Sunday, November 30, 2008

Montana Elk Hunting Survival Tips, Part 2a

This post will be in two parts.  Today's post will be a story of a couple of lost elk hunters.  The next post will detail their mistakes and some corrective actions.

Getting lost in the wilderness is quite easy--even for someone with experience.  A few years ago two of my hunters became lost.  They only had to walk 400-500 yards back to the horses and the Forest Service pack trail.  Instead, they drifted almost 180 degrees from their expected path and walked almost three miles through swamp, springs, bogs and lots of deadfall timber.

Early one morning they both shot bulls on a ridge north of Headquarters Creek in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.  (So that you can follow along better I have included a map that I made from digital elevation models.  The first map I made was a classic contour map, but with the size of the finished map, contour lines were to close together and the entire thing was a mess.  This one is a shaded relief map.  It doesn't show vegetation and timber, but does show topography.  Elevations for selected locations are as follows:  Hunting camp-5400 ft; Horses-5600 ft; Elk-5970 ft; Hunters Found-5350.  For reference, the finished map mirrors the "Gates Park, Teton County, Montana" topographic map sheet.  I hope it works!)

Guide Bill Schrader and I caped, quartered and loaded the two elk onto four mules.   The whole process took a couple of hours.  Weather was nice and everyone was happy with two 6-point bulls.  Lots of photos, and lots of joking and "war stories."

When we were almost done packing axes, knives and assorted gear, the hunters said they would walk back to the horses and meet us there.  They should have beat us to the horses, but when we got there--NO HUNTERS.  Schrader stayed to wait for them; I went on back to camp.  This was about 2 pm.

About 10 pm Schrader rode into camp.  I made some smart remark like, "Where did you lose your hunters?"  Schrader wasn't in the mood for humor--with good reason--the hunters never showed up.

Radio reports said a winter snow warning was on for the mountains of central and north-central Montana, so we decided to go look for them.  If the weather was going to be "OK" we would have left them for the night.  Schrader, guide Clint Streeter and I rode back to the elk kill.  Schrader walked a few steps to the crest of the ridge and fired his .44 magnum.  Nothing.  I said, "Shoot another one."  Schrader fired.  We waited several more minutes.  Then far to the north was a single, "phew."  Almost not a gunshot.  

We looked at each other and shook our head.  Streeter said, "How could they be that far away?  They only had to walk down to the horse trail."  No one had an answer.

We had a rather heated debate on what to do next.  The direct route took us through some swamps, a few bogs and a lot of deadfall.  Horses couldn't get through some of the swamps, or heavy deadfall in the daylight, let alone at "oh dark thirty."  

We took the direct route.  And found the hunters had made a fire and were in reasonable shape.  They just didn't know where they were or were to go to find their way back to camp.

This is a good example of how a person can easily veer from the chosen route and end up lost.  The next post, Montana Elk Hunting Survival Tips, Part 2b will critique the lost hunters and methods an elk hunter (or any hunter) can use to remain FOUND.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Montana Elk Hunting Survival Tips, Part 1

Just returned from my morning hike down the creek. Wonderful day. About 22 degrees and no wind. In this country a day with now wind is as good as it gets. Not much wildlife to start with. A couple of small four-point whitetail bucks (4x4), a whitetail young of the year, and a few black and red angus cows.
On the return trip the yearly, or bi-yearly squaking of Canadian Geese began. Over head, the geese were strung out for what may have been a half mile. They weren't in a "V" type formation, but more of an echelon left. The weather is changing, and with only two weekends of regular elk season left in Montana I thought it important for a few safety tips.

My first is firestarters. Should a hunter use flint and steel? Perhaps, candles? Or, maybe a small butane torch. Well, those are all great, but if you want a dependable firestarter, I would recommend a road-side flare. They are nearly indestructible, start almost anywhere and burn long enough for wet wood to catch fire and burn on its own. If you want a more waterproof version, simply paint with wax or a shellac.
I hope everyone is having a great day! The photo above is a deer that took refuge in our shelterbelt (trees are only a couple years old) last Thanksgiving. He is missing one antler, whether that was from a fight or a gunshot, who knows? But he seemed to need a place to rest and relax, my wife and I left him alone and he was gone the next morning.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Raught Handed Through the Pole Pines

I'm rather new to the blogosphere, so please bear with me.Hunting camps and hunters need humor, and I find that humor can come from us or at us. Sometimes it's both. Sometimes it's hard to tell who is the jokester and who is the horse's ass.About 20 years ago, I worked in a hunting camp as a guide and the primary mule packer. I had developed "Dennis' Law." It stated that if a hunter or guide got an elk (or deer or bear or sheep) that the hunter or guide had to go along to find the game. I had had plenty of experience trying to find an elk over near "the ridge."

