Second Trip West Deer/Elk

Netherman

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I really enjoyed posting the details of my hunting trip last year. I also learned a lot from more experienced members comments and answers to my question. I've decided to follow the same format this year and hope to continue my education as well as sharing my story and thoughts.

The plan for our trip this year was to hunt one week with my CO resident brother then drive north to MT and hunt with my friends brother and two cousins. We had deer tags in CO and the Deer/Elk combo license in MT. We decided to do back to back weeks as it would save us 40+ hours of driving.

Day 0:
Started the drive Thursday after work. Drove straight thru and made it to our planned camp site around noon Friday. Got the wall tent setup and a decent wood pile stacked and ready to go. I dropped a google maps pin for my brother to find our camp. Unfortunately, between my phone and his it jumped 20 miles to a nearby mountain. After struggling to inch his questionably equipped explorer up the mountain trail in 12+ inches of snow he determined that he needed to walk the rest of the way. Luckily, we got cell signal at our camp location, well a 6’x8’ area anyway. After an hour or so after he was supposed to meet us I called him and incredibly he happened to walk thru a spot that had service. After a realizing what happened we decided to meet him in town.

By the time we met him it was almost 4pm so we hustled back to a few glassing spots we had identified from GE. Turns out we need to do bit more GE to reality crosschecking as more than a few of the vantage points we had identified were either too brushed in or sheer cliffs with no good way to climb. Thru our travels we saw a lot of doe a few forkys and my buddy saw two really nice deer (he put them around 160).

Back at camp we introduced my brother to ziplock boilable meals and talked over our plan for the next day. The plan was for my friend to go after the two premium deer that he had spotted and my brother and I would head out together and check out a valley that we hadn’t yet seen but looked promising from 100,000 ft. After a few beers and laughs it was time for bed. With less than 3 hours of sleep on the drive out I was going to sleep good tonight.

Lessons Learned: When meeting for a hunt always meet at the nearest town and drive to camp together.

Questions: N/A

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Day 1:
Got up at dark thirty and headed out to our glassing spots. After two hours of glassing and discussion on how a stalk might go, we had seen two doe in our valley and nothing else. We decided to move to the next ridge over to get a better/different view of the valley. On our way over we bumped a deer in the pinion. Was it a buck? Eventually we saw it enter the valley about 150yds away. It was a smallish 3x3. As it trotted thru the bottom. It did a classic mule deer stop and check its backtrail at 200yds. In hindsight I should have had my brother get setup and ready once we bumped the deer down the hill. At this point we hastily tried a setup but couldn’t get comfortable prior to the buck slowly plodding up the hill and out of our lives.

Less than 5 minutes after the buck walked over the hill we heard a shot in that direction. My brother was instantly texting my friend to see if he had shot the 3x3. Wait, we have cell service here? Good thing we I bought an InReach and service plan… Sadly he had not taken a shot. The shot we had heard was another hunter shooting one of the two big boys that my friend had seen the previous night. As the morning was getting late and hot we decided to go check out some more country. Crack! Another shot from the direction my friend was hunting. This was quickly followed by a text [Got One]. We started that way and he had already gotten it halfway quartered by the time we got there. It was a nice 4x4 which we later scored in the 120s, but not one of the big boys.

We quickly finished quartering the deer and headed back to camp. After unloading and repacking for the evening hunt my brother and I were off. We spent the evening glassing and with a few hunters and even fewer deer spotted we returned to camp. After a premium meal of heart tacos we began the planning process for the next day. Our new plan was for my tagless friend to hunt with my brother while I hunted on my own. We were going to go after the remaining big buck. Divide and Conquer.

Lessons Learned: If you aren’t picky and bump a deer in the direction of a good shooting lane that is possibly a shooter. Get set up on that lane and be ready. You can always choose not to shoot.

Questions: N/A
 
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Netherman

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Day 2:
Before first light we were setup along the ridge that overlooked the bottom that the big guy was last seen. As daylight came the deer just keep appearing. First a group of four doe, then another group of deer with some forks and a young 4x4, and on and on. There were deer everywhere. As I continued watching two of the deer in the first group transformed into small bucks. With the peeper (spotting scope) setup I methodically began checking each group for the giant that was supposedly out there. Eventually I spotted a group with two bigger bucks that seemed promising. While planning my stalk I noticed the group closest to me was nervously watching the tree line below and slowly working away. Perfect my path was clearing.

Then I saw what have them worried, two blobs of blaze orange. Well shit… I quickly glassed the two intruders and immediately recognized them. It was my friend and brother. They must have seen the same group as me earlier and were paralleling them along the tree line. Happily, I settled in to watch from one of the best seats in the house. They needed to make some moves and get after them as the group was feeding towards freedom in the form a fence separating public and private. They saw this too and were hightailing it trying to get in front of them. They quickly ran out of trees and began crouch walking and crawling to get into position. It looked like they were going to get in a good spot when they just stopped.

“Keep moving”. I thought as if they could hear me, but they didn’t even flinch. Knowing something must have caused them to stop I began looking around them. Eventually I spotted the problem. About 100yds away and on the downwind side of their planned path was as small forky bedded along a dry cut. Pinned by this little guy they began setting up for a shot where they were. My brother on a bipod with a pack as a back rest and my friend rangefinder in hand I was excited for the show that was about to unfold. The group with the two nice bucks fed in front of them. Crack! The group scatters and both hunters are up and running. What is going on? Did he hit it? They continued running and dove to the ground to get ready for another shot. The shot never came.

