An unusually warm October left the high country without one of my favorite hunting ingredients – tracking snow. And with no lead on a big bull from my scouting efforts, I was left crossing my fingers and praying for good luck. Even so, I was exited for the opening day search for a western Montana bull elk.
I began my solo backpacking adventure the day prior to the opener with 4 days worth of food. Halfway to my anticipated destination, I sat down to glass. It appeared that my prayers were answered as I spotted four bull elk feeding together on a steep south-facing hillside. The largest of the group had a wide and heavy rack with a unique flare to his left antler. Weird-looking – no doubt! I quickly changed my plans and set up camp within view of the elk, which were over a mile away. Although it was a restless night, I was confident.
I awoke well before daylight, cooked a warm breakfast and started my bushwhacking trek to the bulls by headlamp. Shortly before daylight, I was within shooting range of the hillside the elk fed the previous evening. I unhooked my spotter and tripod from my backpack and waited for daylight. As I glassed the opposite ridge, I noticed the familiar tan color of elk bodies. The larger bull was bedded in the open. My rangefinder gave me a reading of 410 yards – a long shot but certainly achievable with a solid rest. I had a difficult time getting set up due to the steep downhill slope I was on. To complicate things the bull was bedded slightly higher on the opposite ridge. I’ve often complained about lugging around my 80mm Swarovski spotter and full-sized Manfrotto tripod on backpack hunts – but this time it really saved me. I pointed the objective downward and had a make-shift, yet rock-solid shooting vice.
I settled my crosshairs a foot over the bull’s chest and squeezed the trigger. The bull stood. I knew the first shot was good, but I held in the same location and put another bullet directly though his lungs. Although the bull was dead on his feet, I decided to anchor him with one last shot. I put the third bullet forward of the previous two shots and the bull reacted like a rug was pulled out from underneath him. With broken shoulders, the bull cart wheeled down the steep hillside, coming to rest in a small group of pine trees. I’d just taken a beautiful heavy-antlered public land Montana elk and the season had only been open 7 minutes.
It was a busy but enjoyable day skinning, carving meat, and making the first journey to the trailhead with as much as I could carry. I left my rifle and a good portion of elk hanging in a tree near where he was taken. The next day was a near-24 hour effort to get two very heavy loads of meat and gear out of the mountains. I could have been complaining about the shirt-sleeve weather during my elk hunt, but this time I certainly appreciated it.
Exhausted and proud, it was past 2AM – almost 48 hours after squeezing the trigger opening morning. I’d just finished getting everything out of the hills and stood in my garage admiring the bull’s antlers. Next to them laid a couple hundred pounds of fresh meat, my backpack and the empty bags I used, a pile of smelly clothing, a tent, my sleeping bag and other miscellaneous gear. My 2008 hunt was over too quickly. I’ve had fantasies of it working out this way. It usually doesn’t. Life is good.