Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cowardly PeTA, Again

The past few weeks, bloggers related to the Outdoor Bloggers Summit have experienced a few "glitches."
Rodeo photos for PeTA to cry over.

Albert Rasch, at The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles, found two websites that were stealing content from OBS members. He has also posted a couple of articles on PeTA. (One of them is here.)
Dead elk for PeTA to cry over. I kind of like steak!

I am member of Blog Catalog and get a few referrals from them.

Today, I received my outdoor blogger's glitch. In my email were two messages that said my blogs had been declined by BlogCatalog because of various possible issues. I sent emails and started a discussion on their forum. A fellow who goes by the handle, Jaybetee, does some admin work at BC. He tracked down the problem. His response is found in the jpeg.

In case you can't read it, he said, "It looks as though PETA hacked our servers and took down anything related to rodeos or hunting. They're back."

Since I put up a photo post on the Augusta Rodeo yesterday, I have been double hit. I like rodeos and hunting. I am not sure why they attacked my political blog. It has nothing on it about hunting or rodeos. Association maybe.

Luckily, I found this quote today. It fits perfectly.

PeTA, they don't just hate animals, they hate people who love animals.
Dennis A. Carroll, 30 June 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

World's Biggest One-Day Rodeo, Part 1

Photos from the 73rd Annual Augusta Rodeo.

This has nothing to do with Montana Elk Hunting, but everything to do with Augusta, Montana and the U.S. of A. Rodeo is the most American sport I can think of (even more so than baseball).

Saddle bronc.

Bareback riding.

Calf Roping.

World's Biggest One-Day Rodeo, Part 2

More photos from the 73rd Annual Augusta Rodeo.

Calf Roping.

A whole lot of bull.

Good Dismount, but no score.

No score again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jumbles Reservior

My posts are jumbled and still in draft, so I thought I would post a new search term that brought someone to my blog.

Someone in Google.uk searched, "how to get to the cliff at jumbles reservior."

It brought me up #2 on this page: Swimmin' with Griz.

I'm not sure I will ever understand search, SEO and keywords.

I hope everyone is having a great day.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Political Post

I've posted a political post at my "political blog" Big Sky Vistas that I am particularly happy with.

It's short; less than 300 words.


Bull Elk Don't All Fall Down

Hard frost covered the grass and what dry leaves remained on branches. Art and Dollarsign tied their horses and hiked to an L-shaped meadow, which they entered at the apex of the L. Each leg of the L measured about 60 yards wide and 150 yards long. Four bull elk stood eighty yards away nearly centered in the left leg of the L. They stopped grazing at the approach of the intruders. Art kneeled and motioned Dollarsign to kneel next to him. As he kneeled on Art’s left side, one bull went back to grazing. The others craned their necks to get a look at the people. Art knew how hunters changed when they saw their first elk. He also knew how poorly Dollarsign shot his rifle. Art hoped this wouldn’t be another maiming of elk. Someday, he wished that just he and a camera or Linda and he could sit in a meadow like this and watch the elk. Bull elk were beautiful, graceful—almost elegant. He loved the contrast between their long brown manes and the shorter golden fur on their sides. When they turned their heads, they displayed their antlers like trophies.

Art pointed at the nearest bull and whispered, “Shoot the closest one. He’s looking right at us.”

Dollarsign peered through the high-dollar German scope mounted on his rifle and said, “I can’t see him.”

Almost without movement, Art turned his head and searched out Dollarsign’s eyes. Dollarsign avoided eye contact.

In a questioning whisper Art asked, “Can you see any of them?”

“Yes,” Dollarsign replied.

“Well, they’re all mature six-point bulls, about the same size. Just pick the one you can get the best shot on, and squeeze one off,” Art said.

Dollarsign raised his rifle, sighted through his German optics and pulled the trigger. “CLICK!”

In a sharper whisper Art asked, “Did you load your rifle today?”

Still avoiding eye contact, Dollarsign said, “No, should I.”

Art kept from visibly shaking his head and looked back at the bulls.

Two were still grazing. Two had raised their noses and were occasionally switching their tales. There were no flies.

“Yeah. Load ‘er up.”

As Dollarsign loaded brass, his hands trembled and his eyes were wild. Art noted that Dollarsign handled his ammunition like he had potatoes for thumbs. Dollarsign closed the bolt on a live cartridge, just as the bulls formed a single-file and moved toward the timber.

Art said, “Take a deep breath. Relax a little. Get a good sight picture on one of the bulls and squeeze the trigger.”

A magnum report and heavy recoil followed. Through his binoculars Art saw the third bull flinch from a shot high in the neck. Not good. Dollarsign struggled with the rifle’s action. Art wondered if Dollarsign had worked the action since buying it. Quivers reached the muzzle. Everything on Dollarsign convulsed.

“OK. Take another deep breath. Relax. Make a steady shot behind the front shoulder on the third bull,” Art said.

The second report echoed. That one caught the wounded bull high in the ass. Art turned to Dollarsign to tell him to breath and relax and take another shot. Blood covered Dollarsign’s face. The magnum’s recoil had slid the rifle butt off his shoulder, and the top of his German scope had cut a clean, surgical crescent into his right eyebrow. Art dropped his pack to retrieve a first aid kit just as the wounded bull wobbled from the meadow and toward the river.

