MONTANA!

Living in western Washington, you get used to being around people. Lots of people… That’s not a good thing if you’re a rifle hunter,.. bust your butt to get to the ridge top only to find more souls in blaze orange than you do game animals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my home state but every now and then, it’s good to get out and experience some elbow room. When you consider that Montana’s 140,000 square miles is over twice the land area of Washington, there’s less people in the entire state than there is in greater Seattle, elbow room and plentiful game is what you can expect and on this trip we were far from dissapointed!

One of the biggest hurdles in planning an out-of-state hunt is getting a grasp of exactly where the public land is located and if private land access is your aim, who owns the land? In both these aspects onX maps is a definite asset.

Available as a chip in your GPS or an ap on your phone or tablet, topo, satellite and ownership information layers allow you to dial in the desired information!

Once we got boots on the ground we spent a bunch of time glassing and the right set of binoculars is nothing short of vital! I’m so much more than impressed with the Vortex Viper XD 10×42’s. Very compact, lightweight quality optics that virtually eliminate eye strain, there were times that I was barely aware that I was looking through binos!

Without the bright, crisp clarity that Vortex provides, I may have glossed right over this buck in the brush!

It’s been a number of years (nevermind HOW MANY) since I took a muley buck of this quality and I’ll never be able to express my gratitude to my partner Rob Endsley for bringing me along on this wonderful hunt!

I’m absolutely blown away with the accuracy, performance and downrange punch of the Hornady Superformance 180gr GMX. The round was simply perfect for the job. Quick and clean.

Jim Heins aka “Bucket” was next to fill his tag and his fine buck was with another…

…and Robbo was on the “other buck’s” track… It wasn’t long before I was behind the camera and we’ve got three tags filled!

Having the bucks loaded up in the Can-Am Defender Max sure beats having to bone them up and pack ’em out! The heater in the cab of this six-seater was a very welcome comfort as well!

Once we tagged out, the next day it was time to chase some pheasants and Robbo was the first to hop off his Can-Am Outlander and swap the rifle for the shotgun!

After a season of stomping around western Washington pheasant release sites this fall, the look and tail length of Kirk Hawley’s wild rooster is simply amazing. 

Montana is not a far as you think and there’s no time like right now to start looking into an out-of-state hunt. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a very user-friendly site that will get you started on the right foot, providing you with planning tools such as: maps, regulations, seasons and application deadlines.

For the western Washington hunter in particular, Montana is the closest of the seven western states and offers deer and elk opportunities that Washingtonians can only dream about. When you’re ready, Montana awaits!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Rodakowski’s Tips for Taking a Westside Blacktail

Dubbed the “grey ghost” blacktail have earned the reputation as one of the toughest big game species to hunt in the world. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

There are only a few magical days a season when mature blacktail show themselves during daylight hours and if you plan on having some success you need to make sure you are in the woods when these days happen. Every year people ask me what it takes to harvest a mature blacktail and why are some folks successful while others are not. Simply answered, you need to be out there with the deer when they are active and that peak activity usually occurs in late October through the month of November when the rut occurs. The rest of the time they are extremely nocturnal and you’ll rarely catch a glimpse of them during daylight hours.

September blacktails rub their velvet and transition to a more nocturnal pattern. (Troy Rodakowski)

The first cold snap of the season usually hits during the month of October and makes fo
some great hunting. By then the rain has dampened the forest floor and made for some very quiet hiking enabling hunters to sneak to tree stands, ground blinds, and elevated vantage points. Of course, finding trophy deer is not easy but with does beginning to come into estrus bucks will be more visible during daylight hours especially first thing in the morning and just before dark. During these times you’ll want to meticulously scan the densest cover with optics before giving up on a good looking location. The bottom line is
that blacktail relish the thickest cover and they tunnel and weave themselves through it which enables them to go nearly undetected for much of their lives. As a hunter you need to put yourself in the cover or very near it to be successful. The biggest of blacktail won’t be too far from the edge of a field or clear cut and you want to take your time glassing these areas

The Coast Range: Deer on the coast typically have smaller racks due to genetics, thick cover, and slightly less nutrients in their feed. There are exceptions to this rule though and larger deer can be found near old burns and logged locations that have opened up the canopies. These areas can produce some real monsters that score well into the 130 to 140 class. Hunters need to spend time near the perimeters of likely locations like this that have the lowest human activity. Tree stands or elevated locations that allow hunters to watch the thickest cover around these cuts can provide some excellent opportunities at bigger bucks. Large bucks often spend the majority of their time in thick cover and seldom step out into the center of the cuts in broad daylight. You can sometimes coax them out with fawn and doe bleats but make sure to use them sparingly. These calls can spike their curiosity and entice them to pop their heads out of the dense cover.