Anyway, one of the guides didn't pack--at all. I'll call him David. One day his hunter got a five-point bull and David didn't want to show me where it was. We got in a pissin' match and he went to the outfitter, who said David wasn't going. (I guess Dennis' Law was more like Dennis' Theory)David started to tell me how to find the elk. It must be noted that David is from North Carolina and even for a North Carolinan he had a different slant on the world. He could also tell a pretty good joke.

He began, "Ya take the cut-across trail towards Dryden and when ya git to the second meadow, turn by that old fir stump. Go to the top of the meadow and head for the pole pines. " (I already knew what pole pines were, only we always called them peter poles or pine thickets. They are patches of Lodgepole Pine that are so thick you usually need to turn sideways to get your shoulders through.)

David continued, "Ya head right-handed through the pole pines and come to that rock about the size of a jeep that looks like Mount Rushmore, 'ceptin there ain't no faces on it." I got hotter by the minute.

I said, "David, I've been here for several years and I've never seen a rock that looked like Mount Rushmore around here--with or without faces."

He replied, "Well ya can't miss it. It's raught there. Then, when ya git to the rock head for the ridge goin' up Beartop. Follow that ridge three-eights of the way and the bull is raught there." David knew that he had pulled my chain, but never let on.

I said, "How far EXACTLY is three-eights of the way, David?"

His grin started immediately and he said, "That's a little less than haallff!"

At the time I wasn't as tickled as David, but as the years have gone by it has become one of my favorite stories.

Although, I'm not sure who was the horse's ass.

Monday, November 17, 2008

About Page

About me and this here blog.

While my wife, Wende, and I were in the outfitting business we saw a lot of hunters and a lot of elk. Over 95% of our hunters had good elk within 200 yards of them, but only about 60% of them took those elk home. As an outfitter and businessman some people didn't believe those statistics. When we gave those statistics to prospective hunters at sport shows, we got sideways glances that seemed to indicate we were supposed to lie and tell them ANYTHING in order to book them.

Now, I am not in the business of booking hunters. It is my intent to use this blog as a vehicle to enlighten prospective elk hunters to the elements needed to build a good elk hunt. At times this blog will skirt the issue of guns, calibers, etc, but that isn't as important as finding a reputable outfitter or preparing to be successful--yes, just like in business.

This blog will also have odd, possibly silly stories and items that may not be just elk. There may be posts on Montana, Montana wildlife, or possibly simply Montana life.

I believe that a good hunt is as more about fellowship and good times than just killing the big bull.

Wife Wende, blue heeler Tippy, and I in outside Wende's cooktent.

I've been a wilderness guide for Montana elk, deer, black bear, grizzly bear (when they were huntable), Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goat since 1973. I owned an outfit, C Guiding D Outfitters, LLP from the mid-1990s to 2003. Our camp was on Lynx Creek near the North Fork of the Sun River in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. The North Fork is home to the only migrating elk herd in the state--excepting the elk that come to Montana from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
While I was in the Army, I had the following success:
  • 1st Place Marksman, 9th Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Washington
  • 2nd Place Marksman, I Corps
  • Member of the 6th Army Marksmanship Training Unit, Fort Ord, California
  • TDY member of the US Army Markmanship Unit, Fort Benning, Georgia
As a civilian shooter, I have been successful as well:
  • Montana Highpower Service Rifle Champion, 1995
  • 1227th Civilian to earn the Distinguished Rifleman Award (est. 1906)
  • Master Highpower classification
  • Life member National Rifle Association

Shooting with the Montana Team from 600 yards at the DCM (Director of Civilian Marksmanship, now know as Civilian Marksmanship Program) at Camp Perry, 1995.

Most important is that this is blog is a two-way street. If you want to hear something in particular or have questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to ask. Even at 49, I still learn something everyday.
As a post script I would like to add that I enjoy writing, but most of my life I have worked hard, packing mules, shoeing horses and guiding elk hunters. I try to leave silly stuff like "a no spin zone" with the Bill O'Reillys. This blog will have my spin. In my mind that is ethical and enjoyable hunting--something I miss seeing.

Waiting for the guides to bring another mule to load. My late friend Tippy is interested in the elk blood.
FYI: I live outside the small community of Augusta, MT along the east slopes of the Rocky Moutnain Front. The photo in the header of this blog is the view from my office window.