Articles and Reviews
Eastman’s Bowhunting Journal – Vol.7 Issue 38
The year was 1999; my brother Scott was my hunting partner. We were back at Avalanche Basin Outfitters in Montana for one of our fall outings. Our target - elk, and you could cut the excitement with a knife! (See At Arm’s Length, Nov/Dec 2000 issue of EBJ).
Some things never change. This past season I was back in Montana's Big Belt Mountains for another archery hunt. My partner this time was friend Jeff Baumgartner and the hospitality was still first class with opportunity waiting.
Jeff and I left Fargo, North Dakota September 6th traveling west, anticipation building as we talked about past hunts and opportunities that we missed on as well as success on some of those hunts. Traveling past Jamestown, North Dakota, we noticed the white buffalo - this had to be a good sign for us. We arrived in White Sulphur Springs on the 7th in time for lunch with Doug and Zita Caltrider, owners of Avalanche Basin Outfitters. After lunch and packing necessary supplies, we headed to camp. The weather was hot, 80 degrees and we worried about the week's warm weather and what it would do to the animals. We anxiously looked forward to supper and the chance to talk about hunt strategies.
First day, up at 4:15 a.m. for breakfast and leave camp by 5:30, which would be our routine for the week. Doug and I see and stalk a nice five-point mule deer until we see a bull elk walking up to a waterhole. With no real cover available, we watch as another 40 or so head of elk appear. In the distance we're able to spot a couple of 13 to 14 inch antelope. It was hot, very hot and getting hotter.
The afternoon hunt featured many elk but nothing special. On returning to our vehicle, we noticed five bulls, including a nice six point. Jeff and his guide Shane saw two bear and a handful of elk. The second day does not produce many elk for me; however, we got to stalk a nice 6x8 muley that I was sure I was going to get a shot at. I was wrong. Got a good charge of adrenaline, but no luck. On the third day of the hunt Doug and I saw a nice 370 or 380-class bull, but couldn't get close. Just too many eyes. Jeff made it happen late in the day as he put it all together and arrowed a nice four-point bull.
Doug suggested we hunt near a spring the next day. We found a couple six points, a few spikes and cows and calves. We did some stalking on the bigger bulls, but with no success. That afternoon, we set up in a tree stand overlooking a spring. It wasn't five minutes after Doug left that I spotted a nice seven-point bull elk maybe 300 to 350 yards away. It got to be a long afternoon, watching that bull and the others as well as the cows and calves. At one point in the afternoon, I had a nice six point standing broadside about 30 yards away for maybe five minutes or so. All the time, I'm guessing the seven point is going to do the same thing. Again, excitement, but no success for Buzz.
Climbing down from the stand, I attached my bow to the rope Doug had left. As I began to hold the bow over the edge and let the rope down, it broke. You can imagine my horror as I watched the bow drop about 12 feet to the ground! Getting back to camp, we set up a target in the headlights of the rig to see if the arrows would fly straight and it appeared they would, but the night just brought more unrest and concern. I told Doug we'd better put a target in the vehicle and shoot again in the morning to make sure it wasn't damaged. My concern turned to relief in the morning when I was able to shoot and hit the spots. I was satisfied that if the opportunity arose I could meet the challenge. And thanks to Mathews for building their bows to withstand such a misfortune. The bow had dropped straight down and landed on the wheel. I was sure I was done hunting!
Jeff managed to arrow a nice whitetail on Doug's deer lease to round out his Montana double. I can hear it now. We're getting close to the end of the hunt and I've got to ride back with him - 12 hours in the car on the heels of all his success. Ouch!
The next day we hunted a long wide meadow. And after hearing many bugles, we moved into position to see what we could draw into range. Well, it wasn't long, and Doug had called a nice 6x7 that moved within 10 yards - eyeball to eyeball! No options on this one. I was haunted by the thought that I couldn't even get to full draw on that bull even though he was right in my lap!
The hunt was ending, warm and windy, and it appeared I was going home empty handed. That's part of hunting and while I would rather have had success, I couldn't complain about the opportunities.
That afternoon, Doug suggested I stay the next week as he had only one hunter in camp. Happy anniversary Kaye! My wife and I were going to be celebrating our anniversary the next day. While she has experienced many of those anniversaries sitting at home while I'm in the field, I knew if I wanted to keep hunting, I better make the effort to get home. Yet, Doug talked me into returning later in the season, an invitation I gladly accepted. I hoped Kaye would understand.
Heading back to White Sulphur Springs in early October, the weather had changed considerably. It rained and snowed most of the trip. In fact, when I reached Billings, I stopped for the day. It was 6 p.m. and the 32 degree temperature had made the roads slick and icy. I woke up the next morning to between six and eight inches of snow. Many of the residents on the higher grown around Billings received up to 12 inches of that white stuff.
