Monday, April 27, 2009

Selecting An Outfitter, Part One

The Don'ts of Choosing an Outfitter

As a former wilderness guide and outfitter, my view on choosing an outfitter is one-sided.  However, since my income no longer depends on booking hunters I can give some advice on what to do and what not to do.

Outfitters are more like doctors than used car salesmen.  A used car salesman actually has something to sell.  Outfitters and doctors usually have no stuff to sell.  Outfitters sell "blue sky."  Outfitters that have good hunting areas will have hunts that show a goose egg.  Hunters with poor hunting areas will occasionally fill out all their tags.  How does the elk hunting consumer see how blue the blue sky is?  Unlike doctors, the money (an stakes) are so low that suing an outfitter isn't cost effective.  And, official sanctions are tough to push through.

That is difficult.

Used car sales are somewhat moderated by laws designed to protect the consumer.  Repeated bad car sales will cause the car lot to fold.  There are very few laws protecting the elk hunter.  Repeated bad hunts will not cause an outfitter to go belly up.

I depended on repeat customers and didn't understand a fellow outfitter who never had (or never seemed to have) ANY repeat hunters.  I asked him about that and he replied, "There are a million hunters out there."  (I know he had many bad hunts.  His clients were pretty vocal in the local bars, and yet, he hunted some of the same area that I did.  Go figure.)

I never did a scholarly study of what he did to get hunters, but I have seen him in action at sports shows.  On one side of the aisle was my friend spouting off the majesty of his camp.  He was surrounded by prospective hunters.  On the other side of the aisle was another local outfitter who wasn't full of "tall stories."  (It wasn't me.)  His booth had crickets chirping.

As an outfitter I never had much luck at sports shows.  I am not a salesman, marketer, advertiser or promoter.  I would rather undersell and over produce than the reverse.  Because of that, my advertising costs were very low compared to others, but the hunters I had, I kept.  

With that in mind, my one "DO" for choosing an outfitter is to use word of mouth.  If you have a friend who had a good hunt, check it out.  That doesn't mean YOU will have a good hunt, but it is a great starting point.

Here are a few "DON'Ts" in selecting an outfitter: (This may cause outfitters to put out a contract on me.)
  • Don't book a hunt at a sports show, unless you have researched the outfitter before hand.
  • Don't be swayed by glossy brochures and slick videos.  Those may not signal a bad outfitter, but good and bad outfitters have access to the same marketing companies.
  • Don't believe everything that people on a client list say.  Marketing an outfitting business is like a lawyer defending a client--accentuating the positive and ignoring the negative.  Client lists can be tailored to the desire effect.  *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*
  • Don't make a deposit on a hunt unless you will be going.  Most deposits are non-refundable.  Sometimes they will transfer or can be used the following year, but rarely refunded.
Choosing an outfitter isn't much different that choosing a doctor.  YOU need to be comfortable with them.  Additionally, you don't want to shop for an outfitter at the last minute any more than you want to search for a doctor you trust at the last moment.  


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Successful Montana Elk Hunters

How successful are elk hunters in Montana?

Montana Elk Hunter Success Statistics in a Nutshell:
  • About 20% of Montana Elk Hunters harvest elk
  • About 51-52% of Montana Elk Hunters harvest was antlerless elk (cows and calves)
  • From years 1999-2002 Montana Elk Hunters logged about 800,000 hunter days
  • That same period each hunter spent about 7 days hunting
  • It took 35 to 40 hunter days to harvest one elk

Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks 1999-2002 Executive Summary of Elk Hunting and Harvest Statewide and Regional

If you like to read spreadsheets and crunch numbers, more data is available here.

Those are numbers provided by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Numbers and figures from outfitters on public or private land are difficult to obtain, and in many cases may be embellished to suit the specific outfitting business.

The individual hunter is the only one who can measure true success.

