Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spying On A Cowboy

They're Everywhere

The sun is shining.  It is springtime in Montana, through the window I can hear a Western Meadowlark singing.  My wife spotted a fresh baby antelope this morning behind the house.  And, I am stuck in the office working on my computer.

In one way this post has nothing to do with elk hunting, although, if you are reading this you are probably seeing it on a computer.  In that way it has everything to do with Montana Elk Hunting.

A couple of days ago, I noticed my modem status meter running when my mail program was closed and I wasn't actively on the internet.  I have a mac and the internet connect shows a bar graph showing send and receive information.  I did a small test--probably not a scientific test and found that if I typed a word on a Word document, there was activity on the meter.  My virus blocking software must not have picked it up.

I went to my other computer and surfed for other spyware removal tools, returned to the infected computer and downloaded the software.  It found over 80 files that were not part of the system.  The files were at the root of my system and could not be accessed by me.  I couldn't even look at them.  The spyware could not remove the files and I couldn't get them to delete.  

It must be noted that as soon as the download of the anti-spyware was completed I got off the internet.

My only real option was to call some computer geek company and have them try to remove it or erase my hard drive and start over.

I took the second option.  I don't think I lost much, but I will spend a remarkable spring weekend getting things reloaded.

I'm not sure where I picked up the spyware, or how long it had been on the drive.  It is upsetting to me that there are so many obviously capable people that don't use their talents for good, but to cheat and steal from others.

There is a lot of good information about spyware, malware and viruses.

Wikipedia gets a lot of bad press, but if you want a quick overview, with links to sources it is a good start.  For information at Wiki, go to Spyware on Wikipedia.

For better info go to the Federal Trade Commission, Internet Privacy & Security page, the FTCs On Guard Online source of topics, games and videos on internet security, or FTCs On Guard Online Malware Page.

I have included the following tips from the malware page:

If you suspect malware is on your computer:

  • Stop shopping, banking, and other online activities that involve user names, passwords, or other sensitive information.
  • Confirm that your security software is active and current.  (emphasis mine)  At a minimum, your computer should have anti-virus and anti-spyware, and a firewall.
  • Once your security software is up-to-date, run it to scan your computer for viruses and spyware, deleting anything the program identifies as a problem.
  • If you suspect your computer is still infected, you may want to run a second anti-virus or anti-spyware program--or call in professional help.
  • Once your computer is back up and running, think about how malware could have been downloaded to your machine, and what you could do to avoid it in the future.

  • Don't click on a link in an email or open an attachment unless you know who sent it and what it is.  Links in email can send you to sites that automatically download malware to your machine.  Opening attachments--even those that appear to come from a friend or co-worker also can install malware on your computer.
  • Download and install software only from websites you know and trust.  Downloading free games, file sharing programs, and customized toolbars may sound appealing, but free software can come with malware.
  • Talk about safe computing.  Tell your kids that some online activity can put a computer at risk: clicking pop-ups, downloading "free" games or programs, or posting personal information.
Source:  FTC, On Guard Online, Malware Page, accessed 30 May 2009

I have already changed my internet habit.  Because of that (and other things) my posts here may fizzle out.

This time of year a person should be outside experiencing antelope fawns, elk calves and Big Sky, not sitting at a this desk.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Swimmin' with Griz

A Grizzly Story

When I first started guiding, Art Weikum, the outfitter I worked for, had me guide more bear hunters than elk hunters. I was in good shape. Looking for bears is usually more challenging than looking for elk. Also, for whatever reason, I just ran into a lot of bears.

It surprised me how many hunters came into camp with a bear tag and said, “After I get my elk I want to get a grizzly,” and then after getting their elk, seemed content to stay in camp.

Leading my packstring over White River Pass on the trip in this story. The south end of the Chinese Wall is in the background. 1980 photo

In about 1980, a hunter got an elk and then actually wanted me to get him a grizzly. Other hunters in camp had seen a rotting cow elk in the Peggy Creek drainage west of the Chinese Wall. Rotting elk make for good grizzly hunting.

For those unfamiliar with Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, the Chinese Wall is a 12-15 mile long cliff that faces east and averages a 1000 foot drop.