Public land hunting is becoming more difficult. However, finding road systems closed to motorized travel will help put you on deer. (Troy Rodakowski)

Valley Deer: Lowland blacktail thrive in small patches of woods near rivers and agricultural grounds. Access can be difficult though because most of these lands are private. If you can gain access to some of this ground, however, you might be surprised by how many blacktails roam these lowland areas. Deer numbers have slowly grown in many lowland locations and numerous farmers and private landowners have seen increased blacktail traffic and agricultural damage from the increase in population. Establishing good relationships with multiple landowners is essential in order to find trophy deer in these locations. Due to increased human activity deer here frequently move under the cover of darkness even more so than in the coastal clear cuts. Finding a place to hunt that’s close to home will be of great benefit for scouting and the number of hours that you are able to spend in the field picking apart these areas to pattern the deer. Binoculars and spotting scopes are a great tool here because of how open most of these farmlands are and you can increase your odds by scouting the cover in the intersecting areas between agricultural tracts. These lowland blacktails behave much like whitetails in the midwest. Hunt them like you would an ag-land whitetail and you’ll be in the game.

Rub lines and areas with multiple rubs are sure signs that a blacktail buck is in the area. Focusing on these places will tip the scale in your favor. (T. Rodakowski)

Deer in these areas will usually feed into the edges of agricultural fields at twilight and dusk. Plan to be in the field and set up before dark in the morning and an hour or two before dusk in the afternoon. Ground blinds and tree stand can be the ticket once a buck is patterned or a good field is located with a lot of deer activity. I have seen deer exhibiting rut activity in mid to late October or even earlier and I definitely hit the field early every year to get a handle of what the blacktails are up to. I’ve also seen a good number of bucks chasing does well into the month of December. Fellow blacktail hunter and ODFW biologist Brian Wolfer from the Springfield ODFW office prefers hunting when the bucks are most active during the pre-rut. “I have observed the most buck activity during the pre-rut in late October and early November when deer are chasing each other around,“ says Wolfer.

On dry years animals will gravitate to local water sources near irrigation ditches, slough bottoms, and ponds near river systems. Seasons with higher rainfall and early fall rains seem to encourage deer to rut much sooner and will also become extended into early December. Heavy rains will also push deer out of slough bottoms as they begin to fill with water. “We have been trying to get a better idea on migration and movements from collaring and collecting harvest data over the last few years,” adds Wolfer. Even though state game officials are learning more and more about blacktails these deer continue to remind us how mysterious and illusive they are.

Checking for fresh sign and focusing on those locations will put a hunter one step closer to harvesting a deer. (Bill Wellette)

Cascade Blacktail: Snowfall at higher elevations will push deer into migratory mode and with the rut progressively ramping up bucks will continue to breed does on the move. Deer here will travel greater distances in comparison to others at lower elevations. Snowline hunting is the norm for many late season hunters as numerous deer will drop in elevation with accumulating snow. Even though the snows usually push them down I’m amazed every year at trail cam footage and reports of large bucks taken in several inches of snow. There are some larger, mature blacktails that are much slower to migrate and can be found at elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 ft. through much of November. If you can be in the field in late October or mid-November when there’s snow on the ground the odds go up dramatically.

Once the weather changes deer will begin to migrate. The author took this buck on a late season hunt. (Troy Rodakowski)

Finding migration routes is helpful for high country blacktail but in the lowlands finding isolated hidey holes for these deer is the key and many hunters have had success, calling, rattling and hunting from tree stands in these lower areas. Bucks at higher elevation are quite difficult to pattern because they are on the move, especially late in the season as the weather and rut greatly affect their habitual patterns.

If you plan on hunting the general firearm season this year I highly recommend getting out there and doing your homework early to see where a buck might be hanging out. Chances are he’s not going to go far and if you’re in the field when rut activity starts ramping up he might give you an opportunity during shooting hours.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
Western Oregon Region
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Tips for Better Accuracy

by Jason Brooks

If you have been hunting for a few years or more then I am sure you have missed a time or two. We all would like to think that under pressure and when it counts that we will make the shot. And when we do miss oftentimes we start guessing at why the shot went awry. Here are a few quick tips to help with accuracy that you can use before hunting season starts so when you are offered that opportunity to fill the tag you don’t miss.

