Montana Elk

Montana has some excellent, very remote public lands that hold monster bull elk. Here, the author calls in an attempt to locate a bull in the central part of the state.

By Scott Haugen

The bull was closing fast, bugling and “glunking” the whole way down the shale mountainside. In a matter of seconds, I saw the bull’s massive antlers dipping and twisting through the thick stand of young pines. When he stopped and bugled at 16 yards, I stared at him for the first time. His massive rack was all of 340 inches.

Anchored, all I needed was for the bull to move a foot one way or the other, as a series of small trees blocked his vitals. A minute passed and my bow’s draw weight began to feel heavy. Nearly 2 minutes into it, I began to shake and knew I couldn’t hold at full draw much longer. That’s when two cows popped out of the brush. The bull quickly turned and took off after them.

It was frustrating to have a bull so close and not get a shot, and no amount of calling was going to pull him off those cows. As I slid my arrow back into the quiver, there, 60 yards away, stood a 320-inch bull. He wasn’t worth a second look in the area I was hunting, so I kept moving.

I hadn’t gone 30 yards when I bumped in to a third bull. He also scored more than 300-inches. Three bulls had come to my calls, but not one was as big as the bull I tried getting on opening morning.

Montana Elk

Following his first year of calling in multiple big bulls and not taking a shot, the author was pleased with this opening-day bull, which was taken the following season.

I was in central Montana, amid one of the many wooded mountain ranges that pock the high-desert surroundings. From a distance it seems these habitats wouldn’t hold much game, but the closer you get, the more evident it becomes these are hotbeds for big game. In one place I stood and glassed elk, mule deer, mountain goats and a pair of black bears in the hills, and in the lowlands below, there were pronghorns and whitetails. These are some of the most game-rich habitats I’ve seen anywhere in the West. But on my first day of elk hunting this new spot, the very first bull I saw was all of 380 inches, maybe bigger. That set the standard.

Montana Elk

Author Scott Haugen learned a lot while hunting this Montana area during his first hunt there. Loaded with big bulls, and plenty of sign, he knew it was a matter of time before a tag was filled.

The first year I called in more than 20 bulls in seven days, saw three bulls scoring more than 340 inches, and could have shot many between 280 and 320 inches, but passed. I wanted one of the big bulls. Though I didn’t take a shot that season, it was one of the best elk hunts of my life.

The following season I killed the first bull I saw in that spot. He came confidently striding into my calls, bugling the entire way. That hunt lasted less than an hour.

The next season I was in another section of Montana, near the town of White Sulfur Springs. This was a new area for me, so I showed up a few days before the season to get some scouting in. All the sign was old, made during winter. I covered miles, both on foot and with my spotting scope and binoculars, and saw a cow and a calf. In one shaded creek bottom I found a small wallow and rub, but didn’t see or hear a bull.

Two days into the season, I hadn’t seen an elk. The next day I went to another ridge and was in position to glass well before daylight. More than a half-mile away, a lone cow fed in a meadow, and hot on her tail was a young bull. It was the first and only bull I’d seen in six days, so I wasted no time closing the distance, setting up and then calling.

The bull came on the run to my cow calls, but I couldn’t get a shot as he approached from behind a rocky outcropping. When that bull stopped for the first time, he was 9 yards from me. He eventually moved off, and I let him get out of sight before calling. It worked, as he circled back in perfect shooting position. The 40-plus yard shot was simple, and the bull went only a short distance. He was a small 6-by-6, but on this hunt, in this place, it was a bull worth taking. Had I seen him during previous two-year’s hunts, I wouldn’t even have given him a second look.

 Montana Elk

On his third consecutive year of hunting in Montana, Scott Haugen was more than pleased with this bull. It was the first and only one he saw in six straight days.

Montana has some monster bulls, but just like anywhere, the area, regional genetics and timing make size relative. In some places, during some years, a 300-inch bull isn’t worth shooting. In another, that same bull may be all you put on the table.

Note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s popular DVD, Field Dressing, Skinning & Caping Big Game, send a check for $20.00 (FREE S&H), to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489, or order online at www.scotthaugen.com.