Location: Northern Rockies Outfitters in Montana
Hunters: John Tate and David Blanton
Cameramen: Rodney Evans and Chuck Sumner
Dates: September 21-28, 2006
Weather: Cold and rainy then warm and sunny with lows in the 30s and highs in the 70s
When the Realtree crew hunts Montana, we usually hunt the Milk River. We've had phenomenal success there over the years, and there's no other place like it. Although we'll always hunt the Milk River, John and I have been looking for a different type of Montana challenge. We wanted to hunt somewhere in the central to western part of the state that still had the productivity and quality of deer that the Milk River has.
After spending the entire winter and spring interviewing countless outfitters and talking to different people in an effort to locate a spot that had some potential for bigger bucks and a long-term working relationship, I discovered Northern Rocky Outfitters run by Rich Birdsell. Rich lives in Kalispell, Montana, in the northwest part of the state and has several hunting properties located throughout the state. One ranch in particular that we talked about was located north of Great Falls and had everything from elk, to mule deer to whitetails. Although Rich mainly guides for mule deer and elk, what interested me was the abundant whitetail population feeding in the ranch's irrigated alfalfa fields.
One thing that sold me on Northern Rocky Outfitters was Rich's personality. He has an easy going demeanor, but is very professional. I also liked the idea of hunting whitetails that have hardly if ever been hunted.
After deciding to hunt with Northern Rocky Outfitters, I was filled with excitement about the opportunity to hunt new country and a new part of the state.
Upon arrival on September 21, we were greeted with cool temperatures and stormy conditions including rain and wind. Those conditions persisted for two days. We wanted to hunt that first day that we arrived. Since it was raining, we were content to go out that evening and sit in an Ameristep blind that was set up over an alfalfa field.
On that first evening, despite the horrible weather, Chuck Sumner and I watched more than 100 deer including at least five bucks scoring more than 150 inches come to the alfalfa field. We were ecstatic about what we were seeing, but because of the hilly terrain, we couldn't pinpoint exactly where they were coming out of the big ravine that ran through the bottom of the field.
Big Bucks and Bigger Expectations
Luckily, our guide Shannon Click was sitting up at a vantage point with a spotting scope watching the deer pour out of the creek bottom. He knew where they were coming from. We had high expectations for that next day, but it was not to be. The weather actually got worse with wind up to 50 mph. It was cold and rainy and we just couldn't justify getting our cameras out into that mess. So we had to sit back and wait. We had plans to sit out on a vantage point that evening and watch the same ravine for deer, but a fog set in blocking our view of the alfalfa fields. We returned to the trailer where we were staying.
We began to wonder if we'd ever see the sunshine again. The next morning broke cool and clear with a frost on the ground. We knew that we'd see deer that day. We didn't want to walk too far in to hunt the deer as they returned from the field out of fear that we'd spook them. So, Shannon directed Chuck and me to a stand on the east side of a property where we could get in and catch the deer as they returned from the fields.
We got up in the stand at daylight. That morning we saw 15 deer, mostly mule deer and one good whitetail buck. We couldn't wait to get to the irrigated alfalfa field to hunt the deer at the creek bottom that evening. We knew it'd bee a good evening.
The Perfect Bow Hunt
Chuck and I took stands and Summit Bucksteps to the creek bottom with us. Even though we'd never hunted in the creek bottom, we could tell where they were coming out because of the trail. I didn't want to go too far into the brush because I was afraid of spooking them. We eased down into the creek bottom where the major trails intersected. Our stand was only nine yards from the trail.
The deer started coming down the trail before we could even get our gear set up. It looked like a highway. They were just pouring off of that trail into the alfalfa field. We had a good wind, so the deer had no idea we were up in the tree only a few yards from them. Because we were so close to the action, we had to be extremely quiet. I counted more than 30 bucks that evening. Some were really good 130-inch deer, but I was holding out for one of those really good bucks that we saw the evening that it rained.
As the evening past, I continued to wait. I knew the bigger ones would start coming by, and sure enough, the later it got, the bigger the bucks that walked by. I let them pass for a while still waiting for that big 150-inch deer, but as darkness began to get closer, I told Chuck if another good buck comes by, I'm going to take him.