Satisfied that they had a clean miss or at least didn’t need my help I wandered off to some new country to see if I could turn up a buck. With neither of us getting onto a buck the rest of the day we were forced to relive the mornings incident back at camp that night. It turned out that the buck was 390yds away and my brother wasn’t super confident as he had never shot that far before. But the rest was rock solid, there was very little wind, and he had a drop chart that I had confirmed out to 500. My friend said he watched the shot go over the back of the buck and a search of the area didn’t turn up any blood. The best possible outcome all things considered. The best we can figure my brother either miscounted the BDC hashes or just flinched on the shot. My brother was pretty down about missing. We consoled him by reminding him that everyone misses their first big deer and that we would constantly remind him of it for no less than a lifetime.

That night as penance I conned my brother into taking my turn stoking the stove at 1am. Man was that a mistake. I thought we had explained how the stove and baffle system worked but nothing must have stuck. He ended up fully loading the stove and left the intake and baffle wide open. At 3am my friend woke us all up yelling about how hot it was. And was it ever, by my estimation it was no less than 10,000 degrees in that hot box. We opened the door and all the windows aired it out and went back to sleep.

Lessons Learned: Don’t push someone to take a shot they aren’t 110% comfortable with and definitely don’t let them operate a wood stove without adequate training.

Questions: In regards to my morphing group of doe/bucks would I be better able to discern antlers with better glass 12x or both? I’m looking into getting some new binos and am in the 10x vs 12x debate. Most of my hunting is in MI where 10x is sometimes overkill but with all the hype the 12x are getting I’m curious and could potentially keep my 10s for MI use.
 
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Bubblehide

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Questions: In regards to my morphing group of doe/bucks would I be better able to discern antlers with better glass 12x or both? I’m looking into getting some new binos and am in the 10x vs 12x debate. Most of my hunting is in MI where 10x is sometimes overkill but with all the hype the 12x are getting I’m curious and could potentially keep my 10s for MI use.

I'm sure you will get several opinions, but generally what is a universal answer is to buy the best glass you can afford, even if you need to save for a few years. I run 10x42s and a spotting scope, The combination works very well for me, but that spotter is heavy. Some guys run 12s, but you will find some that will say the 12s are difficult to stabilize and get a clear image without using them on a tripod. Other guys almost always use their binos with a tripod, and it does make a huge difference, especially with quality glass. Consider your options, the advive provided, and what your think will fit the way you hunt, and may hunt in the future.

Great story, please keep it going.
 
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Netherman

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Day 3:
From hot to cold. Around 4am I was freezing due to sweating and then trading the hot box for a cold one. I figured I could tough it out until our wake up time so I tightened up my cocoon and tried to go back to sleep. No dice. The alarm went off and we all got up shivering and begrudgingly started our day. We had identified a spot about 20 miles away during our GE time and my friend wanted to check it out with my brother. So they left camp early and I was on my own for the day.

I made a big loop checking out new valleys and ridges occasionally spotting or bumping deer but nothing promising. Towards the end of the day I ended up overlooking a valley that I had seen a few doe hanging out in previously so I decided to get a vantage and hang out for the evening. With 2-3 hours left of shooting light I started seeing deer in the pinion. I know I already mentioned this but glassing off a tripod is now one of my favorite things. I wasn’t seeing bucks but was still thoroughly enjoying the spectacle. An hour or so later a group of deer fed off a ridge right next to the “road” and were headed down a drainage right towards me. With so many road hunters in the area I was surprised to see that they were bedded and living so close to the road. Even more surprising was that the group had a decent 4x3 in it.

I had seen enough and began to get my stuff together for a stalk. I decided to leave my pack and just go with my rifle, binos, range finder, and puffy layer tied around my waist in case I needed it as a back rest. I began creeping along a parallel ridge that would hopefully get me close enough for a shot. After creeping and crawling down the ridge I was positioned on a rise 150yds from the group. From up on the road, while I was getting positioned on the bipod and readying for the shot I heard a truck door slam. Shit. Boom! In under two minutes a hunter had exited the truck and fired a shot. Presumably at the group I was looking at.

Well, the deer weren’t interested in seeing who that target was and took off. Surprisingly they just ran onto the ridge across from me and stopped. It looked so routine and I realized that it probably was. From their current position there was no way a human or other danger that the road carried could see them. Unfortunately for them I wasn’t on the road and knew exactly where they were.

Angry that another hunter had messed up my 150yd chip shot, I quickly ranged them and was happy to see that they were just over 200yds away. Not wanting the other hunter to bump them further I hastily took a shot at the 4x3. With the sound of a second shot and rock flying under his feet the deer took off with the rest of the group in fast pursuit. I looked for blood until dark and after I was satisfied I had indeed shot under the buck I headed back to camp. Back at camp I painfully recounted my day and the hard lesson learned. Their day didn’t go much better. They found four really nice 4 point sheds but only saw one deer during their travels. Guess they’ll be hunting closer to camp tomorrow.

Lessons Learned: If you are cold and have options to change that do it. I froze and stayed awake for over an our rather than getting up and dealing with it for 10 minutes or less. Other hunters a part of public land and something that I need to accept. That hunter had no idea I was there and wasn’t intentionally interfering with my hunt. Taking a shot that you aren’t 100% confident in just because you are angry at a situation isn’t fair to the deer and isn’t in your best interests either. If you like what you are seeing no point in looking for greener pastures.