That wasn’t good. The river, less than a quarter mile away, divided legal hunting west of the river from a game preserve east of the river.

The preceding is a snippet from a short story I wrote nearly four years ago. Even after nine rewrites, I haven’t found a completed story, yet this piece has remained nearly intact. This chunk has been a conundrum for me. The situation happened nearly verbatim in real life. As a short story, I have changed names, but nothing else has changed. The flip side of this story is I workshopped it in a college creative writing course. All the college students, 10 of them, that read it had the same comment, “People would never be like Dollarsign. Even a businessman isn’t that stupid.” In my experience, Dollarsign is the rule and not the exception.

Do people see so many movies and TV programs where the shooter points, fires and the targets all fall down that it has become reality?

I think so.

Because I believe that, I have spent much time indoors writing trying to bring what is real to people who are (in my lingo) city folk. Being indoors is depressing. Cut, copy, paste, research, think, reword, reparagraph, rewrite. Meanwhile elk, deer, bear and antelope are outdoors were we all should be--not in a temperature controlled terrestrial submarine.

With over 35 years of wilderness guiding and outfitting experience I am fully qualified to sit here, craft and share my experiences. Hopefully those who stop by will find a nugget they can use. If one in a hundred do, I am Preserving and Defending the Outdoors more at this computer than if I were out experiencing real life in Montana’s Wilderness.

I wish to thank Kristine at Outdoor Bloggers Summit for the latest challenge. I would also like to give a great Whoop-te-do to all those OBS supporters. They seem to be a great bunch of outdoor folks.


Thursday, June 18, 2009


Some "sportsmen" were fined for game violations.

The story is in the Great Falls Tribune, and can be found here--> Outfitter, clients found guilty of violations.

Doesn't sound like they were fined enough.

300 Weatherby Magnum


In the 1970s a famous movie cop said, “The .44 Magnum: the most powerful handgun in the world.” It probably wasn’t “the most powerful” then, and isn’t now, but Roy Weatherby’s claim that the .300 Weatherby Magnum was the most powerful .30 caliber factory cartridge was true then, and is now only overshadowed by the .300 Remington Ultra Mag—if the .300 RUM is handloaded.

If an elk hunter measures the power of a .300 Weatherby loaded with a 200-grain spitzer, boat-tail bullet at 3000 feet per second, it has the minimum energy for elk-sized game beyond 1000 yards, adequate energy beyond 600 yards, and preferred energy beyond 300 yards. This uses Ackley’s recommendations. (more info here)

Zeroing that load at 400 yards, an elk hunter can hold dead-on at wapiti-sized targets out to 500 yards. That bullet won’t travel more than 9 inches above line-of-sight throughout its trajectory.

The measure of .30 caliber cartridges, the 30-06 Springfield, can’t meet that performance. A 180-grain spitzer, boat-tail at 2800 fps equals the .300 Weatherby’s energy out to 600 yards. Holding dead-on only reaches about 400 yards when the rifle is zeroed at 300 yards.

Photo of 30-06 Springfield and .300 Winchester Magnum. The .300 Winchester is just slightly less powerful than the .300 Weatherby.

One caveat to the performance of the Weatherby is that you need to use a 26-inch barrel to get it. A barrel of that length isn’t the handiest to use in the mountains or holstered on a horse.

If the .300 Weatherby is loaded in a Weatherby rifle, you will probably have a durable Weatherby scope, a strong Weatherby action, and (usually) a beautiful piece of wood.

That all amounts to a rifle that is not only more than sufficient for Montana Elk, but for all North American game animals and many African.

  1. The power of the Weatherby has two down sides:
  2. In the parlance of elk guides and outfitters the .300 Weatherby is a “Meat Waster.”

In my experience it has wounded more game than any other rifle I know of, with the exception of the 7mm Remington Magnum.

The Meat Waster

When I posted my article on Knives for Elk Hunters, my wife said that photos were too bloody and gory. I hope they didn’t offend anyone. There was meat, bone, tendon and in one photo a large pool of blood. I’ve never taken pictures of meat that was wasted with a .300 Weatherby Magnum. That is bloody and gory.

If a hunter was shooting a good elk gun--.270 Winchester and above—and he was sighting on a good trophy, I always told them to “shoot directly through the shoulder.” It anchors them and depending on the angle, gets heart and/or lungs at once. If a hunter was shooting a .300 Weatherby, I always advised a shot through the back half of the shoulder blade. That is found just in front of the groove between shoulder and chest.

A .300 Weatherby directly through any large bone will usually destroy much of that quarter. That is bad anywhere, but it has larger problems in the wilderness. Elk that are packed on mules have to be quartered. The opposing front quarters, or hind quarters, need to be within about 5 pounds of one another to balance on the mule. If one quarter is bloodshot, that meat should be left in the field, but to balance it needs to be packed out. The processor will charge you for the weight of the animal as it enters their shop. Meaning you will pay for 50 pounds of meat used for alley dogs.

Hind quarters are lashed on mules differently, using a barrel hitch. A shattered femur makes a normally long, stiff quarter into a jello-ey, flexible mess that sags and doesn’t ride well. Sure, those are problems for the guide and mule packer, but you can score points, and not waste meat, by placing your shots correctly—no matter what elk blaster you are using.

