MT Mule Deer and Elk Hunt
It’s that time of year again. Montana mule deer season. And I can’t wait to get out and glass for big white-faced muleys in the vast Montana countryside.
On the morning of Friday, November 13th I went out to shoot my .270 and make sure everything was ready for my hunt. Instead of my usual Remington Core Lokt ammo I decided to change to a newer type of bullet, the Winchester Deer Season XP. It seemed to group slightly to the left of my other bullets, so I adjusted the sights and put a dozen rounds downrange at both 100 and 200 yards.
Our plan for the first two days was to hunt the CMR in the Missouri River Breaks. The CMR has a shorter mule deer season, but since Mark had a cow elk tag we figured it would be a good opportunity to scout for elk while we hunting for muleys. After the weekend the elk season would still stay open, but we could no longer hunt deer on the CMR.
This was one of the warmest times I’ve ever hunted for Montana Muleys including early season. I brought plenty of hunting clothes, but most of it was cold weather gear. Other than the first hour of daylight each day it was light pants and long sleeve weather.
There was no snow of the ground but the bucks were definitely in the rut. We didn’t see nearly the numbers that we did last year, but when we did see a group of deer there was almost always a buck with them. The buck in the picture above could not decide whether to keep running from us or to go back to his doe.
We drove around to glass up a few draws and saw over 20 deer with nothing to go after. We decided to make a hike in the middle of the day. We only walked a few hundred yards and we saw our first decent buck. He had unfortunately saw us before we saw him, and by the time I was able to get setup to take a closer look through my scope, he was at the top of the next hill. He did stop to get another look at us, but he was facing away and didn’t present a shot. I was also not quite ready to pull the trigger, as I didn’t know how much more opportunities I would have. After the first buck disappeared of the hill top a second smaller buck followed the first bucks trail and stopped broadside at the top of the hill 200 yards away.
We kept on walking another mile down the draw towards the Missouri river. We spotted two deer bedded down at the very top of a butte tucked into a side of the hill. We were too far to tell what they were, but since we saw a buck with most groups of deer, and that one of the deer had a slightly whiter face made me believe there was a buck. We got even closer and were able to see antlers. It looked like a buck worth going after. Not super wide, but pretty tall with deep forks.
We had to circle way around to get close enough for a potential shot. We crawled up to the top of the closest knob and took a range on the buck. 360 yards. He was in my sights, but not close enough for an ethical shot. We waited to see if they would come off the hill and move our way, but I decided to take my chances and see if I could get closer. I had to backtrack and walk down the bottom to get to the next potential spot, and on my way I just a medium sized 2x2 buck. He ran over the hill right to were the bigger buck was bedded, so I hurried as fast as I could to the top of the next hill to see if the deer were still there. When I got up to the next knob I saw the 2x2, as well as a 4x4 and doe. I got ready for the shot and examined the 4x4’s antlers as he was facing away where I didn’t have a shot. He looked smaller than what I thought he was, but knowing I didn’t have too many more days to hunt and my ichy trigger finger after hunting many deer-less Minnesota days I decided to take the shot. He was only 130 yards away and I had a steady hold on him. I slowly pulled the trigger and and BOOM… The deer dropped right where he stood. My usual excitement of making a good clean shot on a buck was quickly ripped away when I stood up and saw an even bigger buck stot down the hill from an area I was unable to see. The deer we had glassed and originally gone after.
My tag had been filled and now our focus was on finding a cow elk for Mark. We saw a few other vehicles in the area that were all going after elk with no luck. We made a few small hikes, and finally with two hours of light left we spotted four elk bedded in the timber nearly a mile away. We hated finding elk during the finals hours of light and not going after them, but we would not have been able to get to them until close to sunset, and that would have been the best case scenario where they didn’t spot us, wind us, or get up and start feeding again.
Monday, November 15th was a windy day with 20-30 mph constant winds with gusts up to 60 mph. Today was the deer processing day.
We also wanted to go to a spot that Mark had hunted pheasants in last year, but hadn’t gone to yet this year. We got out of the truck trying not get blown over. Within the first couple minutes we had birds flushing all over, but they were either jumpy from previous hunters or because the wind made it hard for them to figure out how close we were to them they were all flushing well before we were close enough for a shot.
Today was dedicated to finding a cow elk. We drove to an area on the CMR further west than we had hunted the previous days. After glassing for a less than an hour Mark had spotted a herd of 40 to 50 elk. We quickly grabbed our gear and headed to the bottom of the draw to try and stay out of sight. It took nearly an hour to get up to where we had originally spotted them.
We got to the bottom of a draw that they had just been. Elk have a very distinguishable smell that told us that we were getting close. We looked up the draw and saw two elk slip into the timber. We moved as quickly as we could could while still keeping our eyes out for elk already bedded in the timber looking our way. We finally got to a spot were we could see glimpses of elk moving in the timber. They were still nearly 300 yards away which makes for a tough shot when you are only given small windows between branches to get a shot.
Mark moved up to the next hill to get a closer shot and see if he had a better angle at any of the elk. There were mostly cows and fawns with at least one spike bedding and moving slowly through the edge of the timber. We waited for nearly an hour for an elk to stand up and move out of the timber. Mark gave a few short whistles to get the elk to stand up, but they didn’t. Just before Mark gave another series of whistles I saw a group of 4 elk standing at the top of the hill looking around that presented a shot from my position, but they were hidden from where Mark was laying.
Knowing that we couldn’t wait too much longer without having to work throughout the night, Mark made a few short, quiet yells to get them stood up. This worked a little too well and at the same time, every elk on the side of the hill stood up and started running off towards an opening. I looked over to Mark who had been kneeling to get a better view. I tried whistled as loud as I could to try and get a cow to stop and to make sure Mark saw all of the elk taking off. Only a second or two passed and BOOM. I hear the gun go off and I am frantically trying to find an elk that looks like it was been hit. I look through my binoculars as maybe 6 or 7 healthy elk run by. I look back towards the timber and see and elk’s hooves in the air, then its body, then hooves again. Mark had shot his elk and it was rolling down the hill. He got up and starting running towards the elk. I assumed he knew he got it, but he looked back and lifted his hands as if he was unsure. He made it to the elk just before I did.
Mark took the shot at 11:30 and we had it completely quartered just after 12:30. We filled out day packs with a front leg and back-strap and started out trip back to the truck. It was a 2 mile trip back to the truck. After we dropped off the first load and switched over to our frame packs we figured we could get the rest of the elk out before sunset.
As heavy as an elk quarter is I was more relaxed during the hike out than I have been in a long time. I believe it was a combination of knowing we had both got the animals we were looking for and were able to fit an entire elk hunt in a single day. We took one break on the way back from our last trip. The sun was just starting to set over the rugged elk-filled hills in front of us. There was a cool breeze that felt good after sweating all day in 50 degree weather. It is hard to describe the peacefulness of hunting the in Missouri River Breaks. It is something you just have to experience for yourself.