So, where were you 6 years ago? Hard isn't it? Six years ago I made the decision to start applying to states in the western United States for the privilege and opportunity to hunt big game. For myself and my two sons, Hunter and Jordan. Back then I didn't have the time nor the inclination to do all the paperwork for each state so I hired somebody to do it for me. I know, the easy way out, hire somebody to do it for you right? No, hire somebody to save me the time, money and effort required to keep up to date on all the various state's in's and out's of changing application features and changing regulations. I hired HUNTIN' FOOL to get me in the game and keep me there. Not for every state I apply to but for some. They have done a good job over the years and am satisfied with their work. Six years ago I didn't have the money to run off on a guided hunt so I knew over the next few years I could salt some funds away diligently for a good hunt with my sons. I kept a separate brokerage account earmarked for HUNTING and invested the money conservatively. Unfortunately BITCOIN had not yet been invented!
This year my sons drew tags for Unit 101 on the eastern plains of Colorado for the November rifle hunts with 5 points each. When I think back on the 5 years of putting in for points and where each of them were in their lives it is amazing how fast time flies. When I started applying for points I didn't have a clue on where or when we might get to hunt in Colorado I just knew points were required. Just do it was my motto. The hunt would eventually take care of itself. So fast forward 5 years.........
Two years ago I book a deposit for the boys, now men, with Scott Limmer, not certain then when they might draw or when Scott would have a hunt opening. Scott is a great hunter and runs a quality operation.
Before we rolled south to Colorado I had been invited by a friend, a retired biologist from the great state of Montana, to run up to Saskatchewan and go on a hunt that had been on my bucket list for a long time, a Canadian waterfowl hunt. As a young kid I was on fire with hunting ducks. My .410 was the tool and I still shoot that gun today. My late Dad had been once to Canada and I remember him telling me stories about clouds of ducks and geese. Probably a lot more snow geese and Canadians today than back then, ducks not so much.
There were 4 of us headed north in two pickups as we cleared Canadian customs in Montana with only 3 Canadian customs officials on duty.
We had our paperwork in order ahead of time, guns handy, ammunition packed for easy review and no liquor on board. A custom officials dream!
We were going to hunt for 3 days and as it turned out, three days was plenty. We had hired an outfitter that my pal had hunted with previously and it was money well spent. Free lancing across the provinces is probably a grand idea if you have a camping rig and plenty of time and the right gear, as in decoys and blinds. I love DIY hunting but time was important and like the majority of things in life, having the right gear and foundation to get the job done is key. You know well what I mean and am sure you would agree. This is the waterfowl outfitter we engaged:
Hunting geese is something I have always loved to do. I am pretty good at killing them. My 3 pals were shooting .12 gauges while I elected to hammer with my .20 gauge. I shoot a Beretta A-400 .20 gauge with a 28 inch barrel. Nice gun, easy recoil, pounds on the geese not on me. I have a hard time coming up in a lay-out blind with a .12 gauge shooting 3.5 inch magnum BB's after a couple of boxes of shells. Less recoil, probably has to do with why I have been shooting a .243 since 1969.
We were hunting twice a day, mornings for geese, afternoons for ducks. It was all dry land, field hunting. Lots of birds, didn't see or hear any other hunters, locals friendly, good accommodations, lots of fun, professional outfitter. Here is a taste of the snow goose shooting.
We shot snow geese, blue geese, Ross's geese, white-fronted geese often called specks or speckle-bellies and of course, when in Canada, one shoots Canadian geese! As anyone knows who has hunted snow geese, older, mature snows are smart. Probably 80 to 90% of the birds killed were juvenile birds. When those old leaders out front shy off from the decoy spread and give that distinct, gutteral "GRONK, GRONK" it's off and away they go. The shooting was spectacular and at times it was raining geese!
I lucked out and was able to shoot a few Ross's geese. This one below is an absolute beauty and looks to be very old. Maybe 15 to 25 years old? Ross's geese are about 40% smaller than snow geese and are named after a Hudson Bay Company agent in the Northwest Territory of Canada. I love that unicorn looking bump on the very top of the bill! Those bluish, warty looking bumps are called caruncles that mature, male Ross's geese develop at the base of their bill. And yes, I am having it mounted!
