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Reflections on Montanaotherala

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  • Reflections on Montanaotherala

    This will take some time, and the site will likely lock me out at some point for typing so slow so please bear with me. I had a lot to ponder from last week and I'm finally getting it settled out so here goes.

    The flight in was uneventful, thankfully. We arrived on time in Spokane at 12:30 Pacific time after getting up 4:30 eastern. When we went to check in our hotel for the night there was a guy at the desk ahead of us with a gun case, so I asked him who he was hunting with. Turned out he was headed with us, we had taken the same flights and live about 1 1/2 hours away from each other. We got settled in our respective rooms then talked in the lounge for a while before having dinner together. The boy and I called it a night at about 7:00 after checking in on the World Series. The next morning we were up first and had breakfast, then I had the kid get after some homework for a couple hours before our ride showed. Talked with our new friend in the meantime. Our outfitter showed up exactly on time, and a few others had made it to the lobby as well so after some quick loading we were off. We made it to the lodge early afternoon and my FIL was there waiting. After getting our room assignments the whole lot of us headed to the range to check zeros. My rifle was fine but the boy's 7-08 was still not acting right. More about that later. Back to the lodge for dinner and orientation about the lodge schedule and a talk about the area we'd be hunting, then meeting our guides. Kicked back a little then hit the sack, had a 4:30 alarm.


  • #2
    Day 1:

    Up at 4:30, breakfast at 5:00. Our guide was there as well, took our time getting ready and were off about 6:00. Drove awhile, then headed up a mountain road to our first spot. Gave it some time as it didnt get light until 8:00ish, started hiking about 7:00. Turns out this was a test of our climbing abilities. It wasn't far or terribly difficult but we made it up and in quick enough to pass muster. We set up on a big clearing covering ridges to both sides. Didn't take long and we had company, first another pair of hunters to our right, then a cow moose in front on the same side. We stayed there until about 9:30 then headed back to the truck for a bite to eat before heading out to another area. Once we started back down in the light I could see just what we'd been driving up and what we'd be in for. The second spot bit us, this one was about as steep but hadn't been clear cut like the last so if you went over there were trees to catch you, at least in most spots. The season had opened Saturday and the couple inches of snow on the road had been packed down to ice. We didn't make it to the trailhead. I deal with these conditions at work so knew what the deal was, but I could tell the guide was more nervous than I so I offered for the boy and I to get out while he inched backward down the road. We followed him for about a half mile until he could get turned around in a wide spot, then went another quarter mile before we climbed back in the truck. ( The next day another guide got jammed up in a different area and needed to get winched out, losing the whole day)
    Had some time left so we hit another spot, first glassing up high, then around down low. Here we ran into a small 5x5 whitetail about 100 yards from the road. We have larger deer at home so he wasnt really in much dangrr but our guide had tge boy get out of the truck and off the road to get the gun on him. I'm pretty sure he was testing us out again. We left the buck alone then headed partway back uphill where he led us partway down a trail, then steered us to another trail that ran to the cut, which we then pushed through while he headed back low with the truck, picking us up at the road. Test number three.
    That was it for the day, other than showing us earlier what we'd be taking on the next morning.
    Back to the lodge for dinner, then called it a day. We had a 3:30 wake up, were hitting it early and hard.


    • #3
      Day 2

      So up at 3:30, grabbed a bite to eat from what breakfast had been made and hit the road at 4:00. Arrived at another trial head about 5:00 and started our climb. About 45 minutes in we left the Forest Service trail for a "hidden" trail of the guides. It wasn't long and we knew we weren't in Kansas anymore. Somehow we managed to grind it out up the toughest terrain I could have imagined and made it to a landing off an old burn just before 8:00 as the guide had hoped we would. We had a snack and some water and added a few layers waiting on light to show. It was still pretty dark when we started making our move, but we only went about 50 yards before finding a fresh bed and tracks leading into the burn. By the size and smell it was obviously a decent bull. We slowly started tracking and glassing, the three of us making way too noise in the single digit temps. We crisscrossed our way up the burn for well over an hour, at one point the boy was getting down telling me "this is stupid". I was just as beat, but asked him why, he replied it was way harder than he expected. It was the only complaint from him the entire week.