A quality scope with good mounts on your hunting rifle is a must for accurate shooting-Jason Brooks

1. Use Quality Optics

More than once hunters have fallen victim to using a cut-rate scope thinking that it will work since the rifle is only used a few times a year. Either a heavy rain, freezing storm, or a slip that lands you on your rifle, the bargain-basement scopes always fail. Not only are low-quality scopes prone to breaking due to lack of quality controls when made but the low-cost scopes often lack clarity, precision adjustments, or ease of use. There are several scopes on the market that offer exceptional quality and provide better accuracy. Currently I have a Vortex Razor HD LH on my Kimber Mountain Ascent. This is precision scope built for hunting, and is built with tight quality controls. The scope is one of the most important components to shooting. A good scope, such as my Vortex, is clear, multi-coated to keep the rain from fogging up on the outside as well as the inside of the glass, has micro-adjustments of ¼ inch that are easy tuned by turrets, and most of all it stays true under drops, jarring, and extreme difference in temperatures.

Custom Grade and Premium Ammunition is  more accurate than generic and inexpensive ammo-Jason Brooks

2.  Ammunition makes a difference

Ammunition is one of the other areas where hunters need to understand that the better they buy the more accurate it will be. The reason why some ammo cost more than others is because of the manufacturing of these rounds. From precision length cases, primers, exact measurement of powders and quality bullets. All of the components can make a difference in how the ammunition performs. Most companies that offer high-end precision ammo have their own blends of powder and all of them have done extensive testing. A well-built bullet is designed to fly farther, flatter and hit with more energy than a cheap, mass produced one. All of this leads to much better accuracy. If you have ever hit an animal with a “perfect shot” using cheap ammo and somehow the animal got away, it was more than likely due to a bad bullet design that didn’t transfer energy or failed to create a wound channel that was fatal. Several ammunition manufactures even make custom ammunition tailored for your rifle. Nosler makes a commercial round that is extremely accurate in their Trophy Grade as well as a precise round in their Custom Grade.

Sight-in your rifle in the same conditions that you hunt in-Jason Brooks

3. Sight-in your rifle under hunting conditions

Range time is the most important part of accurate shooting. Before shooting from various hunting positions the rifle must be sighted in. In early Spring I like to take my rifle out and re-check that it is ready to go for the fall. There is a big difference in sighting in your rifle and shooting your rifle. I have yet to find a perfect bench-rest in the high country while elk hunting. Yet, I always spend a few sessions shooting from a good rest, such as a Caldwell Lead-Sled, on a table with a chair. The reason is that I need to make sure my rifle is accurate before I simulate a hunting scenario. I also don’t go to my local gun range to do this as the range near my home is around 500 feet above sea-level, with a covered bench that often heats up in the summertime. I prefer to go to a spot on public land that is at 5,000 feet as I tend to do most of my hunting around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I want my conditions to be as close to my hunting altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature as I can. This way when I sight in my rifle I know it is accurate under the same conditions that I will be hunting under.

As hunting season nears my rifle is accurate with good optics, quality controlled ammunition and sighted in for the elevations and temperatures I will be hunting. I am confident that I can make the shot. Well, at least I am confident my rifle is accurate enough to make the shot. A big mature muley buck for some reason always magically evades my bullet. Maybe it’s some supernatural force knowing my rifle shoots straight, as it can’t be my fault…

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Deer Cartridges – A Trio at the Top

by Wayne Vanzwoll

Name three fine deer cartridges? Easy! Name only three? Oh. That’s really, really hard!

Wayne shot his first deer with a SMLE in .303 British. He still hunts with the round, here in a Ruger. (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

The deer was loping through Michigan poplars when a bullet from my $30 SMLE broke its neck. My first whitetail. The .303 British, now 130 years old, still works fine for deer. It has surely killed more Canadian moose than any other cartridge. It has downed elephants.

A pointed .303 British bullet outruns flat-points from the .30-30 and .32 Special popular in lever-action rifles for most of the 20th century. So do modern softpoints from the 6.5×55 and 7×57, also infantry rounds pre-dating the Great War. Fine deer cartridges, all.

Dating to 1892, the 7×57 with modern pointed bullets is a fine deer round. It gave Wayne this muley. (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

But at its debut in 1925 the .270 Winchester started hunters on a different track. Since then, bolt-action deer rifles have chambered ever-friskier rounds, with flatter arcs and more punch.

The .270, introduced by Winchester in 1925, set hunters on a faster-is-better kick. Scopes contributed. (Wayne Vanzwoll)

Now the deer-cartridge bin bulges with options. The 7mm and 30-caliber magnums, while useful for bigger game, strike me as excessive. Like sending Junior to college in a $50,000 pickup. You needn’t have my blessing to hunt with a hotrod cartridge or spring for a new F-250. But I’ll stick with milder deer loads – say, those firing 100- to 140-grain bullets at 2,650 to 3,150 fps from bolt rifles with 6mm to 7mm bores. Specifically: the .243 and 6mm, the .257 Roberts and .25-06, the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5×55 and .260 Remington, the .270, 7mm-08 and 7×57. Add the .300 Savage and .308 with 150-grain missiles to make it an even dozen. How can I include the .270 and not the .280? You’re right; they’re too similar. A baker’s dozen, now, these are easy to shoot, and with proper bullets deadly even on quartering shots to 300 yards.

