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Trip Report: I survived my bucket list elk hunt.

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  • Trip Report: I survived my bucket list elk hunt.

    Trip Report: I survived my bucket list elk hunt.

  • #2
    I never saw an elk nor fired a shot but I marveled at my first experience with Montana and the Rocky Mountains and had the adventure of a lifetime. I set up camp in the mountains and had beautiful weather with three snows and temps from -5 to 35 degrees for a week and a half.

    I have never seen so much elk and deer sign. Due to truck, horse and brother-in-law issues, I ended up climbing about 1000-1500 feet (three to four mile trek to get started each morning) to hunt. The low oxygen atmosphere just about killed me (I live at 1100 feet above sea level and hunted at 6000 to 7000 feet). This was MUCH worse than I ever expected and was equivalent to someone holding my nose and mouth shut while I hunted. I was often limited to climbing 10 yards at a time and often fell through deadfall, unable to control my legs while attempting to scale the fallen trees. I never tried tracking bulls because they seemed to put on about 15 more miles daily than I could.

    In most of the area I hunted, elk sign was abundant but a 20 yard shot would have been considered long range. I was pushed to my all-time breaking point one day in extreme deadfall and fully expected to be lunch for the wolves sometime that night. I resolved to push on however and with the greatest determination I have ever mustered was able to drag myself out of the timber just before dark one night.

    I learned a lot about hunting the Rockies (maybe as much as 5% of what there is to know). All Montana locals reported that elk NEVER bugled in the 2013 rut and have made no sound due to wolves targeting the sound. The same goes for cow calls. They claimed that a cow call would make them run for cover to escape wolves and I found this to be the case. This made getting close to a bull a lot tougher.

    I did switch from walking to sitting one day. I quit chasing them and sat in one spot overlooking a basin. I saw nothing in that basin but suspect that if I had watched it for a week, I probably would have gotten my bull.

    In all a great adventure! I especially enjoyed returning to flat land where, when you slip on the ice you drop straight down and stop right there instead of sliding 300 feet and bouncing off of rocks and trees all the way. My best to all and hope others had even more successful hunts!


    • #3
      Glad you survived it! We basked in 65 degree sunshine everyday while the elk held tight in high timber during the day. We spotted elk almost every day, but they would appear too high for a late stalk. Same with the mule deer. Similar reports from other friends who hunted the west slope of the Rockies that week. Weather moved in the week after our hunt. Sounds like it found your party. I feel your pain. I live at 48 feet above sea level and work at about 100 feet ASL. Hunting at 8,400 feet will take the wind out of your sails sometimes.
      Cheers, WAM


      • #4
        Wish we could have connected while you were here but my brother and his son came over as soon as I arrived in Montana. It took a while to get their bucks. Bird hunting is very slow here but better east. Bear grass on snowy slopes is a b*tch, eh? Believe it or not I never carried a call of any sort. I tracked down all of my elk. I imagine that the wolves have changed the complexity of hunting elk significantly.

        I am also finding the change in altitude challenging. My home is only six hundred feet and the LOW country here is 2500 ft. But I find that I adjust fairly rapidly. But I have the advantage of being fairly lean and fitted with excellent wheels ... especially for a guy my age. I ran the legs off my brother, his son, and now my dogs.


        • #5
          Glad you had an enjoyable time Dakota. We ended up going 2 of 9 at elk camp this year which is a far cry from the 16 of 19 we did last year. We were covered in grizzly bears the whole trip, couldn't seem to get away from them, saw 3 different sows with two cubs each with the cubs ranging in size from really little to about 250 pounds. Also saw two large male grizzlies and a black bear sow with 2 cubs. The forest service did some selective burning of timber patches where we hunt and that coupled with the early snow this year has me thinking that while we were hunting the 8000-9000 foot range the elk were mostly down in the valleys, which unfortunately means on private land which is nearly impossible to get permission for. I did enjoy myself immensely and look forward to next year.


          • #6
            Congratulation for surviving. I have two buddies out west now and they are experiencing the same.


            • #7
              Congratulation's on your first elk hunt. I spent many season's with similar results before the experience I gained began paying off. I had to put my season on hold this year due to a major health issue. Happy to read other's reports. I hope Dakota, that you are up to future hunt's and are not discouraged by your first attempt.Good reading from all who responded!


              • #8
                Congratulation's on your first elk hunt. I spent many season's with similar results before the experience I gained began paying off. I had to put my season on hold this year due to a major health issue. Happy to read other's reports. I hope Dakota, that you are up to future hunt's and are not discouraged by your first attempt.Good reading from all who responded!


                • #9
                  Dakota, glad you had a safe trip. I thought sure you would get caught in that big snow storm on your way to Montana. The Rockies are fantastic. I have seen a lot of them from being an avid downhill skier. We usually started from near the top and the air sure is thin there. Also crossed Mosquito pass one time at 13,000 from Breckenridge to Leadville in a Ford Taurus. Did not know it was restricted to Jeeps until I had gotten back down. The car never missed a beat.
                  Maybe next trip you will connect with a Elk.
                  WAM says he had bears all the time - that would keep me up at night. Or, when field dressing a Elk, one cutting it up and the others standing guard for bears. Amazing how the Elk adjusted to stop calling to avoid the wolves. Did you see any wolves? Are they still protected?


