View Full Version : My 2010 Montana Elk Hunt
11-24-2010, 01:23 PM
What a great hunt! I had the privilege of hunting with Bill Hoppe of North Yellowstone Outfitters the first week of November. I’m used to more of a do it yourself hunt and this particular hunt was more of a last minute arrangement, of which I did not arrange. It was a bit weird for me to just “show up” not having done any homework about the area I was hunting or the people I was hunting with, but I’m a very optimistic fellow, so a rolled with it. Heck it’s been since the late 90’s since I’ve been to Gardiner, so I was just anxious to get back to that area.
I was a bit perplexed to hear the stories of the impact wolves have had on the area, but as the week rolled on it came apparent to me that those critters are not only a threat to elk that I give so much money to the RMEF to protect, but it is devastating the livelihood of many of the people that were born and raised and run businesses, such as Bill’s, in Yellowstone region. Bill himself, is a 5th generation Montanan and a 4th generation outfitter. His family has a long history of outfitting that range back into the late 1800’s and early 1900’s just a stone’s throw from the Northern gate of Yellowstone. Just to let you know how deep his roots go, his great grandfather was the first white child born in the territory of Montana in Nevada City in 1864. During the 1930’s to 50’s his grandfather, father and uncle owned and operated one of the most successful outfitting businesses in Jardine, Gardiner and Hell Roaring. I’m a simple man, and having been there 13 years ago and being there today, that elk herd is simply put “devastated”. So corrupt are people’s agendas they need to look at the facts. They’ve introduced a killing machine to this region and its impacts have been seen even by an individual that hasn’t had to live with the day to day BS that spouts from these wolf huggers. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with wolves, but they need managed, they are currently an uncontrolled eating machine and have devastated not only elk, but moose, livestock and much more. Oh but they are soooo cute… :rolleyes:
Bill, in my mind runs an outstanding operation, even though he’s had to deal with these unruly critters. So much that 6 years ago, he obtained a 10,000 acre lease 40 miles to the North around Emigrant. Prior to our arrival he’s had 100% success at opportunities at elk and 100% with deer on this property. Of course, I show up and here we have 60-75 degree weather! As most of you elk hunters know, if there’s one thing that can spoil an elk hunt quicker than anything, it’s the weather. I wouldn’t say it spoiled my hunt one bit though. Despite the “warmer than normal” conditions I saw bulls every day; Some on our property, some on neighboring property or on public land. Luckily for me, I procrastinated in deciding to go and hunt Montana, so I did not have an outfitter sponsored tag. I had a general left over Elk combo tag. The unfortunate part was that there were no deer tags left, so it was elk or nothing for me this week. Elk hunt I did!
11-24-2010, 01:24 PM
The morning was spent glassing our mountain for traces of elk that may have migrated on the property through the night. My first morning into the hunt we had spotted 3 bulls over 300” on neighboring private land and saw near 1000 deer on our property (yeah, that’s not a typo) Thank the lord I did not have a deer tag, as my hunt would have ended that first day on a nice 150” whitetail which would have turned into a bad choice as I had an honest 180” mule deer within 50 yards later that week. Accompanied by me was a couple other hunters, one a Fish and Game Warden from Florida, another lovely lady from the state of Indiana, with her non-hunting husband (at least this week) and a good old boy from Wyoming. My guide was a knowledgeable fellow my age that killed one of the most famous wolves of the Yellowstone region, during the first ever hunt. The antis used the killing of this wolf to help raise money to once again place the moratorium on wolf hunting. Let me tell you that the stories that were published in the national news were somewhat skewed of what actually happened. We spent a lot of hours glassing and telling stories and just enjoying “being there”. After the morning hunt, we would all gather at a wall tent camp, eat lunch and tell stories about our morning hunt or just BS about whatever came to mind. In the afternoon, we would head back out to glass, put stocks on potential animals that raised an eyebrow or get a little closer to get a better look.
