One on One Elk – Montana Style

Sponsored by: Victory Archery

By: Michael Batease

As we crossed over the state line into Montana my level of excitement jumped. I had never hunted Montana before and had been looking forward to it since the day I found out we had drawn the combo tag for elk and deer. I had heard great stories of big bulls and beautiful scenery. Roll on miles, roll on.

After spending the summer talking with Wildlife Biologist and friends we had narrowed down the area we would hunt. It was only an 11 hour drive from my house to where we would establish camp and hunt from. Based off the info we had received from a couple of friends hunting the same area the previous week, we should be hitting the rut just in time. The first of October can be a great time to hunt rut crazed bulls in Montana. The pavement finally gave way to mountain gravel roads as we covered the final stretch to camp.

Elk country, now the hunting begins.

I lost out on being the first shooter so I would have to wait for my chance till the second morning. The first day found us in the middle of three bugling bulls and cows wandering around the mountain side. Man did my excitement level increase. The next morning I awoke to high winds and cooler temps. We drove to a vantage point that allowed us to hear any bulls bugling from five different areas. The wind made it tough but I was able to lock in to one bull that was very responsive so I decided that was the bull I would go after.

I spent the morning playing the wind and setting up four different times on this smart old bull. The closest he came was 50 yards with no chance of a shot. By late morning the winds had increased and I knew the best thing to do was back out and come back after him on another day.

The next three days were filled with high winds, rain and snow with not much bugling going on at all. We covered a bunch of country trying to figure out how these elk react to adverse weather. We put our heads together as we looked at the map. All of the canyons led to a Wildlife Management Area down low. My guess was they were heading for that area and we needed to relocate to cut them off. The plan was to take the bikes over to scout the new area before relocating camp.

Getting into position the author bugles.

As I rode the trail along the ridge line the trees gave way to a burnt area that held promise.We decided to split up to cover more ground and make good use of this evening hunt. I headed south around the nob as Rockie headed to the North. I had only traveled about a half a mile when I noticed a big rock that I thought would give me a good vantage point to listen from. As I started making my way toward the rock I heard a faint bugle and thought it was Rockie. I popped my Herd Master reed from Bugling Bull Game Call, LLC into my mouth and fired off a bugle thru the Bully Bull Grunt tube. Three bulls fired right back at me. I took off my Eberlestock pack so I could get my bow.

With my pack back on and my bow in hand I checked the wind to plan my approach. The wind was blowing down the soft ridge so I needed to move down wind and toward the bulls at the same time in a half-moon pattern. This is the best way to go after a bull when you are by yourself. The key is to move right away after each bugle while listening for a bugle or an approaching bull. After the fourth half-moon I knew I was getting close so I knelt down in the shadow of a burnt tree and nocked an arrow.

As I looked over toward where the bugles were coming from I could see three bulls working their way in my direction with a fourth bull hanging back and screaming. I picked my tree I would draw on and focused on the bull in the front. My legs and hands were shaking as he picked his way towards the location I last bugled from. He was coming in perfect. These bulls had no idea I was there. Once the bull was behind the tree I drew back my Alpine F1 Fireball, settled in and the shakes went away. The bull stepped out only 25 yards from me. I settled my pin behind the shoulder and sent the Shuttle T tipped Victory VAP arrow on its way. The arrow disappeared on its mark.

The bull whirled and trotted back to where he came from while the other two bulls stood there trying to figure out what just happened before heading back as well. I sat there for a moment to gather in the sights, smells and sounds of my surrounding. I can’t believe that all just happened that fast.

Author; when everything works like it should a bull goes down.

I walked over to where my bull was standing and picked up his tracks. As I followed the tracks a bull kept right on bugling. I caught movement ahead of me and noticed another bull working his way toward me. I knelt down and let him come on in to 30 yards. This was so cool. Four bulls called in within a matter of 15 minutes and a fifth bull still carrying on in the back ground.

As I followed the tracks of my bull I could see a spike ahead of me that kept looking down at the base of three trees and acting nervous. He had found my bull for me. I walked to where my bull was lying filled with joy and excitement. I made quick work of him and was ready to get him off the mountain.

One on one hunting for elk is such a rewarding experience but can also be filled with frustration. The keys to success are patience, having a game plan, moving after you call and the right gear to mention a few.

Having a game plan put together based on the wind direction, terrain, the location of the bull and the ability to make adjustments to your plan as things unfold will make the difference between fresh back straps or tag soup. Knowing your hunting area is another vital piece of the puzzle. Elk hunting is not just an event that takes place each fall. It is an ongoing learning process. I live for elk hunting and spend the year practicing my calling, studying maps and talking with other elk hunters. My first trip to Montana has been a great experience and I look forward to coming back and locking wits with another Mountain Monarch.