Montana hunter Dan Mock has been a hunter education instructor for three years. He shares these stories of how to be prepared when hunting or hiking in bear country.


I love bears, especially when they are in their comfort zone—either paralleling me or heading the other way.

But having one sniffing at my head through a backpacking tent does not engender the most secure feelings!

To my way of thinking, the best places to canoe, backpack or hunt must have bears and no roads. Bears symbolize the wild with a touch of risk. To enjoy these areas, you must always control or at the least minimize the risk factors for the bear’s safety and your own. Killing a bear is seldom the answer. For one thing, it may not be open season or you may not have a bear tag. Besides, I don’t want to eat another bear.

But I’m not afraid of doing what needs to be done when the situation calls for it. For example, while hunting moose in British Columbia, Canada, the guide asked if I minded cropping an aggressive black bear that had twice chased his mother into her log house. (That is a big no-no.) The bear brought the following action upon itself: shot with a 180 gr. 300 WIN Mag, death was almost instant at 75 yards.

Bear Crossing

One time I took my brother-in-law hunting in an area halfway between easy hunting and the farms below, assuring him his first buck. Leaving him well-situated 300 yards away, I thought I’d take a nap when some instinct said, WAKE UP NOW.

A fast-moving black boar was making tracks down the trail that I had my legs across. Not wanting to share the trail or pet him, I shot him twice, very fast. The Remington .308, 150 gr. did in the 450-pound black bear at 35 yards.

Thinking back over the years, I am sure that big brute had no idea my legs were blocking his trail. However, he was inside my comfort zone, and I’m not that comfortable with danger.mock-bear-group

A Surefire Wake Up Call

Another black bear decided to investigate a new smell—my cowboy coffee. Four of us were on a nine-day canoe trip down the John River out of the Alaska’s Brooks Range when one evening we decided to camp on an island. The river had 3 channels on the left and one on the right. What a magnificent spot.

At 5 a.m. my buddy was 150 yards from our tents, sipping coffee and admiring the hilltop caribou and hill-side sheep, when a black bear stepped out of the forest 250 yards away. Nose in the air, it crossed the first river channel. My pal’s admiration suddenly stopped when the coffee hit my friend’s sleepy brain and he realized what was coming: that bear was on the way for breakfast.

Being awakened with “bear in camp!” definitely brings you out of the sleeping bag eyes wide.

Two of the defenders, armed with bear spray, ran to the kitchen to save the coffee. Shotgun in hand, I found the bear in the nearest channel, 6 feet down the bank and five yards out from shore, nonchalantly swimming the fast current. I turned him three times by shouting nicely to please remove himself from the camp area. He’d started to leave but kept swimming back. Not GOOD!

Just as I was about to pull the shotgun trigger for a warning shot in the water, the bear decided there was no sugar in the coffee and left down river.

My friend and hunting buddy said “boy, that was a big bear!”

I said, “they all look big.”

He replied, “But that one was soaking wet!” He was dead on.

The One I Let Get Away

With 63 years of hunting and playing explorer in the woods, there are many times I’ve needed fast, clear thinking. Being able to make the correct decisions fast comes either through experience or good training, and it can and will save lives, human or otherwise. Plan ahead, prepare mentally and physically. Do not run! Walking backwards is fun unless you trip.

While archery hunting the other day I had to walk–with the wind–to pick up a long shelf leading to a great hunting area.  As a hunter I know walking with the wind is the best way to guarantee yourself you will not have to clean or pack game animals—they’ll smell you coming way too far in advance!

I knew that, but through habit I stayed off the gravel game trails and walked quietly on the leaves and bark on the side. As I topped a small rise, God gave me a gift. There, 12 yards away, was a 300-pound black bear eating stunted blueberry leaves. We were thrust into each others’ discomfort zone. I froze, eyeing every movement. Defense-driven, I reached for an arrow, then realized, No, I do not want to kill another bear.  I had no tag and right now I’m a little chicken. Although the thought occurred to me to take a cell phone picture, the noise and risk was too high. Instead I got out my bear spray, clicked off the safety and aimed it forward.

All this thinking and action was noodled over a very long time—2 to 3 seconds that felt like forever!

Blackie took one step forward and stopped eating. He had caught my smell and out of the corner of his eye could see me standing stock still. The bear never looked at me, but kept his head low in a submissive way, slowly turning around broadside, trying to show nonaggression.

