I was hunting about 90 minutes north of Billings, 35 miles east, southeast of Lewistown. The Little Snowy Mountains loomed just to the west of me. I arrived Sunday afternoon after a 1400 mile drive, the last 25 down a dirt road. It was a county road well maintained with lots of deer, (mulies and whitetails) antelope and elk to see. I met Dave, landowner/guide, and he took me to a cabin that was over 100 years old. He and his family had completely restored it. At sundown that day 3 bulls came out of the pines 100 yards west of the cabin to graze and joust. The setting sun right behind them prevented any pictures but I was feeling good.
Monday morning broke with dense fog that only got worse as the day went on. We hunted for a couple of hours in the fog. We were able to get a bull to answer our bugle but he never came in. We sat in silence in the fog on the side of a pine covered hill for over an hour before deciding to wait for it to clear. It never did. Visibility was less than 50 yards all day. The forecast for Tuesday promised clear skies but the forecast calling for scattered snow showers changed to 10 to 18 inches of snow starting late Tuesday afternoon. And I didn;t have time to be snowbound in Montana.
At 7:00 a.m. Tuesday morning Dave and his grandson Isaac picked me up for the hunt. The sky was clear, the wind still and the temperature held in the mid 30s. It was a 10 minute ride through thick pines before we stopped just short of a meadow. Isaac, who took the lead on the guiding, had Dave stop. Isaac walked ahead to scout the meadow.
“This is not where I want to hunt but occasionally there is a bull with a few cows in this opening.” Isaac whispered to me. He slipped down the road and was gone about 5 minutes before waving us forward. As we eased forward Isaac said he had seen a very small bull and two cows but nothing else so Dave eased forward to the edge of the meadow. We got out and walked 60 yards uphill to scout to the northeast. I didn’t take Issac but a couple of minutes to spot a distant bull. He was a small spot on the ridgeline at the horizon. Isaac was convinced he was the same bull he had called into a hunter in bow season.
“He’s a pretty good bull.” was all he said as we headed to the ranger. We zipped down the road and around a meadow that looked vaguely familiar to me. We topped a ridge to be greeted by a cow and her calf. Isaac brought us to a stop as the elk trotted off to the south, away from the bull. We grabbed our stuff and bailed out to walk. We covered a 100 yards or so to the top of the next ridge where Isaac peered north with his Vortex binos.
“There he is, on the second ridgeline! 288 yards.” Isaac looked at me and I already had my shooting sticks up. “What do you think?” he ask.
“I’d really like to look all day but I’m worried about our time line with the weather.” was my answer.
“He’s one of the best bulls on the ranch, I’m not saying he’s the biggest but he IS good.” Isaac was looking me right in the eye. “We’ll do whatever you want.” he smiled and turned back to look at the bull.
It was a lot to digest in a few seconds, a bull noticeably larger than the one above my mantle at home and a potential foot and a half of snow in the forecast. All this and it was probably not even 9:00 a.m. yet. I watched through the scope and right or wrong made my decision.
There’s only two sizes is my mantra and this one was big enough. The bull was walking the ridgeline heading west toward the hills and thick pines a half mile or so away. He stopped right before a single large pine blocked my view. I was solid, he was stopped and a bullet was on its way.
The solid whack of a hit was a good sound and Isaac’s words sounded even better, “That’s a dead elk.” But unfortunately the elk didn’t know he was supposed to go down and kept walking toward the forest. He was hit hard but had a nearly 300 yard headstart on us.
“Let’s get another one in him.” Isaac said as he took off toward the bull. The huge pine blocked him from our view as we walked quickly forward. I knew if this fat old man ran any he'd never make a good second shot. We moved where we could see the bull. He was laboring toward the tree line and paused for a tantalizing second on the next ridgeline 250 yards away but stepped down out of sight before I could get another shot off. We hustled ahead again to the next small ridge. The bull was still 260 yards or so away and quartering slowly to the north. I set the sticks up just as the bull put a medium size tree between us.
“He’s stopped, we need to hit him now.” Isaac was trying to sound calm but excitement or worry was creeping into his voice.
“I can't see him for the tree limb.” I decided I didn’t have time to reset so I tried to thread the needle. When a 180 grain bullet out of a 300 win mag hits a tree limb with a 6 inch circumference that tree limb is dead, dead, dead. I had already racked another round before the limb hit the ground and the bull was dead center in the scope looking back at the dying tree limb when my third shot put him down for good.
I casually looked at Isaac and said “I had to shoot the limb down so I could see him.” Then I turned and started toward the elk. Isaac had no idea how to react. He wasn’t sure if I was serious or full of bs. I made it 4 steps before I busted out laughing. I thought Isaac was going to lay down, he was laughing so hard at me. We got to the elk which never moved after the last shot. The first shot was about 3 inches too far forward to put him down immediately but it had done enough.