Looking over 1000 feet down from Haystack Mountain, part of the Chinese Wall, Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Montana. 1972 photo

Peggy Creek is rough terrain. The creek is a jumble of spruce, lodgepole and snowbrush. All around the jumble is broken limestone cliff. The head of Peggy Creek is near a dark blue jewel--Diamond Lake, but the creek doesn’t flow from the lake. Diamond Lake is landlocked and is surrounded by cliff on the east, west and south sides. Above the cliff is open country made of limestone gravel weathered to the texture and size of rock salt. The only thing growing is large tracts of juniper that are impossible to walk through. Beyond the open country is another cliff that drops in the opposite direction. That cliff is more than six miles long and nearly encircles Peggy Creek, Diamond Lake, Sphinx Peak, Amphitheater Mountain and Gladiator Mountain.

It is good goat country and good bear hunting since you can see and glass long distances. Because of its remote location the only people that get a glimpse of Diamond Lake are air passengers traveling from Minneapolis to Seattle.

The quick route would have been to follow White River to the confluence of Peggy Creek, tie the horse and walk up the creek, but wandering aimlessly in snowbrush is not a good method of hunting grizzlies. I like glassing, estimating and stalking. There are fewer surprises that way.

So, we left camp early, taking two mules, two pack boards and lots of extra rope. The first hour of the ride was in pitch black, but when the sun rose it was in the 60s and we enjoyed Big Sky Country.

View of Peggy Creek area. Cliff Mountain is in the far left. Peggy Creek is below the white limestone cliff center left. Sphinx Peak is the tit barely visible in the center. Diamond Lake is between Sphinx Peak and the bald high ridge in the center.

We tied the stock in a small patch of scrub pine, climbed several hundred yards of rip-rap and then followed a goat ledge up and over the first cliff face. My hunter was a little flustered when we reached the top. He was ready to move to Peggy Creek, but I wanted to glass to the south of the cliff—where we had just been. He saw no point, but I persisted and we glassed for a half-hour, or so.

Photo of a goat hunt. Outfitter Art Weikum is on the ground in the red coat. This is where my hunter and I tied our horses and mules and climbed a goat trail over the cliff in the background.

As we moved north east across open ground south and west of Diamond Lake, we'd stop and glass occasionally. The hunter was anxious and wanted to “get to the elk.” I persisted and we took our time.

A rift developed between us because our different perspectives. He was in his forties and I was only 19 or 20. Even with my six years of hunting—much of it bears—he wanted to do it his way.

We set down on a piece of rimrock that overlooked Diamond Lake from the west and Peggy Creek from the south. He wanted to drop directly into the brambles and “get at the rotting elk.” I explained to him it was better to glass and find something that we could measure and then move on him. He persisted. I suggested we take a short break and eat our sandwiches and glass for bear.

He agreed to the sandwiches, but then we got into a heated debate. It’s tough being a kid debating a client that is 20 years older. I think I relented, and we agreed to move into the jungle when we were done with the sandwiches.

The hillside dropped steeply from our rimrock. We weren’t looking at the next rimrock and juniper 30 yards below us. As I took a bite of sandwich, I noticed a grizzly peering over the rimrock at us. He looked like one of those cartoons that say “Kilroy Was Here.” Only a nose, two eye-balls, two ears, and two paws were showing.

When the bear saw we recognized him, he dropped from view and bolted. It was a couple hundred yards of jagged rimrock and tangled juniper to the west shore of Diamond Lake.
We crammed lunch into packboards, shoulder the boards and started down to our last glimpse of the grizzly.

Of course he was gone.

I said, “Chamber a round and slowly make your way down the rimrock,” as I pointed a bit south. “I’ll work my way down faster and get to the north end of Diamond Lake. That way we will have him trapped on the lake shore.”

I chambered a round and made my way quickly to the north shore.

Arriving at the narrow mud flat, the grizzly broke out of juniper onto the shore several hundred yards to my south. The hunter was still a hundred yards up the cliff face, but had good open shooting.

The bear saw me and turned to go back up the cliff. Then he decided to move south. He must have noticed there was over 1000 yards of open country to cover. He turned and headed in my direction. As he did, the hunter let loose two rounds from his .338 Winchester Magnum.
The bear never went down.

Instead, he trotted to Diamond Lake and dove in, swimming for the far side.

The hunter had reloaded and pounded two more rounds in the bear. He stopped swimming but was 30 yards into the lake.

