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Tommy's Biggest Buck Ever

Early in April 2011 I started looking at different outfitters for consideration for booking a hunt somewhere out of state. This had always been a dream of mine to go off somewhere and hunt and see the different sites along the way. I had never been out west before and I and my father had talked about going to Montana or Wyoming since I was little. The talks went from anywhere to going on a hunting trip to buying land and moving out there. Needless to say we stayed in our own little corner of Mississippi and never made the trip. Since I had never been on an outfitted hunt before I didn’t have to a clue as where to start I had always seen on the hunting shows Pike County was the place to go. But due to growing up as a kid and the talks my dad always had about Montana and Wyoming that was the place I knew I would go. 

I did a simple search on Google to start finding outfitters. I knew I had plenty of time to look because I had already missed the draw for 2011. The first one that popped up on my screen was Montana Whitetails Inc. so what the heck let’s start from the top was my thoughts. I opened up the page and started reading through the website and it was well laid out and had a lot of good information to ready. The two things on the website that impressed me the most were the pictures, there is a lot to look at and it’s not just pictures of clients standing behind their trophy and the lodge. There was several pictures just of the scenery of the area and they were impressive none the least. Don’t get me wrong I love to see all those big bucks but to me the surroundings are what make it relaxing. Another section on the website that I thought was impressive was his journal. It has the three month calendar of the season and he post up daily post to tell and show what’s going on around camp. Usually it is updated every other day but every three days at the max, but when things heated up in the season it is a daily post. After I got done reviewing the website I opted to have him send me a brochure. 

I continued on looking at other outfitters websites (well known ones at that) and noticed just about all of them a good bit to offer. The one thing that kept me going back to the Montana Whitetails site was the fact that he offered a 7 day hunt verses others only offering 5 day hunts. Also did I mention his prices were lower as well? As much as I hate to admit that was one of my driving factors on deciding an outfitter. Not only was I looking at the price of the hunt but also a 3 day journey each way up there paying for gas and hotel. The day after I requested the brochure I had an email sitting in my inbox from Keith. I was really surprised to have such a fast response. After reading the email he told me that he still had dates available during the rut and MT had combination licenses still available if I wanted to go this year. Talking about doing a double take after about the third time I read it I called dad, told him that I have had enough talking we were going. 

After talking with Keith a few times over the phone and he was always eager to talk deer hunting, I even inquired about my father coming along as a non hunter. I know that outfitters are there to try to make a little money each year and Keith was limited on bed space but he was more than happy to accept my father as a non hunter. I really wish he could have hunted with me but due to medical issues he hasn’t been able to get out and hunt much in the last few years. So I sent in my deposit for the last week of Nov. Like I said earlier this was going to be my first hunting trip out of state so needless to say I think I just about wore Keith out with emails. Everyone was answered back quickly and he was always glad to answer any of my questions. 
Summer came and things were in full swing as normal with the family during the summer time. Keith always kept contact and provided updates of what he was seeing while scouting for the upcoming year. Then I ran into a major problem. I work overseas on a schedule that has me working 28 days on and 28 days off. Well I had received a phone call from work telling me that my schedule was being changed by 2 weeks. I immediately jumped on the calendar and sure enough it was going to put me at work for my scheduled hunt. Worried that this was going to end my chance to go to Montana this I didn’t know what to do. To be honest I was ready to quit my job over this trip. I gave Keith a call and explained the situation and he immediately said no problem. He began to tell me some other weeks he had a couple opening in so we changed the trip to Oct 1-8. Talking about a relief, now at this point I am still a couple months away from even showing up to Montana Whitetails and I am already telling my buddies how good this guy is to work with. 

Alright at this point I go into over time trying to get ready to go, 4 months turned into 3 months, extreme cold weather (for a MS boy anyway) warmed up a bit. So I had to basically start over with preparing for the early Oct hunt verses the late Nov. hunt. So once again I started flooding Keith with the phone calls and emails, ‘WHAT DO I NEED”, I was starting to panic as the clock started winding down getting closer to time to leave. Once again Keith hung in there with me and walked me through it all details without any hesitation. 

