As spring takes root, claiming victory over another cold and long winter, there is an anticipation that builds in the spirit of every hunter. The receding snowline, resulting from the warmth brought by the new season has many implications.
As water levels rise from run-off, it creates new challenges for the individual in pursuit of fish. It signifies the transition to stalking an entirely different species, one that has lain dormant at the headwaters of our rivers for months. The hibernating bear is tired no longer and emerges from its den. The fresh blossoms and new leaves seen while commuting are not the only entities welcoming the return of spring. This is the time of year that brings life out from every corner.
The number of days to be spent waiting for the new hunting seasons are now gone. In the great state of Montana the years first big game hunting opportunity is marked by the opening of Spring Bear. This will be our first chance to re-enter the wilderness with a goal that is not focused on wild trout. The excitement towards this opportunity is not something that is rhetorically justified.
As the opportunity to hunt presents itself closer and closer, our preparation takes a new form. Out of the closet comes our pack, camouflage, and optics. Our practice tips are replaced with broadheads. Our weapons are checked time and time again for functionality and consistency. The term “overkill” has no place or meaning to those who strive for excellence. Focus and determination has been placed on our goal of harvesting a spring black bear.
As the bear awakens from its slumber, it does so with one thing on its mind, that being food. As you can imagine, after months of fast these animals are hungry. They operate opportunistically in constant search of a viable food source. This principle is the basis for a hunter’s tactics. Since it is early in the season, food is somewhat limited, therefore requiring the animal to travel more so than it would later in the year. To the hunter this creates an opportunistic time to spot the animal as traverses the countryside. One can only hope that when you do spot the animal you are looking for, that is it in a huntable area that provides means for a stalk.
Many variables go into the equation that results in a successful stalk. The time of day, the distance separating the hunter from the prey, and the wind are all effects that are mandatory for consideration. Over the years I have spent hunting black bear in the alpine lakes of the Pacific North West, I learned many things about the animal. Through trial and error, I feel at this stage confident as a hunter in my knowledge of bear behavior and tendency. The saying, “They didn’t get that big for no reason” applies enormously to the bear species. Trust me when I tell you that I have had multiple exceptional bears pull a spin on me, never to be seen again.
This leads me to bring forth a consideration that took years for me to recognize. If one can implement the following into their method of operation I am sure they will find a higher percentage of success in the field. But first I will explain the situation.
It was my first hunting season out of high school. My father and I had found an area that many bears funneled in and out of. To validate this statement I will tell you that a friend of ours took the number 4 bear in the state of Washington out of this area. This particular area was an old mountain top clear cut, the habitat had grown up, making the hunting more difficult. It was not uncommon to spot a bear that was in an area that was unhuntable. We had to be very critical on when we would and would not enter the country. It seemed to blow up easily, scattering the animals in the area.
One morning after reaching the spot we used to glass we spotted a bear that is still to this date the biggest black bear I have ever witnessed. Unfortunately he was in an area that was unreachable. Patiently we waited. After years of watching bears I have gathered that they do not move much between roughly 10:00 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon. This bear fell right into that category.
We put the spotter on the boar and watched him eat berries in same general proximity for hours. At about 9:30 I got restless, went against my father’s advice, and entered the country. My plan was to sit above the bear a couple hundred yards on a spine that paralleled where he was feeding. After an hour of bushwhacking I had carefully made my way to the destination I had in mind.
It was now around 11:00 and here is where the consideration comes into play. You see at this time I had no knowledge of how thermals work. If by chance you are like I was, I will explain. A thermal is a moving column of air; it acts as a supplement to wind. Dictated by the ambient temperature it carries your scent either up or down the countryside. Since the heat of the day had not yet taken its effect the thermals were essentially dropping my scent directly on top on that bear. Needless to say I never got another look at that boar. I often wonder how it would have transpired if I had listened to my dad and had just waited a couple more hours for the thermals to change.
This all plays into the education one acquires when you put in time and effort towards hunting. It is a big game of learning from your past experiences. I have not made that mistake since nor do I plan on making it again. As you begin to prepare for your upcoming adventure let me encourage you to draw back upon your past experiences. Ask yourself why you were or were not successful. Look for the areas that need improvement and strive to better yourself as an outdoorsman. We should all strive to be the best we can be at anything we partake in.
Once bear season starts here in Montana you will find us in the woods, on top of mountains, glassing for an opportunity at one of the magnificent animals our good Lord has created. We have evolved as hunters and are not the same as we were last season. We have learned from our failure just as much as we have learned from our success. Our expectations are high and we feel that the sky is the limit.
Written by Brandon Smith
Well I apologize that the website has been updated so sporadically. Once school is over there should be a solid increase in quality posts. The last time we posted we gave a short review on some Orvis gear that we’ve been fishing with and it rocks. You can read that post here. Over the last few weeks it’s been one of the busiest times of the year for us. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say we were inside on our computers when it was 60 out and sunny and there were small swarms of skwallas out on the river. Yes we’re a little butt hurt but I think we’ll make it. This year it seems we’ve been weekend warriors. A few weeks back we made it out and took the day to fish a section of river we call Boneyard to Bike. Things started pretty well as I immediately hooked into a nice looking rainbow.
We pushed on knowing we’d have to keep the pace moving to get through all 3 miles before dark. Of course the day we make it out the weather was the typical Montana spring weather; sun one minute and snow the next.
I couldn’t complain though, just being able to fish is a blessing so you just take the weather you get and go. Also it just so happens to make things interesting for photos and video. We did bring the camera along that day and shot a decent amount of video so hopefully we can get to it in the next few weeks and have a little more fish porn to get you through runoff. We again moved downstream searching for the next big one. About half an hour later Travis went into his bag of flies and threw on a chunky little steamer. About five casts later and a hungry rainbow slashed up off the bottom and slammed into Travis’ steamer.
We now were both content for the day with a few nice fish on the board and we casually fished out the day without any other remarkable occurrences. The next chance we had to fish was this last Saturday when we met up with our good buddy Anthony Von Ruden who you’ll be seeing more of in the near future. He’s spent to much time over in North Dakota and was eager to hit the river.
Quickly I had to try to remind myself why I’m friends with such a good looking dude. We rigged up and proceeded to chat with the fellow Washington anglers who were camped at the spot. They asked if we’d fished here before and seemed to be searching for any information they could get. I told them a bit and said we were headed downstream. The guy said cool we’ll probably fish here for a bit and then head that way then. He walked off with his monstrous chew in cheek and proceeded to immediately walk and fish downsteam. Great. Well looks like were going to explore upstream today boys! We all loaded the truck back up and quietly drove upstream. Initially the fishing didn’t produce, but after beating enough water with a steamer the river began to come alive as a healthy brown hammered my steamer just off the bank near a fallen tree.
The group emotion slowly began to shift back to the positive vibes and it wasn’t long until the wig came out and spring break was in full effect.
Anthony proceeded to land a very respectable brown on a very ugly wooly bugger. I had had enough camera time at the moment and I grabbed his rod and began to beat the back end of the pool with that damn bugger. Of course about ten casts in a I hooked into a hefty trout.
It was quickly apparent that I’d hooked a healthy bull trout. After a short battle and a handy net job by Travis and another solid fish was in hand.
Apparently a solid mustache is the key ingredient to slightly above average fishing. We moved on exploring new waters that seemed to be quite nice on the eye and the fly rod. About another half mile up the river and Anthony stumbled into a mule deer buck that had seen his last days in the river. It was truly an epic sight and we got a few amazing photos.
After a short photo session we moved upstream where we met a young buck out fishing for “some of dem pike minnows!”. He was a pretty chill dude and we immediately adopted him.
That essentially wrapped up the day for us and we haven’t been back out since. I’d love to post more photos but it’s getting to lengthy already and it’s 1AM. If you’d like to see more of our photos on a more regular basis please follow us on Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/Montana.Wild.Productions and on Instagram @ montanawild. Over the course of the rest of our spring break we’ve just been wrapping up a film which will be playing in this years Hunting Film Tour.
It’s going to be an awesome tour hitting 25+ cities across America and it’s put on by the same dudes that run the Fly Fishing Film Tour so please head over to their website @ www.huntingfilmtour.com to see the teasers and tour stops and dates. There will be a stop in Missoula, MT on May 3rd which we will be going to, and we want to get as many people there as we can. There are going to be some amazing films played and showing support for these types of events just grows the sport and helps people like us get more funding from sponsors so we can keep creating free content to hopefully stoke people out on the outdoors. It’s a win-win for everyone and it’s going to be a damn good time and a solid way to meet some fellow hunters.
And lastly we’ve been gearing up for spring bear and turkey seasons. It’s only a few weeks away and once May hits were going to be spending some serious time in the mountains so get ready to see some fur showing up here in the next couple months.
Until next time God bless and don’t forget to give thanks to the man upstairs for all the blessings that we get to enjoy each and every day.
A couple weeks ago our awesome delivery driver dropped us a very nice set of boxes on our doorstep. The word “Orvis” on the outside let us know that some killer products were finally here. At last we had got a new set of rods and reels, specifically the Orvis Helios 2 5wt and 7wt tip-flex rods and the Mirage II & III reels that lay packaged within those fine cardboard boxes. For the past few weeks we’ve had plenty of time out on the water with these sweet setups and they’ve gotten off to a hot start.