There were lots of downed trees and power lines from the wet, heavy snow and thousands of residents without electricity. Waiting in Billings for some of the snow to melt off the highway, I could only dream about what this was doing in the mountains.
What a change from September. While there wasn't as much snow as I had imagined, the ground did have some of that white stuff on it. And it was certainly colder. It was the last week of archery season and Doug said the elk were still doing some talking but it may not last.
It was cold the first morning, 24 degrees, frost on the ground and thousands of stars in the sky. We saw two very nice six points and two seven points, plus lots of elk. It stayed clear and warmed to about 60. We had a long day, however the elk were still bugling, and we were able to stay in contact with elk almost all day. The next day we hunted the long, narrow meadow again. Thirty degrees in the morning and we saw elk, but not the ones we are looking for.
That afternoon, we are going to hunt "Hole in the wall." After the climb up, I suggested to Doug we call it "Hell Hole." What a climb. I did see one monster bull with long tines and massive bases but couldn't get him near enough. The next day brought temperatures of about 40 degrees and rain in the afternoon.
We spotted elk in the morning, but too far away and no cover. In the afternoon we headed back to yesterday's Hell Hole! It was a super area; the elk just wouldn't cooperate. I had decided that tomorrow would be my last day and let Doug know. He says just wait and that I can stay until the end of the season. So much like Doug, always concerned about the hunter and his experience.
Well, the next morning it was 30 and trying to snow. We were going to go up near the big meadow again. We'd seen elk there every time. Yet, before we went there, he wanted to check Indian Creek. That was fine with me; it brought back memories every time I'm in that area. The cloud cover left, and we can see those millions of stars again. What a sunrise!
On our walk to the park, we hear a bugle. The elk are still talking. We can see him in the open on a hillside. Doug says we better get down in the pines and get ready. He says he can call him in and boy did he ever. The adrenaline starts working as I track the bull by his bugles. He is definitely coming our way. I get set well ahead of Doug while he calls and rakes the trees. This bull is coming exactly where Doug said he would. I'm maybe 10 yards away.
As he nears, I draw and unfortunately the 6x7 hears me. He scatters, and my heart goes from my throat to my toes. What have I done and why? I can't hear him anymore, so I assume he's gone. Wait, there he is, no more than 35 yards away heading toward Doug, who has kept bugling and raking the trees. I get set and loose an arrow. It hits, but not where it should. But, the bull stops. I wait and move around about 10 yards and let another arrow fly. Despite all the excitement this one hits better and should do the job just fine. The bull moved off out of sight, but is obviously hit hard.
Doug thinks we should go back to camp and give him some time. He's the boss. I replay the shots and what's happened. I hope, while Doug says he's sure, that the bull will be there when we get back. Doug was right.
As I look at the magnificent animal and give thanks, I notice we're not more than a quarter mile away from a previous harvest chronicled in “At Arm’s Length.” Indian Creek again has special meaning to me.
North American Hunter
"This is one great hunt for the hunter willing to put in some hard work for his trophy," says NAHC Member Gene Henck, WI, after his seven-day mountain lion hunt with Avalanche Basin Outfitters. "My outfitter and guide, Doug Caltrider, worked very hard to make my hunt successful. We tracked my lion five days before jumping him on a mule deer kill. My mountain lion is by far the most prized Pope and Young animal that I have. I highly recommend Avalanche Basin Outfitters to anyone looking for a top-quality hunt." Gene gave a good rating to Avalanche Basin Outfitters for the quantity of game hunted, and excellent ratings for all other aspects.
"This was one of the best hunts I've had over the last 20 years of hunting with guides and outfitters, from Alaska to Newfoundland and several western states," says NAHC member Phillip Sherwood, OH, of his seven-day deer and elk hunt with Doug Caltrider. "Doug has a great area, with a lot of elk-some real good trophy bulls. I saw several bulls 5x5 or better every day. I shot a 5x5 with my bow on the last day of the hunt. Doug and his guides will do everything they can to get you a good bull, plus treat you like part of the family." Phillip gave all excellent marks to Avalanche Basin Outfitters.
After his six-day black bear hunt, NAHC Member John Mesaric, CT, gave excellent ratings to Avalanche Basin Outfitters for quality and quantity of game hunted, experience of guide and other personnel, food, accommodations and condition of camp equipment. "I have hunted with Doug Caltrider many times," says John. "He is what I call a first-class guide! Bear hunting is at its best when you hunt with Doug. You spend a lot of valued time working at getting your game. I have also taken mountain lions, elk and whitetails with Doug."
The Hunting Report
Gordon Harms, NE, hunted a private ranch in Meagher County, Montana this past November with Avalanche Basin Outfitters. He took a 6x6 elk that would score 345 B&C points and says he saw 15 "trophy class" bulls....