Wounded Game

You might ask, “How can a powerful cartridge like the .300 Weatherby wound so much game?”

One element was mentioned on the 7mm Remington Magnum.

I believe that in the case of the .300 Weatherby and the 7mm Remington there is a psychological component. Call it human efficiency, or human laziness. People that gravitate to those calibers have read everything they can about The Elk Hunter’s Rifle. I believe that those two, plus the .338 Winchester Magnum get most of the press for elk rifles. They have more than enough power to kill an elk. They all shoot flatter, for a longer distance than most hunters can successfully engage an elk sized target. That is the rub.

Too much emphasis is placed on power, flat-shooting, killing ability, exit wound size, hydrostatic shock and the like, while hunters spend little time shooting any rifle. Most modern hunters have jobs, families and lives that don’t revolve around being the best hunter they can be—meaning better shooters. If hunters don’t dry fire, shoot air rifle and/or rimfire, and varmint rifles, their shooting skills won’t improve. If they shoot the big blaster—only—their shooting won’t improve, and they will develop flinching and jerking. That is not an opinion.

If you want the most powerful .30 caliber factory elk rifle, use a .300 Weatherby.

In personal finance there is a principle called “pay yourself first.” To be a good elk hunter, with any rifle, pay yourself first and practice a skill that can’t be learned without practice. (I hope people see the redundancy)


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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama Modifies Ban on Folding Knives

Good Morning!

If you haven't heard, the Obama administration has made changes to an old law that banned importation of switchblade knives (the 1985 federal Switchblade Act).

In theory, my old Gerber Magnum Hunter wouldn't be banned by the revised law since it is not imported, but WHAT IS NEXT??!!

There is more info at KnifeRights website.

Again, its time to voice your opinion on what you can carry on your person.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't Break Your Glass

How To Choose The Best Elk Hunting Binoculars

As a guide and outfitter, I have seen truckloads of things hunters use as elk hunting binoculars. From the coyote’s Acmes, to wonderful Swarovskis, to those that think they can use a variable power riflescope to glass with.

Most likely your local sporting goods stores has a representative assortment of that truckload.

I have six standards when choosing binoculars:

  1. Don’t use a riflescope. Glassing Montana Mountains for bull elk, rams, billies, or bucks is time consuming. After looking through a riflescope with one eye for more than two minutes is fatiguing—it won’t get the job done. You know I believe in K.I.S.S—Keep It Simple, Stupid. It might seem that using a scope for binoculars would fit that principle. It doesn’t. Using the right tool for the job is one of the amendments to K.I.S.S.
  2. Don’t choose binoculars by comparing them in the store. A new pair of cheap glasses will look nearly as good as a new pair of quality glasses. In a week, the cheap ones will have degraded. In a year they will be worse. I’m not sure why that is, but trust me cheap glasses don’t last. There is a bit of consumerism in selling cheap glasses.
  3. Choose quality glass over optical power. If you’re buying optics in the Tasco, Bushnell, Bausch & Lomb, etc, category, never choose those over 7-power. A quality pair of binoculars at 5-power will provide a better—read, distinct--image than cheap ones at 6 power.
  4. Choose the best quality glasses you can afford. There is nothing wrong with buying something that will last. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.”
  5. Choose individual focus over center focus. The individual focus is inherently more rugged and waterproof than the center focus variety. I also believe that individual focus maintains consistent focus (the wheel isn’t being bumped and moving) and is easier to adjust with gloves or mittens on.
  6. If the choice is between heavy and light, buy light. On a long day of elk hunting heavy glasses are truly a pain in the neck.

Using those criteria, I have two benchmarks for binoculars. One is no less than $200. The next is at about $1200. I don’t buy glasses less than $200 dollars. They are a waste of money. If you are only going to use them on one hunt, once in your life, you might get away with cheap glasses, but even if you'll only use them to spy on your neighbors the quality glass will give you a better deal, Tom. My recommendations for glasses that meet the first benchmark are Steiners and Leupolds.

Old Steiner Military/Marine 8x30s. Still clear, light, handy and my first choice.

The second benchmark of $1200 seems a little extreme for me, but they are high quality glass and high quality construction. I really don’t think that the added quality justifies an extra grand.

I own two pair of binoculars. One pair fit the first benchmark; the second pair reaches the next benchmark. Steiner Military/Marine 8x30s cost about $210 to $250. The others are Swarovski SLC 10x42, which sell for about $1399.

Eyecup bosses are cracked and broken. No biggy.

For over 20 years I have used the Steiners while looking for cattle in the mountains, herding elk in the foothills and guiding hunters in the wilderness. They are beat-up; the rubber eyecups have fallen off; a bucking horse broke the bosses, which hold the eyecups, and they look old, but they fit my hands well, are still clear, and because they’re made from polycarbonate, are light. Even though I have a ten-year old pair of Swarovskis, I take the Steiners when I am hunting all day. The Swarovskis are nice, but more than twice the weight. Finally, as bonuses for my guides I always gave them a pair of Steiners. Too many elk hunting guides have cheap “stuff” hangin’ around their necks. Presently Steiner’s are about $214 at Amazon ( Steiner 8x30 Military/Marine Binocular) and $249 at Cabela’s.

