Press Lake Camp
Fishing and Hunting Camp

Archived Posts

July 24, 2024 – Montana Hunting Journal Pt. 6, Days 14-16

Hi All,

I have been meaning to tell the rest of our story from last fall and decided I needed to make it a priority and get it done (about time, I know). I only have a couple more entries to go to conclude our adventure and they are a bit of a rollercoaster. So, stay tuned the next little while as I'm going to try to get them all done.

We woke up early the morning of day 14 and started our 45 minute or so drive to where we were going to set up camp and begin hunting. On our drive through some very open ranchland we saw a mess of whitetails and a few herds of antelope. Being from Ontario, antelope are such a foreign animal to us so we always stop to watch them for a while whenever we see any.

We arrived at our spot an hour or so after daylight and got camp all set up. We stockpiled a little firewood so we wouldn't have to worry about it in the dark later that evening, and while we were completing our chores we heard a 4-wheeler approaching us. We looked up to see a man on an ATV with a dog or two on the back rack. When he arrived next to our tent we realized he actually had 3 dogs on the back of the bike with him, and he told us he was a ranch hand out looking for 50 or so head of cattle that had been grazing in that area and wandered off. We had passed through a large chunk of Block Management land (which is private land with open hunting access) on our way to our campsite on the national forest, so it wasn't a surprise to see ranchers working cattle in the general area. We told him we hadn't seen ay cattle and chatted a little bit before he loaded the dogs back onto the bike with a single command and was off across the flats at a good 25-30 mph. All three dogs standing tangled amongst each other on the back rack, seemingly unphased by the speed of travel or rough terrain. It's so amazing watching dogs that are trained for a specific purpose working with their handlers, they knew the program well and were not risking missing their chance at a ride when he told them to load onto the bike!

After we were all done our work we set off deeper into the national forest out of the flatter prairie and into the foothills at the base of the mountain. We started by heading into where we had seen elk last hunting season, but all we turned up were a couple other hunters out hiking around. Knowing that area was covered we decided to make a big circle around the open hillsides to gain some elevation for a better vantage point and to see some new country. We stopped on a nice glassing spot about midday to glass around a little and to eat lunch. While we were eating Lindsay noticed a bunch of ravens landing a few hundred yards from us, and upon further inspection realized they were landing on what appeared to be a dead, whole elk. We finished our lunch and took a walk to investigate, bringing a rifle but leaving our packs behind as we weren't going far.

A few minutes later we were standing over a dead calf that appeared as though it had been shot and for whatever reason, hadn't been recovered. It seemed to be reasonably fresh, although was definitely starting to stink, I suspect it had died within a few days. It happened to be thanksgiving day, so we called Montana FWP and left a message, not expecting to hear back immediately. As it would turn out, we would never hear back from them despite leaving a couple of messages on a couple of different voicemails - well, we tried.

While out for our stroll I decided I wanted to climb this little knob near us to see what sort of visibility we would have from the top. Of course like dummies we had left the bulk of our gear behind and were continuing to get farther away from it. We reached the top of the glassing knob and really liked our view, so we decided to sit there until dark. Well, we would sit there after I got back from a quick 1/2 mile or so run to grab both of our packs - haha. Once I returned with my pack on my back and Lindsay's strapped on my front, we settled into our new spot and glassed until dark. We didn't turn up any more animals and saw a couple more hunters off in the distance. Between the number of hunters we were seeing, and the clearly shot elk we found, it was beginning to paint a pretty clear picture that this area had been hunted out pretty hard. We headed back to camp at dark a little skeptical about whether or not we were going to see anything alive in our new spot.

The next morning we decided to head straight back to that same glassing knob as it offered the best view of the surrounding area. We arrived before daybreak excited to glass at first light, but were met by a dense, heavy fog that reduced visibility to basically zero. Knowing there wasn't too much we could do we built a fire in a nice little ring someone had made before us, and settled in to wait for it to break glassing in whatever short windows we had between clouds.

About midday when the sun began warming up the air, the fog finally began to lift and we could begin glassing. After a couple hours of not turning anything up I decided to take a little hike into some country that we couldn't see too well from where we were, to snoop around and to check for any sign. What I found was another elk carcass (this one had been harvested in it's entirety) and some relatively fresh sign, likely from earlier that week. That was all the proof we needed to confirm that the area we were in had seen a lot of elk moving through it, but they had already been hunted hard and I think the pressure had drove them out of there, likely onto the adjoining private land. We decided to glass the rest of the day until dark since we were already back there, and as expected we didn't see anything.

On our hike back to the tent that night we discussed what our plan would be as the season end was fast approaching; we had four days left. We checked the weather back in the area that we had left, and as it turned out the forecasted storm that drove us out never actually happened. Thinking that it was relatively quiet back there (less the one other hunter we had seen) and it was a big area with a lot of elk we decided to go back and give it another try as it had a chance to quiet down for a few days. We would spend the night where were and sleep in a little to be well rested before tearing down camp and heading off back the way we came. It was a little frustrating that we had left at all considering the past couple of days were unsuccessful, but we made the right call instead of risking get caught back there if the storm had come. By early afternoon on day 16 we were all packed up and heading out, leaving behind our signature circle imprint from the tent.