Subscriber Nicholson Tucker, SC, is quite pleased with what he calls a "super-value" elk hunt arranged for him by Avalanche Basin Outfitters in Montana. Tucker describes the hunting area as being a "well-managed private ranch of 40,000 acres, limited number of bulls harvested each season". He notes this hunt is tailored to the individual, meaning one can hunt on foot, horseback or via four-wheel drive.
Subscriber Edward Joseph of Burbank, California, is pleased with an archery hunt for elk arranged for him in the Big Belt Mountains of Montana by Doug Caltrider (White Sulphur Springs, MT). Joseph notes there was a lot of game in this area and that he had plenty of land to hunt without interference. He failed to get an elk, he says, simply because the elk were not responding to his call. He calls his guide "outstanding...very professional."
Safari – July 1993
Larry Barton of New York hunted the Little Belt Mountains with outfitter Doug Caltrider of Avalanche Basin Outfitters and guide Lee Zehntner, taking an elk with bow and arrow. "Guide was a pro. I think he was more excited when I got my elk than I was. Doug Caltrider knows the outfitting business, and knows bowhunting," he reports.
Montana Mountain Lion
by Bill Asevica, CT
One of my most exhausting, but enjoyable hunts began on the morning of December 1, 1988 at Dori's Cafe in White Sulphur Springs, Montana. Andy Celander, owner of Tri Mountain Outfitters and a good friend of mine, had arranged for me to hunt mountain lion with Doug Caltrider and Gary Welch. Upon entering Dori's, Andy introduced me to Doug and Gary. Over breakfast we discussed the hunt plans for the day.
At first light we were heading north into the mountains, and by mid-morning we came upon our first set of lion tracks. After examination, they were determined to be that of a small lion, probably a youngster, so we passed it up and continue in hopes of locating a larger track. Approximately one hour later, at a place called Jumping Creek, we came upon a much larger set of tracks, and the remains of a lion-killed deer. All indications were that the lion had fed on the deer for a couple of days before leaving. The guides determined that the tracks were about four days old. When they told me to get my gear, we were going after this lion, I thought they were kidding. I mean, it had a four-day head start. They weren't kidding. I rushed back to get my pack, some food, and my video cam-recorder, grabbed my bow and quiver of arrows, and we were off walking. The temperature was in the thirty degree area, but it wasn't long before I realized that I was overdressed. Sweat was pouring off me as we tracked the cat through the snow.
As we neared an area known as Ranch Creek, the lion's tracks indicated where it had made an unsuccessful attempt on an elk. The lion had made a gallant try, but could not bring the elk down. Dusk was upon us before we knew it, so Andy doubled back to get the truck as the rest of us began heading out to the road to be picked up. It was dark before we got back to the house.
Sun up the next day, and we were back on the track. It led up over Kings Hill, where the lion killed and ate a porcupine. Doug and Gary estimated that the lion was still two days ahead. By the end of the day I was completely exhausted. Never once did the cat ever take an easy route. It traveled over blow downs, through the thickest, meanest brush, and the steepest terrain.
On the third day, we came upon a porcupine sitting in a tree. It was apparent the lion had attempted to climb the tree to get the porcupine, but it was too small, and the branches would not support his weight. The tracks showed he had sat at the base, walking around the tree, and obviously spent a lot of time trying to figure out a way to get his prey before giving up. We decided to take a break for lunch, so built a fire to dry our clothes before continuing. A half hour after we had started out again, we came upon a spot where the lion had made a run and a thirty-foot leap to a deer, killed it, and dragged it over a hundred yards down the mountain. The lion then ate half the deer and buried the other half under a spruce tree. Everything was fresh, and the dogs were going crazy.
The excitement started to build, and the adrenaline started pumping, as we called upon our reserve strength and again started after the cat. At Ranch Creek the dogs treed the cat. We were about sixty yards away when the cat leaped to the ground and ran. This was my first sight of a mountain lion in the wild, and he was magnificent. My heart sank as the cat disappeared into the brush. The dogs were hot on his heels immediately and quickly treed him again. This time I was able to get to the base of the tree and get some fantastic photographs and video footage of him. In the blink of an eye, the cat was down and gone again, with the dogs in hot pursuit. The dogs soon had the cat up a third tree. I knew it was time to get down to business before I lost this magnificent animal. Carefully aiming for a fatal heart shot with my compound bow, I released the arrow and watched as it hit the lion's chest area.
A short time later I was being photographed with this fantastic trophy, reflecting on the success of the hunt and the expertise of the outfitters.
Eastman’s Bowhunting Journal – November 2000 – Vol.1, Issue 2
At Arm's Length
by Buzz Marvin
This was my fourth hunt with Doug Caltrider and Avalanche Basin Outfitters. So, when Doug told me he had some elk spotted and we would begin early the next morning, I knew we had opportunity in front of us.
