Sitka Gear's Live Bowhunting Adventure

Day 5

Join Pat Lefemine and friend Jerry Leblanc in Central Montana on an unguided elk bowhut

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day 4

day 5

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day 7

Discuss this hunt

Jerry and I were up and out extremely early. We drove down the ranch road, parked, and started our long hike in the dark. It was cool and breezy and that helped us to make excellent time. In fact, by the time we hit the private section border we were an hour ahead of schedule. To keep from trespassing, we had to turn north to go up, and around through forest service. My GPS was programmed to include the property borders so we knew exactly when we could turn south again. By dawn we were already heading south to the low meadow we had studied on the topos. Just above that meadow was very close to where the elk have been bedding.

The hike was long and difficult but between my good boots and being in decent shape, we made it there in record time.  The meadow looked better than we expected. The grass was green, long, and had a stream running through it.  Both Jerry and I liked what we saw and we picked up the pace.

Until we came to fresh ATV tracks scarring a trail through that meadow.  We both shook our heads in disgust. It got worse. As we walked the half mile south into that meadow we came upon the 3 rigs, parked right in the middle of that meadow and within 1/2 mile of the high bowl we were heading to.

Not what we had hoped to find after several hours of hiking

Now I am not an ATV Nazi. I don’t hate them and feel they can serve a purpose for hunting. While I have never owned one, I don’t subscribe to the belief that you should never use them in the field – so long as they stay on established trails and are used responsibly. But that attitude was lost on me this morning. The damage done to this meadow - with freshly blazed trails, made me want to puke. The only saving grace was we knew where they were and despite our hike getting here we had other options for this mornings' hunt. We couldn't head in the opposite direction fast enough.

I photographed the three markers. All were registered in Montana.

Jerry and I were unclear about the law. I was pretty sure ATV’s were OK to use on established forest service roads. But I was positive where we saw them (and the damage to that meadow) was prohibited. So I took photos of the area, the damage, and the three marker plates just in case my hunch was correct. Then we headed in the opposite direction, back north - as far away from those machines as possible.

The hike up the mountain was dreadful. Over 1000 vertical feet on a 30 degree incline. My sea-level lungs were burning and sweat wicked through the three layers of Sitka Gear we were wearing. We got to the top where a series of meadows were connected by small tracts of dark timber.  But through the middle of that top meadow was another fresh ATV track.   Calling got us no response. So we turned East and headed into the dark timber, again, in the opposite direction of the ATV tracks.

The timber looked great.  There was elk sign there but it appeared to be a week old. We pushed to an area called rattler creek and then down into a valley which held a grassy bog. As we hit it, we came across yet another ATV trail with fresh tracks burned into the bog.

These F’n things were everywhere. And we were pissed. We continued to the top, alpine ecosystem and again found one ATV track after another. This absolutely sucked. I have a first hand account of what you western guys have been talking about on Bowsite. Sure I knew it existed – but I never knew just how bad it had become.

We entered the last of the alpine meadows at 5PM. It was the only piece of forest service ground before we got back to Mike’s pristine, private land.  Mike has a strict, no ATV policy and now I know why. But just before that was a section of North facing dark timber.  We called a few times with no response. As we followed through to a flat spot something red caught my eye.  It was a US flag next to a wall tent. Fresh ATV tracks lead in and out of it. This camp was parked 80 yards from the top meadow bordering Mike’s property.  There was an ATV trailer there with another marker plate so I took a photo of that too before heading back to Mike’s property.

This camp and ATV trailer was set up on forest service property, 80 yards from the ranch border

Our report made Mike furious. The hunting had gone cold the last two weeks and he didn’t know why. It was pretty obvious to us (and it became obvious to him) after we explained what we found.  We said good night and headed back to the cabin.  Mike headed inside to call his neighboring landowners along with the forest service enforcement officer and the conservation officer. I don't know what will come of all of this but we both had a pit in our stomach. These lands are spectacular. And they used to hold elk. But with all of that ATV activity it is no wonder why the herd is holed up on that one section of private land.

We had high hopes heading out this morning. That outlook has now changed.


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Addendum, February 2012

I recently received an email from Mike Rhynard, updating me on his progress in addressing the ATV issues Jerry and I experienced on our Rhynard Ranch hunt in 2007.  He informed me that his hunting operation has been going very well and that, since 2007, he and his hunters have worked closely with US Forest Service Enforcement folks to help eliminate illegal ATV activity in the southern Castle Mountains.  Concurrently, the Forest Service greatly restricted the number of trails open to ATV's, which further mitigated the rampant abuse we saw in 2007.  As a result of these efforts, Mike's hunters reported no ATV violations during the 2011 season, and only one in 2010.  There is occasional LEGAL ATV use in the area by a neighboring rancher who has a grazing permit in the area, but it's not frequent.  Mike also reports that his hunters, who are all unguided, consistently exceed the Montana success rate for guided and unguided hunting combined.  We applaud Mike's, and the Forest Service's, efforts in creating an improved hunting environment for all hunters in the area, and we wish Mike and his hunters, many of whom are repeats, continued success.

We wanted you to know that Mike is a terrific guy with a great operation. The situation we experienced in 2007 was unfortuante, but it has been addressed thanks to Mike and the US Forrest Service.

Pat Lefemine

Next - Day 6

For this hunt we are hunting on Rhynard Ranch
Tel: 406-572-3612

Email: [email protected]

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