We set up camp just after dark by the time we got back to the first area, and settled in to get some sleep as we were off to hunt hard the last three days we had left. Stay tuned for an exciting last couple of days filled with action, heartbreak, and lessons learned!

July 11, 2024 – The Heat Has Arrived!

Hi All,

Well, until this week we have had a very cool, wet summer. The weather patterns and wind directions have been very volatile and it seemed like it was raining almost daily, sometime while the sun was still out - haha! All of the rain has been exactly what the lake needed to get our water levels back up to normal and to keep them there, but has unfortunately come at the cost of a very heavy mosquito hatch. This has been a very bad year for those little buggers so we definitely recommend lots of bug spray and Thermacells. The fishing has generally been good all summer, but the fish's feeding patterns have been disrupted frequently with the changing weather, and it has made them a little more scattered than usual. We have generally been hearing that the fishing is slow until about Tuesday morning each week when groups start to find them and figure out their patterns, and then it's business as usual.

This week has been a break from the constant rain we have been having, but at the cost of very high temperatures. Every day this week has broken 85 degrees I believe, and today we saw over 90. We had a hard mayfly hatch the past three weeks or so that began to die down last weekend and is about all but over now. The hatch paired with the bright, hot, sunny days we have had this week has made the fishing a little bit slower. That being said, now that the weather has stabilized for more than two days in a row, the bite has been getting better every day this week despite the less than favorable walleye fishing conditions. On these really hot and calm days I like to head for the current of the English River either North or South to find active fish in the cooler moving water that provides a bit of a sanctuary from the hot sun. On the days with more favorable conditions (or in the cooler mornings and evenings) walleye can be found on the usual humps and structure that they like this time of year. 7 Pine Island, the humps out around Red Rock, the Flats, etc. are all producing fish if you find a reef with an actively feeding school.

Currently the water levels are normal or even a little bit on the high side. 100' of extension cord should currently be more than enough to reach the end of the dock from the power posts. Currently the boat launch isn't too banged up and is relatively level, and we would like to keep it that way so please refrain from power loading and unloading your boats.

There have been changes to the rules regarding bringing a pet into the US and that includes bringing your own pet home if you bring them out of the country with you up here. Below is a little summary I copied from a post Lindsay shared on Facebook with the information we currently have:

The US government and the CDC have recently implemented new rules regarding bringing your dogs back to the United States. I have included a link to the CDC website which will allow you to launch the "DogBot" allowing you to answer some questions about your dog to determine what steps are necessary for bringing your dog home. These new regulations will come into effect August 1st.
As always, if you have any questions, please call the border post which you will be using to cross back into the US, or the CDC to get the most accurate information.
For those of you who aren't on social media, here are a few of the pictures we have received so far this year:
Our new upgraded boat and motor rental packages with the 25 hp motor, have been a big hit amongst any of the groups that have ran them so far. If all goes to plan we will be acquiring a few more of those next year as well, and will begin slowly phasing out some of the older 15's. If you are in need of a rental or wish to upgrade your standard rental package please just reach out for availability.
We have an incredibly booked up schedule this season and things have been so busy it's hard to believe we're almost half way through July. We are very fortunate to be able to do what we love up here and that wouldn't be possible without all of you guys. So we would just like to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who has already been here this year, and to all of those still waiting to get up for their turn to chase around some walleye, we sure do appreciate you guys!
Ryan

June 6, 2024 – Sorry for the Wait!

Hi All,

Well I need to apologize for taking so long to get an update on here. To say it has been a busy spring would be an understatement. At opener the water level was very low, but during opening week we got hit with a 36 hour storm that produced 4.5" of rain and wind gusts up to 50 mph. Prior to the storm, temperatures were in the 60's, but by the end of the 36 hours they were down in the low 30's and the rain turned to snow. Fortunately all of that rain (and the rain that has followed since) was enough to fill the lake back up and I would say we are at about a normal water level currently. For the first two weeks of our season we were puling the docks up nearly daily, and twice already we have had to have the entire camp pull all their boats due to potential storms. Fortunately we haven't had any major damage and have been able to get everything back together and up and running.

The fishing has been strange so far this year on account of the constantly changing weather and water levels. Generally speaking it has been really good, the fish just aren't where they would normally be found this time of year, and it is taking groups the first couple of days to locate them. Once found, numbers have been really good and we are still hearing very consistently that groups are pulling out great numbers of walleye over 20". Lots of fish are being caught in the English river whether it be upstream towards the Old Bridge or down stream toward the Rock Gardens. The Narrows is still producing some fish as are your standard windblown points, rocky shorelines, and weed edges in depths ranging from 6-10'. We haven't seen any huge walleye yet this season but have seen lots in that 25-27" range. As usual in the spring and early summer we have seen very good numbers of northern 40" plus being caught weekly. If your trip is nearing, I would expect to take a couple days to find the fish and don't be afraid to try spots a little different from where you would normally fish. It's always good to learn some new spots and to do a little exploring anyway.

