Our 2023 guide season came to a warming conclusion in October.  It was a good year, solid fishing, especially on the Missouri and the Clark Fork.   We finished strong with awesome clients of ours that I can luckily call friends.  This fall in particular I had some things on my mind not really related to fishing.

Personally I drew a resident MT special elk permit that is probably a once in a lifetime public draw to hunt the fall of 2023. I had been applying for this special permit for 19 years with no luck until this season.  In this area they only allow a very limited number of bull elk hunters. I spent a lot of time in preparation for this hunt. Shooting my rifle, loading bullets, working out, trying to get in shape, and getting my gear in order for this hunt were a few of my pertinent goals. I have hunted elk every season in MT since the late 80’s but this draw was unlike any opportunity I have ever experienced. These elk aren’t  pressured like most of the elk I’ve previously hunted.  We watched bull elk fighting, bugling, chasing cows.  We heard elk talking, meowing, feeding and basically elk  being elk.  It turns out elk act differently  when there aren’t 500 hunters behind every tree trying to shoot them.

My wife and I scouted and spent a couple weeks getting to know the area.  Luckily my wife was able to hunt, hike, and spend some amazing time with me as we chased some elk around on the rocky mountain eastern front.  One afternoon a cold front blew in and we watched and heard  thousands of snow geese and swans flying overhead. These birds were migrating south with a cold front pushing them.  Their cackling honking and trumpeting was amazing to hear as we hiked in knee deep snow looking for that special bull elk. I passed/ didn’t shoot dozens of different bull elk while trying to harvest one that would be memorable.  This was hard for me since all of the other elk hunting I have done I would harvest the 1st legal elk I ran into.  I have always been a subsistence hunter and hunted to fill the freezer so passing on mature bull elk was strange to me but really exciting.  The area we hunted is loaded with grizzly bears. Pretty much every time we  would get 1/2 or so mile from the truck we’d cut fresh grizzly tracks. Twice we had elk in our crosshairs but there were fresh bear tracks  where we stood.  These tracks headed in the same direction as the elk so we decided to call it and hike back to the truck.

After hunting 7 days or so we spotted some elk that were on the edge of steep timber about a mile from any road.  We only had an hour or so of daylight so we decided to hike in as quickly as we could to get a better look.  These elk were on the move and it was extremely windy so we had to hike into a different drainage to cover up our scent, get the wind right. There were so many elk tracks in the snow it was insane.  We finally got into a position where the elk were upwind of us and they started to move out of the heavy timber.  There were probably 400 elk moving from right to left of us at about 300 yards.  We saw 15 to 20 six by six bulls in this herd but one of them was wider and seemed considerably larger than the others but he kept disappearing in this sea of elk.  I had the bipod down on my .300 win mag  and I was steady when this bull stepped out. It seemed like forever but he gave me a broad side shot and he was clear of other elk that had been surrounding him.  There were so many elk around this bull that after I shot  it seemed like a wave of elk running in all different directions.  I felt confident in the shot but couldn’t see my elk initially since they mostly ran downhill and it changed our viewpoint.  We hiked to where I hit him and he hadn’t gone 20 feet and was dead with a perfect heart/lung shot.

We had limited time to get this elk field dressed and caped before we ran out of light.  It was mostly a down hill drag but there was a bowl where the elk settled and my wife and I struggled to drag him in further after we cut him in half.  I looked for a tree that we could hang quarters in but on this windblown terrain there were zero trees taller than 10 feet high within a half mile or so so we kept dragging.  It got dark and my wife and I were completely spent.  Our flashlights were about out of batteries and my wife Sandy said “There is something wrong, something is following us and we need to get off this mountain and get the elk tomorrow.”  She was really worried so we made the call to leave the elk in the snow, hike out in the dark and come back with help and get our elk at 1st light.  I’ve left deer and elk overnight on multiple occasions and have never had a problem with bears, wolves, lions, coyotes or other predators.  So I did what I normally do, urinate around the elk and I also left my knapp saw and some clothing on the elk carcass.  Wolves and coyotes won’t go near human scent very often and It had always worked in the past.

We called our daughter and son and they said they would  make the 2 1/2 hour drive and meet us to help pack this elk out at first light.  I didn’t sleep well that night and I was pretty worried about leaving this elk overnight in grizzly country.  The next morning we hiked to where we left the elk.  We made sure we had the wind to our backs and made a bunch of noise as we crested the hill where the elk was below. We looked for 10 minutes or so to make sure we didn’t see any bears.  If there had been a bear there we would have backed up and let the bear eat our elk but luckily we couldn’t see any bears.   As we crested the hill to my dismay half of my elk was dragged quite a ways away from where we had left him.  We had bear spray, loaded 300 win mags, and .44 mag pistols with 300 grain bear loads as we approached our elk.  This griz ate the gutpile which was a few hundred yards uphill of where we drug the elk.   The bear did eat some of the elk but luckily not more than 10 to 15 lbs.  The bear’s tracks were extremely fresh and I think  he was trying to bury the front half of the elk near the creek bottom and spooked when he smelled us or heard us yelling luckily.


With the help of our daughter and son we were able to drag the two halves of the elk a half a mile or so until we could get them to where we could access the elk to load him on the game cart for the rest of the pack out.

Luckily everything worked out with no bear encounters other than the initial incident.  It was kind of hard butchering this elk when we got home.  The bear gnawed and chewed up some of the elk so it took quite a while to clean and prepare the elk before we could cut and wrap him but we got a full freezer and a happy end to our high country Montana story.


Sorry that this wasn’t a fishing story at all but thanks again to all of our friends and guests that have been with us all of these years.

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year to all of you from the Jessen’s and Troutzoola.   I hope we get the chance  to see you and maybe take you fishing in 2024.