This is the story of my first elk hunt. I want to share my experience and what I learned along the way…
I’m David Hewett (dah605 on the forum), a 44 year old, overweight, out-of-shape, IT guy living in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. I started shooting and hunting shortly after moving to the Pittsburgh area in 2003. The vast majority of my hunting experience is for whitetail in the thick woods of PA where most shots are under 100 yards. The longest range locally in a reasonable driving distance is 600 yards.
As a guy with a strong fondness for rifle and gadgets, I’ve grown tired of shooting only 100 yards. I found various forums that offer advice and information about hunting at longer ranges. Broz being one of those who routinely shared his experience with a lot of empirical evidence. I’ve spent the few years collecting the various gadgets needed to shoot long. Last year, I spent a day in his shooting school where we started at 734 yards and progressively made it out as far as 1809 yards. I highly recommend Jeff’s school for his very practical approach at very reasonable rates.
I help Jeff with the some of the IT aspects of the LRO site. The topic of someday hunting elk together has come up in our conversations. Well, the hunt happened sooner than I originally expected and I scheduled some time off in November to make the 30 hour drive to Montana to hunt the mighty wapiti.
Hunting in Montana
Jeff is ridiculously busy during hunting season. When you manage a large ranch, there are number of responsibilities that include escorting hunters on their hunting adventures. I was able to hunt with Jeff and some others after arriving on Friday afternoon. This included my first experience climbing a mountain. Some might call these foothills, but to my heart, lungs and legs, they may as well have been mountains.
We were back into hunting mode on Saturday afternoon. Jeff located a group of elk and the stalk was on. They moved to one of the few ridges where recovery is too difficult and we passed on filling 3 people’s tags–they would have been fairly easy shots, too. After more glassing, we had more opportunities at shots, but none that were high percentage shots. One was about 600 yards to another mountain with gusty, switchy winds and the other was a strong quartering away shot on a skylined elk.
On Sunday, Jeff’s duties required escorting some friends of the ranch owner on their hunts. We glassed the mountains and, using my Swarovski EL 8×32 binoculars, I picked out a small group of 6 elk on a ridge that we could access. The four of us relocated to make a move on them. I stayed back at the truck to minimize the disruption during the stalk. It surprised me when I heard a shot shot within a minute after they crested the ridge. A herd of ~100 elk was bedded between us and the 6 that were being stalked. The shot hit its mark and I got to see my first elk up close and Jeff’s expertise field dressing the large cow.
On Monday, it was my turn to hunt. The elk on the ranch seemed to be in three groups, two with approximately 140 head and the third with only 6 head. Normally, the elk spend the day on the north facing timber covered slopes in the mountain, but one of the groups had spent Sunday in the lowlands. The elk made it back onto the ranch that morning. Jeff spotted them before they made it into the dark timber. We drove in as close as we dared and hiked about 3/8 of a mile up the “ant hill” to get into position. I’m convinced the ant hill is steeper than the one we climbed on Friday night.
After crawling into position at the top, we set up undetected. Jeff picked out a large cow bedded beside a distinctive bright green tree. Jeff ranged the distance at 388 yards and dialed 5.25 MOA elevation on my Nightforce ATACR. Jeff recommended 0.25R MOA for wind since the wind was almost head on and only ~5 mph. I very quickly learned that I need to practice different positions more. I spend time shooting prone at the range, but that is nice and level, not on the crest of hill. This made it a little more difficult to eliminate the parallax with the slightly different body and head position. Once I cleared up the parallax issue, it was easy to get on the elk, line up the crosshair, and gently squeeze the trigger of my Cooper Model 56 in 300 Win Mag.
She stood up immediately and started to go up the hill. Neither Jeff or I could hear the “thwack” that usually accompanies a good hit and we wondered if I somehow missed. It is amazing how time slows down in moments like this… it was likely only seconds, but seemed like minutes. After about 15 yards, her head started to wobble, then her hind legs splayed and over she went, sliding almost all the way back to her bed. I had my first elk.
It took a bit to make our way around to the far ridge. Jeff easily located the tree where she was bedded since there was blood and lungs right in her bed and a good blood trail leading to it. Jeff found the bullet hole in the ground and was able to dig about 8″ into the dirt to recover the Berger Hybrid 215 grain bullet. The two bullet pieces we recovered weighed 108 grains after being cleaned. The bullet entered between two ribs, expanded and fragmented nicely, and exited directly into the hillside with a 2″ hole on the far side.
Getting her into the back of truck is definitely more difficult with only two people, compared to the four we had on Sunday. We immediately took her into Townsend for processing.
Ed, the butcher, completed the processing and packaging on Wednesday morning. I loaded up the 2 coolers I brought (Kysek 100L and Igloo 58L) and put a layer of cardboard to prevent freezer burn. Since it wasn’t frozen, I added lots of dry ice on top ($105 worth). The dry ice froze the top half of the meat. The bottom half made it home sufficiently cold to not spoil. If I did it again, I would likely put some dry ice on the bottom as well, if I couldn’t wait until the meat was frozen. In this case, I wanted to get in front of an incoming storm, which I managed to do. 30 hours of driving by yourself is a lot, extending it in snow conditions and road littered with accident is not how I wanted to spend the balance of my time off.
My wife and daughter weighed the meat after it had time to freeze. It came to 167lbs. The standard cut I got was 107lbs of ground, 4 roast totaling 14 lbs, and 45 lbs of steaks and other cuts. The cost for butchering was $330–a little on the higher side, but done by a butcher who pulls as much meat as possible rather than rushing.
- A daypack setup for spot and stalk, long range elk hunting is different than PA whitetail sit and pray hunting.
- The only way to prepare for hiking up hills is to hike up hills. I need to make it more of a priority to hike instead of hitting the treadmill.
- I need practice getting into a prone position in non-flat areas. The angles will mess with head position just enough to cause parallax.
- I’m going to give MtnOps some credit here. Their Yeti and Phenix products lived up to my expectations–I felt better after climbing the mountains than I do after a workout at the gym. I only started taking them with this trip.
- Elevation change matters. I’m used to ~1000 feet (~1000 feet density altitude) and the change to ~4,100+ (>5,500 density altitude) definitely had an impact. On future hunts, it would be best to have a couple of days of touring to get acclimated.
- I highly recommend that if you want to do something, find a way and do it. A dream doesn’t become reality if you don’t actively pursue it.
A big “Thank you!” goes to Jeff and Diane. Their hospitality and Jeff’s amazing knowledge of the elk made this trip possible.
Thanks for everyone in the forum. You’re questions and answers helped my learn more about reloading, shooting, and the necessary equipment.
Go HERE to ask David Questions or talk with him about his elk hunt.