Season in review - more lessons

MTelkHuntress

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Joined
Mar 20, 2019
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80
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Missoula, MT
This hunting season, I drew my first ever limited draw permit.
For context, usually I see elk once during archery and once during rifle, and normally those are not the best opportunities, so if I had more opportunities this season I would be pretty happy. So naturally, once I drew my first limited draw bull elk permit, I believed that more opportunities and encounters would happen. I was right in having more encounters...but not by much. In the district I hunted this year, I saw elk once during archery (which resulted in an amazing opportunity) and only twice during rifle. Now when I say I saw elk, it means only on public, seeing elk on the private was easy.
I had such high hopes and I'm extremely grateful for the encounters that I did have. I learned so much from them and I wish I had more encounters just to learn from.

My season really started in mid May with lots of preseason scouting. The snow had finally started to melt and I was able to drive up to the higher portions of the unit. I wanted to learn every piece of this hunting district because I wasnt going to have multiple years to hunt and learn it. I learned so much in the summer, while also taking some time to pick huckleberries and strawberries. I set up cameras to get a feel for what was in the unit. I couldn't believe how many bulls were on all of the trail cameras. Where I usually hunt, I get a few pictures of bulls. In this unit, I had elk on the cameras every single day. I even had a herd of 12 bulls come by every other day on one camera but I noticed that none of the bulls were very big. Out of all the bulls that came by, only one was a solid 6x6, the rest were small bulls. Almost every time I scouted during the summer, I would run into bulls and this was very different for me! From mid May to the second week of August, I got pictures of bulls every single day on all of my trail cameras. After the first week of August, all the bulls disappeared. I only assume that they had gone to the private property for the rut. This was odd, but I just figured that I would hunt higher up hoping to catch bulls still going to the private. In every area of this district, I would find rubs so I naturally assumed that there was a lot of bulls. I only saw cows once on public during a scouting trip. They had come 40 yards off the private, before jumping right back over. They rarely seemed to come on to public.

Archery season arrived and the night before opening day, my dad and I drove up to camp. At the bottom in the green fields on the private, 3 big bulls had their groups of cows and were bugling like crazy. I was maybe 70 yards from them in the truck. It was pouring rain, but they did not mind one bit. I thought, great maybe the ones on public will be bugling like crazy too. Oh how wrong I was. The morning of the first day of archery, I was on my way to one promising spot and immediately I saw a small bull on the private, I was too worried to even try to call him off. If he dies on private, I couldn't retrieve him. I figured it was still opening day so maybe I'll have more opportunities later. I moved on to other areas, but never heard bugles from elk (a couple hunters but that was it). I wish I had known or rather realized that all the cows were on private and that this particular district was just not great during archery. I did have one amazing encounter out of pure luck.
On the way out after a morning hunt in the rain, I looked up at the top of a mountain that we pass on the way. There was a field just below some rocks and I thought to look just for the heck of it. Immediately I spotted two cow elk. I couldn't believe it, they were in plain site. I found the spotting scope and began to look for a bull (finally putting this spotting scope to use for the first time). Minutes later, I saw antlers on one of the elk. My dad and I hoofed it up that mountain as fast as we could. We got to where we thought they were, and let out some cow calls. We immediately got a bugle response. The bugle was so faint, the bull sounded really far away. I took a couple steps, and there he was. A small 6x6 with wet fur. He was so amazing to see. He let out a bugle in front of us...and I couldn't believe how quiet and squeaky it was. After he figured there were no new cows around, he went back for his cows. We side hilled our way around the mountain to get in front of the bull. He suddenly popped up out of nowhere and we had to make do with a quick set up. The bull came within 60 yards of me. I had never watched a bull come in for me before and it was such an amazing moment. It was so exciting just to watch this big animal with wet fur and dark antlers from the rain, walking closer and closer. We didnt have time to set up a decoy, so he had nothing to look at when hearing the calls. Suspicious, the bull would come in no further. He walked away to follow his cows which had decided to move on. Even though I never drew my bow, that experience left me with such a huge smile on my face. In previous years, I had gotten near bulls before but not like this. The whole hike down the mountain, I couldn't stop talking about how amazing the encounter was. Trying to plan for next time, learning from the mistakes I had made. That was the first and last bull I saw during archery on public in the district. Meanwhile on private, you could see hundreds of elk. It was the first time I had ever seen bulls fight before, and that was really neat. I could hear their antlers clashing and I ended up getting some awesome video. Not on public, but still cool to watch.

