I have had the privilege of being part of many wonderful hunts. Regardless of whether tags were filled or not, they all have special memories to me of which I find myself often reliving and enjoying. Of all these hunts, my trip to Montana will forever be branded as the best hunt of my life. I have yet to see anything come together as perfectly as it did here.
Our hunting party met up in Choteau 7lazyP Ranch in the middle part of November. There were four of us in total; myself, my brother Derek, Dad, and cousin Norm. Being from Montana and accomplished packer, Norm was the host of the event. He and dad had been in the week earlier to set camp and prepare for our arrival. Derek and I had hoped to join them earlier however our employers didn’t agree with our desired absences. It didn’t matter; I was just excited to be coming along. Originally, I didn’t think I would be able to join the hunt and missed the initial draw from which the other members of my party received coveted Deer and Elk combo tags. As I found my schedule clearing with the hunt approaching, I put in for a left over tag. Chances were slim but 4 weeks before we were to leave, Montana Fish and Wildlife contacted me saying I had been selected to receive a combo tag as well if I still desired it. I couldn’t write them a check fast enough.
As we left Choteau, one of Norm’s Montana buddies said, “4 Elk and 4 Deer? That’ll be a hell of an order to fill!” He was right, it was an unusually warm year in Montana with average November temps around 25-30 degrees F. The elk weren’t following their normal patterns and few had been taken in the area we were hunting. Undaunted, we saddled up our horses and the hunt was on.
The shear splendor of the Bob Marshall is worth the trip and would forever have kicked myself for missing it. Within just few miles, I felt like I rode back in time about 150 years. The amazing abundance of wildlife and the complete lack of any other human contact made the stresses of regular life disappear along with the civilization we left behind. Our destination was about 25 miles back in the middle of nowhere. Just enjoying the ride, we casually talked amongst each other. Dad ran his camera like crazy. The wild was taking age off and he rode around like a teenager on his first date. Norm talked about different stories of past hunts, tips on surviving if we get lost, and what not to do when we meet up with a Grizzly. I took particular notice that he didn’t say “if”. The weather was pleasant and the Bob welcomed us in with open arms.
We didn”t make it into camp until late afternoon, but what awaited us was more than we could have hoped for. Norm spotted them from about a mile away. Grazing on the hill where our horses would be kept was the main herd of elk. Hundreds of them simply enjoying the last of the afternoon sun. Abandoning any notion of getting things unpacked before dark, we tied the horses, pulled rifles, and set to hunting. This had the potential of being a very good start. Unfortunately, someone else thought so as well. As we began to make our approach, the crack of a rifle broke the still of the evening and with a thunderous scramble, the herd was gone. A small group of guided hunters had been hunting on the final day of their hunt when they had stumbled across the big group. Unfortunately, they couldn”t make their shots and left the next day empty handed. Except for the occasional ranger, they would be the last people we saw until we departed 2 weeks later.
The next day was quickly planned out. The elk were obviously in and it was agreed we should hunt close to camp. With a little luck, we should be able to get at least one in the morning light. We stowed gear, fed horses, and went to bed. Even though we were worn out from the days ride, sleeping was difficult as excitement poured through us like little kids before Christmas morning. But like any hunt, things can always change. While we slumbered in our cots, the elk came down from the hill, trekked the flat, and crossed the Sun River into the no-hunting area of the Preserve. They would not be seen for quite some time.
Continued IN Part II
Kelsey Hilderbrand is a life long hunter, shooter,gun enthusiast, outdoors writer, and founder of