Dawn broke with spotted clouds and the typical wind patterns of western Montana...swirling up, down and around all at once. I think it is the elk's number one defense in this area. The day was cool, but we warmed up right away with one of Doug's uphill jaunts.
We had heard elk in the distance and began a stalk through the pines and aspen that dominated the hillside. It wasn't long, and we could tell our chances were slim of even getting close to the elk. The wind would not cooperate with our desire. Reaching the top of the mountain, we could see the elk in a meadow some distance away. Watching the herd through our binoculars, we could tell the herd held more than one shooter. In fact, it was loaded with 5 x 5's and a few 6 x 6's along with numerous 4 x 4's and many smaller spikes and raghorns. We figured maybe around 100 animals in total. After watching for about an hour, we decided to walk along the top of the mountain and look for more elk. It wasn't more than a couple hundred yards when we spotted some cows and calves - no bulls. After watching these animals for a while, we moved back to the main herd where we talked about the possibilities of an afternoon sit.
Spending time glassing the area, we determined that a waterhole provided the best opportunity even though the area around it was not the ideal site for a blind. Our decision was to check things out and see if we couldn't build a blind close to the waterhole.
After a sandwich for lunch, we moved the 1/2 to 3/4 mile by taking another of Doug's walks. Two hours later, after we covered maybe three miles, we were at the waterhole. It was bear! I mean hardly any material around at all. Yet, my enthusiasm for the hunt wasn't dampened. We picked a dead stump about 6" in diameter and maybe about 4 ft. tall and put a couple branches alongside and in front to resemble a fence ...that was my total concealment. The rest was up to me as Doug left for a vantage point about a mile away. He would spend the afternoon watching through a spotting scope. It was time. Changing into my Browning scent-sorb suit and putting my other gear into the scent-sorb gear bag, I got ready. Total camo from head to toe, with only my eyes showing, I still felt very open. The afternoon moved along quickly as I watched some animals off to one side "lounge" around. It appeared one 6 x 6 had control of his harem of maybe 60 cows. Watching many spikes and a fork or two try to steal a cow was interesting. Then, I was surprised by a 6 x 6 not more than 80 yards in front of me. Not sure where he came from or where he was going, I froze thinking I might have a chance at one nice bull. Yet, he continued walking to the herd to my left and took over from the other 6 x 6 without so much as a peep.
This started my amazing afternoon! I now began seeing elk appear almost everywhere. Moving back and forth and up and down the area. Not moving yet, toward the waterhole. The day was still somewhat windy, although not like the morning and sun and clouds still covered the sky. It was warm now, but not hot. I was comfortably dressed, and the scent-sorb suit also helped keep the wind at bay.
Now elk started moving toward the waterhole. The bulls were bugling and had been making noise all morning and showed no sign of letting up this afternoon. The cows came charging down from the top to the waterhole and the bulls started following. It seemed like elk were all over now. I watched elk in all directions and with my small blind, I was worried I would be spotted or winded just about any time. I had two cows to my left about 25/30 yards away and two 5 x 5 bulls to my right about 30/35 yards away. The large herd I had been watching in the afternoon was passing downwind maybe 60 or 70 yards away. In front of me were some cows and various bulls. Watching a 6 x 6 advance toward me I thought I might have the chance to get a shot. As he kept coming closer, my heart pounded louder, and my mouth became dry. Not wanting to move much, I kept my eyes roving while trying to stay still. I caught a glimpse of a 7 x 7 not more than 70 or 80 yards away watching the action around him. It was then I noticed the 6 x 6 had come closer and that I wouldn't get the chance for a shot. In fact, he was about 5 yards away. He continued until he reached the dead tree in front of me and part of my "blind." Three feet! Imagine a 6 x 6 bull elk three feet away. I could have grabbed his leg or even his antler. I got flat out nervous. Not knowing if he was going to take another step and be right on top of me or move one way or the other, I was scared! Then, when he started scratching his head on the dead tree, you can imagine my concern at what would happen next. For some reason, old "scratcher" as I named him, just stopped and moved back about 15 feet and started walking away. The herd below me was still milling around, the cows were still to my left, the 5 x 5's to my right and the 7 x 7 had moved closer and was approaching at a broadside view. The bulls were all bugling and the smell of elk was all over. There's no question in my mind that the Browning scent-sorb suit had protected me to this point. None of the elk had been afraid to move around me and with the 6 x 6 just 3 feet from me I had the experience of a lifetime.
All this time, Doug had been watching the activity and had the 7 x 7 spotted and was hoping that I had seen it. It was incredible, when later, Doug explained everything that had gone on. We had quite a discussion and laugh about the whole hunt.