But what about the .30-06, long America’s darling and arguably its most versatile round? Well, arbitrary lines must fall somewhere. The ’06 is a notch up in power and recoil from the .308, which itself has more punch than plaid-clad riflemen a century ago could have imagined using on deer.

Top trio? Perhaps the three 6.5s, ballistically very close. The .260 and the 6.5 Creedmoor work in short actions, the Swede not so much. The Creedmoor trumps the .260 for efficiency and paired with long bullets. But these are academic differences.

The .260 Remington, a necked-down .308, shoots flat, recoils gently, kills deer past 300 yards. Bravo! (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

If you like lever rifles, sifting cartridges became harder after Hornady introduced LeverEvolution ammo. It sends spitzer bullets fast from hulls long shackled by flatpoints, almost doubling effective reach. Last fall I shot a buck at 80 yards with a .25-35 rifle predating women’s suffrage. The 110-grain Hornady carried 1,200 ft-lbs at impact – three times the energy of a .25-20 at the muzzle. You’ll recall it was a .25-20 that in 1914 killed the Jordan buck, a gigantic whitetail that topped Boone & Crockett lists until 1993.

The .308 with 150-grain bullets makes Wayne’s list. It creates wound cavities once hard to imagine! (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

Favorite deer cartridges are like favorite songs, or favorite dogs. Your top picks depend largely on what you expect of them. I prefer to hunt close, increasingly with iron sights. Given a 100-yard limit imposed by cover or irons, a .25-35 makes sense. It’s about as light a cartridge as I’ll use. A humane kill matters to me, and not every buck is a ribcage awaiting a bullet from the side. I had to fire again to kill the deer I hit (obliquely) with the .25-35.

My favorite deer loads? Whatever’s in the chamber when my rifle comes to cheek, and the brass bead or the crosswire finds a forward rib.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Journalist, Gun Writer
The Outdoor Line 
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Shed Hunting 101

As the snow melts it’s time to go find some sheds-Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

With deer and elk dropping their antlers and the snow level climbing above 5,000 feet it’s time to go shed hunting. This long and harsh winter is finally coming to an end and before green-up occurs the matted-down vegetation found in the woods right now makes it easier to find the prized bone. Here are a few tips as well as some reminders on shed hunting here in Washington.

My Hungarian Vizsla “Lucy” helps me find sheds-Jason Brooks

Use your dog! One way to increase your antler cache is to train your dog to look for sheds. Play fetch or force break retrieving using an antler and heavily reward your dog when they find it and bring it back. It won’t take long and they’ll be out searching for sheds and bringing them back to you in trade for a small treat. You will note my Hungarian Vizsla Lucy is wearing her hunting vest by Browning. This helps me keep tabs on her as she races across the hillsides. If we stumble across some deer or elk I can easily see her and call her back, leaving the animals alone.

When you find one shed look around for the other side nearby-Jason Brooks

When you find one shed, look for the other. The bases loosen and they fall off, which often happens simultaneously. If you find one shed search around and you might pick up a match set.

Leave winter kill skulls and antlers in the field-Jason Brooks

Leave winter kill animals alone. In Washington you can only collect naturally shed antlers so if you come across a winter kill leave it for the coyotes and other animals.

Leave deer and elk alone so they can recover from the long winter-Jason Brooks

If you find a group of deer or herd of elk then back out and come back another day. You might be out stretching your legs and getting a good workout in while hiking the hills but the animals are still enduring the harsh winter. Their fat reserves are gone and until the grasses and brush start to green up they don’t have much of a food source. It’s best to leave animals alone, even if you see a nice buck and hope to follow him until the antlers drop. Mark the spot on your GPS and come back next week.

Finding sheds is a great way to get afield in the springtime-Jason Brooks

Remember that shed hunting is a business for some and it can be very competitive. If you find an open slope and are lucky enough to find a shed or two then remember the spot for next year and keep it to yourself. Popular places near known wintering grounds can be very competitive. Only shed hunt on public lands or where you have permission and check the WDFW website regarding WDFW lands as most of them are closed until later in the spring to allow wintering animals a place to rest.

I love shed hunting because it’s a chance to work with my dog, get some excersice, and spend some quality time outside with my kids. After the winter we’ve had here in Washington it’s about time all of us get outside anyway. It’s been a long one!

