December/January 2013 EHJ (Issue 134) - Concern was growing as I peaked over the topography of the rockslide toward the head of the basin. I couldn’t see the ribbon cliff he was on yet. I glanced back at Kenny, and his look was as worried as mine. I crept a little forward and stood on tippy-toes, pulling my binoculars to my eyes while trying not to send a landslide heading for lower country. There was the ribbon cliff, and there he was — staring directly at me! I hit the rocks like a mortar was coming in. I looked back at Kenny and told him we had to find another way. This route wasn’t going to cut it.
My hunting season started out with a lot of potential. I had drawn a good high-country archery mule deer tag in Colorado, and I had been researching steadily, hoping for a chance at my first velvet mulie buck. Hopefully following that up with a high-country mule deer in my home state of Montana.
Well, life has a way of changing plans, and that is what happened to my family. Through a kinship adoptive placement we welcomed three children into our home, expanding our family of four to seven.
That meant we needed a lot more of a lot of things: more food, more rooms in the house and more time. My wife has always done more than her share of the childcare when hunting season rolled around, but it was apparent that hunting Colorado was no longer a viable option. So my heart was heavy, but the tag went into the mail and back to Colorado.
It didn’t mean I would be out of the high country altogether, though. Mid- August found me up in the alpine high country of western Montana checking out a remote basin. The country was classic high country mule deer habitat: ribbon cliffs, steep avalanche chutes and big alpine meadows. The first critter I saw in that scouting trip was a big grizzly bear grazing on huckleberries. The next one I found was an even bigger grizzly. I was starting to feel pretty alone. Next, I found a legitimate monster bull elk. The big velvet seven-point was by himself high above the timber, growing fat on the succulent high country forbs. I got some video of the bull and bears and settled in for the night.
The full moon that night kept me up more than the idea of those grizzlies in the area. I awoke to a clean, clear morning and set up on a cliff edge overlooking the basin. I immediately spotted two young mulie bucks feeding in an alpine meadow under a cliff. They didn’t even wait for the morning sun to peek out and warm up their coats before they slipped away into a pocket of sub alpine fir and bedded out of sight. I kept glassing for hours, but didn’t see another creature. I did a little hiking around and found plenty of sign. There were day-old pellets here, a dusty bed there, and plenty of big mulie prints in the soft spots. It seemed the full moon had them up all night and sleeping all day.
I made it out of there without finding a big old buck but knew that the country was good and the sign was there. Google Earth showed more of the same in the neighboring basins. I figured these more remote basins would be the spot to be for the season opener. I got home and showed my video to my buddy, Kenny White. I asked him if he would be interested in heading in there with me to find a deer. The answer was enthusiastic, and plans were made. The only trouble was that it was looking like it would be a full moon for opening day as well, so spotting might be difficult.
We knew the hike in was going to be grueling, so we gave ourselves plenty of time, starting the hike in the early morning hours the day before the opener. To my surprise, the only other vehicle at the parking lot was an out-of-state car clearly belonging to a non-hunter. It was starting to look like we might have the area to ourselves. We trudged up the seemingly endless switchbacks, our Eberlestocks loaded up with a comfortable backpacking camp.
For a full account of Matt's adventure, go to page 26 in the December/January 2013 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.