In the evenings, I would see herds of 100 deer at a time. No guff either, as I watched from horseback one night a herd of 99 deer, 98 of which were does and small bucks and the 99th being a dandy buck that the lady hunter shot. I was amazed at the amount of animals that would come off this property in the evenings. It only made sense as the farm fields below were stacked against the Yellowstone River and this mountain was the only cover around.
The accommodations were awesome, true log cabins right there in Bill’s back yard off Jardine Road, with a view of Mammoth Hot Springs to the South and Sheep Mountain to the North. Peggy, Bill’s wife always had a great supper in the evenings, large breakfast before the morning hunt and had packed bag lunches every day. We shared plenty of stories, that’s for sure.
11-24-2010, 01:27 PM
On the 3rd day, I had asked if the other hunters and if Bill and my guide minded that I pass the afternoon by taking advantage of my general tag and hunting some of the high country on the other public land. Something was always calling me to hunt hard, as that’s what I’m used to doing. As the days got warmer and the morning hunts progressed, I could tell the boys were out of their element. That is, not having hundreds of head of elk on their property to just pick from. Granted we saw bulls EVERY day, 9 here in a herd or 5 there…just not right on our little piece of heaven. I assured the other hunters….they would be there, it just takes patience. I’ve too often been that public hunter looking over into private land saying, darn wish I could be there now. They would come, we just needed a break in the weather was all.
Now here I go, a guy that’s got 10,000 acres to himself, seeing over 1000 deer a day, some elk and I’m going to head to public land where no one would be stupid enough to go. I assure you, it was the snow capped peaks that were calling me. Thar’s snow and elk in those hills and I’m going after them, on my own. Because Bill had this lease, it was the only place he could outfit or guide, so having the tag I had and the freedom, I chose to just break up the day and put on some miles.
That 3rd day I started the hike up a draw of snow with many drainages. The terrain was a nasty vertical, burn that I knew I would find elk, the deeper I went in. Snow was only 4-6” deep at this point. About 2 hrs into my hike I spotted an elk in the farthest hole of this mountain, so obviously I need to go investigate and see if there are more. An hour later I’m able to spot into the hole a little better and I run into a nice bunch of tracks about 20 head of elk in the snow. Of course they go up, so I go up and up. I would hit drifts of snow and go into my rear-deep of it. Meanwhile, still heading up and out of the burn and into a nice open park. The tracks led into heavy timber and I’m thinking this is the spot I want to stay until dark, to catch these elk coming out to grab a bite. Now to this point, I figured I put on about 8-9 miles on foot in snow ranging from 4” to 3 feet. It wasn’t the easiest of travelling to say the least.
11-24-2010, 01:29 PM
Now I’m in a “honey hole”…I just know it. About an hour into my rest and watching along come two guys on horseback from higher up, they are coming down! Oh man…so I’m thinking I’m the only dude here and here are these guys even further in than me. Another 2 hr hike out, got me back to the truck at dark. After discussing the matter, I decided I need a horse if I’m going to cover some land, so Bill was gracious enough to lend me one the next day and off I went after the morning hunt. That day I spent 10 hrs on horseback, found a nice advantage point to glass about 6 or so parks. Here I have a gorgeous view of Paradise Valley. I ended up riding back to our mountain and that was when I encountered several large herds of deer filtering off our mountain to the farm fields below. It was like the mountain was moving there were so many critters coming off that hill. By now I’m enjoying everything about this hunt. I’m kind of spoiled because I get to do the guided thing in the mornings and evenings and I get to hunt public by myself during the day.
The next day one of our spotters saw “elk” so we headed up the draw to get in on them. As we snuck up the ridge line, Ryan my guide spotted him. I was on my shooting sticks and told him to give me a range from his Geovids. 539 he said, I’m like “good, he’s toast”…then oh no! I see spikes. The only elk I’m not allowed to shoot and there he is, centered between my 3rd and 4th mildot. Ryan says, you could have smoked him right? I said oh yeah, this rig is good out to 690 yards with this scope and I just got done shooting at 550 yards not more than 9 days prior. Throughout the week we talked a lot about ballistics, and long range shooting. Ryan has several friends and clients that shoot and hunt long range also so it was cool getting to talk the language with someone who actually understands there’s validity in shooting animals beyond 200 yards with the proper equipment and person pulling the trigger. I showed him pictures in videos of how we do it back east and it made for good conversation during those glassing sessions.
