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March 2023
Story by Stanton Miller
State: Montana
Species: Elk - Rocky Mtn

After driving for a couple hours, I finally made it to a rough mountain road somewhere in Montana. As I was driving up the mountain, the snow started to fall, and the further I got up the mountain, the more the snow fell. I hoped I wouldn’t get snowed in. After a while, I got to the spot where I was going to spend the night. The snow was coming down pretty hard as I climbed in the back of my Honda Pilot and rolled out my bed roll. I fixed some hot chocolate and saw that there were some other hunters up here too.

Just a little backstory, during archery season, we were trying to locate elk during the night. It was getting pretty late, and I was fighting sleep. After a while, I told Ryan I was done and I was pulling off wherever I could find a spot. After a little while, we found a little parking lot, pulled in, and fell asleep, not knowing where we would hunt in the morning. The next morning, there was a bull bugling across the road. We quickly tried to get on him and got pretty close a couple times. We followed him, and he led us to the place where I was now rifle hunting. This was my first time hunting elk with a rifle, but I had elk hunted with archery.

Back to the story. I was looking out the window and watching it snow. I saw a couple hunters leave the mountain. I probably should too, but I knew there were elk here and I didn’t want to get snowed in. Tomorrow was opening day for rifle season. I sent my wife a goodnight text on the inReach and fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up to six inches of snow. It was foggy and snowing so hard that I could only see about 20 yards. It looked like I was going to have to shoot a bull at 20 yards. I was thinking I should probably get off the mountain before I got snowed in. I saw a few other hunters head down the mountain, but I decided to stay and hunt at least half of the day.

I started heading down into a drainage I knew had elk in it and I knew of a major game trail. As I walked through the snow, I came across some elk tracks but decided to head on down to the main game trail. Once I got there, I saw fresh elk tracks and started following them. I had never tracked elk in the snow before. After a few hours, I decided to stop and take a little break under a tree and eat some snacks. That didn’t last long as I had to keep moving to stay warm. The snow was coming down like crazy. I got up and started following the tracks again.

I came upon a little clearing and saw a fresh rub, so I stopped and looked around. I didn’t see anything, so I started walking again. Bam! There was a big bull elk staring straight in my direction. I froze, but he kept staring. After a while, he stood up and there were two other bulls bedded in the same clearing. I had my gun on my shoulder with a weather cover on it. Finally, he started to look other directions. I slowly dropped to my knees behind some brush and took my gun off my shoulder. I took the weather cover off and crawled to the nearest log. I peeked over the top of it, using the log for a rest. He was quartering to me, so I aimed right in front of the shoulder, settled the crosshairs, and squeezed the trigger. Bam! He took a couple steps back and fell to the ground. Thank you, Jesus!

This was awesome! I was in the middle of a snowstorm in the mountains with a bull elk on the ground, just me and my Father (God). This was one of the best feelings in the world, walking up to the big bull elk and pulling the antlers out of the snow. After taking some quick photos, I started cutting it up. After that, I started shuffling the meat up the hill. I thought I could pack this thing out by myself as it was only three and a half miles, but I figured out pretty quick that with the deep snow it would take me a couple days. I decided to pack out and hike back to my vehicle.

After a long, brutal hike, I made it back. I started my vehicle up and turned the heater on high. I messaged some friends to see if they could help me pack the elk out. They said they’d be there in the morning.

The next morning, I decided to see if I could make it through the snow and down the mountain to the main road to meet up with my friends in town. I just about got stuck but not quite. I made it down, but I knew I wasn’t making it up there in my Honda Pilot again. My friend had a four-wheel drive F-150, so I was thinking they should be able to get up there with chains. However, we didn’t make it far up the mountain when he got stuck. That plan was not going to work. We headed back to town where we had phone service. I started searching everywhere, trying to find snowmobile or side-by-side rentals. After a lot of phone calls, a friend of mine found a guy who would help me in the morning with horses. Thank God! If we took horses, it would be eight miles one way into the meat stash. I was excited because I hadn’t ridden a horse in a while and I had always dreamed of using horses to pack out meat.

The next morning, the cowboy and I headed into the mountains on horseback in the snow. After eight miles of riding, we arrived at the meat stash. We loaded everything up and started our journey back to the truck. We weaved our way through the trees until we got back on the trail. When we got out in the open on top of the mountain, it was picture perfect. Everything was covered in snow and there were blue skies, beautiful horses, and an elk rack on the back of the pack horse. This was God’s creation, and I got to be a part of it. We got back to the truck and loaded up the horses in the trailer. The cowboy had hot coffee in a Stanley thermos waiting for us. After riding horses all day in the cold, the coffee was so good!