Montana hunter education instructor Randy Allen has been an instructor for 15 years, and now he always shares this story. He says, “This is something that happened to me and my son last year that I now tell my classes about as a part of my ethics section.”

This is how I was raised to treat other people when in the outdoors. It is not about what I did—I am not tooting my own horn—but it is about the reciprocation of a kind of respectful action. Let’s face it, we have all done something right at one time or another only to have the other person ignore or disregard your kind act. The mutual respect for one another is the best thing to remember.

One September afternoon, my son and I decided to ride our motorbikes.  We like to ride dirt roads to see what we can see so I usually choose an out-of-the-way place.  One such place for us was way up Lolo Creek off the highway. We had been there in the spring and summer with hardly anyone else around.  Now this was September, when it is bow, grouse and wood season, so I half-expected for other people be around.

I like to park is down an old, unused road that crosses this neat little stream and just beyond that a short distance is a landing from an old logging operation where I usually unload the bikes.  As I pulled down there, I noticed a Jeep parked along the trail, with a shotgun-toting lady and her dog walking down the road just about at the stream.  I didn’t think much of it as in my mind, person + gun + dog = heading up or down the creek to hunt grouse, and I was only going about another 100 yards or so to park.

Well, just then a truck slowly came down the road with a load of wood on.  I pulled in behind the Jeep to let him go by; he passes her and goes by me.  I start back down the road toward the lady and her dog, and when she sees me her shoulders just drop like she is bummed, thinking, “too much traffic.”  

Seeing this, I quickly deduce that she wants to hunt up this little road instead of the creek, but she has given up and turned back to her Jeep.  I pull up alongside of her as she walks back and quickly explain that I didn’t want to mess up her hunt. I told her I had intended to only go a short ways further to unload the bikes, but since she was hunting, I would back up and go park behind her.  We would then unload the bikes and go riding, but in the opposite direction.  Her surprise and happiness at this turn of events was obvious and a heartfelt se gave me a heartfelt “thank you!”  We parted and my son and I went for a ride.

A couple of times during the ride, I thought about her, wondering if she got anything and hoping she did.  When we got back to the truck, she was gone, so we rode up where she had hunted just to look around.  I hadn’t been that direction before and it was a very pretty area, perfect for grouse. 

We rode back to the truck and loaded up.  When I got in behind the wheel and looked out the windshield, I saw something under my wiper blade.  It was a tail feather from a ruffed grouse.  I thought, “All right, she did get one.”  Then I showed it to my son, and I said, “see son, this is how it should be. She appreciated what we did for her so much that this is her way of saying thank you and ‘I got one.'”  What a great day that was!

Hunter education instructor Randy Allen with his son and the grouse feather they received as a gift.

Hunter education instructor Randy Allen with his son and the grouse feather they received as a gift.

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Regardless of the game you intend to hunt, stealth and invisibility are the key ingredients for a successful harvest. It’s hard enough blending into the surrounding habitat, never mind getting close enough for a clean shot without being detected. If you are looking to up your stealth game or simply learn some tips and tricks for your first time in the field, these tactics will give you a leg up and improve your chances of tagging out this season.

Using Game Cameras To Your Advantage

Using a game camera is a great way to prepare for a hunt by getting up close and personal with the animals without them even knowing it. If you are hunting a game animal that has restrictions on your harvest, for example a 3-point minimum, then you could really benefit from using a game camera pre-season; if you close in on a buck or a bull but can’t tell exactly how many points you see, then you could lose precious time behind your optics that should’ve been spent behind your scope.

A game camera comes in handy because you can learn about wildlife in the area without having to scout it on a daily basis. You always want to be sure you’re shooting a legal animal, but it cuts down on time if you’re already familiar with the game and have a decent idea of which animal you’re looking at through the crosshairs.

