You have taken to time to research the trip you want to do. You have spent good money on clothes, licenses and this hunting trip. You have hired the best guides possible (in our opinion!!) to help you achieve the end goal of taking the animal you are traveling to Montana for. Let us start getting you ready to fill that goal by listing out things you should be doing before ever setting foot in Big Sky Country. These are things you can and should be doing at home.
1. Walking: If you are coming to hunt in our Backcountry Camp, being in shape is a must. You will be hiking from 3 to 7 miles a day in fairly steep terrain at elevations from 6500 to 8000 feet. Even if you aren’t hiking, but riding horses, you will work muscles you never knew you had. Put on a backpack with some gear in it and start walking around the neighborhood. Find some hilly terrain and start climbing. Work your way up to uneven terrain not just nice flat streets. This is also the time to be breaking in those new hunting boots. It is way better to find out where they may be rubbing your feet and creating hot spots now, then when you are 3 days into your dream trip and you have huge blisters on your feet.
If you are coming on one of our hunts in Eastern Montana, it is still imperative to do some walking before getting here. The terrain on the ranches is gently rolling but it will greatly improve your odds of success if can cover a 1000 yards on foot. We generally search the properties in 4x4 trucks, but if we spot an animal and can sneak up on it undetected your odds of a shot at a nice relaxed animal go up greatly.
2. Shooting: This has come to our attention as a definite area that you as hunter need to spend time on before coming on your trip. As a guide there aren’t many things worse hearing from your hunter then “well my gun was sighted in last year when I shot my deer”. Except maybe, “the shop bore sited it when I bought it last week”. These quotes are intended to make you chuckle, but I have actually heard them from hunters before!!! Become familiar with your rifle, how does the safety work, how do you change the magnification on the scope, does it have a detachable magazine or hinged floor plate. Which ammo and grain bullet shoots the best, does the bullet that shoots accurately from your gun also perform well on game. Match bullets are meant to be accurate but ARE NOT intended to perform well on killing game animals. They are meant for shooting targets. Once your rifle is sited in do not bother shooting off the bench again unless you need to recheck your zero. Here are the stats from which shots were taken on the 2019/2020 season. (standing off shooting sticks 30%, kneeling off shooting sticks %20, some part of the truck as a rest 20% (yes this is legal on private land), using a tree as a rest %15, prone position 15%, from a shooting bench 0%.). All the guides carry a set of tripod shooting sticks. There is not always an opportunity to rest on a tree or get prone. Get your self some or make some and practice shooting this way. When a shot is missed one of the first things I hear is “Well I wasn’t real comfortable…”. You will be in hunting situations, you most likely won’t be as comfortable as shooting off a bench. Practice taking shots from not so comfortable positions. Shoot sitting down on the ground. Lean up against the side of the bench. Set up your shooting sticks a little to high or too low. You have seconds in the field to get off a shot at game, not minutes like you do at the range. These are wild animals and they really don’t want to be shot. They generally wont just stand there and let you take all the time you need to fire off a shot. In the 2019/2020 season in Eastern Montana we had 45 elk missed (which amounted to about 79 shots taken and missed) and another 30 opportunites where a shot wasn’t fired as it took the hunter too long to get ready to shoot. That was 75 missed oppurtunites for the hunters to harvest their elk. This snowballed into elk that were harder to find and more spooky for each successive group of hunters. Some hunters went home with out an elk after missing numerous opportunities. Don’t let this happen to you. You have spent thousands of dollars on your hunting trip already. Shooting a few boxes of shells over the course of the summer is a great investment. Shot distances can range from 100 yards to 300 yards. Know your caliber and where the bullet will impact at those ranges. All appropriate centerfire rifles can shoot fairly flat at theses ranges. You don’t have to shoot thousands of rounds at 500 yards to be a good shot. The kill zone on an elk is approximately 16 inches high by 16 inches wide. If your local rifle range has 300yard capacity they usually have some metal gongs set up at that distance. If you can hit those at that distance you can easily kill an elk at that distance.
3. Safe Gun Handling: On the eastern Montana hunts we will be getting in and out of the truck numerous times. Practice this at home. In Montana you can legally have rounds in the magazine but not one in the chamber. We require that you have the gun barrel pointing down while in the truck. The driver and anyone in the back seat does not want to spend the day looking down the barrel of your gun. There are times when we may bump into elk and you may get a shot opportunity right from the truck. These will not be nice relaxed animals giving you all the time in the world to get it together for a shot. You can practice this at home. Sitting in the passenger seat with the door shut, open the door and exit the vehicle. While getting out take the gun with you, don’t get out and reach back in for it, keep the barrel pointing in a safe direction, and practice opening and closing the chamber, (don’t use live rounds in your driveway) while getting to a place to take a rest. Know where your safety is and remember to take it off. Use the vehicle for different types of rests, (hood, door jam, open window, kneel down and use the bumper, truck bed rail…) on private land in Montana it is perfectly legal to use the vehicle as a rest as long as both feet are on the ground. You may feel silly practicing this but it may make the difference of filling your tag or not on your hunt if that is the only opportunity you get for the trip. If your lucky you get about 10 seconds to make it happen in a situation where a shot could happen from the truck. It sounds simple but you will be surprised how foreign it feels the first few times.
4. Bring Proper Equipment: A hunting trip is always a good excuse to by new gear. Most everything you have for hunting at home will work here. If you’re are hunting in our Mountain Camp, then a good quality pair of hunting/hiking boots would be a good investment matched with quality hiking socks and sock liners. A comfortable sleeping bag and pad will also make your trip more enjoyable. A quality day pack would be something to consider. Binoculars are always good to have but when it comes down to finally getting that shot keep them stowed and be looking through your scope. At this point in the game it is your guides job to be watching through binoculars and your job to be getting ready for the shot. A hunting trip is also a great excuse to buy a new gun. I have personally seen 250 plus elk killed with all different kinds of rifles and calibers. I can emphatically tell you that you do not need the latest and greatest super high velocity caliber to kill an elk. If you have an old reliable 270 Winchester that has taken numerous deer, it will work just fine on an elk. Any mid caliber centerfire rifle that shoots a 130 to 165 grain bullet is perfect. If you can shoot a 300 magnum with 180 grain bullets accurately and without flinching, great. But most people can’t. A nice mild recoiling, bolt action rifle with a 3x9 or 4x12 scope is all you need. Match it up with a quality bonded bullet (the all copper bullets shoot well but you really need to hit heavy bone for them to expand and work well) and you will cleanly kill your game animal. Don’t handicap yourself with an obscure caliber or style of gun unless you really want the challenge of hunting with that weapon and are willing to go home empty handed.
5. Getting Your Meat and Trophy Home: Plan on your trip being successful. It is hunting after all and not everyone gets their tag filled. But what are you going to do when you do get that animal? Cwd has been found in a few deer in Montana. What is your states laws on transporting game to your home state. We will skin your animal and break it down into quarters for your trip home. That means 4 legs with bones still in and the backstraps and tenderloins removed. We don’t have the time or the facilities to take it down any further. We also don’t have the ability to completely clean the brain matter out of your skulls and face cape your trophy. We can recommend a local taxidermist to take care of your trophy and ship them to you and also a local meat processor. You should think about this before your trip and know your home laws and have a plan in place.
Again our goal is to make this trip a memorable experience in a good way. Taking the advice listed above will definitely give you an advantage on making your hunt enjoyable. We want you to come to the state that we love, have a successful hunt and take home that trophy of a lifetime.