Montana Hunt 2015 – What will happen this year?


Redeux

As followers of this blog know, I have been going out to Montana on elk/mule deer hunts as one of the “excursions” I report on. Last year I was only partially successful, as I shot the elk, and while it was bleeding out, a couple of “yahoo’s” poached it (see Montana Hunt 2014).

This year was going to be different. Or so I hoped.

My goal for this year was to at least bag a mule deer. If I snagged an elk it was icing on the cake. If I saw a decent mulley I was going to drop him this year (last year I passed on a good 2-3x). Towards this goal, I did a bit more prep over the course of 2015 physically, logistically and skills wise.

Fitness

In 2014 I learned how grueling “real” elk hunting was. An article I once read on elk hunting, the author, while emphasizing that a good elk gun needed to be lightweight and no frills, made the statement that elk hunting is a marathon, not a sprint. How true this is.

I recognized many times during last year’s hunt I was sucking wind like a 4 barrel carburetor. I vowed this year would be different. I am not a small guy, so throw on snow clothing, a gun, and a field pack on, and I am carrying some significant weight over “marathon” distances – up and down hills. Anyone who thinks “real” hunting is not an athletic event – has never done it, or is a truck hunter.

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This is a “gulley” in Montana.

From the return of my 2014 hunt, I put together a plan and started executing on it for this years hunt. I picked elliptical training as my cardio. It simulates running without the impact, and can also simulate some “climbing” aspects as well. I worked up over the course of the year to an hour of max resistance/max elevation elliptical work 3-4 times a week.

Last hunt, I also realized at times some of my flexibility wasn’t there to move into convoluted positions to stay hidden yet get a shot. I coupled with my cardio work serious stretching of my legs – front and back.

Both of these efforts paid off well this year. Aside from those “gullies” (normal people would use the word canyon) I fared fairly well and was not as winded when it came time to “hunt” (or shoot). In fact I noted when Brother GAGG and I were both headed up a 2 mile road that ascended roughly 2000 feet at above 7000 feet altitude – I was not breathing as hard as he was (he lives in Montana!).

Logistics

Last year I overpacked on some gear. Several times, that gear went to the field on a stalk with me. Given I wasn’t as familiar with the area and hunting paradigms – this often happens. This year I trimmed down the miscellaneous gear I carried and also streamlined my clothing quite a bit.

More importantly, better knowing the shooting distances this year, I bought a Tikka T3 Lite (stainless) 300 Win Mag and put a Nikon Monarch 6-24x scope on it. If I am going have to take another 700+ yard shot, I am going to be able to take it properly – not be pushing the limits of my platform. Why a 300 Win Mag? I talked with a lot of “big game” people before deciding on that round. Many suggested 7mm Mag. Many suggested 338 Win Mag. Many poo-poo’ed the 300 Win Mag.

My reasoning?

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Tikka T3 Lite 300 Win Mag with attached bi-pod

When I pick guns I rarely pick a gun that has such special profiles, or special provisioning (ammo, bullet selection, etc.) or is largely for a singular purpose. The 7mm Mag? Well, its a good round, lots of people use it for hunting elk, but its usage for hunting larger game is limited to the “elk” range. This is largely due the availability of larger grain bullet sizes. It has a fairly limited bullet selection (110 – 175 grain typically).

The 338 Win Mag (and other “uber” magnums)? Most of these calibers strictly designed for large and dangerous game. Also the bullet spread is all on the “heavy” side 200 grains and up.

So why did I pick the 300 Win Mag? In my opinion the 300 Win Mag is a great crossover “magnum” platform that affords a larger range of usage. Specifically:

  1. Range of bullets – 150ish – 220ish grain bullet range.
  2. Tried and true – .308 which by far has more variants, manufacturers and sources.
  3. Multi-use – Hunt CXP2 – CXP4 (non dangerous), also a great match rifle.
  4. Familiarization – During my time in the military this was the de-facto sniper caliber. I grew very familiar with it.

That said, I appreciate all the opinions and inputs. Some forced me to do some research that I will post as a future article.

Gun and caliber chosen!

