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Anticipate Montana

By Russ Van Orman

As I crossed over from Idaho into Montana a big smile came across my face, it felt like home. The roads were clear so I arrived in Missoula earlier than I had planned.

The next morning with truck fueled and myself, I headed south to Dillon, Montana. I have hunted this high desert country for 17 years, and every hunt here is a new adventure to catalogue in my minds’ memories.

Checking in with my great hosts, Dan and Shannon Keller, I then proceeded to my cabin and unpacked my gear.

I sat on the front porch of the cabin anticipating the hunt while waiting for two buddies, John Quvideo and Steve Bell, to arrive from Washington. John and I had hunted together in Montana several times before but this was Steve’s first Montana hunt.

We had hunted hard for five days straight and saw some beautiful country but very little game. With the weather being unusually warm, we decided to go on a management hunt on one of the local ranches. It would be a cow elk only hunt but with the weather being what it was it was a good option.

A few days earlier, we had put ourselves on a waiting list. Brad, the ranch manager, had asked us to check back in a few days to see where we were on the list. Following his directions, we stopped by the ranch office. Steve went in to check where we were on the list. Suddenly, he comes running out of the office. John and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.

“Listen, there has been a cancelation and he wants us to go now!” Steve explained excitedly.

Despite the raining skies, Steve and John were ready in less than a minute. For myself, I had another week plus to hunt so I was still hoping for an opportunity for a bull. I check and re-checked the weather report and it showed warm weather for entire time I was going to be in Montana.   

Gearing up just in time; The Ranch Manager, Brad, drop some folks off from their hunt with their elk and then asked if we were ready to go. We were ready!

The Brad explained that we would follow his truck out to one of the pivots then he would take us one at time from there in order to get closer to one of the several herds of elk that were feeding.

Steve was the first to go. We watched Steve disappear into the mist with the ranch manager. About twenty minutes passed and finally you could hear a shot echo through the rain. A little while later, Brad came back without Steve.

“Where is Steve?” I asked. “Cleaning his elk and who is next?” Brad replied.

We had decided that since I had more time to hunt and it was getting late that Steve and John would go first and second and if time allowed I would go out last.

Excitedly, John climbed into the rig. Thirty minutes went by and here comes Brad and John; they pull up next to my truck and John gets out of Brad’s rig.

“Where is your elk?” I asked. John just shook his head. “I missed” is all he could say.

“Are you ready?” Brad asked. “Yes” I replied getting out of my truck into his.

Brad explained, as we headed to the far end of one of the pivots, that he wanted to give everyone a chance to get their elk and if time allowed he would take John back out.

It started to rain harder as the trucked stopped about 300 yards away from a herd of about 200 elk. “I’ll tell you the yardage and when you have a clear shot” Brad stated as he rolled down the window.

 Stepping out into the pouring rain, I sat down in the wet grass trying to cover my scope at the same time.  “Do you see the lead cow? She is about 253 yards out take her”, Brad said.

Dialing the Leupold CDS to 250 yards and putting my rifle to my shoulder; I rested the cross hairs tight on the elk’s front shoulder.

“Waited don’t shoot another elk came up beside her” Brad said.

Lowering my gun, I covered my scope with my hand trying to block some of the rain. This scenario was repeated several times until the herd started to move further out to the edge of the pivot.

“See the elk at the back of the herd?” Brad asked. I nodded, yes.

“She is at 297 yards” he stated.

Quickly, I made adjustments to the scope, sighted in, and squeezed the trigger. The elk lurched forward and started to follow the herd. Loading another round, I sighted in again and squeezed the trigger.  

The rain pelleted down as stood next my elk; she was a good size cow. Wiping the rain from my face, I said a short prayer over her. Then I started to field dress her out. It hadn’t been a hard hunt but it had been intense, nonetheless. She was approximately a three year old cow and would provide some excellent protein.

It was late by the time we pulled into the ranch parking lot and we transferred the elk from Brad’s truck to mine. Because of the late hour, I called ahead to Beaverhead Meats and they said they would wait for us to drop our elk off.

Still determine to find an elk for John, we left early the next morning for area that elk were known to cross before they entered into some private ranch property.

We spread out among the short grass about ½ mile apart, long before the sun came up. We had been sitting for at least two hours after sun up and suddenly a doe jumped the fence followed by another doe and three bucks from the private ranch land.

Still having my deer tag to fill, I decided to head back to the truck and drive down towards where the deer were headed.  I meet Steve walking up the jeep trail so I pulled over and got out of the truck.

“Steve, did you see those deer?” I asked. “Yes, a doe and buck are headed this way” he replied.

When I was driving the deer had entered a small ravine, just across the jeep trail from where the truck was parked.  With Steve on one side of truck and me on the other, we started to walk up to where we thought the deer might come out of the ravine. Suddenly, the doe came out of ravine followed by buck.  Since I had another week to hunt, I wanted John and Steve to harvest their game. Each had a doe license.

“Steve, there they are! Shoot the doe”, I said. “No, shoot the buck, It is a nice one” he replied. Almost like comedy, we went back and forth about shooting the doe or the buck. Finally, I raised my gun and put the scope on the buck’s antlers. Steve was right it was a nice buck. The buck stopped and looked directly at me so I adjusted the scope to deer’s front shoulder. “Boom” The Savage Weather Warrior found its mark and the deer crumpled where it stood.

An Elk the day before and now a nice buck, incredible, I thought to myself.

Steve and John head back a few days later to Seattle. With the Weather being as nice as it was and having a week left of vacation, I fished the Beaverhead and purchased a wolf tag.

Hiking about mile up into a canyon where wolves had been seen prior, movement caught my eye in the dark timber. In disbelief, I blinked my eyes and could barely see the outline of a black wolf. Before, I could unshoulder my rifle he disappeared into the dark timber.

The next day was Thanksgiving, after a morning hunt with Dan Keller and great Thanksgiving Dinner at their home. I decided to hunt that Friday with Mark, Dan and Shannon’s brother in-law; we hunted hard that day without any luck.

Friday night I packed up, and loaded up the truck for an early departure on Saturday.

That morning, I stopped by to say thank you and goodbye to Dan and Shannon who had bag of homemade cookies waiting for me for my ride back to Oregon.

So with a cooler full of meat and a bag cookies, who wouldn’t “Anticipate Montana”.


  • I would like to thank Brad and Matador ranch for allowing us to hunt on the ranch. A special, thanks goes out to Dan and Shannon Keller for their great hospitality in making this a memorable hunt.