After the hunter got the shore, we discussed the situation, I stripped down, we tied ropes together and I went for a swim.

Approaching a grizzly in water the temperature of frosty beer, even when he has been obviously dead for 10 minutes, is a great experience. When I got to him, my mind thought, “What if he has just one more movement?”

I treaded water.

The hunter yelled, “What are ya’ doin’?”

“I’m taking my time, what’s it look like?”

After treading water for seconds that turned into months, I made my way to the farside of the grizzly and tried to slip the rope over his neck. I’d never done that before, even on dry ground. Have you ever tried to put a rope on a hairy pig? Try it in 12 feet of beer keg water.

As I struggled with the rope, the remaining air went out of the grizzly and he sank to the bottom.

I dove down, put the rope around and pulled it tight, surfaced, and told the hunter, “I’ll go down and lift, you pull on the rope.” It took quite a few divings and surfacings to get the bear ashore.

Skinny dipping for griz' in the Bob Marshall.

We skinned him, put the hide on one board, the skull on the other and returned to camp were we got rather toasted on beer and bourbon and told and retold the story to the non-grizzly hunting riff-raff.

A constantly pounding headache interrupted saddling stock the next morning.

The hunter sent a good photo of my butt swimming and a very nice Gerber skinning knife that I still have and use.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bullet Energy Variables

Few categoricals exist in the wild, open west.

Subzero temps engulf horizontal snow.

Green shoots and bright flowers burst forth following snow’s retreat.

Dust blows in our century degree cauldron.

Yellow aspen leaves drift to the ground as frost supplants stifling heat.

On Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, the only constant seems to be relentless wind, yet, for the last three days there hasn’t been a whisper.

As humans we tolerate the changes. Sometimes we embrace them, but humans seem to search for categoricals. How long will this weather last? What IS this? How long is that? Why does that work?

Hunters preparing for an elk hunt ask the categorical, “How much energy does it take to kill an elk?”

Simply put, about 150 foot-pounds will do the job. The largest bull elk can be killed with a .22 Long Rifle fired from 25 yards into the forehead. (Tangential Note: Many people say shoot between the eyes. Shooting between the eyes is not correct. Old-timers say, “Draw two imaginary lines; each one from the center of one eyeball to the opposing horn base, or where the base of a horn would be for hornless critters. Where the lines cross should be your intended bullet strike point, but that may not be your aiming point.”)

A high-velocity .22 LR has about 150 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle—so there would be less than that at 25 yards. 150 foot-pounds equals dead elk.

Much like the seasonal revolutions the necessary amount of energy to kill an elk is not constant. In a previous post I mentioned a stray .270 bullet that I had taken out of an elk that I killed (story here). The 6-point bull probably had the bullet in his loin for less than 5 weeks. I’m not sure what the original weight of the bullet was, but if it was a 130 grain bullet out of a .270 Winchester it would have had about 2700 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. A .270 Weatherby Magnum would have about 3300 foot-pounds at the muzzle. Whatever rifle was used, it didn’t kill the bull, even after a month. 3000 foot-pounds equals empty stew pot and a short shirttail upon returning to camp.

The .22 and the .270 did what bullets should do—expend all their energy in the animal. Of course, if you are planning on wounding a bull elk, then you want a large exit wound making a good blood trail.

If one small, slow, low-powered bullet can drop a bull elk and a large, fast, high-powered bullet didn’t drop an elk—both expending all their energy into the animal—then where is the categorical of how much energy is needed to kill an elk? The categorical is the person reading this story. The same thing that you depend on in blizzard, dust storm or fair weather. One hunter hunts, gets close and puts an under-sized bullet into a dime-sized area and takes home a trophy. Another hunter takes a risk by expecting his overpowered, flat-shooting weapon to overcome his poor decision to blast a 900-pound animal in the ass.

Be the hunter that hunts and makes good decisions.

For a quick reference, Ackley, in his Handbook for Shooters & Reloaders gives the following energy figures for killing elk-sized game:

  • Minimum: 1500
  • Adequate: 2000
  • Preferred: 2500

Regardless of the season, shoot well my friend.