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line-Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography

 

Blacktail Success – Reading the Sign

By Rob Endsley

Blacktails will drive you to madness!

For starters they live in the dense jungle known as the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Chest-high salal brush, re-prod, salmonberry’s, alder thickets, and some of the deepest, darkest pockets of timber you can imagine is what you’ll find in blacktail country. And you can expect rain and lots of it. The rain is punishing at times.

One minute they are right there in broad daylight and half a second later they are gone, never to be seen again. A study printed in Northwest Sportsman magazine several years ago concluded that lowland blacktails in Western Washington live in about a two square Kilometer area. They don’t migrate long distances and they know every stick, stump, bush, rock, and brush-tunnel in their environment.

I start every season by tromping around the open country of Okanogan County in Eastern Washington hoping to spot a big buck from a mile away and then move in for the shot. When that doesn’t happen, and it usually doesn’t, I head home to Gig Harbor and mentally prepare myself for hunting jungle blacktails on the Olympic Peninsula.

That mental preparation is what helped me this year. It kept from from quitting and saying to heck with blacktails.

On day one of my blacktail mis-adventure it was a balmy 61 degrees and I didn’t see a single deer. What I did see though were rubs, a lot of rubs, and fresh tracks and sign everywhere. That led me to believe they were still nocturnal. It was October 24th and I knew that my best chance wasn’t until the end of the general season on Halloween or perhaps the late hunt the third week of November.

I had focused my attention on some of the more open clear cuts on day one so I shifted to the re-prod on day two, thinking the deer might be opting for a little more cover. That hunch turned up three does and a bunch more sign. Since I seemed to be onto something I checked a rather large clearcut that was around seven or eight years old and full or re-prod. My brief scouting mission into that cut turned up a bunch of rubs that were less than a day old. It was mid day and temp’s were again around 60 degrees so I headed home.

On day three I awoke to pounding rain on the roof of our home. This is one of the many reasons why blacktail hunting is so brutal here in Western Washington. You can plan on your binoculars and scope being fogged up and covered in rain drops non-stop all day long and even with the finest rain gear you’ll be soaking wet. On this particular morning it was coming down in sheets. I’m not gonna lie, dragging myself out of the sack was tough that morning.

I made my way to the edge of the clearcut with the fresh rubs around twenty minutes before shooting light and sat atop a large mound that overlooked a good portion of the cut. It was POURING down rain. I turned off my headlamp and sat in the darkness wondering what the hell I was doing there.

As it began to get light I started glassing the reprod for signs of life. I keep my binocs holstered in a  KUIU binocular harness that helps to keep them dry a little, but I was still having to use a paper towel that I stuffed in a pocket before I left the house on the lenses.

After twenty to thirty minutes or so I decided to move to another mound in the cut that overlooked a series of draws. That’s where the freshest rubs were the day before and I was hoping maybe the decreased light level from the black dinge overhead would keep that buck out in the open a few minutes longer.

Slowly creeping up to that mound I noticed two white spots in the salal brush in the distance on the other side of a draw. I skipped the binoculars entirely and quickly set up my Primos Trigger Stickknowing darn well that I might have two seconds to get a shot if it was indeed a buck.

I popped the scope covers off and settled the rifle into the notch on the stick and quickly determined that it was a decent blacktail buck in the salal brush. The white spots were the tip of his nose and his throat patch.

I had merely peeked my head over the edge of the mound and he was already onto me. Without time to range the animal I cranked my Leupold up to it’s full magnification, settled the crosshairs just behind his shoulder, took a breath to gather myself, and slowly and evenly squeezed the Accutrigger.

My .300 Winnie barked and the muzzle break was so full of water that it looked like I had just fired a shot from a muzzleloader. A massive cloud of steam completely blocked my sight from the buck. I caught a glimpse of him struggling to make his way to the timber and then he was gone. Pulling out my range finder I quickly determined where he was standing was only 127 yards away. I knew the shot was right on the money and I also knew that finding a blacktail in chest high salal brush and timber in the pouring down rain was going to be a challenge. I’ve taken a lot of deer over the years and here I was trembling over a blacktail that would never make any record book.

I made my way to where the buck went into the brush and started walking a grid back and forth in the salal and huckleberries. The rain cranked up another notch and I was nearly drowning. After around fifteen minutes of working a back-and-forth grid I could see his rump underneath some brush ahead of me. The shot had hit him exactly where I aimed and he’d still managed to travel around 40 yards before falling to the 165 grain Barnes X.Washington Blacktail - Rob Endsley - The Outdoor Line

It was a nice, mature 2 x 3 that wouldn’t make any magazine covers but I didn’t care. These lowland blacktails are as challenging a critter to hunt as you’ll find here in the west and the countless days I’ve spent studying them had payed off once again.

