Elk hunting from box car base camp
By Hookemharry

Posted: November 20, 2003

The weather looked like it might turn to snow and it was already cold when Jaye Johnson from Charlo and I made plans to try and fill my cow elk tag last week down by Lima.

Snow is always good for elk hunting, but in this case it is critical. Once the mountain range in Southwest Montana near the Idaho-Montana border starts to accumulate snow, the elk start their annual migration to the grassy winter ranges between Lima and Dillon.

We arrived at “Black Angus Cow Camp” turned “Elk Camp” Friday afternoon, Just in time to meet Barry the Cowboy, the local ranch hand, and do some scouting for elk before we would start officially hunting the next morning.

After returning to camp we moved our sleeping bags into a box car – you know, the same ones that Dennis Washington runs down the railroad tracks with his Montana Rail Link. The biggest difference between Washington’s box cars and this one is the there wasn’t any railroad tracks.

The wheels had been taken off. It didn’t have the MRL logo on it. What our box car did have, however, was a wood burning stove/oven to cook meals on and another wood burning stove to keep the converted box car warm.

It was warm, at least, until the wood in the stove burned out. That happened at about 1 a.m. every night.. By then, Johnson and I didn’t mind. We were sound asleep, buried in our sleeping bags which were rated to something like 40 below.

When it was time to get up, around 4:30 a.m., Johnson would start the big, portable propane heater he had brought along to warm the inside of the boxcar to a comfortable temperature.

Every morning, we woke with the anticipation of seeing a fresh blanket of snow covering the area. And every morning, we were disappointed.

In fact, the weather actually got nicer as the hunt progressed into Sunday and Monday. So the weather didn’t help move many elk into our hunting area.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, we walked in the rough terrain until early afternoon. The only day we saw elk was at daylight Sunday. That’s when four bulls and four cows were spotted about a mile away.

They were moving slow grazing as they headed in our direction. Even after an unsuccessful sneak on them, our spirits were lifted. Maybe we would see more and have another chance.

About two hours later Johnson spotted three elk about a half-mile away. They were far enough away that we couldn’t tell weather they were cows or young bulls. After a successful sneak, we were disappointed to find out all three were spike bulls. Spike bulls are protected in this hunting district — maybe that’s why were able to get so close.

We went to bed that night thinking that Monday would be our day. But as luck would have it, Monday turned out like Saturday when didn’t spot an elk.

With our hopes of bagging an elk this hunting trip derailed, we moved our hunting gear out of the boxcar and said goodbye to Barry the Cowboy.

As we drove back home, we looked in awe at the beautiful scenery that this part of Montana has to offer. Couldn’t help but noticed that the Beaverhead River was home to quite a few Northern Mallard Ducks and that Clark Canyon Reservoir was as low as we have seen it.

We talked about our next elk hunting trip as we drove toward home, and just to keep us in the mood, listened to a CD — “The Best of Box Car Willie”.