Montana 2014 Trip Report Part 1: Booyah, Get Ready, Pack!


What a beautiful place, yet a brutal place (when it chooses to be)! What an awesome place to hunt!

Montana is the perfect place to inaugurate!

Booyah Moment

It all started with a call from my brother (who happens to live in Montana).  In early April, he informed me that I could actually buy elk/deer tags to hunt directly in Montana.  I would no longer have to go through the process of the dreaded lottery. Over the past several years, I had unsuccessfully attempted the Montana “hunting tag lottery. I had pretty much given up on ever getting to go on a Montana hunt.  That is, short of winning the real lottery. My brother explained the new regulations to sell hunting licenses directly to non-residents. Previously, the only way to get a license (unless you won the tag lottery), was to pay a guide service.  Basically (in the end), this means you have to win the real lottery to afford a hunt in Montana.

Suffice it to say, when he informed me of the change, I had a booyah moment! It took me less than 24 hours to purchase my tags.  Similarly, it took me less than a week to have a flight booked (after coordinating dates with my brother)!


Get Ready – Gear

Once the booyah moment passed and tags/flights were obtained, I had to focus on getting the “right” gear in place. Having spent many years operating in very cold weather, I knew I had to get the right clothing in place.  The variations in weather/terrain that would be encountered during the fall season in Montana would require proper clothing.  Unfortunately, I am older (and rounder) now and most of my old gear does not fit me anymore.  Not to mention, this clothing was out of date or no longer serviceable.

After chatting with my brother about the terrain and his experiences, I had a list and idea of what I needed. The variations in the weather require one to dress in layers. Additionally, my brother recommended getting a pair of above-the-ankle, waterproof boots. He, also, suggested to have a bib in order to keep out the snow.

Given we would be going out early and packing-out meat late, I decided to get a good “bag”.  Thus, I could carry tools, food, water and layers of clothing needed for the long days.

As a result, I had a fair amount of gear to purchase since most of my gear was from “days gone by” or trashed from use.

What a bummer, the “Gun and Gear Guy” had to get new gear!! Life is horrible… 🙂

The first thing I worked out was my clothing profile. Since I was flying (and flying out with a “gun”), I had to minimize my bags to avoid excess bag charges. Therefore, going out and buying big, fluffy “winter suits” was not an option. For instance, a single snowmobile suit can occupy an entire piece of luggage.  I have a fair amount of other gear (than clothing) to carry, so I knew I had to pack “light”.  Therefore, my clothing profile had to be light, thin and non-bulky. Having had to “carry it all” on my back before, I knew how to achieve comfort in the extremes while packing light. Here is what I came up with for a core clothing list:

  • 2 sets of thin polypro tops/bottoms (“silks”)
  • 1 set of heavy polypro top/bottom
  • fleece top
  • mid-weight outerwear/rainwear (GORE-TEX like) top/bottom
  • thin poly socks
  • heavy wool/blend socks
  • fleece outer/bigger head/face sock
  • thin poly/fleece head/face sock
  • thin, nylon shooting gloves (with tacky)
  • thick, fleece, waterproof, arctic gloves (I never used them)
  • mid-height waterproof boots (not UGG types)
  • slightly insulated, cotton/poly bib

In addition to this core clothing, I also picked up:

  • a 3500 cubic-inch internal frame bag
  • a compact, blaze orange emergency sleeping bag
  • a couple of blades: machete-like combo tool and a skinner
  • a good gun case for flying

Most of my non-clothing gear was still serviceable, so I didn’t need to pick up too much!

Get Ready – Gun

During conversations with my brother, he said that most of his shots were always under 300 yards (we will talk about that one in detail later). I was considering a good “combo” rifle to hunt mule deer and big game, such as elk.  I figured the trusty ole 30-06 should handle that job. Unfortunately, the only 30-06 I owned was one that I had traded for and it was untested. It, also, needed a better scope and needed to be sighted-in. The only other big game rifle that I had (at the moment) was a Remington .308. After doing extensive ballistics research, I decided it would be inadequate to handle the elk at the end of the hunt. Not to mention, I was at odds with Remington.  I did not want to give them any credit for anything I shot (details here).

Here’s where the “Gun and Gear Guy” nearly made a fatal “trip” mistake. I had a bunch of things going on outside of the trip and there were weather delays.  I put off the 30-06 “check-out” and sighting-in until the last weekend before the trip. When going out to the ranges where I normally shot 100/200 yds on (to sight-in), they were closed or had their longer ranges shut down. Yikes!!

My quandary:  I had an untested, unsighted, used rifle, and my only backup was an under-powered rifle (the .308).  Having heard great things about the Tikka and you can never go wrong with a Leupold…I opted to pick up a new Beretta/Tikka 30-06 with a Leupold Mark AR 4-12×40 scope. Note:  yes, I know this is not quite the right scope, but it works and I had plans to move it to an AR 5.56/.223 varmint AR I was building.

As you will read later, I am so glad that I did.

Also, I picked up some 180 gr and 165 gr Hornady SST 30-06 rounds. Wow, winners!

Unfortunately, given time constraints, I did not get a chance to sight-in the scope before leaving.  We planned a “down day” (Monday) to get oriented, and my brother mentioned there were places where I could get this done when I arrived.

The Packing

Baggage-wise, I originally planned on packing an oversized (clearly not carry-on) piece of luggage and my gun case. Therefore, I would be “checking” two pieces. My brother reminded me of the baggage fees and I reviewed the gun case rules related to my specific airline.  As a result, I decided to drastically change what I packed and downsized the non-carry-on to a carry-on. So, I would only be checking my gun case and only have that check-in cost.

I gave up things that, ultimately, I would not need anyways. In spite of the bulky gear, I was able to get my pack-out down to smaller bags. In fact, on my return trip, I was able to bring back some things I picked up while in Montana.

Given I had a gun, boxes of ammo, knives (all sorts of TSA no-no’s), I had to be smart about my packing.  By reconfiguring my gun case, I was able to safely stow all my no-no’s and still have a well-protected gun (more on how to do this in a future article).

To get the most minimal profile yet the maximum amount packed, everything else was “roll packed”. All in all, none of the bags, nor the gun case, were overpacked.  Everything arrived safely with no damage or adverse wear.

“Pack light and tight, sleep at night!” (old ranger ethos)

Coming up next: “Hit the ground running”

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