Afternoons were busy with gunning ducks in the fields. Mallards, a few pintails, lots of widgeon. The four of us were satisfied with the overall number of birds! It is exciting to have hundreds of ducks headed into your decoy spread at the same time!
We were hunting hours north of Regina, Saskatchewan and the birds were plentiful coming off the roost to hit the lentil, pea, canola and barley fields. There is something magical being so close to so many hungry birds making so much beautiful music!
Our guide served up a wonderful opportunity for me to "win" the GOLDEN BB award which was a free meal, bought by the guide to the hunter who killed, at his call, a bird that was particularly high or coming downwind at the speed of light. It's not about all the shot headed into the heavens, it's about shot placement. The .20 did what it was supposed to do.
The time flew by and we headed back to the United States. At US Customs we were met by 6 customs officials, one who had a rather miserable attitude toward American hunters. It seems every time I have driven back into the United States from Canada there has to be a bona fide prick in the mix of outstanding government employees who are simply doing their job. Always a bad apple in the bunch isn't there? I nicknamed the guy "Sessions" because he just didn't want to do the job he was being paid to do in a professional manner.
When we got back to Montana to my place on the Yellowstone River the big game season was in full swing. A good friend of mine who hunted Canada with us had a tag for a deer and he was going to kill his first deer. He had a wonderful shot opportunity on the first morning of his hunt on this beauty. These pictures were taken long before the season started. Sure is a beautiful animal!
Unfortunately he made a less than ideal shot and it took several days to recover him. We had a sighting of the buck two days after the initial wounding and caught up with him days after that. We beat alot of brush looking for that animal and we never gave up. Our search paid off!
I have been a trapper my entire life and I try my best to thin out the local coyote population and usually have some success. I have been trapping canines for over 40 years and still love it. Saving fawns and killing coyotes never gets old!
I love the sound of jingling chains when coyotes are pulling! Back in the day it was the sound of money.
On a side note, we headed to the gun range to make sure a friends rifle was 100% accurate and all of a sudden out walked a bull moose from behind the berm. Talk about a neat surprise in eastern Montana!
A friend, an Air Force officer and his beautiful wife came to hunt and although he missed a gorgeous whitetail buck he put a healthy doe in the freezer. That is some wonderful eating!
Eastern Montana has a good population of both whitetail deer and mule deer. I had taken this picture of a band of mule deer bucks earlier in the fall on my way home from town. Boys being boys before the rut started!
I didn't want to be hunting with my sons in Colorado. I wanted to be there to support them in whatever they might need and not be worrying about getting a buck tag filled. Youngest son Jordan is a junior at the University of Georgia and has led the UGA Bass Anglers fishing team for the past two years as President. He has qualified for the 2018 National BASS competition in Louisiana in late May. As an electrical engineering major he has a good handle on math and angles and is a capable hand with his Hoyt bow. He loves to bow hunt!
Oldest son Hunter is a First Lieutenant in the Unites States Air Force. He should make the rank of Captain in May and has had a stellar career in his short tenure in the Air Force already.
Check out some of the hardware Hunter accumulated recently as the #1 missileer in the Air Force!
It is really a treat to be around him and his friends who are so motivated, bright and serve their country as ICBM launch officers who accomplish the mission that is so critical to our nation. It's true, peace through strength. Proud Father I am.
Hunting in eastern Colorado when the corn crops are still in the ground is difficult. Deer hide in the corn forests!
In all my years I have never seen so many pheasants as we did this fall in eastern Colorado! It was amazing the number of birds we saw. Deer were a different story. For the week we were able to get two bucks down. We hunted hard, ate well, glassed and glassed some more, had a fine guide, made some great shots and brought some wonderful meat home. We saw some magnificent bucks, most on property we could not secure access too. Eastern Colorado has great genetics, great nutrition and enough private land to get deer into a mature age class. It is really fun to see such huge bucks! It was a great time for my sons and Dad. I am not a "score" guy so I don't have a clue what these bucks might score. I don't care. Doesn't matter. Great bucks, great hunt with my sons, priceless memories. What on earth does a "score" have to do with our hunt? The trophy is in the hunt, not in the deer!