Swarovski SLC 10x42. Great binoculars. Are they worth and extra grand? Maybe not.

While a guide or hunter doesn’t want cheap “stuff” around their neck, they probably don’t need real expensive stuff either. I wouldn’t have bought my Swarovskis except the Swarovski rep at the NRA Convention in ’98 or ’99 gave substantial discounts to outfitters and guides. Leica and Zeiss were giving similar discounts. When looking through hunter’s glasses (in the past) I hadn’t seen any real difference in quality of image or workmanship of the three. The Leicas at the convention might have seemed like slightly better glasses, but they wanted slightly more money, even with the discount. Swarovski SLC 10x42s are $1399.99 at both Amazon (Swarovski SLC Binocular 10x42)and Cabela’s. For me, having Swarovskis was like having a Rolex. I was a guide and outfitter and it was a sort of status symbol.

Swarovskis don't have individual focus, but the adjustments are rather secure and easy to operate.

The only time I can see a difference in glasses is just before dark. That might seem important. Many scope manufacturers promote their product by light gathering ability. Elk hunters aren’t nighttime snipers. It is illegal to shoot an elk in Montana 30 minutes after legal sundown. By the time you can use your “light gathering ability” it is illegal to shoot bull elk.

After getting the two most important things for a Montana Elk Hunt, you probably need a quality pair of glasses. If you can see it and find it, you can plan a stalk and put that bull elk in the freezer.

Good Glassing and Good Elk Hunting, my friends.


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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bearly Embarrassed

In life there are high points and low points, and frankly, a few moments of panic.

Granite Peak, Montana. Highest point in the state, Elevation 12,799 feet.

Yesterday, I fixed a recent post, Swimmin' with Griz, because Google/Blogger/Picasa lost the photos. After I republished it, my brother Brian left the following comment, "Pictures working now...although that's more guide than I need to see... just kidding, great pics."

When my wife got home yesterday she read the post--she hadn't read it yet--and read Brian's comment.

She said, "He's seen more than that before."

It caused my mind to race. Just a few moments of panic. Except when we were two-years old, I didn't think my brother had seen me naked. Adding to the panic was the thought, "Even if I had been seen naked by my brother, how in the heck does my wife know?"

I replied, "What are you talking about?"

She said, "Remember when the white-faced grizzly was in the corral?"

"Oh, that."

For several nights one fall we had a grizzly stop in and pick-up horse cake that the horses hadn't eaten. When the horses enter the corral from the horse pasture, we always dribbled a few pieces of horse cake around the edge to reward them for staying. (Horses can have a tendency to leave and go out of the mountains. Not a good thing when you have a camp full of hunters.)

When the corral got mucky from rain, snow and such, some of the cake was pushed into the mud and not eaten. If you've been around grizzlies, or any bear, you know they love horse cake. It's made from grain, hay, molasses and other stuff bears like.

At the time I hadn't extended the 7-wire, 10,000 volt electric fence, which encircled the tents, to include the corral. We had a grizzly with a light-colored face come into camp several nights in a row and clean up the cake left around the corral's perimeter. He wasn't bothered by the horses and mules, but the reverse wasn't true. The mules were blowin' and snortin'; the horses were pushing on the rails and turning in circles. The first few nights I was able to go out and quickly run the griz off by yelling and screaming. Most importantly, I got the job done before anyone else got up, dressed and left their tent to see me.

The third night I wasn't so lucky. I took my 45-70 and a flashlight and went to run him off. Not going to shoot him, just hope I scared him better with a rifle than with a loud mouth. It didn't do much. Two shots and he finally wandered off. When I turned around my brother Brian was standing behind me. Whooops!

Yeah, he saw me naked. I had on a hat, rubber boots, a flashlight and a 45-70. Seems to me there were also a few other people. A 45-70 wakes most people up in the night. The next morning I took a few jabs from folks who believed the bright-white body should have scared the white-faced bear.

Except for being seen naked while I herded a bear, Brian and I have had some good times together. Above is a photo taken at Mystic Lake on our trip to Granite Peak, Montana.

A large, one-horned mountain goat near Granite Peak.

Occasionally, a mere moment of panic can bring reflections of high points.

Brian: Thanks for the comment that instigated this story!


The Buffalo Road

My First Guest Post

On 7 July 1806, Meriwether Lewis and his crew crossed the Continental Divide at Lewis and Clark Pass, which is not far from here.

Lewis and Clark Pass, June 2009

On Friday, 12 June 2009, I drove to Alice Creek Basin and hiked to the pass to take pictures and plan a guest post for Doug Pologe's blog, "Lewis and Clark Trail Today." This blog details trips, excursions and historical sights of today that can be found along the Corps of Discovery's original route.

Lewis' route up the Blackfoot River, Lander's Fork and Alice Creek was and is filled with beaver. Clark didn't make this trip. He went to the Yellowstone River and rendezvoused with Lewis at the forks of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.


Mountains and Computers

Two Projects: One planned, the other--not so much

Planned Project

On Friday, 12 June, I hiked from the trailhead of Alice Creek to Lewis and Clark Pass on the Continental Divide. It's a short hike, but all uphill. I am working on a guest post for another blog. I finished the post today and you can read it here.