                  • #10
                    Welcome to the challenging world of elk hunting. I suggested before you left, good legs and shoes would be more important than 1000 yard shots. After hunting most of the worlds great animals, I still find elk hunting right at the top of my list. Add the fabulous terrain and daunting altitude it is a challenge difficult to beat. Kindest Regards


                    • #11
                      I am glad you had a safe trip too. It sounds like your experience was one to intrigue you into another hunt in the future. We live at 5600 ft here in Wyoming and I feel for your dealings with the elevation adjustment. Coming from a lobster boat in Maine at 6-8 ft above sea level it wasn't pleasant for 7-10 days. The adjustment when it came seemed almost over night though. I would be interested to hear the rest of your hunts stories. Best of luck in your up coming hunts back in Georgia.


                      • #12
                        Thanks all. Sorry we didn't connect Ontario... that would have been the highlight of the trip but I was out of cell range most of the time.

                        I did cross South Dakota shortly after the storm and was sad to see hundreds of dead cattle frozen across the prairie. Saw lots of tornado damage in the eastern part of the state too.

                        I took your advice Happy and took good boots and used them to stomp the dark timbers as much as I could. I carried a 30-06 most of the time. I did spend one day scanning but limited it to that. That was a beautiful day though. A beautiful vista plus I never fainted from lack of oxygen once and I never got one cut or bruise.

                        I got a wolf tag but never saw one. I did see one wolf track and a lot of coyote tracks too. My brother-in-law shot a coyote from the tent. It was harassing our horses so he shot it. The locals said I could call in a wolf easily by blowing an elk call but I only tried it a couple of times just to see what would happen. I didn't want to mess up elk hunting.

                        Current thoughts for success:

                        1. Leave the horses at home. They consumed more money and time than any other aspect of the trip. They needed water, food and care almost constantly. I'll go to town and hire someone to retrieve my elk in the unlikely event that I get one. It was below freezing constantly so well dressed and hung meat will last a few days if necessary.

                        2. Fly out and rent a four wheel drive vehicle to get around. There were more roads than I imagined. Fuel and truck issues took almost as much time and money as the horses on a 4200 mile drive. I don't need to walk three or four miles up a ridge with a vehicle. I even learned how to hitchhike with other hunters to save my air (since our diesel wouldn't start in the cold).

                        3. Spend the first two days in the local bars. The people were exceptionally cordial and full of information. They even offered to take me up and get my elk. I thought that was too much of an imposition but would enjoy a hunt with most of those I met.

                        4. Spend more time sitting and watching. I saw elk tracks all over and think my walking spooked them far in advance of my seeing them. I talked to several people who saw elk on the ridges, just too far away. For many this was only 500 to 800 yards. Even my hunting partner was surprised to realize how far 1000 yards reaches out there.

                        5. Avoid climbing up at dawn. At times I didn't get to the best hunting territory until 1:00 in the afternoon because I was a slow climber. We could have built our camp 1500 feet higher and done just fine allowing about six miles of ridge walking in any direction.

                        6. Be more selective of hunting partner. Mine had issues and I had to hunt alone most of the time. Hunting these mountains is dangerous and you shouldn't do it alone, especially if you are over 65. It's like swimming, don't do it alone.


                        • #13

                          Good points all. A few of the things I have learned over time:

                          1. Leave horses and diesel vehicles to those who have time and persuasion to tend them.

                          2. Dittos on the selection of hunting partners. My elk hunting partners are down to about four or maybe five out of the dozens I've hunted with. Most are a pain and not serious. I'm sure some feel the same about me. I have disqualified about as many elk hunting partners for poor driving habits, road trip manners, drinking, and bitching and moaning as I have for poor hunting habits and ethics.

                          3. Be in the chosen hunting spot before daylight and sit and glass. You can get happy feet later and push elk to other hunters. Same with the evening. If one is not willing or able to walk/ride in and out in the dark, success will usually suffer.

                          4. Make a game plan and stick with it at least a few days. Changing strategy every day generally is not a pathway to success unless you really know the area and its animals' behavior.

                          Better luck next time! Heck, I need the luck since I have rolled snake eyes the last 3 seasons. Although last year I let my partner take a shot I should have taken, being the nice guy that I am...


                          • #14
                            I was worried about the horses. I had my own animals but never shot an elk while using them. They were only used for packing camp in and meat out. Elk are easily tracked but it requires patience and proper clothing. I never hunted elk except alone. You see what a pain a "hunting partner" can be!


                            • #15
                              If all hunting partners were like Beekeeper, Del in KS, and Happy Myles, all the hunts would be most enjoyable!




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