11-24-2010, 01:30 PM
That afternoon Ryan told me of a spot where he was riding horse and the bulls were bugling last Friday. I said, “yeah right” but I was game for anything. He told me it would be an honest 2 hr hike to get into elk, but what the heck. I’d already covered 40 or so miles on public by now. By now the thermometer is reading 75 degrees and it’s noon! I didn’t think to bring my bugle tube, heck it’s November man, so I borrowed his power bugle, grabbed my cow call, packed up my day pack with extra clothes and started out on a hike in my t-shirt! It was up the whole way of course, half of which was mostly spots of juniper bushes, small pine and mostly sage. The higher I got, the heavier the timber got and the fresher the sign got and the colder it got. Things were looking good, and I had now put on my final layer of clothing. I hit an old access road and ran into a small herd of muledeer doe. 5 mins of glassing them here comes two gorgeous bucks, one that went all of 180”. As I walked higher I came to a posted sign almost at the top of the mountain and saw two smaller signs with their back to me. As I looked at those signs it said “You are not entering the National Forest”. Whoops, I had just walked the length of the forest, so I headed back down past the big bucks, which were still there and left out a bugle. I figured, what the heck, it’s worth a try. Five minutes later I left out another bugle and got an answer about 300 yards from me. I’m thinking “is that what I think it is?” I bugle again and get an immediate response back from a growler. I start heading down the hill towards him, the only problem…of which I had not mentioned to this point, the bull is just inside Yellowstone Park boundary. I get to a nice open area and the bull is bugling and coming. Now this isn’t like my experiences in archery, he’s bugling, but not rutting bugling. He’s just letting me know where he is and that’s mighty fine by me, b/c he’s heading my way. Cows are calling all around me, it’s getting towards the final shooting light and out he pops. A beautiful 6x6 about 340’s range and I put my crosshairs on him and say “boom” to myself. For not only was the bull in my crosshairs, but so was the Yellowstone boundary line marker, 10 yards in front of him. Here I am, 40 yards from a bugling bull in November, with a rifle and this sucker hangs up just on the other side of the boundary line. Some cows cross over the line down wind of me and the woods come unglued. I did not hear a bark but it sounded like about 30 elk in that herd. My bull ran another 200 yards inside the park and let out a farewell bugle. I now have a 2 hr hike out of the timber to the trailhead in the dark with a minimag that doesn’t have the strongest of batteries in it! Oh, I only saw two sets of grizzly tracks on my way up, but I was not worried of bears or cats…..my only concern, a pack of wolves of course. I can handle one critter at a time trying to eat me, but not 4 or 5 or 10. What an awesome hunt that day though! A bugling bull called to 40 yards, scoped, but couldn’t take a shot. It was well worth the 4 hr round trip hike.
11-24-2010, 01:33 PM
That evening I saw a wolf on the way back to Bill’s place. The 3rd of which I saw that week. Great stories were told that evening and another great meal provided by Peggy was well received after that long walk. I asked Bill if he had those bulls trained, and he said, that wasn’t the first time an elk has hung up just inside the park and they are well aware of where that boundary is. With only two days left to the 7 day hunt, I was still very optimistic, especially after the encounters I had that day on our property and on the public land. That evening the Florida Fish and Game fellow killed a good mule deer buck.
The next morning hunt I personally watched two bulls get shot from my binoculars on a piece of public land adjacent to our property. The bulls were making a run for it from another section of private land and only had another 1500 yards to clear to make it to our property. I was happy for the lucky hunters but was praying that they would make it to give the other two hunters an opportunity at an elk. With very little time left and very uncooperative weather the elk activity was looking pretty low for my hunting partners that had to stay on the 10000 acres b/c of their outfitter sponsored tags. Spotting 5 other bulls, I just knew it was only a matter of time before they came over to our property, but hoped it would be before we ran out of time.
