Caribou Gear

Long hunt -maybe

diamond hitch

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Feb 9, 2020
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580
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Western Montana
I wore out yesterday and stayed home and napped. It helped that it was only 6 degrees but I didn't need much urging.

Today I went back to country I camped in through the 90s. Once again I found an idiot at the end of the road, happily parked in the turn around. Luckily I had my little trailer so I could manipulate it around the truck and then back into a hole where I usually park.

I had my daughter with me and we covered about 12-14 miles. We road out most of the roads and trails looking for sign. What we found was 4-6 head of cows and calves that are feeding in the creek at night and returning to the top of the ridge before daylight. The round trip appears to range from 3-5 miles
per night. We didnt see any sign of bulls.

The season appears to be tough for everyone. We met one walker on the top road about 2 miles from the nearest access. At the bottom we cut tracks of waikers that had walked out nearly 3 miles. They are getting hungry.Tomorrow I will go north to the high ridge and run a 6-8 mile scan to the north. It's tough and its still crunchy.
 

diamond hitch

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Feb 9, 2020
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580
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Western Montana
Today was more of the same with some disappointment. As usual we were 100yds out of the parking lot and we started cutting the tracks of cows and calves that had come off the ridge and had been feeding in the bottom all night and then went back to the top on a bare south slope.

About a half mile up the trail we hit the the first creek crossing. The cold weather we have experienced had frozen the creek with stacked layers of ice with air inbetween about 2 ft thick. We moved down the drainage a bit to where it is about 3 ft across. The young mare I'm riding is not a master at water or it's derivatives. It took a fair amount of time to her across the spot safely.
Farther up the road we were back to sawing logs from the last wind storm. The little saw is still a work horse. Two more water/ice crossings and we started up the trail for the high country. Most of the trail was normal but the upper end was coated with ice from a spring above a 10ft drop off into the creek. It always makes me pucker. From there was a 2000 ft climb to the top of the ridge through the walls of deadfalls. We cut a week old track of a bull going north but the majority was elkless.

As we neared the top of the ridge we discovered the old gold mine at the top had been sold off for recreation homes. Always interesting to see a no trespasing sign nailed to a tree with a Forest Service Trail marker on it. I've always been fascinated how when city folks buy a chunk of land they feel obligated to get a case of no trespassing signs and coat not only their property but half of the forest service land too.

We countinued over the top through drifts up to the horses bellys and continued down the 100 year old wagon road to the next saddle. As we neared the saddle we cut day old tracks of a herd of cows and calves which marked the upper limit of the elk level.
We ate lunch and started down the trail to the bottom. About 200 yds into it we hit a massive cave-in of trees that were obviously more that my saw could handle or at least the battery. We admitted defeat and reversed the course through the drifts to the origin of the trip. I have added the trail to my list of summer projects. As steep as it it is it is best accessed from the top as a down trail. The middle section that I couldn't reach has been an excellant elk producer. Oh well - another year.

The trip back was normal except where my mare knocked me flat at a creek crossing in her attempt to be a rocket. There will be more water training in her future!
 

diamond hitch

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Joined
Feb 9, 2020
Messages
580
Location
Western Montana
The highlite for the day was shooting a coyote out the front window at a little more than 200 yds. At least I got to shoot this season even if I can't find a willing/stupid elk.

We started at the lower end of house drainage and took apart all the hiding places on an old ranch then moved over to the FS and covered each parcel we could get to between the massive piles of blowdown. We picked the tracks of 2 elk going up the ridge to the south. With 4-8 inches of frozen crunch, I figured the chance of success was too slim to warrant a chase. We cut back and worked our way up the next drainage. The blowdown was so severe that we could only make it about a mile up the drainage before it was over - powering. Maybe 5 gal of saw gas and next summer might be the answer.

We picked up the tracks of the two we saw before where they crossed the drainage and climbed the western ridge. We dropped down to a crossover trail and worked our way west through the blowdown.

We broke over the ridge into a big park and worked our way into the next drainage. Near the bottom we cut the tracks from the previous drainage which were now hustling along to the northwest. We went to the bottom to cut for tracks (none found) and then returned to follow the 2 elk tracks we cut. They took us over the next ridge to the west and were heading for the main road and drainage when we stopped at the range fence and started back to the truck. Another 6 hrs in the saddle without hearing a shot. This is right up there with the top 6 hardest seasons.
 

BrentD

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Joined
Feb 3, 2018
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3,399
Location
In the middle
The highlite for the day was shooting a coyote out the front window at a little more than 200 yds. At least I got to shoot this season even if I can't find a willing/stupid elk.