      I'm now at the point where I'm not really winded, and my legs feel ok, but I don't seem to have any power to push up. The boy's been stumbling often, as have I but we keep going. When we're just about to the top of the burn, and the peak, we take another break. After a bit we get going only to have the guide turn back to us signaling he's headed down to the timber on our left. He'd bedded again about 100 yards above us. We hit the timber and as we enter we can hear branches breaking in front of us. We pick up the pace and see where the bull started running, but in less than 200 yards he slows back to a walk and actually feeds on some bushes in a spot. We keep pushing and his tracks mix in with some cows, but it's pretty easy picking his out. We zig zag more back up through the timber and hear another branch break, this time finding it about 75 yards from where we'd been standing. From there the bull heads straight uphill, we follow for a ways but finally decide he wins, he'll just wear us out in here.
      We head down the ridge through the timber, crossing even more difficult deadfall and pitch, finally arriving at a look out spot over to the next ridge. By now I'm beat and I know the boy is as well even though he won't admit it. We're off from our path in and looking at an even harder climb down. It still hasn't occurred to me that this is the real deal, you make the effort to get in then wait it out. We've got 6 hours of day light in freezing temps left. I tell the guide im not looking forward to bushwacking my way out in the dark. He's not expecting anything to move before 4pm, but I'm not up for it. I can tell he's disappointed but he handles it well. Only later do I realize he's busting his butt to get us on an animal, and I'm quitting on him. We head down about 1:00, and it takes us 2 hours to get to the truck in the daylight. As bummed as I am in myself I can't help but feeling it was still the right thing for us to do.

      About here things really start to fall into place, except we have no way of knowing it.

      The boy and I had fallen hard a number of times and we still had daylight so the guide thinks we should check zero on the guns. Again mine's good to go, but the boy's just isn't right. Not horrible but no where near how it had shot over the summer before we had to switch ammo. We try a couple small adjustments to the scope but it's having no clear effect. I'd used the Leupold standard rings off my 700 when I mounted the scope on the 7-08. I'd read all summer on the internet about them being crap but figured it was just typical forum bs. The guide however noticed them and tells me they've cost him more trouble than any other ring and that we should take a 45 minute ride to a gun shop and get them swapped out. He makes a call and at 4:30 we're getiing new Talley lightweights installed. The guy also pulls down the bolt for a check, $45 and we're headed back to the range. The guy at the counter had twisted a number of clicks boresighting the scope, but the guide puts the gun in the bags and eyeballs it through the barrel and scope at 100 yards and throws more clicks in. First shot is 7 inches low and three right. I dial in 40 clicks up to get it three inches high, the kid fires one and it's 5" high and still right. Been lots of dialing bit things are moving in the right direction, drop back down 8 clicks, and go just 10 left. Next shot is exactly 3" high and 1/2" left. He fires another and it's still 3" high and cuts the center line of the target. Last two less than 1/2" center to center. We're back in business.
      Thing is I'm having him use the 140 Nosler E-tips as we had more of them. They now seem to shoot just fine so we go with them to hunt with. This may effect the outcome later.

      It's now dark so we head to the lodge for dinner and catch up with everyone else. End of day two, no tags filled in camp.


      • #4
        Day 3

        Morning again has us up before the others, and on the road. We drive about a half hour before pulling off the main road. We're headed into a wilderness area and there are warning signs we're in grizzly habitat. I get this uneasy feeling as we continue on, which gets worse as we go. I get out of the truck at the trail head but before the kids out I'm having a hard time, and it must show. The guide asks if I'm ok and I tell him I've got a bad feeling about this. He gives me a puzzled look but again is still cool about it. We talk it over even though I can't explain it. He says its ok not to go in if I'm not comfortable with it. I'm sure he doesn't want a repeat of yesterday but I'm having conflicted emotions of being a candya$$ in front of my kid and trusting what my gut is trying to tell me. We bail out. He takes us back to glass the spot where we'd seen the 10 pt. on day one and we spend a little time there. I'm trying to make sense of everything and realize this isn't going to get it done, I'm wasting the trip. I tell him we had a hard day yesterday and that I think we should head back to the lodge for a quick rest while he takes care of some business he'd talked about, then we could eat lunch on the way back to the spot we'd just left. He says he'd love to do that so that's the plan and exactly what we do.
        On the way back he shows us the ridge we'll be climbing and I get a little uneasy feeling again, but this time I'm not giving in. We hit the trail head and as soon as I'm out of the truck I'm feeling good about the afternoon. We start the climb and about a forth of the way in he stops For a rest. He looks straight at me and says simply, " Let me ask you right now, if we hike in there are you going to be able to sit all afternoon and come out in the dark?" It's not condescending, he just wants to know. I look him straight in the eye and say simply "Yeah". He responds "Ok"
        Now we push and make good time. This is where we get to the previous post about the boy's deer. We're glassing the far side, see the does and then the grizzly. He double checks with me to make sure I'm good, I half joke as long as we're not going over there I'm fine. He asks again what do I want to do, and I tell him let's go kill something. We start up the trail and run into the Amish guy and his boys. The rest as they say is history.

