Eric Mongar is a Montana hunter education instructor who started teaching in 1989. Despite knowing how to be safe in the field, he still made a very dangerous mistake. Learn how he made it out safely with his story below.


During the 2015 rifle season, my hunting partner and I hunted here and there, and I came to notice no matter where I headed off to hunt, my partner was there in sight. I have never been lost, knock on my hollow head, so I like to make my own trail—for goodness sake, we have radios for safety and I have done my share of rescues, so I thought to myself “go get lost!”

Well, day after day, the same thing—no deer—and on our last day of the week’s hunt I asked my partner why he doesn’t get any further away than where he could see me. He replied, “I have been turned around once, and you always seem to know where the truck is, so I stay where I can see you!”

I laughed and said, “okay, I can work with that.”

So I dropped him off at his house with plans to head out again on Monday, after the weekend. I drop him off and head down to my camper down the next block. I was sitting there, and I said to myself, “self, you should get up early Saturday morning and go hunting your way.”

I had the best sleep all week. I got up at 4 a.m., made coffee, and out the door I went. It’s a 50-mile drive to the spot. It had been snowing since I went to bed, and that is a good thing—you know what I mean, good tracks in fresh snow make it easier to track the deer you want to harvest.

I told my wife where I was going and she was staying at the camper with the home base radio on in case I needed something.  So I put the truck in four-wheel drive and chained up all four tires. Up the road I go—blazing a trail is another good sign, no other hunters up this high yet, maybe they are thinking the snow pushed the deer to lower valleys. They could be right, but this felt right also.

I got to the top and parked; it looked like about a half-mile hike to the peak with about eight inches of fresh powder snow covering a rocky terrain. I sat in my truck waiting for the sun to rise enough so I wouldn’t have to use a head lamp to see with—for me that’s a good safe time for me to hunt, because orange is very bright at this time of morning.

I headed down the road about 500 yards and turned straight up the mountain. Steep is a poor word for how steep this was and the loose square rocks under eight inches of snow was very slick, but I kept moving. I came to a game trail going horizontal to the peak and it looked like a freeway at rush hour in Seattle, so I followed slowly south along the mountain.

I came to an old barbed wire fence, four stands with no posts in sight, lying on the ground at the same point where another game trail headed up, and so did I, stepping over the barbed wire. I know I am on state land, so how old is this fence, I wondered.

I got to the bottom of a rim rock like a castle wall, towering sixty feet above me, and deer tracks—only one set. Now moving west up and around the rim rock, my heart is beating hard, only one track and it’s heading up, just like granddad said. It’s steep and slow going, but I got on top—I do not like heights where I can fall, so on top of the excitement I had the fear of sliding off the rim rock. I climbed about 20 feet above the rim rock and was taking a break behind this snow-covered bush. I was mouth breathing to be quiet and looking up at the peak, thinking I was only halfway there.

Once I relaxed, I looked up for my next place to move and hide, and I see what I think are antlers—yes, antlers! They must be sheds because they are very close to me, I thought, and then they moved—yes, the antlers started to move up, and I was freaking inside. Granddad was spot on!

So I slid my rifle out and up to my shoulder and I quickly looked through the scope, and I cannot see anything; he is too close for the scope. Good gookamoo, what can I do?

The antlers are still moving up and it’s a whole mule deer head, right there. As our eyes met, I pushed my rifle forward, hitting him in the chest, and I pulled the trigger—there was no sound from the rifle but I felt the recoil. The buck jumped to my left, then to his right for one step, and his face and antlers crashed into the ground. He plowed a path parallel down the hill along my track coming up. His antlers got snagged in a bush and he flipped over and came to rest against the bush, about 10 feet above the rim rock edge.

tangled-mule-deer

I sat there shaking like a leaf, trying to hang on in a 30 mile per hour wind in the WSS valley floor. He was right there, I tell you, my rifle made contact! Good gookamoo, he could have killed me. As it sank in, I came to realize I had caught him in bed. I quickly looked at my cell phone and it read 9 a.m. on the dot. Holy Toledo, I snuck up on him in bed!

Once I regained my composure, I worked my way down to him and I made sure he was dead and then I tagged him. So I opened him up to start the cooling process and I grabbed my camera and took a few shots.

