2011 Deer Hunting at Fort Peck, Montana
(10/28/11 - 11/3/11)
This web page is about a week long deer hunting trip to Fort Peck Reservoir in Eastern Montana. I went with my cousins Chip and Bruce, and a friend Steve Sanders (and Steve's son Tony), and my cousin Karen Linder and husband Kip showed up for a couple days. Click on any picture for a much larger version. Here is the list of deer and elk hunting trips I have been on in the past:
Some of the pictures below depict dead deer and game birds hanging in camp or being skinned, and as such might bother some people. PLEASE STOP NOW if you are bothered by such pictures. It is not my intention to shock, this is simply how this is done. Our family hunts ethically and legally, we eat the meat from the animals we take, and we use the hides from the animals also. We are never intentionally cruel. Part of any meat preparation (like the beef or chicken you buy at your local store) is cooling the meat quickly after the animal dies, and an important part of that process is skinning the animal to allow heat to escape so the meat does not spoil and would be wasted. PLEASE STOP READING NOW if you are easily shocked or are offended by this sort of subject matter.
I enjoy hunting for a week in Montana every few years, but most of the time I'm a software engineer in Silicon Valley, California. As such, I like to bring electronics along to make the trip safer and more fun. :-)One of my "toys" did not arrive in time, I really wanted the new "DeLorme InReach two way Satellite Communicator" (no cell coverage where we hunt, and it's 50 miles to the nearest town), but their development schedule slipped and it was not released in time!! Below is a picture before I left of some of the electronics I brought. That's 3 GPS units (one for driving, one for hiking, and of course the one built into my phone), an iPod nano and iPod touch with Jawbone "Jambox" speakers, a digital camera, a cell phone (HP Veer in center of picture, the smallest smart phone made),and a DC to AC converter to allow me to charge all these toys from the cigarette lighter outlet in my rental SUV. In the center front row is a Verizon "MiFi" which is a network hotspot (love this product) for up to five computers. My cell phone is on AT&T so it is good the network hotspot is on Verizon to get more coverage from different carriers. Not pictured here I also brought an iPad.
I flew out of San Francisco airport, California through Denver into Billings, Montana on Friday, October 28th, 2011. It is straightforward to legally check a gun (firearm) into an airplane flight. You just let them know at the luggage checkin that you have a hunting rifle, then they go through a little dance that changes every year, then check it for you. It amuses me how UNCOMFORTABLE the San Francisco airport is with hunting rifles (guns) and how much more relaxed and cheerful the Billings, Montana airport staff is. Below the San Francisco airport TSA swab down my rifle case to test it for explosives or other chemicals, and then watch me lock the gun case and they take it away. It comes out with the "regular luggage" in Billings, Montana.
Free of all my heavy bags and hunting rifle, now I go through SFO (San Francisco Airport) security.
With the recent nickel and diming of passengers on bag number and bag weight, the new thing is to carry as much in the largest carry on bag as you can possibly carry. In the picture below *EVERY* passenger has a roller bag plus most have back packs and purses and other junk. Needless to say, these did not fit in the cabin anywhere so eventually these were then checked (for free) at the gate. Such a badly run system, the airlines are truly terrible at running their business.
That's it, away we go, picture below taking off out of San Francisco Airport, you can see the runway is right on San Francisco bay.
I arrive into Billings, Montana at 11pm.
"Hunting Season" (for deer and elk) is only a few weeks a year, so it is very common to see guns in the airport in Billings, Montana during this time. Below my hunting rifle is in the "violin case" looking luggage below, and immediately behind it is another gun case in silver, right on the luggage carousel with all the other luggage.
I wanted a 4 wheel drive just in case there was snow or muddy roads, so I rented a Nissan Pathfinder (see below) which is kind of a large beast of an SUV.
I flew into Billings, Montana at 11pm on Friday, October 28th, 2011. The next morning (October 29th) I dropped by the Cabela's sporting goods store in Billings to pick up a few supplies for the trip. Below is a picture of this HUGE store from the outside.
