Archive for November, 2014

CRAZY MOUNTAINS – Part 5

From: Meridian, ID:

(This post is the fifth in a series. If you wish to read the story in proper chronological order, start with the post for November 19, 2014.)

Jerry made the decision to go out hunting for the last time (this year) on Thursday morning and then, no matter what happened, to stay in camp for the afternoon, getting “Big Red” (his F-350 pickup), and his camper ready for travel first thing Friday morning. Erik had no choice at this point regarding his own departure…his ticket home was for Friday morning, from Belgrade, MT through Denver to Los Angeles International. Had George and I decided to stick around one more day, he would have hitched a ride with Jerry as far as Belgrade.

(Jerry, taking it easy in his favorite living room chair.)

(Jerry, taking it easy in his favorite living room chair.)

George rode along with Jerry and me, and we found ourselves in the stubble field once again. There were a couple small bunches of deer feeding in the volunteer winter wheat field to the north, and Jer thought his best chance was to make a sneak down through Chicken Creek Coulee and up the other side, hoping that a nice buck hanging with one of the bunches could be surprised when Jerry made his way to the crest of the north rim of the coulee.

The plan worked, too, inasmuch as the buck (and his female companions) never got spooked during the time Jer made his way down the southern slope. They did, however, keep working their way slowly to the north, getting farther and farther away from the north rim. When Geo and I saw Jerry finally ease up to where he could see the deer, we could see that they had moved quite a distance. Jerry told us later that he lasered it at 330 yards. When he spotted the buck from his vantage point, he was still breathing a bit hard from his long walk, especially with the last fifty yards being uphill. Nevertheless, the deer were still moving away. Grazing as they went, not spooked…but still getting further away with every step.

“Boom!” we heard the report from Jer’s rifle; a few seconds later, as the buck is loping away at a much faster clip, we hear Jerry send a second shot downrange. Another miss. At this point, we all knew that the game was up…that buck had made his escape.

(This photo doesn't fit in this part of the narrative, but it's too nice to leave out. Photo credit: Jason W.)

(This photo doesn’t fit in this part of the narrative, but it’s too nice to leave out. Photo credit: Jason W.)

George and I drove through the stubble to reach a point where Jerry could simply walk straight back across the coulee. (Not as easy as I made it sound…it was still mostly uphill for him.) We were all a bit discouraged…but Jer stayed pretty upbeat about it. He had had a nice sneak, gotten off a couple of shots, either one of which might have connected, although both were somewhat beyond his “comfort zone,” which stretches out to around 250 yards, and even 300 if the animal would accommodate by standing still. Besides, as he reminded us more than once, he already had a Washington state deer in the freezer at home. Home much venison does a guy need, anyhow?

So after checking out a couple additional spots – rather half-heartedly, truth be known – we wound up back at the cabin. Jerry made good on his plans to get his rig(s) ready for departure in the morning, George began preparations for another barbecued steak dinner in the evening, with Deanna’s cousin, Sam, being invited to join us again.

(Cousin Sam and Roper, the dog.)

(Cousin Sam and Roper, the dog.)

Some of you may remember that Sam is one of Deanna’s many cousins in Montana, and in this case, a property-owning neighbor. His half-section borders hers on the north, and he has always graciously allowed us to hunt his forests, and also to use his land to access some of the National Forest sections to the north and west. He has worked in the forests for many years, and he has a bag full of stories and tales that could entertain an audience for that many more years to come. We all look forward to his “drop ins” at the cabin!

After dinner, our group settled in to the living room to hear – and to tell – some stories of hunting, fishing, and forest adventures. Sam had brought his companion, Roper the dog, this evening and Roper was happiest to stick pretty dang close to the guy what brung him. Later in the evening, though, without anyone taking much note of his absence, Roper disappeared from the group. Evidently, the shyness that had kept him on Sam’s lap had been overcome by some scents wafting in from the kitchen and dining room. Shortly, he reappeared in the living room, carrying the remains of a steak that had once been nearly as big as he, himself. The steak didn’t last long, and no one was particularly interested in trying to save it. A few minutes later, Roper disappeared again and returned with a second helping. It was a pretty rich meal for a comparatively small dog…I wonder if he had any abdominal distress on the bumpy ride up to Sam’s cabin. Or, possibly, the next day.

Erik and I awoke about 5:30 AM Friday morning. I had loaded my bags of meat and the buck’s head on Thursday afternoon, along with whatever else I could load early, so we didn’t have a whole lot of stuff to pack in the morning. George, too, aside from all the foodstuffs he had brought along, traveled fairly light. We had been aiming for a 7:00 AM departure, and we made that easily.

(Caught George on one of the rare moments when he sat down.)

(Caught George on one of the rare moments when he sat down.)

