October/November 2012 EHJ (Issue 133) - As James and I left Hays, Montana early on the first day of our annual "Veteran’s Week” hunt, we engaged in good conversation. We discussed the previous winter’s harsh conditions, the current hunting season’s unseasonably warm weather and more immediately, the recent full-moon-cycle. How were deer populations affected by an exceptionally difficult winter? Due to the heat, were large bucks actively rutting yet? Would mule deer bed-down earlier than usual today? These questions and the usual hunt strategies consumed our conversation as we drove to a favorite destination in the Charles M. Russell preserve within Montana’s Missouri River Breaks territory.
After about a forty-mile drive, we arrived at one of the CMR’s vast canyon regions. Spectacular and rugged, hunting this country can be a daunting proposition for all but the most dedicated mule deer aficionado. But as most trophy hunters know, especially in over-the-counter tag units, the big ones are rarely close to the road.
After gearing-up for a day’s adventure, we reviewed our equipment and provisions; frame pack, knives, ammo, optics, rope, basic survival items, and importantly, energy food and water. With everything in order, we left the truck and proceeded across about a halfmile bench before reaching a series of long, juniper-studded ridges. Prior to our descent, we sat and carefully glassed an expansive area that, considering the mix of sage, juniper and cedar habitat, should have exposed many deer grazing the hillsides. Not surprisingly, we only glassed a few does. From our experience in this heavily hunted and outfitted area, it was uncommon to see many game animals wandering around the more accessible ridge-tops. Our plan, however, involved a decidedly more arduous approach; descend deep into the canyon and hunt the tail-end of the ridges, utilizing the creek bottom for stalking purposes.
Approximately halfway down our chosen ridge, we ran into a herd of about fifteen yearling range cows. These pests, much to our annoyance, elected to travel with us in the following pattern: stampede, stop and watch, then stampede again. Great, deer hunting bovine-style.
This dilemma, however, provided us with a reason to stop, glass, and allow the cows to settle down and meander away. Now, we started to see more deer. Only does at first, but as we scrutinized one particular distant ridge, just above the creek, we saw an interesting activity; two smaller-sized bucks sparring. Although the deer were about a mile away, and not really of trophy quality, we took this as a good sign and decided to shorten the distance for a closer look. A half-mile later, we were in a better position to view, not only the bucks locking horns, but also a secluded bowl just beyond the rutting action. As I was glassing the two sparring 140-145 inch bucks and what appeared to be a third, slightly bigger buck, I reflected on the present scenario: does, satellite bucks, great cover, and multiple escape routes. At the very least, there had to be something respectable in the area.
For a full account of Brent's adventure, go to page 50 in the October/November 2012 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.