Dropped off my mulie to the butcher and got back in plenty of time to grab a bite and head back out. Sat on a hillside overlooking 50 or 60 elk. There were a few non-shootable bulls in the group. Not too cold, but a long and sweaty hike up the mountain.
Slept with Chica the dog again last night. More like home. I loaded up my gear for preparation of temperatures promising to be in the single digits the next morning, but when we woke it was still almost 40 degrees. We started up the mountain and spotted about 150 elk. We cut them off and sat on a mountainside for an hour, anticipating where we would have to move to when they started traveling. We got in a good area with lots of viewing room and settled in. Temperatures plummeted. First came the rain. Then sleet, then snow of different types. Thank God for my new Badlands base layers (available soon). My Tenzing TZ2200 daypack is genius and the best I know of. At times, visibility was about 100 yards. The temperatures dropped even more. We sat and froze. The herd was static, and it didn't look like they would go back up the mountain again for the evening like normal, since the weather was screaming with snow and ice and temps in the teens. Mid-afternoon rolled around, and we were wet and becoming hypothermic.
We decided on a stalk. They were a couple thousand yards away in a valley. Visibility was such that they couldn't see us, either. Normally it would be silly to attempt such a maneuver, but we were out of warmth and dry, and we had to move. The stalk went well, and we got to within a few hundred yards, hiding behind junipers. But the snow was so bad that we couldn't keep the optics dry enough to get a good picture. Both the Millionth Sight and the G33 magnifier were covered with snow in seconds. This was the only time I have not been able to use a rangefinder because of snow. Even the excellent Leupold RX1000 TBR simply would not work. The few times I was able to clean the lenses and see animal outlines, you couldn't identify them. Besides, most of them were bedded, and there would not have been any clear shot without the possibility of a pass-through. Eventually the swirling wind sent our scent to them and they spooked. Game over for the day. We saw where they went, and would attempt to find them again that evening. What an excellent and hardy experience!
Back to the truck. Walking through the snow, following my guide's footsteps, the deliriously blinding white snow relentless. To the truck. Good boots are crucial for traction and ankle support over hidden rocks and crevasses. Short steps, low speed, high torque. Place your feet quietly and deliberately. The temps were still falling when we got close to the truck and confirmed where the elk were for the evening hunt. Wet and frozen, we thawed and had hot chilli and sandwiches back at camp. Then out again.
We went out with three groups, each designated a different area overlooking where we thought the elk would be. The snow had stopped. Temps in the low teens. We were trying to be strategic in our attempts for these same elk, with the goal of getting me a shot first, since I was using the Millionth Sight, and it was being filmed. The group that had the farthest to go left first, then the other group, then us. We hoped that after I got a shot, IF I got a shot, they would go in a direction to give someone else a shot.
We walked silently through the newly fallen snow, following a natural drainage ditch that hid our position. We stayed in the ditch for a mile or so, slowly, quietly. We got to within about 400 yards. We inched forward on our hands and knees, my gun in my right hand, held out away from my body to prevent it from bouncing off my OPMOD binoculars. My Nikon harness was a giant help. After crawling another 50 yards or so we were able to put the sticks up and take stock of the animals. There were 3 or 4 legal bulls. When the largest one became clear, I fired and heard the bullet hit. It's a much nicer sound than the "click" that happened a few days earlier. He made no notice of being hit, so I hit him again. He wobbled, and I hit him again. To take the first shot required me to really get aggressive on the gun and choke up on the glass. I had to sling up and make my contorted position as solid as possible. When I shot, I felt the magnifier, with its 1.5" of eye relief hit my brow. The blood started dripping immediately. Then I hit the same place on my head again with my second shot, and again with the third shot. EOTech sights cause bleeding on both sides of the glass. A nice 5X elk was down. I needed water, but my hydration tube was frozen solid. The snow tasted good. I turned to the camera and gave my "Millionth Sight" speech with the blood dripping off my nose.
The elk took off in an unexpected direction, and didn't give the two other groups of hunters a shot, unfortunately. It was dark a few minutes after the animal was down, and as we walked back through the snow we passed many badger holes. I felt as frozen as my hydration tube, but somehow, a steaming dead elk at your feet makes you feel somewhat toasty at the same time. We were glad to get back to the lodge for warmth and food and libations and talk. I was tagged out and didn't have to go out the next morning. I offered to go with someone to help, but there really wasn't anything I could do but get in the way. So I ate an early breakfast and went back to bed with the dog.
I cleaned up my OPMOD binoculars and Nikon harness and gave them to guide Ray as a gift. He's the God-fearing family man with a wonderful wife, and son of 18 months I spoke about in my previous blog: Millionth Sight Elk at Jumping Horse Ranch with Montana Way Outfitters Part 1.
I thought I was to sleep in, but I was awoken to scout for wolves. Cold, single digits and crazy wind. Beautiful with the snow covering everything. Mike shot a nice whitetail, then a good elk, both on his last day to hunt. Wolf tracks were seen, but that's it. I took a trip to Virginia City, the most authentic old western town still in existence. I filmed the intro to the "Millionth Sight Tip" there, among the old saloons and shops and whorehouses still standing. Many were built by my fellow Master Masons. That night we packed and got ready for a zero-dark-thirty trip to the airport.
I got almost 200 pounds of meat today. I'll take inventory as it goes in the freezer, and label the sides of the packages so I can see at a glance what it is.
A great trip, indeed, and got to know and learn from some friendly, helpful, and capable people again!