        We found out back at the truck later that the grizz was a sow, after they got to watching her they spotted a blond cub down below.
        At this point I couldn't have cared less about the bear, we were flying high. As we got in the truck I told him that he could think what he wanted but we weren't meant to be on that mountain that morning. His response was "Well, maybe". I took no offence. Fantastic ride back to the lodge late.

        I've been mulling on this all week, and I'm convinced it was higher test. Some of you will understand where I'm coming from. I also know that last year's accident played a part in that it was the avenue to get my attention. Before the wreck at our last gas stop I had a feeling we were going to be in for a long night, but I dismissed it. That morning I couldn't. I suppose the worst thing that would have happened was that we wouldn't have been in the spot the boy ended up killing that buck, but that morning there was no way I was taking a chance on another call home. In the end it worked out for the best.

        I already posted that day 4 was a day off, but we're not done yet. But I am for tonight.


        • #5
          Great stuff Fitch , I hope the people at F&S read this and do a article on your trip. A lot of honest writing here, well worth the read.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Pmacc60 View Post
            Great stuff Fitch , I hope the people at F&S read this and do a article on your trip. A lot of honest writing here, well worth the read.
            Thats a great idea. I hope F&S is monitoring. The constant sales pitch for new gimmicks and gadgets is getting awful stale. Maybe a professional interviewer to assemble and post interesting stories. Great way to get new material.


            • #7
              Have really enjoyed reading of your adventure. Somehow I missed the age of your son. Your story reminds me of trips with my son when he was a teenager. Hard to believe he is now in his fifties. Good times. Thank you again


              • #8
                Great story! Thanks for taking the time to post.

                Agreed, sometimes you just need to heed that little warning in the background of your mind. I have ignored such to my detriment and am trying not to do so again.
                Trump 2020 - Keep America Great!


                • #9
                  I'm not sure guys, but I think there is at least one more post coming.


                  • #10
                    Only a couple of times has an inner voice told me to hang it up. Once riding in to my hunting camp I got caught in a snow storm. I spent a rather comfortable night next to a fire sleeping on saddle blankets under a big spruce tree. When the storm lifted in the morning, for some strange reason I became extremely homesick and packed it in ... only to discover on returning home my first wife was messing around while I was gone. Second time I was hunting elk in minus twenties temps. Made it about a third the way up the mountain before throwing in the towel. "This just doesn't feel right."

                    To each his own but personally I think it is best to listen to the guide's inner voice. They have been at it a long time and intimately familiar with the country. Also, they are usually fairly astute at judging their clients' potential ... because they have encountered many different clients with different characteristics. Case in point is my PH in Africa not telling me how far away the kudu was when I shot it. He knew I could make that long shot ... even though I didn't know it. He said shoot and I didn't question him. Bang... kerponk ... "You got him!"

                    Being in the woods after dark requires some acclimation. But no one ever gets acclimated unless they force themselves to do it. A bit more effort is needed if you hunt alone. Eventually I got to the point where I almost never started down the mountain or back to the truck until after dark. Snow on the ground makes it easier but many times I came out by flashlight with no snow.


                    • #11
                      Day 4

                      Took the day off on a high note. We got up for breakfast with everyone else, including the guide. He had no luck finding a packer but didn't want us going in with him for the meat. It took him about 5 hours round trip, he made a couple stops after getting back out then joined us about 2:00. He and the boy decided we should celebrate with cheeseburgers in town. We went in for lunch, hit up the local souvenir store then went back to the lodge for close-up shots of the cape and rack. After that we dropped off the meat at a processor. Afterwards it was dinner time at the lodge. Spent the rest of the evening catching up with everyone else.


                      • #12
                        Day 5

                        Looked like it was going to be or best shot for an elk. Up again at 3:30 and on the road by 4:00, back to the trailhead from day 2. This time the parking area was empty. The previous trip there was a truck there from another outfitters guide. He hunted a couple ridges over from where we had been on Tuesday. Today was moving day for that outfit so we had it all to ourselves.