Here is a picture of the Billings, Montana Cabela's sporting goods store inside. Cabela's is like an REI but focused more on hunters than on vegetarian yuppies. :-) This store is HUGE!! I bought a pillow, a LED lantern, a very cheap extra sleeping bag for cot padding, large cooler for ice and supplies, and some batteries here. All were left behind with the hunting supplies when I left (or thrown away). It is too expensive to fly this stuff with the new airline baggage rules, it is simply cheaper to buy it and throw it away afterwards if you have access to such a great and cheap store like Cabela's.
NOT SHOWN -> I also hit an Albertsons for the food supplies I brought to camp (ground beef, potatoes, etc).
Backing out of the Albertsons, I realize the Nissan Pathfinder has a rear "backup camera" in it! It is really kind of useful, notice it paints "red/yellow/green" zone lines on the picture as it backs up. If something is inside the "green" it is "ok, you won't hit it", but you hit it when it is in the "red zone".
After loading up on the last supplies, I head north out of Billings Montana on highway 87 towards Roundup. I'm headed to a small town called Winnett, Montana, which is the last civilization I'll see.
Very pretty Eastern Montana.
Rush hour in eastern Montana. I'm heading north on highway 87 out of Billings, and there isn't another car as far as the eye can see.
Big country out here, very few people. You can see for MILES and there are very few houses.
Almost at Winnett, Montana, just 24 miles to go. Just before I took the picture below, I turned right off of of Montana HW 87 onto the current road of "State Highway 244".
Winnett Montana is a small town, but it has a restaurant called Kozy Korner and a 24 hour credit card operated (unmanned) gas pump, and a pretty good hardware/general store. It is the closest civilization to where we will be hunting at Crooked Creek Campground at Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana. These are the last paved roads, from here it is 50 miles of gravel roads (1.5 hours driving time) to the camp.
Literally 50 feet north of Winnett, you turn right onto Highway 200, then 100 yards down the road you turn left onto a gravel road called "Dovetail Valentine Road" for the next 50 miles to the Crooked Creek Recreational Area, Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana. Below is the left turn from pavement onto gravel.
Here is a very generic map showing the location of Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana. The reservoir is the fifth largest man-made lake in the U.S. and is a 134 mile long lake, but has over 1,500 miles of coastline because of the number of tributaries and rugged coastline. See some references here1.
Below is a road map from Winnett to the Crooked Creek Campsite at Fort Peck, Montana. The flags on the map below are GPS waypoints I entered on the dirt roads to make sure I knew which way to go. The roads are well marked and VERY well maintained, you could easily drive a regular compact car out there. You don't need a 4-wheel drive. But everything on the map below north of "Kozy Corner" (which is in the town of Winnett, Montana) is gravel and dirt. My GPS map files with these points marked are here in GPX Format, here in MPS format, and here in TXT format.
I'm all alone here, and the signs are HAND WRITTEN and 30 miles between, so I'm double fisting my GPS units at this point. :-) What is going on in the picture below is that the GPS on the left is my hiking trail GPS and it has my waypoints entered in carefully, and the one on the right is my regular car navigation GPS which only has some of these gravel roads entered into it. I just want to make sure I don't make any 20 mile off course wrong turns out here. Also notice the speedometer reads 60 mph, so the roads are pretty well maintained for gravel.
Here is one of the junctions. Below is the corner of Valentine Road and Dovetail Road.
The gravel road out here is "open range", there are cow grates (my cousin Kip calls these "Montana Speed Bumps"). The picture below shows cows that can wander right over the road.
A sign saying only 29 more miles of gravel roads to get to hunting camp (Crooked Creek Recreation area).
Here I head into the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge where we will be hunting. Charles M. Russell is a famous Western painter, usually of cowboys, Indians, and landscapes.
A few miles past the "Charles M. Russell" sign I pass the "Crooked Creek Recreation Area Fort Peck Lake" sign. Our campsite is just a mile past this sign.