I put my tag on him, field dressed him, and slogged my way back to the Can Am 6 x 6 parked over a mile away. Lifestyles Can-Am in Mount Vernon, Washington loaned me this rig for the hunting season. The general manager there told me “this ATV will take you places you shouldn’t be”. He was right. It’s six wheel drive, has a 700 pound dump bed, and 1,000 cc’s to power up and over just about anything that stands in it’s way. It’s simply a killer rig for hunting!rob_2016_5_web

Take Away’s from This Hunt:

Reading the Sign

I used the first two days as more of a scouting mission. The sight of fresh rubs and tracks everywhere led me to believe there were plenty of blacktails in the area but they were feeding and moving at night. This is classic blacktail behavior and the odds of seeing some animals would get better as the season approached Halloween and the rut started to heat up. If it didn’t happen before then I could count on something on the late hunt in November when sixty percent of the blacktails are harvested in Washington.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Hunting mule deer in open country means you’ll probably see some animals every day and sometimes a lot of animals. Even if you can’t get close enough for a shot at least you know they are there. With blacktail hunting I’d say that at least half the time you won’t see a darned thing. It’s all about the sign though. If you can find fresh rubs, tracks, and droppings and can stick around until the rut starts to heat up you’ll have a much greater chance of success. Don’t get me wrong. I get as discouraged and frustrated as anyone. I know how these critters operate though and that’s what keeps me going back. If you’re patient and keep working the sign eventually you’ll get an opportunity.

The blacktail I took this year wasn’t in the rut yet and I had him butchered into boneless steaks and hamburger that our family will enjoy for the next year. If you tag out with a nice buck this year don’t hesitate to post a quick photo on the Outdoor Line forums.

Thanks for checking in and good hunting to you!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle 

Montana Mule Deer “Matriculation”…

Anytime one ventures outdoors in search of fish or game and returns without learning anything, it is an opportunity lost indeed. One of my favorite aspects of this wonderful lifestyle we call hunting and fishing is the fact that no one can possibly “know it all” and as such, every single one of us can add to our knowledge base literally every day afield. That’s a long-winded way of explaining my use of the word “matriculation” in the title of this post as I learned much on this hunt that will allow me to become a better deer hunter.

The planning of this hunt began in March when we applied for non-resident deer tags and then we had to wait until the November rut to make the 12+ hour drive to our Montana area. It was a uniquely challenging and fun hunt on many fronts from the minus 20 degree temperatures, the unfamiliar landscape, my first hunt using the Outlander 450L Max ATV and Lord willing, it will not be my last!

Mule deer or “muleys” as they are known to most hunters, get their name from an pronounced set of ears that are well suited to picking up any -and every- noise within a wide radius.

abigbuckThe first morning of our hunt we were “greeted” with temperatures in the minus 20 degree range and a breathtaking snowy landscape. We unloaded the 4-wheelers and got to it!

aOulanderSnVintage Montana: The landscape is littered with abandoned artifacts of days gone by. In this case, a loosely assembled pile of wood that was once someone’s boat!

aBoat

One of the most fun and unique aspects of this hunt was the use of our Outlander ATV’s. We were able to reach remote areas and once we hopped off our energy was intact to fully devote to the hunt! Our Triton ATV trailer made loading and unloading the ATV’s a snap and towed like a dream!

aTriton

The trailer made long hauls on mountain passes and gravel roads look easy…until you looked at our license plate that is…

aPlate

The State of Montana does a great job of opening up blocks of private land known as BMA’s or Block Management Areas. Here Robbo signs in at the registration box allowing us to hunt the area.

aBMA

Glassing, glassing and more glassing. Learning to pick an area apart and find an ear, antler tip, tail or patch of hair is an invaluable skill to a mule deer hunter. Patience and persistence is the key…and hand warmers…Brrrr…

aGlassin

Robbo and his beautiful mulie buck taken on the final day of our hunt. Robbo passed up more bucks than I could keep track of and his patience and discipline were rewarded when he spotted and stalked this dandy deer!

aRobucks

Although I wasn’t able to fill my tag this time around, I learned more by hunting hard each day of this trip than I would of otherwise. Learning what to look for and where to look is a huge part of the mule deer equation and seeing numbers of Montana mule deer each day is a great way to learn to spot deer when few are around. I’m looking forward to next hunting season to test what I learned on this hunt and to answer the challenge of becoming a better hunter!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

D.I.Y. European Skull Mount

The first time I decided to do a European skull mount it was a long and very stinky process. It was so disgusting that I vowed to never do another one on my own. Yuk!