Questions: N/A

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It's been a boring day at work...

Day 4:

My friend and brother we headed back to the day 2 spot but with a different approach angle and wind. I was headed to a new valley that just looked perfect and “had” to hold deer. By noon I had seen a few doe and smaller bucks but nothing noteworthy. Then I received a txt that my brother had shot one. “Sweet. How big? Do you guys need help?”. [Nah, it’s a little forky and real close to the truck.] Excited to see the deer and hear the story I decided to return to camp for lunch.

When I got there my brother informed me that he was a stone cold killer and to just wait until I saw the monster… We joked about the magnificent beast and how no less than four other hunters had tried to kill him resulting in 98% of his rack being shot off, but nothing could get in his way. Once everyone was done with their additions of grandeur, I heard the real story, and how they had seen a much nicer buck and got to 300 before they busted the group. Walking to a new area the spotted a group of deer and snuck in for a closer look. They got to 150yds before they determined that there were no big bucks in the group but did see a fork and spike. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth my brother instantly decided he would shoot the fork. At 150 there were no mistakes and the buck died from a single broadside lung shot. Perfect.
With a good meal of heart tacos in my stomach I headed back out while my friend and brother stayed at camp to debone and get their two deer transport legal. Back in the same spot from this morning I decided to try a different lookout point. On my walk there, I spotted a group of deer feeding thru the pinion on a parallel ridge less than 300yds away. Knowing that there were likely headed to the valley I was watching that morning I backed out and followed the backside of the ridge I was on to get ahead of them.

Thirty minutes went by. Then, an hour with no sign of them. Did they change course and head for a different feeding area? Did they bed down? Was there even a good buck in that group? As all of these thoughts ran thru my head I decided to sneak back and see if I could find them again. as I worked my way back thru I spotted a doe and then another. It seemed like the same group, but they seemed content to feeding in the protection of the pines they were currently in. I continued moving until I spotted a pencil racked 3x3. Unfortunately, he spotted me too. After a thirty minute standoff where I pretended to be part of a bush and him trying to figure out why that bush looked funny, he decided he had seen enough and took off dragging the whole group including a heavier and wider buck. In reality the whole sequence lasted less than five minutes but man, did it feel like an eternity. I finished out the evening glassing the valley with no sightings.

Back at camp the two deer were deboned and skulls boiled. With no pressing work at camp and the consensus for a break we headed to town. We found a local brewery with a solid pizza menu. Needless to say we were sold. After a few beers and pizza we were on our way back to camp. We decided to stop for gas and stumbled upon a great convenience. The gas station sold firewood.

Lessons Learned: Gas station firewood is a huge time saver compared to cutting and splitting wood.

Questions: Curious how common gas station firewood is across the west?
 
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Netherman

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Day 5:
The pressure was on. The plan was for me and my friend to go get setup in the field where the remaining big deer hopefully still lived. My brother would take the spotting scope into the grandstand and wave us into any deer we may have missed. Battling a brewery induced hangover we plodded thru the darkness to our planned vantage point to start the morning. At first light we began still hunting our way thru the juniper and periodically stopping to glass and check with my brother. Blaze orange is impressive stuff as we had no issue picking him out on the cliff face. Based on his hand signals there were deer everywhere, but he hadn’t seen a clear shooter.
As we continued sneaking thru I spotted a buck who also spotted us. His head turned my way and I knew instantly that this was a deer I wanted to shoot. He wasn’t the giant but the mass and way his rack squared up when he looked at me had me hooked. We slowly moved behind a juniper tree and lay down. Eventually the number 1 contended decided that whatever he saw wasn’t a threat and continued feeding. Eventually they fed into a shallow bowl and out of sight. Leaving my friend behind with my pack I headed after them transitioning from a crouch to a low crawl as I got closer. After a 100+yd crawl I was on the rim of the depression. At 350yds feeding between my 1 and 2 o’clock was the group and Number 1. Number 1 was the furthest to my right and feeding up and away on the edge of the depression. If he feed over the edge I’d have a long crawl to get into position and risk losing them over quickly approaching freedom fence. Time to act.
I got the rifle on the bipod and ranged mr. 1, 326. Woof, that’s a long way. After consulting my drop chart, I was looking at between 3.5in low at 300 and 10in low at 350. Knowing it wasn’t liner I held for 8in by aiming just below the deer’s spine and squeezed the trigger. Thump. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a bullet hitting a deer. Deer are running everywhere except one. He just stood there and then began staggering towards the bottom. I hastily fired another round to make sure he went down. Clean miss. Hearing the sound of the second shot he turned and faced me struggling to keep standing. Not wanting a hit deer to suffer any more than necessary I prayed for him to turn. When he didn’t turn I fired my third round right thru his brisket. Incredibly he continued standing. Now out of bullets and worried that he still wasn’t down I started running back towards my friend screaming for my pack with extra rounds in it. After getting the bullets and running back the deer was down and dead.
We quickly took a few pictures and began quartering him out. by the time we were halfway done my brother showed up and recounted the story from his perspective. It was interesting to hear what it looked like from 1,000ft higher. During the autopsy we determined that my first shot had hit high and was a spine shot. We found the bullet from the third shot against the hide on his left rear quarter.
Still early we hastily packed him out and got everything ready for the third heart taco meal. I don’t think I could ever get sick of them. After lunch we started the skull boil and worked on deboning my deer while clearing space for the meat to fit by removing as many cans as we could. By 3pm we were out of work and out of beer, so we decided that rather than stay the night we would pack up camp and start our trek to MT that night.