Going Downhill

I field dressed the buck and tied a rope to his antlers, and used the rope to guide him around the rim rock and down to the truck. Well, the buck had other plans for us—I slipped on a loose rock and he dragged me down the hill at what felt like warp speed.

We came to a sudden stop and my glasses and hat were gone, I had places on my face that felt warm—you know, the kind of warm when blood is leaking out; yes, that is the feeling!

My left arm was stretched down with the deer tied to my wrist and my right hand was holding onto the last strand of barbed wire fence that I had stepped over on my way up. Good gookamoo, we went under the fence.

I planted my feet and slid my right hand out of the glove, leaving it on the barbed wire, and then I pulled out my knife and cut the rope, releasing the buck, and boy, did it make it to the road, all on its own. I removed my left glove and turned around to find my hat and glasses; once I recovered them, I felt the warm spots with my bare hand and, yup, I was bleeding, and had no hunting partner to help and my wife would not be able to get someone there if it’s bad.

hunter-after-fall

So I sat there, calming myself and using my knowledge to figure out that that none of the scratches were life-threatening. I collected my gloves and worked my way down the mountain to the buck that is right beside the road, ready to load himself. I called my wife and I told her I had scratched my face but I was okay.

I drove the truck down and slid the buck into the truck, and back to WSS I headed. By now it’s 11 a.m. I woke my hunting partner up and told him I had a deer to hang in his garage. After we hung, skin, and wrapped the deer, I headed to the clinic.

At the clinic they gave me a tetanus booster shot and wanted to stitch up the scratch—okay, gash—along my chin bone. I asked them if they can stitch it up without shaving my beard and the doctor said no. I asked them not to stitch it then, for two reasons; one, I still needed to help my hunting partner get his deer, because, you know, he does not like to hunt alone. So I can hike with him, but not without my beard to keep my face warm! And the second, and most important, reason is it will always be a reminder to me to never hunt alone.

The ER released me and I headed to the camper. I opened the door and my wife came unglued, telling me I needed to go to the clinic. I said, “Been there, done that!” She laughed, and said, “Where was Don?”

Lesson Learned

I explained to her all that had happened and she agreed it was a good hunt but asked me not to hunt alone again. I agreed.  I took Sunday off to recover a bit and eat the tenderloins from my deer with my wife and Don. We made plans to get his deer, and Monday morning Don and I headed to the river. He wanted a white tail since I got a mule deer; see, we share our harvest. We arrived at the river early and sat on the edge of a bluff and this nice three-point white tailed buck walked out of the brush and Don harvested him without any event.

This year we won and nature lost, but every year is different. A year later, I am all healed up and my wife loves my scarred, bearded face.

Lesson learned: do not hunt alone.

Eric Mongar, after a less dangerous hunt.

Eric Mongar, after a less dangerous hunt.


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ar-15 for hunting

The AR-15 has become one of the most popular firearms in America, mostly due to its versatility, ease of use, and military look. It has even been adopted by hunters, who have embraced the AR as their rifle of choice in the field.

There are subtle differences as to how to best optimize your AR-15 for game of all sizes. Here’s what you need to know.

prairiedogs

Small Game

Rabbits, squirrels, and prairie dogs are some of the most common small game targets for hunters. The caveat with hunting smaller animals with an AR-15 is that you must have superior aim, and if you plan on eating your small game, the AR is not ideal for the takedown.

Many AR-15s come with 1:9 twist barrels, meaning the bullet spins one full rotation per nine inches traveled in the barrel. Most Remington .223 cartridges are 55-grain, and the 1:9 twist rate is ideal for maximum efficiency and stabilization with said cartridges versus 1:12 (slower) and 1:7 (faster). AR-15 barrels, like all parts of the rifle, are easy to replace and switching takes only minutes.

Your optics should also be made specifically for small game, paying close attention to clarity and resolution at less than 100 yards. A 4-12X40 variable scope is recommended for small game.

feralpig

Varmints

Whether it’s coyotes, javelina, or wild hogs, many jurisdictions not only allow but encourage hunters to take down varmints in the area. Hunting varmints require different hunting techniques than small game, so a few items must be considered to properly set up your rifle for these endeavors.