Looking north at Lewis and Clark Pass, the point Meriwether Lewis crossed on 7 July 1806.

Twisted pine on the summit of Lewis and Clark pass attest to the forbidding climate.

Unplanned Project:

Over the weekend a reader informed me that some photos weren't loading from my "Swimmin' with Griz" post. After a little work, I found that Blogger/Google/Picasa had lost my photos. This morning, 14 June, I reloaded photos and reformatted the post. If anyone had problems with the photos, please return and view them.

I may start to look at other options for my blog. I have had problems with comments being posted through the Blogger/Google option. Now, with lost photos and the extra work, B/G is becoming a pain.

I hope everyone has a great Sunday. The sun is shining here and it will be in the low 80s. Might be time to mow the grass. (I'm not sure that is better than computer chaos.)


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Excuse Me, May I Shoot That Bull Elk?

The whole crew and all the hunters left camp that morning. We tied the horses at the forks of Headquarters Creek and the North Fork of the Sun River. Art Stevens, the outfitter, and two guides took three or four hunters up the North Fork. I took two hunters and my two brothers up Headquarters Creek. For the uninitiated, the North Fork is the boundary of the Sun River Game Preserve. The west side hasn’t been hunted since 1913. We were making a drive through the pie-slice between the North Fork and Headquarters. Art set the hunters on trails the elk normally followed when returning to the Preserve, and I took the most agile hunters and my two brothers, Brian and Mike, to hunt the slice.

Fog and light snow shrouded things beyond a hundred yards, but the four inches of white stuff quieted our boots on the frozen horse trail. Before I had dropped anyone off to hunt, we bumped into a few cows that had climbed the embankment from the creek. We were sort of clustered. Some of us kneeling, some standing; all of us looking through binoculars and scopes.

I spotted a spike and asked if anyone wanted him—there were no mature bulls in view. Nobody said anything. I wanted to stay put and let the elk drift into the pie-slice; there was no telling how many elk had passed before the ones we saw, or were climbing the bank further upstream.

While we sat there looking at the spike through the glasses, I asked again if anyone wanted the spike, but before I finished my question a .300 Weatherby Magnum went off behind some of us and alongside the rest of us. The bullet struck Mr. Spike high in the neck. Wonderful, another poor neck shooter.

Everyone was silent. (We were not only shocked, but deafened as well.) There had been no rush to shoot. The elk were slowly grazing along. Mr. Hunter couldn’t help it and shot without giving any warning, or notice. Mr. Hunter’s second shot blew the left-hind leg off just above the hock. Third shot entered the left shoulder and exited the right rib cage—the bull went down.

Etiquette On A Guided Hunt

There is no real etiquette for hunting.

If you hunt with family and friends, you have probably already worked out who shoots what, when, where, how, or even why. Maybe you haven’t, like Brian and Matt in this story.

Guided hunts are a bit more complicated. Outfitters and guides guide the best they can, usually, but camp may have people from several different parties. Some may be bull hunters, others cow hunters, some may be there just to take a walk through the wilderness and enjoy camp fellowship. Others are there only to see their sons, daughters, or in-laws get an elk.

Horses add complications to hunting etiquette in the wilderness. Hunters are not safe when riding a horse and spotting the big bull. The word, “clusterflop” was coined while watching people dismount horses, grab guns and blast away at elk.

When a guide first takes a hunter out, he will normally ask what the hunter’s choice is. After that, the guide can instruct and hunt accordingly. That isn’t always the case. As a hunt goes on, the hunter may reduce or increase his expectations. Countless hunters see 400 elk on the first day of a hunt and decide not to shoot a five or six-point bull elk, and never see another elk on the trip. I’ve never asked a hunter’s thought process, but I believe people see all those elk and decide that if they don’t see a larger bull, they’ll pick one from that herd on the last day. I recommend elk hunters, especially a guided elk hunter who is only hunting for 5 to 10 days, shoot the first elk they are happy with.

The opposite can happen. As in the story that began this post, a hunter may have visions of a huge trophy, but “one in the hand” beats those hundreds in the bush.

Regardless of the situation, before you see an elk, or while watching elk--communicate. Mr. Hunter above should have uttered the words, “I want him,” or “I’m going to shoot.” (For more about communication with your outfitter and guide, go here or here.

The minimum etiquette level for Elk Hunting is safety.

Use safe gun handling and common sense. Keep you and your partners SAFE.

Guns and bad etiquette go together like guns and booze.


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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Knives for Elk Hunters

I'm Not Always Prepared

Occasionally I have to laugh at myself. Although I attempt to follow the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared,” sometimes I am not.

On one of my breaks from the Army, I returned home to guide hunters and pack mules in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area of Montana. We had excellent weather during the Thanksgiving hunt—cold, snowy and lots of elk. Most of the hunters filled out on the first or second day, giving the guides a chance to hunt on their own. Those days are exciting. No babysitting. No hym-and-hawing if its big enough or old enough or large enough or too far to walk. You just line out and do it.

In the excitement, I forgot an essential item in my day pack.