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Return to .308, 7mm-08, .243

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First Things First

Every rifle sold in a sporting goods store is capable of killing an elk under the correct conditions. At up to 50 yards the .22 LR will kill an elk. Those shots usually need to be placed directly into the elk’s brain, as the elk is looking at you. A bull elk’s skull is hard and thick in most other areas. Closeup and in a similar location a .17 caliber will do the job. While I am a proponent of shooting a .22 LR, a lot, for practice, the .22 should not be considered an elk rifle.

The converse is also true. A hunter doesn’t need, or probably want, a .458 or .375 magnum for elk. Montana Elk Hunting is more of a marathon than a sprint. Packing a big, heavy African-Buffalo-blaster in mountainous terrain zaps people more than is appreciated by most hunters and hunting writers.

With those elements in mind it is important to address the two most important elements of “what rifle/caliber should I use on elk?”:

1. The shooter. If the shooter doesn’t practice it doesn’t matter what super whazoo-special-elk-blaster is bought. A leg blown off or a jaw blasted away with a .375 H & H Magnum will be blown off or blasted away by a 30-06 or a .243. Practice doesn’t just include launching bullets at targets, it also means hunting practice. Without practice, buck fever causes hunters to make poor decisions on when, how far, or where to take a shot.

2. The bullet. No one would advocate using full metal jackets on elk, but there is a lot of flotsam on what constitutes the correct elk bullet. I haven’t done any exhaustive test, but I know what works—and what doesn’t work—in the field.

All of my elk have been killed with Core-Lokt, Silvertip or Bronze Point bullets, except one that was killed with a Bear Claw. That is all I have bought, including reloading components. They work and keep with my elk hunting principal, “K.I.S.S.-Keep It Simple Stupid,” and its corollary, “If it’s not broken, don’t F*** (mess) with it.” Those cheap bullets have killed all my elk, so I won’t mess with them. Today’s editorial consensus says these cheap bullets are not constructed well enough to mushroom correctly and kill efficiently.

A well-mushroomed bullet is not necessarily a good thing, unless you are shooting into blocks of gelatin or stacks of wet phone books. I have never taken a perfectly mushroomed bullet from a dead elk, deer, bear, mountain sheep or goat. I’ve included a sample of the bullets that I have taken from my big game. All came from elk. The ones in the photo represent what I have.

1. Number one is a 130-grain .270 Winchester CoreLokt that now weighs 80.5 grains.
2. Number two is a 180-grain Bear Claw 30-06 Springfield that now weighs 55.4 grains.
3. Number three is a 130-grain (unsure of the type) .270 Winchester that now weighs 39.5 grains.
4. Number four is a 180-grain (unsure of the type) 30-06 Springfield that now weighs 38.1 grains.
5. I am unsure of the type and weight of Number five, but it is a .270. It now weighs 95.8 grains.

Number one bullet killed an elk at over 550 yards. The number one had a little luck. It hit the bull in the spine just above his shoulders and dropped him in two-feet of snow.

Number two killed an elk at about 75 yards.

Number three and four bullets killed elk at less than 200 yards.

The only bullet of the group that shows anything close to the stereotypical mushroom-shape is Number Five. And, although I don’t know the original weight, Number Five has reached another heralded hallmark for good bullets—retained mass. Oddly, Number Five is the only bullet that didn’t kill an elk, and I didn’t shoot it.

I took that bullet out of a 6x6 bull elk killed with the Number Two bullet on 27 November 2002—my birthday. One of my guides found the Number Five bullet in the edge of the loin as we packed them on the mules. He handed it to me and said, “Here’s your bullet.” I took it, walked away and then asked where he found it. He showed me the lump of gristle he cut it from. I knew then that it wasn’t mine. I had shot this bull threw one shoulder, heart and lung, and it had lodged under the hide on the far side. Later, a caliper showed that the Number Five bullet was a .270. I was shooting the M1903A3 that my grandfather had sporterized in the 1960s. The riflings were also different. The ‘03A3 has a two-groove barrel. The Number Five bullet has multiple riflings.

When we got to camp we examined the loin closer and found a partially healed bullet-trail from the bullet's resting point to a point high in the rump. The bullet had traveled through 12 to 14 inches of muscle, mushroomed perfectly and didn’t kill the bull.

Yes. Anything short of an anti-tank weapon shot into the same location won’t kill an elk, regardless of the bullet. (See comment number one, subtitled, “The Shooter” above.)