                        Backing up a bit, as we tracked the bull on Tuesday we hoped he'd head right off the ridge. To the left was the thick stuff we'd have a hard time catching him in, and the other group was the second ridge over. If he went over the top there was more nasty stuff in a big area as well. If he went right it was much more open woods, plus an easier walk out on that ridge. Problem was it was private land at the bottom we'd need permission to cross. We had cell service so our guide texted the outfitter who owned it. He gave permission but also told us one of his guides was up there somewhere. My guess is this is part of the reason we quit tracking the bull. It wasn't looking like we'd catch up and we risked pushing him to someone else. Best to leave him there for later.

                        So this time we started up the same Forest Service trail, except we stayed on it all the way. We made the look out spot before daylight again and glasse over to the ridge we'd been on Tuesday. The boy stayed in one spot, the guide down below him moving up and back constantly glassing. I'd hang with the boy a bit then check back across the trail to an opening that had fresh mulie tracks in it. We did this all day and saw nothing but about 50 ravens plus a golden and bald eagle.

                        About 15 minutes before the end of shooting light the guide had me start back down the trail ahead of them, more or less still hunting until dark. The boy told me later that the guide was pretty bummed about the day, we'd done everything we needed to and were skunked. Following the trail down it was nice not tripping and falling, but by the end my hips and lower back were taking a pounding. Also I was getting a hot spot on my left foot. My boot/sock combo had been awesome all week but because it was going to be a little warmer that day I'd gone with a lighter sock and had some slippage going on. Fortunately it didn't blister.

                        We got back to the truck at 7:45. It was the kind of day that discourages me from all day sits, but it still felt like a win.


                        • #13
                          What a wonderful story!
                          Bonnier could (and has!) do worse than publish something like this!


                          • #14
                            Day 6

                            Last day. We knew we weren't going to push as hard as we needed to take care of some things in preparation for leaving. Had breakfast with everyone else at 5:00, then headed out to the same spot we hunted the first morning. It was Saturday and the place had easy access but it was all ours. We got over the ridge to the edge of the timber and waited on daylight for the last time. As soon as you could see the ground we snuck down to the lookout. It was a little overcast with a light wind blowing up the hill at us. About a half hour in the guide says "There's one".

                            In a little sliver of trees stretching out of the main timber up top are 3 cows and a blond raghorn about 850 yards out. They are slowly feeding our way. He gets the spotting scope set up and we get a look at our first bull, a 4x4 or possibly a 4x5. I'm excited but not nervous. It's looking good but going to be a long wait. About 700 yards out they turn and scoot uphill. We realize one of the cows had been out of sight for a bit, she probably led them up. We wait on them to make sure they don't pop back out, then make a move towards them. There's an opening in the trees that we can get to 350 yards from, we'rehoping to catch them there. It doesn't happen. We cut back up to the ridge top which is very flat. The guide has me walk it until I hit the next rise, then I drop down left to the road.

                            When I meet them at the truck they've found where the group crossed the road not 50 yards away. We drive down to the bottom and look back up at where they'd gone. The guide wants me to follow them down the clearcut into the timber where he thinks they'll bed down. A ways below that is a closed road I can hit and follow out to the road we're on. He and the boy will head back down an d glass. We drive back up and i get out. He hands me a radio and says when I see the truck to call him and they'll head down to the pickup spot.

                            I start in and before I make the timber I fall hard again, twisting my right hip. I get up and walk it off. Once I start in the timber the tracks cut 90* and start sidehilling. I push on through more thick stuff for several hundred yards, then the tracks cut back uphill. I realize they are pulling a trick like a whitetail. The wind is coming over the top in the same direction it had all morning and they are making a hook where they can catch the wind and still watch their back trail and below them. I don't think I can fool 4 sets of eyes and ears. I call on the radio and tell them what's going on and that I'm headed down. It takes me an hour and a half to walk it out.

                            It's lunch time and I'm beat, but they aren't ready to quit. A text to my wife and she questions me on giving up as well. Ok then.
                            We need to pick up the meat and still have yet to cape out the skull and prep the horns. Turns out the meat isn't quite ready, an elk came in, but it will be by dinner time. We head back to the lodge and take care of the cape, pile up some stuff then turn right back around to where we were earlier.

                            The plan is a push like back home. The boy and I will drop in off the road to a spot we can watch an old cut above the timber where the elk headed. The guide takes the truck down a ways, then starts following my tracks from earlier. I know he's trying but I'm certain he wants to see what went down earlier, plus get an idea of the elk movements for future reference. The boy and I get down to a good spot and sit. We're there about a half hour and the radio breaks. "It's over, they went down". I call back "Ok, meet you at the truck". He's twice as far from the truck as us and I tell the boy he'll beat us back. Sure enough we're halfway there and we can see him standing by the door.