Upon receiving the fly rods, the first thing I noticed was the beautifully crafted carbon fiber tube that safe guards each rod. I could now safely run over my fly rods tubes with a monster truck. Both rods are 4 piece, 9ft fly rods. Zack and myself feel that in order to truly fish Montana rivers to the fullest, you need a dry fly/nymph rod and a streamer rod, hence the 5wt & 7wt selection. Some holes are just too tasty to not have a streamer rod ready to go, and we find ourselves leaning towards the addicting streamer game more and more. We assembled the Mirage reels into the beautiful Helios 2 reel seats. Now these setups are sexy to say the least and not only perform great, but look badass. We are far from gear snobs. If it doesn’t function then I don’t want it, but I’m always ok with an upgrade. The setups we are rocking are as follows:
As soon as I strung out my first cast with the 5wt, the whizz I could hear of the line shooting through the guides put a smile of my face. These rods can shoot some line! Not to mention the swing weight of the 5wt makes casting effortless. Either that or I have been hitting the gym way too frequently. The tip flex, fast action suits my fly fishing style well, allowing me to cast extremely accurate and makes mending line a breeze. I have never felt like I have had this much control over my fly line.
Now on to the 7wt. Over the past year we have realized our addiction to streamer fishing, even more so when your swinging your own hand tied flies. The tug truly is the drug for us. Most people don’t know the caliber of trout we have here in Montana. There are some large fish that can really pull some serious weight.
The 7wt is a streamer chucking beast. One back cast and you can send a streamer across the entire river. Power, finesse, and control all come to mind while handling the Helios 2 7wt. Bull trout, big rainbows, and angry browns are the target fish when stripping streamers, and the 7wt got to test its strength against all these trout species during our test. With the 7wt you can handle everything from light to heavy streamers. Not to mention you can really move large fish and keep them from downfall when needed. Below are some of the fish taken via the Helios 2 on just the first day out.
Both the 5wt & 7wt were outfitted with black Mirage II & III reels. The light-weight aluminum Mirage reel uses the same technology as the brakes on fighter jets. Is it absolutely neccessary? No, but it’s damn nice if your in the market for a new reel and they look so good your bound to get a few numbers when the bikini hatch hits. It also has a positive click system which I thoroughly enjoy. Being able to set my drag accordingly and quickly is a great function of this reel. The Mirage is unaffected by saltwater, dirt, garb, and grime, making it an all-around bomb proof large arbor reel.
If your looking to upgrade your fly rod, make sure to at the least test a Helios 2 if there’s one at your local shop. I’m sure you’ll fall in love. Also be looking for the Orvis Helio 2 & Mirage reels in our upcoming short films. We recently filmed an all-streamer video, but unfortunately our SD card failed on us and the data was unrecoverable which totally blew. We’ll be out with the camera in tow soon and be sure to follow us over on Facebook and if your on Instagram look us up @montanawild. Cheers!
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.
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.
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.
Missoula is an amazing place to live. There are very few cities where you have access to multiple fisheries within 30 miles of your home and actually would want to live. Warm sun and rising temps have been making their occasional appearance, and with this year’s early signs of spring comes amazing fishing.
Zack and I have been busier than usual, not allowing us to get many days on the water. Between school, work, and planning some big projects, we are lucky if we make it to the river once a week. Although our days have been minimal, we have managed to land more big fish than ever before. I myself am having a record book year, landing 3 of my biggest rainbows to date. Our latest day on the water took us to the frigid waters of the west, and would be our first day testing some newly acquired gear.
We had just gotten a few fine products in the mail and we’re excited to break them in right. The Yeti Tundra 50 was full of the goods; beer, sandwiches, and cookies. After a mildly sketch drive to our location we saw the river and our emotions began to rise. Today would be the first day for us to break out the new rods and reels from Orvis and see if we could show them a good time on some of Montana’s finest waters. We put together the Helios 2 rods in weights 5 and 7 and pulled out a couple sexy Mirage reels. We’re not the kind of guys to get too picky over how nice or good looking our setups are as apparent by looking at Zack’s old Echo rod and Ross reel but damn these two Orvis setups look good. Function is priority number one and we quickly waded across to the far bank so we could get to casting. I had the 5 wt. with a double nymph setup and Zack was below me in the run with the 7wt and a streamer. On my second cast I saw my indicator dip and I was hooked up with a 26 inch rainbow. Yes, you read it correctly. My first hole, second cast with the new fly rod, and I was listening to the Mirage reel scream as I got bent over by a monster rainbow. Did I mention Zack hooked into a nice brown trout seconds later on a streamer? We were doubled-up and the circus had started. Zack managed to fight his brown trout and net my monster rainbow all at the same time! Crazy is right. Below is a sequence that Stan shot of the madness that went down.
^ Click for larger sequence ^
Zack managed to net my rainbow while still fighting a spunky brown. After a quick holler, I grabbed the net and quickly scooped up his seemingly small brown trout.
It was definitely a surreal moment. We quickly snapped a few photos of the two trout and sent the brown back on his way. It was time to pull the big boy out and preserve what may be my biggest rainbow for a long time.
He was a fine specimen and I felt truly blessed to catch such an awesome fish. Again this is another reason I love Montana, you really can catch steelhead here haha. We were off to a great start, and we didn’t stop hammering fish. The following photos speak for themselves.
To summarize our March day of fishing in one word, it would be stupefying. We brought a wheel barrow full of different trout species to the Larkin Works net (rainbow, cutthroat, brown, and bull trout).
The next day we received our new HDSLR. I don’t like to talk about it, but a couple weeks ago I dropped our at the time brand spanking new camera. The body cracked, but fortunately we had insurance. The bad thing is I had to send out our camera and we won’t be seeing it for over a month. We have some badass projects in the works over the next two months, and with no choice, I had to go broke funding another camera. Oh well, the investment continues. The next morning Zack and myself headed out for an early morning fishing/photo trip. We had to test out the new Nikon and see if the mojo surrounding the new rods and reels was as good as it seemed.
The temperature read 19 degrees as we left the truck. It was frigid and freezing and we had left our gloves at home. After about a half hour it appeared that some mojo still remained as I managed to hook a fat football of a rainbow. He was chunky and spunky, and gave our new camera the test we were looking for regardless of poor lighting conditions. We packed up our frozen streamers and headed back to Missoula, to slave away at another night of work.
Overall I can say I love the new rods and reels from Orvis. I never really thought a high-end setup would be worth the money that they often cost but I can say I was wrong. The way they cast is in another league and helps you get the fly in the right spot more often and a lot more easily. We’ll continue to try to sneak out over the coming weeks so we’ll have more photos and blog posts coming at you soon! Fishing is just starting to get HOT. We have a handful of awesome projects/films planned for this year. I cannot tell you how excited I am for 2013. God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.
The first bull I ever killed was about three and a half miles from the truck. Our packs that fall were daypacks that weren’t meant to carry 80-100+ pounds of meat. Fortunately it was almost all downhill to the truck and the only reminder the next day was a very sore back and shoulders. At that time we understood the importance and benefit of having a high quality pack that makes your job easier and lessens the stress on your body when packing out an elk. This season we were fortunate to enough to team up with Mystery Ranch Backpacks and get our hands on their Longbow hunting pack. The pack turned out be be a totally bomproof and versatile pack. Opening morning of Montana’s elk archery season we were able to give it a full test as our good friend Tyler shot his first bull with us. Last fall we put this short video together to give you a taste of some of our elk footage to come and highlight the Longbow.
Mystery Ranch came out with their new Metcalf this year and we can’t wait to give it a test this spring. Be looking for some more hunting footage here in the next couple weeks as our second bear hunt will be released to get everyone stoked to chase black bears.
This past Sunday we hit the river for the first time in 2013. After about a month of no filming I felt like it would be good to just get out and film an afternoon of fishing and see what happened. We found a nice stretch of water and with the help of our good friend Stan Spoharski the cameras started rolling. By the time the sun began setting Travis had landed a few respectable fish and the day was officially a success. As this was the last week of my winter break I decided to bust out this edit and just see what came of it. As I started going through the clips I realized that winter fishing is very much about solitude. Travis and I decided to make a short video that is a bit different than our regular fly fishing films, but I like how it turned out and look forward to getting some amazing footage on the water this year. Enjoy, and as always please watch in HD with a pair of headphones.
Be checking back soon for a post about our recent winter fishing antics and our second hunting episode all dropping within the next few weeks!
Finally, a new hunting short film! Dead On 20 is the first installment of Montana Wild’s Season 2. This short film documents Travis’ first season of bear hunting. On May 20th, 2012 Travis headed into the mountains for a 3-day spot and stalk backpack bear hunt. After one failed stalk on this same bear he was finally able to seal the deal with his .300 and put a beautiful bear on the ground.
If you’d like to read the complete story of Travis’ bear hunt the click here>>> Travis’ 1st Black Bear
As always, for the best viewing experience please watch in HD with a pair of headphones. Enjoy!
Over the course of the next month we will be releasing our first fly fishing short and also the second episode of Season 2. Episode 2 will document Zack’s quest to arrow a bear in Montana. With four stalks it’s sure to be one you’ll enjoy.
This is part two of our recap of 2012. If you missed Part 1 be sure to check right here before reading on.
Summer started slow this year. The water ran high through June, and we didn’t get much in for fishing. In late June we decided to get back out and test our luck on some water that we hadn’t visited in months. It paid off as I fooled a large brown on a green drake just as the sun was setting in the west.
From there on out the fishing was stellar. The following week we took a small day trip to another one of our favorite creeks and found some fish willing to eat. Travis made the best of the day and finished with a nice cutthroat.
I had the camera along and documented the afternoon in a short piece titled “Creekside.”
We soon had elk on our minds and traveled to a few of our elk haunts to put up trail cameras for the summer.
We found good sign in our spots and had four cameras up by the middle of June. In mid-July we took our first backcountry fishing trip of the year. It took us into some amazing country and the fishing was great.
From there we had a few mellow weeks and then embarked on our annual fishing trip to some of the most beautiful country we’ve set foot in. It would be a weeklong fly fishing trip in the backcountry and the weather was perfect. The beginning of our trip started off with us exploring some new water upstream of where we had fished last year. After bushwacking to the river we were left with minimal options for a campsite. The spot we found couldn’t have been better and it started our trip out with a bang.