At this point I need to acknowledge that the reason we could get ready to go in quite a short time span, was that Greg, Carl, and Jason had already volunteered to be the cabin “cleanup crew.” (They have done it every year, as far as I can recall.) So you can see that it would be a sad and slovenly hunting camp, indeed, if those guys didn’t do such a huge percentage of the work. They hunt hard; they process virtually all the animals taken (I suspect the exception might have been Jerry’s deer, had he gotten one. Jerry has higher principles than I do when it comes to doing his own chores.); they clean up the place before they depart; and they make sure the woodpile on the porch is replenished. Sure makes it easy for the rest of us, eh? Thank you, guys! I hope you know how much I appreciate you all! Come to think of it, it just dawned on me that everyone in camp really does more than his share of the work…except me! Oh, I’ve had good excuses over the years: a worrisome ticker; a bad cold; a really pesky hangnail. But I think I had better start concentrating on being a more contributing member of the team on future trips, eh?

The “boys” left the cabin shortly before 7:00 AM, with Erik and I following a few minutes later, and Jerry and George behind us. As we reached the section where we had all seen the most elk during the week, we saw that Greg, Jason, and Carl were hunting it. We passed up Greg’s pickup and turned west down the road to Clyde Park. As soon as we did, Erik and I realized there was a small bunch (8, as it turned out) of cow elk in the road a couple hundred yards ahead. Of course they saw the pickup right away, and immediately became like a gaggle of chickens, not sure of whether to run, or in what direction. Usually there is a mature cow “in charge” of such groups, but I don’t think that was the case, in this instance.

I stopped for a moment or two, hoping to keep from throwing the girls into a panic…and it seemed to work. Unfortunately, it looked like they were prepared to just stand there in the road for as long as I remained stopped. (They obviously could not have cared less about the airplane Erik had to catch in Belgrade.) So I began to ease forward, down the road. Accordingly, the elk began to trot down the road in the same direction. Would they be content to let me herd them all the way into Clyde Park? I doubted that, of course, but they certainly didn’t indicate anything otherwise. Finally, I began to speed up…I had to force them to make a decision. They eventually decided to cross the fence to the north, running at top speed.

Well, you should know that elk are not nearly as graceful as deer when it comes to jumping fences. In fact, sometimes they barely make an effort to jump, preferring to simply bull their way through until posts break or are pulled from the ground. One of the girls did a complete somersault as we passed the group. But, hallelujah, all eight of them finally wound up on the north side of the fence, headed for parts unknown. And we were on our way.

There is a rest area at one of the major exits to Bozeman from Interstate 90, and that’s where Erik and I rendezvoused with Jerry and George. After we all used the facilities, George climbed in with Erik and me, and we all said, “So Long” to Jerry, who would go on to stay overnight at a campground in Spokane before completing the last leg of his trip on Saturday. After I took the exit to the airport a few miles down the road, we hit McDonald’s for a bit of breakfast, and within a few minutes, Erik was checking in for his day-long journey by air.

Geo and I made good time to Meridian, arriving at around 5:00 PM…a drive of 10 hours. The route we used was the same as that we had traveled in the opposite direction. Which is to say, mostly Interstate highways. (In years past, we have often gone through the town of West Yellowstone, the westerly entrance to Yellowstone Park. The Interstate route is definitely easier and faster.)

(Carl with his cow elk.)

(Carl with his cow elk.)

We got word from Greg and the boys the next day that Carl had bagged a cow elk in the morning, so they had one more animal to take care of before “cleaning house” and hitting the road. They got home in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

As I mentioned earlier, we had pretty good weather during our week in the Crazy Mountains. As it happened, some sort of “Polar Vortex” swept down from the north shortly after we left and blanketed the area with lots of snow and sub-zero temperatures! We had made it out just in time.

It was a BLAST! Erik says he had a great time, and may well plan on coming along again, should the opportunity come along. Jerry and I talked about planning more trips, but without buying deer/elk tags…just coming along for spending time at the cabin. I am at the age, for sure, when it’s questionable how much tramping around I’ll be able to handle down the road…and the truth is, I don’t “tramp around” much, as it is. But will I ever be able to tell myself, “That was the last time…I won’t go on these hunts anymore.” I don’t think so; never by choice, I can tell you that for sure! So until next we meet in Big Sky Country, Thank You, Guys…and see you next November!

Bud

Before I forget, I must acknowledge Jason’s photography. I’ve used quite a few of his pictures throughout this series…he has a great “eye” for the shot. I should have given him credit on each one I used, but it’s too late, now. You can just figure that he took most of the really good ones, and you won’t go far wrong. Thanks, Jay!

 

CRAZY MOUNTAINS – Part 4

From: Meridian, ID:

(This post is the fourth in a series. If you wish to read the story in proper chronological order, start with the post for November 19, 2014.)

