Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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2012 Montana archery elk/mule deer hunting journal notes

Dean BortzOK folks, filing this one from somewhere within striking distance of Bob’s Bar, Motel, Restaurant, Laundromat, Gas Station, Shower Outlet and Wi-Fi Station in Neihart, Montana. I’m here with Bill McCutchin, of Boulder Junction, his son, Rick, of Wrightstown, and his nephew, Derek McCutchin, of Randolf. These are just notes that I’ve typed up at the end of each day of bowhunting for elk (mostly) and mule deer (if a big one shows itself) in the Lewis and Clark National Forest. There had been a 40-acre forest fire on Moose Mountain just about 4 or 5 miles west of where we’re staying. Fire was out the day we arrived, but mop-up continued and that area was close to entry by civilians.

Friday, Sept. 14: Hunted near the cabin the first morning. Went in on foot, climbed to within 800 yards of peak. Cow called for a while. No response. Saw four muley bucks near the top at daylight, about 540 yards upslope. Two were pushing/sparring with each other. I went up to see how big the biggest buck would be – got to within 70 yards – about an 18-inch 3×3, with two forks and a spike. Looked downslope just then, a cow and calf crossed the ridge where I had been calling from earlier.
Went to same area Friday afternoon. Mule deer sightings, no elk. Note: Lots of ruffed and blue grouse. Should have packed a .410 pistol. Season open. Figured out at midday that I forgot my tube of extra arrows and field tips in my truck in Bill’s yard – only four arrows in quiver. Grouse safe for now.

Saturday, Sept. 15: A cow and bigger bull went around the peak – nearly same spot where muley bucks were yesterday. Went up top to see if elk hung around. Nope. Saw the same four muley bucks and also a doe. Later in the morning, a forkorn and a bigger muley buck were downslope at my calling spot. One buck looked substantially bigger than the upslope 3×3. Worked downhill. Eased into small meadow – small buck still there at 30 yards. Bigger buck gone. No idea how big.
Tried to get to Bob’s Bar for prime rib night – they quit serving at 8 p.m. and hunting hours don’t end until about 8 p.m., then the long walk out, so we had to quit early. Rick and Derek went down to Neihart early to order steaks for all four of us “before the bell,” but the bar was out of prime rib when they got there at 7:45. Damn. Had a hamburger instead. Road my bike up the woods road that afternoon so that I could get back to the cabin quickly in hopes of getting a prime rib. Didn’t see any game. Coming down the mountain in the dark on bicycle was kind of sketchy – especially without a light. Readers might remember another bicycle incident from a few years back. Needless to say, I was holding on tight. Lot of rocks. Couldn’t believe the speed you can build up. Feared I would burn up my brake pads. Note: invent a jake brake for mountain bicyclers.

Sunday, Sept. 16: Hunted the same peak, meadows area again. Saw the same four muley bucks at the top of the ski run near the log pile. They showed up about 7:30 a.m. Went upslope mid-morning to look for elk around the peak. Back at the peak near noon, ate lunch up high. Windy. After lunch crawled up as high as I could to use binocs to scan for downslope meadows I couldn’t see from the ground. On the way out, I walked a cross country ski trail to a big park, then walked a snowmobile trail toward the cabin, bushwacked rest of way. There is a water hole near the intersection of the trails, but hidden. Reserve for future use.