The fishing was exceptional as always if you were willing to put in the time to get back away from the easy access. This area, although remote, is just like any fishing in Montana. The easy to access spots usually get fished hard and the best water always requires a little extra effort. Up here any extra effort tends to pay off big time.
To read more about Part one of our trip see our post “The Unknown – Backcountry Cutties.” Not only did we catch a bunch of beautiful cutthroat but we also managed to find and land some bull trout. These fish are a little bit tougher to find and catch but we landed one each day we tied the streamers on the big rods.
To read and see more photos from our trip be sure to check out our post “The Unknown – Backroad Bull Trout.” It was a killer trip and we filmed a bunch. We came home and began sorting through the hours and hours of footage. What we came up with turned out to be our best piece of the year and probably our best fly fishing short to date. Enjoy “Wild & Clear.”
That trip would be our last fishing trip of 2012 and was a great end to another awesome summer of fishing. Again we shifted back to the upcoming elk season and we made it back into the mountains to check our cameras and scout some areas around Missoula that we knew held elk. We documented a day in the elk woods as we scouted in mid-August in a short film titled “Recon.”
In late August we made a two and a half day trip to Southwest Montana in search of antelope with our bows. We got at least a half dozen stalks in and it was never tough to locate the antelope. Getting in close undetected was definitely difficult.
On the last day we were able to cut off a large group of antelope does and unfortunately Travis missed as his arrow sailed right over her back. It was a great chance to tune up our spot and stalk skills as we would be heading out the next week to chase elk in the open country of the Missouri Breaks. Soon it was opening day of Montana’s archery season and our good friend Tyler had met up with us. After his brother failed to show up for opening day, we decided to bring him along on the first morning and see if we could get into some elk. Only an hour after daylight we had a bull on the ground. After a group of four bulls came up the hill right to us, Tyler was presented a shot on a medium size bull and sent one right through both lungs. He had taken his first elk and it was an awesome experience to share with him.
If you’d like to see more about our first week of elk hunting you can see more at “Brown and Down” and “Elk season continues.” For the rest of the week we hunted hard and found bulls everyday. We even called in a 5×5 to 20 yards, only to not get a shot opportunity. The next week we were back and conditions had changed drastically. There were hunters everywhere and the elk had congregated heavily in the thick willows that lined the riverbottom. Without a boat and a tree stand set it was going to be tough. After five days we had only located one mature bull that we could stalk. We were able to sneak to 70 yards undetected but without further cover we couldn’t get any closer. As is always the case, the wind swirled and the gig was up. After that we decided to give our spot in the dark timber a go. It was a stark contrast to what we had been hunting.
We found lots of sign but the elk weren’t being vocal. We had just missed the rut and it’s almost impossible to take a bull without being able to call one in. The second morning we had one come to 20 yards but the brush was so thick that Travis was never presented a shot and finally the bull spooked when he circled and caught our wind. We were starting to get a little worried and decided to change up the tactics the following day. After not finding any water sources we made our way to one that seemed too close to the road to be a good option. After further investigation we found that the small bit of water was actually getting used fairly hard. We decided to set up on a wallow that had fresh bear sign and wait. About an hour into the hunt and a monsterous, old bull stepped out at 8 yards. After almost two minutes at full draw, he finally turned broadside at 30 yards the the rest is history.
I had achieved my goal of arrowing a mature bull. I was super stoked and to top it off Travis got it all on film and it’s going to be an awesome episode that will be released in 2013. I had this bull aged and he ended up being a 14 year old elk. You can read the whole story on my 2012 Archery elk right here.
After that we continued to hunt hard in an attempt to get Travis and elk with his bow. After being unable to seal the deal with his Anarchy, it was on to rifle season. We invited our Dad down for three days and would be hunting elk east of Missoula. After two days of no fresh sign, we decided to move locations. A snow storm was blowing through that night and we hoped the fresh snow would give us the upper hand the next day. The following morning we woke up to a fresh blanket of snow. We hiked up onto the ridge where Travis had shot his bull before and began searching for tracks. After crossing a fresh set of grizzly tracks, we soon found tracks from a small herd of elk. After spotting two through the trees and not getting any shot opprotunities, emotions were down. We continued on and a few minutes later Travis spotted a black wolf cruising through the timber. He dropped to a knee and with one shot, killed his first wolf.
For more photos and the full story see our post “A New kind of Predator.”
Over the following months, we spent our time exploring new country in search of a big, old mountain buck. We got to see some amazing country and we hiked a lot of miles.
We found some awesome spots that we’ll be back to next year but we never did find that big mountain buck we were looking for. Soon it was Thanksgiving and we were back home chasing whitetails up the mountain behind my parents home. It was tough hunting, as spot and stalk would be our go to tactic. The deer weren’t responding well to any type of calling and the brush was very thick making our efforts seem worthless. On the last morning we were headed up the mountain when we spotted a nice whitetail staring at us off the side of the trail. Travis quickly sized him up and decided he’d be a great first whitetail. After two shots he had his first whitetail buck.
It was a nice 8 point and after some photos and a little video, it was time to take care of the meat and head back to Missoula. Again we ventured back into the mountains to see if I could get it done on the last weekend.
Once again we covered lots of miles and glassed up a lot of country. We found a few nice bucks but not quite what I had set out to tag. Unfortunately I would go another season without punching my deer tag. At least it will fuel the fire for next year as I look to bag a big mountain buck. After that we finally caught up on some sleep and editing. In early December we made it out to fish for the first time in months. We met up with our good buddy Anthony Von Ruden and hit a local spot. The weather was pretty nasty as the temperature was in the low 40s and a steady rain was coming down. We soon found that the fishing was red hot as we all began hammering into fish.
The action kept up for the next couple hours and Travis landed his largest rainbow of the year. It was a chunky bow that would rival some of it’s Alaskan counterparts. To see more from this day be sure to check out our post “Brown December.”
The rest of December found us working hard to get proposals out to all of our hunting sponsors so we can continue to make hunting films in 2013. We also spent countless hours going through all of our fly fishing footage from 2012. We finished our Fish Reel for 2012 and scheduled flights to go to the SHOT show to kick off 2013. Below is our 2011 Fish Reel and our most recent 2012 Fish Reel. I think that the progression is apparent and I can’t wait to see how 2013 shapes up for us.
Thanks again for all the support you guys have shown us and we are very excited about the projects we have planned for 2013.
2012 has been a whirlwind year. Travis and I have been blessed to experience so much throughout the year. It had it’s ups and downs but was by far the best year of my life. We put a lot of hard work in this year to make sure we continued to progress as individuals, hunters, filmmakers, photographers, businessmen and generally in all aspects of our lives. I can say we learned a lot, and we’re looking forward to 2013 as it’s going to be bigger and better than ever! A lot happened in 2012 and there’s a lot I could say but I’ll try to make it brief and to the point.
2012 started out with us chasing coyotes on the Hi-Line. Hunting season for the most part was over and the skiing was sub-par so we decided to call for some coyotes with our good friend Tyler McCann. After two days of poor weather, things finally shaped up and the coyotes started running to the call. We were able to put 4 on the ground the last day and made a short film called “Valley Gold.”
After that we came back to Missoula and got busy working on putting together our best fishing shots of 2011. We were able to finish up our 2011 Fish Reel, which I’ll post at the end of Part 2 to compare to this years reel. After watching all of our footage from the 2011 year we were motivated to go try our luck for the year despite the cold weather. This would be the earliest I’d fished, and it turned out to be a great day. My first fish of 2012 was a very respectable brown that broke the tip of my rod.
After that it was mainly school and work. Of course we had to have some kind of escape and our good friend Jeff Heiskell convinced us to go tackle the Missouri for a day. It was an awesome float and our first time on the Mo. We all caught our share of healthy fish and of course the colors during winter/early spring never fail to impress.
We brought the camera along that day and we were able to put together a nice short film that documented the day.
A few short weeks later we were back for two days and this time we found some fish looking up. We all got our first dry fly takes of the year and all were solid fish. You can read more about that day here. Again the camera was in tow and we created the short film “200 East.”
After that we returned home and went back to school. Between school and work, we had been feverously editing our hunts from 2010 into four episodes. I’ll spare the details here, but the following links will take you to each episode. Episode 1 – The Copper Ranch. Episode 2 – The Haggard Horns Buck. Episode 3 – The Bull Chase. Episode 4 – The Bear Creek Bull.
A few weeks later and it was officially spring. Our mindset had shifted from fishing to hunting and we began to get the bows sighted in and ready for Montana’s spring bear season.
Again we took the time to try to share and spread the stoke and created a short film documenting a few pieces of our what we do to prepare for bear season. The piece was aptly named “Preparation.”
Soon it was time to lace up the boots and head into the hills in search of bears. The first four or five days were slow and we failed to find any bears. It was a good time to get back in shape and retrain the eyes. Soon the bears began to pop up and we were on them daily. Travis hadn’t shot a bear before and was ready to make his first year count. After ten days we finally found a mature bear for Travis to take a shot at. He was able to put a .300 Win Mag through the vitals and had his first bear on the ground. You can read the whole story here.
After Travis killed his bear I was on a mission to get one with my bow. Unfortunately I missed a great chocolate phase black bear and got very close on another couple stalks but was unable to seal the deal. If you want to see and read more click here.
To wrap up our spring we spent a lot of hours sorting through our all the footage we had accrued during February and March and created a short spring fly fishing film we called “Contrast.”
That led us right into summer and again we were fishing and hunting as usual. Be checking back for Part 2 which will be up tomorrow and documents our summer and fall of 2012.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s here! Our final fly fishing short film of 2012, and it’s a real dandy. From underwater footage of wild cutthroats rising to our flies to the elusive bull trout. We present WILD & CLEAR!