When you go out and install your game camera, make sure you put it somewhere with a great view of the trail but also a great view of the sky. Good reception is key, and if you want up-to-date footage from your trail cam, then make sure you place it in a spot with a reliable cell signal. Don’t underestimate the power of an HD display, either; the crisp shots will help you determine if that eyeguard is long enough to hang a ring on it. For example, the LG V10 offers Quad HD display and superior durability, making it invaluable for capturing footage of your quarry.

Make Them Do All The Work

Another way to get animals near you without scaring them off is to bring them to you. It’s not easy walking around in the woods without making a sound, so, depending on the game, you can find a place to position yourself that’s downwind from the wildlife you’re hunting and call them toward you. This way you’re not making a lot of noise and scaring them off before you get a chance to see them.

Keep in mind though that not all animals can be called in and not all animals can be stalked. You should always take the time to learn the animal you’re hunting so you know the best way to increase your odds of putting meat in the freezer. Consider using electric calls or watch YouTube videos on how to properly use a wide range of mouth calls. The more you practice, the more natural it feels, and the better you’ll get.

Use Distractions To Get A Better Shot

Another way to increase your stealth is through distraction. If an animal moves in on you because you’re calling it or you know its pattern and you’ve parked yourself in its path, sooner or later it’s going to know that something is up. A great way to avoid being noticed is to set up a distraction. Decoys are a great way to do this; they tend to hold the animal’s attention and give you an opportunity to better position yourself and take a clean shot.

If the wind isn’t in your favor, or is swirling and inconsistent, using scents is another way to confuse an animal or prevent it from running off. The animal may feel as though something is wrong, but if they can’t identify what, a whiff of a cow in estrus might put their mind at ease and lure them in for an even better shot.

Always Exercise Safety, Especially When Being Stealthy

When it comes to putting the stalk on, you want to be as invisible as possible, but not so invisible as to go unnoticed by other hunters. Obviously wearing hunter orange is a great way to avoid a messy situation with another hunter. The blaze orange is seen easily by people while most wildlife can’t see that part of the color spectrum and won’t take notice.

Obviously, some seasons don’t require blaze orange, so it isn’t always necessary. However, it is important to always follow the laws and regulations concerning safety. Every state, season and game management unit is different, so do your research before heading out into the field. Consider taking extra precautions when hunting in heavily-trafficked areas so you don’t run the risk of injuring yourself or others. A great tactic for treestand hunters is to label your tree with a long piece of flagging tape wrapped around the base.

Hunting laws and regulations are in place for a reason; hunters want to remain invisible, but sometimes it’s not safe when there are other hunters in the area. What other ways would you choose to increase your stealth without decreasing your safety?

This is a story from Montana Hunter Education instructor Bill Smith. He is a relatively new instructor, having joined in spring 2016, but brings a great deal of enthusiasm to his classroom. This is his story.

I became an apprentice Montana Hunter Education Instructor in the spring of 2016.  I’ve enjoyed observing the passion of my fellow instructors, and the enthusiasm of the students beginning their journey as hunters and conservationists.  I’m always very interested in why the students, young and old, are interested in becoming Montana hunters.  The 2015 season repeatedly exemplified how unique hunting in Montana is, and reinforced why I hunt.

Filling the Moose License

As I normally do, I applied for every species and every license Montana has to offer.  In poring over the draw odds for each species, I noticed an area near my home offered a higher success rate for moose than the area I normally put in.  In fact, the area offered nearly three times the odds of my traditional application area!  

I was tired of accumulating bonus points.  Out of frustration, and after a little research, I applied for the new area.  When the draw results came out in June,  there it was—I had drawn the moose license!

I did my homework, and travelled to the hunting area every time I had days off from work.  I was surprised how dense the forests were.  I found moose sign every trip, but never saw a moose.  I was confident, though, that my opportunity would come, so long as I continued to put forth the effort.

My brother, Dan, joined me in moose camp during the opening week.  We continued to see moose sign, and the first night we had a bull come in to the sound of me raking brush with a scapula.  We exchanged grunts back and forth.  The bull closed in to approximately 50 yards, but remained out of sight due to the dense forest.  As daylight faded on that first night, the bull walked away without ever revealing himself. 

