AMK Sportsman

Elk Odyssey

Big Fin

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Been absent from Hunt Talk a lot lately. Been on a serious elk odyssey since mid-September. The trip took me to Wyoming and grizzly-ville Montana during archery season and rifle seasons in New Mexico and Montana. Got done in MT a few days early, so thought I would post a note while I washed clothes, de-junked the truck, and other necessary things you really can't get done during a month on the road.

Got to hang out with some really cool folks along the way. Corey Jacobsen came to MT and taught me a lot about what I was doing wrong in Wyoming the week prior. In the last five days of September, Corey called in seven highly pressured public land bulls into archery range. Not sure what he was telling them, but they got mad enough to come and tell him so. The guy is a lot more selective with a bow in hand than I am.

In New Mexico, we met up with our 2014 Sweepstakes winner, Tom Wagner, and had fun chasing elk in the high alpine just south of the Colorado border. I thought Tom, a Hunt Talker, would have posted the story of that hunt by now. Ingomar and his buddies also had the tag and offered that we could share their camp. Great guys made for a great camp. Met some locals who will be life-long friends. One who coaches a really special youth basketball team and for whom I might enlist some Hunt Talk help.

From there we picked up Bruce Pettet, the CEO of Leupold, and did just what he asked me last winter; "Randy, I want to go on an elk hunt with you and I want it to be a grunt." Ask and ye shall receive. When it takes you seven hours to go from your glassing location to the location of a bull only 1.25 miles across a canyon, you know you are going to earn anything you shoot. Later that night, well early the next morning, 2:30am to be precise, we emerged from the canyon mouth out at a trailhead 10 miles from where our truck was parked up the mountain. I think Bruce got all he asked for and smiled every bit of the way; well maybe just "most the way."

I got home for a day, re-packed, kissed the wife as she handed me a cooler of home cooked frozen meals and we were off to Central Montana for the opener on Saturday. Friday had us perched on a high knob where in an ugly basin far below 34 bulls were recouping from the rut and had us salivating. If not for trespassing poachers the next morning, the biggest bull was feeding up the basin to us, following the trail I had dreamed he would take. Unable to handle the temptation, the other guys saw us in position, hopped the property boundary, snuck out 600 yards north of the property boundary and at the count of three, all three guys started unloading on the big bull from a far distance. It took a couple boxes of ammo, but they finally brought him to his knees. Not sure which one had the tag or who will take credit for the kill, but I suspect it will be the guy who was not wearing any hunter orange. They proceeded to go up the hill, grab their ATV, buzz down the creek bottom and haul the bull out of there. We have it all on film and lots of Phoneskope photos. To say we were frustrated would be an understatement.

But, all was not lost for the weekend. Sunday morning had us investigating some new ground; a long (1.5 miles long) and narrow (1/4 mile narrow) strip of BLM that provided a commanding perch from which to view many surrounding areas. This was mostly a recon detail. About 10am Tyler, the cameraman with way better hearing than me, said he heard a bugle over the ridge. I doubted, but as we walked closer, even I heard a bugle, a sure sign they must be close.

A sneak down into the ugly north slope and the entire woods erupted with elk. They circled above and back east from where we had spent the morning glassing. As fast as a 50 year-old desk jockey can run up a deadfall slope for 400 yards was barely fast enough to catch a glimpse of the herd walking over a small knoll back toward our truck. Surely they would curve back north toward the timber and be out of site before we could sprint the 200 yards to the top of the knoll. Nope.

When we got there, completely out of breath, they were standing in a group, looking for direction. I hate off hand shots, especially at 190 yards after a very long sprint. I practice them a lot, out to 200 yards, but would prefer not to. But, time and tall grass allowed no other option. I drew down on one of the three bigger bulls in the back. The shot felt hurried and it was. So far over him, I didn't even scare them. They now looked at the two orange-clad objects standing on the knob they had crossed.

With a fresh round in the chamber, I drew down and did my best breathing exercise in spite of being completely out of breath. At the recoil, Tyler announced the sound of a hit. The shot had felt good, but recoil gave no chance for confirmation.

As I cycled the bolt, the entire herd took off from our left to the right with all three of the big bulls at the back. Tyler shouted they bulls were mixed up in order. I paused to look. Complete chaos and confusion. One bulls was a couple steps behind and stopped broadside to look our way. He looked like the bull I was shooting at, but I needed Tyler's confirmation, which came in a very excited tone. Knowing it was the last round in the chamber, I drew down with the best breathing pattern I could muster. The shot felt good and Tyler's statement of, "You drilled him" gave me more confidence.

The bull whirled and turned up the slope to follow the herd. He was struggling. Given this was a narrow piece of ground, I didn't want him to get off the BLM. I propped the MR pack upright and used the Load Lifter bracket for a shooting rest. At 310 yards, the first shot hit and turned him back down hill a few yards where his struggle ended.

I told Tyler I could only confirm one hit, which was the third off-hand shot. He assured me that the bull was hit before that and after that. When we got to the bull and did the post-mortem, he had three bullets in him; a high lung shot, which I suspect was the third off-hand shot; a liver shot which I suspect was the second off-hand shot, and a heart shot that was the first shot from a rest.