***Please watch in HD. You’ll benefit two ways – 1) a better viewing experience and 2) improved patience. Enjoy!***
BACKSTORY: This summer we once again planned a week long fishing trip. It took us to the northwest corner of Montana in search of native cutthroat and bull trout in some of the most beautiful waters an angler can find. We were joined by our good friend Ian Orlando, and this would be his first trip into these remote parts. We had an amazing time and caught many fish. If you’d like to read about this trip please view our previous post that documented our stay @ The Unknown Part 1 and The Unknown Part 2.
Thanks for the continued support of our site and our hunting and fishing projects. If you’d like to see more and help us out, please head over to our Facebook and give us a [LIKE] @ facebook.com/Montana.Wild.Productions.
My watch woke me at 6:00. We had survived another night camped on the edge of some serious bear country. We begrudgingly crawled out of our warm sleeping bags and stepped into the crisp morning air. We quickly packed up camp and headed north up the dark logging road. We were again headed to a new location, situated below the ridge we had hunted only one day earlier. Just as the sun began to creep through the tree tops we slipped into a good location to call.
We called for 20 minutes. Nothing. It seemed as if the elk were ghosts. Leaving us sign but never seeming to show themselves. We moved up through a ridge full of the regular downfall.
We worked slowly and patiently, knowing a bull could be lurking anywhere in the dark timber. We called again with no success. We tried cow calls, bugles, raking, and a combination of all three at times. The elk were just being stubborn, or at least that’s what I’d like to think.
We continued on undeterred. We were constantly reminded of the bulls that roamed and call these thick mountains home. Rubs would crop up out of the blur of grey trees, and often in the most dense areas. This only served to fuel the fire further.
We pushed on and stuck to the game plan. Sneaking through the woods as quietly as possible and calling in any area that seemed good.
Over the course of this trip we were thoroughly impressed with the Open Country pattern on this trip. While one might not think that a lighter patter would be ideal for the dark timber, the pattern actually blended with the woods amazingly well. Let’s just say if an elk came in it wasn’t going to be seeing us.
As we neared the truck that morning it was beginning to set in. We were running out of time and we needed to find an elk. When half your time is running the camera your season is cut in half, and Travis and I needed to seal the deal soon. We had worked hard and knew it could only be a matter of time. Just keep a positive mindset and keep pounding away. As Cameron Hanes would put it, “Go Beast Mode.” We hung out at the truck and had lunch, contemplating the options for the evening. As we sat and talked we began talking about a water source. In the two years we had hunted here, we had never found a creek, wallow, or seep. We knew the elk had to drink somewhere, and we decided to check out a small pond back down the road. It’s easy to access and I figured wouldn’t hold any promise. Well I was wrong. After some inspection we found some quality sign around the pond. Nothing to amazingly fresh, but we knew they’d be back sometime. We continued to walk the waterline and found a natural blind another hunter had created. I knew it was there for a reason and shortly after I found why it was there. There was a heavily used wallow that had been carved into the ground almost three feet from years of use.
The only real fresh sign were a few sets of bear tracks. I still had my bear tag and a good feeling began to make it’s way into the depths of my brain. We got back into the truck and decided to quickly head to a new area and make a final decision for the night around 3PM. After a few hours of exploration we had yet to uncover anything too mind blowing and relied on our instincts. Travis and I both had a good feeling about the wallow, and with our knees sore from the constant climbing over and through deadfall we decided to go back and spend the final evening sitting in the natural blind on the edge of the treeline. I’m not usually one to sit in place for long, but I knew our chances were better here than busting brush all night. We threw on new layers and walked the 400 yards from the truck to our natural ground blind. We setup and settled in for a patient evening.
As we sat I wondered about the hunter who had made this blind. Was it meant to be that we found it? Did he already shoot an elk from here or had he made it and was looking to come back to it at another time? I said a prayer and leaned up against the log as Travis and I waited and listened. After about thirty minutes I decided to lay down. Sitting in one spot usually isn’t my thing, and I can get very sleepy staring at the same piece of real estate for too long.
Soon I felt like I should man up and be ready for anything. This was our last night and I needed to be in the best position to have my bow in hand if something did sneak in. I got back up and waited. I’m glad I did because twenty minutes later Travis told me he heard something walking our way. He always seems to hear things before me, and I got my bow in hand and waited. Sure enough the sound was unmistakable, an elk was making his way through the tight trees and headed for the pond. Soon I could see a chocolate set of antlers peeking through the limbs. He was getting close and the adrenaline hit hard. I hoped our wind was good and got into my shooting position. He was on a path that would bring him very close to us. As he finished his way through the tight trees he soon closed to twenty yards. When he made his way behind the last set of trees, I drew my Bear Anarchy. He stepped out at 8 yards and stopped. At this point I could only see his head and half of his huge neck. Travis had a full view of him only a few feet to the right of me. I was nervous as the bull waited and listened. Moments later a squirrel began chirping 100 yards behind us. The bulls head swung instantly, inspecting the area. He wasn’t looking directly at us but soon turned his head and stared at the two of us, sitting dead still staring back at him. With his ears alert I figured a mature bull like this would bust and I’d never get a shot. Well he didn’t. He looked right through both of us, and I know that our camo served its purpose. He didn’t see us as humans. He slowly turned and began walking towards the wallow. At this point I’d been at full draw for a minute. Between holding my bow back and the adrenaline, I was beginning to shake. He slowly walked away, only giving me a Texas heart shot. I waited. He neared the wallow, taking one slow step at a time. Soon he turned broadside with his front leg back. My pins were shaking all over even though he was 30 yards away. It had been almost two minutes now and I was on the verge of letting my bow down. I took one last deep breath, and as he stepped forward with his right leg I released my arrow. It was a hard hit behind the shoulder. He instantly bucked and went screaming into the timber. I could see the blood instantly coming from his right side as he ran off, and I knew that he wouldn’t make it far. I could hear him crash up onto the road. He ran down the road and then there was a loud crash followed by silence. I sat and listened. Nothing. He had to be down. Travis and I decided to give him thirty minutes just to be safe.
We grabbed our packs and slipped out into the golden meadow. As we neared the wallow we could see where he had stood when I shot him. A few short feet later the blood trail began. It wasn’t huge, but enough to follow easily.
We slowly made our way into the timber and soon found my arrow, covered in rich red blood and broken off just behind the broadhead.
I slipped the arrow back into my quiver knowing it would only be a few minutes before I laid hands on my second elk. We made it up to the road and followed his tracks down the side of the gravel logging road. The blood had been covered by a truck that had passed earlier leaving us only his hoof prints. We soon began looking for blood where he had crashed off the side of the road. That’s when I saw those white tips just over the weeds on the side of the road.
I couldn’t believe it. After 120+ miles this year and hunting through some of the gnarliest deadfall imaginable, my bull was laying only 20 feet from the road. It was ironic but also a blessing as he was truly one of the largest bodied elk I’d seen.
He had wedged himself in a very interesting spot. His rear half was on top of a rock and wedged against a tree. His front half was about to slide under a downed log just behind him. They just don’t always fall in the best spots as this year has shown us, but I couldn’t care, my #1 goal for the year was complete.
The character and the mass on this bull was also truly awesome. His left side held incredible mass throughout. His third tine was palamated and thick. The right side also had good mass but only held three points. Along with that he either had lost his brow tine or G-2 over the years as he had one set of tines protruding from his forehead. I figured with the huge body, heavy mass, and a degenerated right side that this was an old monarch of a bull. A true king of his domain.
I couldn’t believe it, after so much hard work it was the most simple of tactics that paid off. It truly goes to show you that you can make elk hunting as complex or as simple as you’d like and still be successful. This bull had lived a long life. He had survived many winters, avoided numerous predators, and kept his distance from many hunters, only to be killed in the most simple of setups. I later had him aged by a biologist, and he was estimated to be 9 or 10 years old. I’m extremely blessed to have harvested such a beautiful, old bull in only my third season of chasing elk. He’s going to be tough to top next year.
Not only was I able to harvest an elk, but I was able to do so with my brother by my side. A guy just can’t ask for much more. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime for both of us, and Travis was able to beautifully capture the whole hunt on film. We’re really excited to share the footage here in the future as it’s by far the best elk footage we’ve captured in our short two years of filming our hunts.
Once we had taken some photos we began the process of determining what to do with him. If we cut him up as he lay he would slip down under the deadfall below him and it would be miserable to attempt to cut him up. We drove up the road and got service. We called our dad and told him the good news. We told him of the situation and asked him if he could bring a chainsaw and a tow rope up the mountain and help us pull the beast from his final resting place. After an hour and plenty of time to relive hunt he showed up. Smiles were had by all, and then the work began. The tow rope barely made it to the elk. We tied it up to both rear legs and cleared some small trees. The diesel quickly pulled the 700-800 pound elk up to the side of the road.
God truly answered my prayers on this night. We shot an awesome elk, on film, and didn’t have to spend at least 12+ hours packing him out of the jungle. Not only that but my brother was there for the hunt, and my Dad made it up to see my bull in one piece this year. I’m truly excited for the future and all the amazing things that lay ahead of us out there in God’s country.
I also found a few thing interesting about my hunt this year compared to last. Last year I shot my bull on my first day hunting the mountains of Western Montana after hunting the Missouri Breaks. This year I shot my bull on my first full day back in the mountains after 5 days in the Breaks. Last year I ambushed my elk at 40 yards from my knees. This year I ambushed my elk from 30 yards off my knees. Last year I shot my elk quartering away, and he ran and looped left only making it about a hundred yards before he took his last breath. This year I also shot my elk quartering away and he also made about a hundred yard loop to his left before crashing. Nothing too crazy but definitely an interesting comparison of the two seasons.
