Montana Elk Opener with the Can-Am Defender! Leave a reply

Nov 03, 2019 by Tom Nelson

To a native Washingtonian, the opportunity to get out of state on a hunt offers several game-changing advantages; More animals, less pressure, more days to hunt, a vast landscape and the absolute necessity of an All Terrain Vehicle to access the country and hopefully, a big bull elk! Fortunately, we’ve been able to make a few friends in “Big Sky Country” that have some serious experience in elk country and have been generous enough to share their knowledge with us and that is something for which I’ll never be able to fully expess my appreciation.

Any time we hit a hunt opener, we always try to arrive a day ahead of time for scouting. It’s absolutely key to get your optics and gear ready and heck, who doesn’t enjoy dawn on a ridgetop!?

I’ve come to recognize that fishing and hunting share more than a few aspects and crossover concepts. For example, when I’m fishing an area for the first time, chart study is a huge part of my mental preparation. Hunting is absolutely no different and while I can’t bring my Raymarine chartplotter aboard the Can-Am Defender, I’ve got an AP for that…

…and that AP is OnX Hunt loaded on to an iPad secured to the dash of the Defender ATV. OnX Hunt has an “off-grid” mode that allows you you download high resolution maps of your hunting area which are then available for use in areas without data coverage.

Autumn Montana weather can swing hard on you and that’s EXACTLY what the temperatures did to us, plummeting the barometer and dumping the mercury 60 (yes, SIXTY) degrees for opening day weekend. The conditions we got to scout in were nothing at all like we had to hunt!

Montana blizzards are absolutely no joke. Our opening morning gameplan was dashed by blowing snow resulting in zero visibility, a vastly changed landscape and elk that vanished into the steep and deep woods.

The weather broke in mid afternoon, lifting the cloud cover and increasing visibility which allowed us to finally get to glass the hillsides. Our gracious host Keith spotted some cows and after picking apart the terrain, a beautiful 5×5 bull came into view. The only way to get a chance at this bull was to start a low-profile stalk at the 700 yard mark and hope to cut distance with a belly crawl in the snow. My hunting partner Mike McAuley had been practicing up to 1000 yards and was “volunteered” for the stalk.

Closing the distance to a Vortex Laser-ranged 497 yards, Mike fashioned a solid rest with his pack and shooting sticks until the shot was steady and clear. A single shot through the lungs put the bull down!
Mike McAuley has purchased exactly TWO elk tags in his life and filled them both with fine, young Montana bulls. I’ve cautioned him to not banty that fact around lest he incur the wrath of less-successful elk hunters such as myself…
The snowy, steep terrain was no problem for the Can-Am Defender ATV as we were able to use this mobility and the front mounted winch to get this bull elk up and out whole which is a huge accomplishment and a comfort with darkness and another blizzard bearing down upon us!

Montana’s public lands are nothing short of a National treasure. It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to apply for a non-resident tag and experience a hunt like this. Here in Washington, we’re the smallest of the seven western states but second in population only to California. This population density doesn’t eliminate hunting in solitude amongst remote landscapes in the Evergreen State but rather makes it difficult, even rare to find. It’s simply much easier -and more affordable than you think- to get into a great big-game hunt in Montana.

Oh don’t worry Montana, we can’t WAIT to get back!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

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