That afternoon, I could not let my little bugling buddy go, so I packed up in the 70 degree weather again and headed out for my 2 hr hike. By the time I arrived to the spot I had my encounter the day before, it was 4:00. I backed off the park line about 150 yards and waited. At 4:30 I heard my first bugle, so I responded back. It was the same growling bugle from the night before and he was about 300 yards in the park. After 30 minutes of back and forth I had 5 different bulls screaming. It was so awesome. I had about 10 minutes to last shooting light and I made the decision that my bull wasn’t going to make it in time, that he would probably wait until dark again to cross over the boundary. There was another bull about ½ mile down the mountain that sounded darn close to the property line to me, so I took off on a sprint. I got to a spot where the woods opened up a bit and the boundary was on a small bench. I let out a bugle and got an immediate answer not more than 80 yards from me! I backed off as far as I could from the line and still have a clear shot then broke out my cow call. As I mewed, I could hear the cows coming and the bull was screaming and coming. With the way the boundary line was, as soon as I could see him, he would only have about 5 yards to clear to be in legal territory. My plan was to dump him with a neck shot as soon as he was past the line, so I wouldn’t have to lose an animal that made it back into it’s safe zone after the shot. Here he comes and I can see horns, another beautiful 6x6. He made it to less than a yard inside the park and stopped and waited until it was too dark to see or legally shoot. What another awesome night! Man I love this bugling bull stuff with a rifle in my hand, but they sure make it frustrating hanging up right at the boundary line.
11-24-2010, 01:36 PM
The final day was another scorcher and we all did the morning hunt and then headed to Livingston to do a little shopping and eat some lunch. I needed a little rest, so I decided not to make the hike again as I’d figure I would encounter the same fate as the previous two nights. Besides I told the other two hunters I would cut up those deer, so that’s what we did. We got back to Bill’s before supper, I started cutting deer and we told stories. Ryan was checking the zero on one of his guns on a rock at 580 yards. I handed him my 300 RUM and said, put the 4th dot on the rock. He center punched the 12” rock and I said, see, that elk at 539 was toast!
All I can say is those boys worked their rear off trying to make sure everyone was having a great time and trying their darndest to get us elk that just weren’t there on our property. Leave it up to me to pick a week that would ruin their 100% opportunity on this property, lol. As most of you know that were elk hunting this year, the weather was just plain horrible for hunting. 60-75 degrees is not optimal hunting weather, when those animals should be moving, they just have no reason to come down out of the high country. Even though I didn’t have to, I choose to put on about 50 or so miles of foot and horse hunting outside of how they were hunting them. In the end, I came home without an animal, but I wouldn’t call it empty handed. I had the time of my life in one of my most favorite areas in all of the US. I came home with new friends, tons of stories and just one heck of a memory. Bill Hoppe of North Yellowstone Outfitters runs one of the best operations that I’ve had the opportunity to partake in! If you’re looking for an awesome hunt, big elk and especially trophy mule deer, give him a call and tell him I sent ya! Oh yeah, I have to get back out there in archery season!
Sorry it was such a long story, but it was such a great hunt and I still missed quite a few details. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the story and the photos….this guy is top notch in my book
11-24-2010, 10:25 PM
Hellofa good report petey. Sounds like you had a great time. I've hunted Emigrant several times and you do need cold weather and lots of snow to really get into 'em. However, I've said for years, those Wolves are destroying the entire deer, elk, moose, wild sheep herds and no good for livestock. They should be cut down to 10% and kept that way. Some people are so stupid about wildlife and dumb as a rock to boot. Anyway, I'm glad you had a great time. I only wish you'd have had a deer tag.
11-25-2010, 05:24 AM
Thanks for the report. Sounds like a great time.
12-21-2010, 11:12 PM
Very cool story and awesome pics ! :D Thanks for sharing ! :cool:
Petey, I know EXACTLY where you were hunting... killed a nice 6pt there in 2000 before the big burn.
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