He knew he made a mistake, but all he wanted was to get out of the dangerous situation. He should have smelled me long before I saw him. This concerned me until he showed the submissive stance. Still, why didn’t he run long before our encounter? The only possible answer is that he was intent on putting on fat just before hibernation come snow or me.

Once again I experienced the predator zone. Everything was matter of fact and under control.

Why?

Before the encounter I was prepared mentally and physically (I had my bear spray handy). Because of that awareness, both me and the bear made it out safely that day.

MT-hunter-Dan-Mock


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4-turkey-tips

Scouting land to hunt turkey this time of year is an important part of the hunting experience for hunters both seasoned and amateur. Diligent and thorough pre-season scouting can lead to better bird location, more game plan options and increased odds of scoring. Here’s a scouting overview for hunters new to the sport or those who need a quick refresher.

Pre-Planning: Where to Hunt

As you plan your turkey hunt, it’s all about location, location, location. Choosing between public and private property is usually the first step in deciding where you hunt. If a particular piece of private land catches your eye, many landowners and farmers are open to hunters who want to chase turkeys. However, always be sure to get a landowner’s permission before you begin hunting on their property.

You can also contact a government organization, like your state wildlife agency, for public recommendations. From there, review the location by using an app or aerial map from Google Maps. Big Game Logic explains how this wide view not only familiarizes you with a target spot but allows you to determine how turkeys may enter and exit the location.

The Trek: Road Scouting

For novice hunters, your four-wheel drive truck can be a valuable asset while hunting.

You can scout entirely from your truck from behind a pair of binoculars, especially in the morning. Before the sun rises on a calm, clear morning is the best time of day to know where turkeys go after coming out of a roost, as well as hearing their whereabouts.

During this pre-dawn scout, stop often to hoot and listen, according to Outdoor Life. Make sure to observe the sand, mud, and dirt beneath you to identify any signs of birds—keep an eye out for toe trackings, droppings and feathers that can lead you to a win.

ATVs, SUVs and pickup trucks are top vehicles for your hunting adventure. As a hunter’s No. 1 choice, trucks offer the horsepower, bed space and ability to traverse rugged land, so make sure to equip your truck with all-terrain tires that have reliable traction and tread surface to handle all types of on- and off-road hunting adventures.

Be aware that you can only scout on approved roads and that hunting from your vehicle is illegal in most cases; exceptions are sometimes made for hunters with disabilities, but be sure to check your state’s hunting regulations for specifics.

Find the Hens: Refining Gobbler Hunting Skills

Three national turkey-calling champions have shared their expert tips with Outdoor Life for hunting successes. Shane Hendershot, a two-time national grand champion, explains that one of his most deadly tactics is to disguise himself as a flock of turkeys, rather than just a single bird. Multiple different calls can include gobbler yelps, a box or pot call, diaphragm in mouth and kee-kees.

Mitchell Johnson, 2009 world friction calling champion, adds that it’s also important to read a bird’s mood. Try out different calls, with a clear or raspy voice, to see which one attracts the turkey’s response. Stick with that call, then resort to silence to bring in the tom if it stops moving and stays in one place.

For Ben Yargus, 2008 grand national champion, once he knows where specific birds regularly roost throughout the season, he’ll use a small saw to cut tree limbs and build a natural blind to conceal himself during calls. Make sure the blind is tall enough to hide behind, yet small enough for you to swing your gun into action. The closer you can get to the turkey, the better you can observe their behavior to your advantage.

Hunting Partner: Two is Better than One

One great benefit of hunting as a team, rather than solo, is that each hunter brings a different skill set to the hunt. A pair can also utilize better strategies that couldn’t be deployed alone. Rex Reynolds, a passionate turkey hunting sportsman and Wild Turkey Report contributor, shares that each hunter can scout and roost birds in two different areas as options for the best hunt.

Then, by morning, your team can meet up to exchange ideas, decide on the best one and execute different calling styles. A two-person setup is also advantageous: As one hunter serves as a caller, the shooter can run a good distance ahead, even throwing out a few yelps and preparing to shoot once the turkey enters the shooting range.

For more information about wild turkeys and hunting, check out the National Wild Turkey Foundation, the ultimate online hub for the hunting lifestyle. From hunting tips and wildlife conservation information to event listings and additional resources, this website has you covered.

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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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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