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.

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