We started at the lower end of house drainage and took apart all the hiding places on an old ranch then moved over to the FS and covered each parcel we could get to between the massive piles of blowdown. We picked the tracks of 2 elk going up the ridge to the south. With 4-8 inches of frozen crunch, I figured the chance of success was too slim to warrant a chase. We cut back and worked our way up the next drainage. The blowdown was so severe that we could only make it about a mile up the drainage before it was over - powering. Maybe 5 gal of saw gas and next summer might be the answer.

We picked up the tracks of the two we saw before where they crossed the drainage and climbed the western ridge. We dropped down to a crossover trail and worked our way west through the blowdown.

We broke over the ridge into a big park and worked our way into the next drainage. Near the bottom we cut the tracks from the previous drainage which were now hustling along to the northwest. We went to the bottom to cut for tracks (none found) and then returned to follow the 2 elk tracks we cut. They took us over the next ridge to the west and were heading for the main road and drainage when we stopped at the range fence and started back to the truck. Another 6 hrs in the saddle without hearing a shot. This is right up there with the top 6 hardest seasons.

I love this story. You are fortunate enough to live where such tenacity is possible.

But mostly you are one of those guys who are determined to milk every minute and second out of your elk tag. Keep it up!
 

CU93elkstalker

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Dec 6, 2013
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436
Location
Easley, SC
I'm really enjoying this thread. Thank you for taking us along. Fingers crossed you find that willing elk that wants to take a horse ride.
 

diamond hitch

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Joined
Feb 9, 2020
Messages
580
Location
Western Montana
There is no question about removing the maybe, this season has been long and exceedingly unproductive. I'm getting to know the squirrels in each drainage by name as well as reputation.

Today I went west to the boundary between two districts. The lower end with a southern exposure showed 3 or 4 bunches of elk but they migrating out of the district to the winter range. We went out on the trail 3 miles until the trail drifted in on top of the ridge. When it got verticle we decided the risk wasn't worth it. We returned to the truck and ran out two miles on the southern section of the trail until we hit a big blow down. There had been no tracks on that stretch of trail so we admitted defeat and went home for lunch. I think I may take a couple of days off to think about a really tough year and what to do next.
 

diamond hitch

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Joined
Feb 9, 2020
Messages
580
Location
Western Montana
After two days off to rest up, my daughter and I went to the far reaches of the winter range and tried it again. It started out looking promising. No human tracks showed on the trails since wed. As we moved up the trail we cut tracks of 6-7 cows and calves about a third of the way up. Near the top of the ridge we cut tracks of another herd going towards our destination.

As we broke over the top of the ridge and started down into the next basin. Sadly enough the tracks showed the upper herd had passed through it and countinued to the east. We worked our way down the drainage and cut the tracks of the lower herd which had likewise moved farther east.

We made it to the cross-over trail and pulled out of the basin and up onto the next ridge. We stopped for lunch on an old mine dump where we picked up specimens of gold ore while watching an open hillside. We finished lunch and rode to the top of the ridge where we cut the tracks of the elk continuing east. Once we hit the main trail we got a big surprize as we rode into a flock of rubber thunder chickens (blue grouse). Always a moment of chaos before you can get the horses under control.

The elk had moved to the south side where the snow was gone so tracking was not an option. We made a big sweep out 5 miles and picked of the tracks of the elk herds we had cut where they came from miles to the west. Then we came to the motivator- fresh mountain lion tracks. That answered why the continuous movement was being seen.

The season continues to suck with weather and cats being the primary reasons.
 

diamond hitch

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Joined
Feb 9, 2020
Messages
580
Location
Western Montana
I made the decision this morning to finish the season with a shallow scan from the yard. I got to thinking that there might be a possibility that the elk may have hung up on some of the mid to lower flanks of the main ridge. I rode out of the yard trying to keep to the south and west slopes where the crusty snow was the shallowist hence easy on both the elk and my horse. I navigated around the drifts and worked my way up the slope to the midway bench at the end. I cut no tracks except a coyote in two miles but as I broke out on top, I cut tracks of many herds of elk that had all moved about the first part of the 4th week. The same time they moved just about everywhere. Where they went god only knows. Like usual - it could be when the aliens picked them up.

The elk tracks gave way to quad tracks where some idiot felt the need to see how many drifts they could drive through before crashing. Back on the road, the tracks were covered by man tracks which traveled in an erratic pattern. By the third pattern I determined they were searching for a xmas tree.

I can go a lot of places on a horse but I usually avoid the roaded areas. As I rode into my yard a truck drove by with what looked like a cow elk in the back with all four legs straight up.

This concludes my chronical of self abuse. As you can see that extremely hard work and diligence does not always get rewarded. Sometimes the elk win. Only fair!

My gain? I got to re-live the memories of hundreds of hunts, raising kids on horseback, family camps and some excellant horses. I gave up five weeks of income for sanity and will do it again and again until I can't. I have mares to foal in the spring, wood to cut, hay to bale, and another season to experience next year. I hope you all have the same.
 

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