Rifle season arrived, as did the hoards of hunters. I didnt mind too much since so few of them hiked. I quickly learned that I had to throw everything I knew about rifle season, right out the window. These bulls were not in deep dark places, they were close to the private and rarely would come off on to public. My whole time in this district, I never saw a real mature bull or really anything bigger than a small 5x5 during rifle. And by small I mean tiny. Towards the end of rifle, I finally had opportunities. My dad and I were hiking to a place where we knew some elk were coming off the private when we stopped to look at a mule deer buck (these deer were rare so naturally we looked). My dad suddenly looked to his left and saw a bull 70 yards away. Of course they ran off but I had a feeling they would stop. So I started walking parallel down to where I thought they were. I walked a bit slow because I thought I had seen a couple elk stop running out of the corner of my eye. I suddenly saw two elk bodies and immediately got ready to shoot. My dad had not seen me stop and kept his usual running up the mountain after the elk plan. I had my cross hairs right on the vitals...but realized that I had no clue if it was a legal bull. I couldn't see its head or any antlers because of two trees with bushy branches between us. I tried to scoot over to see antlers, but the elk spotted my dad and decided they had enough. They ran off up the mountain. That was the closest I had ever been to getting an elk before...and I couldn't make the shot without being sure it was a legal bull. That moment was incredibly hard for me, but I believe I did the right thing. It could have been a spike for all I knew. At this point my dad was feeling pretty bad. He explained that all he wanted was to see me shoot my first elk and that he felt that he was just failing all the time. My dad didnt even carry his gun the entire season, and he didnt even have the bull permit that I did. He has never shot a bull and still puts me first. I give a ton of credit to my dad for how hard he tries. I think as determined as he is for me to get my first elk, I'm just as determined to get him his first bull (It would help a tiny bit if he wasnt so picky). We have the hard work part down, we just need some luck.

The second to last day of rifle was our last time seeing bulls and our last opportunity. After finally getting some snow, we were able to track elk. We had a long hike in the morning and after not seeing a single track, we tried elsewhere in the evening. After about 20 minutes of hiking in this new spot, we both saw an animal 100 yards away in some trees. My dad looked with his binoculars and quickly realized it was an elk, then it became a small 3x3 (which caused me to pause), then a small bull, and finally it turned out to be a 5x5 bedded down. I looked through my scope, but then two other small bulls ran in front of the bedded bull and he quickly jumped up and ran with them. We followed their tracks but never caught up. I thought of everything that I should have done differently, but there really wasnt anything I could have done. Maybe if I didnt hesitate but I just have a habit of letting really small bulls go. I understand that's an odd thing for someone who has never shot an elk before to say, but I guess it's a habit I learned from my dad. Sure there are plenty of bulls in this district and so maybe I shouldn't have been so picky. I still went out the last day of rifle, but only came across some other hunters that had watched a small herd of cows make it to the private land first. I hiked until the very end, but no bulls were in sight.

So many people told me to go to other places to hunt but I really didnt have a better spot. As tough as this unit was, I still had some opportunities. I spent all my time in this district and it just wasnt going to work out. I have a ton of scouting to do next year to hopefully find some new promising spots.

I learned that I really did not enjoy hunting near private property, but that's where the elk were. When it did finally snow, most tracks were close to private property. Everytime I went far back away from roads or in deep holes, there was nothing. Talking to other hunters that had hunted the district before, it seemed like the lack of snow was a huge factor.
 

