Elk Hunting in Montana
Montana – the big sky country – is arguably one of the most scenic US states. Full of friendly people and over-run with a fascinating variety of wildlife. The State presents a wonderful opportunity to hunt US style.
Hunting in the US, or stalking as one would say in Scotland, is very similar in a lot of ways, but whereas in Scotland one can shoot as many stags as one’s pocket and the landowner permits, in the United States the law says one beast only.
In the US one can readily purchase, over the counter, any amount of rifles and ammunition but then only have very limited opportunity to use them legally. In Great Britain on the other hand, obtaining a fire arms licence in order to purchase a rifle, presents an obstacle course of form filling and delay. Once secured however the holder will have far more opportunities to use his rifle than his American cousin.
A US hunt starts with procuring a licence or “tag” from the Fish and Wildlife Department of the State one wishes to hunt in. The choice of quarry depends upon the State’s geographical location. The choice of quarry range from bear, moose, elk, mountain lion , antelope, big horn sheep, mountain goat, whitetail and mule deer. Bull elk, being some three times the size of your average red stag, presents a challenge. In addition they are extremely nervous and can be difficult to locate. Once spotted they can present a difficult shot, either at long range in open country or shorter range in woodland.
A non-resident bull elk licence in Montana needs to be applied for prior to mid-March for the opening season in October. Once obtained, the choice of a good “outfitter” or hunt organiser is made and the deposit paid. Final arrangements to travel to the hunt camp have to be completed in good time as come October hunters in America are on the move, travelling West to the Rocky Mountain states by road and in the air.
Crow Creek outfitters run by Mike and Sandy Parsons, has been established for many years and their organisation is very efficient. They have a workmanlike but comfortable camp some 2 ½ hours drive from Boseman, situated on the edge of the Lewis and Clark National Park, near the Crazy Mountains. Mike hunts over some 60,000 acres of privately rented land but also has access to another 80,000 acres of public land which adjoins. The territory comprises high wooded hills and valleys with a distant backdrop of snow-covered mountains.
We were housed in log cabins holding two and four bodies, with comfortable beds and shower rooms – not really roughing it. All meals are taken in the main lodge which is a great place to congregate over a beer or glass of wine to discuss the triumphs or disappointments of the day. Sandy’s home cooking ensures that nobody goes hungry.
The opening day of the first rifle hunt saw all six hunters, with their guides, out on the hills glassing the terrain at first light. Four-wheelers took us to distant locations from where hiking then took over. One stalks quietly through and on the edge of woodland, to climb gradually from an elevation of about 7,000 ft. up to 8,000 ft. and beyond. Acclimatisation to the relatively thin air takes time and frequent pauses to get one’s breath back are the order of the day. Late morning saw a distant herd moving, whereupon the adrenaline started running. As we climbed higher through woodland, a good 12-pointer was spotted quietly making its way along the edge of the ridge towards us. Immediately falling to the prone position the bull presented a difficult shot moving through the trees until the guide stopped him with a squeak on his caller. The animal was then taken with a single shot.
Further shots were heard later and by lunch time two more bulls had been taken, one a magnificent 14-pointer. All were clean kills and were retrieved by the four-wheelers. Back at camp the animals were skinned and hung out to cool.
Overnight the mild weather turned to heavy snow and by morning the temperature had dropped to 14 degrees Fahrenheit making hunting for the remaining three hunters a much tougher proposition. Nevertheless by the end of the third day after much hard work two more big bulls were taken and on the fifth and final day the last hunter claimed his kill.
The animals are all tagged with a note of the hunter’s licence fixed firmly to an ear. Without that evidence the local butchery shop would decline to take the animal. A day later one can pick up a box of perfectly prepared joints suitably refrigerated for the journey home. All animals shot are traditionally taken home for the table. The huge antlers, similarly, will adorn a house, cabin or barn back east as a sign of the hunter’s triumph.
Hunting in such magnificent countryside with such great companions and seeing such an amazing array of wildlife was a great pleasure. These memories held me together for the 1100 mile drive back to Albert Lea Minnesota to return my hunting kit and to look forward to the next season.