Thanks for reading my story. This is a post that I look forward to writing each year, and I can’t wait till 2013. So far it’s been a truly awesome season. We helped my good friend Tyler McCann kill his first bull this year, and I was able to take a great elk also. Now it’s Travis’ turn, and we’ll be working hard to get him a bull before archery season is over.
For me elk hunting has become a passion and a lifestyle. For now, my #1 goal each season is to arrow a bull elk with my bow. This year was no exception. In 2011, just my second year bowhunting elk, I was able to arrow my first elk. He was just a raghorn, but a trophy nonetheless. If you you’d like to check out my 2011 bull elk please read a bit more here – My 2011 Bull Elk. Being the person I am, I constantly am looking to improve and challenge myself no matter what it is I set my mind to. This year it was two-fold. One I wanted redemption in the Missouri Breaks. Last year I had been very close but couldn’t seal the deal. After time spent with filming Travis in the Breaks this year, I knew I had a very solid chance at doing just so. My second goal was to arrow not only a bull but a mature bull. Mature can mean a lot of things and each elk is different, but in my mind I had a solid idea on where I’d draw the line.
After 5 days in the Breaks I had only one stalk to show and no elk. The action was slow and with lots of other hunters pressuring the elk, it was just tough hunting. It was turning into another year chasing elk and not much as far as actual hunting. I hadn’t given up on the Breaks, but it was time to switch gears and hunt a bit closer to town. This summer Travis and I had placed game cameras in a few areas that seemed promising. With photos like this cropping up, I knew we had to at least devote a weekend to chasing elk in the deep, dark timber of Northwest Montana.
Our bags were packed and on the morning of the 23rd we hit the road. We arrived at our spot at 5:45AM and started our hour hike in with camp on our backs. As we made our way up the old logging road we hoped that we would be catching some part of the rut and that the elk would be fired up. We heard no bugles on the hike in, but we quickly set up camp and dropped over the nearest ridge to begin hunting. Travis was up first. I’d run the camera for the first day and a half and then we’d switch. As we began hunting it was very apparent, the dark timber was starkly different than the open country in the Breaks.
From stands of lodgepoles scattered with downfall, to more open slopes covered in brush that grows overhead, it’s beautiful and frustrating at the same time. It really is a magical place and this area has to be one of my favorite places to hunt elk even though it’s one of the hardest places also.
As we worked through the brush we finally heard our first bugle. The bull was below us, and we knew he was working up the north facing slope to bed for the day. Unfortunately the wind was headed straight downhill. After exchanging some bugles we had closed in to about 200-300 yards attempting to flank him on his right side. As we tried to sneak along the only game trail we heard hooves pounding up through the jungle. We were busted. There is literally no such thing as stalking a bull in these woods. Between the thick brush and downfall, it’s impossible to move around without sounding like a rhino. Add a backpack and the noises that a human makes moving through the woods, and you simply aren’t going to get close to much. You simply must call them to you or sit in wait in one spot and hope an elk passes by. We pushed on, at points wondering if we were even elk hunting. It surely wasn’t possible that an elk would want to be in this tangled mess. As soon as you begin thinking that your often humbled by an obnoxiously large rub.
We knew they were around and it was only a matter of time before we found one. Most of the rubs were easily less than a week old. The fresh smell of pine lingering and the sap freshly beaded up on the tree. Now if they would just pipe up and bugle it might get exciting. Before long though it was mid-day, and we worked back to our camp to rest up for the evening hunt.
Around 3:30 we headed back into the darkness. We worked a couple old growth ridgelines and dropped into the tops of a few drainages in search of a bull. We called multiple stands, waiting for 20-30 minutes before moving on with no success. Half the battle was moving any considerable distance in these woods. It’s so thick that you sometime can only hike a mile an hour. We continued on. Our only find that evening being another impressive rub and some scattered elk sign.
The next morning we were back at it again on the same north face. Travis and I worked back down the hillside to where our trail camera had been posted up this summer. The camera had been on one of the only game trails in the area, and it cut across a wide face that the bulls came up in the mornings as they headed to their beds in the deep, brushy thickets. After just a couple minutes of calling Travis could hear an elk coming up through the bushes towered overhead. We held our ground and hoped he’d come up to the game trail. We couldn’t move because he’d hear us and know we definitely weren’t two elk, so we sat and waited.
The brush was so thick here he’d have to work to inside 20 yards. As he pulled within 50 yards we crouched behind a down tree. Moments after I spotted antlers just above the brush at 30 yards, a solid 6×6. Seconds later he stopped behind some trees at 20 yards. He listened and stood still. He either trusted his instinct or didn’t like the complete silence above him. He turned and bolted down the hill and stopped. Travis bugled and raked and then threw out some excited cow calls. The bull came back up the hill but flanking us to the left. Travis had a glimpse of him at 40 yards until he stopped and began circling us trying to get our wind. Well with nowhere to move, it was only a matter of time. He finally smelled us and was gone for good. That’s just tough conditions, conditions we need more practice in. Again the bull was silent the whole time. Not necessarily the conditions you’d dream about. Hopefully we’d be able to catch the rut somewhere, but apparently not in this area. We hunted back to camp and made the decision to move locations.
We drove back down the logging road and decided on a new spot. The beginning of the hike in was actually bearable. It was fairly thin and there was sign hidden amongst the brush. We kept pushing on hoping for some clearer forest and talkative elk.
The only problem was that it just kept getting thicker. Up here it can be frustrating trying to move to areas when you don’t know what the vegetation consists of. A map only tells you so much, and once your in the woods you never get a chance to see out. It’s just trees and brush in every direction. Sometimes you just have to set out and explore and hope something good comes of it.
After a while it got downright silly. You definitely couldn’t say we were elk hunting. Bushwacking some major jungle was the name of the game. Wouldn’t you know it though there was sign in here too. The animals are straight crazy to call some of this home.
After a solid hour we finally emerged onto a ridge that significantly opened up. We began slowly working the deadfall in hopes of being quiet enough to setup further down the ridge and call. Some rubs started showing up, and we knew we were in the right area. Again we felt it was only a matter of time.
After calling three setups we had not had any luck. We slowly made our way out and hoped Tuesday would be a better day. We’d have one day left to try to seal a deal on a bull before we had to head back to Missoula for work. We cooked dinner, dumped the SD cards, and got in the tent for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a good day.
Year three of my short elk hunting career, and it was back to the Missouri Breaks. The goal, arrow a mature bull in 5 days.
As we bounced our way down the familiar dirt road, the temperature read 56F. It was 5:30 AM, and we had just completed our 6 hour drive from Missoula, MT. The headlights illuminated the sagebrush, and soon we were geared up and ready to hunt. With headlamps on we started working up a long ridge full of coulees on both sides. We knew if we wanted to catch a bull on his feet it would be necessary to be in position before daylight. These elk often will stop bugling for the morning by sunrise and stay on their feet for maybe an hour longer before bedding. As the sun rose we continued walking.
That morning we glassed the hillsides for hours after sunrise. With over 5 miles covered and many more glassed, we had to return to the truck. Our only finds being some mule deer does, a hunter on a horse, and 3 trucks and a horse trailer. Great start! We weren’t worried yet though, after our first trip to the Breaks when Travis was hunting, (see story here – Elk Season Continues) we had high hopes of finding mature bulls daily. That night we glassed a basin that held multiple bulls the last time only to find it empty. The next day we went back hoping some bulls would filter into the area overnight.
We made it back down into this basin well before sunrise. No bugles and no elk in the hills. We could see elk in the river bottom and hear them sounding off. The riverbottom consisted of willows that are thick and only huntable from a blind or treestand. A boat is extremely helpful and neither a boat or treestand are in my elk plans as of now. We continued to move on in hopes of locating a bull and getting a stalk in. That night was no better. We headed back, cooked up some hot dogs, and got ready for another early morning.
Day 3 and we were in a new area. With some deep coulees away from the road and river we had high hopes of finding some elk.
Just like any other morning the name of the game for us had been get in the area early. If we hear bugles then close the distance. If we don’t hear anything then break out the binos and spotting scope.
On this morning we had to resort to option 2, get out the spotting scope and binoculars. We heard nothing and got zero responses to any type of calling. We glassed until 10 and then decided to loop back to the truck. After once again hiking close to 5 miles, we were amused to find our only bull of the day, a small raghorn, just 600 yards from the road.
We were starting to get just a touch worried. It was Day 3, and we had yet to find the elk and especially not any great bulls. It appeared that the elk had shifted drastically with the heavy pressure that had recently been plaguing the Breaks. The Missouri Breaks is a love/hate area. Your not going to feel like you’re alone by any means. On this trip it was no exception. There were trucks parked at almost every access each night and the sounds of ATV’s or boats on the river were common while hunting. The amount of time your able to actually hunt each day is very limited. You get about two hours in the morning and about two at night to catch a majority of elk on their feet. The elk have to be some of the most hunted in Montana and are very smart. The bugs are often clinging to any exposed skin and the temperatures hot. All of those negatives fades away when you see some of the bulls out here. They aren’t extremely plentiful, but there are some real toads running around. One day when we were hunting earlier this season, we stumbled into a 320 class bull hanging with a 350 in a secluded draw. Unfortunately, that hadn’t happened on my trip, but just the thought of a bull like that around the next corner keeps a guy hunting hard and we did. Most days we easily covered 8-10 miles hiking ridges, crossing coulees, and working creek bottoms.