Lessons Learned: Always have extra bullets on your person when moving in for a stalk. There is a lot of variation past 300. In the future I will be using closer yardage increments as well as more temperature/elevation information.
Questions: I’m thinking about having a drop chart to 300 on my rifle and then additional cards in my bino harness for longer range shots with temperature and altitude corrections. Does anyone else do it this way or have any suggestions or tips?
 
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Netherman

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Day 6:
After a long drive from CO to MT we arrived, met my friends brother and cousins, and got the wall tent set up. They had been there for a few days already and had already shot a deer. We were excited to check it out and hear the story, but with little light left we headed out for a quick evening hunt/scout. After checking two areas off our list we were back at camp. The muley that the cousin shot was one that they lucked into while out looking for elk. On their way back to the truck to head to another area they came over a rise and there he was. He wasn’t a spectacular 3x3 but with four tags in his pocket he wasn’t playing games.

Later that night, some neighboring hunters stopped by and gave us some local intel. Mostly regarding the bleak outlook of our hunt area. [were they just trying to get us moving on?] They also had a conversation with the CPW about a problem grizzly in the area that had killed a cow earlier in the week. [definitely trying to get us out of their spot]. As we continued our conversation we found out that they were horseback hunters in their 60s and were excited to see some young hunters without ATVs or side by sides doing things the “right” way. I was initially worried about them seeing the two mule deer skulls we had brought from CO as they require the tag to stay with the meat rather than the antlers, but after a few minutes and discussion of our trip we were showing them off and explaining the strange CO requirement. Coming from MI it just felt wrong to have untagged antlers. They informed us that they would be pulling camp in the morning and that we were welcome to their extra firewood. [I guess these guys are alright].

With the strangers gone we began making our plan for the next day. My friend and I wanted to sign into the BMA with the giant whitetail from last year and see if we could find a similar one. We talked the brother and cousins into going to the spot I shot a mule deer last year. It didn’t take much convincing after we told them about the big 4x4 we saw in there last year. With our plan set for the morning we got some much-needed sleep.

Lessons Learned: don’t be so quick to judge strangers. The two horsemen were kind and I think genuinely wanted to help.

Questions: N/A


Day 7:
After checking out a small chunk of state land for the morning we were headed to the ranch HQ to sign in at the BMA. Driving around the BMA we couldn’t believe the number of other hunters in the area. Last year we saw less than 10 other hunters in our entire week. Today alone we saw a truck at every pull out and hunting spot we had investigated before. In retrospect the 2’ of snow that we had received last year might have been a blessing. After kicking around all our spots from the previous year we had seen a few whitetail and mule deer but nothing to write home or on a forum about. We disappointedly headed back to camp for lunch. On our way we received a call that cousin number two got a muley. Sweet!

During the call and based on what we had seen that morning we decided to relocate our camp to another spot along the mountain range. We hurriedly began packing up the tent while the brother headed over to help. By the time we got camp moved and the next addition to the rack stack handled it was beginning to get dark. From our camp we had a good view of a burn, and some parks on the mountains above us. We saw a few deer and had a group of 4 doe feed within 150yds of our camp. Guess they know they are a protected class around these parts. With yet another good heart taco meal we worked out the next days plan.

I wanted to look for a whitetail buck and cousin number 1 wanted to fill his doe tag so we would go check out some creek/river bottom areas, my friend and his brother would hunt some rolling foothills for muleys, and cousin number 2 was going to hang around camp and learn the merits of physical training prior to western hunting.

Lessons Learned: Always have backups to your backup plans. I couldn’t believe how many hunters we came across after seeing no one last year. For hunting

Questions: N/A

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Day 8:

After a few hours watching some primo river bottom with nothing to show for it we decided to see if we could get that antelope tag filled midday while the deer were largely bedded. On our way out of the bottom we spotted a group of two doe and a fawn skirting a willow patch. After a mile stalk to 300yds those shapeshifters had turned into a mule deer instead of whitetail. Bummer.

We drove around checking state land blocks looking for antelope. Finally, we saw a heard that was a quarter mile on private but feeding with the wind at their backs towards the state land. We snuck out onto the prairie and crept into a good position where we hoped they might cross the firing line. Realizing that entering public land without the wind to their advantage they turned west and began feeding parallel to us. Not wanting to sit the rest of the day waiting on antelope that might not cross the line we kept moving.

Driving down the only real road we saw two antelope running back and forth on a state land hillside. What is going on here? We pulled off and began watching them. It was two doe antelope just zig zagging across the hillside as if they were possessed. Eventually we figured out what had them running mad. There was a bald eagle that was attacking them. Flying overhead it would divebomb them and claw at their heads.
After our astonishment wore off we decided to try and put a stalk on and see if we could steal that eagle’s dinner. With the antelope distracted we quickly got within 500yds. As we continued getting closer the eagle noticed us and flew off. We were sneaking over a rise when all of the sudden the two antelope came rushing right at us. The eagle was back and had pushed them right at us. We hit the deck and the antelope took off in confusion. With the cousin on the rifle I was ranging the antelope. With the eagle gone again they had become curious about what animals they had scared so badly and were cautiously walking closer. 370, 330, closer, and closer they crept. At 270 one turned broadside, I called the range, and Crack! I watched the shot thru my binos and saw that it had hit low. I couldn’t believe it his cousin is a good shot and was prone on his pack. He couldn’t believe it either.