Finally, I picked up a couple of Garmin Rhino units that were on clearance REI for myself and my brother. This would be crucial as will be conveyed later.

Skills

The one skill I needed to bone up on was shooting positions. As I learned last year, if you get a shot at an elk you have no clue what position you may be in. Could be standing off-hand. Could be sitting. Could be prone. It had been a while since I had worked up all these positions. With carrying a new rifle, boning up on these positions with the new platform is critical.

Having to take a kneeling shot.

Having to take a kneeling shot.

During the work up of the gun and scope I tried it out in all the positions. If I got a shot I was going to be ready.

Note to self: don’t do this in the mid summer heat like I did!

I decided as part of my sighting in of the scope to sight it in at 3″ low at 100 yards. This would give me a 300 yard zero with the 180 grain 300 Win Mag rounds I was planning on using. Given the Monarch scope was a BDC style reticle, it gave me well known sighting marks from 300 – nearly 800 yards on the reticle.

Day 0’s

I decided this year to arrive a couple of days early. First and foremost because I wanted to spend some time with Brother GAGG’s kids. Living in Montana, I don’t get time to see them much and I value the time with them (just as I have my own kids). Secondly I wanted a little more time to acclimate and to handle any “issues” that might come up if my gear was messed up.

As it ended up, gear arrived fine, and I got to spend some good time with my brother and his family. This year, Chief GAGG got to play “Santa” and took the niece and nephews on a Christmas shopping trip. What fun!

On Saturday morning before our shopping trip, Brother GAGG, his oldest son and I did a little whitetail hunting near where we were going elk hunting. We mostly “truck hunted” but did get out and walk into a few places. We saw a few mule deer, that was about all we saw. On the way back Nephew GAGG wanted to shoot a few rounds, so we found a place and set up some targets. He did a pretty good job with his .243 Win.

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Cliff wall near an area we whitetail hunted

This year my brother had decided we would take a camper and set it up in the area we were going to hunt so we would not have to commute quite as far. Instead of having to get up at 3 am we could “sleep in” until 4:30! Woo hoo! We took the weekend to pack it and prep it.

We dropped the camper on Sunday night on a public camp sight near Jeffers  where we intended to hunt. This is in the Madison Valley area. Before we went to bed we talked about it and decided to hunt the herd my brother had seen in the lands nearby (in Jeffers) the next morning.

Day 1

Last year we had hunted a decent sized herd on some public lands near Jeffers. This was the location with the canyon smack in the middle of it I discussed in my posts last year. On the morning of Day 1 we headed out to that location. When we arrived clearly we were late to the party. About 4 other trucks were pulled up with at least 3 hunters deployed out in the main area of the public lands.

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Heading out Day 1

We could see elk on the private lands behind the public lands, so we decided to hike in the 2 miles to the adjacent public land to get a better view and to decide if they might be moving over onto the back section of public lands. Once again, in spite of the cardio efforts the canyon kicked my butt! We went out to the corner of the diagonally adjacent lands and scoped the herd for a while. The herd was amazing, well over 200 elk with several imperial bulls in it.

Unfortunately they weren’t moving. They were sunning and resting in the private land field and weren’t budging.

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You can’t see them but there are elk way out there

After spending a couple of hours watching the herd we hiked back in and decided to head down to the Gravelly range.  When we arrived at the trail head into the range we realized it had gotten a LOT more snow than elsewhere. In fact, there were places with 16+ inches of fresh snow. As we neared a fork in the trail, a location a lot of hunter camp-in for the season, on the left in a little clearing we saw a small herd of mule-deer. Both of us nearly jumped out of the truck when we realized the furthest from us was a nice 5x or 6x (10 or 12 point) buck.

The buck slipped off into the steep terrain before we could get out and get a shot on it. We hunted above and below where we had spotted him for about an hour, but never saw him again.

To end the day we headed back down to the herd near Jeffers, and spotted them until dusk. As we glassed them, we realized there were two herds, altogether about 300 elk between the two. The herd on the right side appeared to be coming in and out of a further canyon on the private lands. We decided that if we stalk out to the furthest right point of the private lands we might get a shot on one moving in/out of the canyon.

So now we have a plan for day 2…coming soon

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