So Wednesday morning dawned and the morning routine goes smoothly. We have two deer tags remaining to be filled – Jerry’s and mine – and four elk tags to be used (hopefully). I don’t remember for sure what George fixed for breakfast…I think it was just regular eggs to order, bacon, coffee, and toast. Ho hum! Isn’t it amazing how quickly the human animal can be spoiled into boredom?

(Porch hangin' with Jason, Jerry, Erik, Carl, and Greg.)

(Porch hangin’ with Jason, Jerry, Erik, Carl, and Greg.)

As usual, we spent the evening before with a combination of “hanging out” on the porch and more “hanging out” in the living room, made toasty by the wonderful wood stove in the corner. (I’m not sure why we call it a “wood stove;” I’m pretty sure it’s actually made of cast iron.) Part of the attraction of the porch, no matter the temperature, is that there are two or three smokers in our group…and the very last thing we would think of doing would be to light up inside someone’s house. The other attraction found on the porch is the beer keg. As of Tuesday night, we were still on the first one, although by then it was getting close to empty. No worries, though…the second one awaits.

(Hangin' in the living room, with Greg, Jerry, and Erik.)

(Hangin’ in the living room, with Greg, Jerry, and Erik.)

Until a few years ago, the wood-burning stoves – one in the living room and the kitchen cook stove – were the only source of inside heat, and during the span of a week in November, we could go through quite a large portion of that wood you see stacked on the porch. Now, since Deanna had electric power run to the cabin, there are electric wall heaters that take care of most of the interior heating. If nothing else, it cuts down on the time required to replace the wood used from the porch stacks.

As Jerry, Erik and I ride down towards the lower coulees again, we still couldn’t help stopping to glass the several big bucks we saw along the way…all safely rooted on property on which we cannot hunt. (Sometimes, honestly, I think they actually know the property lines.) After checking out a couple of our favorite spots with no sightings, we decided to take a look at the eastern beginnings of Chicken Creek Coulee. Walking the southern rim of the coulee gives one a great view into the bottom, where the creek meanders through swamp grass and, in places, a few scrub trees. Suddenly, I made out three deer lying in the tall grass and sagebrush about halfway down the south-facing slope, enjoying the warmth of the sun…and one was a buck. I was a bit disappointed to see in an instant that he was not a four-point, but he was a fairly large-bodied deer, with a nice, wide three-point rack. I could see that he “made me” right away, and as Erik wheeled up behind me in the pickup, it seemed as though the buck was curious about that, too.

(Bud and his Montana mule deer.)

(Bud and his Montana mule deer.)

But despite the activity in his field of view, neither he nor the two doe near him chose to move. My pet theory about such behavior is that when you come upon a deer standing or lying motionless, its instinct is to assume it is invisible…as it quite often is, or might as well be. In other words, remaining motionless is quite often its best protection. Unfortunately for this fellow, that instinct was the wrong choice in this instance. As soon as I got myself steady, and in a fairly comfortable position, I shot him. Jerry later lasered the distance at 170 yards, downhill. Not a fantastic bit of shooting, but I was happy with it. There’s always a bit more pressure when one knows there is an audience, you know. The buck never got up from his morning nap, although the two doe – and a small forked horn buck I hadn’t seen – quickly lit out down the coulee while the shot was still echoing in their ears.

(I was just pretending to be exhausted by the climb out of the coulee behind us.)

(I was just pretending to be exhausted by the climb out of the coulee behind us.)

I knew there was no convenient pickup access to the north rim of the coulee, where we could have gotten to within 20 yards of the buck. That meant we were going to have to get him first down his side of the gulley to the creek, and then back up the higher southern side. That operation sounded to all three of us like a job for, you guessed it…”mule tape!” Besides, Greg had earlier insisted that when/if I got a deer down, I was to call him to field dress it and haul it to a place that a pickup could get to. I have to admit to some significant embarrassment that I’ve reached an age where I would ask someone else to take care of an animal I had killed, but there you have it. In the first place, Greg does a much, much better job at the work of processing a deer or an elk, and in the second place, I knew it would take me all day and most of the night to gut that deer and get him out of the coulee by myself. I should certainly mention the fact that Jerry offered to get started on the field dressing, but again, Greg and the “boys” had happily offered…and through the magic of Garmin CB radio (and/or cell phones), they were already on their way. It’s likely that Erik, with plenty of supervision from Jerry and me, could have carried the pieces of a chopped up deer out of the coulee and up to the stubble field where the pickup awaited, but again, it would have taken him many trips. I suggested we just wait for Greg, Carl and Jason…and the mule tape.

(In addition to helping with the uphill drag, Carl saved the day, afterwards, with some cold Hefe!)

(In addition to helping with the uphill drag, Carl saved the day, afterwards, with some cold Hefe!)

