We spent day one of our elk season packing out Tyler’s bull and getting it transported back to his house. Around 11PM we finally rolled back into the Breaks and were back to hunting first thing the following morning. Tyler’s brother showed up at camp finally, so they were going to hunt off on their own, and Zack and I would hunt as a separate group. Zack and myself went the first hour of the morning with nothing to show. Soon Zack flagged me to quiet my step, as he spotted a nice 6X6 bedded a mere 150yards below the sagebrush ridge. It was only 7am! With the daily temperatures reaching +90degrees, and a full moon at night, the weather had these bulls bedded very early in the morning and they would stay bedded til the last 30 minutes of daylight.
The wind was good for a stalk from the right side, and I made it to about 80yards of the bull, but still couldn’t get a shot. I backed out, regrouping with Zack to put together another stalk plan. Zack had recommended trying to crawl to another vantage point that looked to be a spot where you could have a clean shot if the bull stood up. The morning was wearing into the heat of the day quickly. We watched the bull for another hour, to see if the bull would change beds and allow for an easier stalk. The bull stayed put and seemed to be getting sleepy. I made the decision to back out and come back early in the afternoon, assuming the bull would lay there all afternoon. We came back to find that the elk had vanished, and his bed abandoned! I was let down a little, and knew I should have attempted another stalk that morning, while the chance presented itself. We saw more hunters than we did elk that evening and called it a day.
We decided to switch locations for the next day. We went to another small creek where we had seen some bulls in previous years. We worked a good 3/4mile in the dark, before I could make out a bull in the creek bottom in front of me. The bull was a mere 100 yards from me, but clueless as he watched his two raggy horned friends lock horns nearby. I made the move to try to loop around the elk, searching for a larger bull. As we made a loop, the wind swirled and the bulls spooked out of the creek bottom. We moved on with high hopes of glassing more elk. We only were seeing mule deer does until Zack spotted two bucks feeding in some scattered timber. One was a real nice 4×4 with deep forks! We watched the bucks until they disappeared into some dense trees. I decided to go in for a stalk, assuming they were bedded. As we dipped into the creek bottom I spotted the two bucks starring at me. They took off in a hurry! The bucks weren’t bedded yet and had snuck down into the creek bottom unnoticed. Stalk over.
Back at our truck we attempted to take a nap during the heat of the day. Every afternoon the wind would pick up and the flies and no-see-ums were always hovering and biting when they could. Often sleep only came in short bits. For the afternoon hunt we elected to move coordinates once again. We setup on a high ridge, to glass the valley below for the evening. We were surprised to see no bulls, but a handful of cows that evening.
We went out to try our luck again the next morning, back in the creek bottom. As soon as we started to hike into the valley, we could hear 2-3 bulls sounding off bugles. The hunt was on! I quickened my pace trying to close the distance, knowing the bulls were probably already leading cows into the hills. I bugled and got more bugles in response. I closed the distance again, only to see a cow 60yards away starring at me in the dark. She didn’t mind me much at all and just watched as I moved forward, seeing a good bull that had just started making his way up the ridge. I got aggressive and followed into the woods downwind of where the bull entered. I bugled, and once again was given a response bugle, this time much closer. We setup, hoping the bull would come into our calls. We waited, no response. Then it happened, I could feel the wind switch and blow against our exposed necks. We knew the elk had spooked, and we quickly hiked up the closest ridge hoping to see to catch a glimpse of the elk. Nothing. They had disappeared like ghosts. We moved on. An hour later Zack worked into a new coulee. Zack waved the silent signal and I crept foreward. Zack had spotted the biggest bull of the trip feeding on the hillside 500 yards below!
We could tell he was feeding into an adjacent coulee, so I took off to the next ridge, hoping to keep sight of the bull. Traveling along the next ridge, my wind switched AGAIN and spooked a bull that was hiding below me. I could see there were now 3 elk visible, 2 being monster bulls! The alert bulls took off around the ridge. Zack and I ran coulee after coulee following these bulls further into the desert. Finally the two biggest bulls split ways, with the largest one disappearing out of sight, while the narrow heavy 6X6 bedded amongst some brush nearby. (Below is a screenshot from some footage of the bulls. Can you say Mr. Wide?)