The overly optimistic elk hunter should keep in mind that less than 49% of the successful 20% of elk hunters take bulls home. That 49% includes spikes and rag-horn bulls (non-mature 2x2s to 6x6s). The number of Montana Elk Hunters that take home a 6x6 or larger is very small and those that take the “wopper” are an even smaller minority.

In more than 100 years of Boone & Crockett records there is still only one number one—now probably the spider bull from Utah.

It might be fun, or terrifying, to find the number of hunter days expended to harvest the latest number one.

Click here to go back to FAQ.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What Is The Best Type of Elk Hunt?

The Best Elk Hunt Ever!

Before answering the question, "What is the best type of elk hunt?," you may wish to read, "What is a successful elk hunt," and then ask yourself, "What are my expectations?"  You may also ask, "How much experience do I have as a hunter or elk hunter?," and, "What is my general physical condition?"

Then you can look at the types of hunts, and their pros and cons.

In the broad categories there are two types of Montana Elk Hunts:  outfitted and non-outfitter.  Within the outfitted, there are fully guided and non guided, or drop camp hunts.

A fully-outfitted camp is comfortable.  Tents are set up and firewood is stacked and ready.

Outfitted Hunts (Fully guided)

  • Everything is provided
  • No car rental
  • Experienced guides and operations
  • Camp is set up
  • Firewood is usually cut and split

  • "Everything" is rather subjective.  Some outfitters have "valet" service, others have "bare-bones" operations.
  • Experienced guides and operations are also subjective.  Some outfitters have more experience with construction or computers they used in their former professions than with hunting and outfitting.  Young (or old) inexperienced guides may know less than you about elk or the area being hunted.
  • Hunts are scheduled to maximize the number of hunters that can be taken in one season.  You may have to hunt when you really don't want to.  Weather is important.
  • Since outfitters try to fill each hunt, you may end up hunting with someone who isn't quite your type.  That happens more than writers write about.
  • In Montana, non-residents that book with an outfitter get the more expensive guaranteed license, but can only hunt with an outfitter.  They can't come back later and hunt on their own.
  • Bad things can happen on fully-outfitted hunts, as well as the non-outfitted ones.  Go here to read about hunters who got lost in less than 600 yards.

On fully-outfitted hunts, guides and packers do all the work that requires a wide knowledge base of horse, mules, and game processing.

Non-Outfitted Hunts


  • Cheap
  • No set schedule
  • If you have the time from work, you could hunt all season or several times that season

  • Cheap can get expensive:  If you thought you could pack an elk on your back, you may end up hiring an outfitter to pack it out.   Emergencies that outfitters (some) can handle may be life-threatening on your own.
  • The learning curve for those new to elk hunting or rustic camping is steep.  Getting experience on your own can be expensive and life-threatening.  For more information on the learning curve go to, "It Really Happened, Really."
  • Non-outfitted hunters must buy draw-type licenses.  There is no guarantee that you will be drawn.

It is easier to watch someone quarter an elk with an ax than it is to do it.  That goes double when the weather is cold and snowy.

Outfitted Hunt (Drop Camp Style)


  • In the middle between outfitted and non-outfitted.
  • Allow the new hunter/rustic camper a chance to get experience while still under the outfitter's protective umbrella.  Most drop camps have camp set up and the outfitter's crew usually takes care of caping, quartering and packing game.
  • Day-to-day you are on your own.  This can be pro or con.  You may learn more on your own, you may not.

  • No guaranteed license
  • Day-to-day you are still on your own.

Drop camps can be rather primitive.

Fully outfitted hunts can be further divided between wilderness, or pack-in hunts, and drive-in or ranch hunts.

This may be were physical conditioning comes into play.  If you are in good shape and can handle hours on a horse or mule the wilderness hunt may be the way to go.  If you are out of shape, then the ranch hunt will be a better fit.

Wilderness hunts can provide memorable rustic experiences.  Ranch hunts may as well, but they can be more like staying in a motel and going out for day drives.  Choice is yours.

