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Elk in the Bob

Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness is Legendary for its Rugged Wilderness and Challenging Public Land Hunting

We rode out of camp under a moonless sky, while billions of stars shimmered above us, like diamonds tossed on velvet. Under the weak glow of our headlamps, the breath of horses and men alike swirled and mixed, a metaphor for the day’s effort to come, and of a timeless bond between two species forged in war, hunting, and survival. I was only three days into this hunt, but already my bones were protesting the long hours in the saddle, as well as each daylight hour spent hiking up and down the mountains of the Bob in pursuit of an animal that so far had managed to elude us.

Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness is a crown jewel of the American system of conservation. Comprising more than 1-million acres, and directly adjoining another half million, there’s only one way to hunt it and that’s on foot — either yours or your steed’s. This vast resource is what differentiates hunting in the western U.S. and makes it unique in the world — it’s as close as you can get to experiencing, first-hand, the challenges our forefathers encountered as they migrated from cities on the eastern seaboard, seeking fortune in the West.

In this case, the journey began with a beer. “Where do you think we should try and hunt this year?” asked a long-time hunting buddy, as he nursed an IPA while we chatted about the New Year’s resolutions we planned to break. “I’m thinking we do something as far off the beaten path as possible in the lower 48.” And so, an idea took shape.

From that point, the path was clear. We applied for tags, got drawn, engaged an outfitter, assembled gear, zeroed rifles, booked airline tickets, and went about the normal everyday life that allowed us to take time away from families who thankfully accommodate this odd passion we have, even if they don’t fully understand it.

Let’s Get Physical

If you ask around, one of the first pieces of advice anyone who’s been on a western public land hunt will offer is to get in shape. Allow us to add our voice to that. I try to hit the gym almost year-round, between extensive travel for work. You’re probably in a similar situation, as there seems to always be something to suck up time and get in the way of a regular exercise regimen. If you sign up for an adventure in the wilderness, then you owe it to yourself to get into the best shape you can possibly be. The physical aspect of chasing elk at high elevations is going to suck no matter what. It sucks less if you’re not breathing out of your asshole.

To this end, I started hitting the stair machine every day possible, adding weight to the pack I’d be using and getting used to pushing my heart rate into the red zone for an hour at a time. This was a three-month commitment. It wasn’t enough, and deficiencies in my physical preparedness were highlighted on the second day of the trip, halfway up a mountain and many miles in.


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Packing In

Day one was spent hauling horses to a trailhead on the edge of the Bob, 45 minutes or so from the headquarters of Snowy Springs Outfitters, who would be our guides on this adventure. Once parked up, horses were unloaded, cinches tightened and bridles donned, all under the watchful eye of Capri Little, co-owner of Snowy Springs. From there, our guides took over and we started out on an 18-mile trek to base camp, through some the most beautiful scenery on earth, unspoiled by development, logging, mining, or agriculture.

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