The most perfectly mushroomed bullet didn’t kill an elk because the shooter, who ever it was, didn’t take a good shot. Meanwhile four “cheap” bullets killed four elk with one shot each and didn’t mushroom perfectly.

When you visit the sporting goods store to get that new elk blaster make sure you take the hunter who is more concerned with making a clean shot than with what caliber or make of rifle is best.

Under perfect conditions they all work. Each hunter needs to know the correct conditions--even for an African-Buffalo-Blaster.

More later on individual calibers.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Springtime in the Rockies

Montana's Vernal Virgin

Last weekend we explored Montana’s newest spring. Nearly a month old it really isn’t new. But spring along the Rocky Mountain Front isn’t a sudden whelping; it’s a staccato-like journey from cold and frozen to warm and growing.

Several weeks ago, temperatures cleared 80. Two weeks ago we endured the largest spring snowstorm in decades. On the plains today, only remnants of drifts remain. Temperatures have rebounded to the 60s, but drifting clouds and variable winds bring sudden snow flurries and darkness to bright, blue sky.

Like the fragile wildflowers that push up between shoots of green, my wife and I ventured into the foothills and embraced this year’s spring.

On Saturday we drove to Smith Creek. On the way we noticed our friends Tim Tew and Bob Chesmore gathering cow/calf pairs for branding. Tew is manager and Chesmore is the lone worker on the LF Ranch. The two cowboys take care of thousands of acres and about 1100 mother cows. We stopped and helped brand Saturday’s quota of 100 calves.

The LF has been hit hard by wolves. The recent snowstorm made it impossible to tell which calves had been killed by wolves and which succumbed to snow. Without evidence of wolves, ranches don’t get reimbursed for their losses.

After branding we enjoyed a couple beers and lunch hosted by Tew.

On Sunday we drove south to a small ranch on Skunk Creek near Lewis and Clark pass. The pass was Meriwether Lewis’ return route from the Pacific in 1806. The LF owns the the Skunk Creek ranch, but it’s nearly 20 miles removed from the ranch proper. Over 1000 elk have been wintering there. Most of the elk are still in the vicinity since mountain snow is still deep and crusted. We saw hundreds from a distance but didn’t approach them for photos. Cows will calve in a few weeks and there is no reason to stress them.

On our hike we saw plenty of mule deer chasing green grass. Sweet green shoots are a welcome treat to a winter of cured brown grass. Newness of the season shows on both deer and elk. Their hair is about to shed and they look shaggy.

They seem to know that it is spring and not hunting season. A few let us within 40 yards.

Returning to the truck Wende and I found a pair of shed elk antlers. Bull elk viewed through binoculars already show a couple of inches of new horn growth—some say the fastest growing tissue on the earth.

Winter hasn’t died, yet the vernal virgin is sprouting along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front.

Wende and I hope everyone has a spring to rival ours and the Front’s.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Selecting An Outfitter, Part Three


If I say "tomato soup," you may remember your grandmother's perfect porridge, or you may recall some tasteless, curdled bowl of something from 3rd grade hot lunch.  If I say "Montana Elk Hunt," you may either remember a brief, yet exceptional time of hunting and fellowship, or you may recall a never-ending week of hell.

Happy Hunters of Lynx Creek.

Military leadership classes and college communication courses refer to these dichotomies as barriers (technically, many refer to them as filters) to communications.  When you are choosing an outfitter it is important to keep those barriers (or filters) in mind.

Before purchasing my outfitting business I did a formal five-year business plan, and followed every paragraph of the plan, except one.  That paragraph set out a set of rules hunters would follow while on my hunts.

When it came time to write the rules, I was lazy and thought, "No one wants to have a set of rules when they come elk hunting."  Additionally, no outfit I knew of had any rules.  There were contracts, payment schedules and liability releases, but nothing that brought hunter and outfitter to a "meeting of the minds."  Not following my plan and not writing the rules was a mistake that bit me in the ass on the first day of my first rifle hunt as an outfitter.