Whether the wilderness hunt or ranch hunt provides better elk hunting opportunities is a crap-shoot.  Area, weather, and even outfitter/guide experience are larger factors.  An over-hunted ranch won't be any better than an over-hunted wilderness hunt.

Here is an additional point on wilderness hunts.  In Montana, outfitters who operate on most public land, like Forest Service, DO NOT HAVE "AREAS."  There may be gentlemen's agreements with neighboring outfitters, but like any of those, they depend on how gentlemenly the neighbor is.

Prospective hunters should know what they want, then do research to get it.

My view on what is the best hunt changed when the new (now old) license system was introduced.  In the past, I thought hunters got the best deal on a drop camp hunt--even when I was an outfitter.  The drop camp was an especially good deal for hunters who wanted to come back several years in a row.  Some of the old drop camp hunters knew more about elk and the hunting area than guides with two or three years of experience.

I now think that the fully-outfitted hunt is best, as long as the outfitter fits your needs and expectations.  As of the mid-term elections of 2010, that has changed.  Nonresident Montana elk hunters booking with an outfitter no longer receive a guaranteed license.  More here.

This is written the end of April 2009.  If you want to hunt elk in Montana this year, and you are a non-resident, it is too late.  If you want to hunt elk in Montana in 2010, now isthe time to start your research and save some dollars--pennies won't do.  License applications for both outfitted hunters and non-outfitted hunters in Montana are due March 15 of the year you hunt.

Montana Elk Hunting, FAQ

Montana Elk Hunting Frequently Asked Questions

During the time I was outfitting, hunters asked many questions. This is a list of the most asked. Links, answers and other information will be added as necessary.

What is the best type of elk hunt?

How successful are elk hunters in Montana?

How do I pick an outfitter?

What rifle should I use on elk?

What type of scope should I buy?

Where should an elk be shot?

What should I bring?

How should I train for a Montana Elk Hunt?

Do you have any Montana Elk Hunting tips?
Should I bring a pistol when I archery hunt elk?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cross Training With Prairie Dogs

Prairie Dogs and Family

If elk hunting were a competitive sport, there would be many articles about “cross training for elk hunting.” Some people actually do treat elk hunting, or any hunting, as a form of competition, but I thumb my nose at them and treat elk hunting as a time of friendship, fellowship and goodwill with my comrades.

The problem with only hunting elk is elk season is just a few months long, and if done right, ends with shooting only one rifle round at one elk each year.

To solve that problem an elk hunter can cross train with other hunting and shooting activities.

Our first shooting spot. Jacob, Austin, Dan and Brian drawing beads on 'dogs.'

In addition to extending hunting opportunities and improving marksmanship, cross training allow people like me to engage in more friendship, fellowship and goodwill with my comrades.

Jacob Carroll scoping a 'dog' with his Thompson Center Encore in 22-250.

This past week the stars and planets aligned and gave some members of my family a chance to cross train, shoot some prairie dogs and wish my nephew good luck.

My nephew, Jacob Carroll, came home on leave before being deployed to Afghanistan for a 12-month tour with the 82nd Airborne Division. Although a little early for good prairie dog shooting, it provided us an excuse to enjoy Montana’s outdoors. Surprisingly, temps hit the 80s for the first time this year.

Lots of sun and fun.

Dan Clowes instructing his son Austin on shooting procedures.

My brother, Brian Carroll, his son, Jacob, his son-in-law, Dan Clowes, and Brian’s grandson and Dan’s son, Austin Clowes met in Great Falls. We drove north to Big Sandy, Montana and then east to an area south of the Bear Paw Mountains. If you know the story of the Nez Perce Indians you may have heard of the Bear Paws.

The Bear Paws aren’t far from where Nez Perce’s Chief Joseph finally surrendered to the Army, ending the last serious Indian fighting in Montana in 1877.

Dan and Austin Clowes and Jacob and Brian Carroll "sneaking" on some 'dogs.'

