New Year’s Joy in Unit 311

A special contribution to by Michael Reeves

It was New Year’s Eve, My wife had an early morning flight out of Bozeman, I thought to my self “well might as well throw in my hunting gear and take the long way home though the 311 hunting District and try and score a late season elk.

I Dropped the wife off at the airport and said goodbye. It was still dark out so I grabbed a hot coffee and a bite to eat and headed toward 3 forks where I took the Gravel cutoff road back toward Ennis. It was cold, very cold, as I was driving I watched the temperature plummet to -11.

There was an inversion that made the air in the valley along the river very cold, I thought to my self “what would I even do if I got an elk down by my self in these temperatures brrrr!!”. I’m in my Subaru Crosstrek driving along and It is getting light out and it’s just past legal shooting hours. White tail deer are darting across the road, steam billowing from their mouths as they run. I’m hopeful to see something elk shaped.

Driving slow and looking for any sign of elk, I pass a white Ford pickup truck with elk legs sticking out of the side. There must be elk ahead!! I speed up to try and see where this guy shot his elk and got it loaded up already this morning! I was getting excited, my heart started beating faster. All of a sudden I come around the corner and there they are! A huge herd of 300+ elk standing out in a field, huge cloud of steam rising above them as they are huddled together.

I pulled over and checked my OnX map to see if they were anywhere close to public land. DAMN! No State or BLM land within miles. All I could do is sit and watch, other vehicles were pulled over down the road and I saw a small group of orange hats making a sneak down a tall row of tall grass. Keeping low they got within range to take a shot. 3 shots rang out and the elk started stringing out running away from the shots toward the road where I was sitting, another shot rang out and once the smoke and steam cleared the hunters had 3 elk down. As the hunters moved toward their kills the big herd moved closer and closer to where I was sitting coming toward the road and all I could do was watch them all cross in front of me within a hundred yards.

As I sat and watched I was perfectly content just being my able to watch these amazing resilient animals file across the road. They were headed north with no sign of slowing down. Hunting is just about getting out of bed in the morning and getting out and enjoying every minute whether you kill something or not. Just seeing animals is all a guy can ask for on any given day, being able to harvest one is just a bonus! I always tell myself “you can’t shoot anything from your bed” the more times and effort you put in the greater your chances of getting lucky and bagging a trophy or a freezer filler.

The massive herd of elk ran and kept running until they crested a large hill and went out of sight. I was hopeful of seeing more so I kept driving back toward Ennis. As I got closer to home I pulled off at a spot where there is a lot of public land to glass and maybe spot an elk. I sat and glassed for about 30 minutes checking under every tree and every draw until I spotted a spike elk all alone, I watched him work his way along the ridge about 1500yds away, kids odd for an elk to be all alone this time of year.

I watched him for a good 10 minute when a cow popped up over the ridge following behind him. I got excited and my heart started beating faster, I knew this was my opportunity to make my move and try and catch up to them before they fed their way up to the private land and just out of reach again. I sat for a minute and made my game plan to try and stay down wind and out of sight from these two wary animals.

As I got ready I took a big drink of water, took one last look at my warm car and headed up the hill knowing this was the opportunity I’d been looking for. As I hiked I kept close tabs on that cow, they had not spotted me yet so I kept hiking. They had slowed up their grazing and looked like they might bed down for the day in the sun. I sat and watched them for a few minutes and sure enough they bedded in the warm sun. This was my chance to sneak around and get above them, I had to traverse down a large draw and let them leave my sight for a few minutes. I wanted to try and get within 200yds to take a shot and if I got to the top of that next ridge I figured I would be in range.

I finally was about to crest the ridge, I was praying they hadn’t gotten up and moved in the time it took to close the gap. I peeked up over and saw two elk laying in the snow looking down the hill unaware that I was coming for them. I didn’t have a clear shot at the vitals because they were facing away from me. I snuck around a little further and got a better angle, I got setup on my shooting sticks and gave a little cow call to get their attention. The spike first stood up and turned perfectly broadside, then the cow made the same fatal move.

With my heart pounding out of my chest I took a deep breath, put my crosshairs right on her vitals and squeezed the trigger. BOOM!..They both wheeled around and started running down the hill, I knew I had made a perfectly placed shot but I jacked in another shell and got on her again, just as I was about to make a second shot she stumbled, fell and slid down the snowy hill until she came to rest against a large rock.

I kept my scope on her until I knew she was done. I was smiling ear to ear and my heart was pounding from the excitement of finally bagging my late season cow! Now the work begins! I called my dad and told him the story and he said he was on his way with a sled to help me drag it off the hill. The nice part about hiking uphill is that you get a down hill drag. I took a few pictures, cut my tag and started to field dress the elk.

About a half hour later my dad pulls in next to my car and starts my way with the sled. We meet up and he gives me a high five. We load the elk in whole in the sled and start the journey back to the truck. It was a good day to be alive chasing the Wiley wapiti!

Published by Mati Bishop

406 Paddles founder, artist and ambassador.

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