We have the second Wi-Fi system up and running, and have internet access available in all cabins now. Needless to say that has been very well received! Starlink has really changed the game for those of us who live remotely and need fast reliable internet service. The new upgraded boat and motor packages have been in high demand as well, and have been highly regarded by those who have ran them so far. Having a slightly wider, more feature rich boat and a more capable motor has been very popular. And the gas savings with the 4 strokes is more significant than I would have expected.

The road was pretty rough at opener but the local logging company actually got a grader on it for us last week. The operator was fantastic and did a great job and the road has been improved significantly. Of course it is still a remote old logging road and will always have some potholes etc. but it is leaps and bounds better than it was. Everyone who has come in since the work was done has been raving about how good it is!

Well I think that's all for now! Now that we are open and getting over these big storms and back to our usual operating routine I am hoping o get updates on here a little more frequently and to get my hunting journal from last fall finished for those who have been interested and following along.

Thanks,

 

Ryan

April 28th, 2024 – Moving Up to Camp!

Hi All,

Well, we took a truck load of stuff up to camp yesterday to double check road conditions before starting to move up. Today we have been packing and cleaning up around the house, and tomorrow we are off to camp for a few nights to get started opening up. Currently the road is a little wet in a couple places that we will inevitably rut up a little bit. They're pretty isolated though, so hopefully we can get them cleaned up and levelled back off once the water drains. Otherwise everything at camp looks to be in good shape. The water levels have come up a bit since we were in there last but are definitely still very low, and a west wind pushed the broken up ice into our bay pushing the docks up on shore. There doesn't appear to be much damage to them so hopefully the wind will get the ice out of our bay and I'll get the docks straightened back out soon.

As it turned out there was a bit of a mix up with the new 25 hp motors we bought this spring. The previous owner had told me they were short shaft motors which we require for our rental boats. After getting the motors home and giving them another look, they just seemed a little too long to me so I measured them and sure enough, they're long shafts. When I broke the news to the previous owner (another lodge owner upgrading their own fleet of rentals) he offered me a very good price point on three of their boats that don't have cut out transoms like mine do, and will work with the longer motors.

The boats are 16' Naden's, just like our current rentals. However, they are a little wider across the back, have a built in wooden flat floor, and split second row seating for easier moving around in the boat. We will post some pictures once we get the new boats and motors up to camp and together. Since these new boats are the only boats compatible with the 25 hp motors, we will be offering the 25 hp rental as an upgraded boat and motor package. Previous pricing would have been $160.00 for our standard boat rental, and $300.00 for the 25 hp motor totaling $460.00 for the week. Pricing for the upgraded rental boat and motor package for the week will be $500.00. For anyone who has already booked an upgraded motor rental for this season we will be honoring the original agreed upon price of $460.00, and you will get to enjoy the slightly upgraded boat this year on us!

We may be a little bit slower returning emails and calls over the next couple of weeks. We apologize for any inconveniences ahead of time, and please be patient as we will get back to you. Spring is just a crazy time for us and we will be on the road between town and camp a lot and will be very busy getting operations up and running. That being said we will have the Starlink system at camp with us so we should have the phone and email operational while we are up there.

I will be sure to update again soon once we get up to camp and get rolling a bit.

 

Ryan

Updated Vacancies – May 8, 2024

Current vacancies for the 2024 season:

August 31 - September 7 - Cabin 1

September 14 - 21 - Cabin 6

September 28 - October 5 - Cabins 1, 3, 5, & 7

Otherwise we are booked solid for 2024, but keep an eye on here and Facebook for any cancellations that might pop up.

As a reminder in September we drop our minimum occupancy requirements and the strict weekly rentals charging $50.00 per person, per night. Please call or email for specific availability.

April 14th, 2024 – Montana Hunting Journal Pt. 5, Days 11-13.

We woke up early on the morning of day 11 and left Great Falls for the trailhead that had been growing pretty familiar to us. The logging roads in were pretty icy so we stopped to quickly throw the tire chains on our rear tires and finished the drive in. We had all of our gear and enough food for three nights in our packs putting our pack weight at an estimated 70 lbs. each. To our surprise the heavier packs didn't slow us down too much and we were at our selected camping spot maybe 15 to 20 minutes later than we had been on our daily hikes in and out with the lighter packs. We arrived mid morning and spent about an hour or two getting camp set up and unloading all of the gear out of our packs that we wouldn't need with us while we were hunting. Satisfied with our set up we hiked up the last knoll to our glassing location and settled in for the afternoon to try to find some animals.