And the beer! Can’t forget the celebratory bottle of Hefe! The two-pickup, “snatch block” system of deer retrieval by mule tape worked perfectly, again. Come to think of it, with the stubble field stretching out south of the coulee, I guess we could have just pulled it straight away uphill, but we had all become so comfortable with the system we had already used, we just naturally set up for repeating it.

(Four Montana Mulies.)

(Four Montana Mulies.)

Once we were all back at the cabin, Greg, Carl, and Jason wanted no interference with the hanging, skinning, quartering process. And because they got none, everything went smoothly. I do sort of miss the days when we kept all the whole deer hanging together…it just seemed to look more cool! Know what I mean? I mean more cool than a bunch of smaller bags, holding one or two quarters each. Not that a “meat curtain,” as we’ve taken to calling it, isn’t cool…I just think hanging with the antlers still attached is, somehow, cooler.

(The "meat pole" in November, 2012.)

(The “meat pole” in November, 2012.)

So here’s a picture of our four deer in 2012, all hanging from the meat pole. What do you think? Ah, well, it doesn’t really matter, I guess. Handling the quarters is a lot easier than handling a complete carcass…and, I suspect, quite a bit cheaper at the meat cutter’s shop. I’m sure the “boys” will continue getting better at it, although that doesn’t seem possible while I’m watching them.

At this point, four of us in the party would have only one full day left in Big Sky Country. Greg, Carl, and Jason would stick it out until Saturday…and they would be rewarded for doing so. Read all about it in the next Blather. Bud

CRAZY MOUNTAINS – Part 3

From: Meridian, ID:

(This post is the third in a series. If you wish to read the story in proper chronological order, start with the post for November 19, 2014.)

(Carl with McMuffin.)

(Carl with McMuffin.)

Tuesday morning, and George’s home-made (from a secret family recipe dating back perhaps hundreds of years) Egg McMuffins to start the day off right. If he weren’t already married, Geo would make a wonderful “significant other” to some lazy, hungry deer hunter!

The plans for the morning were essentially the same as those used the previous morning. (And why not? They had worked pretty well, then.)

(Greg is working on his own McMuffin.)

(Greg is working on his own McMuffin.)

So Greg, Jason, and Carl drove to the same section where they had seen elk previously, while Erik, Jerry, and I stalled for a few minutes and headed out in the truck for the lower coulees. As we drove towards the farthest section where we have permission to hunt, we spotted a small group of does hanging out in the corner of a large field of “volunteer” winter wheat sprouts and other new growth vegetation. We pulled over to watch them for a minute or two, and were startled to realize a buck was with the group, contentedly lying in the tall, fencerow grass. Although I’m sure he could care less about a pickup driving on the road (something he has seen every day since he was a spotted baby), he sensed that a pickup stopped on the road was probably not as harmless. He stood up, gave the does some sort of “high sign” and they all jumped the fence westward into a field rampant with sagebrush.

(Two mule deer ladies, enjoying the view.)

(Two mule deer ladies, enjoying the view.)

Jerry thought the buck was definitely worthy of a closer look, so he alighted from the truck and walked over to the sagebrush. If the deer had thought the vehicle worrisome, they certainly didn’t feel any better when they saw a two-legs coming towards them, but they were far from panic-stricken at that point…they simply picked up their slow walk a bit.

Evidently, Jerry liked his “closer look” at the buck, because the next thing Erik and I knew was Jerry taking a shot. And then we were amazed because the animal…didn’t…fall…down! Well, sure, the buck had been moving…but, honestly, not very fast. And the distance was no more than 100 yards. That’s a shot that Jerry can make blindfolded, and with one arm tied behind his back. That is, on most days he can make that shot. Just not on Election Day, 2014.

The buck and his harem picked up their speed significantly, but they did not break into the full-speed, bounding run that indicates a serious desire to put some distance between them and the thing that goes “Boom.” Jerry has plenty of time for another shot…or even two, if needed. But we don’t hear it. And we don’t hear it. And we still don’t hear it. Jerry’s rifle has jammed! He can’t open the bolt, and he can’t close it. Aaarrgghh!

(Greg, preparing the mule tape to pull Carl's deer to the lane.)

(Greg, preparing the mule tape to pull Carl’s deer to the lane.)

As he walked back towards the truck, I asked Erik to move to the driver’s seat as I grabbed my 7mm and headed into the field where we could still see the deer moving away. I followed them for a ways, never getting quite close enough to take a shot that had a good chance of success. Before too many minutes, Jerry joined me. He had, with no small effort, cleared the jam (the cause of which I won’t bother with, here) and hustled after me. We trailed the deer for several hundred yards as they dropped down a bluff and paused a moment or two on the flat below. At some point, the buck had parted ways with the doe (all but one, it turned out), and Jerry elected to keep following them once he got sight of the pair again. I went back to the pickup.

(Jerry and Erik, supervising the mule tape operation.)

