2014 Montana Mule Deer Hunt
This is the second year I have gotten a non-resident mule deer license for Montana. Luckily the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks has a special tag for hunters that grew up in Montana and moved away. As long as your parents are still living in Montana you are able to pick up a mule deer, and upland game combo hundreds less than a standard non-resident tag. It is really a great deal.
The Trip through North Dakota
It is a two day drive out to Montana from Duluth, luckily I have family in North Dakota making the trip much easier. I drove to Bismarck on November 15th and stayed with my sister. They’re son Henry had just turned 2 and was almost as happy to see me as i was to see him. I was glad to spend the day inside and not driving though a blizzard.
I was also fortunate to find a fantastic shooting range just south of Lincoln that I could sight my gun. I haven’t been able to find a good shooting range in Minnesota since most gun hunting in Minnesota, and Wisconsin is done at close ranges, there are few long range rifle shooting ranges. I met another hunter there that was sighting his rifle in preparing for his cow elk hunt in Wyoming. It was 7 degrees and I was not dressed well enough to spend very much time outside. I set up at 200 yards and put some lead downrange. Luckily my first three shots ended up being my only three shots as I could barely feel my fingers. I was pretty confident that any nice buck withing 300 yards was going down.
After a day of playing with Henry, I hit the road for the second time to begin my hunt in Montana’s region 6 (Northeast section). I arrived at my hunting buddy, Mark Sullivan’s house and began unloading my gear. Mark has taken me hunting and fishing dozens and dozens of times when I was growing up, and is really the one that has gotten me to be the outdoorsman that I am today.
Day 1 - Scouting
We got our gear ready and loaded in the truck the night before and had made a game plan. The next morning we got up, had our coffee and breakfast and hit the road. We didn’t make it that far until we realized it was going to be a cold and windy day. When we finally made it to the area we were looking into hunting, the wind speed was well above the temperature. We drove up on the edge of a few coulees (if you are not from Montana, a coulee is just a deep ravine) and did some glassing. We saw tons of deer, thankfully to the snow that makes them stand out, and they were deep in the rut getting them to move around during the day.
After bow hunting in Minnesota for a month and a half prior to mule deer hunting in Montana I would have been happy with seeing a handful of deer. By the end of the day however we had counted at least 100 deer and 15 of them were bucks. There was one fairly heavy 3x3 that if it wasn’t so terrible out, and my first day of hunting I would have gone after. The wind was blowing so hard all of the trails were blown in, and after getting stuck and needing to chain all four tires up, we were able to get out and back to town.
Day 2 - The Hunt
From the beginning I had told myself that I wasn’t going to be picky and if I saw a decent deer I was going to shoot him. My trigger finger had been itchy since my first day of bow hunting in mid-September. We decided to go to the same spot the second day and see if we could find a deer big enough to go after. After a few minutes of glassing a coulee we decided to make a hike and see what we could find. After only 20 minutes of hiking we had spotted our first deer. A doe, roughly 100 yards away. The wind was blowing hard and directly from the deer to us. We snuck up closer to see if there was any more deer with her and spotted a medium sized 4x4 walking away from us up a draw. It went out of site and I sat and thought about if I was going to shoot him or not. After a minute I convinced myself that he was big enough and started to sneak up over the next small hill I watched him walk behind to make an easy 50 yard shot. I turned my scope down to 3 power and crawled up to the top. When I got there there was no deer in sight. He must have gone just over the next hill. Which is what I told myself for the next three or four hills in a row. The buck was gone. He must have chased the doe we saw up the draw and into the next coulee.
We changed our initial route to see if we would be able to find that deer again. Once we got to the top of the draw we could see a deer walking by himself close to 1000 yards away in the bottom of the next coulee. Even at that distance we could see antlers and tell he was a buck by the way he was walking. Head down, and nose up with a little strut. We set up on the edge and got out the spotting scope. Once we were able to take a look at him, we were able to confirm our suspicion that this was a buck worth going after.
He was down in the bottom with very little cover to sneak up on him, and he was on the move. We couldn’t drop down and loose sight of him, because he would have just disappeared. While trying to figure out the best way to get to him he started to change directions and it looked like he was going to come right too us. Unfortunately he soon changed his mind and started heading toward a group of does further down the coulee. The wind was on our backs, there were over 20 deer in that group, and it didn’t look like there was enough cover to get much closer than 400 yards. and to make it worse one of the does had split from the group and was wondering around the only draw we would be able to sneak through to get close enough.
Hoping that we weren’t going to run into the doe, we took the best chance at getting close and headed to the bottom of the coulee to keep out of sight. We were three quarters of a mile away from them when we had them in the spotting scope but needed to make at least a mile loop to get within range and downwind.
Once we got the bottom where we knew the deer were, i took of my pack, chambered a round in my Savage .270 and started crawling up to where i could get a shot. Most of the deer were bedded down, including my buck. I got into position and waited. We had them ranged at 280 yards. Mark was going to how to get them the buck to stand up, but just then, the buck got up and started walking after a doe even closer to me than where he was bedded. He gave me a perfect broadside shot, and as soon as another doe had moved that was standing right behind him I took the shot. The buck lurched forward and began to stumble. I quickly chambered another round just in case. As soon as i had him in my sight again he tumbled over backwards. I had just shot the biggest buck we had seen, and the biggest one I had ever shot!
If you look just above his left antler you can see the hill where I took the shot from.