To make a long story short, we decided to make a stalk on the tall tined bull. Before I could even get in position for a stalk our wind once again switched before I could get in on this very stalkable bull. A bull that size is not stupid, and the slightest whiff of a hunter and he is out of there! Once again we were eluded by a bedded bull! It seemed like the wind was always swirling and never consistent on many of our stalks. The following morning we decided to go back to where Tyler had shot his bull. We hiked a nearby ridge into the dark, and were happy to hear bugles yet again! This time it took us too long to locate the bulls, for they were already 1.5miles from us and making their way into some thick timber to bed. I could tell they were both shooter bulls, and we would try to locate them that evening in the general area I thought they would bed down.
In the afternoon we made our way back to where we spotted the bulls heading that morning, and I was excited to see one of the bulls already on his feet and feeding right where I thought they would be. Zack and I worked in closer we saw the bull was not alone, a larger 6X6 loomed twenty yards from him . They were working out of a draw and over a ridge. Zack and I quickly looped ahead, removed our boots and started stalking these two bulls in our socks, but could only get to within 90 yards. The bulls were changing course quite often and it made it tough to determine where the best spot to get to was. We kept working up the ridge as Zack saw the first bull skylined about a 100 yards out. We worked all the way to the top and can’t find these two bulls anywhere! I decide to cow call twice, assuming a bull would come from the ridge below me if they were still around. 20 seconds later I hear an elk 30 yards behind me! Zack and I are shoulder to shoulder, with no room to move without making a ton of noise from the dry grass. I freeze hoping the bull will pass by and allow myself to draw for a shot. As soon as the bull rounds the first set of branches, he turns, looks right at us standing there with no cover, and was gone! Sick to my stomach that I just missed another opportunity. This time at 20 yards! I tried to stay positive, and finish our final morning with a kill.
The next morning we got completely skunked. With a stormfront moving in, we found little sign of elk that morning. We packed up our bags, and headed home. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we can only go so many days without working to pay for our elk hunting adventures. We will be back at it soon though! This week should be interesting!
With our tags in hand, we took off for the Missouri Breaks 2.5 days prior to season. We arrived Wednesday evening to smokey skies and hot temperatures, but set out for an evening scouting mission hoping for the best. After a 2 mile hike we had our first bull spotted. We found a 6×6 bedded in a deep coulee. We got some shots and moved on, not disturbing the bull.
After walking a small finger, we once again spotted a bull bedded on the adjacent hillside and in plain view, something that we were sure wouldn’t be happening in a few days. A nice 5×5 was napping in his sandy bed, and a raggy 5×5 with a crown fed nearby on some grass. Again we let the bulls be and moved another 1/2 mile across a flatop. As we crested the ridge we setup in a spot to glass the remaining 1hr of daylight. Once again we spotted a nice mature bull feeding up the adjacent hillside. Off to a great start and this spot looked promising for opening day!
The next morning we set out to find a watering hole Zack had found via internet maps. It has been very dry this summer, and the Breaks was no exception. Fire warnings were on the radio constantly and fire crews were patrolling the area. Most creeks were holding little to no water and water sources are key for finding the elk out here. We were pleased when we found the watering hole……but completely dry and deprived of even the slightest drop of water. We continued to hike and glass and heard one bugle the whole morning. The area we found held numerous farm cows, with not much sign of water or elk. Time to move on.
In the afternoon we went to a location we had hunted a couple days last year. We once again set out to check some watering holes, only to find them dry once again. We decided to setup high on a ridge and glass a deep coulee where access is easy. We weren’t suprised when we spotted 3 other hunters glassing from a nearby hillside. Fortunately for us we had the Vortex Razor Spotting scope, which allowed us to glass 3 different sets of elk that evening, which wouldn’t have been seen through most bino’s. With only 30 minutes of daylight we saw a group of 4 bulls working a heavily forested coulee, and saw elk about 2.5 miles away that we couldn’t tell if they were bulls or cows, due to the extremely smoky conditions. No shooter bulls were visible, and we knew this spot would be getting some serious pressure opening weekend.