Trudging back to camp we talked about drop charts, zero ranges, and how my friend and I are currently debating the merits of 165g vs 180g bullets. Of which, the 180s are superior… From this discussion we figured out the problem or at least a problem. He had bought two different bullets for this hunt 100g ballistic tips for antelope and 130g accubonds for deer and elk. His rifle was sighted in with the ballistic tips and was currently loaded with the accubonds. In his 264 win mag this resulted in a 300fps delta.

With a freshly sighted in rifle and a decision to only shoot accubonds we were headed back to the river bottom for the evening hunt. At last light we saw a few doe, but couldn’t get shot as they were between us and a barn. So, we headed back to camp to tell the story of our failure. Luckily our story was overshadowed by that of my friend and his brother, who had both shot deer that evening. My friend had shot a 7pt whitetail after they had blown a stalk on a giant 8pt whitetail. During their pack out, they spotted a mule deer on the opposite side of the drainage they were in. now with two deer on the ground they had some decisions to make. Do you pack out a whole deer each or make two trips? With less than a mile back to the truck and losing daylight they decided to go heavy.

Lessons Learned: Knowing the ballistics of your rifle is incredibly important out west. In MI where shots of 100yds are long and over 200yds are unheard of, different bullets and speeds aren’t as critical.

Questions: I did a lot of research on ballistics and bullet selection for my 30-06 this year and have settled on 180g accubonds at 2800fps. Ballistically I don’t give up much in the way of drop to the 165s and gain a significant windage advantage. I am kicking around the idea of switching to copper bullets to be lead free. My concern is efficacy and worry about penciling either at higher or lower velocities. I’m curious if anyone is or has shot copper bullets and what their experiences are at close and long ranges. I’m particularly interested in shots inside 100 as those are common in MI where I hunt.
 
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Netherman

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Day 9:

With everyone else’s deer tagged filled again and elk tags on everyone’s mind I needed to get this deer tag filled. I decided to go to the same drainages where the giant 8pt whitetail lived and see if I could show my friend and his brother how it was done. Exhausted from the previous day’s pack out and needing to debone and boil their deer skulls they planned to stay at camp. Both cousins would try and find some elk.

I made the drive to the new hunting spot and headed up to a glassing spot I had identified from my OnX research and settled in. I spotted a few groups, but none had any noteworthy bucks. Looking way out I noticed a big group of 10+ deer two were sporting big bodies but at over a mile away I couldn’t tell. Great plan leaving the peeper in the truck to save weight… With nothing else going on I decided I needed to walk over there for a closer look. I got everything packed up and started my trek over there. About three quarters of the way over I ran into a herd of cattle. I carefully skirted around them while each cow gave me the stink eye. As I got closer I could tell that there was a decent buck in the group, but still wasn’t close or in possession of good enough glass to count points. Another hill closer I watched as they fed into the timber. Not wanting to go charging in after then I decided that I would come back first thing tomorrow morning if this evening hunt didn’t work out.

I backed out of the area, ate lunch, and decided to check out some promising looking cuts where a supposed giant whitetail lived. Still hunting thru the cuts I began bumping bedded deer. By the third group of mule deer I realized that this wasn’t going to work. Thinking that the deer were bedded waiting for dusk I decided to stop and wait until I began seeing deer. After not seeing any deer and darkness well on its way I decided to check the next cut. Still nothing going on. As I was crossing the bottom of the cut I hear a rock pop below me. After a few minutes with no obvious sign of the popper I continued my way down and across the cut.

A buck suddenly exploded out of the cut 10yds away from me. I could tell he was a nice buck. I got my bipod legs extended, loaded a round, flicked the safety, and waited for him to stop. As he ran up the opposite hillside I could see that he was a muley I’d be happy shooting. He did the classic muley stop and check if anything was following him. Not thinking I’d have much time I guessed the range to be between 300 and 250. With my scope setup the bullet would be +or- 3inches. Looking at the deer I thought back to the missed deer in CO and wondered why I was even considering a rushed and long shot at an unknown yardage. In that moment I decided not to shoot.

After setting the rifle aside I ranged the deer. He was 260 yards away. As I contemplated the meaning of life among other things, the deer slowly walked over the opposite edge and into a patch of pines. Happy with myself for not repeating my Colorado mistake I decided to get into the next drainage and see if I could get another chance at him. At the mouth of the drainage I found a good glassing point and began glassing. As I began glassing the many groups of deer in this drainage I decided I would refer to this rise as the “moral high ground” or “karma crest”. After checking every group I could and kicking myself for leaving my peeper in the truck, I decided to start up the cut.

As darkness approached, I saw a group of 6 mule deer doe that I hadn’t seen from the bottom and crept in for a closer look. They didn’t have a buck in tow but at the head of the cut I saw three more deer and one had a big body. Leapfrogging my way up there I got my first real look at the big bodied deer. I get a facing away look and he wasn’t the tallest but he was wide and I was interested. I ranged him and he was currently 500yds away. Deciding I needed to cut the distance to 200 and with good pine cover along my side of the cut I set off. 350 paces later, hopefully at 200yds I crept to the edge of the timber. I first saw the two doe feeding and then, on the opposite of the bowl, was the buck. A quick range put him at 280. I got the bipod set and pack down as a back rest. I couldn’t get comfortable, so I traded the pack for my bino harness. It was rock solid. Everything was perfect, so I lined him up and squeezed the trigger. A final headshake and he was down with a single shot thru both lungs.

