Outdoor Life reader Jim Ewing traveled from his home in Richmond, Vermont to the heart of Montana’s big-game country for OL’s Grand Slam Adventure. He will spend the next 7 days in the Ruby River Valley hunting elk and whitetails with Upper Canyon Outfitters and Advantage Backcountry Outfitters.
Ewing is a hard-core whitetail hunter, but he’s never hunted west of Ontario, and he’s never seen an elk. He’s stoked for the adventure of a lifetime. The conditions are favorable. Snow is piling up in the mountains of southwest Montana and cooler weather should kick-start the whitetail rut. Check out Jim’s winning Grand Slam essay here.
I pick Jim up at the Bozeman airport, and after a quick lunch we prepare for the 2-hour drive to Upper Canyon Outfitters. Jim studies a Montana atlas to get his geographic bearings.
As we cross the divide into the Madison River valley, Jim jumps out of the pickup to take in the stunning landscape, even more handsome with a snow squall scudding across the valley.
Upper Canyon Outfitters’ lodge is nestled in the heart of big-game country.
Donna and Jake McDonald, the owners of the lodge, have never met a stranger.
Their accommodations are Western rustic. And remarkably comfortable.
Donna McDonald is the outfitter for Upper Canyon. A gracious host, she’s also a great horse hand, a first-class fly angler and a remarkable hunter.
Her husband, Jake McDonald, will be our whitetail guide. Jake prepares to gather horses and mules with the help of his canine herder.
Jake borrows a Suzuki 4-wheeler that we brought for the Grand Slam to gather horses.
And he enlists some help from Jim as they bring the working stock into the corrals.
After the stock work, it’s time to get licensed. Over a cup of coffee, Donna presents Jim with his elk and deer licenses and provides an overview of the hunt. For the first three days, Jim and I will trail into the high mountains and hunt elk with Layne Wilcox and his Advantage Backcountry Outfit. Then we’ll return to the lodge for three days of whitetail hunting.
We get a visit from Montana Game Warden Shane Brozovich, who checks Jim’s licenses and wishes him well in his pursuits.
Then it’s time to head to the range and confirm that Jim’s rifle is zeroed. Jim is shooting Remington’s XCRII extreme-weather Model 700 in 7mm Rem. Mag. It’s topped with a Zeiss Victory Diascope. Other Grand Slam sponsors include Cabela’s, Surefire and Suzuki.
We get some help at the range from Bill Wood, a custom riflemaker in nearby Sheridan, Mont. Wood brings one of his custom ARs for Jim to shoot. It’s the start of new experiences for Ewing, who has never before shot a modern sporting rifle, let alone hit targets out to 550 yards.
On the short drive from the range to the lodge, we pass this sign, which verifies that we’re in the heart of big-game country.
And then we spot a band of bighorn sheep. Jim is floored. He’s never seen wild sheep. It’s the start of a season of firsts for Jim. Tomorrow he will board a horse for the first time in his life and trail into elk camp, where two feet of snow await our arrival. Will he encounter his first elk? Stay tuned for more galleries as we update Jim’s hunt daily.
Hunting editor Andrew McKean and OL Grand Slam winner Jim Ewing will spend the next seven days in the Ruby River Valley hunting elk and whitetails.