Jordan tagged this brute as he was jumping a fence. Nice buck!
Hunter hammered this bomber on the last day with a running kill shot at 338 yards. We kept our spirits high. Optimism was NOT in short supply with this crew. It was a sweet ending to a great week for sure!
We had a wonderful guide. Very professional, knew his deer, great cook, great positive attitude. He had never guided a hunter under the age of 30 in his 22 year career as a guide. He had a lot of fun with my young men! It wasn't all hard work in the hills as you can see here. The mid-day sun made for a good nap or two!
Here's a picture of our guide in the hills with my sons. As you can see, blaze orange is required in Colorado for a hunters head and upper body! I wish it were required nationally. Might save a life or two. Maybe even yours.
One of my best pals and someone I have been hunting with since the early 90's sent me a picture of a big hog he hammered in south Georgia while I was in Colorado and thought I would share it. Hogs are increasing their range and numbers across the southeast and Texas has millions of them! It's great fun to lower the numbers any chance you get.
After finishing up in Colorado I headed back to Montana with general deer and elk tags in my pocket. I had a good idea where I might find a decent muley buck and headed into the hills to see what I could turn up. I located a big doe group that from a long distance had a fine buck running the show and made the decision to see what I could do. It was obvious thru my Swaro glass the buck had me spotted and was looking directly at me from a half mile away. Any mule deer hunter knows that the eyesight on a big muley is uncanny. They can detect eye contact at hundreds of yards. So what does an old salt like me do? Yup, you guessed it. I put the backpack on, shouldered my rifle and start walking. Walking directly AWAY from the deer and over the hill without looking back. The topography, luckily was in my favor. I was able to circle around, drop into a series of draws and stay hidden. What seemed like close to an hour later I was crawling up a good hill into position across the canyon from the bedded doe group. Avoiding cactus at all costs, it takes a month for those stickers to work their way out, it was slow going. My rifle is heavy. I shoot a BAR .243 with a high end Swaro scope and moving that rifle up ahead of me with one hand while crawling became tiring. I had to laugh at myself. As a big fan of Cameron Hanes, he no doubt has NOT had the problem of his arm tiring on a long stalk. If you don't know who Cameron Hanes is I respectively suggest you look him up on the internet. So, I admit, I didn't spend enough time in the weight room and I was rehashing in my mind that next year will be different. I had ranged both hill tops and knew the buck was laying between them surrounded by his does. I had my shooting sticks set up at the right height before I started crawling, had shed my pack, range finder, hat and binoculars as my crawl progressed and was ready to get it done as I moved higher to the knob where I would have a clean, long shot. Two does to the south side of the hill had spotted movement and were "deer alert", up and ready to flee. They started moving and I could see more deer up and moving through the grass into the wind so I knew it was now or never. I came up fast behind some sagebrush, having guessed right on which way they would blow out and which side of the tall sage to shoot from, got on the sticks in a nanosecond, located the buck, hoping that this was THE buck and not a smaller buck in the group and got on him. I learned decades ago a guy shouldn't focus on antlers when shooting at an animal. It usually makes for sordid tales at deer camp about the one that got away! At the shot the buck humped and continued moving so I touched off another round as he went into a circular dance before going down. The does came together in a tight group as they crested the hill and I didn't see any antlers. I had a hunch the buck I toasted was the big boy.
It took me a bit to get across the canyon and sure enough, I went up the wrong little drainage and couldn't find a dead deer. Another one of those high to low moments that a guy dreads. I looked at the hill again and figured I was wrong and went over the knob and there he laid.
Good eastern Montana buck. No ground shinkage! What a great stalk. Great shooting. Great time. Great deer. Not a clue what he scores. Just another priceless memory and great eating.
A day later found me on the road with an elk tag burning a hole in my pocket. I headed out with a friend for some old-fashioned tent camping in some cold weather. We had secured permission on a beautiful ranch that we had killed elk on before. The ranch owner and his crew had downed several bulls during the first week of the season and I was optimistic I might put a tag on a great bull. It's been a few years since I had a good bull in my cross hairs. The last bull elk I shot at was a clean miss in thick timber and a strong wind. I remember it like yesterday! Like I say, elk hunting can be a game of inches and I wanted a good bull. Who wouldn't?