The next morning we went to a location where Zack got very close to a 300-class bull on our final day hunting the Breaks in 2011. We got there early and glassed from a couple different high vantage points. We heard bugles from the deep willows in the river bottoms below, but never laid eyes on any elk. Last year the elk would move from the river bottom into the hills at night to feed due to scarce food supply from all the silt caused from high water last year. Not the case this year. The elk seemed very satisfied to hangout down in the river bottom 24/7. Once again, not a top choice for hunting this week.
Our final afternoon we spent shooting, making sure everything was dialed and headed out for the final evening of scouting. One of our best friends Tyler McCann met up with us, with hopes of scouting that evening with us and to meet up with his brother to hunt with him opening day. We hiked a good mile up a ridge that ran adjacent to one of the only creeks that had little water in it. We setup and quickly spotted a decent 3×3 mule working down towards the creek below us. We watched him feed and disappear into some brush. We glassed for the next hour, finding two bulls bedded across the valley from us. One looked like a decent bull and the other a small raghorn. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted an elk running through the valley below, I quickly put my bino’s on the elk, which turned out to be a massive 6×6 bull that was bleach white and extremely wide. Something had spooked the bull, for we watched him run a good 2 miles until he was out of sight. Tyler was all pumped up to see a bull that big the day before season! We made jokes about us always putting Tyler in the best hunting spots in the Breaks. We glassed until dark, not seeing any elk moving, and surprised that the two bulls we spotted earlier, stayed bedded until sundown. We soon found out Tyler’s brother Cole was not going to show up that evening to hunt with Tyler on opening morning. We were slightly uneased at first. It is tough enough trying to film elk hunts with 2 people, and 3 is definitely even tougher. We had no choice but to bring Tyler with us to our #1 spot for opening day. We owed it to him and we knew it. Tyler was a big influence on getting Zack and myself hooked on hunting here in Montana. Just four years ago Tyler invited us to mule deer hunt with him, and we had the time of our lives! It was time to pay it forward and bring Tyler along with hopes of getting his very first elk.
Opening morning came in a hurry. We put a plan together, with Tyler excited to shoot any bull raghorn or bigger, while I was hoping to hold out for a larger bull. We geared up and hiked the 2 mile ridge to where we had spotted elk previously. We were instantly greeted with some distant bugles. With shooting light upon us we glassed the hillside below. With no elk in sight I decided to move another 100 feet to the next knob overlooking the fingers below us. I instantly heard footsteps below, only to see two bulls working the ridge less than 150 yards from us. We were pinned down and instantly dropped down to our knees. Zack had the camera rolling, setup with myself to his left and Tyler to his right. The bulls fed over the small hill below us, and there was not 2, but 4 bulls with 3 being shooters. The four bulls walked out of sight below the rolling ridgline in front of us. The plan was if the bulls worked left I would take a shot, and if the bulls worked right, Tyler would let an arrow rip. We sat there motionless, arrows nocked, for we were kneeling on dry brush that made a racket with every movement. We sat for a good 7 minutes, with no sound, or sight of the bulls. I could tell Tyler was getting anxious to see where they went, but I told him to sit tight. Moments later we could here a bull working close to Tyler’s position. Tyler drew, expecting the bull to appear in front of him. He held at full draw for a good 2 minutes before he could see the velvet tips of the bull below. Tyler said later on he thought it was a huge mule deer because the top portion of this bulls rack were still velvet covered. This bull was the biggest of the group easily pushing close to 300. As Tyler lifted his bow slightly the bull spotted movement, for he was literally 10 yards from Tyler! He spooked below us with the 2nd largest bull. Oh great! Blown opportunity….. but I could still see the smallest raghorn standing below, and as I lifted my head I could see the bulls had not ran more than a short distance. I quickly attempted to range the largest bull below us, but couldn’t get a quick enough yardage through the brush in front of me. This time the elk were quickly moving back down hill. I quickly attempted to make a couple mouth cow calls. I saw a bull stop quartering away below us. I ranged him 75, 80. Tyler settled his pin and let the arrow fly. We heard the arrow hit perfectly burrying into the opposite shoulder. The elk took off over the ridge leaving only a cloud of dust for us to stare at.
