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Double Down

By Russ Van Orman

Huddling next to my favorite rock, I waited for the sun to rise into the “Big Sky” of Southwest Montana. I had arrived the day before full of anticipation and excitement.  Looking through the early morning haze; the binoculars revealed that the elk were feeding in the pivot a mile below me.

Hoping the elk would move out of the private land, I hunkered down against my rock. Then pulled my hat down and waited.  Four hours later, the elk were starting to bed down on the private land. So I made my way slowly back to the truck and decided to hunt a favorite spot that friends and I had harvested an elk. Putting the F150 in park after about a 30 minute drive; I walked back in to where we had harvested the elk. However, except for some old tracks there wasn’t any other sign.

Before light the next morning, I was headed towards Badger Pass.  The year before a friend, Dan Keller and I had hunted this area Thanksgiving morning. We saw elk but they were at least a mile away through the sage. Needless to say we never caught up to them. 

The tires of my truck crunched against the gravel on the road as I made my way through the BLM land. Following my GPS, I turned down a side road and came to a barricade across the road and a sign that read “road closed for migrating elk”.  This looked like a great place to start hunting. It was still dark as I started to walk the road. After walking a mile or so, I decided to sit down in spot where I could watch the ravine across from me.  Several hours later, I started to slowly walk the road again. Frequently, stopping to glass for elk.  It was late into the afternoon when suddenly elk appear on the far side of the ravine. Quickly, I sat down under a tree to break up my outline. Through my Binoculars, I could see several decent sized bulls along with cows and calves.  I ranged them at 900 yards. Checking the time, I decided to quietly leave the area and not disturb them. Tomorrow, I would be back at this spot before dawn.

Slowly, I made my way to where I had seen the elk the previous day. The sun was barely starting to rise as sat down against tree that I had marked with my GPS the day before. As the sun started to come up over the horizon, I started glassing the area where the elk had been seen the afternoon before.  The elk apparently had moved on, so after two hours I decided to continue walking the road.

“Boom, Boom” two shots were fired from across the ravine about a mile from where the elk had been the day before. I could see two hunters on the ridge across from where I stood.  Next, the two hunters were having a conversation about the best way pack their bull out.

Disappointment set in as I made my way slowly back to my truck. Little did I know then, this would define the first eleven days of my hunt.

Every morning I would get up and make breakfast and head out before 5:30. I would see elk every day but I never was in the right place at the right time.

Once, hiding behind some sage brush herd of 70 elk started to head towards where was hiding. The lead cow came out into the field and a hunter from the other side field shot her before I could get a clear shot on one of the several bulls that were with the herd.

Another time, a nice whitetail buck jumped the fence from the private land onto BLM land and head towards where I was sitting next to “my rock”. The buck was headed for some dark timber and would come within 300 yards of me.  The buck stopped on a little ridge right across from me.  Putting the cross hairs on the front shoulders, I squeezed the trigger.  The buck jumped and did a 180 and headed back downhill through the BLM land.  I knew the buck was hit hard by the way he was acting.

The buck crossed a road that ran through the BLM property.  Then suddenly a pickup appeared and two hunters jumped out of their pickup and started trailing the buck. Frustrated, I leaned my back against the rock and just shook my head.

So my luck continued like this until day 12.

Stumbling out of bed at 4:00 am, I ate my breakfast and took a quick shower.  The clock in the F150 read 4:45 AM as I headed south. With only three more days to hunt, I decided to try and harvest a buck at least.

The gravel road ended as I switched the car lights off and entered the BLM land. With only the ruts in the road to follow, going was slow through the darkness.  

The temperature gauge read 10 degrees as I put the truck in park and turned off the engine. The last two miles of my drive was too rough to drive in the dark. Darkness surrounded the truck as waited for first light to continue my journey to the “honey hole”.

The sun started to push the darkness away as I put the truck in gear and headed towards my destination.  Putting the truck into 4 wheel drive low I would climb out of one washout into the next, occasionally my back bumper would bottom out against the rocks. This went on for at least half a mile, going was slow but finally I made it to relatively smooth section of the trail where I put the F150 back into 4 wheel drive high.

Looking across the sage brush, I could see a heard of about forty elk. My heart started to pound in my chest as the adrenaline kicked in. Slowly, I eased the truck into park and shut the engine off.   Excitedly, I put my vest on, grabbed my rifle, ammo, threw my binoculars over my neck and took the keys out of ignition all in about three seconds. Slowly, I step out the truck then loaded my rifle.

Hunching over, I used the truck as cover between the elk and I; then made my way to some sage brush.  Surprisingly, the elk hadn’t moved; they were all standing bunched up looking in my direction. Looking through my binoculars; I could see mostly cows and spikes. With only 2 days left to hunt, I decided to harvest a cow if it presented itself. However, a shot was impossible since I couldn’t single out one particular animal out of herd.

The elk ranged at 401 yards, so I adjusted my CDS on the Leopold to 400 yards and waited. Suddenly, a single cow stepped out of the herd. Carefully, I sighted high and tight behind her front shoulders and slowly squeezed the trigger……BOOM. The Weather Warrior found its mark.

My heart was pounding as I slowly made my over to where the elk lay.

Reaching the elk, I thanked God for my good fortune then field dressed her out. Fortunately, I was able to drive up to her. Determined to load her in the truck bed whole; I took my trailer hitch winch out (it is really only designed for animals up to 500 pounds) and after more than several attempts, with the strap breaking and tying it together,  was able to slide the elk into the truck bed.

Arriving at the Goose Down Ranch, I saw Dan’s truck parked outside one of the cabins they rent out.  So I decided to show Dan my elk.

“Congratulations on your elk!” “Would you like to hang the elk over at the house” Dan said.

 “Sure” I replied. Following Dan’s rig over, I started to plan tomorrows hunt for a deer.  Putting the truck in park I got out of my rig. Dan was already out of his truck standing beside the barn. “Russ, there is a nice buck over in the short grass are you interested? “Yes” I replied without hesitation. Looking around the barn I could see him at a distance.  So back in my rig I climbed, to see if I could get closer for a shot with Dan following me.

Excitedly, I jumped out of my rig.  “Russ, don’t forget to put your vest on” Dan reminded me (In Montana every hunter must where orange when hunting). So I grabbed my vest put it on then loaded my gun quickly so I wouldn’t lose the opportunity for the shot.  Luckily, the buck was still feeding about 90 yards away.  Finding the nearest cover that would break up my outline, I waited for the buck to present a shoulder shot. Raising my rifle to my shoulder, I slowly pulled the trigger as the bucks’ front shoulder met my crosshairs. “BOOM” the buck dropped where it stood.

That’s what I call a double down. One elk, one buck in one day!

I would like to thank the Keller’s for all their friendship, support and great hospitality in making my hunt a success. If you are looking for a great place to stay whether hunting, fishing or sightseeing in Dillon, Montana; don’t hesitate to reserve a cabin at the Goose Down Ranch.