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Making The Most Of Montana

By William Hays

-- Our trip started with three hunters: Chris, my hunting partner; Mike, my brother; and me. We applied for deer tags for the 2006 Montana general deer season. It was a long wait, but, finally, when we checked the computer it said successful. We all drew a general deer tag (buck or doe) and a white-tailed doe tag. We were going to Montana.

We left California on Nov. 1 and arrived in Montana after a 26-hour drive. That was a very long drive, but well worth it. We met a friend of Chris' that evening and made plans for the next day. Chris and I were going to hunt together and Mike would go with Stan, as he also had an antelope tag.

The first morning, we parked my truck at the beginning of a large cooley, what I call a draw or ravine in California, and made a long drive across the management block area we were hunting, seeing moose, coyotes, whitetails and mule deer. The moose were great to see. They were at the start of our drive. First we spotted one, and then there were two. What a thrill to see two moose in the wild like that. After the long walk, we were picked up by Stan and Mike and dropped off for another long hike.

As Chris and I were working our way up this new cooley, Chris stopped and said that there was a big mule buck lying right there in front of us. We continued moving around the corner of this cooley, when all of a sudden, 50 yards in front of us, was one of the largest mule deer bucks I have ever seen. Being closer to the deer, I took the first shot at the big buck, but missed it by a mile. Then Chris shot. We watched as it walked over the ridge out of the cooley and beyond gun range. Buck fever must have kicked in! I was so close that my rifle barrel could have touched it! I think that level of excitement keeps me hunting year after year.

After another long hike through a cooley, we saw two more bucks and then called it a day to go bird hunting. Even that was exciting as we picked up six grouse. A little later we did an evening hunt and called it quits for the first night.

The next morning, we decided to make one large drive with the whole group to start the day off. We had two more friends from California with us, Todd and Rob. The plan was to make a large drive that covered most of the management block area we were hunting. Mike and Stan started from the back of the area, and the rest of use worked our way toward them from the front. We positioned one person at the end of the cooley that Stan and Mike were coming up, and another person was left off at the end of the cooley that Chris and I were going to work up.

Chris and I made our way through the same cooley where we had missed that big buck the day before. This time, it was empty. When we finally got through with that hunt, Stan and Mike picked us up, but this time my brother had gotten a very nice 4x4 mulie and his antelope was in the back of the truck as well. Chris said to Mike, "At least someone can hit one of these big bucks."

After that, we worked a few more drives and had a couple more big bucks make their escape with no shots fired. After the last drive, we headed to the top of a large plateau. Earlier, Mike and Stan had talked to a couple of hunters that came 200 miles just to hunt the plateau. This made me want to take a little time and look it over. I really wanted a white-tailed buck and they had mentioned seeing one there. Chris and I walked around the top for a bit and did not see anything. We were working our way back to the truck when I asked Chris if it was okay to walk down the side of the plateau and meet him back at the truck. Did I mention that the wind was blowing about 40 mph?

Chris kept working his way back to the truck and I made my way down the side of the hill and started scanning over the edge of this little cooley. It looked like the perfect place for a big old buck to hide from the cold wind. It had to be less then 10 minutes when I walked over the edge and looked down this cooley and spotted a cow trail at the very bottom. To my surprise, I could see this beautiful whitetail rack just glowing in the sun, moving back and forth without the buck having any idea I was standing right behind it. I could not believe my eyes. I could only see the top of the rack as there was some hay between us that kept his body from my view. Being only 50 yards from the buck, I placed the scope on its rack and lowered the cross airs to the back of its head and fired. The deer did not move an inch.

I moved down the little cooley and could not believe my eyes. There lay a beautiful 9-point white-tailed buck. I just sat there for a few minutes and said a little prayer of thanksgiving to God. I walked up the other side of the cooley to see if I could make eye contract with Chris. At this point, with the wind blowing so hard, he had not heard the shot and was standing by my truck. I must have looked like a crazy man in orange jumping up and down waving at him. It must have worked though, since he started driving the truck up the plateau. I was waiting for Chris to stop, but he was confused as to what I wanted him to do. I finally had to run up the hill and get him to back up to where we could take the truck down and retrieve my buck. We pulled the deer out of the cooley, gave each other high-fives, took many pictures, and headed off to show the rest of the party our trophy.

When we finally met up with the rest of the gang, Stan had a really nice 3x3 in the back of the truck. This was more like the trip we all had hoped for during our 26-hour ride to reach Montana. What a second day!

On the third day, we still had three more bucks to take. There were six of us that morning in two rigs. We stopped at the first cooley where Chris and I walked the day one and encountered the two moose. We left one rig there, and Mike and I made a morning drive and worked our way to the pickup point. Only a couple of small bucks and a few does were seen. We then dropped the others off at another cooley and we made our way to the new pickup point, but, this time, we got the call that another big mulie buck was down. We worked are way over to pick them up and found them with a 26-inch-wide, 4x4 mulie. What a beautiful buck. Todd had bagged this buck with Rob and Chris' assistance.

As it was getting late, Mike, Josh and I wanted to hunt some grouse. We bid farewell to Chris, Todd and Rob and went after some birds. The other guys keep hunting, looking for those last two bucks. They decided to make a drive in a new area, which we had not hunted yet. As they were worked there way through the cooley, Rob took the first and only buck he had seen during the trip, a really nice 2x2 mule deer buck. That left them with just one more buck tag to fill. They loaded the buck in the truck and headed out of the block management area, with the rain starting to come down heavy.

On their way out, Chris spotted a group of deer in a creek bed just before they got to the last gate. He got out and headed up a little creek bed where he was able to bag a beautiful 22-inch, 4x4, which had been hanging out with his harem of does. With that, we were tagged out!

Over the next two days, we were able to fill our white-tailed doe tags and take a few more birds. This will definitely be a hard trip to top, but we are going to apply again next year and maybe do better. I would like to thank to Stan, Clarence and Jeremy for their great Montana hospitality and look forward to hunting with them again in 2007.

William Hays
Salinas, Ca.

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