Now the work begins. I quickly snapped a picture of the wide 4x3 and sent it to the boys hoping to drum up some excitement for a fellow packer. Help was on the way, but would take over an hour of driving plus the hike in. One of the cousins made a late decision to shoulder mount his deer so I started the caping and quartering process. Working on my own in the darkness, I began going down the list of animals that might want to take this deer away from me. Wolves, a lion, or the grizzly bear that had reportedly killed a calf not too far from here. With my rifle loaded and set on a bipod behind me, I began doing perimeter checks every five minutes or so. One problem was that I was on a small bench and with only a headlamp I couldn’t see much more than 40yds in any direction. Without any trees to hang filled game bags I set them on rocks to cool while I continued working. Just as I was getting the last quarter in a game bag I saw two headlamps bouncing on the hillside I had shot from. It was my friend and his cousin. We loaded up and headed off to the trucks.

With three people and two unloaded packs to start it was an easy pack out. just before we got back to the truck we heard a voice in the darkness. “Get one?” Startled we all gave the landowner a face full of headlight. We turned our lights down and after setting my rifle down we walked over. We showed him the rack and thanked him for participating in the BMA program. He was good guy and congratulated us and told us how he was glad that we were getting that 3x4 gene out of the heard that according to him was a problem in the area.

Back at camp we had an awesome meal of heart tacos and inner loin steak bites. This meal really caused the need for aging meat to sink in. the inner loin from the CO deer that had been in the cooler for a week was significantly more tender and buttery than the loin from a deer shot the previous day.

Lessons Learned: Aging inner loins is the only way to go. If possible move your deer to a good vantage point with places to set quartered meat to cool during processing. I made a big deal about not shooting at that buck. Probably more than was necessary for the story, but I feel like this was a notable event in my experience as a newish hunter. I’ve read and heard many more experienced hunters talk about the ethics and how to decide when to and when not to shoot, but don’t think I ever really understood. If I had to explain it I would say it comes down to “knowing”. I knew that bullet I shot was going to go thru the lungs of that deer. While, I didn’t know how the first shot opportunity would play out. I don’t want to make myself out to be some omniscient being who will never miss a deer or worse wound one, but I do think I am on the path that we all strive to be on.

Questions: Does anyone have any tips for staying safe from predators while field dressing a deer? I feel like moving the deer to a better vantage point would have help, but otherwise I thought I was a good as I could be.


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Day 10:

This was a lazy day. I slept until daylight and then began skinning out my skull, boiling it, and deboning my deer to get it ready for the drive home. This coupled with helping the cousins boil their skulls consumed most of the day and case of bud light. We spent the evening glassing from the truck and camp looking for elk. In that one evening we saw more elk than I had seen deer on this entire trip. Two herds had easily 300+ elk in them. Unfortunately, they were all on private land and not close to the public.

Disappointed we headed back to camp to hear what everyone else had seen. Turns out we had all seen the same thing. Lots of elk on private and no elk on public. Our guess is that they had all been pushed there due to the abundance of ORV trails that spiderweb thru the mountain range we have been hunting. Over some reheated chili containing last year’s deer, we worked out a plan for the next day.

Lessons Learned: N/A
Questions: N/A
 
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Netherman

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May 24, 2016
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Location
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Day 11:
Deciding that we needed to find the pockets where the ORVs couldn’t go we planned to hike into an area with a burn and a small valley that couldn’t be seen from the road. In the darkness we started our nearly vertical hike and reached our destination just after first light. After glassing the protected side of the valley and burn for an hour we decided to work our way along the ridge glassing into the bottoms glassing with different angles. Not seeing any fresh sign or anything that would lead us to believe elk did in fact live here we decided to head back to camp for lunch.

Unhappy in our morning hunt we decided to try and fill my friend’s antelope tag. We had been seeing them all week but needed to see them on huntable land. Less than two miles down the road we saw what we were looking for. A group of at least 10 antelope was standing roughly in the middle of state land. We quickly got to a parking spot out of sight and armed with my rangefinder and my friend with his rifle we headed off. With the wind in our favor we started towards the group. The terrain quickly forced us from a walk, to crouch, to a high crawl, finally to an army crawl. Still worlds away we cautiously inched closer.

Suddenly they took off. The main group was headed away from us towards the sanctuary of private land, but two were headed towards us. The stars aligning, I started ranging the two while my friend got set on the bipod. Fortunately, he had a tall bipod as the prairie grass was tall. Unfortunately, I was having trouble getting an accurate range in the tall grass. I was seeing ranges between 35 and 500 yards. Sorting thru the absurdly close estimates was easy but determining whether they were 200 and shootable or 500 and out of range was becoming problematic. Eventually they realized that something was up and hightailed it towards their comrades safely feeding on private land.

At an all out sprint we raced over to a slight rise that might give us a shot opportunity of they stopped or at least slowed down. Incredibly they did just that stopping at 250 yards. After a few repeat ranges to confirm I let my friend know the range and confidence level. Waiting for the shot I thought about how our slight elevation must have given us a better angle for the range finder. Surprised I had all that time to think I started wondering why he hadn’t shot. As I trained my binos at the antelope I realized why. There was a heard of cattle walking behind them. Bummer. They had to be 1000 yards behind the antelope but might as well have been 10 feet.

