The End of an Era

By Marc Hamlen
Montana, 2009, DIY, Public Land

The End of an EraAugust/September 2011 EHJ (Issue 126) - After around 18 years of applying, I was fortunate enough to draw a coveted late-season antlered elk tag for the Gardiner area north of Yellowstone. This area has been famous for wintering thousands of elk that migrate from Yellowstone and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. The rare chance to hunt this famous herd with a late-season tag, which is only a four-day season, had me excited beyond words.

I had started applying for this tag in the early 1990s after accompanying a close friend, Audie Anderson, on a hunt there. I’ll never forget that hunt. We spent nearly a week glassing and scouting on horseback in the days prior. During this time, we glassed what we estimated to be nearly a thousand head of elk per day, some days more. We saw over 80 bulls in one herd! We watched them for a couple of hours until dark and were unable to find a bull in this herd with less than five points. I know of no other place, then or now, where a guy is likely to see such a sight.

After three days of riding, hiking, and glassing, he connected with a beautiful seven-point bull just before dark. The following day, Audie, our friend, Gary Wogaman, and I spent a frigid-cold day in deep snow packing the bull out on horseback. Little did I know that someday he would return this favor.

Every winter after that, my wife, Sarah, and I would make a trip or two to this country to glass, photograph, and admire the large herds of elk on their winter range. The elk seemed limitless at times and it became something we looked forward to all year.

Back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, there were somewhere around 300 late-season bull tags and thousands of cow tags offered for this area. These late-season hunts were a perfect fit for my friends and me to apply since we were making our livings in the fall by working as big game guides.

In the mid 1990s, the wolf was reintroduced to this landscape, drastically changing the predator-prey balance on this elk herd and quickly reducing the wintering herds. Many people felt there were a few too many elk stressing the winter range here and the numbers needed reduced. Some even claimed the wolf reintroduction was just what was needed to naturally reduce the herd. I think few ever guessed how quickly and efficiently this top predator could do just that. Elk numbers rapidly plummeted, as did the number of late-season elk tags available to sportsmen.

Marc Hamlen

For a full account of Marc's adventure, go to page 34 in the August/September 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.