December 6th, 2023 – Montana Hunting Journal Pt. 3, Days 5&6.
On the morning of day 5 we set up to glass a new section of coulee, farther down then we had previously gone. We had a slower start to the morning not seeing a lot of deer, but turning up a few pockets of does and a couple of younger bucks cruising between them. We did see one very nice buck emerge from some buckthorn that I was very interested in, but in a matter of 20 or so minutes we watched him cruise about a 1/2 mile down the canyon bottom, up over the bank to the flat top and quickly out of our sight and out of our lives. I guess he didn’t find the doe he was looking for. It is truly incredible how quickly and how much ground a deer can cover out there cruising at a walking pace.
We also turned up our spike elk again this morning and to our surprise he had gained a friend, one more spike elk. They were probably another mile down the canyon from us and fed out of view so we decided to make a mid morning move in their direction. The plan was to move maybe 1/4 mile or so at a time stopping at various vantage points to glass around and see what we could turn up. Well the day was very quickly heating up as the sun rose and by around 11:00 am it was in the mid 60’s. Moving along the canyon bottom we found an easy spot to climb part way up the bank on the west side of the coulee, and decided to sit down on a flat spot to cool off and eat some lunch.
When we stopped we were all sweating from hiking with our layers from earlier in the morning still on, so we took the opportunity to strip down a bit. I peeled out my base layer top and put my orange vest on without a shirt, had taken my zip off base layer bottoms off from under my pants (zip off bottoms are great for taking off without having to untie your boots), and had taken off my boots to air out my feet. We were sitting there casually chatting, eating, and enjoying the beautiful weather, not really expecting to see much for deer. With most of our focus on what we could see with our binoculars down canyon we had been ignoring what was in our immediate vicinity, until Lindsay said “Hey, there are a couple deer straight across the coulee from us on the other bank. I think one is a buck!”
Well, we all dropped our food and lowered our voices as we pulled up our binoculars to see a very nice buck cruising and feeding on the hillside opposite us with a few does. I quickly pulled my rifle off my pack and got laid down behind it building myself a shooting platform and told Jake to grab his spotter and let me know if he thought it was a shooter buck. I grabbed the range at 350 yards and dialed my scope while Jake told me it looked like a pretty good buck. I found him in my rifle scope and agreed and decided this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. 350 yards is the farthest I have shot at game thus far, although I practice at that distance and beyond as much as possible at home, so I took the time to line up and dry fire on the deer once. Everything felt really solid and I was very confident so I chambered a round and waited for the deer to turn broadside once more. That only took him a couple of seconds and I was squeezing the trigger. The rifle jumped and I saw the deer buck hard and head about 40 yards into some buckbrush with one of his front legs clearly not working properly. We knew he was hit hard and did not see him come out of the brush so we began celebrating and laughing that I had just shot a really nice buck and wasn’t even wearing any boots!
After the shot we finished eating and got our gear together and headed down our side of the canyon to go start the steep climb up his side. It didn’t take Jake and I very long and we found him piled up in the buckthorn exactly where we expected to, but we couldn’t believe how big the body of the deer actually was. He had a very nice rack being a cool 3×3 with eye guards, but he actually scored lower than Lindsay’s buck from this year, and my mule deer from 2022. But despite the size of the antlers he is by far the biggest bodied and most rutted up buck I have ever shot. At the base, his neck has to be bigger than a basketball, and the goo from his tarsal glands was running down his back legs like tree sap. He was on a very steep bank so we tied paracord to him at the front and back ends and worked him down the bank slowly to where we could work on him on flat ground and get the meat in the shade as we broke him down.
A few hours later and we had full packs again and started our 3 mile pack out while we still had some daylight. We got back to the truck shortly after dark all smiles as we had filled all 3 of our deer tags. We decided we would take the next morning off of hunting to finish butchering out all of our deer that we had been keeping on ice in Jake’s HUGE Yeti 210, and a had a couple of drinks to celebrate that night.
The next morning Jake and I got to work butchering out the already deboned deer meat and Linds made a supply run to Great Falls to get us dry ice. For those who don’t know, if you put dry ice on the bottom of a cooler it will act as a fridge. If you put the dry ice on top of your meat, the cold sinks and it will freeze the meat underneath it solid. Just be sure to add a couple layers of cardboard to prevent freezer burn and leave a vent plug loose as dry ice turns to CO2 as it sublimates and it can pressurize your cooler to the point of eruption – haha.
We got done our butchering midday on day 6 and decided we had enough time to go check out our deer spot one more time just to rule out if those elk were still around or not. We hadn’t seen the two spikes since the morning of day 5 and were pretty sure there weren’t any more elk in there, but we had to check it out one last time to be certain. We hiked almost 5 miles down the coulee in search of them and were only able to turn up more deer. And as luck would have it of course the best buck we had spotted so far was on this day, after we filled all of our tags. But that’s alright we were all extremely happy with the deer we took, and satisfied there weren’t any elk around we hiked our 5 miles back out in the dark planning on heading up into the mountains in the morning.