SI Vault
Virginia Kraft
November 04, 1957
A Sports Illustrated reporter goes to Montana to sample some of the finest big-game hunting anywhere in America
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November 04, 1957

Have Rifle, Will Travel

A Sports Illustrated reporter goes to Montana to sample some of the finest big-game hunting anywhere in America

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Personal clothing and toiletries are, naturally, the hunter's choice but the lighter he travels the more comfortable he'll be. For my trip I took along a pair of trousers (although two pairs are advisable), long-johns, two lightweight and one red flannel shirt, a warm jacket and red cap, six pairs of good walking socks, a well-broken-in pair of boots, moccasins for evening lounging and a foul-weather parka. Since bathing is an unknown luxury, I added a bottle of Chanel No. 5. Many hunters take along a set of insulated underwear—which often doubles for pajamas—and waterproof boots. Weather changes in the Wilderness, especially after the first of November, can be sudden and unpredictable.

A duffel bag for carrying all this gear is essential, and most outfitters expect the hunter to provide this item. The hunter is also expected to have his own saddle scabbard, a piece of equipment few eastern or midwestern hunters own or care to buy. But by notifying the outfitter well in advance of the trip, indicating the type of rifle and scope, saddle scabbards can generally be borrowed or rented. They are necessary in this kind of hunting; so, too, is a shoulder sling. After a long hike over rugged, windfallen trails, a rifle has a disturbing tendency to apparently double its weight. A sling makes the load seem lighter, and is also a convenient way of keeping both hands free when boulders must be climbed or slippery logs crossed.

The choice of rifle is particularly important. Before the veteran of other hunts pats the .30-30 he's used for 20 years and starts off into the Wilderness, he should consider the kind of country he is going into. Though a hunter in the Bob Marshall may be seeking nothing bigger than deer, he may find he himself is being sought by a bear. This is no scare story. People have been killed here trying to knock down a grizzly with a .30-30.

Unfortunately, a hunter really loaded for bear will make mincemeat of a mountain goat. Since, as I discovered, carrying two weapons is highly impractical, the solution is a medium-heavy rifle such as the Remington 721 in .300 H & H Magnum or the Winchester 70 in .30-06. Either of these will do a good job on bear or a 1,000-pound bull elk, yet leave a mountain goat or deer in reasonable condition. They are, incidentally, the rifles many of the Rangers carry, and they should know.

These same Rangers also use scope sights, which have two advantages for Wilderness hunting. Their light-gathering quality in early morning and late afternoon is particularly valuable, since game is most often encountered at these times of day. Elk, particularly early in the season before the big snows, tend to move at the end of the day out of thick woods onto the grassy parks which spot the mountainsides. An elk's coloring blends neatly with the tawny grass, often making it impossible to distinguish without a scope. As for goat or sheep, they are almost always too far off to bring down without a scope. A 2�X to 4X is probably maximum power needed for hunting the Bob Marshall, but a variable such as the Bausch & Lomb BALvar 8, which can instantly be turned from 2�-up to 8-power, has the added advantage of doubling as a spotting scope when surveying distant country.

In the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a well-outfitted hunter with a good gun and a good guide has a 75% chance of getting his trophy. For the hardy sportsman, willing to walk a few dozen miles and scale a cliff or two, the success figure is closer to 95%. Mountain-goat hunting is a good example. Among many sportsmen, this animal is considered one of the toughest to hunt and the finest to bag. Yet, in a single day, I was within shooting range of 13 presentable trophies.

Finding this kind of shooting opportunity, however, meant riding out from camp somewhere around 5 in the morning, leaving the horses six miles later and beginning a three-hour mountain climb, much of it hand-over-hand across shale slides, around gaping crevasses and eventually to the top of a 9,000-foot mountain. There, on the wrong side of a boulder-strewn canyon, were five goats.

The job then was to crawl around the canyon, being careful to stay downwind and behind sufficient cover to escape their vision, which is as good as a 20X telescope. The strategy for the approach was beautifully plotted by my guides, State Game Rangers Ross Wilson and Lawrence Deist and Game Biologist Faye Couey, and as I crossed the canyon they dropped behind so as not to disturb the goats. For almost an hour, I tiptoed from one protecting rock to another until finally I had circled to the other side. When I was 50 yards away, the goats sensed danger and took off along the rocky edge of a jagged cliff. Behind them, but much less adapted to the terrain, I zigzagged between the rocks, singled out the biggest of the five and fired. The goat did a somersault as the bullet struck, rolled twice toward the edge of the precipice and stopped against a jutting rock.

Bear, on the other hand, may be anywhere, as I discovered the next morning when a 400-pound black made the mistake of wandering almost into our camp. It was quickly converted into a long-desired bearskin rug.

To hunt the wilderness

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