We were forced to watch as the cattle unknowingly covered their retreat over to the private land. With a taste for antelope we headed back to the truck. Before getting back in the truck we spotted two antelope on the opposite side of the road potentially on state land. We made it to within 500yds before we realized that the two buck antelope were on the wrong side of the line and were feeding the wrong way. We tried letting the wind blow our scent at them in hopes that they might miraculously run under the fence back to the state land. It didn’t work and with no daylight left we headed back to camp.

Lessons Learned: Hunting antelope without large chunks of accessible land is painful. We spent too much time looking at antelope and hoping they would cross over the line.

Questions: Is it typical for the elk to move out of the mountains and hear up on private during the rifle season? I feel like there weren’t any elk left on the mountains the week that we were there.

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Day 12:

After seeing no fresh elk sign in the mountains near camp we decided on a big move to another range with way less ORV trails. Hopefully there will be elk here. We got to our planned area in the dark and began climbing up a short but very steep rise. At some points we were grabbing onto small trees and pulling ourselves up.

Up on the ridge we began hiking up to a bowl that looked like it would be fairly secluded. On our travels we heard something rooting around in the leaves on the edge of the ridge we were hiking on. We snuck over there and peered over the edge. A nice whitetail buck exploded out of the bottom and took off heading further down the ridge. With no deer tags left we watched him go. Surprised that we had seen a whitetail so high in elevation. It defiantly felt more like mule deer habitat to us.

Continuing on we came to a meadow that just felt like there would be elk in it. Carefully, we eased onto the edge to see if anything was there. As we began to peek out from behind a pine we felt the breeze hit the back of our necks. Thump, thump, thump. Something big was running. Shit, we just blew the only public land elk out of the area. We hurried to get around the pine and see if we could catch a glimpse of them. My friend saw it first. Wolf, he exclaimed. Without looking I chambered a round while he did the same. As the dark brown blob got closer we both realized it was a bear. Standing together with rifles trained on its face we shouted at the bear. Somewhere between 50 and 70 yards away the bear went from a flat out sprint to a complete stop. We continued yelling and after seconds that felt like hours, the bear turned to the side and ran off down the side of the ridge we had climbed up. Shaken we decided to continue up the ridge. The first few hundred yards were stressful as we continually checked our back trail, but never did see the bear again.

Talking thru what had happened we decided that it must have been a black bear (based on size) with cubs and that once they caught our wind we were too close and triggered a defensive charge. Without prior discussion on what we would do in this situation I think we handled it pretty well. Standing together to look big, yelling so it knew where and possibly what we were, and not moving aggressively towards the bear are probably the reasons that it stopped and ended up leaving. We had both independently decided that if the bear had continued towards us after it stopped it was getting shot. I also learned that I am not a bear spray guy as the spray remained on my hip in favor of the rifle.

The rest of the day was uneventful as we hiked up the ridge, glassed the bowl, and began our hike back to the truck. We saw a lot of old elk sign but nothing recent. Lots of rubbed up trees and dried out crap. With darkness falling we were quickly approaching the field again and the paranoia began. Every small noise signaled the bears return. After 20 minutes of hiking we had successfully ran the gauntlet and were back at the truck.

Lessons Learned: After our experience with the bear I will be looking into a handgun for archery situations. I think in our case having one person with spray and one with a rifle might have been the ideal defensive position, but I now know I want a gun in my hands.

Questions: For those of you with more bear experience/encounters is there anything else that we could or should have done differently?

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Day 13:

Having yet to see an elk on public land my friend and cousin decide that they want to go whitetail doe and antelope hunting. The friend’s brother got a potential hot tip from someone at a local bar about a heard that moves between the public and private. We decided to drive the hour and a half to the promised land.

The tip included some detailed instructions on where to go and how to get there. After an hour hike in the dark we were sitting on the corner of some state land national forest. After two hours into daylight we had seen a few deer and two groups of antelope but no elk. Just as we were getting ready to move we spotted them. A group of 50+ elk were feeding on private. The group had two nice 5x5 bulls that had us drooling (at this point we probably would have been just as excited for a single cow).

They started heading towards the national forest land just as it had been foretold. Unfortunately, they took a hard right before entering the frontlines. They walked into the pines on a hill on private land. After watching a few bed and the rest drop over the top we decided we didn’t want to spend the rest of our day waiting for them to get up and potentially move to the public.

On the way back to our core hunting area we stopped into a few larger chunks of public land. During these travels we learned that his rental SUV did not have 4wd. After some pushing, rocking, and cursing we finally got turned around and headed back to camp. Back at camp we looked at one of the giant private land elk herds. I stopped to get a picture. Just to prove that elk really do exist in MT. While getting our picture we noticed there was an old truck parked with a guy watching the herd and currently us. Thinking that was strange we wondered if they were there to watch for trespassers enticed by the giant herd.

On the road that paralleled the private we saw a group of three hunters on a side by side driving towards the herd. Hoping that they might blow them to the public land we hightailed it into the mountains and hiked out to the edge of the public. From a good glassing point we watched with bated breath hoping that we might get an opportunity. With less than two hours of light left we spotted two cow elk to our north that appeared to be on public. With over a mile of terrain to cover we took off racing up and down the foothills. Out of breath and nearly out of light I made the final push into the field we thought the cows were feeding in. I didn’t see anything at first then I saw movement. Looking thru my binos I saw a really nice mule deer better than any we had killed this week. I put my binos down and then raised them again hoping that the buck would turn into an elk. No dice.

In the darkness and 3+ miles from the truck we began our hike out. After we cut some fresh lion tracks I decided it would be a good time to regale the brother with the story of our bear charge and lion encounter from the previous year. He took it in stride, but I did notice a bit more pep in his step as we hiked out.

