Yeti

The Change in Hunting Elk!

shoots-straight

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Maybe I'm just venting for not killing a Big Bull Elk this year, or complaining because my efforts seemed futile many days, I've decided to post some thoughts on this years Hunting season.

I mainly hunt Elk. That's what I do, what my family has done for generations, and hopefully my kids and their kids will get to do too. I say "Hopefully" with some real reservations I'm feeling at the moment. Things have certainly changed here and in a big way both politically, and physically.

Many of the faithful on HT know the politics that are happening right now, and understand much of that. I'm going to address the physical aspects of the hunting here in Western Montana that I've seen.

The biggest single change to the lands here is the forests. They no longer are rolling forested hills with large Pine, Spruce, Doug fir, and Lodge pole trees, but are vast areas of historically large burnt areas within the past 20 years. What didn't burn has seen vast amounts of beetle kill infestations that are now in the process of falling to the forest floor and cluttering it to the point that it's not fit for man nor beast to wade through.

21-11-20 12-08-39 0234.jpg
Much of the areas I historically have taken Elk in are this. Many times the Elk can't even wade there themselves.
It's not just the down timber, but all the branches that these trees take down with them that make it far worse. Those old bulls that make their way down in these messes to hide out are virtually safe for anyone putting the sneak on them. (Maybe a good thing) It's damn near impossible for man to "Go down though" where we once use too.
21-11-22 10-54-39 0246.jpg

These areas still have a lot of dead and dying trees left to go.

The areas that have burnt are in varying stages of downfall, so you can pick your way through some of those areas. Mostly anything over 7 years after the burn took place is in those stages of down fall that make it tough for man and beast, but at least those sticks you find in the beetle kill areas are gone, burnt in the fires. You just have downfall and new growth.

I was able to take a cow in a 20 year old fire area. The high grassy openings are still there, just surrounded with downfall and new growth. You can still find Elk, but largely at longer ranges than the old days. The Elk literally are bedding in places I've named "Hair on a dogs back" and then there's "Hairier than hair on a dogs back". Those places will tear your expensive Sitka gear right off. 21-11-23 08-26-27 0258.jpg
It took a chain saw and some serious work to get my meat off this mountain.

The few forest fires that have reburned some of these older burns have done well. I've been amazed as how much different wildlife has showed up there. It takes time for the fire to do it's job in those aspects and so many times they get put out before it can work it's magic.

I hunted aprox. 25 of the 36 days this rifle season, never from a vehicle. Much of those days were spent hiking and glassing. I saw around 1000 head of elk, 18 spikes. Many of those elk were seen several times. I saw one legal bull in the headlights of my truck on the highway. 20 years ago there would have been several bulls in every group of cows I'd see migrating. Not sure where those bulls went during this time. I did have one bull bugling at me. He couldn't get thru the downfall. I couldn't get to him either, so off he went.

There was tracks of bulls in spots, but not like there should be.

Bow season wasn't much better. I spent a lot of time out in the most remote spots around the area's I hunt and called in very few elk.

Not so long ago, I'd average around 20 + bulls called into range during archery, and see about the same number while rifle hunting.

At 60 years of age, I'm wondering how much worse it's going to get, and how much more effort I can muster.
Elk Hunting has certainly changed and not for the better in Western Montana sense I was a kid.
 

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shoots-straight

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So then I find this going on. These guys built a road up the mountain into a RARE II area and put in their camp. They seemed to leave a mess behind for what ever reason. This is the second year in a row for them doing this. I notified the Forest Service last year and nothing happened. This year I did get them to repair the gate and take away a sign that belonged to roaded areas that only closed during rifle seasons. This area is closed to motorized year round. No wonder this area isn't as good anymore. 21-11-27 11-09-37 0270.jpg 21-11-27 11-05-10 0268.jpg 21-11-27 10-09-07 0266.jpg 21-11-27 08-30-35 0263.jpg 21-11-27 08-30-43 0264.jpg 21-11-27 08-35-42 0265.jpg
This is how we treat "OUR" public lands?

More venting!!!
21-11-27 11-09-30 0269.jpg
 

Pagosa

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I completely agree. I’ve hunted in western MT 3 times as non-resident from 2001 -05 and as a resident from 2013 til present. It’s gotten significantly worse since 2017, I didn’t hunt this year, but didn’t hear any good reports. I normally only seen 1-3 bulls per year, and maybe only a handful of cows. The bull to cow ratio is way out of balance. Maybe 10-12 bulls per 100 cows. They need to shorten the season, pick you weapon, log the entire forests or let 75% of it burn up, and possibly go to draw in multiple districts. Until that happens it will just get worse. Hopefully something changes.
 

shoots-straight

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The costs to log the entire forest would be a budget breaker. Most of the trees will be on the floor, and not worth getting, The rest will be needed to reseed the forest.

