The Change in Hunting Elk!

Elknr

Member
Joined
Mar 5, 2022
Messages
26
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.

View attachment 204905
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.
View attachment 204911

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. View attachment 204913
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.
We allways hunt a lot of the same stuff here in Utah. It gives elk even more advantage of not being snuck up on.
I’ve hunted same area for years 15 years ago one side of drainage was beetle killed where there was no elk sighn in then. Where on other side was not beetle killed and holds the elk. Now 15 years later some growth happened finally and there back on the once beetle killed area.
 

Irishman

Well-known member
Joined
Jul 27, 2017
Messages
166
Location
Kalispell, Montana
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.

View attachment 204905
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.
View attachment 204911

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. View attachment 204913
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.
I've bowhunted for elk in West and SW Montana for over 30 years. The changes have been significant, especially in the last 10 years. I may hunt some of the same areas that you do. First it was the fires, mostly starting around 2000. Then it was a gradual increase in bowhunter numbers, followed by a big increase. Also it seems like people are getting much more time off to hunt the last couple of years (many more private contractors I think due to the construction boom). Also the fire areas were good for elk, then blowdowns made them hard to hunt. This last couple of years, I went to places (not burns, but bettle killed) that I could always count on calling in elk, only to find no sign of elk. These areas had blowdowns that I had to climb over, and there is no way that elk could get through these areas.
 

mtmuley

Well-known member
Joined
Jan 11, 2009
Messages
10,107
Location
montana
Well, after the Gold-Butterfly project is complete, we shall see if anything changes. I have 40 plus years of experience hunting that country. I know some of the reasons elk hunting has become difficult there. And it ain't dead trees. mtmuley
 

Forum statistics

Threads
100,399
Messages
1,587,175
Members
31,512
Latest member
fadilale
Top