We saw plenty of elk. 50 maybe 60, I lost count. None were on the property we had permission to hunt on. We saw a nice bull get killed, glassed some huge bulls, had a monster bull 250 yards on the other side of the fence. You know, just a ton of reasons I didn't get one down. All valid reasons, I never fired a shot. Tent camping at 15 degrees was rather exhilarating. Everyone should do it on an elk hunt!
We were a long way from anything. Going to sleep at 7 pm and waking at 5:30 was interesting. I wish natures call a couple of times a night would vanish but that won't happen at my age. It was a tad nippy coming out of a warm bag! Listening to coyotes howl all night and watching billions of stars twinkle, to say nothing of shooting stars was special. It is pretty nice not to deal with other humans for a few days a year and elk camp is a grand place to do it!
I was wearing my lucky hat that my late Mom knit for me in 1974. I have worn that hat on so many great goose and predator hunts and it is one thing, warm. Had some warm weather midday too. Sunglasses were a huge help.
I covered alot of ground, played the wind correctly and looked into every nook and cranny that might have harbored a great bull, post-rut, late in the season. I did find a couple of beauties.
Eating Mountain House food, especially chili mac, was a treat!
We left elk camp in good spirits without a single shot being fired. It was a great hunt. We went hard, stayed optimistic and saw plenty of elk. It isn't easy, nor cheap. I won't like tag soup this year with my elk tag!
My buddy filled his deer tag on his last day in Montana. Three bucks he missed were larger than this guy but he had fun. I always tell other hunters, not that I know that much about hunting or shooting or ballistics, how important it is to know your rifle. Know how it shoots. Be comfortable with your rifle, off-hand, on sticks, laying down, off a pack, sitting, kneeling, against a rock, against a fence post. How many people head west not being properly prepared is rather amazing. Ask any outfitter or guide you know how often they encounter paying customers who simply can't shoot under normal shooting circumstances out west. Lots of hunters spend vast amounts of good money and are not prepared. Not prepared physically, not prepared emotionally to kill a big buck. As I tell others, shoot 3 boxes of shells through your rifle. Every. Single. Year. It will pay off.
Thanksgiving was around the corner and my sons were coming to our property with Montana deer tags in their pockets. Jordan was going to hunt with his bow for the week.
Hunter was going to wait on killing a big buck! They went hard that week. On stand early, on stand late, on stand all day. They saw some beauties but didn't kill a buck they wanted to shoot. Jordan had some bombers out of range with his bow. They learned long ago you can't kill big bucks when you kill small bucks. Remember, MT only allows one buck per hunter per year. Hunter wanted a great buck and having two doe tags, wound up punching a couple of does for meat.
During the week I got a phone call from Jordan. From his stand he had spotted something unusual. He told me to come take a look. There is a first time for everything and this is what I saw.
The bucks were locked up and the smaller buck was near death. As the guys approached them close the bigger buck got a shot of adrenaline and broke off his horn that Jordan is holding above and walked off grunting. The other deer died right before our eyes! I had called a neighbor who sits on the MT private land/private wildlife council who called a MT conservation officer to obtain a permit to field dress the buck for consumption. When we opened it up you could see where the horn tip of the bigger buck had gored the dead buck.
It was a great season. All of the neat things I was able to see. The majestic incredible sunrises in Canada, the breathtaking sunsets in Montana, the elk shed I found stuck way up in a tree, the eagles, the antelope, the hawks, the pheasants, the geese, the coyotes. To me, Montana is the best state in the United States. I have not visited every state but that's probably not necessary to come to my conclusion. So, thank you Montana. Thanks for letting me spend my youth here and and thanks for letting me fall in love with you. Thanks for letting me be a part of the place that so few people get to call home. There are plenty of reasons that Montana is called The Last Great Place. I am thankful for it all. God willing I will get to experience it many years into the future with my family!
Great memories of times with your boys Dean. Great boys to be around. Nice hunting!
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