There wasn’t any serious fighting south of the Bear Paws last week. Prairie dogs pups hadn’t yet emerged, and the older, smarter prairie dogs hid in their burrows after only a few shots rang out.

The Carroll crew just moved down the road to the next place we had permission to shoot and engaged another town. Few shots were fired and even fewer dogs were dispatched.

Looking down the working end of a Remington 700VS in .223.

We all had a great time, allowing us to send our best wishes to Jacob before his deployment. The Carroll family seems to always have a connection to the military. During World War II, our paternal grandfather, Arthur Carroll, worked for Bell and Boeing Aircraft. Our father, Craig Carroll was a fighter mechanic in the Air Force in the late 1950s and worked on military missile projects at Vandenburg Air Force Base, California in the 1960s. Brian was a nuclear power plant operator on a fast-attack submarine. Our brother, Michael Carroll, who didn’t go to Big Sandy, was a crew chief on Chinook helicopters, and I was a paratrooper in the Panama Canal Zone.

Besides reaffirming our military heritage, we were able to pass on our hunting ethic to one of the youngest of the Carroll clan, Austin Clowes who is 8-years old. Under watchful eyes he was supervised in safe gun handling and enjoying some of what Montana has to offer.

Austin Clowes with his Ruger 10-22.

After a long day lying in the sun, we returned to Great Falls got a shower and clean clothes at the Hilton, dinner and a drink at Chili’s and an evening exchanging stories—past and long past.

Our arsenal. Top to bottom: Ruger M77V in .223, Remington 700VS in .223, Ruger M77V in .243, and Thompson Center Encore in 22-250.

I hope everyone’s week was as memorable as ours.

I wish Jacob Carroll all the luck in the world.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Practice de jour

The Best Elk Rifle Is . . .

Over the years the debate has raged over what is the best elk rifle.

For a time, the 220 Swift was heralded as the best rifle known. Its most famous proponent was probably P.O. Ackley. He never said it was the best “elk” rifle, but he devoted pages to the uses of the Swift’s velocity.

When Jack O’Connor promoted the .270 Winchester some flocked, while others ran for the exits.

There probably isn’t a “best” elk rifle.

My favorite rifle for Bull Elk. A sporterized 1903A3 Springfield with a small light 4X scope in 30-06.
Light, handy, lethal.

I have made about equal one-shot kills on elk with the .270 and the 30-06, shooting 130 grain Core-Lokt, Bronze Points and Silvertips in the .270 and 180 grain Core-Lokt and Silvertips in the ’06. In third and fourth place are a 30-30 and a .300 Winchester Magnum with almost equal successes between those two.

An old Winchester Model 94 in 30-30. Light, handy, lethal.

In other hunter/writer/expert’s opinions larger calibers are needed. The .338 Winchester Magnum and the 7mm Remington Magnum seem to get a lot of press. Some even declare that the 30-06 is the bare minimum for elk.

I sometimes wonder what the minimum caliber for elk was before 1906, and if the minimum for elk today is an ’06, then what is the minimum for an elephant?

According to Ackley and O’Connor, renowned elephant hunter W. D. M. “Karamojo” Bell, who killed over 800 elephant, used a rather small cartridge for most of his kills. In Ackley’s Handbook for Shooters and Reloaders, Volume I, he says, “For this task did he use the .416 Ridgy? The .450/500? The 600 Nitro Express? Certainly not. He used the 7mm Mauser. [ . . . ] Mr Bell found that the 7mm rifle killed elephants dead—and nothing will kill deader than dead.”

It must be a coincidence that O’Connor’s wife, Eleanor, used the same 7 X 57 Mauser to kill African game, deer and elk.

Using that caliber to make kills on so many different types of game means that Eleanor O’Connor must have been a good marksman . . . um, markswoman . . . hmmm, marksperson . . . Here it is, “Eleanor O’Connor must have been a good hunter.”

A good hunter knows that elk hunting is an individual sport, in some ways like wrestling, and good wrestlers don’t get the edge by buying the best leotard available—THEY PRACTICE.
And, with practice ANY RIFLE is the best rifle for elk.