The afternoon didn't yield anything, however that all changed in the "golden hour" before dark. The first elk we saw was a lone cow that wandered into the same micro meadow that we had seen several animals in, near where Jake and I had set up on the herd just a couple days previous. She seemed to be by herself so we watched her feed for a little while before she bedded down, and we didn't see any more animals join her. I wandered about 100 yards from where we were sitting glassing to gain a different perspective of the country down below us, and within a few quick minutes of glassing  turned up a very large herd of cows, calves and spikes abut 1200 vertical feet below us in a valley near a private land boundary. They were currently on the public land but we didn't have enough daylight to try to navigate down to them so we watched them until dark. Some were up and feeding but most of the elk were bedded and didn't seem like they were going too far, so we headed back to camp for the night planning on heading down to them in the morning if they were still there.

We were camping in a meadow in an old burn so firewood for our stove was plentiful but there wasn't too much water near our campsite. Fortunately there was enough patches of snow that we could collect and melt on the woodstove in the evenings to ensure we had enough water to rehydrate our freeze dried meals for dinner, and to get us through the next day. Once we were done our nightly firewood and water chores we settled in for the evening and had dinner. We hung our boots over a tripod with our small power bank powered boot dryers so they would be nice and dry for the morning and crawled into our sleeping bags for the night.

When we woke up in the morning we grabbed our food for the day and begun our wonderful 11 minute walk to our glassing knob, which was a lot better than the 2.5 hours of driving and hiking we had been doing each morning previously. Feeling very rested from getting a few extra hours of sleep than we had been getting, we settled in to start looking for the herd of elk from the night before. After about the first hour we weren't having much luck turning them up so we made boiled some water for coffee, tea, and breakfast on the mountainside. We enjoyed our morning sitting there glassing but hadn't turned up a single animal, so I decided I was going to go for a couple mile hike around to a different glassing point that would give me a better perspective on the valley below. Linds decided she was going to hang around camp to collect more firewood, read, and relax a little.

When I arrived at the new spot I settled in to start scanning the broken terrain below me to search for the elk. I wasn't able to turn them up at all and figured they must have migrated the rest of the way off of the mountain out onto the private land over night. I was however, able to watch Linds collecting firewood trough my spotting scope thanks to her blaze orange vest. I snapped a couple quick pictures of her working away while I was glassing and went back to panning around the hillsides and valley floor until dark.

I didn't see a single elk until it was almost too dark to see, and again that lone cow came out in the same micro meadow and bedded down. My new vantage was 2 miles from camp in the opposite direction from the meadow, so making a play to get in on her was out of the question. It was nice to know that she had a bit of a pattern so I packed up at dark and hiked back to camp thinking I would work my way to that meadow slowly and quietly in the morning and just sit it until dark in hopes to see her or some other animals.

Back at the tent that night while we were melting more snow and having dinner we used our InReach to check the weather forecast, and it looked like we were going to get quite the dumping of snow the next day. Although I was very intrigued by the possibility of getting that cow, the roads in already had a fair bit of snow on them and we worried about getting the truck off the mountain if we got the 12" or more of snow they were calling for. Hiking back out to the truck wouldn't be an issue in the snow, but we didn't want to risk getting buried or potentially sliding off the road on the way down the mountain. So, we made the tough call to play it safe, we would wake up in the morning and tear down camp and head out. We had a back up location planned about a 90 minute drive to the south, where we had seen some elk last year and figured we would go down and check that area out.

The next morning the clouds were rolling in and it looked like the snow was coming so we packed up and headed for the truck. We decided to head to White Sulphur Springs which is close to our new hunting area, so we could grab a room for the night. In the morning we were headed back into the field to set up camp in the AM and to get out hunting that afternoon. We had 6 days left of the season and were hopeful we would be able to make something happen!

April 5, 2024 – Spring is in the air and our season is quickly approaching!

Hi All,

Following our very strange and mild winter has been, well, a strange and mild spring! A little over a week ago we got hit with our biggest snowfall of the winter over three days, that totaled over a foot of snow with quite a bit more in the drifts as it was windy. Since then our temps have climbed right back up above freezing and have even been 45-50 degrees on the sunny days. In the last few days we have seen a very significant amount of snow melt and things are beginning to look quite a bit like spring. We still have snow pretty much everywhere and there is still plenty of ice to go ice fishing, but if conditions stay the same (which they are forecasted to) then it won't be too much longer and all of that will change. We haven't been up to check on the road into camp yet. It always takes a little longer up there for the snow to melt being a little farther north, and mostly shaded conditions on the road itself. We are hopeful that we will be able to get into camp early this year though and get a jump on opening up.

We were down in the Toronto area for 2 weeks visiting family in late march, and got home just in time for a big family Easter. Since getting home, we have been hard at work getting our annual newsletter and calendar ordered and in the mail. The last few years we have been sending out our mailout in the spring instead of earlier in the new year as it works a little better with our schedule (stuffing nearly 1000 envelopes takes a bit of time - haha) and this year we are even a little later than normal. Well, better late than never as they say and we are hopeful to get everything back from the printers next week and will have them in the mail shortly after. Thank you for the patience, and hopefully receiving the letters in the spring will get everyone excited for the season to soon come!