Monday, Sept. 17: Went to the east by 3 miles at daylight to hunt new area that I scouted in June. Heard a bull grunting at daylight 2/3 way down the “big mtn” what I’ll call Creek No. 1. Heard bull several times. Then heard mooing, as in domestic cow mooing. What the heck? Not far from the bull. Heard it, couldn’t believe it. Cows at the Creek No. 1 Springs that I hoped were being used by elk as wallows. Walked in on the ridge south of Creek No. 1 – no name on map for that ridge – found an old miner’s cabin and three of his mine shafts. Continued down the ridge and found snow fence hanging in a tree – two rolls of red wooden fence, one roll on the ground. About lunch time was back upslope at the ATV for lunch. Met John Finn, of Missoula, whose parents owned a mine claim and cabin on that ridge. John’s parents used the snowfence for traction to get a snowmobile up the ridge one winter. Snow too deep, track kept diggin in. His dad walked upslope to their cabin, carried back the snow fence they had used to keep deer from eating their mules’ hay. They left the fencing hanging in a tree for future use. Must have gotten more fencing for the hay later on. Apparently never needed fencing again for traction. Finn said Forest Service took ownership of his families land through some mining claim technicality. FS burned their cabin. He camps there now so he can still hunt that area.
Derek and I went back to what I’ll call John Finn Ridge in the afternoon, walked the ridge out further and found rock outcroppings close to the nose overlooking Creek No. 2. Had three bull bugling down there, but couldn’t get to them with the time left.
Derek and Rick called in a 5×5 in the morning way downslope on the north flank of “big mtn.” They cow called and he barked back from a long ways away. Barked again minutes later and had already halved the distance. Stopped at 62 yards behind a tree. Derek had no shot. Bull bolted. Wind OK at first, then switched from them to bull.
In the evening, Rick went down Creek No. 1 to the meadow on the “big mtn” side (south flank) of Creek No. 1 – he was north of me and Derek on John Finn – and cow called on his way back. He had a 5×5 come up on him quick right up at the top, near the spring. No vocal from bull to warn him. At that time Derek called Rick on the two-way just as the bull pulled up on Rick. Rick was ticked – heard him swear over the radio.

Tuesday, Sept. 18: Started out at daylight at the headwall of Creek No. 1. Worked downstream all the way finally and made it down to the two meadows (big and small) near the junction of Creek No. 3. This creek is the main creek through the valley. No. 1 and No. 2 feed into the main creek from either side of Finn Ridge. I found the meadow at the bottom of “big mtn” where Bill and I set up on a elk last year. That bull didn’t bugle – it roard like a lion. I think that’s what had me poking around for an upslope entry during June visit. We had entered from the bottom last year – coming in from the top this year. Neither is easy. In the afternoon, Bill, Derek and Rick came down the same trail – by that time I was out of there, had worked up No. 3 around the nose of Finn Ridge and was in No. 2 bottoms. Rick and Derek saw three 5x5s come into the upper (big) meadow about an hour before dark – Bill already working his way upstream ahead of the boys. Bill didn’t witness the bulls. Never came closer than 110 yards. Bulls stayed in meadow nearly an hour. Did some pushing/shoving/bugling. Derek got it on video. Bulls paid no attention to their calls or decoy. Sort of like gobblers in that way, eh?
There is a good game crossing about one-quarter mile below the upper springs of No. 1. There were three wallows along Creek No. 1, the best looking one just above the big meadow.
At the intersection of No. 1 and Creek No. 3, I went up No. 3 and headed towards the intersection with Creek no. 2, which runs down the south side of John Finn. That should have brought me up around to the rock outcroppings where Derek and I heard bulls bugling the night before. It was a tough slog, but I made it around the nose of John Finn Ridge and started up Creek no. 2. In many places, tall banks stood well above the creek. Could look down and see trout swimming. Clear water. No trails to walk, lot of criss-crossed downed timber. Couldn’t see up through the trees to spot the rock outcroppings like I had expected after being up top the day before, but finally I did spot a piece of rock at one point and started straight uphill. Hit the rock outcroppings right where I wanted to. Might seem lucky, but I wish I’d missed it. Once I saw it, I decided to climb it. Not for challenge. Shortest route. I should have swung southeast instead to find the crease or downslope off the nose that Derek and I found the night before, but it would have added another half mile to the walk, so I went straight up. Tough climb. On all fours for about 200 yards, shale breaking loose. Made it, but bow and arrows took a beating. Fletchings shot. Forgot extra arrows in truck in Bill’s yard on departure. Contacted Sue Friday. Used phone at Bob’s Bar. No cell signal anywhere here. She’s mailing to Bob’s Bar. Hope they arrive.
Rested up there and then heard a bull bugling in the creek bottom again – same as previous afternoon. He bugled most of the rest of the afternoon, but didn’t come up on Finn Ridge and I didn’t have the heart to go back down – I’d have to come back up again. I cow called all afternoon from on top, then started walking out about 5 p.m. I cow called as I walked out. I hadn’t gone far on the first bench when I spooked a 5×5 bull at about 60 yards. Nice animal. Hindquarters like a quarter horse when he launched to take off. Damn it. All that work and then blew the chance. Wanted to get to the Creek No. 1 headwall to call the last hour of light, but didn’t make.
We’ve been having trouble finding the outlet trail to Creek No. 1 headwall on the way back from John Finn, so I stayed high and found an elk trail that comes around the sidehill on the same contour as the spring outlet in the headwall. I found Bill trying to work his way up Creek No. 1 to the headwall. Saw his light way down there. He was spent. Went downhill to meet him and help him out of there. Bad enough, but then Bill got thrown off the four-wheeler on his way back to the cabin. Last year a horse threw him, this year an ATV. The ATV didn’t break anything on him, at least. Blaze cracked his wrist last year.
Saving grace of the day – I was able to refill three water bottles at the spring after dark on the way out. Too cold to drink straight down. Sipped at first, waiting for chill to come off. Half hour later, after getting Bill to the top, chugged two bottles. Refreshing.

