to take shelter under an old pine tree and wait for a break in the weather.

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After the storm had passed we pulled out the binos and Travis spotted a monster bear.  The large boar was on the move and never even slowed down to feed, finally making his way into the dark timber.  We were pretty dejected and decided to start working our way back towards camp.  We stopped at a small creek to fill our water bladders for the night.  As Travis was pumping water I looked up and something caught my eye.  The binos confirmed my suspicions and I excitedly whispered to Travis to get ready for a shot.  A beautiful blonde bear was feeding through a series of small clearings above us.  After a few tense minutes of scrambling to get Travis set up, fire up the cameras, and relocate the feeding bear, we we’re ready for the shot.  As the bear fed into a good clearing Travis settled the crosshairs and made a perfect heart shot at 388 yards.  A short blood trail led us to Travis’ first Idaho bear.  We all exchanged high fives, snapped a few photos before breaking the bear down for the pack back to camp.

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By the time we got the bear in the pack and started working back to camp it was pitch black and pouring rain.  We slowly followed a grown in horse trail back down the basin.  Our camp was located only a mile away, but with a 1200′ ascent in the wet jungle we decided that our best option would be to spend the night under a tree.  When your that far back safety takes a high priority and it was decided that we would find the best shelter available and tough it out.  After finding a group of large, old pines, we quickly scraped together a small area where we could all sleep around the fire.  We got a fire started and roasted some bear backstraps as we dried out our wet gear.

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I can honestly say that if we hadn’t invested in the the best gear available we could have been in serious trouble.  Fortunately we all had quality gear that mainly kept us dry and happy despite the poor conditions.  After fully drying out and filling our bellies, we began a long night huddled around the campfire.  Constant attention was required to keep the fire going through the night.

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The next morning it was decided that we would forgo returning to camp and instead try to get on another bear.  It was a smarter decision to hunt during the day rather then waste our energy just to bust back to camp.  We hunted new country all day in an attempt to double up but were unable to turn up any bears.  As the sun sank lower in the west it was decided that Travis would pack his bear back to the trailhead and sleep in the truck.  Zack and I would make our way up the mountain to our camp and in the morning we would pack up camp and relocate to the opposite side of the drainage where the majority of bear sightings had occurred.  Travis would meet up with us at the new camp after his twenty four mile mountain marathon.

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Tuesday and Wednesday passed slowly as we were forced to change tactics.  A lack of any good vantage points forced us to hunker down and wait out promising areas hoping that a bear would show up.  It was slow hunting but it was going to give us our best chance at a bear.

Anthony VonRuden, Black Bear Hunting, Idaho, Wilderness Hunting, Sitka, Mystery Ranch Packs, Vortex Optics, Hunting, Bear Hunting

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Wednesday afternoon I spotted a bear across the drainage feeding in the highest clearing.  It was a large chocolate black bear and I was eager to burn some rubber off my boots.  To much sitting around will make you itch to climb a mountain.  Zack and I quickly assembled our gear and began the trek.  We hoped the bear would feed while we crossed the basin.  As we crossed the creek and began to climb we soon realized the apparent stupidity of the idea.  What had seemed simple enough turned into a grueling two hour journey.  As we neared the top we elected to circle around the ridge and glass a few adjacent meadows.  The country was beautiful but all we turned up were two large elk in velvet.  As we made our way back down the avalanche shoot I spotted a large black bear across the drainage.  We quickly hustled to close the distance.  Five minutes later we were five hundred yards away but the bear was no where to be seen.  We had missed him by a matter of minutes.  A long nasty hike took us back across the creek and back to our camp.

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Day 5  was much of the same.  Our morning turned up zero bears and the temperatures were reaching the high 70s.  We spent the day napping amongst the aspens and waiting for the high sun to fade to the west.

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The golden time had finally arrived and we were set up over a wide high alpine hillside.  Time passed and we continued to patiently wait.  All of a sudden the silence was broken as Travis exclaimed “Bear, bear, up on the far hillside.”  A large chocolate bear had worked out into a clearing on the far side of the basin.  It was too far of a shot where we were at and we quickly scrambled to close the distance.  Five minutes later and the .300 was resting over my pack and a bear was in my sights.  The shot was 602 yards and the bear was feeding on fresh green grass.  His head was down and facing directly towards us.  As I settled the crosshairs on him I felt that instinctual moment when you know your ready to pull the trigger.  The shot rang out and the bear ran off to the left.  The guys were yelling saying I missed him.  A disappointing few minutes ensued as we all sat in disbelief.  I had taken a shot that felt right but wasn’t.  I got lectured on taking a broadside shot at that distance and we quietly retreated down the mountain for the night.  With only two days left to hunt it was coming down to crunch time.  Food was running low and our bear sightings were slowly declining in number.  It was now or never to redeem myself and make the trip a success.

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Crunch time was upon us.  The vibes were refreshed that night in camp and we hoped that the following day would allow me an opportunity to redeem myself.

Read Part 2 here > Part 2.

Bear hunting is a key tool in managing predators across the West and especially here in Montana.  No, we do not want to wipe out the entire population of black bears; actually I think they are an amazing animal and without actually hunting them I’d never have gained that appreciation.  By hunting them we simply are doing our part in keeping a balance, which is weighing heavily in the predators favor in certain areas which we hunt.  Black bears kill fawns and elk calves in high numbers in the spring and have only one known predator, humans.

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Bear hunting is one of my favorite types of hunting that one can partake in here in Montana.  It gets you back into the mountains and forces you to get back into shape.  It’s not hard to see bears, but I can say that it’s much more difficult to close the gap, relocate the bear, and try to sneak within bow range.

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This past Spring we saw 26+ black bears.  I had set a goal of taking a black bear with my bow and was planning on sticking it out unless a true giant crossed our paths.  Travis and I had some amazing close encounters, and many great memories.  It is truly amazing to be out in the wild, getting close to a predator that has the power to take down a human being.  With spring like conditions and lightning storms, we were given the full Montana bear hunting experience.  Watch our latest short film Trial & Error as I get close to multiple black bears in my pursuit of an archery kill.

 

We are excited for the upcoming spring, and will be going out on numerous hunts with the camera in hand.  To follow along with us be sure to join us over on our Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/Montana.Wild.Productions.

-Zack

 

 

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

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

Tracking animals in snow, how to track wolves in snow, montana snowstorm

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