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Living on the Edge

By Russ Van Orman

Hunting technology has evolved along with the animals that we hunt. More and more animals are migrating from public hunting grounds to private land holdings. However, within and among these stretches of private lands are hidden gems of public hunting properties. This is especially true in the west; however, the east and Midwest have many areas where public hunting land meets private, no- hunting property.

On my last trip to Montana, I experienced this first hand. Where wolf predation along with hunting pressure moved the elk and deer onto private property where hunting isn’t allowed. So how as the average public land hunter do we beat the odds and become successful in our quest to harvest game?

Technology is the key.

I have been very fortunate to have hunted Montana for the last fourteen years. Each year has been an adventure with some being more successful than others. Last year’s hunt was perhaps the toughest in terms of finding game on public lands. After four days without seeing any game, I decided to change my tactics and hunt those edges where public hunting lands meet the private.

Most serious DIY hunters like to get off the beaten path and into some type of wilderness situation, myself included. However, my Montana hunt this year evolved into hunting those areas that are next to private ranches that are hard to find without the proper technology. My hunt started as it usually does by obtaining permission to hunt several ranches that allow hunting on their property, talking with locals, and pouring over topo maps looking for areas that I hoped would hold elk and deer.  The first days of my two week hunt, success eluded me completely. The first day of my hunt is usually getting back into hunting mode and by the second or third day, I am at the very least seeing some animals.

Eating my dinner at the end fourth day, I came to the realization that if I was going to be successful this year my hunting tactics would need to change. Pouring over the Topo maps along with my Garmin GPS, that I had install ONXMaps Hunt (formally Hunting Maps GPS) Micro SD card in it for Montana.  

The “card” is easy to install and shows the type of public land, boundary areas between public and private land along with who owns that particular piece of private property all on high grade topo map on your GPS. You can also download the software onto your GPS. I choose the “card” in case my GPS quit working then all I had to do is transfer the SD to another GPS.  

Tirelessly, I looked for small plots of public land that were next to private land holdings or jutted out into them. That would afford the best opportunity to harvest game. Several areas intrigued me, two areas jutted out into some private ranches where I had seen some large bucks feeding and chasing does. The other was a boundary area where elk crossed from private property over into some BLM land almost daily. All these areas required at least a two mile hike to access.

With my agenda set, the next morning I was in my F150 by 3:30am. Heading south from Dillon the temperature gauge on the truck read -5 degrees, after about 45 minute drive I pulled onto a marked BLM road. The road was little rough as I slowly made my way to where I was going to park.

The area I decided to hunt was a boundary where BLM land and private ranchland met. With the truck parked, I quietly got out and started walk through the new fallen snow with only the moon light and stars to guide me to fence line. My thoughts were my own as the moon light sparkled off the snow like a million diamonds. I walked as quickly as I could towards the fence line. Finally, I could see the fence through the moonlight it now was about 300 yards in front of me.

 Walking uphill slightly, I found a large boulder that would hide my outline in the snow laden field. Quickly, I brushed the snow down to the earth giving a place to sit tight against the large boulder. Next I checked my GPS to be sure that I was within the BLM land.

Putting the GPS away, I started to scan with my binoculars the private land for elk. A herd of about 50 elk appeared through the cold early morning haze. They were small brown and black dots in the distance. However, the dots started to take the form of elk as they made their Micro Chip ONXMAPS Huntingway closer to the fence line. Before they made it to the fence they headed uphill into the dark timber that was on an adjacent ranch. This scenario was repeated for the first four days of the hunt with the elk coming a little bit closer to the fence each day. On the fifth day my luck changed, another herd of about 30 elk appeared and head straight for the fence. Then without hesitation they jumped the fence. Scanning the herd with my Binoculars for a bull, I saw only a few spikes, calves and cows. “Just my luck”, I thought to myself.

Early that afternoon, I decided to change my quarry and try and fill my deer tag.

This area was triangular shaped piece of state land that starts out from the road and end at point deep within a private ranch. This piece of property would have been impossible to hunt if it hadn’t been for my ONXMAPS GPS software. It was not marked at all and appeared to be private property. After studying the property from the road, I choose a place to sit close where the public land ended at the private property. Making my way through the short grasses of the field, I constantly checked my GPS to assure that I was on the Public ground and how far it was till it ended. Finding a shallow drainage ditch, I decided that this would afford me the best cover opportunity to wait for a big buck. Taking out my range finder, I measured the exact distance to private land and compared that with the info on my GPS. With that knowledge in hand, I knew the distance I could shoot and still be a legal harvest.

Suddenly, a doe appeared from the thick brush that ran along the creek bed then a large buck appeared behind her. I stood perfectly still as he crossed over into the public land. Raising my rifle, I sighted high on the front shoulders to prevent him running back onto the private land. Pulling the trigger, I heard the sound that hunters hate to hear “CLICK”. Quickly, I racked another round in but it was too late the buck was gone into the brush back onto to private property. The primer on my initial round failed to fire.

Disappointment set in as I slowly made my way back to my truck. Vowing to come back the next day, I headed for the Goose Down ranch where I was staying.

The next day found me back at the fencing line waiting for a bull elk to appear. The cold started to seep in as I stayed huddled against “my rock”. Watching the private land a herd of about 75 elk slowly headed for the fence line. Through the binoculars several bulls appeared as they started crossing the fence. The range finder registered 450 yards to the nearest bull. Resting my rifle on the large rock I sighted in on the bull nearest to me then squeezed the trigger. “Boom” the rifle recoiled as the herd started running down the hill away from me. I rubbed my eyes in dis-belief as came to the realization that I had missed. I watch the herd head towards several other hunters who were about a mile below me.

Later after things had quieted down, I walked down to where the elk had been to check for any sign that the bull had been hit and found nothing.

With that I headed for the truck ate some lunch. Then drove back to where I had the misfire had occurred to see if I could harvest that large buck. I doubled checked my land marks from the previous day with the GPS ONXMAPS software and my range finder.  Before I could sit down a doe appeared and few minutes later the same large buck appeared. However, he stayed within the private land and didn’t afford a shot opportunity.

Frustrated, I decided to wait a little while longer to see if another buck would appear. Then without a sound another doe appeared followed by nice buck. He came within 50 yards. Quickly, I sighted high on his front shoulders and squeezed the trigger. This time my bullet connected and the buck crumbled where he stood.

Technology provided opportunities for my success. Hunting technology when applied will provide you with a successful hunt. Every hunt is a great hunt but technology will give you that edge to harvest game more often. Products like ONXMAPS Hunt are truly innovative and where hunting and technology meet.