Instead of commercialized Magnum de jour or Rifle de jour maybe it should be:

Practice de jour.

An elk hunter will never go wrong with a .270/.280/30-06-class rifle.

For more information on The Elk Hunter's Rifle go here, or here.

Time to "Make A Deal!"

775 Outfitter sponsored Elk/Deer Licenses Remain

If you have been thinking of visiting Montana on an elk or deer hunt with an outfitter, now may be the time to do it.

On Friday, 10 April, I received an email from Neal Whitney, License Bureau Analyst for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. He said that there were 775 Big Game Combination (outfitter sponsored) and 40 Deer Combination (outfitter sponsored) licenses that had not sold on March 16th.

The Big Game Combination license includes elk, deer A, upland game bird, fishing and conservation licenses. The Deer Combination license includes deer A, upland game bird, fishing and conservation licenses.

These licenses are available to non-resident hunters that book a guided hunt with an outfitter. Drop camps do not apply.

Whitney said that the department will draw general combination licenses and issue the outfitter-sponsored licenses on Monday, 13 April. When that is accomplished any outfitter sponsored applications received after 16 March will be issued.

If you haven’t researched an outfitter that suits your tastes this may interest you.

However, if you have found an outfitter you like, you could use this information to negotiate a better price on a fully guided hunt.

The remaining licenses will be issued first-come, first-serve.

Go here for general license information.

Go here for Nonresident Combo license information.

Go here for the Annual Rule for sale of Nonresident Combination Licenses.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

That One Was Low, Lob Another One, Floyd

Are we hunting or hoping?

The internet has a range of forums devoted to hunters and shooters. Hunters write questions and, then the “experts” answer them. Many of the questions revolve around the “perfect rifle” for game ‘x.’ Or, what is the best rifle for situation ‘y.’

Some of the hunters and many of the experts don’t seem to know what they are talking about.
Here is one recent question. “I need a rifle that will shoot an elk at 600-800 yards. I am favoring the .338 Mag, but some of my friends say the 7mm is best. What is really best?”

Answers were like goose shit—all over the place. It is probably not correct for the expert to answer the question with a more appropriate question to the hunter, “Can YOU shoot and HIT an elk at 600-800 yards?,” but they should.

Let’s question the question in three parts:

  • What is the average range of an elk kill?
    Most elk are taken within 200 yards. Most hunters have difficulty hitting an elk beyond that range. If you hunt in timber, you can’t see 200 yards.

How accurate is the rifle you are buying/using?

  • The cone of fire from most factor rifles is marginal at 600-800 yards.

What is your ability as a marksman?

  • Even experience marksman will have a tough time engaging a target at 600-800 yards with the first shot.

Thousand-yard iron sight team match. Roumanian Cup, Camp Perry, Ohio, August 1994. Can you see the targets?

Master-class highpower shooters usually score 197-198 at 600 yards. That means that 17-18 of 20 shots have landed within the 10 ½ inch 10-ring and two shots landed in the 15 inch 9-ring. A person might say, “Great that will kill an elk!”

But that isn’t the whole story. Highpower shooters are shooting an accurized rifle; usually one that has low recoil and have had two sighter shots before moving to record fire. Few of my first sighters are in the ten ring and occasionally, depending on weather conditions, some may be sixes or sevens. The six ring is 46.5 inches at 600 yards and the seven is 34.5 inches.

Additionally, highpower shooters are shooting from a sling-supported prone position, shooting at a KNOWN range, and have been observing wind and weather conditions and possibly how other shooter’s bullets have behaved in them.

Assuming a person’s training is great, they estimate range EXACTLY, have an accurate rifle and FEEL A NEED to lob a bullet at a living BULL ELK more than half-a-mile away, how will their .338 or 7mm perform?

