The Breaks

By john kemp jr

August 22, 2019


By John H. Kemp Jr.

Drawing an either sex elk permit for 2018 was a thrill in itself but harvesting a mature bull is a once in a lifetime event. I’m 66 years old so drawing the permit was very exciting, since I am retired I had plenty of time to plan, worry, and lose sleep over the chance of harvesting a bull elk.

Opening weekend October 20th my two sons, Jeff (39) and Kruise (31) joined me on the CMR in Phillips County, MT for a 4 day hunt. It was 30 degrees in the morning and 55 degrees in the afternoon. The elk definitely had the advantage that weekend.

I got to the area East of Sipperyann Ridge on Thursday night by myself and set up my spotting scope to view as much of the countryside that I could. Sure enough I saw 4 bull elk grazing in the open late in the afternoon, it was looking like I picked out the right area! Early next morning they showed up again so I only had to wait until Saturday and it was looking like they wanted to graze in the same spot.

Friday morning and the youth hunt was on. A guy and his two girls come up on me and let me know they were going to walk to where the elk were as they have seen a cow elk which the girls have tags for. I tell them I have seen 4 bulls but no cows and wondered where they were looking but they headed down, one small bull probably looked like the cow. Well as I watched they went down and the 4 bulls went up in the timber. They were gone never to be seen that weekend again.

Saturday morning rolls around and my sons and I glass and glass, then we decided to walk into a few drainages, no tracks or sign. That afternoon with 20 minutes of shooting time we spotted an elk about 1-1.5 miles away grazing by himself. With little time left we took off to get close but not having the time to sneak it was more of a direct charge, well he took off well before we got close.

Sunday morning we were again glassing an area and see 2 bulls and 4 cows grazing about 2-3 miles away. As we were making our plan and watching their movements two hunters on horseback who have a cow tag come up on us so we include them in our plan. They would go long and look for the cows to come out of the timber while we would walk the hills to try and estimate where they were and catch them bedded down or fleeing the timber. Off we went, first we get stopped by a rattlesnake on the trail which we got a LONG stick and flipped him over edge of the hill. We only did that because we had another guy from Oklahoma with his two girls 100 yards behind us going to our spotting location, where the snake was.

Well, we got to the timber and my son Jeff heard them exit out the timber just when we got there and we didn’t see them at all and the two horseback guys saw nothing either. The 50 degree and blue bird weather certainly favored the elk those days.

Monday we glassed and glassed and didn’t see anything so we headed to the area that the elk were last seen. We got skunked that day and that night I figured we had walked 7 miles per day for 3 days. Tuesday we decided to head back after checking out some areas so we picked out some walking draws for about 3 miles worth and decided to call it a day and head home.

I’m glad we came in early as my battery was dead on the camper and we had to take apart the couch and cabinet and manually crank in the slide out and then put back together.

It was a great time for a father and two sons hiking and camping and hunting together.

Two weeks later I asked my brother-in-law who is 74 years old to go hunting with me again up north of the Missouri river in Phillips County. We left Billings, MT early morning in snow/rain conditions. Not bad enough to cancel but definitely concerning. I have hunted Phillips County enough to know when it's wet-stay home. That Saturday my brother-in-law and I road-hunted, he couldn’t walk the hills and I was so antsy to be out glassing I knew we were in scout mode. We stopped to talk to everyone who was hunting. The two Missoula young men were packing out their bulls and others. The main point is the young me said the elk were grazing at 8:30 am, which is a little longer than two weeks earlier and it was getting colder every week-more feed time. Well, we didn’t see elk but lots of deer and my brother-in-law had a good time visiting with everyone and hunting.

November 8, 2018

I had called my son and asked if he would hunt again up in the breaks with me? He said sure and he’d bring Brayden (Age 7). He said after school and work they would meet me at the Zortman Hotel that evening. I said I would go up early and scout out an area and we both agreed that I should take one if I had the chance.

I got to the spotting area we used before and sure enough there were 5 bulls grazing about ¾ mile below me in the creek bottom. The closest one really caught my eye and after scoping him for about 10 minutes I proceeded down into the valley. I stayed behind every bush, aligned every tree between him and me. I crossed the creek 3 times (it was once coming back) to keep him from watching me. After the last creek cross which made a lot of noise-it was about 20 degrees and ice around the edges of the water, I crawled up on the bank to peer over the buck brush to see him looking at me. I ducked down and raised up 3 or 4 times only to have him trying to figure me out. The last look I saw him look away and he was broadside. I crawled as fast as possible to a tree about 30 yards ahead and I propped my rifle on the right side to keep my body behind the tree. I had him in my sights at about 400 yards but I couldn’t get my breath. I was nervous and a little winded from the crawl so I held on him for about what felt like 10 minutes. I was still shaking and breathing hard but decided it was time to take my shot.

I squeezed the trigger with the target being right behind his right shoulder. After the shot I looked up and didn’t see him but the other bulls were running but then stopped about 300 yards from where my bull was. Then I saw him come out of a small ditch only 50 yards from where I shot him and he stopped and his hooves went up in the air. I still couldn’t see him so I walked about 200 yards and I saw his antlers rock back and I knew I got him but was he finished? There was a 6 foot high dirt mound 50 yards away so I reloaded and headed to that spot to come over and if need be finish him off. No need, he was gone when I saw him. Now I have to settle down. The Hornady Superperformance 180 grain bullet worked just like the gun expert at CEG in Plentywoo, MT. predicted.

I knew his horns were dark and thick but boy was I surprised how thick they were. Well, I cut out my tag and temporarily taped it to the horns. After water and some release of pent up excitement I started working on him. I watched the Randy Newberg Videos of gutless butchering an elk and since I was by myself I thought this is the right time to try.

I had left my spotting scope, tripod, and binoculars on the hill but I had my water, sharpening stone, extra knife, back pack(day pack), and 5 game bags. I quartered the bull and removed the tenderloins and back straps along with some neck meet and put that in a game bag. I decided it was time to go to the truck about 3/4 mile away as the crow flys. I packed a game bag, back pack, and rifle and headed out only to stop at the spotting scope and binocular spot to retrieve those. I got to the truck and was having lunch at noon and decided it would be time to go back, bone him out and bring what I can back to the truck.

I then boned him out and filled 4 game bags (about 40 lbs each) which with the head I moved about 100 yards by a fence post. I guess I always thought that to keep coyotes away I should urinate in a large circle around my head and meat-so I did. I then took 2 game bags out to the base of the hill and took them up one at a time to the truck. Three trips in and out 4.5 miles total and was heading back to Zortman at 3:00pm.

My son and grandson met me in Zortman that evening and although they weren’t there when I shot they were extremely excited by the first pictures.

The three of us Jeff and grandson Brayden got out there at 8:00 am and took Braydens plastic sleds down to the elk. We took more pictures and got even more excited on how big he was. After tying the head to one sled and then tying the last 2 game bags on another sled we pulled our elk to the bottom of the hill. One sled at a time with several length ropes is how we pulled the rest of the elk out. I was so proud of my grandson and son walking up and down that terrain twice to help Grandpa get his elk out. Also I so grateful for the hunting support from my sons Kruise and Jeff, grandson Brayden, brother-in-law Larry, and most of all for my loving wife Marie, who is going through a lot right now but supports her family in whatever they do.

John H. Kemp Jr.

February 18, 2019

Post Script: The elk taken is the 8th largest Non-Typical taken in Montana scoring 410 4/8ths.

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