It had been an incredible evening with numerous mule deer and whitetail bucks coming into range. We only saw a few does and fawns. Finally before dark, I saw another buck coming down the trail. I glassed him and saw that it was a good-looking 10-pointer. I told Chuck that I was going to take that deer. When he stopped on the trail at 9 yards from me, I made the perfect shot with the G5 Tekan II 125-grain broadhead. He ran 15 yards and died. That was the end of a great, but short hunt. Literally after hunting three hours that morning and that afternoon, I had tagged out.
I told Chuck that I had never shot a 142-class buck with a bow before and wondered if I had done the right thing. Because there were so many huge bucks in the area, I had originally wanted to hold out for a bigger one, but I'm proud of that deer.
After dark, we took some pictures and we returned to find out that John hadn't seen many deer due to bad wind. I decided to spend the rest of the week glassing and trying to help John get on some deer.
By John Tate as told to Stephanie Mallory
Since David had seen so many bucks from his stand, I decided to do something a little unorthodox. I decided to hunt that same stand to just see what would happen.
The weather was hot on that forth day of the hunt. I was so excited about hunting that trail and hoped to have the same experience that David had had. But it was not to be. During my time in the stand, I only counted 15 deer as they walked down the trail with the biggest one being a 115-class 8-pointer. I was disappointed and had to come up with a new plan
I knew that the deer liked the big drainage area. I just had to figure out where in that drainage to hang my stand. As the weather heated up, the deer started moving later and later. I decided to move further up the draw closer to where the deer were bedding in an effort to shoot one right before dark.
On the fifth day of the hunt, the wind picked up to about 15 miles an hour, so I was able to slip into the drainage without being herd. I picked out a big cottonwood tree at the narrow part of the drainage. I could shoot from either side of the stand if the deer came within bow range of my setup.
I hadn't even climbed up the tree, and Rodney was in the middle of getting his camera set up when a doe and fawn started feeding toward us at 60 yards away. We eased up the tree and got the camera ready. All of the sudden, we had fawns on both sides of our stand. From that point on, the action never stopped. There was always a deer in front of us, but nothing big. Then 30 minutes before dark, I looked up on the side of the hill back toward the east and saw that a big 8 pointer had gotten past us. He was 80 yards up the hill moving down the draw.
I marked where he went in and knew that there were some good trees where we could hang a stand in that area if I didn't get a deer that evening. We sat there and planned for the next day's hunt not discouraged because we felt we had a good strategy for that big mid-140 8-pointer.
As the 8-pointer began feeding further away from us, a really nice and heavy 10-pointer stepped out onto the trail behind him. He ended up coming right down the trail toward our stand. I knew then that I'd have a shot. He took his sweet ever-loving time. He stopped to eat a few leaves and to just look around as he ambled further down the trail. The 8 pointer turned around and followed him down the trail. When the 10-pointer got closer, I drew my bow. When he stepped out in an opening at 20 yards, I shot him.
I was so excited. He was my biggest buck yet with a bow -- a P&Y with 135-inch beams. He had a huge body.
David and I had a wonderful time hunting this new spot and both our expectations were exceeded. We try a lot of new places and more times than not, they don't work out for whatever reason. But this time, everything worked out just right. We took what the deer gave us and had a successful hunt. It doesn't get any better than that.
Northern Rockies Outfitters
Northern Rockies Outfitters offers archery hunts for elk, deer and antelope and specializes in elk/deer combination hunts.
Hunts are currently operated on two large, exclusive properties: The Cascade Ranch and the West Butte Ranch. The beautiful Cascade ranch is located at the north end of the Big Belt Mountains in west/central Montana. This property hosts a strong population of mule deer, whitetail, elk, antelope and black bear.
The West Butte Ranch is a large property that borders Alberta, Canada, in west/central Montana. The trophy quality of the deer there is unparalleled. NRO offers four archery elk/deer combo hunts in September and then four rifle deer hunts for either mule deer or whitetail. The success rates are high and return hunters are common. The hunting country between both ranches covers nearly 40,000 acres.
For more information, call 406-756-2544, or check out www.northernrockiesoutfit.com.