Fine. A .338 loaded with a 250 grain bullet will have about 1900-2000 foot pounds of energy at 600 yards. A 7mm Mag loaded with a 170 (spitzer-type) will have about 1300-1400 foot pounds at that range.

But it brings another problem. If either rifle is zeroed at 300 yards, they will each drop an additional 60 inches (read five feet) at 600 yards. So, the shooter must hold his wobble area five feet over the center of his target.

Thousand-yard any sight match, Fort Lewis, Washington, 1995.

Just for grins, the bullet drop is 287 inches (23 feet) and 242 inches (20 feet) at 1000 yards, respectively. And in both cases energy has dropped off to the point it shouldn’t be used on small deer.

Finally, a ten mile per hour wind from 90 degrees will drift either bullet about two feet at 600 yards. Can you say “Oh, my scope must be off?”

Few people have the bullet, load, rifle, experience, conditions and NEED to shoot at a living animal at 600 yards. I will jump in here and say that I have seen too many elk, deer, bear and others wounded at 200 yards.

Why wound more just to lob lead?

Let's start hunting and quit hoping.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Something's Eatin' My Elk's Nose, And He's Still Here!

Guide Mike Bouchard and hunter with cape and head. Burnt ground from 2001 Biggs Flat Fire. (2002 photo)

Hunting in Montana wilderness areas pose unique challenges.

Many have to do with grizzly bears.

First, and foremost, if you know where a dead, rotting animals is, AVOID IT.  Sounds simple but curiosity has killed more than cats.

Second, if you get a bull elk late in the evening, special precautions must be taken. Bulls taken in the evening will most likely not be packed to camp until the next day. If a bear gets on the elk—and it happens frequently—that’s just the way it is.

However, you need to take care of the cape, and/or hide before you leave for the night. It is best if the cape and head are brought to camp. If that can’t be done the head and cape should be hung as high in a tree as possible.

The first thing that a grizzly will gnaw on is the nose. Makes for a strange looking mount.
Any skinning or caping, of elk, deer, bear, etc should be done before leaving in the evening. Not only will bears make a mess of them, but subzero weather can make skinning and caping a chore.

Third, when you return in the morning, come to the elk from the high side and make a good survey of the area before plunging in. If you weren’t there and HE was, it makes the elk HIS property. Grizzlies seem to know that possession is 9/10th of the law.

It is also good to have extra people. One person may not bluff a bear, but a group usually intimidates.

Finally, you should be in good physical shape. Recall the story of the guide and hunter who were running from the grizzly.

Almost out of breath, the hunter looks at the guide and says, “Why are we running, we can’t out run a bear!?”

The guide replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear.”


More Planning

Elk Hunting takes planning.

My grandfather, Charlie Carter, was a great planner and planter and he had many tips.

You may have read one of his gardening tips here.

This is a continuation of that one. In less than a month people will start gardening in Montana.

Gardening in Montana takes just as much planning as Montana Elk Hunting. Grampa Charlie always said that if you plant a garden and expect to be gone for long stretches you should plant your onions in the same hills as your potatoes.

That way, while you are gone, the onions will make the potatoes eyes water and you can skip the watering.

Plan well.


Friday, April 3, 2009

What Do Bull Elk Do? (video)

What Do Bull Elk Do? (text)

What Do Bull Elk Do?

Bull Elk are almost another species from cow elk and certainly much different from spike elk. As a group all elk graze, sleep, move in herds, breed and avoid hunters, but that is where the similarities end.

Bulls are not only bigger but also slower and lazier than cows or spikes. A well-mounted rider can run a bull into the ground in 200 yards. A well-conditioned young person can walk a big bull into the ground. Really.

My partner Socks the horse on the Cobb Ranch where for several years we move elk to the Sun River Game Range for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Bull elk use terrain and timber to leave their predators wondering, “Where did those bulls go?”

Cows are more athletic. Cows enjoy larger herds than bulls.

Spikes are as agile as cows. Actually spikes can be the hardest type of elk to kill. They can take shot after shot and still not go down. The problem that spikes have is they are only a year old and haven’t learned much.

