some trout, a rabbit, plenty of big game,
endless scenery, and a healthy dose of camaraderie
|[Montana Sunrise, Elkhorn Mountains]
Missouri River, MT
Hunting season has a way of interfering with fishing. Or at least elbowing it's way to the front of the line. [Not that I'm complaining!] Priorities shift for a brief span of time each fall - and right when some amazing fishing is heating up. [Okay, maybe just a little.] I always hope to be successful early and then get back to fishing. But that really isn't ever going to happen - even when successful, there are more tags and more hunts to shift the focus to. I did however run a couple September float trips for folks during the archery season, both of which saw some good action. I even got to fish myself.
Although fishing happens year-round, and hunting only in a tiny window, preparation for hunting is year long. Licensing is purchased at the beginning of the year when all licenses have to be renewed. I'm not going to spend one day of the year without a fishing license in hand.....
|[Client's beautiful September brown]
Missouri River, MT
Then by March the first round of big game drawings must be submitted. Earlier for turkey. From then on you're either putting in for more drawings or looking at results of previous ones. Plans are always evolving as the summer continues and drawings are held. I fared well this year and drew several opportunities across the state for various species and picked up a few surplus tags as well. I held multiple tags for each species I hunted and managed to take bull elk, antelope buck, and mule deer buck. I also had the privilege of being joined by a friend from out of state for a late season deer hunt on his first trip to Montana.
Chapter 1: Missouri Breaks Elk
|[Missouri Breaks sunset]
hiking out of the canyon after quartering my bull
The first big trip on the list was to try and put an archery elk permit to use in the Missouri Breaks. I packed by bag, my bivvy gear, my bow, and wandered around in the remoteness with no action for a string of days to start the season off. I was part of a group of four with the same permit. We split into pairs, the four of us overlapping in the same camp only once the entire season. My archery partner JJ and I have been elk
|[Looking across the Breaks at the Little Rockies from a highway pull out]
hunting the past few seasons by bivvying where night finds us, leaving us totally free to follow elk with no fear of ever getting "too far from camp." No more hiking miles in the dark back to base camp just to get up early and hike all those miles back again before daylight. But we've also learned to save time and resources when there's no action and pull out - either to jump to a new spot or take a break and return later. After making a few day hunts from home following our initial trip (mostly because I had a cow tag for a local unit burning a hole in my pocket), we packed up to head back to the Breaks for another longer hunt.
|[Final mouse-eater of 2016]
But before I could leave, I couldn't help but string up a fly rod and hit the water for a night of full moon mousing. While JJ was home readying his gear and sleeping like a sane person, I was scrambling over rocks in the moonlight and swinging mice along shoreline structure. I knew it'd probably be my last chance of the season. Didn't find any big September browns, but I found a few rainbow mouse-eaters. Landing those fish meant that I had hooked and netted at least one fish on every mousing adventure I had made during 2016, and that was pretty satisfying. Since I would be leaving after sun-up for another four-hour drive back to the Missouri Breaks, I cut it off early and caught a few hours of sleep.
Twelve hours later we were on foot packing in for the second big push, hiking across dry drainages and up dusty ridgelines. We were trying a new area - navigating across a wide creek bottom, cutting around some private land, and then drifting out into an expanse of BLM that we had been glassing into from miles away during the previous week. Hopefully there'd be more elk here than where we'd started.
|[7-point shed found during the first trip
A reminder of what is possible]
At about three or four miles from the truck we heard our first bugle. That was already more than last week. The bugles grew more intense as we made our way towards them. Dusk was coming fast, but we spotted a few animals on the ridge opposite us, separated by probably a mile of hiking. We could make out at least three individual bulls by the location of the bugles. We set up our bivvy camp, being careful to dodge the cactus, and lay there all night listening to their music. They never really went anywhere. The ridge they were on was mostly private land, but it was surrounded by plenty of public land and timber they'd likely head into during the following day.