I rode into a meadow with three or four hunters.  We were headed for further points, but near the top of the meadow, 150 yards away grazed four-five to six point bulls.  We dismounted and each hunter took a poke or two.  Only one hunter hit one bull.  The bull was hit hard, but wasn't dead.  (This was from a .340 Weatherby Magnum)

It was a steep hill, so we remounted and rode within 30 feet of the bull.  As I rode past, we eyed each other and since he didn't struggle to get up, I continued the 40 yards to the tree line.  I had intended to tie up the horses and return to finish him.  Before getting to the trees, "BOOM!"  No one had had enough time to dismount, un-sheath a rifle and shoot the bull.

That was true.  No one had dismounted.  The hunter who had shot the bull couldn't wait to make a good shot.  From 40 feet, he pulled his rifle, took half-assed aim, and shot the bull in the ass.  The shot injected adrenaline, and before I had dismounted the bull jumped up and ran past me into the timber.

Coffee, cake and happy hunters in the cook tent.

It amazed me that someone would pull a John Wayne and shoot from his horse.  Luckily, the hunter was riding the one horse I owned that wouldn't buck him off after such a stunt.

Shooting the bull in the ass wasn't a news flash.  Interestingly, in his movies John Wayne never telegraphed the difficulty of shooting from a horse.  Anyone who has taken photographs from a horse knows you need a fast shutter speed to stop a horse's constant motion--even when appearing to stand still.

We eventually found the bull several hundred yards away, standing and sick, but it took a couple days for me to express to the hunter that John Wayning would not be tolerated.  That is when we had a meeting of the minds and became friends.  He returned for several more hunts over the years.

The incident forced me to write my rules.  It must be noted that if I had written the original set of rules as outlined in the business plan, it would not have included, "Do not shoot from your horse," because I felt that that was more universal than, "Don't spit into the wind."

Packing into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area along Gibson Reservoir.

Some hunters were initially put-off by the rules, but most eventually embraced them.  They realized that the rules weren't Hitler in the wilderness.  They delineated expectations that led to a meeting of the minds--good for all parties.

Barriers (or filters) to communications don't just apply to east versus west, Christian versus Muslim, NATO versus Russia, or even tasty soup versus ptomaine-like gruel, they also apply to American hunters versus American outfitters.

Many internet sites list questions you should ask potential outfitters.  It is more important for YOU to question yourself on both the questions YOU ask and the answers YOU get.  (Most outfitters have no rules)

For now, this is the last post I will make on selecting an outfitter.  Some prospective hunters may find the information "light."  Some outfitters may find my comments vis-a-vis outfitters as particularly harsh, but if more hunters and outfitters approached booking hunts in a more objective fashion (than is being done today) there would be fewer bad hunts and more successful hunters and outfitters.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Selecting An Outfitter, Part Two

Outfitters, Hunters and Guides

Outfitters, hunters and guides have a strange relationship. It is a friendship, but it’s not a normal friendship, because there is money involved. That element distorts the decision making process. A decision making process that can be clouded with bull.

Outfitter Art Weikum congratulating hunter on his black bear. 1974 photo

After hunters have decided on what type of hunt they want and have separated facts from bull, the search for an outfitter and a trusted friend really begins.

What type ice cream do you like? I like licorice. My wife likes chocolate chip mint. Finding a good outfitter isn’t any different—except it cost more than a cone.

I’ve worked for eight outfitters. I think they were all good. I may be wrong. Over the decades more than a few hunters probably thought they were not good. The two outfitters I worked for the longest were, strangely enough, named Art. I grew up on Art Weikum’s Hidden Valley Ranch (not the salad dressing).

The other Art, Art Stevens, owned J Bar L Outfitters, which I bought and renamed C Guiding D Outfitters, LLP.

Me, Outfitter Art Stevens, 5X5 Bull Elk and hunter on east side of North Fork of the Sun River. 1984 photo

Both were successful, but both were very different people. Art Weikum was an old-type horseman. Art Stevens was a horseman, but not like Weikum. Weikum ran his outfit like a military operation—there was a right way, a wrong way and Art’s Way. Art Stevens was laid back—as long as things got done there were no problems. Both had good hunting areas and both had repeat clients.

Weikum was the best rough stock rider I have seen outside of a rodeo pen. While I was at Weikums I was the primary horse wrangler. Every morning I would get up before dawn, find the horses and bring them back to camp. THAT horse pasture was huge and rugged. It could take as long as five hours to wrangle. When I was fourteen we let a new, gray appy out with the established stock. He turned out to be a herd quitter. Every time I got him to the break of the hill above camp he would duck and run for the timber. The second day Art Weikum came along. Each of us wore out 3 horses that day. On our last attempt Weikum was going to rope the gray and drag him back to camp.