We have some pretty exciting changes ahead for this season! We talk about these changes in the newsletter as well, but since we are a little late with those I want to let the cat out of the bag so to speak, on here as well. For starters, we ordered a second Starlink system and some mesh nodes so we can get WIFI service directly in all of the cabins. This has always been something we have wanted to do, but historically haven't had reliable enough internet to make it work. Well, thanks to Elon, we finally have fast and reliable enough internet and should be able pass that along to all of the cabins.

Secondly, as of yesterday Press Lake Camp is the proud owner of three 4 stroke 25 hp Yamaha outboards equipped with electric start. They will be available for rent this summer on a first come first served basis as an upgrade from our standard 15's. Although they are slightly heavier than the 15's, they should push our rental boats quite a bit faster, will be quieter, and will be more fuel efficient not requiring mixed gas. We are asking $300.00 a week to upgrade to the bigger motors (up from $160.00 a week for a 15) and if you are interested in upgrading your rental please let us know asap as I expect these to rent out fairly quickly.

Lastly, we are planning on building at least one new dock this season to replace the worst dock in our cabin fleet, so we can then move the old dock into the campground. Some of the cabin docks are beginning to show their age and the campground has been void of anything resembling a decent dock for a few years, so that should be a welcome upgrade. We will likely do a new dock a season for a few years until all of the older docks at the cabins are replaced and we have a nice fleet of docks in the campground again. We do still have plans to upgrade the bathrooms on cabins 2 and 4 as well, but have been struggling with finding a contractor. We are also incredibly booked up which is an absolute blessing and we are very grateful for, but it makes scheduling renovations a little bit difficult.

Generally we up our price by $10.00 a year to account for inflation. It's a small increase that no one seems to mind, and it helps us keep up with the times and to invest in some improvements around camp. Well this year we are going to have to up our price by $20.00, still not a huge leap but we like to be transparent about our pricing structure. We are fortunate enough to now be out of all of our debt incurred during Covid, but unfortunately we are operating in an entirely new landscape with significantly increased overhead. Our business insurance has increased 2.5 times in the last 4 years, and as of this season, our wonderful government has imposed another Carbon Tax increasing the cost of fuel. You can expect slightly higher gas prices this summer (we mark up gas prices very little as they are already pretty high and we try not to gouge) but our cost for diesel to run the generators is also increasing. We have big plans to improve things around camp in the years to come and of course the cost of materials and labour have also increased significantly. We are also looking at eventually hiring another staff member as well and will have to cover another salary, so we may have to continue $20.00 a year increases for another season or two, but it won't be forever. As always we really appreciate everyone's business!

Well I think that is all for now, I will try to update more once we get a look at the road and can get into camp!

 

Ryan

February 25, 2024 – What a Strange Winter!

Hi All,

Well since my last post, our weather hasn't gotten any more normal. All through January and now February, we have seen unseasonably warm temperatures and virtually no snow. There have been cold periods where the temps drop to -15 F or so for a day or two, but then without fail it warms right back up and highs during day have been consistently above 32. It seems we lose a little more snow each day and it has been weeks since we had any accumulation at all. It has made travelling with a snowmachine very difficult, although still possible as we have maybe 6" of snow in the shade and just enough on the lakes to get around. Ice levels are considerably lower than normal, but without much snow the little cold we have had has been able to penetrate and we have enough to safely get around, usually 12-18". Currently we are forecasted to get close to a foot of snow on tomorrow and Tuesday, so we may see a little bit of winter weather yet. As much as we need the snow, I had plans to drive into camp at the end of next week and spend the weekend, so we may be looking at a change of plans if the weather hits. Currently you can drive a truck down just about any road you want to, and this is the first time in my life that I have ever seen it like this in February up here.

As strange as the weather has been this winter however, we certainly can't complain about how nice it's been to get outside! Lindsay and I have enjoyed quite a few day trips out fishing so far and one camping trip for two nights on the ice. We have hit a variety of lakes and have enjoyed catching a number of the different species available to us in the area including walleye and lake trout, and stocked splake and brook trout. We were fortunate to bring home a really nice limit of brook trout on our camping trip and we couldn't believe the colour gradient of the flesh between fish, and how shockingly bright red some of them were:

Here are a few pics of some of the splake and walleye we brought home from other trips as well:

I also spent 4 days on the ice on an annual fishing trip I do with some buddies near Thunder Bay. We have been learning the lakes in the area so generally the trip has been more about comradery and the evening beers than it is about the fishing, but this year we actually caught quite a few fish. We had some crappy weather that went from very warm and sunny to rainy the next day, so there was very little snow to travel on between lakes and a lot of standing water on top of the ice. As a result, we only fished the lake that we were staying on and tried some new spots. We found some very aggressive schools of lakers and were actually able to limit out twice! And of course, we still had plenty of beer in the evenings - haha.