Another guide, Rocky Heckman, and I tied our horses at the confluence of Biggs Creek and the North Fork of the Sun River and split up.

Skinning elk on the west side of Haystack Mountain, White River, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana, about 1980.

Elk were everywhere. With zero temps and more than a foot of soft snow hunting wasn’t hunting. Days like that are reminiscent of Lewis & Clarks journals. You just go out and get your game.

Instead of simply killing an elk, I did some playing; seeing if I could outwit elk. If I didn’t there were always more to try my luck at. I finally found a dry cow bedded down, snuck up on her, and dispatched her still lying down.

When I got to her I found that my essential item—a knife—was back in camp. I notched my tag with my teeth, stuck it in her ear and returned to the horses to see if I had a knife in my saddlebags, but that wasn’t to be. I debated and finally went to Rocky’s horse to rummage in his saddlebags. As I dug around, a voice behind me said, “Freeze or you’re a dead man.” It was Rocky.

I knew it wasn’t good etiquette to fondle another guys goods, and explained the situation. Rocky had his knife, so we saddled up and rode to the dead cow.

What I used to carry while guiding elk hunters.

When we got there, Art Stevens, the outfitter we worked for, was nearly finished gutting the cow. Art didn’t say too much, just kinda grumbled and completed the job. He picked up his 7mm and moved off. His hunter lagged behind and told us that he and Art had stalked to within 15 yards of the cow. Art finally told the hunter, “Well, that goddamn elk is dead!”

Brian and I skinning an elk in the dark.

The knife set that a guided hunter needs and uses will be much like the knife set I first used as a guide. It consisted of one knife, a steel and a saw. At the time, Buck knives were the rage. I never liked Bucks. They held an edge well, but the steel was so hard, sharpening in the field was a pain. Knives bought then--or now for that matter—are usually Gerbers. Gerbers are quality knives at reasonable prices.

My original steel was a Buck. It worked well and sharpened many knives. I have since moved on to steels and stones made by Diamond Machine Technologies. They are lighter and sharpen faster. The DMT sharpeners are diamond particles embedded in plastic. They don’t need oil, last for years, and are less than half the weight of a traditional steel.

My present set of elk knives.

My original saw was a Knapp Sportsaw. It still is. I have received two as presents, but the original that I bought in 1972 is sharper than the newer one. One hasn’t been out of the original packaging. An elk hunter needs a saw, even if you only use it on the pelvis and breastbone. Rock-and-knife is hard on rock, knife, hands and isn’t easy.

Over the years my arsenal of knives I carry has grown. A hunter may only need to gut, skin, and cape one elk all season. A guide may have to do four or five in one day. Specialized tools makes for easy work.

My brother, Brian, and I gutting and caping a bull.

I use a US Navy Mark 2 for all the tough work. It has a stiff spine, holds an edge reasonably well and is made of a softer steel than most knives that translates into easier sharpening on-the-job. It has a long, heavy blade that makes cleaner cuts through deep meat like the loin and neck when I’m quartering an elk. It also looks cool.

I use a Gerber skinning knife that a grizzly hunter gave me in 1980. (See story here)

I also carry one or two pocketknives that work great for caping. Small blades with blund tips work best around horn bases and eye sockets. I have also followed the advice of many taxidermists and used to carry a couple kitchen paring knives for caping—that’s what taxidermists use. Kitchen paring knives are cheap, made of soft steel, and are short and easy to use while caping. And, if you lose it, you're not out more than $1.29.

My saw assortment. the old one out of the sheath is still the best. The ones I use have been cutoff so they fit in a saddlebag better and because I don't intend to saw keyholes in elk.

One other essential for hunters inexperienced with gutting and caping elk is a 10 or twelve foot piece of light rope. Whole elk can weight over 500 pounds. If you find yourself gutting an elk alone, the rope can be used to tie a leg over to a tree while you work on the stomach area. In real steep terrain, you can use the rope to keep the elk from sliding down the hill—unless that is what you want.

My sharpening kit.

Keep the essentials at hand.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Running Bear Through the Lodgepole

Jake, my nephew, and I looking for firewood outside my Lynx Creek camp. In the background is an old, yet burnt stand of lodgepole. New lodgepole in the foreground.

Much of Montana’s mountains have been burnt. After a fire a coniferous “weed” takes over. It’s called Lodgepole Pine. Lodgepole has adapted to fire. The only way that lodgepole pine cones release their seeds, is from the heat of a fire. Seeds are scattered densely and create lodgepole thickets too tight for a horse and rider to ride through. Twelve years after a fire, the lodgepole will vary in height from three feet to over 15. Diameters will range from and inch to almost six inches. Some places you can’t see more than four or five feet, and many times you have to pick a spot wide enough for your body to slide through sideways. Elk hunters moving through a lodgepole thicket in the snow resemble snowmen.

Over a decade ago, a guide from a camp I worked in and his hunter were such snowmen. The guide knew better, but thought he would impress the hunter by showing him a dead, rotting cow elk. There are places that you can do that, but a lodgepole thicket isn’t one of them.

When they were less than 15 yards away, the guide froze, held his right arm out, and whispered, “Don’t move.” A few yards beyond the corpse was a grizzly gnawing on a chunk of leg. The guide took several steps back, reached into his belt, where he kept a .44 Magnum pistol and started to turn away from the bear.