(Jerry and Erik, supervising the mule tape operation.)

Jerry put a good sneak on that buck, and at one point it looked like he might get another shot at him, but it was not to be. After a time, he made his way out of the sagebrush and back to the truck, where we started working on Plan “B.”

Soon, just as had happened the day before, we heard our hand-held radios come to life as our other party was coordinating the retrieval of a buck Carl had dropped a couple of miles away. We were there in just a few minutes, in time to help out with the “snatch block” operation we had used with the two pickups for hauling Greg’s buck out of a coulee.

(Carl with his dandy mule deer buck.)

(Carl with his dandy mule deer buck.)

Carl’s deer, too, had fallen (after a 400 yard shot had connected on the running animal) in a small coulee, two or three hundred yards from a fence-line lane. Before we had arrived on scene, Greg had set up to use a fence post as the pivot point so that he could drive the truck straight ahead on the lane, but when we arrived, the “dead deer transport committee” opted to use the two-pickup method, considering it to be much stronger than the old, dead-wood post. Once again, the deer came snaking out of the sagebrush without a hitch. When/if you try this operation, though, keep in mind that it helps a lot if one or two guys can walk along with the deer being dragged, one or either side of his head and holding his antlers off the ground a few inches. That will keep those antlers from snagging on every sagebrush bush or dead log they encounter along the way.

(Carl's buck, about to be transformed into hanging meat.)

(Carl’s buck, about to be transformed into hanging meat.)

By the way, in the picture of Jerry and Erik above, note the coulee in the background. Before Carl’s buck was pulled up to the fence, Greg’s truck was out of sight where the lane crests the top of the coulee on the far side.

Time to get this third buck back to the camp and cut to pieces.

(Looking over part of the fishpond.)

(Looking over part of the fishpond.)

There is a fishpond downstream from the cabin…oh, a hundred yards or perhaps a little more. I must hasten to explain, though, that the pond is not the result of a dam on Little Rock Creek. Such an obstruction to the stream might be legal for beavers to construct, but it definitely is illegal for persons to do the same. The pond is, rather, a spring-fed body of water, and it is home to three or four generations of Cutthroat Trout. The boys and I found some fishing poles around the place and decided to see if brother Ron was telling the truth about having some 11 and 12 inchers in the pond. Our findings? Not so much. What I mean to say is that we didn’t happen to catch any of them. We did catch quite a few fish, but the unofficial record for the outing was claimed by Erik, with his 7-inch monster.

(The biggest fish of the day. Congrats, Erik!)

(The biggest fish of the day. Congrats, Erik!)

We didn’t have a whole lot of choices for bait. I found a small lure already hooked up to one of the poles, and it caught a couple; we opened a can of yellow corn and, sure enough, a couple of the small fry went for that; Greg used one of the fly rods stashed in the cabin, and that rig was the champion. (What’s more, Greg actually knows how to use a fly rod. I don’t, and I’m pretty sure Erik doesn’t. I can’t really say about Carl and/or Jason, but my guess would be “no.”)

But, honestly, who cares if we didn’t catch huge fish? Spending an hour or two throwing hooks at beautiful fish in a beautiful pond in the prettiest spot in Montana is just plain fun. Add the very real possibility that a record book bull elk might give you the opportunity for an easy shot and any moment…well, it just don’t get any better than that, Jim.

(Erik, Greg, and Carl, flogging the water for cutthroat trout.)

(Erik, Greg, and Carl, flogging the water for cutthroat trout.)

So halfway through our time in Montana, we have three nice bucks hanging on the meat pole. I’ll admit that there was some disappointment wafting through the shadows, sure…we would all like to see some elk quarters mixed in with the deer bags. None of us could help remembering the fantastic hunt of the year before, when Greg and the “boys” each got a near-trophy bull, plus Jason’s nice four-point mule deer buck. But then, we’ve still got plenty of time. And now, with Greg, Carl, and Jason all having their deer tags filled, they can concentrate on finding more elk. I was still thinking primarily of deer, although I, too, had an elk tag. Jerry had opted only for a deer tag, this year, so of course he was still thinking of finding a nice buck. I should add, however, that he was far from desperate…he had already shot a buck in Washington State, so it was not as if he needed a second deer in the freezer. Still, when we had been seeing as many nice bucks – in areas where we didn’t have permission to hunt, more’s the pity – it stands to reason it creates a strong urge to get one for one’s self.

Perhaps I should change the name of this series of stories? Change from “Crazy Mountains,” to “The Hunting Trip That Never Ended,” eh?

There will be at least one more installment.

Bud

CRAZY MOUNTAINS – Part 2

From: Meridian, ID:

(This post is the second in a series. If you wish to read the story in proper chronological order, start with the post for November 19, 2014.)

(Erik, giving his opinion of Montana hunting.)