Below is our campsite at the Crooked Creek Campground. There are new cement picnic tables, fire pits, reasonably nice outhouses (men and women's), and horse corrals. No showers for 50 miles. :-) My cousins have already setup camp. Actually, the timeline was that Chip/Steve/Tony arrived THE NIGHT BEFORE (they decided to do that, it was not in the plan) and then were out hunting this morning when Bruce arrived in the red pickup. Bruce then followed them out hunting, and Chip/Steve came back to find his pickup there and setup the big tent. I arrived to find it all setup.
Same camp, different perspective.
After unpacking, setting up my cot, etc, it is almost sunset. The 30 minutes around dawn and dusk are when the deer seem to come out and move around the most, 90 percent of the times we see them are during these two magical hours. So after setting up camp I went for a drive, and RIGHT outside of camp saw the doe in the picture below. Do you see her? Dead center of picture, be sure to click on the picture to zoom in! NOTE: we only have deer tags for "antler" deer (males called "bucks" and slightly mature or they won't have antlers). So I'm not shooting at these, just taking pictures.
And her sister appears with her, below is more zoomed in at the deer.
The gravel road into camp runs along the top of ridges. Another couple miles down the down the road at sunset I saw the five doe deer in the picture below in a grassy field beside the road. They "drop over" the side of the ridge and disappear.
Sunset, the first day we arrive in camp. Here is my pickup parked at the end of the small dirt road called "Road 410". I took a small walk around. It is strange because this area seems GREAT for hunting, but in several trips I have never seen any deer near this spot, which is very remote and has wilderness in every direction.
The first night in camp is Saturday, Oct 29th, 2011. Steve Sanders on the left and Chip (Ralph Wilson the 3rd) are looking over topo maps with flashlights deciding where to go hunting tomorrow. Tony Sanders is Steve's son (on the far right). The stove on the left is a wood stove that produces nice heat and a cooking surface, you can see dinner cooking in a frying pan. The tent, stove, and a lot of the cabinets inside the tent were all setup over 55 years ago by my grandfather (Ralph Wilson the 1st). Click here for a picture from before 1956 in Deep Creek inside the same exact same tent!!
Sunrise of Sunday, October 30th, 2011 - time to leave for our first hunt. It is cold, we run the pickup truck engines for a few minutes to defrost the windows.
Camp at sunrise, the first day of hunting.
We don't hunt together, so we take separate cars to the trail heads. I'm following up last here, you can see we use headlights in the morning. We want to be right at the hunting spots when the sun comes up and it is legal to shoot (technically you can shoot at "an hour before sunrise").
I split off from the others and get setup for a nice 4 or 5 hour stroll through the forest. :-) Below is my SUV and my backpack and hunting rifle, and I'm going to drop over the side of the ridge behind the SUV and walk in a big 5 hour circle. It is about 7:15am in the picture below, sunrise.
Same picture as above, showing the direction of where I'm going to walk to.
Not long into the morning, I look over and see the doe deer in the picture below walking up the hill. There are at least five of them.
A zoomed in version of the above picture pointing out some female (doe) deer. Remember, I can't shoot does (females), only "antlered deer".
The sun comes up maybe at 7:30am or 8am, you can see in the picture below it is very pretty as the sun rises and "uncovers" the hill by lighting it up.
Ok, in the picture below there is a deer standing JUST BEHIND the far ridge peeking over at me. I point her out in red below. I swear we must walk RIGHT BY these all the time, it is like playing "Where's Waldo" out here.
The picture below was taken right after the one above, zoomed in a little at the same spot, now can you see him? She is STILL hard to spot!!
Below is the most zoomed in version of the same picture. You can clearly see the doe standing on the ridge. But this is under high magnification, go back up to the previous pictures to see how hard it was for me to spot her!
A little way further, EVEN MORE DOES (female deer)!! See them below? At first I only saw the two at the center of the screen, but there are others in the lower right corner of the picture.
A zoomed in photo as the deer see me and start walking away. I count four does in the picture below.
The most zoomed in version of this picture I can get of the front two doe deer.
Well, here I am several hours after leaving the SUV back walking up on it again. I saw 8 or 10 deer, but no bucks I could shoot!