This was my second time calling up the Forest Service. They got on it right away and fixed the gate, took down the misplaced off road vehicle sign. I didn't go up to the camp yet, but it's a ways up there.
 

rideold

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I hear you. There are always some bad eggs. Burns me up. There's a closed logging road I hunt most years that I put the gate and sign back up every year I go there and sometimes more than once in the same week. Sometimes the pieces and sign are lying across the road and sometimes they are tossed into the brush. Sucks.
 

thusby

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Nobody manages forest worse than the feds. There is very good information available on how to do it properly but they decided to start ignoring that in the 80s.
 

shoots-straight

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Nobody manages forest worse than the feds. There is very good information available on how to do it properly but they decided to start ignoring that in the 80s.
That's kinda the thinking that's going on inside the heads of those responsible for the mess and destroyed gate. Hard for the "Feds" to manage much when we "Feds" are doing this shit.
 

Nameless Range

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You have hunted far longer than me, and I can't imagine how much more stark the changes the beetle kill has brought are to you than they are to me. I hunt dead lodgepole, most of which died between 2008-2012. I am 37, so when the kill happened I was in my mid 20s, and I have faded memories of what it was like before.


In the Boulder Mountains where I live, it is not an exaggeration to say there are hundreds of thousands of contiguous acres where greater than 50% of the timber was damaged or killed by beetles. The first to fall were the Ponderosa, and up until the wind event of June 13, 2020, a certain portion of the lodgepole would fall annually. Now I would say 75% of that which was killed is now on the ground.

It has absolutely affected the elk, and I think limits their habitat to the point that it limits their populations. It sure does make some hidey holes, but as the Elkhorns Elk Collar Study showed us, Elk avoid beetle kill too.

beetle kill.jpg


Nice job getting it done. Seeing a thousand elk is darn near a thousand more than I saw last season!
 

Gerald Martin

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@shoots-straight, n your opinion is the lack of bulls seen because they had already left the cows for the year and were timbered up in sanctuary areas or are they just not there because they have been shot out?
 

Gr8bawana

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Nevada
Maybe I'm just venting for not killing a Big Bull Elk this year, or complaining because my efforts seemed futile many days, I've decided to post some thoughts on this years Hunting season.

I was able to take a cow in a 20 year old fire area. The high grassy openings are still there, just surrounded with downfall and new growth. You can still find Elk, but largely at longer ranges than the old days. The Elk literally are bedding in places I've named "Hair on a dogs back" and then there's "Hairier than hair on a dogs back". Those places will tear your expensive Sitka gear right off. View attachment 204913
It took a chain saw and some serious work to get my meat off this mountain.
So you got a cow elk but you're complaining because it wasn't a big bull and you had to work hard for it? :unsure:
Those areas you say are not fit for man or beast to wade through are where the elk go to get away from human activity.
 

shoots-straight

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@shoots-straight, n your opinion is the lack of bulls seen because they had already left the cows for the year and were timbered up in sanctuary areas or are they just not there because they have been shot out?
That's the theory I usually promote. I saw and heard far less during the Rut than normal. The visual herds I see in the urban elk herds showed far less too. I just think their gone to a point. Like the bio's claim as evidence, I'm going to use the "My gut feeling is there's less bulls to see. I know our bull/cow ratio's are a lot less than we use to see here.
 

shoots-straight

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So you got a cow elk but you're complaining because it wasn't a big bull and you had to work hard for it? :unsure:
Those areas you say are not fit for man or beast to wade through are where the elk go to get away from human activity.
You missed the rest of the posts maybe. The reality is I usually take any bull. I went into many of those downed areas. There's a small number of elk there now than use to be. I saw zero bulls where I use to see dozens. I have no problem working hard for any elk. What I'm concerned with is the change in visual sightings, and sign. I said I witnesses over 1000 head of elk by glassing, hunting and saw zero legal bulls. Much of the habitat that use to be elk sanctuaries is no longer used by them, and some is burnt from not so distant of fires that there's no cover. So are they going to private holdings? I don't know but what I do know is they aren't roaming around the public much anymore. We do have some large private lands that are harboring great numbers of elk. I'll wait to see what the counts are.

Oh bTW before the wolf statement comes out, I crossed paths with 4 different wolves this year.
 

EKYHunter

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I feel for ya. Seems like a lot the folks who are supposed to be “managing” these days, don’t do much managing at all.
 
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