Finally after what seemed like a long wait and a quick one at the same time, it was finally time to pull out for Montana. I and my dad covered a lot of country side on our 2,000 mile journey stopping and seeing the sites and some old friends I had served in the Marine Corp with. After 3 days on the road taking our time we were pulling into camp around 3 pm on the 1st. Soon as we parked and got out of the truck Keith was at the waiting to greet us. We chatted for a few min while we stretched our legs and began to unpack the truck. You know that question I have been asking the whole time you know what do I bring, since I had drove my truck and had a camper style cover on the back, I brought everything including the deep freezer. Keith jumped right in and started pulling everything out and helped us get our belongings settled in. 

It was long after getting settled in the other hunters arrived with Rob, Keith’s guide, from the airport in Bozeman. We got to meet everyone and we all started settling in and started talking about the plan to start the hunt off the next morning. I will be honest I really wasn’t sure what to think at the start when I realized that me and my dad was the only southerners in the house. But it didn’t take long to figure out we had showed up with a bunch of great guys. 

The next morning as the rest we pulled out of camp around 5 am to start heading to the stands. There were two of us hunting mainly whitetails, two more that were after elk, and one more guy going after antelope. The two guys hunting Elk took off each day with Rob up to the elk land while Keith took the rest of us to the river bottoms for the whitetail. Each day and evening when we got to the drop off points Keith jumped out and walked us to the stands and in some situations came in to get us out. I can only assume that other outfitters do this as well but I will say that was a lot nicer than when I have been hunting on friend’s property where they just tell you the stand is that way, good luck. Once arriving to your stand Keith pointed out the trails and the direction the deer would be coming from and where their headed to. This was really helpful since I really didn’t know anything about the area or the deer movement. 

I won’t get into how many deer I seen over the week but I will put it this way I counted around 40 deer the first morning with at least one shooter in the group but was out of range. Keeping in mind the first half of the week we were in temperatures in the high 80’s and lower 90’s and the last couple of days in the week the temps dropped but so did the rain. During the second evening we were hunting we had a horrible storm blow through out of no were. It went from a nice comfortable afternoon to 50 mile an hour gust with heavy lighting and dime size hail. It got so rough that I came down out of my stand and was tucked under the trees to get some relief from the hail and I had 4 does not 40 yards away hunkered down under a tree themselves just watching me with what looked like the same thoughts I was having. I wasn’t down out of my tree for just a couple of min and sure enough here came Keith in that Chevy topping the hill driving like the Duke boys from Dukes of Hazard. Luckily we all made it out of the stand and back to camp without any incident. 