Below is a panorama of the area I'm hunting today.
I decide to change locations, and do some scouting in the SUV. So I drive further down a particular road than I have ever been (see the bread crumb trail on the GPS) towards the Crooked Creek river.
Later, returning to camp, as I drive along, I see the doe in the picture below. This is really not very far from our campsite.
A zoomed in picture of this *ONE* doe. What I do not see in any of these pictures is there are 2 or 3 deer!! Where are they? When I "spook" this doe, a few deer leap up and start running.
In the movie below, I start walking towards the doe I think is all alone just to get it to run away. And suddenly three deer leap up and start running away. Click here for a very high quality QuickTime movie (will probably not work on Microsoft Windows computers).
The picture below is of a neighboring "camp" of other hunters, not part of our group. They have one "cow elk" (female elk) hanging in their camp, and next to it is a "buck" (male deer). Hanging your kills in camp is the standard way to cool them (prevent meat from spoiling), and also if coyotes prowl at night they should be high enough not to be chewed on, etc. But in the picture below it feels like they aren't pulled up high enough, and we skin ours also (to get them cooled off faster), and we also put them in game bags to keep flies off and keep any dirt from getting in there.
There is a plaque along the road overlooking the Fort Peck Reservoir seen below talking about how Lewis and Clark came through here with Sacagawea. In the picture below if you look closely you can also see our campsite in the center of the picture right in front of the Fort Peck Reservoir.
As the sun sets.
Sunset waiting for the deer to walk up. In the picture below my hunting rifle is leaning against the car. By the way, it is a Ruger (brand) 7mm Remington Magnum with a Leopold adjustable scope (3.5x - 10x). It has an all weather black plastic stock on it.
My cousin Karen Linder and her husband Kip Linder showed up in their popup camper! Even better, they brought dinner! :-) Kip has come out hunting with us before to Fort Peck, here is a picture with Kip at Hell Creek, Fort Peck, Montana.
The next morning is Monday, October 31st. Below Steve is cooking breakfast for us. The lantern he is using is a 580 Lumen Coleman LED lantern (no gas, just 8 D-cell batteries), it is almost as bright as the traditional old white gas Coleman lanterns, we were pretty happy with it. We still have a couple of the white gas lanterns, but the LED lantern comes on super fast in the morning, and is safer near open flames like below. :-)
The following pictures are not from me, but taken this day by Karen when she went out hunting with Chip. Below you can see a big bull elk hiding behind a couple trees.
Below Chip and Karen scared up the big bull elk who starts walking away. That is a NICE bull (one of the best), but we do not have tags for elk in this district.
The big bull elk walks up the hill (pictures by Karen).
A wonderful picture of a big bull elk on a hill, picture by Karen.
The elk turns his head.
Later in the day, Karen took this picture of Chip posing with a rainbow on his finger.
Back to Brian's pictures.... Kip came out with me to "spot" for game this day. (Karen went hunting with Chip.) And right at sunrise we saw a buck and I shot and missed. I still feel good about it the attempt, it was early, I wasn't setup yet, I had to get the rifle out of the back of the SUV (we saw the deer as we drove). Then load the rifle, and I didn't have time to do anything except shoot "offhand" (free standing) so wasn't the greatest of accuracy. Anyway, below Kip looks to see if we can find where the buck ran off to (we walked around but couldn't find it again).
During our walk, Kip noticed the scraped up trees seen below. These are probably caused by a buck rubbing his antlers against the tree, which is called a "Deer Rub". It just means a buck is in the area and probably hangs out here a decent amount.
More broken twigs we guess are from a buck rubbing his antlers around.
I call the picture below "Hunter in Orange on Hill". :-) Kip circles around the hill one way to chase any deer out to me. In the picture below Kip is walking up through the wooded area (you can see his hunter orange).
After a fairly short morning hunt, Kip and I drive the 3 hour round trip to Winnett, Montana so I can get 1 bar of Verizon cell coverage and check my email with an iPad and a MiFi. My job doesn't let me escape for too many days in a row without checking in. :-) Below you see some cows wandering around on the road.