Aside from the weather and the fishing, we have been enjoying our off season and a bit of relaxation before we get busy again in the spring. We don't have any travel plans to head south this winter and have been happy to be spending a little less time on the road this year. However, we are headed down to the Toronto area for 2 weeks to visit family in early March. Mom will be joining Lindsay and I going down so she can visit her brother in Kitchener, while Lindsay and I head to Oshawa to see my side of the family. It will be a nice trip seeing everyone and we are a little overdue to get down there.

Our schedule is incredibly full for the 2024 season, so we would like to extend a big thank you to everyone booked with us! We really appreciate everyone riding out Covid and sticking it out with us through everything. It really feels like we are back to "normal" and we couldn't be any happier seeing everyone annually again. By the time we left last fall the lake levels had dropped to the lowest I have ever seen them, beating the previous all time low of 3 seasons ago. I am worried that if we don't see some snow by spring, or get a LOT of rain, we are going to have some lake level issues this year. But a lot can change between now and then, so lets just hope for some precipitation. For those who have been following along with our hunting journal from this year, I am hoping to get another instalment wrote and up this week.

 

Ryan

January 14th, 2024 – Montana Hunting Journal Pt. 4, Days 7-10.

On the morning of day 7 we headed back into the spot where we had located elk while scouting on day 1, to be set up and glassing before sunrise. This time opting to walk the last 1.5 miles in as the road was a little sketchy for a pick up. It wasn’t long and we found a herd of elk on a ridge in the burn a little below us about a mile or so away. We sat and watched the elk feed along the top of the ridge until they disappeared over the back side as the sun started to get higher, presumably to bed. We didn’t have a good way over to them from where we were, but we knew of a trailhead we could use that would get us in pretty close so we marked their approximate location on the GPS and headed back for the truck.

It took us about an hour and a half to hike out and drive around to the trailhead and we had our packs on and were on our way in again, looking at about a 2.5 mile hike. It was pretty easy going as we were on a trail most of the way and were actually slowly dropping elevation on the way in. Along the way Linds and I had to stop to squat behind a tree so I told Jake to keep going and we would find him at the top of a little knob we were hoping to locate the bedded elk from. The plan was to circle the elk wide keeping them on our right until we got past them and downwind. We were hopeful we would be able to glass them up again from our new location and then begin to close the distance, and if that didn’t work, we would get the wind in our face and try to still hunt in through the relatively open burnt timber.

As Lindsay and I were headed to meet Jake, we were circling the elk about 500 yards out from their last known location, and suddenly we heard 3-4 “mews” from some cows inside 100 yards directly in front of us! We couldn’t see them for a small rise in front of us but we hunkered down and I checked the wind on my puffer bottle and it was headed straight to them. Worried we were going to blow this second herd of elk out of the country if they winded us, we opted to turn left hard and head straight uphill to try to get a more favourable cross wind and to see if we could see them from the higher ground. It was pretty steep country and with the small undulations in the ground we weren’t able to see into where we thought the elk were, but we could see Jake waiting for us at the top. We climbed up to him and told him what happened and we made a plan for him and I to circle around wide behind them to get the wind in our favour and to see if we could sneak within range, while Linds stayed back in case we happened to bump them back towards her.

Him and I set out making a wide circle into where we had heard the elk “talking,” and when we arrived there was nothing but a mess of tracks in the snow. It didn’t look as though they had left running as though they had winded us, but they had clearly continued on their path of travel. We also noticed the tracks had come from the direction of where the first herd of elk we had spotted that morning bedded down. We followed the tracks about halfway back to the bedding area to realize that it wasn’t a second herd of elk that we heard, but the original herd as they had gotten up on their own and were moving along. As it turns out Lindsay and I missed intercepting them by probably less than 5 minutes.

Jake and I spun around on their tracks and started going in the same direction they were headed knowing they had a pretty good head start on us by this point and followed their tracks for around a mile until they went through a saddle and dropped off onto the other side of the mountain. We decided to go back and regroup with Linds and sit the hillside until dark hoping they would come back through to feed as we were overlooking a bunch of nice grassy meadows. As a bonus we had some decent glassing from where we were sitting to keep us occupied until dark.

Shortly after settling into our spot for the evening we saw a couple of long legs coming though the trees behind us. It was enough to get our hearts racing for the split second it took to realize that it wasn’t an elk, but was in fact a horse topped with a blaze orange cladded rider equipped with a pack and rifle. We watched him go by us at about 75 yards continuing down the ridge, seeming to not have noticed us huddled under a tree below him as he went by. A little defeated that we had some competition we kept our heads up high and stuck out the rest of the evening. The herd of cows never came back through, but about a half hour before dark I glassed up a small bunch of elk in a meadow about 1500 linear yards away from us and probably 500’ or so above us. Even before we were able to set up a spotting scope, we could tell one of the animals was considerably larger than the rest and knew there was at least one decent bull in the mix. The spotting scope confirmed this and we watched as the bull and the few cows with him filtered in and out of this little micro meadow feeding. We didn’t think we had enough time to get over there and make a play that night, as there was no good shooting position to get within range, so the only play would be to try to sneak in close enough to get a shot amongst the burnt trees. We watched the elk feed until dark and begun our hike out with plans to return in the morning.