The hunter said he never heard a sound, and was surprised how fast and quietly the bear was on top of them. The hunter unslung his rifle. He pointed it at the bear and fired. He tried working the bolt, but the grizzly was on him. He attempted a buttstroke. The grizzly absorbed the blow and took the rifle with his teeth, flinging the rifle out of sight. The guide had tripped and slid a few yards from the tussle. When he righted himself the bear had pushed the hunter to the ground and was playing patta-cake on the hunters chest. Mr guide pointed the pistol, but was afraid of hitting the hunter with one of his shots. He yelled, screamed and waved his hands. Finally, he started kicking the bear. As the bear moved off the hunter, the guide emptied the .44 into the grizzly.

The bear ran off never to be seen again.

I was on a meat run at the time, packing elk to town on mules. Strange how that type of story races through Montana’s vast wilderness. I heard about it before I returned to camp the next day.

The hunter’s rifle had a bent barrel. A puffy, purple bruise on the entire left side of the hunter’s face is the only indication of a mishap. Most in camp believe the bruise was from the barrel hitting him in the face—after the buttstroke and when the bear took it.

The story didn’t end that day, that week or even that season. Throughout the winter game wardens interview the whole crew—repeatedly. They thought an illegal grizzly had been killed. I don’t think one was, but I wasn’t there.

I bring this up for two reason: there were two stories about bears in today’s Great Falls Tribune, and grizzly bear--all bears--need to be treated like a grumpy old curmudgeon. (I sometimes feel like a bear; my wife treats me like a grumpy old curmudgeon much of the time.)

Here are links to the Tribune stories:

Here are a few rules to use in grizzly country: (previous readers may remember some of these rules)

  • Never visit known dead animals.
  • If returning to a dead game animal that was left out over night, come in from the uphill side and with several people. There is more security in numbers, and you might get a better bluff.
  • Don’t run from a grizzly. Think of a dog and cat in a face off. If the cat stands its ground—fine, when the cat turns to go, the dog rips it to shreds. Running is also rather pointless. When I was about 12, I saw a grizzly run down a 150 pound elk calf and flop him about like an old wool sweater.
  • Keep your food away from bears. Most wilderness areas have minimum rules for food storage. Those rules don’t just protect you today, they protect future visitors from dealing with bears that have become habituated by human food and scraps.
  • Don’t eat food in your sleeping bag. Eat food in the eating area where it belongs. Candy bars, chips, and the like smell and taste good, but could cause you some unexpected lost sleep.

Go here for other bear stories:

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Recent Hike

Today it is snowing, raining, overcast and chilly--about 35 degrees.  I haven't written much lately, but thought I would share last week's hike.

Wende and I went to Willow Creek Gorge.  Temps were in the mid 60s. A nearly invisible breeze and a cloudless sky made easy walking and wonderful photos.

Approaching Willow Creek Gorge, Lewis and Clark Forest, Montana.

Although narrow, this is a horse trail up Willow Creek Gorge.

Waterfall in Willow Creek Gorge.

I overlooked these flowers, but Wende quickly pointed them out.

Waterfall midway through Willow Creek Gorge.

Heading out of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front.

It's less than two weeks before summer begins.  I hope the snow stops first.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

7mm Remington Magnum

Thoughts On A Good Elk Rifle

After seeing what guided hunters brought for an elk-shootin’ iron and reading magazines and web articles it is safe to say that many people believe the 7mm Remington Magnum to be substantial medicine for Montana Elk Hunting. It is.

If a hunter measures a cartridge by energy alone, the 7mm mag has the minimum amount for elk out to 600 yards, adequate out to 400 yards, and preferred out to about 250 yards. It can be zeroed for 400 yards and only rise 11 inches at about 250 yards and still successfully engage an elk-sized target at 500 yards—aiming dead on. Those statements assume a 175 grain bullet at 2900 feet per second, and uses Ackley’s recommendations for bullet energy for elk-sized game. (More info here)

It is definitely potent, but I have two very different thoughts from watching what the 7mm Remington Magnum can do. I personally have shot only one elk with a 7mm. It was a Ruger M77 that I borrowed from my brother, Mike, and I made the kill with one shot.

If memory serves this elk was killed with a 7mm Remington Magnum.

My first thoughts come from watching a former outfitter I worked for, the late Art Stevens. He shot a Remington 700 BDL in 7mm Remington Magnum, exclusively, and killed most of his elk with only one round. My second thoughts on the 7mm Remington Magnum come from watching guided hunters use the cartridge. I have seen more elk wounded with a 7mm mag than with any other. Second place goes to another tough elk cartridge, the .300 Weatherby Magnum. The .300 Weatherby has another trait that I, and other guides, have commented on. That will be tackled in my next “caliber” installment (here).

That’s quite a disparity. One rifle kills nearly every elk it is pointed at, and many rifles—of the same caliber—wound nearly every elk they hit.

I haven’t done a thorough academic study on those divergent statistics, but I will jump on my soapbox and give the only coherent explanation I can (for the difference).