As we get back from our trip to town, driving along the ridge we see Tony and Steve walking through the forest hunting.
Kip and I go to watch the sunset where we saw the buck that morning, maybe he has circled back? Below my rifle is MUCH MORE READY than last time I saw the buck at sunrise 12 hours earlier.
Kip in hunter orange looking through the binoculars looking for our buck.
In the picture below, you can see sunset with the SUV parked on the ridge, the road is over to the right and the slope and green trees drop off to the left.
Bruce Wilson telling stories about seeing deer during the day. Tony eats dinner and listens.
Steve Sanders eating dinner listening.
Ralph (Chip) Wilson.
Karen Linder (Chip's sister, my cousin).
Kip Linder eating dinner.
The next morning before dawn, it all starts again! Below is Steve standing by the wood fired stove cooking breakfast. We had a problem getting the propane cooktop started in the morning, and just gave up and went back to cooking on the stove.
The following couple pictures are not from me, they are from Karen's camera. Below is Bruce, Karen, and Chip before sunrise in camp.
Bruce, Chip and Brian before sunrise in camp.
Back to my camera and some photoshop brightening. :-) At sunrise below, from left to right: Bruce Wilson, Kip Linder, Karen Linder (Bruce's sister and Kip's wife) and on far right Chip Wilson. You can see Kip and Karen's popup trailer behind them, and even further in the distance Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana.
A little bit later finds me at sunrise at the fence line in the middle of the forest which seems to be at the boundary of the entrance to the "Charles M. Russell Wildlife Preserve Area". We can hunt far outside of the actual preserve because the local farmers and ranchers have put their land into a trust that can also be hunted. I'm walking the fence line for fun, just to see what state of repair it is in. This area is THOUSANDS OF ACRES and having a fence through the middle is kind of eerie.
When I drop over the side OUTSIDE the actual reserve, I found this sign below. This is not on any trail, it is in the middle of nowhere, honestly, as far from civilization or a foot path as you could imagine. It just trips me out, there was only one of these signs as far as I know, I was lucky to find it. It is small, the size of an 8.5"x11" piece of paper. Totally bizarre, because visitors ARE welcome at the refuge, they can drive into it!! I wonder how old this sign is? If it is 50 years old maybe this had a path back then? If it is brand new, it is a serious mistake and waste of tax dollars to have it installed.
The bottom of the ravines are all small (mostly dry) creeks that stay a little muddy. I like looking around for tracks just to make sure wildlife is wandering around in the area. If you look closely you can see game tracks in the mud in the picture below.
Looking down directly, those are deer tracks.
And something else! Maybe a coyote, wolf, or bobcat track?
If you look super closely at the picture below (or click on it to "zoom in") you will see three deer (does, females) in the picture below right in the center of the screen.
Steve (in hunter orange) and Tony back in camp.
At sunset, a deer (yet another doe) on the ridge. I got the picture taken just as the deer was about to disappear.
Three more deer just past sunset as I'm driving back to camp. They are a bit obscured by the tall grass, but you should be able to make them out. Yep, more female (antlerless) that I'm not allowed to shoot!
And the next morning (November 2nd, 2011) we start all over again! That's Steve on the left, "Mr Heater" (brand name of a propane heater) and Chip standing on the right.
Tony eats breakfast sleepily.
Pickups and SUVs at dawn starting up.
Leaving hunting camp EARLY this morning, still very dark, you can see Bruce's red pickup ahead of me.
My day pack and rifle, ready to walk that ridge looking for deer.
Same as previous.
There is an old rusted out pickup truck from the 1940s (?) up there near the Crooked Creek campground at Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana. I like this spot, in the middle of the day I parked up here and read a book, there is a nice view of the valley below.
I drove all the way down to "Crooked Creek" just to see it, this is along some dirt roads out in the middle of nowhere. Had to turn on 4 wheel drive for the first time in the SUV to cross a small land slide over the road.