As the 7 x 7 moved closer, it was obvious he was going to be close enough for a shot. Just moving my PSE ThunderBolt into position was an enormous effort. I was sure every elk in the area had heard my heart beating and was ready to bolt. As he approached broadside, I finished getting the PSE into position. One Ultra Fast 6000 Carbon Impact arrow tipped with a 100 grain Spitfire mechanical broadhead fired at 28 yards was all it took. I had my 7 x 7 bull of a lifetime. Scoring 317 3/8 this bull expired only 20 yards away!
Sporting Classics - November 1990
Belt Mountain Bulls
Avalanche Basin Outfitters, operating in the Big Belt Mountains of central Montana, have produced a 74% success rate on five, six, and seven point bulls for the last three seasons. The huge expanse of hunting area, - 55,000 acres of private ranch lands - ensures privacy, good management, and consistent success on all elk/deer combination hunts.
All hunts are fully guided and accommodated. A cabin is used for storage and cooking. Deluxe tent arrangements are provided for showering and sleeping.
The terrain is relatively mild, consisting of rolling hills, scattered timber, and open parks. Elevations range from 5,200 ft. to 7,200 ft. Horses and 4x4s are used for transportation to and from daily hunting areas.
Hunts are tailored for the serious sportsman who is well prepared, wants to see a lot of game, and is willing to give all it takes to get a trophy bull elk.
Elk/Whitetail combination hunts, spring bear hunts, and winter lion hunts are also available. (Archery/Rifle). All hunts are fair chase only.
Western Bowhunter - Volume XXXIV, August 1988
Two for Two (excerpt)
by Kenneth Albinder
Art Kressly and I talked about next year's hunt in Montana. A classmate of mine from dental school lined up our guide, Doug Caltrider, out of White Sulphur Springs, Montana. The year went fast and we both drew our licenses. Plans were finalized with Art for our 1987 Elk hunt, and lots of practice was needed to the intervening months.
I met Art, September 11, in Helena, Montana. Our guide picked us up the following morning and headed to camp.
The second day of our hunt, Doug and I came upon a herd of elk in the early morning Montana sunrise. After a mad dash across an open meadow, an ambush was set-up. Doug stood behind me and started to bugle. A satellite bull elk came charging in. The scenario happened so fast that four shots were taken from 15-30 yards, all to no avail. Many lessons were learned from that particular set-up.
The hills were covered with the first and only snow of the week on the fourth day of the hunt. Doug and myself set out for Calamity to try our luck. Fresh tracks were seen just as we cleared the meadow, and headed towards the woods. Doug Spotted an elk ahead, and the stalk started. A nice 5 x 5 bull elk was grazing between the small pines. I was crouched beside the pine, but could not get position for a good shot. The bull seemed to spook, and off he went over a knoll. I followed him over the knoll and saw his cows with him. Doug tried to cow talk the bull back, but he followed his cows when they meandered off.
Doug and I slipped back and headed up the ridge. We came across another 5 x 5 bull and stalked to within 40 yards. The wind was cutting across the ridge, so we felt secure. Another elk came on the scene and spooked the bull. I thought that was it for the day. But luck was on our side, the bull made a half circle and headed back our way. I was crouched on one knee next to a small pine. The bull came walking right towards me. I drew my bow back, and set my 20-yard pin right behind the bull's shoulder. I released and watched my 2215 yellow-vaned arrow hit its mark. This time the concentration of focusing in on one small spot paid off. Doug did not see me shoot, but heard the thud of the arrow when it hit the bull. When he turned around towards me, I gave him the thumbs-up. Doug ran over the knoll and within 30 yards, saw the bull drop into a small pine bush. The arrow pierced both lungs. The 70-pound Golden Eagle with the razorback four, did a great job.
After many pictures and congratulations, the big job of getting the bull down the hill began. Doug brought the pickup truck up to a flat point, and the bull was loaded on, with the help of three other hunters.
Two days later, Art Kressly filled his tag with a 4 x 5 bull elk. 1986 & 1987 were good years for elk, and I am looking forward to the 1988 season. If you are interested in an adventurous bowhunting trip, I recommend Avalanche Basin Outfitters, Doug and Zita Caltrider, Box 17, White Sulphur Springs, MT 59645.
The Putman Sportsman
Article by Lynn E. Greenwood, Sr.
I got a call from Dave Richardson, a retired N.Y. City Policeman who lives in Mahopac. Dave told me he and Bruno Groetchel of Carmel (president of Putman County Fish and Game Assn.) were taking a trip to Montana, big game hunting for "Big Sky Country" elk. Dave also said he had drawn an antelope permit in that state's lottery system and would give me a call when they got back and let me know how they made out.
Dave just called. Bruno harvested a five by five elk (five points on each side) and Dave scored on a four by four which weighed 800 pounds on the hoof. Dave said he brought home 347 pounds of prime steak, chop and roast cuts from his trophy, with Bruno netting slightly less. Bruno had gotten his trophy on the third day out, but Dave had to sweat a little, not getting a shot till the fifth day.
