By Tom Kuglin
Bugle Hunting & Outdoor Lifestyle Editor
One of the best parts of my job here at Bugle is seeing the flood of photos shared by RMEF members of their successful hunts and time out in elk country.
Not that I need much incentive to think about elk hunting, but it’s inspiring to see hunters with friends and family, enjoying beautiful landscapes and sometimes even tagging a bull or cow. It’s a reminder of how hunting plays such a powerful role in so many lives, and why the community around RMEF is so important.
Each issue of Bugle we get to feature four to five of the photos we receive in our Out Among ‘Em section. It’s both one of my favorite responsibilities but also one of the toughest deciding which photos to include. Each tell a story, both common but unique. I wish we could publish them all.
My own elk story this past season includes the perfect recipe for a successful hunt. Nearly a foot of snow had fallen before Halloween during a four-day cold snap. Montana’s hunting season was less than a week old when the storm broke, allowing temperatures to fall below zero at my house outside of the capital city of Helena. I typically clock in at 8 a.m., but I have some highly understanding bosses when it comes to hunting days too perfect to miss. Besides, after I checked out one spot after daylight, I’d be back at my computer by 9.
I left the truck in the dark bundled against the winds pushing the last of the storm to the east. A 45-minute walk to the first good vantage point. A spot that had produced elk a half dozen times before. No other hunters to scuttle my plans.
The side drainage builds to its origin—a grassy hillside frequented by elk and deer, then falling away to a ridge extending farther than can be hunted in a day. Off that ridge, the land peels away into a thousand cuts, each with enough grass and cover to support a herd. Finding elk in this country from a distance means looking at the right opening on the right cut at the right moment. Too early or too late, or if the elk feed even a few feet out of view, and you’re left to assume the country is empty.
I started glassing before legal shooting light, the snow amplifying available light for a few extra minutes. The grassy hillside was absent any elk or sign as I pushed through powder for a better view. Ahead of me in the snow I cut an elk track perhaps a couple of hours old. To follow or continue to the best glassing spot? Fortunately, the track turned and headed right where I’d hoped to get by daylight.
Many days I’ve sat on the overlook and glassed for an hour, just hoping something comes into view in an extended exercise of patience. This was not one of those days. Within seconds of bringing the binoculars to my eyes, elk. At least two. A cow and a calf.
With a cow tag in my pocket I began contemplating a stalk. A mile between us, it would take perhaps twice that distance negotiating the cuts and staying out of sight. I dropped into the first cut, hustling down the snowy slope into the bottom and quickly moving down. I stayed low, bumping over low spots to remain out of sight, feeling a bit like a pinball fired back and forth until one ridge separated us.
I popped my head over the edge and quickly spotted a cow at nearly 450 yards. While it is a shot I know I can make, it wasn’t a shot I needed to take. She fed calmly among the ponderosas without any apparent urge to move on.
I dropped behind the ridge and moved closer. The timber made picking out elk a bit of a challenge, looking for a cow by herself among a group of 10 that included a spike and small bull. One cow fed up and away from the rest. She emerged into an opening at 335 yards. Prone and steady, I fired and she dropped immediately, coming to a rest a few feet downslope. I’d be a little later for work than I planned.
I took the time to snap a photo—an image that drew the ire of my photographer friend for the ill-advised placement of a strand of bunchgrass cutting through my face. But still, I look at the photo, a young cow taken cleanly as the departing storm dropped its last round of flakes, and truly felt like I was out among ‘em, both in the hills with the elk but also part of this community of hunters celebrated every day by RMEF.
Keep those photos coming in to [email protected].
Tom Kuglin became Bugle’s Hunting Editor in 2023 following a decade covering the outdoors and natural resources for newspapers in Montana. An avid hunter, he enjoys helping others tell their hunting stories in Bugle just as much as he likes telling his own.