A couple days later, Dan and I picked up my 11-year-old son, Andrew.  I can’t express how much I enjoy hunting with my son.  

The three of us continued the hunt the next day, and again found fresh moose sign.  We decided for the evening hunt we would return to the area where the bull moose had responded to me raking the brush. 

As we closed in, I spotted a moose on the hillside.  It was a smaller bull than I was hoping for, but it was a moose.  The three of us watched the bull, who was with a cow, for a considerable time.  I could tell by the look on Andrew’s face that he would love for me to take this bull.  I had to take Andrew home the next morning, and he would be in school as I continued to hunt. 

I may never be able to articulate the significance of having my son with me when I filled this tag. After seeing the excitement on his face, and hearing it in his voice, I pulled the trigger, and with one shot the moose license I had waited so long for was filled.

bob-smith-with-son-buckHunter Apprenticeship

A nasty cold was having its impact on our family, and kept me from hunting for weeks.  I did manage to get out about 10 days after the moose hunt, and filled my 2015 bear license on a big black bear.  I got out for a couple half days of bowhunting for elk, but I just didn’t have the energy to give it an honest effort.  

With the enactment of the hunter apprentice program in Montana, Andrew was able to pursue a deer of his own.  Montana sets aside two days a week before the opening of the general rifle season for youth to hunt without the added pressure of the general season hunters. Andrew and I were able to take advantage of this opportunity by camping out both days; he filled his license on a buck the morning of the second day.

I was very proud of him, as he made many competent decisions on his own that reinforced my faith that he has been listening and learning through the years, and that he is committed to being a responsible, ethical sportsman.

Surprise Buck

With the hours spent on the moose hunt, Andrew’s hunt, and work, I really had no time to scout for the upcoming rifle season for deer and elk.  I was at a loss as to where to begin when opening day rolled around.  Traditionally, Dan and I hunt a specific area opening day.  After that, where I hunt largely depends on the clues I notice about big game activity and how they are using their respective environments.  I decided this year I would just have to put forth extra effort and learn as I went.

I hunted the season opener, and then took the second day off.  I returned to work for two days, and then had scheduled days off.  Early in the season, the days are long.  I decided I would hunt 3 different areas that first day off, in an effort to cover as much ground as possible, in hope that I could figure some things out.  Two of the hunting areas were close together, which saved me some time.  It didn’t save me any effort, though, as I hiked in and out of both areas, gaining elevation just to give it up to get back to my truck and on to the next area.

When I arrived at the third hunting spot, I figured I was about 30 minutes earlier than I wanted to be.  I was exhausted, and my legs hurt from the earlier hikes.  I wanted to take a nap in my truck, but knew I’d be even less motivated for an evening hunt if I did.  After nodding off several times and some soul searching, I reluctantly left the warm truck for the final hunt of the day.

As I worked my way into the hunting area, I checked the wind and my watch several times, forming a strategy on how to pick the area apart and give myself the best chance at success.  It was still early, and I really wasn’t expecting to see much yet. 

About a mile in, I saw a buck standing at the end of an old skid trail.  The buck’s body was partially hidden by a small pine tree.  He was standing broadside to me, motionless.  I’m still not sure what he was doing.  I glassed what I could see of his antlers, and noticed his main beams extended past his nose.  I noticed he had good mass, and at least average tine length.  Because of this, I thought he was a big 4 point and was intent on passing him up.  I watched him for at least 10 minutes.  Finally, he turned his head away from me briefly, and I saw what I couldn’t see before; he had 3 points coming off the main beam, which would make him a 5 point. This buck had an inside spread of 20 inches and good mass at the bases.bob-smith-buck

The decision to shoot was easy.  Walking up to the buck afterwards, I noticed he was a 5 point with extra points off both bases, and a small extra point between his left G2 and G3.  This buck had all kinds of character.  I actually had cellphone coverage, and quickly texted my brother a photo.  I also texted my wife, my mom, and a couple of friends.  After that, I walked out to get my game cart, then went back in to get the buck.  Somehow, this fourth hike of the day was easier than the other three!