Tyler was all smiles. After spending all summer in the oil fields of North Dakota, his short amount of time he had preparing for this hunt had finally paid off. We waited a good 45 minutes before following blood and staggering footsteps to where the bull laid. The bull had crashed into a 8in diameter tree and was belly-up in the deepest sand coulee he could have possibly found. It was smiles all around! Tyler had his very first elk ever, a nice 5×5 and all on film to boot.
We quartered the bull in the position it was currently in. We couldn’t budge the beast or roll him over for he had wedged himself into the sandy bottom. We got to test out the Mystery Ranch Long Bow, packing out a full quarter bone-in and let me tell you, that pack is a BEAST! Loved how comfortable it was with all the weight and gear still inside. The 2.5 mile back to the truck was no easy task, ascending a steep coulee from the start, followed by rolling hills/coulees until we reached the truck. The final load was the head, which I gave Tyler the right to carry it out on my Long Bow, while Zack packed the front quarters out after being de-boned. Tyler was even able to recover his broadhead and a few inches of his arrow from the front right shoulder while cutting the meat from the bone.
Tyler was beat, fighting leg cramps the entire way out during the second trip. I was excited to be there to experience his first elk and to help him pack out his bull before the temps reached the 90′s. It is a day we all will never forget. We’re off to a great start so far, be looking for part II of our trip here soon!
Well it’s been a few weeks since we’ve dropped any new posts so it’s finally time to make an update. It’s been a busy few weeks of school, work, and hunting. Two weekends ago Travis and I were back in our spot from opening weekend. We found tons of large rubs, hunters bugling their faces off constantly, but no elk. After two days of no sign or sound of elk we moved camp about 5 miles to the west.
Again we little fresh sign and again week old rubs and scat but no elk were currently holding in the area. We moved again. Getting to our last spot of the weekend I spotted a cow in the bottom of a coulee. We geared up and started a stalk. After working to within 40 yards we saw they had bedded and that we would need to re-angle ourselves to get a broadside shot. Soon we had backed out and were again moving close to what we thought were 2 cows. The wind swirled at about 50 yards and one of the cows busted up and barked at us. Soon 4 other cows and a bull poped up. By the time Travis was ready and the bull stopped he was 85 yards out and his arrow sailed well left.
The next weekend we were back at the Missouri Breaks. Conditions were very poor for elk hunting as the temps rose into the low 90s the whole weekend.
We soon found out that the elk were moving to bedding areas after only about 45 minutes of shooting light. This made it very difficult to locate and set up in front of the elk. With so many coulees and ridges for these elk to work up it was highly dependent on right place at the right time. Calling to these elk often sends them running and generally only allow you to locate and then hope to cut them off so the conditions were by no means excellent. The evening hunts were all but non-existent other than at most half an hour before dark. The high temperature and moderate hunting pressure kept them clammed up and bedded down.
To make matters worse about 300 head of elk were on the refuge all weekend and a solid half mile of vehicles showed up for the nightly elk show. The only upside was we got to see a bunch of bulls and got a few decent pictures.
Nonetheless we still had some action but it was pretty limited. Our good friend Bryce had a few bulls show up on game camera but he wasn’t able to seal the deal either.
During the day we did spend some time honing our skills on some wary prairie dogs and it was a good way to kill the long wait between morning and evening hunts. I smoke this guy at 52 yards.
We soon headed out empty handed and I won’t be filling my elk tag in the Breaks this year.
This weekend we’ll head home to Bigfork and see if we can’t get on some more elk. A couple small but shootable whitetail bucks are frequenting our stands and hopefully we can get something on the ground. The elk seem to be finally really rutting but only time will tell.
Warm weather has been upon us here in western Montana. Zack and I decided to trek out and setup my game cam on a wallow we encountered last year. The road allowing close access has been washed out during runoff, so we had to manage a 4 mile hike to the money spot.
After 2.5 hours of hills, we finally made it to within 150yards of our destination, when I noticed a large 5X6 bull elk standing exactly where I planned on setting up the game camera. We were stoked after not seeing an elk all day.
Within the last 1000 yards of our hike back to the Dodge, I was excited to find the first elk shed of the year. Maybe we’ll get a chance to see that bull this year and hopefully he’s put on some growth.