I knew it was only a matter of time. Finally on the morning of Day 4 we found a bull. We had been hiking in the dark for about 20 minutes when I decided to throw out a bugle where two draws met, hoping for a single bugle in response. One echoed out from a long ways off about a minute later. We knew he was a ways up the draw so we spent the next twenty minutes climbing to the top of a ridge to glass and hope to spot this bull. After ten minutes of glassing I spotted a group of cows. Sure enough a bull popped out. We pulled out the spotting scope as the early morning wind tried to tear through us. It was shaping up to be a particularly windy and cloudy day, and they appeared to be content to mingle around in the bottom of a small draw. We geared up and snuck closer. After about a half hour we had pulled to within 300 yards of the cows and spotted the bull bedded in the bottom. As we decided on a game plan the cows started working our way. With the wind swirling bad we decided to keep our distance until we could assess the bulls position and how we would go in for a stalk. Of course as we repositioned to get a better view of the bull, the cows fed down below us at around 100 yards. All of a sudden the bull was with them again. If we had stayed put and the wind held, I could have already had a 60 yard shot at him. Now we were above and upwind of them. Soon the bull and cows bedded, and we began a long and arduous process of circling around to get into position for a shot on the bedded bull. After a half hour of belly crawling carefully through the short grass in the bottom we were ready to start moving into position. Of course as we moved in he decided to exchange his current spot for one more tucked away. He now was further from the spot we were working towards, but he was bedded broadside at least.
We kept moving forward, hoping we could get close enough for a shot or that he’d get up again soon and present a shot. We still hadn’t been winded and we crept to within the 100 yard mark. As we worked through the last little dip we peaked over to find that he had repositioned and now was bedded facing away. Great, all this time and now I’m 70 yards from a bull that is bedded with his a** facing me. We decided to wait for a few minutes and see if he’d get up again as we were in a good position if he did. Unfortunately, the wind suddenly shifted as it often does, and before you know it all 5 of the elk are over the ridge. Exciting and frustrating at the same time. The scenario just wasn’t right that day. The elk had beaten us again. I tried to second guess myself, saying that I should have cow called to get him to stand, but with the wind and length of shot, I never would take that on an alert animal. We made it back to the truck and took a mid-day nap.
That night we moved up the same draw some ten miles before hunting again. We did see some mule deer and elk sign but no elk. We hoped this new area would hold some bulls looking to avoid the strong hunting pressure down low.
The next morning we worked down to the creek bottom in hopes of catching some elk coming off the water and moving back into the hills.
After about an hour of glassing we had only turned up two raghorns and a couple spikes. I was leaned back on my pack in a state of heavy depression when I heard the sound of two bulls fighting and some cow talk. They sounded like they were a ridge north, and we hustled to cross over to see if we could locate them. As we cleared the next ridge I saw a bull on the opposite hillside climbing up through the sand with his tongue out. He appeared that he was running from a fight. We let him cross over the top and then slowly worked to the edge to see if any elk were still in the bottom. Of course as we slowly worked around the edge we spooked a bull below us in the timber. He booked it over the same ridge as the other bull and once again we sat there in disbelief. We had put in so many miles and hunted from sun up to sun down for 5 days and had only one stalk to show. Not exactly my idea of how the hunt was going to play out. I figured with the success we had had on the first trip, we were going to storm in there and be on bulls everyday and definitely get a shot. I was hoping to redeem myself for not getting one last year in the Breaks, but that hope was fading fast. On Tuesday morning we humbly packed up the truck and headed for home. It was time to get back to a regular work schedule and get back to the dark timber of Northwest Montana. It felt a little too similar to last year, but I knew we still had a lot of season and many opportunities to come.
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!
Zack and I put in for 900 archery tags this year, with hopes of being able to set aside time to chase speed goats two weeks before archery elk season kicked off. Little did we know that time would be an issue for us. 2012 has so far been a year of adventure and full of memories I will never forget, but along with our adventures has come a struggle to have enough time to do everything that we would like to in 1 summer. Between elk preparation, fly fishing, working, and editing footage, we have found ourselves working late nights and early mornings in an effort to do what we love to do. Zack and I have never hunted antelope, so I have been starting from scratch when it comes to finding somewhere to hunt antelope successfully. The past week I have been searching maps after maps on google and trying to pin down block management locations since they were made public. As some of you may know we filmed a film project recently following our 6 day trip fly fishing Montana’s backcountry. Our goal for this film is to have it finished before September 1st, because once hunting season hits, you won’t find us doing much other than hunting and working. As of last Thursday we had planned to not hunt antelope due to the fact that we are crunched for time, needing to finish this film project, and not to mention saving our money for elk season. Friday came and went and I made a last minute decision to chase antelope the following morning. We got off work at 1230am, and hit the road at 4am. I had a couple spots picked out that I thought would hold some goats, but had no clue since I had never been to this part of the state, let alone heard if it is worth hunting. We took a risk, and come 8am Saturday morning, we were stalking our first antelope buck!
We spotted a nice pronghorn with two does working up a ridgeline. We quickly assembled our gear and attempted to cutoff the buck. I spotted the buck at 70 yards, before his horns slowly disappeared over the small hill in front of us. Zack and I crept forward, hoping to look over the hill and sneak a shot off at the buck. Before we could see the buck again, we saw the antelope taking off at speeds that are unreal. The antelope does were further ahead of the buck we were stalking and had caught our wind. Stalk #1 failed.
We pushed further into the public lands we were hunting. After driving a couple miles we had spooked a couple groups of pronghorn that were hanging near the dirt road we were driving. I was surprised that we were the first ones down this road seeing it was already past 9am. When you spook antelope, they don’t stop, we found out they run as far as possible until they feel safe. From there on we made sure to glass the country in front of us, before driving further down the road. We once again spotted a buck working up another ridge, with a doe and fawn close by. Stalk #2 was on. We watched the buck separate from the doe and bed at the very top of the ridge. We setup a game plan. Zack was going to film the stalk from about 300yds away as I attempted to stalk to within shooting distance of this bedded buck.
I attempted to pick out landmarks that would help guide me to the bedded subject. I snuck down the adjacent draw, took my boots off and threw on another layer of wool socks. I have found that in order to get close, stalking in just socks is one of the best ways to do so. Attempting to avoid stepping on cactus, I started rolling over the ridge, waiting to see the tips of the antelope appear. The buck took off to the left of me! He was bedded 60 yards further down the ridge than I had thought! The picture above shows the view I had prior to stalking in. The photo looks as if I am closing in to about 50yds of the buck, but in reality the buck was at least 90 yards from me. This stalk was a nice refresher on how detailed you have to be when picking out landmarks before attempting a stalk. Becuase once you start stalking from a new location, everything looks a heck of a lot different. We made a big loop into the surrounds hills, spotting a small group of does and one large antelope who had bedded in a location that was flat and unstalkable. We worked back to the truck and decided to take a short nap, having only received 2 hours of sleep the night before.
I woke up before Zack and decided to set up the Vortex Spotting scope to glass the rolling hills behind us. In less than 15 minutes I had spotted 3 bucks bedded in different locations. All were bedded in locations where a stalk was not possible. We moved on once again to some new public land and once again we spotted bucks. This time it was a group of 7 bucks, with one buck that overshadowed the rest. We ran a ridgeline hoping to cutoff the bucks before they made it to the flat top that lay ahead of them. We made it in time to setup, but with little to no cover to conceal two men and a camera, the bucks blew our cover before we had even the slightest shot. That was a day for us, and it was sure heart pumping!!
We woke the next morning to a burning sunrise. The smoke has been bad across Montana, and has made for less than perfect glassing conditions, but some amazing sunrises and sunsets. It was Zack’s turn and once again we spotted a buck less than 1/2 mile from our camp. We packed up and set out on once again another stalk. Unfortunately the buck disappeared over a small rolling hill, and as we set out to close the distance, the buck had worked back over the hill, catching us dead in our tracks.
The stalk was blown and we continued to glass the large basin below us. We spotted several goats feeding in the basin, but with no cover we had no chance of stalking within shooting distance. Once again it was off to explore new land, and again we were rewarded for going the extra distance. Again we spooked some goats off the road. This time we went down one draw and decided to race up to the top and try to catch them coming out of the draw we last saw them in. No luck. We did see a lone buck staring at us on another ridge top. He didn’t want to budge so Zack set off on a very low percentage stalk. I stayed on top with the camera and Zack dipped out of sight and into the draw. As he snuck up the other side he poked his head up only to see the buck 90 yards away and staring him head on. Unfortunately, with little to pick from for landmarks, Zack just didn’t line up right to get within bow range. Again the stalk was over.
Glassing was the name of the game for us all weekend. Finally I glassed a buck bedded with three does, allowing for a stalk from above. We worked into 150yards of the bedded antelope and quickly dropped our boots and got back into our ninja feet. Creeping above the buck, we closed the gap to 60yards, Zack drew on the buck, waiting for the buck to stand. The buck stood and was gone, not waiting for Zack to settle his pins. Again, so close, but no cigar. Zack was able to attempt one more stalk on three bucks we spotted later in the afternoon, but before Zack could close the gap, they had made their way outside of his shooting distance. With the day coming to an end, we moved to a piece of block management I had found via FWP info. The land contained a pivot filled with green grass and alfalfa. There was a group of 16 or so speed goats, bedded along the edge of the crop. With a northwestern wind, we had only one line of attack on these bedded antelope. Unfortunately, we had to cover over 100yards in the open, and instantly the antelope spotted us and took off for the hills. We set up for camp, hoping the antelope would return the following morning. The rest of the evening was spent drooling over the copious amount of whitetails in the nearby fields.
We woke at dusk the following morning, to see that the antelope had returned to the green field, but were moving fast into the surrounding coulees. This was our final morning to hunt, and quickly grabbed our gear and attempted a 1 mile loop hoping to get in front of the antelope. There was one large buck in the group, but we were willing to take a doe if a shot was present. I was excited when I crept over the hill in front of me to see the antelope moving slowly across the flat above the coulee. It was now a guessing game. Where were these antelope going to go from the flat? We got setup in a position we hoped the antelope were going. To my surprise the speed goats were feeding our way. We quickly got in position by one of the only piece of cover we had, a small bushy tree. I quickly ranged the few landmarks in front of me. The speed goats fed past me at 25yards, but I was blocking the camera and had to wait for them to feed past us to what I believed was 40yards. With no buck in sight I drew on a broadside doe. As I drew the doe looked directly at me. I settled my 40yard pin on her vitals and sent my arrow flying. The doe quickly jumped my string and ducked. Ahhh! The one thing I had been talking about all preseason. Aim low on an alert animal! We did capture some amazing footage of the event and below is a screen shot before I let off my shot.