Respect for the Hunt

I don’t use social media accounts, but gave my wife the go ahead to post a photo of the buck on hers.  We did receive one response from a friend who respectfully expressed opposition to hunting.  I truly respect her courage to do so, and her views.  Still, I wish people could see the respect hunters have for the game they pursue, and the amount of time and effort that goes into a hunt.  I wish they could experience the long hours after the shot getting the animal out and processed for the freezer.  Somehow, I think a good number of us hunters would earn a fair amount of respect if our opposition could see what they don’t see.

This year was special in a number of ways, and reinforced the passion I have for big game hunting and the respect I have for the many big game animals that call Montana home.  My wife, kids, family and friends all supported me and made sacrifices so that I could enjoy another memorable hunting season.  Once again, I am truly grateful.

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jim-taylor-deerThe following is an excerpt from a thank you letter written to a landowner by hunter Jim Taylor, after he successfully harvested his first elk. He shared this with Hunter Ed; it’s an excellent example of how hunters can best treat landowners to continue the sport.

“I am writing to thank you for letting my brother Flint and I hunt on your ranch last fall.  I have been hunting since I was a boy, but only hunting elk for the past fifteen years.  Until my hunt on your ranch, I had only had one clear shot at an elk, which I missed.  The one day of hunting elk on your ranch was a better day than the past fifteen years put together.

My brother and I were hunting on foot, and there were two hunters hunting horseback.  The two horseback hunters start shooting right about noon (the elk came out just when you told us they would).  We were along one side of a big draw, and headed up through the timber to work our way in position to sit and look.   I went up one side, and my brother went up the other.  I found a spot to sit and watch in the edge of the timber, and had a good view of the hillside.  I waited and waited, but didn’t see or hear any animals.  The wind was blowing hard, gusting 20 to 30 miles an hour.

Just as I was ready to move on (and to give up elk hunting for good) I heard a large animal right below me.  It was no more than ten or fifteen feet away, snorting and farting and moving around.  I was on top of a cutbank and couldn’t see directly below me, although I could see all the approaches to the cutbank.  Eventually the noises stopped, but nothing came out.  After waiting several minutes, I tossed a branch over the edge of the cutbank, but nothing came out.  I threw a bigger branch over the cutbank, but still nothing came out.  I finally walked down to see why the animal wouldn’t come out, and found that there was nothing there.  No elk, no deer, no tracks, no animal sign of any kind.  I walked back up to where I had been sitting and bent over to pick up my hat.  Just as I did fifteen head of elk walked out on the top of hillside across the draw, about 250 yards away.

Jim Taylor with his father.

Jim Taylor with his father.

When I saw the lead cow, I knew she was coming home with me.   I only had time for an offhand shot, and was most fortunate to shoot her eye out.  I have convinced my brother that it was skill on my part and not luck, and I hope you will not disabuse him of this notion.

I don’t believe you ever had the opportunity to meet my father, Park Taylor, but he was an old time Montana cowboy who loved elk hunting above all things.  He died thirteen years ago.  My brother Flint and I have hunted together each fall since then.  I often sense my father’s presence when Flint and I are hunting, and I am convinced it was my father who was making those noises in the cutbank below me to keep me in position for my shot at my first elk.

After I sprinted up the hillside to my elk, the riders came down to see how we had done. Their horses were too spooky to drag the elk.  I had no idea how large and heavy elk were, but was most happy to become acquainted with the problems of dragging them out.

I do not know if we will ever have the opportunity to hunt your ranch again as I am sure you are besieged with requests from hunters.  If we ever do have that opportunity I would be most grateful.  If we do not, I will always be thankful for one of the best days I have ever had.”

Jim has been a hunter education instructor in Montana for 15 years. Though he didn’t return to that ranch to hunt again, the experience has stayed with him as one of his most incredible hunts.

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