Dave also got the opportunity to fill his antelope permit with a fine 14" buck which is heading for the taxidermist. Bruno and Dave estimated they had seen approximately 300 elk during their hunt, including several real stags of the Montana forest. But seeing an elk and then getting a reasonable shot is always the final challenge. But for Bruno, who had gone to Idaho last fall and never even spotted a live elk on the hoof, this trip was a dream come true. Dave, who said that he had been on many hunts (Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Pennsylvania and Maine) in his hunting career spanning many decades, claimed this one to be his greatest thrill ever. Both praised the excellent work of their guides and outfitter.
For most of us, the opportunity to head west on a true big game hunt is but a dream. Trying to pick a guide or outfitter from the ads in the back of a National monthly magazine is like picking lottery numbers. Not too often do you get a chance to choose, based on the success and gratifying experience of someone nearby, someone you know. But Dave and Bruno picked a winner. Doug Caltrider is still young at 30, but he is as hard and rugged as the mountains he hunts. Doug operates the Avalanche Basin Outfitters (P.O. Box 17, White Sulphur Springs, Montana 59645, phone 406-547-3962) and leases 34,000 acres of a 68,000 acre ranch up in the high country. Dave said they worked out of an old cowboy line camp, but their tent accommodations, equipped with a stove, were comfortable and warm. October in Montana brings cold nights, and sometimes you wake up to a foot or more of new snow, but they had bluebird weather for their whole stay.
Several other hunters were booked with them and all but one got his bull elk. Even he had a chance to harvest a spike the last day, but passed it up hoping for a true trophy. Both Dave and Bruno recommend Doug Caltrider, and if you think next fall may be that opportunity for that "once in a lifetime" elk expedition, you now have an educated guess when you start looking for a guide and outfitter. You do have to start thinking about it soon too, for lottery drawings for various types of big game are in the spring and you must get your license first. Your chosen guide will help you get all the proper applications and December/January is the proper time to begin to set things up and make reservations. The best guides get booked up early.
The Longhunter Society Journal
Montana Mountain Lion
by Verle L. Rademacher
Central Montana has seen a growing number of mountain lions in the past few years. The Big Belt and Little Belt Mountains are home to an ever-enlarging population of the big cats, which have rebounded to a point where they are a nuisance to some agriculturalists. The west slope of the Big Belts north of Townsend has an overabundance of the critters, particularly from Gurnert Creek north to Avalanche Gulch. In the White Sulphur Springs area, the big cats are most abundant in the Dry Range, Little Belt Mountains, and in portions of the Big Belts.
Sightings of mountain lions are not unusual, even close to homes and near cities. Some ranchers have had the big cats invade barnyards and corrals while seeking their favorite delicacies - young colts. Lions usually prey upon deer as the staple of their diet, though horses, moose, elk, rabbits, beavers, and even field mice are all fair game to the big cats. Deer, though, are the cats' favorite wild food.
In Central Montana, the usual color of the big cats is a light straw color; tinged with a reddish cast on the back. A handsome animal, the mountain lion is a thrill to see in the wild.
During the summer of 1993, reports of a dark-colored lion prowling the Little Belt Mountains began to surface in an area stretching from Windy Ridge in the west to Spring Creek in the east. This area was about 35 to 40 miles long, and nearly as wide. Reports included one from a woodcutter, who looked up from a log he was cutting and was startled to see the dark cat staring at him from a short distance away. A hunter saw something watching him from a clear-cut; when he scoped the animal, it was a large, dark-colored lion that immediately took off. Two hunters below Windy Ridge had the dark cat run in front of their truck north of the Schendel Ranch buildings.
The reports whetted my desire to bag an unusual animal, especially a mountain lion. I had wanted a lion for a long time and had faithfully bought a lion license for almost 10 years. Once I went out with Howard Zehntner, a rancher friend and outfitter, but we were unable to connect with a big tom. One year Howard had a lion located, but a planned trip to South Carolina interfered. Some years saw my lion license go unused without even having a chance to get in the woods. This year had to be different.
Doug Caltrider, owner of Avalanche Basin Outfitters, asked me a number of times to go hunting with him. Circumstances interfered, but finally I decided that somehow, I had to make time to go. I made arrangements to have Doug put together a hunt for early December.
"Gary's found a big lion north of Townsend," were Doug's welcome words on December 8. "Can you go in the morning?"
I leaped at the chance. "Yes!" "I'll pick you up at 5:00am."
Gary Welch, lion-hunting partner of Doug, met us for the hunt in Townsend. He had one of his dogs break a leash the day before and tree a big tom. Also, there were three other lions in a small area that he had scouted on the west slope of the Big Belts.
