Sunday, April 18, 2021

Best days ahead for hunters

by Warren Illi
| November 19, 2020 12:00 AM

If you love to hunt, the best 10 days of the general deer and elk season are just ahead. Most hunters who are reading this column will still have their un-notched deer and elk tags in their pocket.

With fresh tracking snow and the whitetail rut in full swing, this will likely be your best chance to tag either a bull elk or whitetail buck.

Can you have too much of a good thing? Most hunters love to have tracking snow. Snow provides easy to read sign that deer or elk are in your hunting area. Last week, my wife and I left our cabin trying to fill her moose tag.

We left the cabin with two inches of fresh snow headed for some ridge top hunting west of the Thompson Lakes. But as we left Highway 2 and began climbing higher and higher, the snow got deeper and deeper.

Finally, my wife said, “I don’t feel comfortable going higher.” The front bumper of my truck was plowing snow. I agreed with her, so we turned around. So, if you are venturing out this weekend to hunt, make sure you are equipped with a reliable high clearance 4-wheel drive pickup.

Also, make sure you have good tire chains, a tow cable and a couple good shovels. If you venture off the beaten track, you will likely be on your own to get out.

Snow in the mountains will allow hunters to more easily locate a bull elk. The fall elk rut is over and those bulls that survived the September and early October elk rut, will be “holed” up in the meanest and nastiest terrain and vegetation available.

That’s how they have learned to survive six or seven hunting seasons to become a fully mature bull elk. They survived by living where most hunters fear to tread. So, if your hunting area has some nasty terrain and thick forest cover, with tracking snow, you can detect if that habitat is holding an elk or two.

You will have to be careful not to shoot a cow, because smart old cows have learned to also live in nasty habitat.

Recent elk research has indicated that many old cows are almost never harvested by hunters because they have learned to evade hunters.

When you are reading this column, I will be in eastern Montana hunting big mule deer bucks.

I have one more doe tag to notch, which will allow me to complete our winter meat supply. That doe tag will be easy to fill, so I will be spending most of my time hunting for big muley bucks.

Hopefully, I can resist shooting a nice buck, while holding out for Mr. Super Buck.

This spring I found a dead deer on the prairie near my farm. I don’t know if it died as a winter kill or was a wounded buck that was not recovered by the hunter. But it was clearly a super-size buck with a wide heavy rack. It gave me evidence that hunting pressure in this area is light enough to allow bucks to reach full maturity and maximum antler growth.

Another reason not to fill my buck tag with an ordinary mule deer buck is to save that tag so I can hunt whitetail bucks during the last three days of the deer season after Thanksgiving.

Whitetail bucks will be in full rut and fun to hunt by rattling. For the non-hunter reading this column, rattling is a hunting technique where the hunter clashes two antlers together to simulate two adult bucks fighting over a nearby doe ready to breed.

Other bucks in the area will hear the clashing of antlers and come in to see what is going on and perhaps steal the doe from the fighting bucks.

I have rattled in several bucks, sometimes multiple bucks at the same time. A few years ago, I was ending a long day of hunting behind a closed gate. I got overheated as I hiked back to my truck.

I found a comfortable log to sit on, and cool down. As I sat on this log, I thought, why not rattle! I dug out my pair of rattling antlers from my day pack and clashed and ground them together for a half minute. Two minutes later a small forked horn whitetail came up a logging skid trail, headed straight for me.

I was on a small knoll and the buck came within 30 feet. It stood there and looked at me. I was dressed in blaze orange and in full view of the deer, but was motionless. It kept twisting its head, trying to figure out what I was.

Then he began looking past me, to my right. I slowly turned by head to the right and here came a dandy large buck. It was headed straight for me because of the antler rattling. When it saw the smaller buck, it headed to the smaller buck and chased him away. Then he looked at me.

But it was too late for him. My rifle was up and my heart-lung shot was on its way. He collapsed about 75 feet away. Rattling doesn’t always work. I’d say I get a buck to come in about one time out of 10 tries.

But it is a fun deviation from just sitting on a log waiting for a buck to come into view. So, get out there and have some fun hunting and putting some good meat in the freezer.