(Erik, giving his opinion of Montana hunting.)

For Monday’s afternoon outing, we all went back to the same general area we had visited in the morning. Not only had Jason tagged a nice buck early on, we had seen a number of others that were just as good. In fact, since our arrival on Saturday afternoon, we had all seen several really big bucks…as large as almost anything we have seen in our years of hunting the area. Greg, Jason, and Carl even took to naming a few of the beasts: “Black Chest” was a large buck with very dark hair on his chest; “Baghead” was an unfortunate younger buck – albeit with a four-point rack, typical of mule deer bucks – that had managed to get a blue, plastic shopping bag entangled firmly to his antlers; “Cactus Jack” was yet another four-point mule deer, but whose antlers were still in the “velvet.” There is more than one theory about this relatively unusual oddity, but most have something to do with the amount of testosterone the deer is producing internally. A low production of the stuff, for whatever reason, will cause the “velvet” on the bucks’ antlers to remain, instead of being rubbed off on trees, or knocked off by sparring with other bucks. In fact, it may also keep the antlers from being shed, as would normally happen, and in the springtime new growth and velvet would appear over the previous years’ antlers, creating an even stranger look to the rack. The term “cactus buck” is thought to have come into use because such racks are not only “fuzzy,” like some cacti, but may also have strange, knobby, velvet-covered tines, which can also resemble some species of cacti.

At any rate, none of these three bucks managed to get himself shot by a member of our group. So of course we are hoping for their survival until next November.

(Greg with his buck. A great shot!)

(Greg with his buck. A great shot!)

George, the cook, rode down to the hunting area with Jerry and me, glad to get out of the kitchen for a couple of hours. Erik went off with his brother, Jason and Carl. Once again, as the afternoon sun was getting closer to sunset, we heard radio chatter from the “boys,” indicating that Greg had knocked down a buck in Chicken Creek Coulee, just west of the deserted ranch house. We three hustled back to the pickup and buzzed on up to where we could see the boys tramping down the northern slope of the coulee. Sure enough, they were down there, almost to the bottom of the drainage, planning on how to retrieve the buck Greg had nailed with yet another 400-yard shot. He had taken a sitting position, with his Weatherby on a bipod support, and drilled the buck in the neck. (The head and neck were all he could see from his location…it was a very nice shot! I’m tempted to call it “lucky,” but Greg really is a very good shot.)

Once again, Greg’s mule tape would play a key role in getting the deer out of the coulee. This time, however, he would not be able to simply attach to the deer and pull him straight out…he needed to use the ball on my pickup’s trailer hitch as kind of a “snatch block.” He tied the tape to his own hitch ball, ran the tape around my truck’s hitch ball and attached the end to the buck. In that way, he could drive down the lane parallel to the coulee and, using the 90-degree pivot formed by my hitch ball, pull the deer up the steep slope to the lane. Although my hitch provided no mechanical advantage, as an actual two-pulley block would have done, the advantage wasn’t needed, anyhow. It worked just great!

(Greg in the driver's seat.)

(Greg in the driver’s seat.)

Let me tell you, if you hunt deer or elk or what-have-you, and you don’t carry 5,000 feet of mule tape in your truck, you are missing one of the handiest “accessories” you can carry. Of course the one necessity of using the tape is that you must be able to get your pickup within a mile of the animal you’ve got down, and that can sometimes be “iffy.” But when hunting the coulees that run through farm country it is not that difficult. I’ve drug and/or carried enough deer that I know I’d rather not have to do it again, and that’s for sure.

So dinner was a few minutes later than usual Monday evening at the cabin. The meat processing crew works fast – a heckuvalot faster than I work – but it still takes some time to get four deer quarters hanging.

There is still some discussion about the better way to hang a deer, head up…or hind legs up. I have always been pretty firmly in the “head up” camp, but I do recognize there can be advantages to the other way. One of the best has to do with whether or not one plans to have the animal’s head mounted. The “cape” of skin that most taxidermists like to work with is quite large…larger than you might think. In that case, the hide removal (skinning) goes easier if one can work down the animal from the rear…you don’t have the “cape” interfering with the process, as it would if the head were hanging upwards.

(Jason and Carl, with Jason's buck.)

(Jason and Carl, with Jason’s buck.)

The “boys” attack the skinning all three together, but fairly quickly get to a two working, one resting configuration. Once the skin is gone and the legs are taken off (at the knees), Greg begins taking off the quarters (with help holding the carcass steady, when needed). Once the quarters are taken care of, Carl jumps in and removes the “backstrap” and the “tenderloins.” It is fun to watch the three of them taking care of business!

(The operation was a success, even though the patient didn't make it.)

(The operation was a success, even though the patient didn’t make it.)