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MTelkHuntress

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Mar 20, 2019
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Missoula, MT
Luckily the whole season was not unsuccessful. This was a year of firsts! For the first time ever, I was with my dad when he got an animal. He shot a nice doe that I field dressed for him and we finally had some meat. We were extremely grateful because usually all our effort is towards elk and we end up with no filled tags. This year we took off two days to deer hunt. The next day we went deer hunting, I shot a big doe and just like that for the first time ever, we both had filled tags. I know to most people, two does doesnt mean anything, but for us it was really special to have meat in our freezer. Even though this season didnt turn out how I would have liked, I'm still very grateful for what I did get. I tried to keep this summary more concise but of course there was much more to the season. I found 33 cow and 3 bull dead heads in this district as well as many other things. I found quite a few sheds. I cleaned up a lot of trash and barbed wire. I got a couple grouse with my bow and I was one happy camper. It was an interesting place with many abandoned cabins. I dont think I will be putting in for this hunting district again unless some things change. I met a lot of hunters when usually I meet only 2 or 3 a season. All of them were very disappointed in the unit and most said the same thing about the elk on the private: "Those are our elk" is the phrase I heard so many times. I never really understood this phrase but I could see how frustrated they all were.

I hiked way more miles than I care to admit, but I sure tried as hard as I could. I did everything I possibly could to get an elk, and in the end I just couldn't get it done. I will be working extra hard on the preseason planning for next year. I figured having a limited draw permit would increase my odds, and I suppose it did a little bit. All I can do is just keep at it because I cant get an elk if I'm not out there trying. I have a lot of work ahead of me but I'm determined more than ever to not only get myself a bull, but to get my dad one as well. I learned a whole lot this season and I hope to apply all my lessons next year.

Please enjoy some of the pictures I took this season because I did have a lot of fun!


And finally, a picture I will never forget. The bull on the bottom left is the one that I got so close to during archery. I definitely made some memories I will never forget this season.
20190918_145020.jpg
 

elkrchr

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Jun 26, 2010
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Portland, OR
Sounds like you got to spend some quality time with your, learn a ton about elk and in the end, put a couple of great eating does in the freezer! Congrats to you and your dad.
 

MTelkHuntress

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Mar 20, 2019
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Missoula, MT
If you just keep going, it will happen eventually. If nothing else, every trip gives you more experience and helps you get that much better. Glad you had some great days in the field in spite of not seeing many elk.
Definitely some awesome days! But for some reason this year, it really hit me how spoiled I was going with my dad when I was younger. We would get into elk every hunting trip during archery and that's definitely what got me hooked. I realize now that those kind of spots are pretty rare. I'll definitely take all the experience I can get.
 

Gerald Martin

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Jul 3, 2009
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Sounds like you gave it a solid effort. My son had the same tag and after seeing all the elk on private last year, I had the perspective it could be the greatest hunt ever or a total bust. Living 3 1/2 hours from the unit, my plan was to hit it hard opening weekend to see what we could turn up since my son doesn't archery hunt.

From what we saw in driving the numerous roads before the season and seeing no tracks and the very limited and very old sign on opening day, we weren't convinced it was any better than the general area ten minutes from our house. In fact the only elk we saw was from the interstate on the way home in a general unit.

I was pretty sure we weren't missing out on the greatest hunt ever after that weekend. I wonder how many elk are killed on public there?
 

MTelkHuntress

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Mar 20, 2019
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Missoula, MT
I wonder how many elk are killed on public there?
I know of 3 for sure on public. I spoke to one of the smaller landowners (my truck died and luckily they turned out to be some very kind people) and they had 5 shot on their property so far and were trying to get 2 more bulls and 5 cows. The other landowner I met also got his bull and was trying to get one more I believe for his friend. I'll be interested to see the harvest numbers.
 

Europe

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Dec 26, 2018
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Mtelkhuntress

I enjoyed reading your story, thank you

Spent time with your dad, obtained more knowledge, meat in the freezer, spent time in beautiful country viewing/hunting beautiful animals

congratulations !
 

Randi

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Aug 4, 2019
Messages
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Definitely some awesome days! But for some reason this year, it really hit me how spoiled I was going with my dad when I was younger. We would get into elk every hunting trip during archery and that's definitely what got me hooked. I realize now that those kind of spots are pretty rare. I'll definitely take all the experience I can get.
Great write up, great times in the field with your dad. I too always enjoyed hunting with my father and grandfather . Some of the memories, while hunting, have nothing to do with filling a tag. Congrats
 

teej89

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Oct 7, 2015
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West of the Rockies
Great write up and I really like the ethic! I totally understand from where you're coming from about you're not sure if you made the right decision but in my opinion if it was meant to be it would have happened.

Keep at it!
 
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