The first morning of the hunt is the time when you find out what will be and might be expected of you, mostly in physicality, but also in clothing and gear. You don't know the exact terrain you'll be hunting in, how you will get there, how hard it will be to walk, how long will you be walking like that. Add temperature extremes and extreme daily temperature fluctuation, with or without snow or rain and traction, and the clothing factor plays significantly.
The first morning at Jumping Horse Ranch with Montana Way Outfitters was darn comfortable. Nice bed, bathroom, breakfast. A history of this land goes back generations. Wapiti mountain was a mile or so away. That, and the surrounding mountains and valleys is where we would hunt elk, mulies, whitetail, and wolves. Four of us had wolf tags, but to even see one would be special.
We were with EOTech and the Millionth Sight. John and Ed from EOTech are friends and former hunting companions. John (JB) is usually the tallest giant in the room, and Ed, not so much, but more of a hard metal fireplug. Great companions, hunting or not.
First morning hunt. Jeff was guiding. My Tenzing 2200 backpack adjusted easily for the most comfortable and evenly distributed load possible. Very clever design developed by users that obviously knew what they wanted. Superb product with great zippers. Remember, if you get a bigger pack, you'll probably put a lot more stuff in it. Great, but then you have to carry the darn thing. I like moving with catlike swiftness. Ha. I was in and out of this pack so much in the last week it's been in my dreams. We went up to just under 8,000 feet. The ranch is about 5,500. It's hard to walk on the impossibly angled side of a mountain horizontally. Like walking across a steep roof. Except it's for miles, with some severe and precarious ups and downs, with rocks and snow and unsure footing and roots and …. It's hard to believe I didn't fall that first morning.
This was my first time hunting after throat cancer. Radiation cooked all my salivary glands. I tell you this because this changed my priorities during a hunt. Now, number one was to have water with me. It feels like I have been swallowing sand. I recently mentioned this in a video I did, and I didn't quantify completely why I said this. The other reasons were to mention how important it is for folks to bring any prescription drugs with them, and to mention to your hunting companions what to do and who to call in case of any health emergency.
I used a BLACKHAWK! Hydrastorm hydration pack. I usually don't like using hydration packs, but from now on, I suppose I have no choice. Throughout the whole trip I relied mightily on it, and only once did it not work, when the drinking tube and bite valve froze completely.
I carried a Remington R-25 in .308 with a CMC trigger and a superb Troy TRX 308 Battlerail handguard. I needed a full 1913 rail on the top of my forend because I test a lot of weighty thermal and night vision clip-on units on this rifle that are heavy and have a tendency to rotate with the weight. Although the Troy free float tube locks tightly against the barrel nut to prevent rotation, I made an insurance part out of a Weaver Offset Rail Adapter that secured both parts. I screwed in and locktited just one piece of Pic on the forend rail for a light on the left side, may I have needed it, but I also drilled and tapped the forend and installed a standard sling swivel stud. I used a prototype of the new OPMOD CUSS for a sling. Not yet out.
Federal Premium .308 180 grain Nosler Partition was my cartridge of choice. I like tough premium bullets. I've killed dozens of beasts with Nosler Partitions, and it's always been my overall favorite bullet. I've never recovered one, even in large game, and I like exit holes in my critters.
First morning a few hours after sunrise Jeff and I heard a shot from where we thought JB and his guide Ray would be. And another shot. And again.Guide Ray is an unassuming stud who lives in a 14×20" cabin with his vivacious and loving wife Monica and beautiful baby Earl. And 7 dogs and 4 cats. Man, they grow people tough out there. Ray is so into the cowboy/mountain man life that he didn't even know about 9-11 until about 9-15. And he is at one with the animals as well as an artist and plays the cowboy harmonica. There should be more people so interesting and humble in the world.
I learned a lot that morning about how to cinch my Tenzing pack for the best balance. I thought of fullbacks busting through defenders with their low center of gravity and forward leaning stance to keep their balance. I learned that I have some conspicuously throbbing muscles poking out above my kneecaps from climbing. Never noticed them before. I learned that my lungs are good and I can suck small rocks off the ground when I inhale breaths the size of the volume of the Hindenburg. Not only is the oxygen content less up high, but I'm also an out of shape flatland desk jockey from Chicago. I learned to carry my gun on the side I'm NOT going to fall on. To make sure my toenails were cut so they didn't come out of the front of my boots after a few miles of Downhill. But still, blessed Downhill. Downhill, my friend.