The difference between slower lazier bulls and athletic cows keeps them split all year—except during breeding season. Due to their inexperience and better physical condition (possibly more reasons) spikes are rarely found with bulls of the 5x5 class and larger.

In the accompanying video (here, or here) you can see that they run off when alerted to danger. Then they stop and look, confirming the danger. If they believe it is still present they will move off again. Next, they will do one of two things: get into thick timber and play “mess-around” with the danger; or, they will move about one terrain feature away before stopping, waiting and assessing the situation. I have never seen a bull elk-training manual—they must keep them secret, but the one terrain feature seems to be nearly universal. They may go over a ridge, across a stream or up a hill. Additionally, bulls will almost always try to use elevation to elude a hunter.

Bulls aren’t any smarter than cows. The older cows are probably the smartest of the bunch. Bulls do react differently in the trees. The “messing around” mentioned earlier is typical. While cows will—most of the time—move out in a direction, bulls tend to slow down, take their time and make fishhooks. The denser the timber the smaller the size of the fish hooks.

By making fishhooks bulls can stand quietly and watch the hunter go by, then drift off making another fishhook. Bulls can and will do this all day. It allows them to be lazy and not expend energy.


That point is important. Many people look at animals as “dumb animals.” Most are not.
I once took gunsmith Albert Turner up the west side of Beartop Mountain (Beartop Lookout is on top) to look for a large bull we had seen the day before. There was about an inch of wet snow. We found his tracks. He was a good 7x7 and had gotten that way by being a tight-ass. I had never seen it before, but this bull was making fishhooks hours before anyone was tracking him. After playing mess-around for nearly half a day, the bull walked through a bunch of smaller bull that had been bedded. Timber, twigs, branches and patches of dark brown hair and light blonde hair and a flurry of legs and flashes of ivory-tipped horns made it impossible to know who was who. An hour after the smaller bulls bolted we were able to find “our” bull’s tracks. What followed was several hours of mess around. He must have been tired of the game, so he finally found a sharp ravine that was filled with 10-12 foot snowbrush. The ravine was only about eight feet wide. He walked downhill along the edge of the snowbrush for a couple hundred yards, turned up the hill—away from the ravine, walked 20 feet into the spruce jungle, and the tracks ended.

West side of Beartop Mountain. The Forest Service Lookout is on the tip of the sharp peak, center left.

It took several minutes to see what he had done. He backed down the hill in his tracks, and then backed up the ravine another 40 feet, and leaped across the ravine. The other side of the ravine—the north side—was a small meadow bathed in sunlight and there was no snow. He had walked up the meadow, entered the timber, turned around and watched us for quite sometime.

I’ve never seen a more nervous bull (or smarter bull). We didn’t get him.

That terrain dictated that I track the bull, but if I am in an area that I know well I usually won’t track a bull. That is playing a silly, exhausting, sometimes daylong game (refer to the silly story above). Although while guiding, I was sometimes forced to track them. It is a guess which way a bull may mess-around, and making a wrong guess can make the guide look inexperienced. Additionally, hunters who hadn’t hunted with me almost always questioned me when I left a good set of bull tracks. On the other hand, some of my most memorable elk experiences have come from leaving the tracks and working bulls in timber. Its even fun in summer when there are no hunters. The grown-ups used to tell me not to chase the elk, but being a kid in the mountains, I sometimes forgot.

If you don’t know the area you have to track them—no way around it.

Whether you track them or not, changing the speed of your stalk works well. Bulls seem to adjust their speed with that of their pursuer. The caveat is that if you get too aggressive you may blow them out without seeing anything but a flash of white rump.

This post is a change for me. I usually don’t talk to people about elk habits. Bulls, cows, calves, spikes are all elk. They all have a special place in my heart. When I talk to people about elk I feel that I am giving away state secrets—sort of a traitor to the species.

