by Clay Newcomb
Two weeks ago I took my wife on a DIY bear hunt in western Montana. She killed a deer several years ago, but she isn’t a serious hunter, though she fully supports my hunting and loves eating wild game. In almost 15 years of marriage, we’ve never gotten away together for more than a day or two. We have four children and both of us are entrepreneurs. These things don’t add up to a lot of time away together. However, in 2015 that changed.
Misty on the trail into the Montana backcountry. In the low areas there was some big timber. Our First Lite gear was amazing on this trip. First Lite is coming out with a new women's line in June 2015.
We had some on-the-ground bear intel from my good friend at the Boone and Crockett Club, Justin Spring. Justin and his wife Rebecca, live in Montana and they gave us the scoop on a secluded region of the Lolo National Forest they felt like held bears.
Misty and I made the 24-hour drive from northwest Arkansas and arrived in Montana on April 30th. Our first day of hunting was May 1st after a half-day hike back into the backcountry (within the first ¼ mile we saw a cougar track in the trail). I was carrying just under 60 pounds in my pack and Misty carried 35 pounds. Though I had been running the previous six weeks, I wasn’t fully prepared for carrying the heavy load. More than anything, I was depending on my just-below-middle-age frame to still be able to get it done. Misty and I both did fine on the five-mile trek. As the crow flies, it was only about three miles, but according to the GPS it was further.
The views were stunning. This was the descent from our High Camp. It's much steeper than it looks.
I was deeply impressed by the Montana backcountry. The spruce and pine covered mountains were interlaced with vast openings of grass. Fire drives the ecosystem of the West. It’s the fire that carves out openings, giving the elk, bear and other wildlife the habitat they need. The mountains are extremely steep and deceiving. You wouldn’t get far in this region without a decent degree of physical stamina.
Our basecamp was at 4,000 feet and the highest elevation we hunted to was just over 6,000 feet. From that elevation you could see snow covered peaks all the way over into Idaho to the west. The high country is truly amazing.
Our camp on night one. Mountain House meals are excellent.
On the first day of our hunt, within the first ten minutes of glassing, we were encouraged to see a sow and cub at 1.7 miles. Our GPS said the bears were around 6,000 feet. I was amazed how far we could see them using our 10x42 Huskemaw binoculars. One would have thought you would need a spotting scope, but for glassing for bears less than two miles, I found that you really didn’t. In this country, 1.7 miles can be a long way, as there may be 1,000 feet of elevation climb and numerous valleys to go down into and then back up. It could literally take you hours to walk two miles. Regardless, we were excited to see the bears.
Day two was uneventful as we glassed again from the place we called High Camp and didn’t see any bears. From High Camp we could see nine different large openings inside of a two-mile radius. On the second night we decided to spike camp on the mountain. We brought about 1/3 of our gear, including just the canopy of the tent for a rain cover. We slept on a hogback ridge that if you’d rolled to the right or left you would have ended up at the bottom of the mountain. It was memorable night sleeping under the stars, watching the full moon traipse its way across the Montana night. I won’t lie; my 10mm Glock locked and loaded by my side made us sleep easier.
I used Huskemaw optics on this trip, including a 3x12x42 scope with a custom turret. Though I didn't get to shoot, this is the long-range country that custom turrets were designed for.
On day three we decided to get back into another drainage. After spending most of the day getting there with our spike camp supplies, we were pleasantly surprised by the view. Just before dark, we spotted a lone, adult bear one mile away. I tried to close the distance, but I couldn’t make it before legal shooting light. Long story short we spent the next full day glassing the ridge were we’d seen the bruin, but he never showed. And on the morning of day five we had to leave.
Lots of glassing.
We just didn’t give our efforts enough time to produce a bear. About the time we had to leave we started to figure out how to hunt. The bears seemed to be up high and we just didn’t have enough time to get to them. If I had it to do over again, I probably would have flown so we would have reduced our travel time and increased our hunting time. Regardless, Misty and I had a great trip. She did amazing in the backcountry. Overall, the adventure was over-the-top. I’m considering going back up there this year to remedy this unnotched Montana bear tag. I’ll keep you posted.