On our hike out in the dark, and not really to our surprise, we could hear the hoof beats of a horse behind us sharing the same trail. We hopped off the trail to make some room and the other hunter came through and stopped to chat a bit. He was very surprised to see other hunters back in where we were and even more surprised that we hiked in. We chatted for about 20 minutes doing the familiar dance you do with another hunter in the field, toeing the line of comrades but also competitors looking for the same prey, sharing information but vaguely enough as to not give away the animals we were both after. We talked very openly about the herd of cows that went up through the saddle as he was aware of them as well, but we kept “our” bull in our pocket and got the impression he was doing the same with some information. We left hoping we both weren’t after the same animal the next morning.

We got some snow overnight and the road into the trailhead was already a little icy so we threw the tire chains on our rear tires for our drive up. It was my first-time using tire chains and I’ve got to say, holy crap do they make difference! Almost gives one the confidence to try to drive somewhere they don’t have any business going – haha. Anyway, we reached the trailhead and started hiking in knowing we were already behind our friend on the horse as he was camped at the trailhead and we could see the fresh tracks in the snow going in. Undeterred we started out knowing there was a lot of country and a lot of elk back there and hoping we wouldn’t be on the same ones. The storm had broken but left behind a lot of fog in its wake making glassing a challenge, but as soon as we got to our glassing knob Jake threw up his binoculars and said “got them!”

On an exposed hillside made up mostly of shale and loose rock with some patches of grass and the odd burnt tree, there was a nice bull and 7 or 8 cows brightly lit up against the backdrop of the fresh snow. We were about 1200 yards from the elk, but they were on the other side of a large bowl. Going straight would mean dropping down and then climbing back up 1200 vertical feet, and doing so undetected (and safely) in the loose rock would be almost impossible. The much better option would be to side hill around the bowl into their zone, which would be about 1.5 miles from where we were. Lindsay volunteered to stay behind and watch the elk for us flagging with a spare orange vest if they moved, and Jake and I headed out, really hoping to connect as this was his last day before having to head home to Wisconsin the next morning.

We knew they had to have bedded in the timber we were working though and moved out of it to feed in the open early that morning, and we were hopeful we could get over there before the sun warmed them up too much and they moved back into the dark timber to bed. On our way around we found their fresh beds and tracks headed out of the timber from the night before, and we followed them to the edge of the open, steep, shale-y hillside. We knew we were only about 300 yards from where the elk had been feeding, but we couldn’t see them, as they were in a bit of a dip. We could glass Lindsay from our location and she hadn’t moved the orange vest, indicating that the elk were where we had left them. Deciding it would be impossible to get any closer across the loose shale we decided to set up on their tracks where they left the timber and where we had a pretty good field of view, hoping to catch them on their way back to bed.

As fate would have it, elk weren’t the only tracks we saw in the timber that morning. On our way around the bowl, we intercepted fresh horse tracks in the snow, but since we had glassed the elk up in the open and didn’t see any orange, we were hopeful our friend was working into somewhere else and didn’t know about “our” bull. As we got farther into the timber the horse tracks veered left deeper into the woods and we were headed right towards the timber’s edge, so we pushed on hoping we wouldn’t interfere with his hunt, but determined to get an elk. As we sat in the shade of the timber waiting for the elk to work back to us with the rising sun, we heard the familiar BOOM of a rifle behind us in the timber maybe 300 yards away. It wasn’t in our direction or at the elk we were watching, but as we would later learn from Linds, as soon as the shot wrang out the herd we were working took off straight downhill. The icing on the cake was the second shot a few minutes later which pushed the elk the rest of the 1200’ down to the bottom of the canyon where we lost them in the timber altogether.

As a funny side note, Lindsay ended up seeing a post on a hunting in Montana group we are in on Facebook where she recognized a hunter from his horse and dog that we were playing with at the trail head the night before. I reached out and sure enough it happened to be the same guy and we became Facebook friends and bullshitted a fair bit. He is a really good dude who had actually offered to help us pack meat with his horse when we met him on the trail had we happened to kill something. I’m not going to call him out by name but if he happens to read this, congratulations because we later learned that he killed a totally different bull bedded in the timber in behind where we were.