Part comes from simple elk hunting experience. Art was one of the best field shooters I have seen. He put the rifle up and shot the elk, but it is more than that. Art had seen elk in the wild most of his life. Most guided elk hunters have limited experience seeing elk, except in magazines, movies and videos. Just as the wapiti isn’t seen only in large golden meadows with frosty steam escaping their nostrils, they aren’t always seen as a complete animal.

Sometimes all you will “see” is dark legs, tan hide and ivory tines above and the head. You may only see what I call “Mickey Mouse ears.” If an elk spots you, he/she will many times look directly at you. In my mind the dark head, big eyes and large ears pointed directly at me reminds me of Mickey Mouse ears. It is usually a bad sign. They are alerted to YOU and any movement or talk will reveal exactly what they are looking at.

So much for the tangential. The point is that elk are not always seen as a complete animal.

The majority of hunters that see their first elk, comment, rather forcefully, how huge elk are. I believe that the combination of limited experience seeing elk and shock by an elk's size create a level of elk fever that isn't realized. Elk fever affects judgment on when and where to take a shot and shot placement.

Those who have read this blog know what is coming. Without making YOUR shooting technique a subconscious action, the elk fever interrupts the act of shooting. Bad judgment, bad shot placement and conscious shooting is betting on a poker hand of “one of a kind.” Essentially, all you have is an elk in front of you.

There is no question that the 7mm Remington Magnum is more than adequate to kill an elk.

Shoot well my friends.

This post brings another tangential to mind. It affects the guided hunter and the guide, and many times neither is aware of the problem. It's perspective. A guide and a hunter are never looking from the same point. The guide sees an elk in the timber and automatically drops to a knee so he can see better below the heaviest branches and mass of pine needles. Either with his eyes or through binoculars he can see a trophy. He tries to orient the hunter to see it. The hunter doesn’t drop to his knees and instead looks through a mass of lodgepole branches. Even if he does drop down, he won’t see what the guide is pointing at. If the guide and hunter are shoulder-to-shoulder, looking in the same direction, and keying off a certain tree, rock, branch, or whatever, neither are looking through the same path of trees. Guides that appreciate the problem will sometimes grab the hunter and place him/her directly in front of him (the guide.) If the guide isn’t aware of the situation, and you are, try going directly behind and look over the guide. (Note: Some guides won't want you behind them with animals in front and you with a loaded rifle).

Something to keep in mind.


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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Initial Response

Scopes are better than iron sights!   REALLY???

When former hunters said they were buying a new scope and wanted my opinion, I said, “Why do you need a scope?”

The normal answer was that they could shoot better with a scope.

That is a common misconception, and in many instances people shoot worse with scopes than with iron sights.

Look at the experts.  In 1995, the Leech Cup winner was Nancy Tomkins-Gallagher with a score of 199-8x and a shoot off score of 100-9x.  The Leech Cup is the Iron Sight 1000 yard match shot at the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio every summer.  That same year, Nancy’s husband, Middleton Tompkins won the Wimbledon Cup with nearly an identical score of 199-9x and a shoot off score of 100-8x.  The Wimbledon Cup is the Any Sight 1000-yard match at Camp Perry.  By rule the Wimbledon can be shot with iron or scope—hence, “any,” but is usually shot with a scope.

Comparison of results of scopes and iron sights at 1000 yard National Matches for years 1995 and 2008.  You may have to click on it to enlarge.

The chart shows results for the winners of the Leech and Wimbledon in 2008, again with similar scores.  Also included are the shooters who won the lowest NRA classification, Marksman/Sharpshooter.  Although the Leech and Wimbledon are shot on different days—meaning differing weather conditions—the Marksman/Sharpshooter Anz, shooting iron sights, outshot Captain Ryan who used a scope in 2008.  I chose 1995 because it is the last results bulletin I have.  I chose 2008 because the information was easy to obtain.

Those figures should demonstrate that the experts can’t shoot any better with scopes than with iron sights.  What about those who are not experts?

Their results are even worse.

When a junior shooter starts shooting smallbore they are restricted to iron sights.  That is not a punishment.  New shooters have unsettled positions and relatively large wobble areas.  (See here for wobble areas)  If a person with those characteristics shoots a telescopic sight, there shooting won’t improve.  The scope not only magnifies what is seen, it also magnifies the wobble area.  A magnified, uncontrolled wobble area forces the shooter to not let the sights settle, but shoot during those milliseconds the sights are “perfect.”  That leads to jerking.  That leads to a loss of confidence, and the cycle repeats.

A similar situation develops for most highpower shooters.  Those shooting match rifles with aperture front sights think that a tighter line of white between the front sight ring and the aiming black will result in more accurate aiming.  The tight line of white works like a telescope and transmits any unsettled wobble to the brain, resulting in snatching shots, jerking, and of course loss of confidence.

Soon, the new shooter learns to shoot like the pros, they use larger apertures at all ranges.  Those that change apertures from one position to another use much larger apertures during offhand than on sitting and prone.  The larger apertures allow the mind to relax and not make the shot perfect, bringing higher scores and an increase in confidence.  That cycle repeats as well.

There are other reasons to not use a scope but I will cover them later.

A scope will let you see better, but not shoot better.  The less you practice the more reason there is to use iron sights.  Or, at the very least, chose a low-power/fixed-power scope.

You’ll shoot better.


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