Fighting a killer cold that numbed me from head to foot, I was game for anything, even though my body couldn't keep up with my desire. Sneezing, coughing, and feeling generally lousy, I tramped the trails with the two guides. The cats had pulled out and had headed north toward Avalanche Gulch.
The decision was made to hunt 13 miles north of White Sulphur Springs the next morning. The hunt in the Little Belt Mountains would be in the area where Jim Bridger spent a winter in the early 1830s trapping beaver.
I hated to leave my wife Pat alone with the newspaper we managed, especially with only a few weeks to go before Christmas. For 27 years we had helped each other struggle through Decembers with the large Christmas and New Year's editions of the Meagher County News. Unless you have experienced the work involved in putting together one, it's hard to understand the cooperation and work needed to print a weekly edition of a country newspaper.
The next morning, putting aside my feelings of guilt, I picked up my muzzle loading rifle and gear and piled into Doug's truck. Gary met us, and we drove north to Miller Gulch. I hoped that this would be the day. I remembered the dark cat and mused that it would be quite a prize to get a trophy lion like that one.
Stopping on the Miller Gulch Road at the mouth of Thornquist Gulch, we unloaded the snowmobiles. A fresh skiff of snow would make finding a cat much easier today. Gary would reconnoiter Miller Gulch and Doug would check the ridge above Abbot Gulch. Meanwhile, I would wait behind with the dogs. After the two guides left, I dozed in the cab of the pickup between sneezing spells. Trying to climb ridges today would be an effort.
In a very short time Doug was back, "There's a hot lion track right on top of the ridge above Abbot Gulch," he said. "Looks like a good lion."
Excited, we put together the sled for the dogs. We'd pull them to the top of the ridge and then take off on foot. This was to be a foot hunt and fair chase for a lion.
Every good hunt seems to start with something going wrong. This was no exception. As we got ready to take off on the ridge, the strap to my powder horn broke. Frustrated, I tried to fix it and them jammed it into the pocket of my hunting coat. Loading would take a bit longer because I'd have to fish the horn out of my pocket.
Doug and Gary both used walking sticks on the snow-covered hillsides. I was handed one by Doug and was glad to have it as we turned the dogs loose less than 50 yards from the top of the ridge. The dogs immediately caught the scent and began barking as they ran the trail. Doug took off at a lope to catch up to the dogs, while Gary and I picked our way through the underbrush.
The cry of "treed" echoed back from the dogs, which were named Buddy and Bear. Buddy; a trim, solid black-and-tan, and Bear, a Walker, had picked up the lion and wasted no time in getting him to take to a tree.
Gary and I came upon the frenzied dogs clawing the bottom of a large Douglas fir, with Doug peering up into the branches. About 35 feet up was a beautiful lion! The lion was stretched out on a big limb, contemplating the dogs. The dogs were trying to climb the tree and were making quite a commotion. I unlimbered my camera and took a number of shots from different angles of the action in the tree and on the ground.
We weren't sure if it was a tom or a female, so we tried to get the lion to move so that we could tell. After half an hour the cat moved enough for me to see that it was a tom.
Saying a silent little prayer to myself that my bullet would fly true, I capped my muzzle-loading rifle and found a rest across a limb. I had built the rifle around 30 years ago. It had a curly maple stock; an English percussion lock made by John Manton in the 1850s, and a barrel by Les Bauska of Kalispell, and had accounted for a number of deer. The off-hand match rifle had won the Golden Spike Winchester in 1969 at Ogden, Utah, and had performed well at many other shoots.
Strangely enough, the vital area on a cat that large is rather small. I had to angle the bullet in from underneath, just behind the front shoulder and low. Instead of a roundball, I was using a .50 caliber, 385-grain hollow-point, hollow-based bullet made by Hornady.
The dogs were leashed, and all was ready when I squeezed the set trigger. Boom! The bullet went right where I told it to go. The cat turned over on the limb and came down back first in a shower of broken tree limbs and fir needles. He hit the ground, flipped over on his feet, and took off on a wobbly run downhill. None of us could believe that the cat wasn't dead. Gary announced that he had seen the bullet hit exactly where it was supposed to go.
Doug took off to follow the lion, expecting to find it just down the hill. Soon he hit the blood trail where the lion was bleeding from both the entrance and the exit holes of the bullet. He came back shortly and asked us to release the dogs and follow them. Doug exclaimed as we joined him, "It's rather spooky to follow a wounded lion through juniper bushes."
The cat had headed back the way he had come, and finally we treed him on the ridge where we had first jumped him. The sun had come out and was softening the snow to the consistency of grease. Every step was an effort to keep from sliding down the hillside. The walking stick came in handy to keep my balance. Slipping and sliding, we struggled to get to the treed cat.
