Montana 2014 Trip Report Part 1: Booyah, get ready, pack!


What a beautiful place! What a brutal place (when it choses to be)! What an awesome place to hunt!

Montana the perfect place to inaugurate!

Booyah Moment

It started with a call from my brother (who happens to live in Montana) informing me in early April that I could actually buy elk/deer tags to hunt (in Montana) directly and no longer had to go through the process of the dreaded lottery. Having unsuccessfully attempted the Montana “hunting tag lottery” for several years, I had pretty much given up ever getting to go on a hunt in Montana short of winning the real lottery. My brother explained they had put in place new regulations that 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 – which in the end basically means you have to win the real lottery to afford a hunt in Montana.

Suffice it to say, when he informed me off the change, I had a booyah moment and it took me less than 24 hours to have purchased my tags and less than a week to have booked my flight (had to coordinate dates with my brother).


Get Ready – Gear

Once the booyah moment had 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 to deal with the variations in weather/terrain I would encounter in Montana during the fall season. Unfortunately, I am quite a bit older (and rounder) now, and most of my old gear doesn’t fit, not to mention  it was out of date or no longer serviceable.

After chatting with my brother a bit about the terrain and his experiences I had a pretty good list and idea of what I need to get in place. The variations in weather that can be encountered require one dresses in layers. In addition my brother recommended getting a good above the ankle, waterproof boot, as well as have a bib to keep the snow out.

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

As a result, I had a fair amount of gear to purchase as most of mine (from days gone by) was trashed (from use).

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

The first thing I worked out was my clothing profile. Since I was flying, and more importantly flying out with a “gun” I had to minimize my bags to avoid excess bag charges. Therefore going out and buying big fluffy had to pack “winter suites” was not an option. A single snowmobile suit can basically occupy an entire piece of luggage – and I have a fair amount of other gear (than clothing) to carry out as well. Therefore my clothing profile had to be light, thin, and non-bulky. Having had to “carry it all” on my back before, I knew exactly how to achieve comfort in the extremes, but pack “light” – layers of good, wicking, clothing. Here’s 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 outwear/rainwear (Goretex like) top/bottom
  • thin poly sock
  • heavy wool/blend sock
  • 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)
  • very slightly insulated, cotton/poly bib

On top of this core clothing, I also picked up:

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

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

Get Ready – Gun

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

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

Given the quandary, an untested, unsighted in used rifle, and my only backup being an under-powered rifle (the .308), I opted to pick up a new Beretta/Tikka 30-06 with a Leupold Mark AR 4-12×40 scope (yes, I know 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). I had heard great things about the Tikka, and you can never go wrong with a Leupold.

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

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

Unfortunately given time constraints I didn’t get a chance to sight it in before leaving. My brother told me there were plenty of places out there I could, as well as we had planned a “down day” (Monday) to get oriented.

The Packing

Baggage wise, I originally planned on my pack, an oversized (clearly not carry-on) piece of luggage and my gun case. Therefore I would be checking two pieces. After my brother reminded me of the baggage fees, and after reviewing the gun case rules related to my specific airline, I decided to drastically change what I packed and to down size the non-carry-on to a carry-on. Therefore I would only be checking my gun case and have only that cost.

With giving up only things that ultimately I would not need anyway and in spite of the bulkiness of all the gear, I was able to get my pack-out down to the new smaller bags. In fact, on my return trip I was able to bring back (still carry-on) somethings I picked out while in Montana.

Given I had a gun, boxes, of ammo, knives… All sorts of TSA no-no’s, and my gun case was my only checked bag, I had to be smart and get all those no-no items into it. By smartly reconfiguring my gun case I was able to safely stow all my no-no’s in it and still have a gun that was well protected (more on how to do this in a future article).

Everything else I very densely “roll packed” to get the most minimal profile and maximum packing. All in all, none of the bags including that gun case were over packed, and 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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