Most of us don’t just bring our deer rifles to camp…there is always an assortment of pistols and smaller caliber rifles, too. Which means that there can be target shooting from the front porch of the cabin, and we did that for a while. Of course when we’re doing it, we generally keep a “big gun” handy, just for the day that a 7-point “Royal” elk comes wandering through the Little Rock Creek drainage. There is no question it has happened, and probably happened often. But to date, it has never happened while we have been cooling our heels on the porch. Nevertheless, I have faith that it will…and when it does, I’ll be ready.

(Target practice on the front porch.)

(Target practice on the front porch.)

Anyhow, we set up a target on the slope beyond the bathhouse and started blazing away with my Ruger .17 HMR – my whistlepig thunderstick – and my .204 Ruger rifle, which I intend to use primarily for prairie dogs and other larger varmints, up to and including coyotes. We were only shooting about 60 yards off the porch, which is no challenge for either of those rifles, but fun, anyway. Of course when the pistols came out we had to move in much closer than that. The Lone Ranger may be able to shoot a gun from an outlaw’s hand at 60 yards (and farther), but normal humans would never take that shot.

(Greg gives Erik some pointers on pistol marksmanship.)

(Greg gives Erik some pointers on pistol marksmanship.)

We were really quite lucky with the weather during our stay in Montana. One snowstorm had already come and gone in October, and although we didn’t know it at the time, a “Polar Vortex” was getting ready to hammer the area shortly after we left. But while we were there, the nights generally dropped below freezing and the days usually hung around 40 degrees. I don’t think any precipitation fell on us while we were at the cabin. Thankfully, it was cool enough – we all figured – so that there was no worry about leaving the meat hanging from the gate cross-pole. There were a few flies that became active within the cabin, but we never saw any outside the cabin. And of course the meat was hung in bags, anyway, so even if there were a few odd flies buzzing around the odds of them getting to the meat (to lay their eggs) were slim to none.

(BSU Broncos Deluxe washable game bag. Thank you, Red!)

(BSU Broncos Deluxe washable game bag. Thank you, Red!)

And speaking of game bags, Jerry brought along a super nice surprise for my birthday. (My actual birthday wouldn’t come along until the week after we were all back in our homes, but his wife, Denise, figured it was close enough.) She had made Jerry a Seattle Seahawks-flavored muslin game bag the previous year, and when she heard I thought it was so cool, she made me one sporting the BSU Broncos logo and colors. It is made to be reusable, unlike most store-bought game bags. Jerry has, in fact, reused his Seahawks version. I didn’t use mine this year. For one thing, it was still too birthday-present-new; for another, the boys talked me into having them quarter my deer (as they had done theirs), so it was easier to use the commercial gauze bags I had brought along. I’m looking forward to using my Bronco bag next year, though. And hopefully, for a bull elk. (I don’t know whether Denise intended it to be used for two deer, together, but whether she did or not, I truly believe it is big enough for that. What a great BD present, huh?

So as the sun set on Monday evening, we had two deer hanging (in quarters) from the “meat pole,” and our stay in Montana just barely begun. Stay tuned…

Bud

 

CRAZY MOUNTAINS – Part 1

From: Meridian, ID:

Hunting in Montana was special this year. In truth, it is quite special every year, but still, this year a little more so for me because instead of being in the hills with good friends and just one of my sons, both of my sons were there this time. For the first time. Ever.

But it was a bit of a rocky start. Initially, Erik was to fly into Bozeman, MT on the afternoon of Saturday, November 1st, the same day George and I were driving up from Idaho. We figured to make Bozeman right about the same time Erik’s plane would be landing. That plan also had Erik flying home the morning of Thursday, November 6th.

Then, as Geo and I were cruising up Interstate 15, somewhere near the Idaho/Montana border, I got the bad news from Erik: Due to a vehicle accident tying up the freeways in the LA basin, he wasn’t able to check in for his flight in time! Aaargghh! Worse yet, not only did he miss his Delta departure, the airline seemed supremely unconcerned about it…their people did nothing to try to get him on a different airline, or a different route, or even a different day. Since he had purchased a “non-refundable” ticket, and didn’t make it on his scheduled aircraft, the ticket was simply worthless.

Erik and I spoke at length, of course. We were both very disappointed, and what with still having to drive from LAX back to his home in Palmdale, his inclination was to cancel the trip altogether and perhaps try again next year. Happily, after he got home and thought about it a bit more, he elected to book a flight out the next morning. Different route, and different airline. All went smoothly and I picked him up at the airport just before 1:00 PM on Sunday. (FYI, Bozeman Airport is actually located in Belgrade, Montana…about 8 miles west of Bozeman.) Erik was also able to get an additional day off at the end of his trip, as well, so he would be staying until Friday, November 7th, the same day as Jerry, George, and I.

(Elk crossing the road near Clyde Park, MT.)

(Elk crossing the road near Clyde Park, MT.)

