Montana Unit 560 Elk Hunt 2014

phasefive

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Dec 30, 2013
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Last year a buddy and I ventured out to Montana for our first DIY elk hunt. Prior to the hunt a high profile member of this board was kind enough to give us some much needed direction. Thanks again!!

Upon arrival at the trail head around 2pm we sighted in our rifles and loaded up the packs. The opener was 1.5 days out.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons on the trip…the first was always get a current arial/sat photo of the area you plan on hunting.

The path we chose to ascend to our spike camp via google earth looked manageable…however it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. The path we chose showed up as a burn on google…yet ended up being a pile of logs and new growth pine…this resulted in a 3hr hump to gain 1000ft and a little over a mile.

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After a tough trek we reached the bench were we planned on camping and watered up. We were impressed/concerned with the amount of grizzly sign present…fortunately it was mostly old.

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There was also some elk sign of varying age and we encountered some whitetail doe’s. The weather was mild…bordering on hot. We made camp on the leeward side of a ridge which afforded us some protection from the very strong winds.

The following day we scouted the area pretty hard and glassed quite a bit. The weather was excellent, sunny and mild. That evening I spotted a large group of elk across the river valley at last light. There was one very nice bull in the bunch and they were making their way toward private property at a steady clip.

My buddy and I vigorously debated wether to chase those animals. They were only about a mile away as the crow flies…but a 2k ft elevation loss and 2k ft of elevation gain stood between us. Plus, the difficult ascent we encountered the day before and the darknes made us decide to stay put.

Keep in mind, we suspected…but weren't sure if an alternate route was available off the mountain…there was some cliff faces on the alternate route that may have posed potential problems and scrambling through the blowdown in the dark wasn't an option.

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For a visual idea of the terrain where I saw the elk (sorry no actual photo), see the top picture above. The elk were moving through the open area with a rocky band at the top left portion of the ridge. The second picture is from a different angle...same terrain...lower on the mountain. As you can see they were at the same elevation as us initially…just a major trek and a large river away!

Of course after we decided not to go after those animals the weather took on a schizophrenic personality. Sun, wind, rain and snow in variable patterns would mark the next 5 days of hunting.

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We hunted hard but didn't see any more elk. Eventually we dropped to a lower elevation and saw lots of sign but no elk…there were a good amount of whitetails…nothing we wanted to shoot however.

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One of my concerns committing to this area was that there was a piece of private property above our camp. We didn't see a soul for 6 days…however one afternoon…in a pretty wretched snow storm…some folks on horseback dropped in and took a water bladder and about 4 gallons of purified water (which was a bit of a hassle pumping through a sweetwater filter). I never saw them but the tracks in the snow clearly showed a two legged thief…it really sucked making water that night.

It's possible that the area we primarily hunted was used regularly by these folks. That may have played a role in the animals behavior? We saw lots of sign...just no real sightings on this side of the valley.

All-in-all, it was a great trip and I learned a lot.

When the reports came out the following week it showed that very few (like 3) elk were killed in this drainage the week we hunted. I’m not sure if that was a symptom of the weather and/or wolves, etc. Regardless, I think we did a serviceable job...considering we’re flatlander's and hadn't hunted elk before.

With that said, I’m open to constructive criticism regarding what I did or didn't do correctly. At the end of the day…I’m here to learn. Thanks in advance.

P.S. I wish we chased those elk!
 

JLS

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If I were you, I'd do anything I could to NOT camp in standing dead trees. It's a good way to not wake up, if you know what I mean.

Nice pictures and write up!
 

phasefive

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Dec 30, 2013
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JLS, I dont disagree. That pic was when we were coming off the mountain. Probably not the best decision...but it was a bit more open than it appears and we were upwind of that timber. However, good point and one more lesson learned. Thnx
 

JLS

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JLS, I dont disagree. That pic was when we were coming off the mountain. Probably not the best decision...but it was a bit more open than it appears and we were upwind of that timber. However, good point and one more lesson learned. Thnx

Prevailing winds are not the ones you worry about. It's the ones that accompany a storm system/unsettled weather that drop a lot of trees.

Sometimes you do what you have to do. I've been pretty well terrified before in a sudden windstorm.
 

phasefive

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Dec 30, 2013
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Point taken. thanks

We were both pretty mentally and physically beat down. I think bad decisions are proportional to that state.

One of the take always from that trip was that we may have beat ourselves up unnecessarily. I think the area we chose in hindsight wasn't extremely conducive to glassing large areas w/ out climbing to vantage points.

Next time I think I'll focus on being more mobile...spike low and climb high light
 

TRS_Montana

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Nov 19, 2014
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Helena
I have definitely learned the value of using google earth and aerial photos, also. Another thing I would say is that sometimes it just doesn't work out. Last year we went in and camped in a spot that was LOADED with elk. Got close but didn't make it happen on opening weekend. There was a storm that was coming through, so we decided to head out and come back in after the storm passed through. When we got back to our spot 7 miles in, we didn't see a single elk. A good storm can move elk out of the high country in a matter of a few days.
 

Chucknduck

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Jan 30, 2015
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Montana
I deer hunt that area. Most of the elk I've seen are down low close to or on private. It can be very rough country with lots of elevation change and fewer elk than other districts. I've always wanted to explore it more for elk hunting since it's so close to home.
 

Nameless Range

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Jun 6, 2013
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Western Montana
You definitely put in the effort. It can be a really frustrating thing and a difficult decision to see elk in the distance, down a mountain and up another, and not be sure if you should pursue. Especially when it may take you half a day to get there.

Great pictures and a good hunt regardless. Thanks for sharing.
 

Vman

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Jul 23, 2015
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I'm pretty sure I know where you are. I have hunted that area allot. I think elk numbers are way down along with deer numbers. It's a tough hunt there.
 

elkantlers

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UT
If I were you, I'd do anything I could to NOT camp in standing dead trees. It's a good way to not wake up, if you know what I mean.
!

^^^This is the first thing I thought when I saw the pictures. Widow Makers for sure..
 

Vman

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Jul 23, 2015
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That was my guess. I have heard that the zone just west of the crazies has a hugh elk herd now. Any truth to that?
 
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