Lessons Learned: Local intel is incredibly helpful and at least in our experience not a line to mess with strangers.

Questions: Would we have been better off watching the herd from the morning? Our thinking was that they wouldn’t come to the private since the feed was on public and their bedding safety was as well.
 
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Netherman

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May 24, 2016
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Location
Michigan
Day 14:

We only had a half day to hunt today as we needed to be packed up and leaving by the end of the day. With the time crunch three of us decided to hike back to the public private border. Just after sunup we spotted two elk on the line about a half mile away. Not sure whether they were on the public or private we began carefully working our way over there. We didn’t want to rush over and potentially pass up an elk on our travels.

We didn’t bump any on our way over, but by the time we had gotten to the line the elk were no longer there. Bummer. With the sun quickly gaining altitude we began our hike back to the truck. We took a different path back that would take us along the border and allow us to look into some fields and bottoms along the way.

Working our way thru one field we stumbled across an elk graveyard. We saw meat stripped carcasses in varying states of decomposition. The ones of most interest to us were those that appeared to have been killed in the last week. As best we could tell the public land hunters created a firing line up on the hill, the elk lined up in the forest, and on opening day the starting gun went off with the elk making a mad dash for the private and the hunters working to prevent them. What we didn’t understand is that they never seem to have crossed back over. Our thinking was that once the pressure of opening week had subsided they would come back to whatever had them on the public to begin with. We would soon find out.

Further up the hill we spotted group of 5 cow elk on the edge of some timber on the private with an eye towards the public. Even though we were walking along the fence in the open they weren’t acting like they had seen us. We crawled up to a small rise that would give us a good shooting vantage. We’d wait until the elk crossed or it got late enough that we had to leave. About 15 minutes into our wait we heard an ATV off to the north. Minutes later we saw it. Someone from the private ranch was driving along the fence line wearing orange. Was he hunting? Unlikely as he didn’t have a rifle and everyone in a 10 mile radius knew were the big herd with nice bulls was located on the property. Maybe he was checking the fence? As he proceeded to make three passes between us and the elk I can only assume he wanted to keep the elk on his place. What an asshole. I don’t know that they would have crossed over, but man did that suck. Once the elk had moved back into the timber all involved began their way home.

Pissed off and walking the fence back we noticed that the rancher would throw all his scrap fencing onto the public side. We made sure to return every piece we came across. Almost back at camp we spotted another side by side that had two hunters and what we suspect to be a guide (full camo no orange). Now it began making sense. The rancher wasn’t protecting those cow elk for himself but for his or someone else’s guiding operation.

While packing up we made a few jokes about the guide showing his tourists the sights for a few days to build up the suspense before taking them to his “secret” spot with hundreds of elk. That got us in a better mood as did the group photo with all the deer we had killed the past week. While I don’t know if I’ll ever rifle hunt on a general elk tag again. We still had a great time, had seen a lot of country, and had made memories we’ll cherish forever.

Lessons Learned: I’m going to start looking into limited elk units as well as archery opportunities in MT going forward. At a minimum I will be looking for areas without ORV trails even if a lot of them are closed according to the map.

Questions: N/A


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Trip and Gear Report

Trip Thoughts: The two-week trip is long. It was nice saving the drive time and miles, but it changed the trip in a few ways. Our timing was dictated by the CO hunt as they are one-week seasons. I would have rather gone to MT later and been more in the deer rut. I also think I would have hunted CO with less of a get in get out attitude if there wasn’t the possibility of extending the time for the next hunt. Finally, it was just plain tiring which led to me cutting the spotting scope from my pack on multiple days that I could have used it. Being in better shape would certainly help, but I bet I would just walk further.

Just like last year western hunting was the highlight of my year and I plan to continue heading west every year as long as I can. I’d like to give a big thanks to the more experienced members and this forum for answering my questions and providing an incredible resource for all things hunting.

Noteworthy Gear: With my hunting and backpacking experience growing, my gear is getting pretty dialed so I don’t think items stand out like they did before. It’s not really an item but glassing off a tripod is awesome for extended glassing. Before I would get bored glassing after 10-30 minutes and want to walk around. With the tripod I seem to see more and was able to sit much longer.

Disappointing Gear: I was mildly disappointed in my glass. A few times I had a tough time discerning points, but the deer did not appear to be tiny. I’m not sure if higher quality is the answer, but I’m thinking of upgrading from my 10x42 vortex diamondbacks to something at least mid-level. If I were a more discerning hunting wanting to score deer this would have been a bigger issue.

Neutral Gear: Harris Bipod. I first thought about putting this in the noteworthy section and then in the disappointing. Definitely a love hate kind of item. I liked the stability this gave me, and it was nice having a kickstand for the gun whenever I stopped. The negatives are all related to the weight and bulk. The front-end weight would be cumbersome in an offhand situation while the bulk was annoying when the rifle was slung over a shoulder or tied to a pack.

Gear to Buy: I’m not sold on anything yet, but I want to look at some better glass options. I am currently running 10x42 Diamondbacks. There a lot of room to go up pricewise but not sure where the point of diminishing returns begins. I’ll also be looking at 12 power vs 10, but am heavily leaning towards 10s due to the diversity of my western hunting and the majority of my hunting occurring in MI. I might look for a different bipod solution but want to experiment with shooting of my pack prone and sitting more, as there wouldn’t be a bulk or weight penalty.
 
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