Sept. 19: Taking the morning off for newspaper work, shower and internet. Went to Bob’s Bar – $4 per shower and $4 per load of laundry. Bargain. Hot shower felt good. Tony, owner of Bob’s Bar (still didn’t as him about the naming of the bar), had my tube of arrows. Came by mail. Thanks Sue! You have a fish fry coming from Pope’s Gresham Lodge.
Shouldn’t have hooked up to wi-fi at Bob’s. More than 200 e-mails. Ugh. Brewers 2.5 games out of wild card spot. Packers beat Bears by going with six rookies on defense. Judge does not dismiss wolf case, as state requests. Chippewa tribes shoot ceremonial bull elk. New photos of grandkids. Crank through as much work as possible, head back to the cabin, shoot field-tipped arrows to make sure nothing happened to sights during rock climb. Drilling dead-on. Good deal. Headed for new area last three hours of daylight – west of Moose Mountain a ways. Where I hiked in on a rainy/snowy day last November during elk gun season. Set up in the lower meadow. Cow called for a while. 15 minutes of shooting left heard branches breaking upslope. Elk? Heaven forbid a bull? Nope, just a mustached Marylander name Mike – friendly sort, traded info – who wanted to make sure he found the main trail out before it got too dark. He apologized for messing up my set-up. Probably not much to mess up there.
After showers, laundry, etc., Derek and Rick saddled up about 2 p.m. today and packed into Creek No. 1 to spike camp for two nights. They took six hot dogs and a couple of sandwiches. Sounds kind of light on vittles. That Angus calf better watch out.

Sept. 20: Ceremonial taking (almost) of a pack rat that has been annoying the hell out of us for four nights. More to come on that … hilarious. Bill could write a book about three hours of adventure between 4:20 a.m. and 7:15 a.m., all in side the cabin and most of it he’s in his Fruit of the Looms.
Back to Bob’s Bar this morning to transmit stuff for next issue, finish up on e-mails. Then I’m heading into Creek No. 1 for afternoon hunt and night in spike camp. Hunting lower end of No. 1 today and John Finn Ridge Sept. 21. Bill’s on his own – just him and the pack rat back at the cabin. Heaven help Bill. This critter is smart. Bill’s persistent, though, he just might tag the rat. Looks a lot like a flying squirrel, but maybe twice as big. The rat, we call him Willard, has an affinity for Irish Spring bar soap.

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