He was about 15 feet up in a scrub fir. I took a couple of pictures as he snarled at the dogs. After the dogs were leashed again, I took another rest on a limb and took another shot at the cat, again trying to put the bullet in the same spot.
Boom! The .50 caliber sent another bullet into what appeared to be the exact same place. The cat fell out of the fir tree as limp as a rag, but regained his feet at the bottom and started to slide downhill. I was frantically trying to swab the bore and get another charge down the barrel when the dogs were loosed again.
While reloading, I heard an awful commotion as the dogs tried to get at the lion. He had backed into a scrub fir and was fighting the dogs. Buddy went in after him. The lion landed on top of the dog and nipped his back. Bear went into save his pack-mate and was slashed in the tongue and mouth as the black-and-tan made his escape. Finally, the lion came out of the tree, slid downhill, piled up in a juniper bush, and expired, all the while growling and snapping at the dogs to the very end.
The hillside was so slick that it was impossible to stand up. Doug used two walking sticks to keep his balance as he took the dogs down the hill. Gary pulled the lion out of the juniper and sent it down the slippery hill. Sliding on his behind, Gary followed the big cat down, pulling at it when it got stuck in the bushes. I was left to fend for myself. Using a walking stick as both a rudder and a brake, I slid from bush to bush, breaking my descent by using the iron crescent butt-plate on the un-loaded rifle. Eventually we reached the bottom and were able to stand up.
The guides were excited about the big tom; it was of a color and furring that they had never seen before. The lion was a dark gray color, with white silver tips on the fur, just like a grizzly bear. The lion measured seven feet without any stretching at all. The skull was estimated at 14", which would make it eligible for the Longhunter Muzzleloading Big Game Record Book. It later measured, after drying, at 13 3/16".
How could an animal shot like he was get away? In dressing out the cat, we found that the first bullet had broken the sternum and had entered and exited on a level plane without going into the chest cavity. The cat evidently had been twisted in such a way that the bullet went straight through from side to side. The cavity was opened up, thus allowing him to leave a considerable blood trail but not instantly disabling him. The second shot was one inch above the first, driving upward into the chest cavity and exiting through the opposite shoulder.
A full mount was done on the lion. In addition to the pretty fur on the cat, it has a dark mask on its face, which adds to the beauty of the animal. It is on the wall in the Meagher County News office so that everyone can enjoy it.
To cap off a perfect and exciting day, Pat and I received a call from Carson City, Nevada, telling us that we had a new grandson, Samuel George Douglas Hutchinson. The name George was for his great-grandfather, George Rademacher; Sam was born exactly 100 years and 11 days after him. Sam will be able to tell at least one interesting story-not every little boy can say that, on the day he was born, his grandfather shot a mountain lion.
After the hunt, it was found out that this lion and another big tom shot a quarter mile south of where my lion was taken had been bothering saddle horses in the vicinity. A photographer said that he had found a spot, just opposite the corrals containing the horses, where one of the lions had waited in a small group of firs for a chance to kill the horses. A herd of nine mule deer located nearby had been pared down to a single deer by the time the lions were shot.
In Montana, hunters are not required to salvage the meat of the mountain lions they have shot. Many hunters do not eat the meat; some have reservations about eating cats. But the mountain men claimed that cougar was the best meat in the woods. I have to agree that it is some of the finest wild meat I have ever eaten.
We cut up the loins and the hindquarters of the cougar, all that was salvageable. The meat is a medium-pink color and has absolutely no odor. Fine-grained, the meat looks just like pork when cooked. It has a delicate, pork-like taste and is delicious.
When preparing mountain lion, bone everything and make sure you take off all the outside coverings of the muscles and any leader material going through them. Cut the meat about 1/4" thick and at cross-grain. Lay the meat out and use a peppermill to grind fresh pepper over the surface, pressing it into the meat with your fingers. Do not use salt! Salt will immediately draw out all the moisture in the meat, making it tough. Heat in iron skillet with just enough canola oil to cover the entire bottom surface of the pan. Drop your steaks into the hot oil and cover with a splatter screen; this allows steam to escape. Do not cover with a solid lid, since covering has a tendency to baste with the moisture from the meat and makes the meat tough. Remember this for any wild meat.
Sear the meat on one side and turn it over. Cook about two to three minutes and serve with fried potatoes that has a little onion thrown in.
Add a few hot biscuits and you have real heaven. For those wanting to schedule a mountain lion hunt with Doug Caltrider, you may write him at Avalanche Basin Outfitters, Box 17, White Sulphur MT 59645.
Our camp offers enjoyment, relaxation, modern facilities, good cooking, professional services, references, magnificent scenery and great hunting.
We are booking the 2023 season at this time.
Please give us a call to ask about the dates that interest you.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Doug and Zita Caltrider
Avalanche Basin Outfitters
P.O. Box 17 • White Sulphur Springs, MT 59645 • (406) 547-3962