I am thankful for all the off-hand practice I do. I prefer not to shoot off-hand and my first shot was testimony as to why. If they had been any further away, obscured by brush, or moving, I would not have shot off-hand. For whatever reason, I felt I could make the shot and two of the three shots verified my comfort. In the course of maybe twenty seconds, the day had changed from scouting and struggle to the biggest stroke of luck I've had in many years.

We are now at mid-point of this elk odyssey, with me having a bull and cow tag in Colorado to go along with my deer tag. And from there we go to Wyoming where Schmalts and I will try out best to end the odyssey on a high note.

I will load up a bunch of pics from the journey we have traveled to this point. We will take any luck you can spare on the rest of this adventure. We will surely need it.
 

JCS

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Jul 17, 2010
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MT
Waiting for some fantastic pictures.
 

Big Fin

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Dec 27, 2000
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Bozeman, MT
Wyoming archery elk

This was as much a scouting mission as it was an archery hunt. Given you can archery hunt most WY tags and then come back with a rifle, this was a good chance to find how Schmalts and I can tag team a pair of WY bulls in rifle seasons.

No matter the season, Wyoming provides some cool landscapes.
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Wyoming version of a wind sock. Couldn't resist taking a pic of this fence in a 40+mph wind.
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If you are walking in the dark and clumsiness results in a digger across these rocks, it leaves a scar. First-hand knowledge on that pointer.
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A little promo for the good folks at the Big Sky Brewing Company. Loren, the camera guy, is a sales rep for them when not filming TV.
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It is now half-time for this hunt. I suspect the score will be different after we come back for rifle season. I expect a Hunt Talk victory spurred on by a second half rally.
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Big Fin

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Location
Bozeman, MT
MT archery elk

Corey is as much fun to hunt with as any guy you could have in your camp. Always smiling, never stressed, and enjoys DQ as much as I do. Plus, he is really good at telling elk what they are supposed to do.

One of my favorite places to chase elk.
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Even if you have to deal with these guys following you around.
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The grizz issue is offset by the fact that a DQ and coffee shop is not very far away.
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And if you can do an archery double on ruffed grouse, who cares if you passed on two bulls earlier that day.
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If anyone doubts Fin's excitement when he sees a grouse, just ask Corey. He was a good sport about tolerating my affliction, or as he called it, "a fetish."
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Big Fin

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Bozeman, MT
NM rifle elk - Sweepstakes hunt

Tom Wagner is the epitome of "upbeat." Probably the toughest hunt we will have this season, as far as hot conditions and lots of hunting pressure. But, eventually we found them and got close. Unfortunately, the thickness of their bedding jungle does not make for good footage or easy shot opportunities.

Tom glassing for one of the ten different bulls we heard here the morning before season opened. I thought this would be the slam dunk of all lay ups given how vocal the bulls were on Friday. But when hunters rolled in on Saturday, the band packed up and stopped playing their flutes.
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Some really cool country from which to glass. If only the bulls would cooperate.
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Tyler and Tom waiting for bulls to come to these wallows in the unseasonably warm temps.
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The 9,500' elevation of aspens and evergreens were a nice change of scenery, to us and the elk. So close, but yet so far.
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Sun setting on another great hunt in a new area with new people. Left with many new friends.
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Gr8bawana

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Jul 14, 2013
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4,323
Location
Nevada
Keep us posted. Those of us with no elk tags can live vicariously through you.
 

Big Fin

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NM rifle - Part II

Another new unit we have never hunted in New Mexico. Had a bit of an idea about what we could expect, given some Hunt Talkers were down there before us and could provide some intel. It was great help, arriving the night before with only a few hours to scout.

Opening morning went like this:

4:00 am - Alarm rings.
4:30 am - Truck is packed and rolling down the road.
5:00 am - Park at trailhead and start hike into glassing area.
5:45 am - Hear a lot of bugling that slows us down in our travels to the glassing spot.
6:35 am - Follow a herd, only to find nothing but small bulls.
7:30 am - Head to glassing ridge, but delayed as Fin has marked the wrong ridge on his GPS.
8:40 am - Finally get to glassing spot and Fin is sulking for having screwed up the morning.
8:50am - Spot the first of 28 bulls from this canyon ledge.
9:15 am - Spot a really big bull that might tempt the foolish idea of crossing this burned canyon littered with blowdown.
9:25 am - Big bull beds with two other smaller bulls. GPS shows it to be 1.25 miles away.
10:00 am - Temptation overcomes good judgement. Plot least dangerous route to descend 1,800' feet over the next .7 miles of brush and blowdown.
11:30 pm - Encounter some new plant species that tears and cuts with thorns that make roses bushes look tame.
2:10 pm - Arrive at canyon bottom, sterilize water, and plot approach the requires 800' ascent and 3/4 mile traverse.
4:40 pm - Complete ascent and find small bulls feeding near beds. Big bull not to be found.
4:50 pm - Big bull located in his bed, heavily obscured by burned trees.
5:00 pm - Small shooting lane found at 404 yards.
5:10 pm - After many calculations and some dry fires, Bruce says he is ready. Bang, flop. .338 Win gives the Howa Handshake.
5:35 pm - We arrive at the bull and realize it was not the one we glassed, but still a dandy.
5:45 pm - Tyler calls an outfitter-friend in NM and he refers us to another outfitter who has mules and a wrangler (we're gonna need them).
8:00 pm - Done with pics and quartering. Start hauling loads down to the canyon bottom. Outfitter/wrangler says we'll never get out by going up canyon in the dark. Must come down canyon. He'll meet us at the bottom and text when we are a couple miles away.
11:00pm - A burned tree used as a handhold to get around a steep drop gives way and Fin has a serious wreck while carrying a hind quarter, the cape, some cameras, his gear and the rifle (Bruce has the head in his load and we could not get the rifle on his pack with the antlers). Bruce and Tyler backtrack and pull the load off my back/head. The 120+ pounds has driven Bruce's rifle into the rocks, my face into the mud, and smashed my hand. But, at least I did not go down the ledge. We take inventory of the situation and realize we only have about 150 yards yet to descend. Slower, but off we go.
11:30 pm - Text our ride that we are about three miles up canyon. He says that will take about three hours in the dark, given the trail is blown in and washed out.
2:20 am (next day) - Exit canyon mouth and outfitter is there to meet us. We are ten miles from the truck.
3:00 am - Dropped off at camp and Bruce makes arrangements with outfitter to extract the bull. Outfitter agrees and wants Tyler to come with him, given he has the most experience with mountains and horses.

More adventure in one day than we have ever had on the show. Bruce impressed the hell out of me. Not your typical large company CEO. Tyler always impresses the hell out of me and this trip takes that to an even higher level.

And to think the first bull we saw bed here was even bigger.
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A great company that "walks the walk."
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A sign that properly describes Fin for letting our enthusiasm overtake good judgement.
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Big Fin

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MT rifle elk

With the long drive from NM behind me, I get home with one day to spare, allowing me another de-junking and cleaning session. Mrs. Fin is her normal great help in keeping this showing rolling down the road.

I pick up Tyler Friday morning, we drive to our VRBO, unload our junk, and by 3:00 pm we trekking down the trail to scout. We see a pot full of bulls in one basin, most having already fed from public out to private. Three are 340-350 and one is much bigger.

We leave at dark with Fin have daydreams of his one chance where TV requirements are not at play and may allow him to shoot a whopper. One can only dream.

As I explained in post #1, the trespassers ruined our great opportunity on the big bull. Later that day we found two more bedded, but just not what I had hoped for, even if one had a 10" kicker on the passenger side. Another hike in late afternoon put four more bulls in my crosshairs, but still not tempting enough.

Sunday morning our bad luck of the day before took a complete change in direction. After the events I told in Post #1, I had my easiest ever pack out. The bull died only 600 yards over the ridge from a BLM road. Not sure what I deserved for that good fortune, but after the NM ordeal, I'll take it.

Tyler is not only a great camera guy, but when not filming has some of the sharpest eyes I've ever hunted with.
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I love the prairie mountain ranges. A place as beautiful as it is unique.
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The sun is setting on our scouting day and Fin has all but notched his tag for Big Hank who is sure to fall in the morning.
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Probably should have passed, given those short thirds - NOT.
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My biggest bull to date. I'll gladly take it, even if it involved a lot of luck.
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TO BE CONTINUED ..........
 

MT_elk

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Joined
Oct 2, 2012
Messages
2,684
Location
MT
Wow. Sounds like a lot of excitment. Congrats on some great hunts!
 

schmalts

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Joined
Aug 22, 2002
Messages
8,833
Location
WI
Sounds like you had a great season so far! I am looking forward to getting some boots on the ground again real soon. I cut my Wisconsin archery deer hunt short by drowning a deer in the river and am getting mighty bored waiting for ducks and geese to show up with all this warm weather.
I have good news and bad news for our hunt. I will give you the good news first. I LOVE dairy queen Blizzards as much or more than you.
Bad news, I'm lactose intolerant :p
 

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stillkickin

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Aug 26, 2009
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1,210
Location
Upper Michigan
Awesome photo's and play by play's. Sounds like I am missing out on a heck of a fall! Congrats to everyone and good luck coming down the home stretch
 

Jorgy

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Joined
May 13, 2013
Messages
570
Location
Land-O-Cheese
I'm not sure if I'm more upset that in 1 month you fit in more successful elk hunts than I have in 10 years, or that someone who loves DQ so much only gets a vanilla cone.
 

1_pointer

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Joined
Dec 20, 2000
Messages
18,109
Location
Indiana
I remember your posts from when you were trying to get this idea off the ground detailing many of the struggles you faced. I'm glad to see the hardwork and persistence paying off. You are packing into one fall what would take me more than a decade to do. Well done!
 

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