December 4th, 2023 – Montana Hunting Journal Pt. 1, Days 1&2.
So this year I am actually going to get my butt in gear and get a recap of our hunt out west up on the blog while it is still fresh on my mind. I meant to do the same last year but we seemed to have a lot going on and I just didn’t get around to it. I’ll be starting today with a recap of our first two days in the field, and will continue with daily updates on here with single or multi-day recaps. I’ll be gone to our deer cabin for a week or so on Thursday to finish up our deer season here at home, so there will be a little break in the posts but I’ll be sure to finish them up when I get back next week.
We left home on November 7th this year, opting to break the drive up over 2 days instead of driving straight through like we did last year. We got the bulk of the driving out of the way the first day, and only had about 5 short hours to Great Falls on the 8th, where we make our last few stops to grab gas and the last of our supplies. Another 45 minutes or so drive south and we were checking into our motel room that would be home for the next 3 nights. We had plenty of daylight left after getting checked in, so we took the opportunity to run up into the mountains and verify that our rifles were on and ready to go after travelling and changing altitude. Once dialed we headed back to our room to get some sleep so we could start scouting the next day.
Deer and elk season were both already open and we had each had a tag for both species. Since we were in Montana for the last 17 days of the regular rifle season, we took the first day to assess access into some different hunting areas that would be new to us this year. The plan was to see how the roads getting in there were and then spend a few hours glassing around to see if we could locate any animals. Carrying our rifles in case the opportunity to take something presented itself, but ultimately just scouting and seeing what was around. My friend Jake from Wisconsin would be joining us for a week starting on the 11th, so we were hoping to get the drop on some elk up in the mountains, were hoping to have some deer located in the foothills and if possible, have one down and packed out for a head start before his arrival. We headed out early on the 9th to begin our day 1 scouting…
The weather was A LOT different this year compared to last. In the lower elevation foothills there was no snow and the temps felt like beautiful fall days hitting the mid 60s at times. At higher altitude there was maybe a 6″ snow pack and temps would be cooler but still ultimately very warm for this time of year. We headed out early in the morning to drive up to a burn to start scouting. We ended up driving down a road that was certainly passable (as we were driving on other truck tracks) but was a little narrow at times for our liking with a few good 40′ drops if you were to slip off the side. Unable to turn around we kept poking along knowing that there would be a spot to turn around eventually as the other trucks that had gone in there must have. Eventually reaching our destination we hiked in the last little bit to our glassing knob and within 5 minutes we spotted a herd of elk out feeding about a mile from us.
We glassed around a while longer and didn’t see much more so we headed off to check access to a nearby trailhead. We drove up to the trailhead only to realize that we had both forgotten the adapters to attach our binoculars to our tripods on the ground at the last spot. In the excitement of finding the elk we forgot to put them away, so back down we went. Not wanting to drive the last part of the road again we decided to hike in the 1.5 miles to grab our gear and back out again. Leaving our packs behind and going in fast and light made for a quick, but annoying trip back in to where we just were. After reclaiming our gear we set out to go a little farther south to check out a different burn. This one was farther back in and at a higher elevation and the road looked a little too snowed in for our liking to try to get the 13 miles back in we wanted, so we decided to take that spot off the table for this season. With an unexpected free afternoon, we decided to head down to the foothills to begin scouting for deer, which we had been planning on starting to scout and hunt the next morning.
We spent a great afternoon glassing up lots of pockets of does and seeing a few decent bucks out cruising from group to group looking for a hot doe. After watching deer until dark we headed back to our room excited about what tomorrow was going to bring.
The next morning we settled into our glassing position bright and early. We had a slow morning and early afternoon glassing. We saw some deer but not as many as the evening before, but we were confident that as the evening approached things would pick up. We moved once mid day to gain a different vantage and around 2:30 Linds glassed up a really nice buck that fed over the backside of a little knob and was was feeding and bedding with a doe on a little bench. At about 3 they were still there and looking like they weren’t going anywhere so we decided to make a play on them. We were hunting in coulee country and glassing from a high point on one of the banks to see the canyon below us. We would have to drop down a couple hundred feet into the bottom and work our way down towards them and then climb back up into a shooting position.
We grabbed our gear and headed out making better time then expected getting over there. Operating on waypoints that we had dropped for a rough location of the deer and a location we figured we would be able to shoot them from, we began climbing up their side of the canyon. While climbing we checked the wind and it had been swirling around and was now blowing directly to the deer making it impossible for us to get to our shooting location without bumping them. This left us with the only option of circling around past them and coming up behind them, however doing so would mean we would be climbing up onto the bench they were on and would be within archery range before we could actually see them. We started creeping up the backside of their hill dropping our packs midway. The rest of the way up was incredibly noisy as all of the leaves and grass were very dry and crispy, but much to my surprise when we slowly rose up over the hill I could see the bucks big white hind end and rack as he was browsing.
The doe was a little higher on the hillside up from their bench, and unfortunately picked us off as soon as we started to rise up. She knew something was there but didn’t completely blow out, she just kept working higher up the hillside staring at us trying to figure out what she saw. Hunkered down and unable to move or make a play on the buck we had to wait as we watched this doe slowly move farther higher and across the bank stopping every few steps to look back. We expected to see the buck start to work up the hillside following her but to our surprise he didn’t, and she was finally out of our sight and we could move again. We rose up to check for the buck and we couldn’t see him. I figured he did one of three things, moved into the thick buckthorn he was feeding on and we couldn’t see him, moved south and down off the side of the hill into the bottom of the canyon, or worked north and over a fence onto private property.
We rose over the top of the hill we had been huddled behind and I went to check the canyon bottom and Linds went to my right to check the neighboring property. After just a few steps each in opposite directions, the buck exploded out of the buck brush right in front of us and started up the hill the same way the doe went. Linds had her back to the action but I whisper yelled and got her attention. She turned and saw the buck cruising up the hill and I was able to stop him at about 100 yards with a grunt. Unfortunately he was broadside to me but too severely quartered away from Linds for her to take a shot. With her scope still on its lowest setting she dropped to one knee to get more steady and the buck started walking uphill again. Another grunt and he stopped again this time around 150 yards and perfectly broadside to her. Wasting no time I heard a shot ring out and the buck kicked hard and headed uphill towards a fence and private property. I yelled for her to shoot him again to stop him but as we went up the hill she never had another shot. We watched as his head and front end got lower and lower as he approached the fence and I knew he didn’t have enough in him to jump it. As it turned out he didn’t even have enough to make it and fell over a few feet shy and way laying there dead. Linds had her first ever mule deer on our second day of the trip!
We drug the buck down onto the bench where we originally spotted him to butcher him out and few hours later he was deboned and in our packs and we were starting our 2 mile pack out. It was a bit of a grind seeing as we hadn’t gotten used to the elevation yet and had an entire deer split between us along with our gear, but it wasn’t too bad and we got the deer out in one trip. We got back to our room after midnight and were excited to sleep in a little and to go meet Jake when he arrived the next day.
To Be Continued…