On the 4th day I was lucky enough to arrow my first Montana whitetail, a beautiful 10 point scoring 145 6/8. My biggest buck to date with any weapon, it really was an awesome hunt how it all unfolded. 
The morning of Oct 5th was a slow morning where I was hunting in Montana. Around 8 in the morning I spotted a nice buck across the hay field at 365 yards. I watched him from my stand for about 45 min as he was slowly working his way toward me. I was sitting in a ladder stand in a small patch of woods between a hay field and an alfalfa field. As he worked across I lost sight of him about 100 yards away but he was still coming right to my area. I got my bow off the bow hook and was getting ready. About 15 min later I saw movement in the thick brush to the left of my stand about 35 yards out. I was getting ready to draw when a calf moose came out. I watched the calf until it moved on then started scanning the area trying to figure out where the big buck had went. I looked behind me to my left and seen a small basket rack 8 point and the big guy 100 yards behind my stand. They both had turned and started walking away. I went in my bag to get my grunt call, which I remembered I had broken it the night before throwing it at a bull (long story). So I grabbed my rattle bag and just hit them lightly to try to get them to turn. They stopped and turned back to my direction then blew out of there. Long story short I spent the next half hour beating myself up for even trying the rattle bag that early in the season. 
After 30 min of calling myself a few choice words for handling the opportunity all wrong I came on down from my stand to go meet the guide at the pick-up point. When I came out of the patch of woods (150 yards from my stand) I was walking the fence row down to the gate to cross over. As I was walking I noticed something out in the hayfield on the other side of a drainage ditch, I pulled up my bino's and it was the small 8 point bedded down in the field. I figured the big buck was close by him. I grabbed my release and knocked and arrow and started to attempt a stalk. I had to go down the fence row and cross through the gate. Once through the gate I could kneel down and see the 8 point about 100 yards away on the other side of the drainage ditch. I was able to slip into the drainage ditch as the small buck stood to walk away from me. When I was in the ditch and under the cover of some small trees I saw the big buck in a small group of trees about 125 yards away. I continued to stalk down the drainage ditch until I got beside a small tree that gave me some cover to set up for my shot. The buck moved through the trees towards me and turned broadside. I ranged him at 43 yards, drew and held my 40 yard pin a little high and let the arrow release. Due to the height of the grass and where I was standing I was unable to see the impact of the arrow. However the shot felt great and it sounded like a good hit. I saw him buck and run across the hay field until I lost sight of him going over a small hill. 
After backing out and walking back to the pickup point I told Keith the story of what happened. We went back to camp to give him a couple hours before picking up on the trail. It was cool to see that once getting back to camp the Keith and Rob seemed just as excited as I was about sticking an arrow in the brute. We went back and started looking for a blood trail after I had them on scene and explaining how it all went down. We didn’t find blood right away as he ran thru a hay field and it was hard to find his trail. Keith was able to pick up on some bird movement in the direction I seen him run and he took off to look in that area. Keep in mind I didn’t know what he was doing at the time actually I didn’t know what to think about him searching ahead without any blood to follow. As I was looking for blood, Rob told me that he thought I missed it. Boy talking about the blood pressure starting to boil. I knew good and well I made a good hit on him, no doubt in my mind. He kept on saying that we would have found blood by then if I would have hit him I was thinking wait we have only been looking for 10 min. I was starting to get a little upset with how quickly it sounded like he was ready to caulk up the shoot as a miss. Rob told me to come on and scan the area over towards Keith and if we didn’t see anything by then we were going back to camp. At that point I was doing everything I could to keep my tongue. As I turned to the direction Keith was in I seen him about 100 yards away flashing his hands signaling that it was a 10 point. I turned back to Rob and he was laughing his tail off at my reaction. (By the way Rob if you happen to stumble across this review and read this I still owe you one for that!!!)

Then Keith and Rob did a great job prepping the deer for the photo op as I call it. You can see on the site that Keith is one heck of a photographer. I tried to get in there and help with getting him loaded on the cart and getting him to the truck but they handled it all. Once back to camp and after everyone coming out to congratulate me on the harvest. It was getting time to carry everyone back to the stands for the evening hunt and Keith and Rob told me to get ready so I could go out to start filling my doe tags. Well there was no way I was missing any part of the whole experience of the harvest, which included the skinning part. We put him up on the skinning rack to start the work. Keith rolled up his sleeves and jumped right in there with me getting him capped out. That same evening we had another one of the hunters call back to the camp and told Keith he had a 10 point down. So it was good to see the arrows start flying. 

Over the next few days at camp I kind of kicked it into low gear and just enjoyed the time in the river bottoms. During that time period I got to see a little more of what went on behind the scenes while everyone was out in the woods. And I will tell you what over the whole week Keith and Rob stayed on the run trying to make the experience better for each hunter. After drop offs in the morning they were scouting watching the deer movement, in the middle of the days they were moving stands, and back to watching the deer movements in the evenings. And they were steadily moving us around to give us better odds at arrowing a Montana buck. 

Now I’m not about to leave out Mrs. Betty, you want to talk about a fine cook. I will have to say that steak was one of the best I have ever eaten. Over all it was a great experience and a great atmosphere between Keith, Rob, and Mrs. Betty they made the week feel like a true vacation. Out of the 5 in camp only two of us were able to take home a trophy with one other gentleman sticking a nice buck on the last afternoon but was unable to recover him. Everyone else left out of camp just as happy and satisfied as I did. So if you ever get a chance or you’re planning on making a trip to Montana for a hunt, be sure to give Montana Whitetails in Wilsall, MT a look before you book one. I am already looking forward to another hunt with Keith and the crew next year. 

Tommy Strickland

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