Art jerked his rope down and indicated that I should haze the gray. We got into timber. It’s tough swinging a loop in timber. Then we got into deadfall. Art’s horse got out of time jumping deadfall. The horse’s head and shoulders went down, and his rump came all the way over and crushed Weikum between some deadfall. The swells on his saddle broke a few ribs. Art stayed in camp until the end of the trip and then made the 27-mile ride out.

Outfitter Art Stevens cooking during bow hunt. 1993 photo

Art Stevens wasn’t a roper, but was probably one of the best elk hunters and shooters I have seen. One of his constant hunters used to enter the cook tent and say, “Art will guide and the Lord will provide.” I think Art Stevens had a hand in the providing.

Both Arts have passed on. Both helped me grow as an elk guide, mule packer and a person. At times their passing leaves a hole in my being. Art Weikum was like a father to me. One fall, before I was strong enough to load bull elk on mules, we went to retrieve a couple of bulls. It was foggy and still. We couldn’t see were to go, so we sat on our horses in the timber and listened to the elk bugle for several hours. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Art Stevens had an evening ritual of heading up the hill out of camp to glass Biggs Creek Flats. Elk. Deer. Black Bear. Grizzly Bear. Mountain Lion. Lynx. And, Montana Wilderness sunsets. Every evening hunters and crew quietly celebrated the fellowship of that hill. It doesn’t get any better than that.

You might like licorice ice cream. You may not. You may have liked (or not liked) either Art, but you can’t find an outfitter who you trust without developing a friendship.

That is why I don’t believe hunters should book hunts at sports shows. Hunters should use the words of President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

Hunter and me on my first guiding assignment. 1974 photo


While looking for photos for this post, I ran across some from my first official guiding effort when I was 14. A couple are on this page. I had a habit of running into bears in White River, so Art Weikum had me guide bear hunters at first. In retrospect I know that I traveled too fast to be a good elk hunter at the time.

We never found a big grizzly, but we did find a great black. Both ears had been gnawed on. He had a scar running from one eye to the tip of his nose. Several toes were missing from both front feet. His teeth were smooth, white and worn to the gums—no tartar or yellowing. All four canine teeth had grooves from wearing together.

Black bear, Outfitter Art Weikum, me and Charlie the mule. 1974 photo

We usually packed bear into camp “whole,” and caped them there. Again, I wasn’t strong enough to lift a complete black bear onto a mule, so Art Weikum came along and “helped.”

When choosing an outfitter I would hope that hunters wouldn’t be so eager for the “BIG BULL.” The experiences and the fellowship of elk hunting are worth more than any calcium deposit on earth.

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We Weather the Weather

Springtime in Montana didn't last long.

Several weeks ago weather in Central Montana was in the 80s.  It was nice enough to attempt a prairie dog hunt (here).

Shooting prairie dogs on 21 April.  Temperatures were into the 80s.  

Things changed a few days ago.

Temperatures were not too bad, staying in the 30s in the day and the teens at night, but the snow, which exceeded many records, drifted above the records.

Some of the records broken:
  • Great Falls tied the record of 35.4 inches of snow in April set in 1967
  • Great Falls set a new record for daily precipitation with .87 inches, more than double the old record of .43 set in 1913.
  • Choteau received 7 inches breaking the old two-day record of 7 inches
  • Rogers Pass received 26.4 inches, exceeded the old two-day record of 19 inches
  • Here in Augusta we doubled the 1914 record one-day snow fall of 4 inches

Many roads were closed for a couple days.  My wife spent the last three days stranded in Choteau (and work).  Rotary snow plows had to be brought from other parts of the state to open the roads.

Along the Front Range, snow amounts aren't the problem.  Drifts are.  Drifts caused me to be a "weather bachelor" for several days.

House of a weather bachelor mid-blizzard.

There is a lesson here for prospective Montana Elk Hunters:  Like much of the world the weather changes regularly.  We don't have any hurricanes and few tornados, but Montana Elk Hunters need to be Boy Scouts--BE PREPARED for life-threatening conditions.

Spring should be here today!