Moultrie Products's Live Bowhunting Adventure

Day 6

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

day 1

day 2

day 3

day 4

day 5

day 6

day 7

Discuss this hunt

With only two days left things were looking tough for this hunt. We hunted above Mike’s east border and onto a section of state land, which was open to us.  We glassed some deer across the fence on the neighbors land but saw no elk. We called it an early morning.

As we got down to the cabin we saw a truck driving up. It was the law enforcement officer for the forest service. Mike had made the call. Apparently the officer was pretty excited to hear that someone had documented the location and marker plates with photographs.  As he explained to Jerry and me, lots of people file complaints about illegal OHV's but they have nothing more than a description of some guy in camo blowing across a meadow on a green Polaris.  But I come from a family of Law Enforcement officials and know the concept of close, near, far when documenting cases. That’s why he asked me for my help. Along with a forest service range manager, we headed up through Mike’s Northwest gate and then jumped on the range manager's ATV so I could show him the exact area where I had documented the ATV abuse. 

The Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer along with a range manager for the forest service discuss boundaries and legal trails

Just the ride there disgusted the officer. ATV abuse is a serious problem on the western Castle Mountains, but the eastern side had been considered pristine due to limited access. That perception was changed as he rode the endless network of new 4-wheeler trails.  During the trip he asked me to photograph the damage so he could submit evidence to forest service officials for securing resources to combat this growing problem. I was more than happy to help. He explained to me that while he occasionally gets calls regarding non-residents, primarily residents were the problem. This echoed what Mike Rhynard told us last night. All of his trespass issues over the years involved residents. We had a great discussion about how difficult this issue is to enforce. He then described his territory to me and it was no wonder. He is responsible for all of the castles, the little belts, big belts, and others. There was no way he could ever make a dent in this issue given all of that territory.

We headed down the final section of trails to where I had documented the abuse. It was good timing for us, bad timing for the bowhunter. We ran into a resident from Eastern Montana riding his ATV in the opposite direction. The forest service official was outstanding in his questioning of this person.  He was respectful, but stern, and explained to the man why he was being stopped. At first the person plead ignorant to any wrongdoings. He told the officer he had stayed on the main road the entire time and did nothing wrong. The officer walked around to the back of his ATV and read off his marker plate to me. I confirmed it with my photo. The hunter then admitted he was in the area and even offered up additional information unrelated to my photos. He was charged, and instructed to have the other members of his party contact the officer. The Montana hunter was contrite, but basically plead ignorant to the law and admitted he didn't know the area. He told us that he was hunting with his brother in law who hunts here all the time and was basically just following him around. He did not realize that driving through meadows, bogs or unmarked trails was illegal. He also appeared to have little clue about the boundary lines between private property and forest service lands. I couldn't help but think how easy it was for me to map all of the boundaries on my GPS and if I can do it (coming from Connecticut) his excuse was lame.

He drove away unhappy as we continued down to the low meadow. It was a small satisfaction for me and the officer. In the big picture, it's a just a tiny victory in a much larger battle regarding irresponsible ATV use.

A stroke of luck, we ran into one of the ATV owners coming up the trail. He was charged with illegal OHV use.

It was 4PM by the time the officer and I returned to the cabin . Our afternoon hunt would have to be close. We again headed to the border between forest service and private land on Mike’s South side. And again we heard bugles and I managed to get the herd bull fired up. But still he wouldn’t leave that sanctuary of private land where all his cows were safely tucked away.

It was a good day. Yes, the elk hunting has been frustrating, but I was happy to play a small part in helping bring attention to this problem of illegal ATV use on our public lands.  It was also great to see such a wonderful public servant taking stewardship of these federal lands on our behalf. He was truly a professional. But the larger problem is well, sickening. I'm sure you guys following this hunt agree.

We topped a depressing day off with a fantastic evening with Mike and his lovely wife Elita.  Mike is a terrific guy who has an incredible background with the Air Force. He was a fighter pilot who fought in Vietnam then finished off his distinguished career as a test pilot and even a candidate for the astronaut program (before a slipped disk kept him off the space shuttle).  Since retiring as a Lt. Colonel from the Air Force he serves as an aeronautical consultant for both military and civilian aerospace projects. Jerry and I really liked Mike and Elita and our dinner Thursday evening was the highlight of our trip.

We have one day to go. We are going to the only place where we consistently find elk on that border. Maybe we'll get lucky and coerce a satellite over the fence.


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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 7

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

Email: [email protected]

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