I was layered from my skin out with the best clothing I have used so far. Quite an evolution of materials since I started hunting in the 60s. I was never good at keeping warm, even with every layer of clothing I've ever owned. New technology in underwear is growing almost as fast as your cellphone technology. I used the new Badlands Gear base layer. Soon to be on our site. Best I have ever used so far. And I've been experimenting with underwear purchases for years with lots of money it was hard to part with. This Badlands base layer had muscle mapping technology, a feature I never had much use for before, previous to the articles I read in a popular science magazine and a sports magazine about the experiments that conclude that muscle mapping and constriction in some places on your body increases performance. Besides, it feels good and I look like a superhero. Most importantly, it draws the moisture from my skin. If you have a compatible outer layer over that, like I did, the moisture goes out even farther. Water next to your skin after extreme physical exertion can literally be the kiss of death in freezing temperatures. My middle layers were from from Tru-Spec. I used a couple of the Gen III Level 2 ECWCS tops and bottoms. Remember, it you put cotton or any other dissimilar layer in between your new technology layers, you ruin the whole concept of taking the moisture from your skin and transferring it to the outermost layer. Sweating is ok, but freezing is not. New underwear technology is excellent, and I plan to do a video on the subject soon.
Jeff had never hunted with a client with an AR type gun before. Didn't know the guns at all nor had ever shot one. I was surprised that he tendered his initial hunt rules as including that nobody would chamber a round until game was spotted. Fine with a bolt gun because you can load quietly, but with a black gun, in particular with a large caliber AR platform like my R-25 in .308, you have to really let the bolt fly to ensure bolt lock and complete engagement. Strange, but his rules. I did mention to him about this.
Jeff took it easy on me physically, I'm sure, but I was used pretty well. We were looking for a group of elk we saw in the morning, and only an experienced guide could formulate a plan to come in contact with them at a certain point, when we didn't even know where they were. We heard them first. Coming from low to high, along a game trail that intersected with a mountain road. One by one they crested the cliff and clamored onto the road before rounding a sharp turn and continuing upwards, out of our view and moving down the side of a sheer drop away from us, never to be seen again that morning. Jeff said it was OK to load, but just as I feared, they would hear this noisy thing! I pulled back my charging handle and let it go as noisily as I dared. I hit the feed assist a couple of times to make sure the gun was locked. The elk came, one by one, offering a shot at each one for 5 or 10 seconds before disappearing. Jeff was calling the specifics about them to me, both in range and type, one by one. I couldn't identify them as easily as he because I was on the sticks, a Stony Point Polecat Explorer bipod with the third leg, Breathing calmly, my eye centered through the EOTech G33 magnifier, the one minute dot of the Millionth Sight was imposed onto the elk from 250 to 275 yards away. Jeff called, "Cow, cow, spike, calf, cow, cow…. And it went on for maybe 10 minutes. They would've been less than desirable shots, moving straight away, but I would've taken one, knowing I had a superb bullet, and I was way above them. Jeff said he could blow a cow call to turn one broadside. A very long time with my trigger finger on the receiver, thumb on safety, breathing well, and in no way alarmed or jacked. Done deal. I was thinking, "Cool, tagged out on elk the first morning!". I think this way too often.
I knew he was coming. You could hear his bugling coming closer by the second. Breathe calmly. Feel the trigger. Follow through. Pick a spot. Breathe. Jeff called, "Legal Bull". I saw the elk simultaneously. Plenty of time. Many seconds. I was smiling because I couldn't miss at this 275 yard distance. Jeff blew a cow call with no acknowledgement from the bull. Then again. Then again. The third time he stood perfectly sideways to me.
MISFIRE! JACK IT OUT AND GET A NEW ONE IN!!!!!!!!!!
Jack it out again and put in a new one and I got a double feed so bad I had to work on it.
Elk were gone, including the 5x bull that didn't know that he should've been dead.
I was reasonably crushed, but I've learned a long time ago not to sweat the small stuff too hard for too long. It was maybe not supposed to be.
Later in the morning we saw JB's fallen elk, and I was so thrilled to see him slay this beast.
After lunch, I went to check my gun function. It worked every time. I attribute the light hits I got to lack of full bolt engagement and lockup due to operator error. The onus is on me, and made sure to relate this to the other guides and hunters to ensure that a hard and fast bolt release was used to prevent future malfunctions to other hunters. The first two primers were hit lightly. The second light hit was the biggest concern. Shouldn't have happened with the full pressure of the recoil spring pushing the bolt closed.
Mike Schoby, the editor from Peterson's Hunting was supposed to be there to film the Millionth Sight sequence, but a tornado in central Illinois where he lives caused widespread destruction, and he couldn't get out for a couple of days. My gun was no longer trusted to go bang, so I put the Millionth Sight on JB's R-25, which is flawless and works with everything, and sighted it in. The general consensus was that my gun could not be counted on, especially when we were filming an important spot. I also used JB's R-25 in Alaska when my gun got confiscated by the lovely fellows at ATF in Anchorage because I had a can of Gun Scrubber in my case. See my blog about Alaska. JB uses a fine Timney trigger in his gun.
We left again after lunch, and on our way to the base of the mountain we saw a nice mule deer. Got out and snuck up to within 200 yards. Put the Millionth Sight gun on the sticks and fired at 180 yards. Nice 12 point mulie.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all, more to come!