Montana General Elk Season 2012

Matt Cashell

Staff member
Feb 25, 2012
Western MT
I have been hunting the big burns of Western Montana for the past decade, and it has been a blast. This past week, my partners and I went into one of our burn areas hoping the migration was going, and we could locate a bachelor herd with some older bulls.

We haven't had the usual amount of snow in our usual area, and regulation changes kept us out of some of our best honey holes, but we did see a bunch of migrating elk. We just didn't get the bachelor herds of big bulls. One of my hunting partners, Kenny, had tagged out a couple of weeks ago on a small bull that we took out of a large herd of 80 to 100 elk. It was great to see many calves in trailing their cows. I was determined to get a six point and held off on some smaller bulls. The herd was acting funny before Kenny shot, and we didn't know why, because they couldn't have seen or smelled us. Kenny made the shot anyway, and his bull left with the herd. While tracking the herd we found their reason for concern, as a kitty cat left a track in their tracks as they left:


We found Kenny's bull over the hill, and we were able to get the horses right to it.

This past weekend, we rode into our tent camp after a bit of fresh snow. Jared and Austin (Bambi Slayer on Rokslide) were in from the previous day, and were out in the woods when Kenny and I came into camp. We unloaded the horses, grabbed some lunch, and decided to head out. We rode up to a spot where we could overlook miles of burn, but snow and clouds were rolling in. By the time we made it to the glassing spot, visibility was 50 to 100 yards, and we were out of commission. It didn't look like it would break, but we decided to make a fire and see what was going to happen. A welcome fire kept us smiling in the 10-15 degree temps. Kenny peaked over the edge, and said it looked like it may break. We got set up and the clouds pulled slowly back. Snow covered burned hills materialized in front of us. My eyes were going crossed staring for thenext 20 minutes at all those burned sticks. I couldn't find tan hides anywhere.

Suddenly a full bugle broke the extreme silence. Kenny and I looked at each other. A bugle in mid November? Why not? I pulled out the Diascope and started picking apart the area below where the bugle seemed to come from. It didn't take long, and I found a cow between a couple of trees. I gave Kenny directions to the cow, and we started picking out cows and calves in the burn around the first cow. I saw the tell-tale light-colored body of a bull and follwed it through some thick burn until it stepped out and showed me its spikes. Kenny whispered out directions to a legal bull, and i turned the spotter over to a small four by five. We stayed put, and pretty soon elk were up and moving. We saw about a dozen at first and that small bull made a few short bugles. The cows and calves started really talking then, and at 1000 yards they sounded like they were right below us in the still post-storm air. One cow started whining an estrus call, and a couple of bulls responded with bugles. More and more elk appeared and started slowly feeding our direction. Another bull became visible and it looked like a five by six. This bull was getting closer to something I wanted, but I decided to pass. I watched him for a while, and I found it funny that he would let a cow or calf dig a hole in the snow, and then he would run over and goose them away, so he could eat the exposed grass.

We decided to be patient, and more and more elk came out of the blind side of a ridge and into the burn below us. At least 60 elk were in the group, including at least 8 spikes. I peered intently into the burn behind them and saw a tan body with black belly coming through the trees. Finally another bull came out, and I counted six points on both sides. I gave Kenny the thumbs up and we came up with a plan. There was a bluff about halfway between us and the elk, and we had the high ground. We took out our trekking poles and started a snowy descent. We made it to the bluffs just as the elk were really stringing out and walking below us. I found a small shooting lane in the burn below and got set up. The base of the lane was 360 yards away. I have a corresponding 367 yard dot on my Swarovski BRH reticle, and I proned out on my Eberlestock. I watched cows and the four by five come through the opening. The four by five stopped perfectly broadside right in the middle. I hoped the six would do the same.

We found another small bull we hadn't seen coming through the burn. We hadn't seen the six since we left the top, and light was fading. I heard another bugle and peaked into the burn. I saw the six and he was moving our way. He jogged and walked towards the opening, and right before getting there, he let out a full bugle and chuckle. He came right to the edge of the shooting lane, and stopped. A calf ran by him and right into my crosshairs. It stopped in the lane, and moved through. The bull walked right into the lane, and it was clear he was not stopping. I put the dot right behind the shoulder and squeezed. A snow explosion from the muzzle blast completely obstructed my view, but Kenny saw the hit, and told me it was a little back. The bull walked about 15 feet, out of the shooting lane, and laid down. I moved to where I could see him, and it was clear he was hit hard. I found a lane that was almost completely obstructed by limbs, and tried a finishing shot. It didn't make it through. I tried once more, and it was obvious that wouldn't work. The good news was, he didn't get up, and it didn't look like he would. I dove off the hill and cautiously approached the bull. As I got in there, I saw him laying still. He was done. I hollered to Kenny, and Kenny began heading back for the horses.


I got to work and had the bull halfway quartered by the time Kenny rode up, ponying my riding horse, Rocky, behind him. Kenny lent a hand, and we had the rest of the bull bagged up in no time. We left the quarters for packing the next morning, and rode back to camp in the dark. Jared and Austin were in the tent, and they had passed on some bulls earlier in the day. After a hot beer moose sausage and cold PBR, I was out like a light. The morning broke cold and clear, and we decided to take a look from the top before packing my bull. Twenty minutes into the ride a dozen or so cows, calves, and one bull hopped up on the ridge in front of us. Austin and Jared bailed off the horses. I hopped off and grabbed the lead ropes of mine...

BOOM! Austin's 300 RUM shook the timber. One of the rental horses started to freak, and Kenny got ahold of him, but the bucking started and here the four horses in front of me came stampeding down the trail at me and mine. There was nowhere to go, and they barrelled right into me. All of the horses were heading for home. I had the wind knocked out of me, but other than that a quick check found everything in working order. Jared and Kenny headed for horses, while Austin and I started working on his bull, which had dumped over right after the shot.


About an hour later, Jared and Kenny showed up with all of the horses in working order, and we had the bull in the panniers and headed to camp. We headed out to pick up my bull, and found it just as we left it. I got a pic or two in the sunlight.


Then it was up on the horses and headed for camp.


Overall it was a great hunt, and although we didn't see the big bulls in bachelor herds we were hoping for, we made the best out of what we did have. I can't wait for next year.
Oct 3, 2012
I don't think it gets much better than this! It was a great end to an successful year with a great group of guys!!!

Ryan Avery

Staff member
Jan 5, 2012
Love the horses and the snow. Great work Matt! What the hell are you doing with all that meat?


Mar 15, 2012
SE Alaska
Nice! Thanks for sharing. The narration was done well. I'm glad the horses didn't hurt you. It looks like a solid team effort for you and your partners. I can imagine everyone pulled together with resources and effort to get that trip done right. You've got a good thing going there.