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The Luck of the Lookout: Hunting Montana Part 2

Aug 17, 2007
We left the next morning on foot, not finding much but sign and old rubs. The elk had been here in force. Dad and I split up from Norm and Derek and took a casual jaunt up the hill from camp. We managed to stumble over 2 very nice whitetail bucks which pulled at our instincts to shoot, however, we were looking for elk and filling deer tags was an afterthought. We return to camp and little disheartened at the lack of meat for the day.

This would continue on for more than a week. Derek couldn't stand it and on day 3 shot one of the whitetails Dad and I had spotted the day before. We were only about a mile from camp so it didn't take much out of a days ride to get him cleaned and hung in the meat rack. For the next 5 days, the cannons would be silent. We rode miles and miles trekking deeper into the wilderness and finding little encouraging elk sign. The whitetail were in the middle of rut and whitetail bucks were everywhere.
On day 9, it was decided time was slipping away and we had better get to filling tags or risk going home empty handed. My hope of filling all 8 tags had slipped to the hopes of filling 1 elk.

On day 9, Norm made an odd suggestion, which would define the hunt for the rest of our lives. "Well, fellers" he said, "There's an old look-out up this hill about 6 miles which I have never seen. What do you say we go giv'er a look-see?" Not really seeing anything else on the agenda, we set out for the lookout. Fifteen minutes into the trip I shot a large whitetail buck. We field dressed him, packed him back, and gave him a place of honor on our meat pole. It was too late in the day, to continue to the Look-out so we did some shorter hunts around the camp.

The next day, Norm made the same suggestion of heading up to see the look-out. Not being disagreeable, we saddled up and trekked on. We stopped shortly at the spot where I had taken my buck the day before to find the gutpile gone and unmistakable prints of a very large bear were in its place. "When we meet a grizzly" not "if" echoed in my mind and the little hairs on the back of my neck began to rise. Another 5 minutes into the ride, Dad spotted a whitetail buck and jumped off his horse with rifle in hand. The buck had wandered into a small strip of trees between two clearings, one of which we had seen the elk on our first day in. Dad was about to drop the hammer on him when we heard the prettiest sound; the unmistakable call of a bull elk. The haunting call awoke our inner fantasies and Norm swung into full combat mode.

" The elk are in! The Elk are IN!" he whispered with intense excitement. He quickly checked the wind, dabbed a little stink scent on each of our pant legs, and then set us out in a fan pattern about 400 yards apart from each other. Derek took the bottom route, I was the next up, Dad was above me, and Norm took the high road. As I entered the treed area, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. You could smell elk everywhere. I made a quick check of rifle and load and continued on in. I could see the clearing on the other side of the strip and slowly made way to the edge. Nothing. I had hoped to put a sneak on them while they were grazing but they had obviously moved on. I stepped out into the full sun and surveyed the area, hoping someone else would have better luck than I.

As I made my over some downed timber from an old burn, something caught my eye farther down hill. It was a large patch of yellow about 450 yards away. ELK!!! Not only were they elk, but I could see the glint of sunlight on antlers. I slipped over to a small rise with a deadfall for a rest and took aim. I spotted a nice bull and after confirming his brow tines, made my shot. A heavy-beamed 5 point hit the ground about 385 yards from my position. One elk for the meat pole. It took us the rest of the day to get him back to camp. We knew our grizzly was close to the area so one person had to stand guard while the others worked, which slowed our progress. I"m not going to see the Look Out today" Norm said with a chuckle.

As morning broke, Dad and I decided to break from the habit. Since both of my tags were now filled, I had been promoted to Head Cook and Bottle Washer and I had a few chores to complete before I could head out hunting. We decided to pursue a nice buck which had been spotted just outside of camp heading towards the river after camp chores were done. Norm and Derek decided to make another attempt for the Look-out. They made their way up, noting the bear had come for his meal during the night. Nothing was left of the elk gut pile but bear tracks and crow droppings to mark the spot.

Dad and I began in leisurely fashion, walking slowly across the meadow from camp hoping to cut the buck's track and then follow. We talked quietly about the previous days hunt and smiles were plentiful. Suddenly, dad stopped and hunkered down. "What's that?!" he whispered. I followed his finger to the edge of an old burn about 150 yards away. At first I saw nothing, until it moved. A young bull elk made his way slowly across the field. We confirmed he had antlers and Dad made his shot dropping an odd but nice 3x5 bull. I smiled in amazement as I looked over my left shoulder to see camp no more than 800 yards behind us. It took us then next couple of hours to get the elk field dressed, quartered, and hung. 2 Elk on the meat pole.

We had just sat down with a hot cup of coffee when Norm came riding in like he was running a pony express route. "Gear up the horses, Derek's got a dandy on the ground!" Suddenly, he stopped realizing the horses were already geared and Dad and I were bloody. "Oh hell" he said with a smile as we told him the story "Ain't that sumthin!". He quickly checked out Dad's elk while I put dinner into the bear cache. It was getting dark and we would have to hurry.

We found Derek about a mile and half from camp on the Look Out trail guarding a beautiful 6-point bull. Our bear was going to eat good tonight. We worked hard through the evening hours constantly looking over our shoulders with the thought of our "dinner bell bear"emerging from the shadows. We were able to get the big bull into camp just as dark fell. Norm smiled wide and said "I still haven't seen the look-out". 3 elk on the meat pole.

This left us with 3 tags to fill. Dad still had a whitetail tag and Norm had both of his. The next day was our scheduled day to begin departure. We would have to make 3 trips to get everything out of camp and we only had a week left. The extra day would come in handy in case we ran into some bad weather. We all agreed to risk missing Thanksgiving dinner to hunt one more day and see if Norm could fill one of his tags. No one could have predicted what would happen the next day.

The day started early like any other. Breakfast, horse chores, clean and store plates, etc. Norm and his two tags were the focus and like every successful day prior, he decided to head for the Look Out. We had run out of room on the meat pole, so one elk was stored on the ground. I stayed behind to tend to camp and prepare for the next day's departure. About 25 minutes from camp, the trail granted us another filled tag as Norm dropped a young 4 point bull elk. Working at a rapid pace, we had him cleaned and back to camp by 10:00 am. "I still haven't seen the look-out".

Not wasting anytime, we set out again with to fill his whitetail tag, again following the Look Out trail. It was mid-afternoon, before we returned to camp. Norm had shot his buck, and we were all but worn out from the 4 days straight of cleaning and packing meat. The sun was beginning to set in the western sky, and we had just settled down to the smell of hot food when Derek hopped back up, grabbed Dad, and said, "We've got less than an hour, let's see if we can fill your tag." They quickly left camp, heading up the same trail, which had yielded so much to our hunt.

Norm and I stayed behind, preparing dinner and discussing how to get 4 elk and 3 deer out of camp. The coffee had finished percolating and I was pouring Norm a cup, when the sound of a magnum rifle broke the evening calm. All we could do was look at each other and laugh. It started out as a chuckle and then broke into a full on belly rolls. Through tears and gasps Norm managed to squeak out "I wonder if they made it to the Look Out?"
About the Author
Kelsey Hilderbrand is an avid hunter, shooter, gun enthusiast and founder of high mountain hunting supply

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