This year was different for yet another reason, aside from Erik’s joining our group. Even before we arrived we were getting reports of elk herds being seen in the area. My sister-in-law, Deanna (who graciously allows us to use her wonderful log cabin as a hunting camp), sent pictures of elk in the area, only days before we were due to arrive. And it was to be verified as a good omen…we saw hundreds of them while we were there. (Of course seeing them did not necessarily mean they were in an area where we had permission to shoot them. We did have some chances, though.)

Life in a hunting camp, whether made up by sleeping bags around a campfire or in a near-luxury log house like Deanna’s, quickly settles into a day-to-day routine. If one is lucky enough to be with a group that includes a full-time chef like friend George, the routine starts with him making breakfast as the waking hunters straggle in one by one from the bathhouse. Without George – or someone like him – one is much more likely to start the day with a cold cinnamon roll. And having experienced both, I can tell you that eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee stay with a person quite a bit longer than a stale cinnamon roll. (And I actually like stale cinnamon rolls…as long as they are the kind that contain raisins.)

(Erik assumed bartender duties - Cadillac Margaritas, extraordinaire.)

(Erik assumed bartender duties – Cadillac Margaritas, extraordinaire.)

At our camp, we always have the option of heading out on foot, hunting the acreage the cabin sits on or striking out to cousin Sam’s land, adjacent to the north. Deanna’s piece includes a travel route much favored by elk heading down from the Crazy Mountains towards the government feeding station several miles southeast. Sam’s property is mostly forested, and holds elk and deer that are simply “hanging out” or moving slowly to the flatlands for the winter.

Or, various members of the group may elect to take a pickup and hunt an area farther away from camp, either public land or other property on which we have permission to hunt.

As it happened, Greg, Carl, and Jason opted to look on Sam’s piece, and on some of the National Forest land beyond. Turns out they saw a pretty nice four-point buck on the way back to the cabin in the afternoon…but all three of them passed on the buck. Well, why not? One is always a bit hesitant to shoot the very first deer one sees…on the first day. After all, what if all the really big ones are still out there, waiting for just the right moment to make an appearance? Not fun, if one has already filled his tag.

(Greg, planning the next day's hunt.)

(Greg, planning the next day’s hunt.)

So we spent Sunday evening discussing the hunts of previous years; the correct technique – and ingredients – for the construction of the perfect margarita; and the evening dinner menu. For that, George enlisted the help of Carl, the “barbecue baron,” to grill the steaks on the portable Traeger Grill he brought along. (Hey…our motto is: Go First Class or stay home, know what I mean?) Carl did not disappoint…the steaks were great! As was everything else with the meal. Cousin Sam stopped in for dinner, making the evening all the more special.

Monday morning: The first thing after sunup, Greg, Jason, and Carl jumped a herd of elk on one of the lower sections we had permission to hunt. A few shots were fired, but nothing fell down and soon, the herd had dispersed in two different directions, both of which had led them onto property we did not have permission to hunt.

(Jason's deer is down in the coulee in the foreground.)

(Jason’s deer is down in the coulee in the foreground.)

Jerry and I, with Erik riding along, were scouting a couple of our favorite coulees when we learned Jason had tagged a buck a mile or two away from us. Within minutes, we were with the boys, getting the story of the shot, and watching the retrieval of the buck. He had run a ways through the sagebrush growing on that piece of pasture and had finally fallen in a small gully. In earlier years, it would have been a long way to drag a dead deer, but Greg has taken to carrying a spool of “mule tape,” a ¾ inch wide pulling tape of polyester blend material. The spool Greg uses has a tensile strength rating of 2,500 lbs, which is easily enough to pull a mule deer buck out of a canyon…or whatever. And in this case, Greg was able to get a straight pull with his truck, needing only fifty yards or so to get the deer out of the gully. (The mule tape was to come in handy several more times!)

(Jason, with his nice mule.)

(Jason, with his nice mulie.)

The buck was a beauty! A mature, four-point mule deer, and Jason dropped him on the run at what was later “lasered” to be about 400 yards! (I don’t know about you, but that is waaaay beyond my “comfort” range.)

By the time the field dressing was accomplished, it was coming on close enough to lunch to head back to camp, although the boys decided on a detour to town (about ten miles west) to pick up some necessaries. Let me tell you, when bottomless beer mugs are part of the camp, Greg and his compadres can process the hell out of a deer carcass! Hang ‘em up; skin ‘em; take off the quarters; salvage the backstrap and tenderloin; and, finally, deposit the hide, hooves, and naked ribs in a place where coyotes and birds will be sure to find it. (Which means approximately 99 percent of the Montana countryside.) We don’t know for sure, but it’s certainly possible – if not probably – that some larger predators may get some of it, too.

So, the “skunk” was out of the camp! The first buck was down and taken care of. And the afternoon awaits…

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Bud