On Thursday morning we loaded our packs for a full day afield, rarely do we return to camp for lunch and this day would be no exception. We hiked into an area where we'd seen some deer, and a good buck, early in the week. Right off the bat I spotted a lone buck feeding over a ridge. I only got a quick look at the buck, but he appeared large enough to warrant further investigation. We gave chase, but never saw the buck again...he was probably moving quickly, covering country in search of does.
We continued covering country ourselves, doing a good deal of detailed glassing along the way. We spotted a few more does throughout the morning, but no bucks. Interestingly, throughout the week we'd been seeing a lot of elk sign nearly everywhere we hunted - yet we hadn't seen hair nor hide of an elk. The Missouri River Breaks is famous for its big bull elk (and sheep, and deer). The chance of drawing a license here is very slim, hovering around 3% in most years. This morning we finally saw elk on the hoof - my Dad glassed up two cows in heavy cover on a north facing slope...it was neat to see them.
As it turned out, this was to be quite a day for elk sightings. About an hour later, as we worked our way across the bottom of a coulee, I happened to glance to my right to see a big 6x6 bull elk bedded fifty yards away. Amazingly he was bedded in a little cutbank crevice - right out in the open sage! And then later in the day we got to see a group of 6 bulls move by us at little more than a hundred yards. These bulls were all amazing, with some in the 300-320 class, but nothing truly huge. That is until I spotted a bull moving parallel to us along an open slope late in the day...he was a ways off, but he was the type of bull that The Breaks is famous for - an enormous 6x6.
While elk were the story of the day, we did have an opportunity to put a stalk on a big 3x3 mule deer buck (yes, the bar had been lowered a bit) in the afternoon. The buck was about a half mile away when we spotted him, he was solo, and moving in our direction at a steady clip - cruising for does no doubt. When he moved out of our line of sight we scrambled to ambush him. Unbeknownst to us, during the few minutes that it took us to hike to the adjacent ridge the buck had veered to the north - a ninety degree turn that put us out of position. The buck was now 400+ yards away - out of range as far as we're concerned. We gave chase, but as luck would have it the aforementioned herd of 6 bull elk crashed the party - they'd been pushed our way by other hunters and blew right by the buck, who was nowhere to be found once the dust settled.
As we hiked back to the truck in the fading light we glassed up several does, but none were in the company of a buck. For the first time all week we beat Matt and Dave back to camp in the evening, they'd embarked on an ambitious loop hike into some roadless country...in fact it turned out that they were the hunters who'd bumped the elk in our direction. They'd seen deer as well, with Matt coming across a buck and doe. According to Matt the buck was a big one, and provided him with a brief window for a shot opportunity. Dropping into a prone position and using his pack as a rest, Matt took the shot - with no reaction from the buck. Upon closer investigation he found no sign of having hit the buck, what he found instead explained the miss: a tree sporting a substantial gash from his bullet.
After another great dinner and night cap, we set the alarm for 4:30am - we had just one full day left to hunt and we were eager to make the most of it.