I could write a huge book about my life’s hunting experiences starting from my first Deer hunt at age 12 to the last time I shot an Elk which was just a few years ago. I don’t know if it would be fun to read or rather boring but there are several stand out hunts that might be fun to pass on. One that I was reminiscing about was the fall of 1981 in Montana.
Joy was pregnant with our 4th child and we were living in Twin Bridges working the old Spinner place on the Ruby River for Lowell Hildreth. It was about a section of land or less that consisted of hay meadows, sloughs, brush, a fishing pond and the Ruby.
The Ruby flows north out of the Alder Montana country and runs by Sheridan on its way to Twin Brides where it joins the Beaverhead to form the Jefferson on its way to Three Forks where the Jefferson is joined by the Madison and the Gallatin to form the Missouri.
The Spinner place was winter and spring calving country and the summer range was up river to the Robb Creek Grazing Association. Overall it was some of my favorite ‘Cow Country’.
I loaded up my Smokey Appaloosa horse and a colt I was riding for a neighbor and headed up country. The plan was to head out from the Robb Creek cow camp east bound and tie into the head of the East Fork of the Blacktail. I had some friends that had a camp at the end of the road on the Blacktail and figured I had enough equipment to spend the night on the trial if I didn’t make their camp before dark.
Smokey was young but fairly seasoned and the colt that I packed was solid enough for what I was doing. We headed east and then turned south at the head of the Blacktail as the day wore on. To give you an idea of how isolated the country was I had a Mountain Goat on the trail coming my way as I turned south, he didn’t challenge my right to be there but stepped off of the trail and headed high up into the rocks.
Mid afternoon I looked back over my shoulder to see that a herd of Elk had came out just under a ridge that I had passed. They weren’t there when I rode by but had moved out into the open after I passed. They were quite a ways back but I tied my horses off and grabbing my rifle slipped back towards them. It was getting late but I figured if I could hit one of the bulls that were in the herd it would be well worth a late night in the cold and dark. I tried a couple of shots but it was to far for me and I was running out of time to get closer. They weren’t spooked or disturbed by my shots so I figured they’d be close by in the morning which would give me more time for a stalk.
After I got back to my horses I headed down the trail to find a camping spot for the night and bumped into my friends. They were a bit surprised to hear my shooting as no one could get up the trail from their camp without them knowing. That I had come in from up above surprised them.
We chatted for awhile and glassed the country for game when we noticed a young bull and a some cows had come out in the open a few hundred yards above us. My friends were all hunting 6 point bulls but I was more interested in meat so opted to head up the hill and try for a shot on the young bull. One of the regulations for Elk in that unit was that they had to be a branch antlered bull, no spikes.
I got within shooting distance as they started to run. There was only the one bull with the cows so it was easy to concentrate on him. I identified a branch on his antlers and dropped him on the run at about 150 yards. It wasn’t a tough shot and with a broken shoulder he went down in a heap; I finished him off with a neck shot as I approached and realized that his branch was moss on his horn that hadn’t been completely rubbed off. I field dressed him as I was not want to waste the meat and headed back to where my friends where. I told Bill, one of my friends, that there may be some question as to whether it was a legal Elk for that unit. He said don’t sweat it as we would come back and look at him in the morning and decide.
The next day after 6 of us chased 150 head of Elk up the trail trying to get a shot at a couple of 6 points, no one got one, we rode up to my Elk and Bill pointed out that the brow tines where over an inch long and that made him a branch antlered Elk, a legal kill. We loaded him up on a couple of horses and headed to Bills camp. I hung him there in a tree and headed north to the Robb Creek headquarters. It was about an 18 mile ride but I made it in the daylight and got home that evening. I had in essence made a circle, all be it a jagged circle in my hunt, east, south, west and then north.
The next day Joy and I with our 3 kids and her very pregnant loaded up in the ranch’s old GMC pickup, the same one that I had hauled my horses back and forth in, it had a stock rack on it, and headed to Dillon and then up the East Fork of the Blacktail.
Some where between Dillon and where my Elk was hanging we ran into quite an ensemble coming out. One was the Fish and Game, another on was a Game Biologist and the last was my friend Bill. The Fish and Game had seized my Elk and told Bill to tell me to come and see them. Bill was putting up quite an argument with them as to my Elk being legal but they were having nothing to do with it. Just as they were about to leave his camp with my illegal Elk the Game Biologist drove up. The conversation went something like this. Bill asking Fred the Game Biologist “hey Fred, would you shoot this thing in a branch antlered unit”? Fred looking in the back of the pickup responded, “yep, believe I would”. The 2 game wardens looked at each other and unloaded my now legal Elk that had been in question a few minutes earlier.
When we stopped and chatted with everyone the 2 Game Wardens wouldn’t even look at us, I think when they realized that we were a young ranching couple just trying to feed our family and not trying to get away with anything sneaky they felt a bit foolish.
I’m not sure how many Elk I had shot before that one or how many since but in teaching my sons and daughters good hunting ethics keeping things legal is very important and sometimes a challenge. When the shooting starts be sure of your target and the rules of that particular unit. At least the Elk aren’t shooting back but the hills are filled with a lot of folks with high powered rifles with their blood lust up. Add alcohol and short tempered Game Wardens and things can get a bit tense and trust me, they aren’t going to think you are a bit funny trying to convince them that your cow Elk identifies as a spike, or vice versa.
The featured image is my son Kamron and myself and an Elk I shot in 2016; 3 of my son’s along with me shot spikes that year. It was a spike only unit.