I found Bruce walking along the side of the road, and gave him a lift to a new hunting area, here he has just left my SUV and started hunting.
From the ridge I look down and see our pointed roof and smokestack on our army tent in the campsite. Fort Peck Reservoir is in the background. There is much more water this year than previous years.
The picture below shows what we THINK are electrical poles "spliced" together. There are three boxes below, indicating a three way splice (electrical lines going off in three separate directions)? Anyway, these were all the way the heck out here, and one of those splices might go to the private property cabins seen in the distance in this picture. A lot of effort and money went into stringing these power lines all the way out here, and these junction boxes were every few miles along the road.
This is the boat ramp at the Crooked Creek Campsite, and that is a LIVE WORKING PHONE BOOTH. Yes, the other day I drove 3 hours in a circle to check in with work and I had a working phone booth in my camp site!! Using the phone booth was like time travel back to the 1970s, I had to talk with an actual operator and she took my Visa card to make a phone call.
Steve got a deer, and Tony got a deer, here are the two deer hanging in camp. Steve's deer was split into several pieces to backpack it out of a steep area.
A front shot of the deer hanging in camp. Somehow it is more eerie and gruesome to split the deer into parts and only see the single feet sticking up. Notice the "game bags" we put on the deer carcass to keep flies and dirt off of them.
Peek-a-boo! In the picture below do you see a deer? Right in the middle at the lowest point?
Here is the same picture zoomed in. This is visible from the road, we must have driven by this deer all day.
The movie below shows me walking towards the deer (which is a doe) to "spook" it and get it to walk away. It is almost invisible to start with, then it runs away (the arrow below shows it running). Click here for a high quality QuickTime original, this probably will not play on a Windows PC. Can you spot the deer in the movie?
A very nice area I walked down into to hunt.
A self portrait of me (Brian Wilson). I setup a tiny tripod and put my camera on a timer.
Steve and Tony now have their deer tags full, so the walked the road looking for grouse (birds) which our combination tag also covers. They switched weapons to shotguns for this.
Steve and Tony's deer heads in camp.
Tony on the left, his father Steve Sanders on the right with the deer they shot.
Tony and Steve in front of their kills.
They also got some grouse with shotguns. Tony posing below with the three grouse.
Tony and Steve plucking the feathers and cleaning out the grouse.
And the final morning of the hunt! Here we all are at 6:53am on November 3rd, 2011. We just hunt the sunrise, then afterwards pack up and leave camp.
This final morning I find a toilet out in the middle of nowhere (actually just out of sight of the road). Kind of strange.
Packing up camp.
Camp fully packed, Steve has already left to take Tony to the train, notice the VERY full pickup with deer in the back. That's Chip packing it up.
VERY full pickup, includes deer carcasses.
And we pull out, hopefully back in a couple years!!
We split up at Winnett, Montana. I have to fly home to work, but Chip and Bruce continue on to elk camp near Sula, Montana in the "Bitterroots". They will spend one more week hunting.
In San Francisco, hunting is super unusual and very few people do it. Their airport rarely sees any firearms. But I'm now flying out of Billings, Montana, and it is hunting season, and it is so common that they have a sign at airport security just to remind hunters not to walk onto the planes with their firearms. See the picture below: "ATTENTION HUNTERS: Firearms are NOT allowed through Security Checkpoint". Wow, seems obvious? I like how "NOT" is all capitalized, it is important in that sentence. :-)
That's it! All home safe!
This section is not for you, but for me, so I can remember things the NEXT time I go hunting in 3 years. :-)
NOTE: DIVIDE THE LIST BELOW into "stuff that goes into red waterproof stuff sack for day pack for away from pickup hunting", vs. "stuff that stays in camp".
Four hunters eat about 1.5 pounds of ground beef in each dinner.
Here was my shopping list from this trip that I showed up in camp with:
For lunch: 1/4 pound cold cuts per sandwich (ham, turkey), swiss cheese, squeeze mayo, sliced bread, individually wrapped safeway cookies (whatever they got), little candy bars, possibly apples although rarely seem to eat them
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