Montana Elk

A horseback hunt for elk, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, is like stepping back in time.

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Some of the local color near our outfitter’s home, just outside of Kalispell, Montana. Justin Appenzeller, photos
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To save time, Shawn and Capri Little of Snowy Springs Outfitters offer hunters the option of using a helicopter service to fly in and out of camp. We flew in but rode out with a pack train full of meat. (You can contact Snowy Springs Outfitters at 406-226-9225 or info@snowysprings.com)
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The flight into our drop-off point at Schafer Meadows Ranger Station takes you over spectacular mountain ranges leading into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area–truly one of the last untouched areas in the lower 48.
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Outfitter Shawn Little was waiting for us with horses at Schafer Meadows for the short ride in to our main camp. We joked with him about riding in to camp with a boom box–a gift for the cook who really missed listening to football games.
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Our first evening in camp we took a brief hike to get the lay of the land, watching intently for elk and mule deer on the neighboring mountainsides.
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Plan on spending hours behind a set of binoculars here. The terrain is so rugged that you really want to get a good look at animals before you commit as stalks can sometimes take hours.
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Lots of water in this country so waterproof footwear is a must. Thick alder patches along the stream-bottoms put everyone on the lookout for grizzlies.
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This fresh grizzly print was right on the trail where we were walking. Though there are lots of bears in the Bob, sadly, we never saw one.
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Elk readily responded to our bugle calls, but you had to be mindful of bulls that came in silently. We had one come in on our downwind side one afternoon that crashed off through the trees. We never got a look at him.
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Weight is a huge consideration when you have to pack up and down steep mountainsides in the Bob. I was glad I chose to use Zeiss’s 8×32 Victory binoculars–lightweight and super bright.
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We caught the last of the wild huckleberries in the high country. These were a tasty snack to munch on while sweating your way up the steep trails.
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The view from atop one of the canyons we glassed. Typically, we would ride the horses for a few hours in the morning then tie up and hike the rest of the way up to high vantage points on foot.
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Here we had just spotted several mule deer late one afternoon. While we tried to set up for a shot our guide, Logan, quickly grabbed our horses.
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Zeiss’s Bob Kaleta takes aim on the mule deer that were about 250 yards away with his Remington M700 KS Mountain Rifle in .338 RUM, it’s topped with a Zeiss Victory 2.5-10X50. Turns out they were only young bucks, so we passed.
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That bald knob is the top of Chair Mountain. Elk and muleys come right through that pass thought it looks as barren as the face of the moon.
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Our guide, Logan, had the eyes of a hawk. While binoculars handle the heavy lifting when it comes to spotting game, a spotting scope really helps to evaluate game to determine whether it’s worth a stalk. In this rugged terrain, it’s all about utilizing your energy and time to best advantage.
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Here I head off across a ridge just below the timberline. While daytime temps were mild, nights can get very chilly here making layered clothing a must. The Optifade camo from Sitka that I wore breathed extremely well and provide warmth without a lot of bulk. I’m carrying a Winchester Model 70 in .270 Win.
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One evening we spiked out under the stars. Just before dark everyone hustled to get enough firewood in for the night as temperatures began to drop. Later that night, winds rose to over 70 mph, blowing anything away that wasn’t tied down.
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Breakfast in spike camp was simple but tasty–cowboy coffee, a pound of bacon and elk backstrap from a bull one of the guys in our party took the day before. Elk meat never tasted better.
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Boiling water for spuds in spike camp. They went well with chicken and elk meat for dinner.
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Dawn catches the tops of the peaks above our spike camp. This is truly remote country. No planes and no sounds except the wind in the trees.
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Shawn (with his light on) takes a break after a long day of packing in the Bob. His camp was well provisioned, food was great, tents/bunks were comfortable and game was plentiful. This is a spectacular place to hunt.
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Our photographer, Justin Appenzeller, catches me dragging into camp with my headlamp on after long day’s ride. That long awning out in front of the tent provided both shade and a dry entrance to the cook tent when it snowed.
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A nice mule deer taken by Mike Schoby, one of the writers in our party.
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Justin, Logan and I packed out at five in the evening with an elk and mule deer in tow. This is one of several stream crossings we had to make on our way out. We hit the trailhead and loaded the horses into the trailer around midnight–the end of a long day but a great hunt in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Look for my full story in an upcoming issue of Outdoor Life.

A horseback hunt for elk, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, is like stepping back in time.