Most AR-15s specifically built for hunting nuisance animals have longer barrels and slower rifling—a typical stationary shooting setup. The longer barrel provides better velocity and range, perfect for animals 200 yards away or further. ARs for these animals are typically heavier than those built for small game, so you may need to experiment with different stocks for comfort. Some hunters prefer collapsible stocks and add cheek rests to them, while others like fixed stock styles.

Suppressors (silencers) are also a popular addition to AR-15s for varmint hunting, since you can potentially hit the target with a second shot if you miss on the first. Keep in mind, a “silenced” AR-15 is a relative term—it’s not like the silencers in the movies.

white-tailed-deer

Large Game

The upper receiver ultimately determines whether your AR-15 is built for small or large game. The standard .223/5.56 rounds are not ideal for large animals, but a simple switch to a larger caliber will work.

Though more expensive and heavier, the AR-10 setup is ideal for deer hunting. You can also simply buy an AR-15 already built for large game hunting, like the Ruger SR-762 and YHM HRC-200 6.8 SPC.

The best part about owning an AR-15 is that it’s never a finished product. You can always modify it with different parts and accessories for any hunting and target shooting activities.

Legalities

There is no federal law controlling the use of the rifle, though many states have regulations on citizens’ rights to purchase, own, and use it. According to TIME Magazine, AR-15s are used for hunting in several states, including hunting feral goats in Hawaii, feral pigs in Texas, jackrabbits in Arizona, and elk in Montana. Some states don’t allow deer hunting with .223 diameter bullets or an AR-15 rifle, according to Stag Arms. These states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa and Massachusetts, require larger bullets. Many states have laws for hunting specific game with specific types of guns and ammunition, so it’s best to check your state’s current laws before heading out on a hunt.

Ed Beall has been a Montana bowhunter education instructor for 5 years, and owns Capital Sports, an outdoor sporting goods store. Though he is a life-long hunter, there was one hunt he’ll never forget: when he was nearly a mountain lion’s prey!

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I have enjoyed instructing bowhunter education for the last 5 years. Actually, I am surprised that it has been that long…it feels like I just started! The great thing about teaching is being around folks, young and old, who have an interest in hunting with archery equipment and the challenges and opportunities that come with the experience.

One of the experiences that I share in the class is about dealing with the top-tier predators that we have here in western Montana. We teach about “being bear aware.” We do this because grizzly bears have expanded back into more of our state—the whole western half and most of the southern area is known grizzly habitat. So, we teach students to recognize bear signs, defensive bears compared to predatory bears, and their characteristics. We teach them to carry and use bear spray.

When we bowhunt in Montana, we may forget that there are top-tier predators in this wonderful wild place we hunt. When we are crawling and calling, we expect to hear and see our prey. One fresh September day, I was alone, honing in on a herd of elk that had answered my calls in the dim pre-dawn light.  I felt the hair on the back of my neck creepily standing up! I was on one knee, looking at elk moving through the timber about 60 yards out. I craned my neck somewhat to the right and backwards and was shocked to see a mountain lion staring at me….a mere 30 feet away!

mountain lion on trail camera

30 feet you say? Yes, 30 feet …I know exactly because that is about as far as bear spray goes!

With the spray and the sound of the can going off, the cat ran back to what I think was more than 30 yards. Yeah! But it did not leave. There was a crosswind when I sprayed, and the spray appeared to barely reach the lion.

My next thought was that we teach hunters to look big to try to frighten a mountain lion off, so I tried that. I opened the zipper on my coat, stood up, and while trying to make myself look “big” by holding out both sides of my coat, I yelled “get out of here” at the mountain lion. I hoped I would shoo him away, but NO! Instead, it got in that slinking low cat crouch and “grwoowohled” at me!

I pulled out my Glock .40 and fired two rounds toward the cat. THAT DID IT! Off it went, to never be seen by this weak-kneed bowhunter again.

The point is, while bowhunting in Montana, ALWAYS be aware of what’s around you: look for sign, carry bear spray, maybe even carry a sidearm. Make sure you remember the possibility that something other than an elk may come in to your cow call. Think and practice how you should react if you are cornered by a predator. And maybe, just maybe—hunt with a partner! Your wife will be happier.

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Hunter Ed Instructor Ed Beall with elk

Montana bowhunter education instructor Ed Beall

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