I reviewed the video footage and found a clean arrow. After the shot I re-calculated the doe’s distance and it appeared the doe was closer than I had thought. I was upset to say the least, after being presented with our best opportunity of our entire 2.5 day trip. Then again I was excited and rejuvenated at the same time. The whole trip was a blast! Not to mention it got me ready to chase elk come September first. The trip was a success for both of us, for we now have some pretty awesome land to attempt spot and stalk antelope hunting. Next year we plan to set aside more time to chase speed goats. Spot and stalk antelope is addicting and not for the faint of heart. We are excited for September 1st and have high hopes of putting down a big bull! This was our first chance to really put our gear to test for the year, and everything performed great. The Stika open country is amazing for hunter concealment. As you can see below, we managed to blend in extremely well in the environment at hand. Do you see Zack in the photo?
Be looking for our archery antelope episode in the future.
If you missed the first write up about our recent fly fishing trip into the Montana backcountry, be sure to read the post “The Unknown – Backcountry Cutties.” During our six day trip we not only set out to explore some of Montana’s most beautiful water, but to legally target and fish for native bull trout.
In the earlier part of this century and also within the last few decades, the bull trout was seen as a cannibal of the trout family. Many viewed it as a trash fish because of it’s highly predatory nature and its voracious appetite for other fish. There numbers soon began to plummet due to extensive logging ruining spawning habitat along with unchecked fishing practices. Today they are now found in healthy numbers and are addictive to catch. We had never fished for these trout but felt confident we could get into a few. Very few people fish for bull trout so as long as you can find them, you should be able to catch some. I figured they would be easiest to find on the main river with its deep holes and long runs. We decided to bushwack down to the river off a nearby dirt road and set up camp. To say the canyon we’d be fishing was stunning was an understatement.
We immediately scouted for a suitable campsite. Fortunately we found a small sandy area along the river and got situated. Bull trout can grow upwards of 3 feet and are very powerful fish. For this trip we decided to take a couple 8wts. It’s best to play these fish quickly and without a sturdy rod, a big fish might be running downstream with no end in sight. A big thanks goes out to Dan @ Grizzly Hackle. He was gracious enough to help outfit us for our trip. If your around Missoula, be sure to swing by. Whether it’s trout, steelhead, or tarpon, they have what you’re looking for.
We quickly set up the rods and hit the river. Immediately we found great looking water. I honestly felt like I was in some exotic place and surely not Montana.
The water is deep emerald and the surrounding rich forests and moss covered cliffs made me feel like I was in New Zealand or deep in the Canadian backcountry. The first hole looked promising and we spent almost an hour drifting streamers through every nook and cranny amongst the rocks.
Finally I heard those magic words, “I got one!” Travis had hooked into the first bull trout of the trip. After a short fight we had a nice bully in the net.
Travis was pumped up. This was his first bull trout on a streamer and things were looking good. We kept moving up the canyon, methodically working each hole. One of the problems we encountered on this stretch was the depth of each hole. Often you couldn’t see the bottom. I know some of the holes were at least 20 feet deep and with the current it was just plain tough to get your streamer deep enough and in the right spot.
We fished hard that day but never got into another bull trout. The scenery keep us in good spirits and we slowly worked our way back to camp.
With the clouds rolling in we decided to call it a day and hang out by the fire.
We had an amazing view of the river, a hot tasty meal, and good conversation to finish up the day. Just down river there was an osprey nest perched on a tall dead tree next to a tall cliff. Mom was screaming her head off and even did a bit of fishing.
Over the course of the trip we got a chance to fish a lot of water. Another day of our trip was spent exploring a second deep canyon upriver.
This canyon is only accessible from one end or the other. We worked in from the bottom and immediately were met with beautiful water. This canyon consists of long deep pools, large boulders, and some solid rapids. The water is ideal for bull trout, but again we were up against very deep holes. With little room to cast it was difficult to properly fish much of the water.
After a few hours we were beat down. The water looked perfect but the fish just weren’t emerging from the shadows.
Just as I was about to turn and begin fishing back to the truck I heard Travis yelling. I headed over to see what was going on. He had a bull trout chasing from one of the larger boulders, and I intently watched as he worked his streamer along the boulder. After a few misses he finally connected. Although it was a juvenille bully, it did re-energized me to continue working a deep run. After a long cast I let my fly drift back and down about 60 feet. I then slowly twitched my streamer across the current. Boom! These trout attack the fly and often it initially feels as if you have a snag. They soon realize their caught and the fight begins. After a few surges and small runs, I turned him into the shallows and chalked up my first bull trout of the trip.
Over the course of our trip we learned a lot about where to look for bull trout and how to fish for them. The key is to go deep and get twitchy. White and grey seemed to work best for us. Also they enjoy lurking next to any type of rock formation that allows them cover and a quick path to small fish passing by. Another characteristic we found was that when they do feed, they often will fall back into the tail out of a pool where the river condenses into a smaller area. Two pictures down are three bull trout sitting in a tail out of a pool we found.
Travis was also pretty excited that his homegrown flies did the trick. Grey Gandalf was doing work and a couple white variations had success also. The few days we spent fishing for bull trout was very educational for us. We were able to successfully explore a few areas that held bull trout and learned more about where to find these bad boys. We even got a chance to sight fish for them. I’m already looking forward to next summer as we found another spot where the bull trout are fairly numerous and should be easy to catch with the knowledge we acquired during this trip.
As they say, “The tug is the drug.” Watching your streamer get hammered is by far one of the most fun aspects of fly fishing that I have yet to experience. I now understand more of why people love fishing the salt flats for tarpon. Maybe one day. Hopefully Travis and I can get working on the video before hunting season get’s too far underway. I think we got some awesome footage and can’t wait to share it with everyone.
There’s only 16 days till archery elk opens in Montana. Since June we’ve been scouting a few locations that we know hold elk. Our biggest asset when scouting is trail cameras. We usually set up 3-5 cameras starting in early June and head back a month later to see what’s been showing up. This is a great way to size up the local elk herd. If your camera is set up over water or along a game trail you can begin to determine when the best times to hunt these areas are and which way the animals are generally traveling as they move from one area to another. Travis and I went out a few weeks ago to check a couple cameras we had in the same general area. If you missed our post on that trip be sure to check it out in our post “Dog Days of Summer“. On this day I brought the camera along and filmed a short piece showing some of what goes into a day in the elk woods. Enjoy and as always, ***please watch in HD***
We found plenty of nice bulls with lots of character. Nothing crazy big but both spots should be good come September. If you haven’t made it out there’s still plenty of time to nail down a good spot. Grab a map and find a deep, dark hole away from roads and chances are you’ll find elk.
This year we explored once again the great Wilderness of Montana with fly rods and cameras in tow. Let me tell you, Wilderness is one badass dude. It’s a place where a man can get lost and never make it out. It’s the perfect spot to find some of the most amazing country you’ll lay eyes on. An adventure lies in your back yard here in Montana, and this is only one of the many gems found in this amazing state. The fishing is top notch for those willing to push themselves a bit and by the end of the trip, society looks like a much larger nuisance than you ever thought possible. Waking up to this sure helps a guy out after 10 hours on the river with 30+ pounds of camera gear and miles of treacherous river travel laid down.
No, it’s not easy. But is it worth it? Hell ya! Granted your gonna fall and get smacked around by mother earth. You’ll be sore, injured, mad, and tired at times.
But when you lay your eyes on a killer pool around the next bend and nail a wild cutthroat on the first cast, your emotions get tossed upside down. It’s a roller coaster and our good friend Ian Orlando got a good taste of it. Ian just graduated college in Missoula and is one of our good buddies. He told us he was working on getting a big boy job, and we figured we better show him a real fishing trip before he got to far into the real world. Little did he know that Travis and I are just a bit crazy. We took Ian to places where if you fall, your dead or in some serious trouble. It all pays off in the end though.
For this trip we had six days blocked out to explore the crystal clear waters of the wilderness of Montana. Were not going to openly tell you the location because anyone with half a brain could figure it out. It’s more fun that way right? The plan was to spend our time laying out line for native cutthroat and bull trout that inhabit these waters. Of the six days we only spent a half day fishing water that we had fished before. The rest was all exploration with only the help of some Google Earth maps at home. When you hike in a few miles and find that there is in fact no trail down to the river, you only have one option. Bushwack. Travis and I both hunt so this is nothing new. The same principles apply to both sports as far as being successful. Go where no one wants to go and find the fish. It helps when this is the view on the way down to the river.
A few of these days were spent camping upriver along stretches with difficult access. When we made it down to the river we weren’t left with many suitable camping spots. Turns out the best spot had the best view.
We had four things on our minds while out there: fish, food, water, sleep. Usually we would be on the river by 8 or 9 AM everyday. The areas we fished are difficulty to navigate as they often were in canyons with rock walls and steep forested slopes on both sides. Getting out early and staying out late helps when three guys are fishing and the camera is rolling.
The fish would feed fairly consistently on top during the majority of the trip. The smaller canyon creeks held the best dry fly fishing as they saw little to no pressure. We did see some boot tracks in a few spots where we thought we’d be the only ones fishing. Apparently a few others think like us. Only one morning did we see a strong hatch. During the end of July and into August, caddis are the #1 bug on the trouts menu. The morning that we had a strong hatch was awesome. You had fishing rising everywhere and the bugs were fairly heavy. Fortunately these fish don’t see too many fakes floating overhead and often destroy almost any fly. That day was almost too easy. Other than that day though there wasn’t much for bugs. Some days it definitely was tough to turn the big fish up and often it was tough to keep the small trout off your fly.
