A hunting couple share an amazing day on public land in Montana.
Something was moving through the stand of jack pines nearly 300 yards away. Jana and I peered intently at the ghostly shape, trying to make out details in the early morning light.
My fingers, cold from the crisp morning air, begged for warmth. The sun was still hidden by a large mountain to our east.
Slowly, we moved higher up the ridge, trying to gain ground on the large whitetail as it disappeared into a stand of burnt lodgepole pines.
Jana and I came out on an old logging road and looked intently for the deer. Four does exploded below us, making their getaway.
“The buck should be right there!” I said. “Keep looking.”
“There he goes!” Jana shouted. “Get him!”
Dropping to one knee, I led the buck and fired. The .300 Win Mag echoed across the massive canyon.
Over the past 25 years, my family and I have harvested some great bucks in Montana. Our do-it-yourself style public land hunting has paid off with some real beauties.
Make no mistake, hunting public land is tough, but if you do your homework and get off the beaten path, the rewards can be great.
Based on previous success, I was anxious to introduce Montana whitetail hunting to my girlfriend, Jana Waller.
Having moved to Montana seven months earlier, her six-month waiting period had finally expired. It was time for her to see how hunting here differed from her home state of Wisconsin.
Jana, no stranger to the woods, has taken several record-book whitetails and African plains game with her bow. She was excited to try a spot-and-stalk rifle hunt.
We hunted elk for the first two days of Montana’s general rifle season, but with the reintroduction of grey wolf into Greater Yellowstone in 1995, our elk population has plummeted to an all-time low. After several days of pounding the bush, Jana got to see firsthand how few elk are left. We decided to try for some whitetails closer to home.
Several years ago, I chased a buck that would have scored close to 190 inches in this area. Three years of hunting him left me wondering if I was chasing a ghost. Then I opened the local newspaper to see a teenager had harvested him while driving along an old logging road.
Jana was excited to see some new country, which consisted of closed-off logging roads near an area that burned during the summer of 2003. We headed out an hour before light to climb a ridge that overlooked a massive drainage. Once there, we sat down to enjoy the 360-degree view.
It wasn’t long before the weather began to change. Snow began to fall and the wind picked up, so we decided to build a small fire and watch for deer in between the snow squalls. By the end of the day we spotted two mule deer bucks, two whitetail bucks and 14 does.
On the way back to the truck, we ran into a road hunter who hadn’t seen a deer. He asked if we saw anything. I looked him in the eye and said, “A few deer; no shooters.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him we had seen deer throughout the entire day. With light fading, we jumped in the truck and headed home.
After a day to catch up on work, Jana and I decided to go back out to the same area.
Well before daylight, we rolled up an old logging road. My headlights broke through the morning darkness and I said, “See that big stump? That’s where I first laid eyes on the giant whitetail I chased for three years.” Excited the old buck’s genes were still in the area, Jana and I were anxious to see if we could find a whitetail that was even close.
As we snuck down the old road, four does below caught our scent. As they bounded away, a good-size white-tailed buck directly above them began to make his escape. “There he goes!” I said.
Running through a small stand of pines, the tall-racked buck tucked his tail and tried to vanish into the knee-high brush. With only seconds to calculate the yardage, I fired and watched the buck collapsed in mid-flight. The sound of the Accubond striking home confirmed what my eyes witnessed just seconds before. “I got him, Jana!”
Her jaw dropped as she looked at me in disbelief. “That was an awesome shot,” she said.
Walking up on the buck, I realized my quick decision was a good one. This buck had a beautiful dark rack with five points per side. We later scored it at 134 4/8 inches.
Realizing my youngest son, Bowen, hadn’t put my knife back in my pack, I wasn’t able to quarter out the buck for a quick pack-out. Dragging it 1.5 miles back to my truck wasn’t easy, as we had to navigate countless deadfalls, rocks and a small stream.
Exhausted and somewhat dehydrated, Jana and I loaded the buck in my pickup and headed off to the next location.
There was one more lookout I wanted to glass on the way out of the main drainage. We weren’t there more than five minutes before Jana motioned ahead. “There’s a buck staring at us from the top of the ridge.”
The buck was facing us some 600 yards away. All I could see through binoculars was a tall, light-colored 5x5 rack, but it was enough to make it an easy decision to try a stalk.
Our muscles and hearts had already undergone an intense workout, but with Jana still holding a buck tag in her pocket, we laid out our plan.
After Plans A and B failed, it was time to try Plan C. It would be the toughest of all. “Okay, we’ll have to go straight up to him,” I said.
Despite a 1,200-foot climb to the opposing ridge, we soon found ourselves staring at the buck at just over 300 yards. It had bedded down since we started our stalk.
“Okay,” I said. “He’s in his bed and the wind is in our favor. Let’s do this.” Jana dropped her backpack and peeled off her jacket. I followed suit as we began to catch our breath.
Our plan was to belly-crawl down the old logging road, then have Jana take the shot from the prone position. We passed a beautiful blue grouse as we continued down the inside edge of the logging road, adding to the magic of the moment. Forty-five minutes later, we were in position like two Marine snipers.
Ranging the buck at 200 yards, I talked Jana through the shot. “Take a deep breath and slowly blow out,” I whispered.
The buck’s neck and chest were all that were visible as he lay motionless in his bed. Several minutes passed before a slight pull of the trigger sent out the resounding shot. The buck collapsed and rolled down the ridge
“Nice shooting, Jana!” Jumping up, we ran over to make sure the buck was down.
Her buck sported a tight 5x5 rack with bladed brow tines and scored 127 3/8 inches.
After taking lots of photos, Jana wiped away her tears of joy as we celebrated two bucks with two bullets in one great day under Montana’s big sky.
Read Recent Articles:
• Scopes Simplified: How to pick a scope that’s right for your gun and hunting style.
• Take a Rest: They’re not the sexiest accessory, but rests are the most important bow component.
• A Perfect 10: This first-time bowhunter knew it was her day to shine. This article was published in the Winter 2011 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.