Elk--Grand animal of the world.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

American Myth or Mexican Myth

If you believe in the Second Amendment you may be interested in this story from FoxNews (I'm not a FoxNews supporter, per se.)

It shows what can be done with numbers and statistics--especially when one wants to politicize a point.


Media Law

This post has nothing to do with Montana Elk Hunting.

Stealing content from any source and passing it off as your own is ILLEGAL.

I have seen lots of it on other blogs.  People write in their own voice and then a "copy and paste" appears in the writing.  Most of the time I don't say anything, but today I ran across a question at the discussions on blogcatalog (it is here).  The question was, "Is copying and pasting a site content on my blog stealing?"


I will step down from the soapbox now.

Information on copyright law can be found at  

Additionally, anyone doing journalism--blogging is journalism--should have a copy of the The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law
.  The stylebook is updated once yearly, but they don't change much.  If you get one you will notice it is similar to a dictionary.  However, it has some querks.  It is best to read it over a week or so to learn those querks.  

You probably don't need a thesarus, but a good dictionary is essential.  Most computer dictionary programs are "cheap."  Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (Red Kivar Binding with Jacket) is a great source.


Sights Wobble

In three previous posts the topic was poor trigger control. (Here, Here, and Here) Each post skipped the important question, “What is good trigger control?” The answer is sort of like stumbling down a staircase.

First, it is squeezing the trigger while maintaining a good hold.

That brings the question, “What is a good hold?”

Simply put the hold depends on the person; their level of training—both in technical shot execution and physical traits like cardiovascular health; the position—prone, sitting, kneeling, offhand; weather conditions, such as wind, and even position of the moon and stars. The last may seem flippant, but some days we just can’t hold “normally.”

Taken in their entirety, the hold is defined by a wobble area, and the classic wobble area is shaped like a figure-eight on its side, or an infinity sign. The drawing below shows the classic wobble area. Depending on the person and position, the wobble area may look like the next drawing, or it could look more like an oval.

Classic wobble pattern.

Possible variations of wobble patterns.

The actual shape and size of the wobble is not important. What is important is that the center of YOUR wobble area be placed on the center of YOUR aiming point and the trigger squeezed.

With training your wobble area will become more consistent, and smaller. Additional training will also allow YOUR mind to shoot the shot in time with your wobble area.

Until then, it is not important to try to shoot at the center of the wobble. As long as the wobble area aligns with the center of YOUR aiming point YOU have a greater chance of hitting that aiming point, than trying to HIT the center. Essentially, your rifle muzzle is pointed at the center of your wobble area more than at the edges.

Here is a drill that you can do—if you want to improve your shooting:

You will need your UNLOADED hunting rifle, a pencil and paper and an aiming point on a wall. For safety you may wish to remove the bolt. For prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand positions make 5 to 10 holds on your aiming point. Pressing the trigger is not necessary. All you need to do is watch where your front sight—if using iron sights, or your crosshairs track. Watch it for 40 to 60 seconds on each hold, then put the rifle down and draw a representation of your wobble on the paper. When done compare the size and shape of your wobbles.

Competitive shooters sometimes perform this drill repeatedly. Elk Hunters can probably improve if they do it several times each year.

This posting illustrates the marriage of trigger control and the sights. Future posts will move to sights on The Elk Hunter’s Rifle. That is were the importance of a wobble area will become even clearer.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

One Shot Hunter Program

One Shot Hunter Program

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a program for first time hunters.  It is called the One Shot Hunter Program.  Any first-time hunter may enroll, and selection is on a first-come first serve basis.  Go here for information on Montana's One Shot Hunter Program.

Additional links are:
The landing page also has links to recipients of One Shot Hunter honors for Pronghorn antelope, Bighorn sheep, Whitetail deer, Mule deer, Elk and Black Bear.  Many recipients have a photo with their One Shot Kills.

I had never heard of the program, but find that it fits well with my view of hunting.

Even if you're not a first-time hunter there's good information there.