                            At the truck he smiles and tells me he could see what I did. He says he doesn't blame me a bit but if I'd pushed through another 80 yards the timber opened way up. I'm good with it. He didn't see the elk, but he was close enough to hear them crashing down through below him. If they'd been higher up it's possible they may have pushed up to us. At least we'd finished it out.

                            Pick up the meat on our way back, eat dinner then get packed. As expected my FIL wants the truck loaded and ready to go in case he can't sleep that night, which is exactly what happens. He's up at 2:30. I get up to see him off, he's on the road at 2:45am and drives straight through to his in laws in Minnesota, arriving at 11:30pm.

                            Next morning we have breakfast at 6:30 and are headed to the airport at 7:00. Same flights as our new friend from NY so we hang together until the last boarding. He's way in back and has baggage to claim so he tells me not to make my wife wait, so we say goodbye then. We arrive a bit early then I drive home, nobody sleeping. Get home safe at around 2:45 am Monday morning.
                            Last edited by fitch270; 11-09-2019, 02:45 PM.


                            • #15
                              Random thoughts.

                              I knew going in this wasn't going to be easy, but still wasn't quite prepared mentally. Having the boy along compounded this, parents worry about their kids more than themselves. As I mentioned earlier last year's accident loomed large as well. Kudos to my wife for her support. At home I don't use a headlamp, I know my way around well enough I don't generally need one. However after using one for a week I'll probably start as my eyes aren't what they used to be. My concern with coming out in the dark was that one of us was going to twist/break an ankle or leg, or get impaled somehow. Going in you know you'll have all day to deal with an issue but the stakes seem higher on the way out. It never occurred to me until Thursday that if something had happened to the boy or I the guide could have carried either of us out. Of course if he was injured we would have been stuck.

                              That Wednesday morning I can't explain at all, other than to say if any of the circumstances from noon Tuesday until that morning had been different we wouldn't have been sitting over that knob with a properly sighted in rifle. I've always been a firm believer that things happen for a reason and this experience only reinforces it in stone.

                              As parents we always want our kids to have better and be better than ourselves. If nothing else it appears I'm well on my way to being a successful dad. Credit also to my wife of course. No doubt this trip helped the boy to push through adversity to an end goal. I don't talk about my daughter near as much but be rest assured she follows in her brother's footsteps.

                              Our guide and the guy from NY both assured me that no one else there were pushing as hard as us and him, even though I felt like I wasn't always giving it my all. The other guy was going pretty hard himself, but they lost the second day getting stuck, and did one horseback trip that was an adventure unto itself. Most of the others were staying low hoping to stumble onto younger animals. You read all the time how getting on mature critters means getting back in to where they are, where most people aren't willing. Our guide explained it a little more, saying these trophy animals live mostly solitary lives only allowing themselves to be vulnerable during breeding or when deep snow keeps them out in the open on feed. The boy killed the only animal there all week.

                              The first couple days I couldn't get a read on the guide. He has an over the top personality that had me questioning if he was for real. Turned out not only is he the real deal, but much more dedicated, hard core and professional than I could have ever imagined anyone being. It was an absolute pleasure being paired with him, especially because he connected with my son so well. Of the two of us I'm sure he'd rather hunt with the boy and that's not a complaint in any way.

                              So the big question. Would I do it all again?


                              Thing is having done it I now know what I'd be up against and would be much better prepared going in. Physically I can still do the climbs, coming down is the hard part. Muscles recover faster than my back and joints. I absolutely can't see me doing this as a DIY trip without several good partners or at least having packers lined up. Definately not solo. OHH has my deepest respect.

                              The other problem is simply means, I'm not in a position to pull this off financially on a regular basis. At least not and staying married😎. Considering that there are other experiences I'd like to try there really isn't much point in doing this again just to prove something to myself. However that could easily change. The other possibility is going back but doing it the easier way. That's the least likely scenario as there are other places to do that.

                              Bottom line, the kid killed what could be the buck of his life and I was there. Given that deer or me killing a raghorn elk he wins hands down everytime. I'll get to enjoy looking at it hanging on my wall somewhere for the next several years while he'll have his entire lifetime to look at it, always remembering what we did together.
                              Last edited by fitch270; 11-09-2019, 02:50 PM.




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