Growing up in Montana, the outdoors is something you never want to take for granted. I’ve been lucky enough to live here my whole life and have parents who introduced me to the outdoors at a young age. I can remember going hunting with my dad when I was a kid and never needing the alarm to wake me up. I’d lie in my bed with my eyes wide open, waiting for him to open the door and say, “You ready to go?”
Every year, we set up hunting camp with the same group of buddies I’ve had since grade school. We’ve been hunting together since we were young and never pass up the chance to get out into the woods for weeks come September. This year was a little different with the fire season we had. Early September brought warm, smoky weather. We were worried about not being able to have fires in the wall tent due to how dry it was. Since this was Montana, the weather changed quickly the week we planned on setting up the wall tents and hunting. There were over a couple feet of snow where we had put up camp the day my buddy, Robby, drove in there. He called the rest of the guys and told us to hold off bringing the trucks and trailers up. We checked the forecast and looked at pass cameras in the area to see if the conditions were getting any better.
After waiting two days, we decided we’d take a chance and see if we could get in there. We made it into camp and had to shovel a spot out for the wall tent and cook tent. The next few days brought more and more snow, and our hunts were unsuccessful. The elk weren’t talking, and we hadn’t seen much sign. After talking about our options and how if we stayed any longer we might not get any of our gear out until next spring, we decided to head home and hunt closer to town where the snow hadn’t been so active. It was a hard choice to make, and everybody’s spirits were down. We headed home and spent the next day drying out the gear.
My good buddy, Robby, called me late Friday night and asked if I wanted to go for a morning hunt on Saturday to an area we used to go to as kids backpacking and hunting. I couldn’t think of many other options, so we decided we could at least get out and take the bows for a walk. We left early the next morning in order to hike back a ways in the dark to an area where the elk had been in the past. We parked the truck and turned the headlamps on while loading up all of our gear. We had about an hour until shooting light to get back into the bowl. After a quick-paced walk, we decided to listen for a while to see if we could hear any activity. It was dead silent out, so we threw out a few cow calls, but still nothing. Robby brought out his tube and bugled into the bowl. He was immediately cut off by another bugle not too far away. We checked the wind and decided to make a move closer to the bull into an area that had better shooting lanes. The country was thick with trees, and in order to get a shot, we had to find an opening.
After closing the distance and keeping the bull interested by cow calling, we knew we were close. He was very responsive to our cow calls, and we could hear him working on the side of the mountain. Robby and I found a clump of trees with a 40-yard shot in either direction. I told Robby I was going to set up on the other side of the clearing to call for the bull in the direction we thought he was coming from. We checked the wind again, and it was in our favor. We both had our rangefinders out and found landmarks for yardage. The bull was still bugling away and getting closer. The next thing we knew, he was close enough that we could hear him raking trees and trying to maneuver between the thick cover. I looked to my left at about 100 yards, and all I could see was a huge set of antlers navigating through the trees. My heart rate immediately spiked, and I started to get the shakes. There is not a better feeling than this, and if I ever lose that excitement while hunting, I must be dead.
The bull was heading right towards Robby and making some of the craziest sounds. Robby and I drew back our bows while the bull was working his way through a clump of trees. He stopped about 10 yards from Robby. I sat at full draw, waiting for an arrow to fly from him. I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t released an arrow, but I wasn’t able to see the angle Robby had. I waited a few more seconds and decided he must not have had a shot. I’d marked the spot where the bull was earlier and felt comfortable with the distance. I released the arrow and hit the mark. The bull spun and ran the same route he’d just come in on. Immediately, Robby came out from behind the tree with his hands up in celebration. All I could hear Robby say was, “He’s huge.” I knew it was a good bull, but oftentimes, I get so excited I misjudge the size. There was good blood right where I had shot him, so Robby and I dropped our packs and began going through the play by play. We marked the spot with our GPS and organized our packs. We started to follow the blood trail and knew he couldn’t have gone far. The excitement on both of our faces is something I’ll never forget. Robby might have been as excited as I was. He lives for this kind of stuff.
We couldn’t have gone more than a hundred yards or so through thick timber when we saw a set of antlers on its side. We started high fiving and shaking our heads. How did a week of ups and downs end like this? We took a lot of pictures and couldn’t wipe the smiles off of our faces. After quartering the elk up and two trips back to the truck, Robby and I had just completed one successful hunting trip I’ll never forget. I couldn’t ask for a better hunting partner than Robby. No matter what kind of area we get ourselves into, both of us always want to keep on going and see what’s over the next mountain.