Anyway, Jake and I sat the hillside until the early afternoon in case all of the commotion pushed something our way. Unfortunately, it didn’t and after a while we were getting pretty cold so we made our way back across to Lindsay where she filled us in on what happened with the elk after the gunshots. We sat and glassed from that location until dark but didn’t turn up any more animals. We headed out that evening knowing Jake’s elk hunt was over but hopeful that Linds and I could turn something up with the 10 or so days we had left. We put together a plan to pack everything up in the morning and to head to Great Falls for two nights to resupply, shower, and eat some real food. When we would come back, we were planning to pack in our tent and woodstove and to spike out into where we had been seeing the elk to save the hour of driving and 1.5-2 hours of hiking in and out each day. Hopeful that after a couple of quiet days some elk new or the same, would be back in that secluded basin.

On the morning of day 9 we said goodbye to Jake and we headed off to the city where we enjoyed a lot of sleep and some really good food at a couple of restaurants. As usual, we also spent a good bit of time and a bit of money at the local Scheel’s as well! On the evening of day 10 we swapped our smaller bags for our bigger spike out bags on pack frames and packed all of the gear we would need for our first true spike out adventure the next morning.

January 7, 2024 – Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Well since my last hunting journal update (more to come this week), we spent the last week of deer season down at our cabin, came home in time to have a few family dinners and Christmas in Dryden, and then back home for a few short days before Lindsay, Cedar, and I headed into Press for New Year's Eve! We have had an extremely busy, but fun filled fall and holiday season with very brief stops at home before heading off again. We are back home for a while now that the holidays are over and it has given us a chance to slow down a bit, unpack, and start to get ready for some serious ice fishing. We don't have nearly as much travel planned for this winter as we did last year, and are looking forward to a winter with a little more time at home to adventure in our own backyard.

The end of deer season was a little slow as we had unseasonably warm weather through December. The last week of the season (closing December 15th) saw temperatures rarely dipping below freezing and virtually no snow. We were getting lots of pictures of deer but almost exclusively at night as they became very nocturnal in the warm weather. The warm weather did make for more comfortable sits in the tree stand then we are used to in December, however. We were hopeful to get one more deer for the freezer, but with only buck tags it made for a tough hunt until the last day of the season when a little broken spiker came out to Lindsay's bait pile and she was able to close out our season on a high note!

The availability of natural food sources for the deer was a lot higher this winter making them much less dependent on bait in December than they usually are. Of course this contributed to the more difficult hunting, but should be beneficial to the deer herd with such abundant food reserves and easier and warmer conditions. I don't mind a tough season of hunting every now and then if it helps out the herd health.

Coming home from the cabin marked the end of the 2023 hunting season for us and left us with about a week before Christmas to finish holiday preparations and to start to settle back into the house. We had a wonderful Christmas with Lindsay's family in Dryden and then again with Mom here in Ignace. The weather remained incredibly warm right through December with virtually no snow fall. In fact on on our drive to Dryden on Christmas Eve, it was about 40 degrees and raining. After Christmas we saw more rain and some colder temperatures which froze the rain water over night leaving virtually all of North Western Ontario covered in very slippery ice. It was dangerous even trying to walk outside for a few days between Christmas and New Years, but fortunately has gotten a lot better.

Since we still didn't have very much snow and the slippery ice was mostly covered, travel became much easier, so we decided to drive into camp for New Years. Lindsay, Cedar, and I drove up on New Years Eve and spent a very peaceful two nights out at camp. We didn't bring any fishing equipment, but just went up to check things out and to spend some quiet time together after the busy hunting and holiday season, and it was a really nice and quiet trip! This marks the first time in Press Lake Camp's history that we could drive into camp in December/January in a truck without the aid of a plow. We drove up for one Christmas up there when I was really young, but even that trip required us plowing the road open. This has been one of the strangest winters I have seen in my life.

The few times we have spent time at camp in the winter we have learned it is much easier to stay in and heat a cabin, rather than the main lodge, so we spent this trip in Cabin 2. Pictured below are some nice venison chops and potatoes we made for New Year's Eve dinner, and some pics of camp and the drive in. It sure is beautiful up there in the winter!

The weather still hasn't changed too much in the new year. Temps are getting colder with highs in the teens and lows around zero overnight. Yesterday marked the first real snowfall we have had and I would say we have maybe 6" of light fluffy snow at the most. Despite the warm weather the ice conditions are really good, as we were seeing cold enough temperatures at night to make ice as there hasn't been any snow on top to insulate it. We are actually yet to get out fishing (will be changing that here very soon) but have heard anywhere from 9-12" of good solid ice depending on the lake. I believe we will still be able to get into camp despite the fresh dusting of snow we received, so we are hoping to make at least one more trip up there before we get more. This time we will be bringing the fishing gear and snowmachine to see if we can find some walleye. Our plan is to do a little fishing around Ignace in the next couple of days, and then plan another trip up north for a few nights.

We hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and we wish you all the best for 2024! We are looking forward to seeing everyone again this summer! Stay tuned for more hunting journal updates from this fall and an ice fishing report once we get out on the hard water.

 

Ryan