Certain holes are so slow and clear it’s hard not to jump the gun on the hookset as you see a trout rise from behind a boulder.
The clear water made for some great GoPro shots. Without spooking the fish we made it into a few holes and caught some awesome footage of rising fish. Be looking for a solid video to be released in the future. When the fishing is good and the scenery world class, it’s hard not to push yourself out here. When every corner tops the next and the fish seem endless at times it really helps a guy push all day to fish as much water as possible.
Often our days would end just before the sun would set. Perfect time to boil up some water and watch the view as your freeze dried meal cooked. Let me tell you those things taste amazing in the backcountry. After a long day you really appreciate a good meal. We also found that strawberry cheesecake is a necessary item to round out a good day on the river. Just add water!
Shortly after dinner Ian often took on the look of one tired ass bum. He quickly found his way into the tent and zipped into his sleeping bag. Out here you have to be able to treat your own water to stay longer than a day. Having a good water filter is huge. It’s the best way to keep three people hydrated and nothing beats a full Nalgene of cold river water out there. Each night we had to make a trip for water so we could get up and begin our day. Fortunately we had a small creek nearby.
Each morning was better than the next. Get up, eat, and toss on the waders. Hit the water and start tossing line. When the hardwork pays off and all your intuition and time spent scouring maps leads you to a one of a kind hole it’s a pretty damn sweet.
Ian was able to swing into the groove quick enough on the trip. His first cast of the trip yielded a great cutty and held his own during the trip. I gotta say it though, he did break a rod during the trip. I laughed my ass off while he got all torn up about it. Turns out everything’s gonna be alright, and he quickly forgot and got back to fishing.
Even though Ian got a damn good trip, we didn’t let him off the hook all the way. Travis was fishing to a fish up a long narrow canyon below camp. It was a long cast in tight quarters. After hassling Travis, I finally got to throw it a few times. After two great casts my fly finally found a target. Ian’s neck.
Woops. After deciding that it was going to be difficult to get it back through the skin to de-barb the hook, it was decided that it was coming back out the way it went in. I figured it would just have to be quick and painful. I grabbed the fly tightly and gave a big yank. Uhhh damn. It was still stuck in his neck. My hand had slipped off the fly. Round 2 began shortly after. This time the fishing pliers got used. After securely grabbing the hook a quick yank had the hook out. I was pretty amazed at how good his neck looked. There was only a small pinhole in his neck and zero blood. Fish on brother!
Travis happened to decided to fish better than our last trip and continued to lay into trout after trout.
A big shout out goes out to Vortex Optics, Grizzly Hackle, and Cuttroat Leaders. All of these companies are strong supporters of the outdoor lifestyle. Vortex Optics makes amazing hunting optics and appreciates the outdoors as a whole. Their support of a fly fishing trip solidified my respect for them as an outdoor brand. If your a hunter or are in the market for a great set of binoculars be sure to check them out at vortexoptics.com. Grizzly Hackle is an awesome fly shop in Missoula. It’s run by Dan Shepherd who’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. They helped us out on this trip and always have the angler’s success in mind. Swing buy grizzlyhackle.com to see the best fishing reports for the local Missoula rivers. And all week we were running Cutthroat Leaders on our dry fly and nymph rods. These things rock and you need to pick up a pair and at least give them a try. Hit them up at cutthroatleader.com
Now the cutthroat fishing was amazing. They’re some of the most beautiful fish you’ll find and they fight hard for their size. Speaking of fighting hard, these waters also lay claim to the home of the menacing bull trout. These elusive fish are fickle beasts. They either destroy your fly or simply sit in place even with the fly only inches from their faces. On this trip we were lucky enough to fish for these fish. We learned a lot about where they live and how to fish them on this trip. We might have tricked a few so be sure to read Part 2 right HERE.
There is nothing better than putting in that extra effort to fish some of the most beautiful waters in Montana. 7-8 miles of nothing but wilderness is always an adventure, but when your packing 30+ lbs of camera gear between two people, it makes it a little more challenging. We set out to capture spunky trout in the clear waters of Montana.
*Please watch in HD
As you progress as a hunter you expect the best out of your equipment. When it comes down to that one moment of truth, you want your arrow hitting its mark everytime. To me a custom bowstring is one of the best ways to get your bow to shoot more consistent and tighter groups. We recently approached Amanda and Joe at Proline Bowstrings (www.prolinebowstrings.com) about getting some for our Bear Anarchys. Some online research had pointed me right to their strings, and when reading about them I only heard great things about the strings. We immediately got a couple sets sent out and got them broken in immediately. Right off the bat my bow felt 100% better on the draw and at full draw.
To me a custom bowstring gives your bow a more solid back wall that delivers less string creep. This helps me hold my anchor the same every shot and leads to tighter and more consistent groups. They also are made of a superior material in most cases and aren’t nearly as prone to stretching out as most stock strings will do. This eliminates problems with your bow such as timing issues and inconsistent arrow flight. You also don’t have to worry about your string twisting and throwing your peep off. Immediately after the new string were on, my groups improved and I was far more accurate. You also get to pick your colors and customize your bow which is pretty sick in my opinion.
These strings are going to last longer and provide superior durabilty. When we had the new Prolines installed they fit to the spec of the bow perfectly. All the servings and loops were built better than any I’ve seen. No flaws or imperfections could be found.
If you looking to make your bow that much more deadly or are in need of a new string be sure to talk to Amanda at Proline,and she will get you all dialed in with a killer setup for your bow. Give her a call at 513.259.3738.
Anything that makes you more confident as a hunter and is withing your budget is a must in my opinion. Everytime I pick up my bow I’m a lot more confident it will be slinging arrows perfect just as it should. Get a pair of strings, you won’t regret it.
Be looking soon for some sick wilderness fly fishing content from a 6-day trip and also some elk scouting photos to show up to keep that stoke high.
Well things have been pretty crazy and hectic around the house lately. We’ve been planning our most extensive fishing trip we’ve ever went on. We’re heading into the Wilderness of Northwest Montana for six whole days in search of wild cutthroat trout and the elusive bull trout. On top of that we’ve been setting game cameras and getting the bows dialed in for season. Throw in work, some video editing, and a whole slew of other activities and times a flying. On Friday we made it out to test a couple rods that we had set up to chase bull trout with. Dan at Grizzly Hackle was nice enough to work with us on this project and get us set up to swing some junk in front of some bull trout this next week. We decided to get on some water on the lower Blackfoot and toss a few to get used to these big rods. First cast and I had a chunky little cutt on the end of my line.
We soon picked up and moved up river a bit. Travis and I found some open water and started to find our grooves with the new setups.
I landed a few, and we missed a couple, but I feel better now about getting into the groove right away on our trip. Hopefully we can find some bullies and trick them into clobbering our big streamers.
We followed this up by hitting the hills on Saturday and picking up a couple of game cameras that we have had up for a little over a month now. We crawled up a gnarly road into our spot and began picking our way through the forest. As soon as we made it off the dirt road we were more than impressed with how well the Optifade blended into the surroundings. The Open Country pattern works amazing in a wide variety of habitats, and I was a bit skeptical at how it would blend into the darker green timber. The pattern matches the color of the trees so well that it’s actually extremely effective, and I already feel more confident as a hunter with this camo. If you want some of the best designed hunting gear be sure to check out sitkagear.com for more.
We had left this camera unlocked and when we made it to the camera the cable had been gnawed on and the camera was crooked. We found the culprit after we reviewed the photos.
We kept scrolling through and saw a lot of 1-3 year old bulls. We had a couple good ones swing through but no giants.
This bull was the largest we got on the camera in this location. Unfortunately it’s a bit blurry, but he’s a good 6×6 and a definite shooter.
Another pretty decent bull for the area showing up on the 23rd. If only his top ends would grow out a bit. With the hot weather the wallow was dry. Last year it wasn’t dry until the end of July so I’m hoping we can see some rain soon that will keep this area good and wet. We decided to pull this camera and get back and shoot the bows a bit in a real world setting. It’s always good to get out and shoot in the woods before season just to get that mental imagery in your head.
After some arrow flinging we picked things up and moved on to our second spot. After an hour drive and a stop for some ice cream we finally were parked and ready to set out for camera #2.
We found a good number of rubs on the way in and got a bunch of solid footage for a new scouting short that should be out in a few weeks. Hopefully it will get you stoked to get back into the elk woods.
After some delays to get a few shots, we finally made it to our other Moultrie which was set over a small water hole.
This was the first time we had set a camera in this area. It’s always interesting to go check a camera in a new area. You hope that your camera is going to have a good number of photos and some cool animals captured on the card. We were lucky enough to see that it had taken 290 photos in just a months time.
We pulled the card and fired up the Mac.
Soon enough we had a few good bulls showing up on the camera.
This was a cool looking bull with solid character in his left G2.
We had a couple moose drop by for a drink.
Finally we had a group of five bulls swing by. A couple of these bulls are shooters just based off the character of their headgear. Speaking of wild headgear, just two day before we checked this camera we had one of the most unique bulls we’ve seen drop by.
One things apparent, he has something wild growing off the right side of his face. It’s hard to tell if it’s part of his antler or some weird growth. Either way he’s a crazy looking bull.
Overall the day was a success. We checked two cameras, shot the bows in the woods, and filmed a short video. We have some backup bulls to chase if the Breaks don’t work out according to plan. Tomorrow we head deep into the wild and will be fishing for wild, native trout for six days. The cameras gonna be rolling and we hope we can capture some great footage for you guys.