28 February 2014

Bow Hunting for Elk in Southwest Montana

Heraclitus observed "You cannot step in the same river twice," and that's generally true of all experience with nature. Before hunting season began, lots of elk were showing up at my old Indian-pit blind near a prairie spring:

I bow hunted for elk a number of days and saw them almost every day--always well out of bow range, at 60 yards or so...A series of mid-September snowstorms made conditions difficult--the elk no longer sought water at the spring, and the crusty snow made stalking impossible:

No complaints, mind you. September and early-October are glorious times to be afield. There is always something to observe, whether a young curious coyote:

or the ever-present pronghorn antelope herd: 

There also seemed to be more mule deer this year:

Given the conditions, I did a lot of "hiking" (bow in hand) in places I don't normally hunt. One day in on a north-facing ridge in a thick Douglass fir stand, I came upon moose:

and white-tailed deer. I was surprised both to see white-tails in this mule deer habitat and that they let me approach so closely. I was tempted to shoot one, but (1) I have sort of a personal rule against shooting deer while elk hunting; and (2) the thick woods would probably have deflected my arrow:

The wet weather brought a big fall crop of mushrooms. I'm familiar with and enjoyed eating tasty giant puffballs (they seem to grow from the elk scat!):

but most wild fungi are a strictly a matter of visual appreciation for me:

At first glance, this little caterpillar friend looks like a common "Wooly Bear," but I think it's a Spotted Tussock Moth:

I recall one sunset especially well. Though beautiful, it was followed by a hard rain storm that soaked me to the skin, chilled me to the bone, blinded me with lightning, and rattled my soul with thunder on the mile-long walk back to the truck: 

The road to and from my blind crosses an outcrop of weathered volcanic ash. When wet, this clay-like bentonite stuck to my tires and made driving across the ridge a dangerous proposition. To cross the few hundred feet of gumbo safely, I had to stop several times and scrape the tires:

As dangerous as the lightning storm and road was, I was even more concerned about the half-wild range cattle. Some of the bulls that visited the spring could be downright aggressive: 

When archery season ended, I laid up my bow and took down the rifle. I had put no meat in the freezer, but had harvested a season of happy memories.


troutbirder said...

Good to see Eco back in the blogosphere. Most interesting hunt and observations. And the photography, as always help to bring the places even more to life. The thought of picking my own dust covered bow as well, have been in my mind this winter. All brought about by an impending neighborhood civil war. Deep snow has brought out the humanitarians to put up the large deer feeder stations. Other neighbors are outraged at the demolition of landscape shrubs and trees by the gathering herd. I gave up filling the bird feeder last week when I counted 19 deer in my backyard. I'm not sure if one former hunter with a bow and arrow entering the fray could make a decisive difference. Fortunately the season is closed.... but then there is always next year. :)

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