You can send your mount to a beetle shop that immerses the head in a box full of meat-eating beetles that devour every ounce of meat, tissue, and cartilage off the skull in a very short amount of time. It’s a great option but you’ve got to either ship the head or have a shop within driving range of your home. Not a good option for me.

The following process is how I went about making my most recent skull mount of a beautiful Montana mule deer. All in all I had about two full hours into this process and the final product will look excellent on the wall of my office.

First I cleaned the skull with a pressure washer much like Mark Kayser does in the video below. I’ve been a fan of Mark’s since his days hosting a hunting show for Truck Vault and I followed his video to a “T” to get my deer skull fully cleaned.

I used a big Honda 9 horsepower pressure washer to clean the skull to my liking. This took about 45 minutes and it helps to have very high pressure for this process. You’ll want to tape the base of the antlers to keep from removing the coloring away from the antlers in that area with the pressure.

skull_mount2_webThe skull mount after pressure washing. Ready for step 2!

skull_mount_webNext I brought a large pot of soapy water to a boil and immersed the head into it. Drop the temperature down on the water and simmer the skull in the soapy water for around an hour. This brings out any grease that is left in the skull and helps eliminate discoloring later.

This is when things get kinda weird in this whole process. Head to the nearest beauty supply store and pick up an 8 ounce bottle of Salon Care Volume 40 Developer Creme and a packet of Salon Care “Quick White” powder lightener. The lady at the beauty supply store asked me what I was using it for and since the whole place was packed with ladies I simply answered, “Uh…I’m working on a little project.” You can probably get away with 4 ounces of this stuff, but I went with 8 to be on the safe side.

Mix the two ingredients together in a bowl and then use a brush to completely cover the entire skull in paste. It doesn’t exactly smell great so it’s best to do this outside in a ventilated area. Get as much paste into every corner of the skull as you can.

After your done with this wrap the skull in plastic stretch wrap and place it in front of a space heater. Rotate the skull a couple of times in an hour period. Pull off the wrap and rinse the skull in warm water to get off all the bleaching goop. If the skull doesn’t whiten up to your liking hit it with another coat of goop and go thru this process again.

I performed this final process twice and the skull turned a nice, crisp white.

skull_mount3

Two notes of caution when doing this. First you want to make sure you wrap the bottom of the antlers with tape during the pressure washing process or you’ll blast off the staining on the base of the antlers. Also be very careful not to get any bleaching compound on the base of the antlers or it’ll effect the stain on the antlers, as well.

Now that I’m done preparing my European mount I just need to build a custom wooden base to hold the mount. I’m thinking a hardwood with a dark finish would work great to accent the skull.

If you really want to get fancy with the final product, however, you could ship your skull mount off to Jana Waller at Painted Skulls. She does some amazing artwork with skulls!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Special Hunt Worksheet Available

Every year I have a helluva time keeping all my special hunt applications for Washington sorted out. With the deadline coming up here on May 22nd the time to work on your special hunt units was actually a couple of months ago. If you’re like me, however, you’ll be getting things organized and submitted between now and May 22nd.

Luckily, Steve Turner from Snake River Hunting Club just zapped me the worksheet that he made up for their yearly submissions for special hunts here in Washington State.

Click on the images below to get the larger, printable .PDF version of this worksheet.

Washington Special Hunt Work Sheet - Snake River Hunting Club special_hunts2_webSteve Turner from Snake River Hunting Club is available for questions via email at snakeriverhuntin@aol.com. Steve Turner and Don Davis were the guys that set up my .300 Win Mag last summer and they’ll be setting up a 7mm 08 that I just ordered. These guys live, eat, and breath guns, hunting, and special draws. Give them a shout for more info!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

My New .300 Winnie – From Set-Up to the Field

Last winter I decided to pick up a new rifle that would work a little better for long shots in open country…a long range bomber if you will. The time had come to retire my old Browning 30.06 and get with the times.

My search turned up a dizzying number of quality rifles that would work just fine, but in the end I settled on a Savage Bear Hunter in .300 Winchester magnum. The rifle came stock with a muzzle break, a fluted barrel, and Savage’s patented Accu-trigger system amongst other things. Savage has come a long, long ways and their new rifles are definitely worth taking a peak at.

Here’s the unique look of the Accu-trigger assembly. The trigger is set at the factory for 2.5 pounds of pressure and it comes with a tool so that you can adjust the trigger to your liking. I left it at the factory setting.

