Getting an envelope from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in the middle of the summer is a lot like Christmas. There’s that childlike excitement that whatever is inside is something you have been wishing for, that golden ticket that will give you the chance to go after your ultimate dream game. Is it moose, big horn sheep, a special permit elk tag?
For me, elk has been on my bucket list ever since I moved to Montana. Hunting elk usually means 6 or more hours in the truck and, because of the wolf predicament, the couple of times I have had a chance to hunt elk on the other side of the state have ended up just long walks in the woods with my husband. Romantic? Yes, but still a tiny bit disappointing.
I did, however, fulfill the dream of getting close to elk on a family trip to Yellowstone National Park. It was neat driving by them at almost touching distance. Mostly though they were scattered around like lawn ornaments. It wasn’t quite what I had in mind.
To see elk in the true wild? Spotting them at a distance and putting on a stalk? Now that would be something. Hearing a massive bull bugle? I can’t even imagine what it must sound like in person.
So when that envelope from the FWP arrived, I was a bit shocked and very hopeful. Ripping it open, I quickly discovered I had scored a special permit, either sex elk archery tag along the coast of Fort Peck Lake. I was thrilled at the chance of hunting elk within a couple of hours from home.
Of course, hunting would be limited to what I was able to work out with the new baby, who just turned five months old. Because of that I knew I needed to get all the help I could get. It would be outright silly not to tap into the knowledge of the “Prois Posse” – a sisterhood of extraordinary huntresses who never settle and are proud to hunt hard.
What to wear
Kirstie Pike, CEO of Próis Hunting and Field Apparel for Women was first to chime in with advice on appropriate clothing. “Plan for warm weather during the archery seasons with cool mornings and hot days,” she suggested.
Being comfortable on a hunt just makes the entire experience all the more special. Kirstie’s recommendation was a Próis Ultra shirt with a vest for such days. For cooler temperatures she advised a lighter jacket, such as the Pro-Edition or Gen X jackets.
Up and at ‘em early
Candy Yow, of Extreme Desire TV, gave insight on her experience as elk hunter. “Elk hunting is my favorite,” she said. “I prefer the spot-and-stalk style. When you hunt elk, in most places you need to get as far back as possible as early as possible. We usually hike a couple hours before daylight to get to where we can start spotting right away. Most of the time they bed down by midmorning unless it is really cold.”
On the call and ready for action
Fellow Team WONer Mia Anstine was also extremely helpful. Mia’s column at The WON always comes packed with useful info and tips. “Calling elk is tricky and it varies depending on what the elk are actually doing,” she said. “Similar to turkey, if you are not good at calling, you will only scare them off.”
She also offered advice on how to prepare for my great elk adventure. With my experience in the action shooting sports, it made total sense. “Practice,” she suggested. “Practice with your bow. Run for 20 minutes, then pick up your bow and try to shoot. Run uphill and shoot. Run downhill and shoot. Practice standing, kneeling and sitting shots.”
Elk Hunting 101 from the Sisterhood
- Be ready for the heat and dress accordingly
- Get up early and hike in as far as possible to start spotting by daybreak
- If you don’t know how to call, don’t bother
- Prepare and practice for any shot scenario
Many members of the Próis sisterhood suggested looking for a guide, either an outfitter or someone with more experience. I knew just the person to ask, Bureau of Land Management U.S. Ranger Alex Burke.
First of all, Alex knows the area probably better than anyone. As a federal law enforcement officer she interacts with local ranchers and hunters and patrols public lands. She is prepared for anything and there really is no “typical day” for her. “Everything can change in a moments notice, from search and rescue, inclement weather, assistance to the county deputies, or even a motor vehicle accident call,” she explained.
Alex is also an experienced hunter and has been hunting for nearly 23 years. She wasn’t always donning camo and heading into the field. Alex didn’t start hunting until she was 17, when she felt confident with a rifle. “I had shot pistols and rifles before with family and friends, but it wasn’t until I took hunter safety that I felt responsible enough to hunt.”
She knows a thing or two about elk too. Just take a look at the bruiser she harvested last year in the photo above. “What I love about elk hunting the most is really elk finding,” she said. “It is so great to go out hiking and as a bonus spot some elk. I also enjoy the stalk. I tend to want to get as close as possible and observe them for a while. All of my rifle shots in the last 10 years have been at bow hunting distances.”
So even though Alex’s most recent harvest has been with a rifle, she was able to stalk close enough to her bull that she could have taken it with a bow. That fact increases my confidence level immensely for when we head out.
Finally, and this is a bit personal, Alex and I are both moms. There’s a connection that we share and with her being the parent of a toddler, she understands the specific challenges I face with a wee one. I am already looking forward to swapping mom stories and talk about taking our daughters hunting. Alex gets excited when she talks about her 2-year-old daughter, Harper. “I can’t wait to bring Harper out for her first tag along hunt this fall,” she said.
Because we desire to feed our families only the very best, taking a good shot and harvesting the meat is especially important. I share the same sentiments as Alex when she said, “I really enjoy knowing where the meat my family is eating comes from and that I helped put it on the table.”
It will take a lot of luck and skill to shoot my first elk. If I don’t get close enough to take a shot, I am hoping to at least see one and, if I am lucky, hear a bugle. Even if that doesn’t happen I will have the chance to head out in the field with an accomplished fellow huntress and, of course, share my experience with this amazing sisterhood.