Savage Accu Trigger - The Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN SeattleFor optics I chose a Leupold VX-3L 4.5-14 scope with a 50 millimeter objective and Leupold’s patented Custom Dial System, or CDS. With the CDS system you sight the rifle in at 100 yards with the ammunition that you’re going to hunt with and then send your dial covers back to Leupold with a card filled out with all your ammo’s ballistics. They then make a custom set of dial covers specifically for that ammunition that effectively eliminates the need to use the mil dot system. Simply range your animal, set the scope on the correct range setting, hold on the kill zone, and fire!

This whole package came together around late April last spring and since I leave for Alaska in late May there would be little time for me to set this gun up properly. So I reached out to Steve Turner (360-801-0716) from Saltpatrol.com and Don Davis from Snake River Hunt Club. These guys have been setting up rifles for years and they offered to set mine up and perform the much needed break-in on my Savage while I was away. Like anything the devils in the details and these guys know the details much better than I do.

Mounting the Scope

After talking with the guys we decided to set my Leupold up with two scope mount bases instead of a solid base. While solid bases can lend a little more stability to your scope they can sometimes get in the way of the throw of the bolt. Since the Leupold VX-3L sits very close to the barrel Don decided to mount my scope up with two Leupold bases made specifically for the Savage Bear Hunter series. This would eliminate any interference from the scope.

Leupold Scope MountsNorthwest Hydroprint

The Savage Bear Hunter comes with a stainless barrel and bolt assembly, which I really like since I hunt in the rain quite a bit. The downside to this is that it sticks out like a sore thumb on days when it’s sunny. Even though Savage brushes the stainless steel to dull it down considerably we felt like the great folks at Northwest Hydroprint could help us out a little here.

Don’t ask me how this works because I can’t begin to understand, but they use a water process to apply graphics to metal. Applying just about any camo pattern to a rifle or shotgun is a snap for these folks. Don drove my Savage to their facility in Montesano, Washington and had them apply a Mossy Oak break up pattern to the barrel that very nearly matched the camo pattern on the stock. The rifle looked absolutely awesome when it came back!

Here’s the finished product and you can see the muzzle break and the heavy fluted barrel in this photo.

Savage Muzzle BreakThe Break-in Process

Most off-the-shelf rifles come with microscopic burrs that will effect the long range accuracy of the gun. These burrs can either be removed by hand lapping the barrel or by simply shooting the rifle at the range. Steve and Don chose to break in my rifle on the range and I purchased some fairly inexpensive ammunition, if there is such a thing, for this task.

Montana X-Stream Rifle Cleaning Products

Steve fired 40 total shots of this ammunition thru the barrel over the course of nearly a full day at the rifle range. For the first 20 shots he cleaned the barrel with Montana X-stream bore conditioning products after every shot and he let the barrel cool for long periods of time between shots so that the barrel didn’t heat up. This is a tedious task and well worth the money if you don’t have the time to do it yourself.

Then Steve fired an additional 20 rounds thru the barrel and cleaned the barrel after every three shots. Again, waiting enough time between each shot to allow the barrel to cool down.

Sighting-in with Leupold’s CDS System

I sighted this .300 win mag in with Federal ammunition in a 165 grain Barnes bullet and my dial covers are set for shots up to 650 yards. The difference in the sight-in process when you’re getting set up for custom dial covers is that you sight in dead-on at 100 yards instead of holding two or three inches high. I took two trips to the range to get this bad boy dialed in at 100 yards. This .300 Win Mag is a tack driver!

Leupold CDS Scope Dial Covers - The Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN SeattleField Ready

As luck would have it the shot I took on my Montana mule deer this year was only a 120 yards and I didn’t even utilize this rifles full range. I’ve never felt more confident in taking a long range shot, however, and perhaps next year I’ll get the opportunity to truly test out this rifles long range characteristics.

Rob Endsley's 2013 Montana Mule DeerI really need to thank both Don and Steve for taking so much time to set up my rifle properly. I’m always in a rush and I can guarantee I wouldn’t have allowed myself enough time to put this rifle package together correctly. If you pick up a new rifle and want someone to do the same for you I highly recommend these guys.

Now that you’ve gotten this far here’s a couple of links that might be helpful:

Complete instructions on how to break in a rifle properly visit- www.montanaextreme.com Scope mounting instructions – www.saltpatrol.com/hunting and click on the video section..  Northwest Hydro Printing – www.northwesthydroprint.com

Ah man…hunting season is officially over and I’m already finding myself thinking about the possibilities of the 2014 hunting season. To keep from going too stir crazy (read that as…driving my wife crazy) I’ll be doing some shooting to get even more comfortable with this rifle and researching some out-of-state hunting opportunities. I may fish for a living, but the hunting addiction burns deep!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com