Grounded — A Montana Whitetails Story

Bowhunting wary Montana whitetails from the ground, without the aid of a blind, is a supreme challenge — especially when it’s your first attempt.
Grounded — A Montana Whitetails Story

I stood there among the scraggly brush and old, rusty pieces of farm machinery from the 1930s. My Kryptek camouflage helped me blend nicely, and an added touch of face paint made me feel invisible to Montana whitetails. Two worn-down game trails paralleled each side of me at 30 yards, and down below the hillside lay a lush green field of alfalfa. I stood on a slant, watching the top of the hill hoping to ambush a buck on his way to dinner.

I felt I was in a strategic spot, but my confidence wasn’t high. I’d never hunted here before. This was uncharted territory, and I was on the ground bowhunting one of the most clever ungulates in North America — an animal with eyes that never miss a thing and a nose for trouble. That’s why I couldn’t believe it when I saw those tines crest the hill and head in my direction!

I wasn’t accustomed to hunting whitetails from the ground. In fact, I’d never tried it during 26 years of bowhunting, but I had no other option on this hunt. I didn’t have a climber treestand with me, and no pop-up ground blind, either. I was on the Rocky Mountain Front in hopes of finding elk with my boyfriend/cameraman, Jim Kinsey.

Together, we produce a show for the Sportsman Channel called Skull Bound TV. But not this weekend. This was Jim’s birthday weekend — no cameras, no work, all play. It was Jim and me, along with his brother Al, enjoying the beautiful mountains of Montana with bows in hand. I’d  taken a beautiful 6-point bull in Montana just 10 days earlier, so I was primarily along for moral support, some cow calling and an occasional bugle or two.

Montana whitetails

Packing out Jana's elk.

Montana whitetails

With no elk wanting to play, Jim and Jana decided to turn their attention to a found-during-scouting cash of whitetails.

Plan B = Bucks Instead of Bulls

Our hunt started out high in the quake aspens, looking for a bull that wanted to tango, but 40 mph winds quickly put a damper on the day. We let out a number of locator bugles, but with the trees swaying and spitting leaves in our faces, the game of cat-and-mouse was pointless. There were elk tracks in the dirt and fresh rubs on the aspens, but without the ability to use calling to lure elk, our pursuit in the steep terrain and wind was getting frustrating. Throwing in the towel, we hiked back to our camper and decided on Plan B.

Earlier that month on a scouting mission for elk, we noticed a plethora of Montana whitetails in many of the rancher’s fields. We’re not talking about a coffee clutch or two, the phrase we use for a group of six or more does hanging together — we’re talking borderline infestation. I’m exaggerating a tad, but let’s just say this former Wisconsinite gone Montanan was in awe of the sheer whitetail numbers. We counted more than 40 deer in one field on more than one occasion, so we were hopeful we could find a rancher willing to let us thin the deer herd by one or two.

Montana whitetailsWith my onX Map Hunt app in hand and a friendly smile, we spoke with a delightful rancher who was willing to let us bowhunt. “Whitetails only, please,” he said. “The mule deer numbers have been low around here, and I’d like to see them come back.” After a nice chitchat on his front stoop, we headed out toward his fields to try to find a good spot for an afternoon sit.

I found a great funnel where the deer looked to be traveling down the hillside toward the alfalfa late in the day. The fresh game trails were beaten down with tracks, and an old, rusty hay baler, with some added brush and branches, served as my makeshift blind. The wind had died down to a tolerable level, but I hoped it was still strong enough to cover any noise of drawing back my bow.

Jim and Al decided to head back up the road to where we started the elk hunt earlier that day to see if they could locate a herd. In other words, they left me, and I was thankful. We had been hunting nonstop for five weeks, and I was looking forward to a nice, lazy, peaceful afternoon — one of those sits with no expectations, no pressure — where you’re thankful to be breathing fresh air, staring at the mountains, and living an outdoor lifestyle. The kind of afternoon where you’d be happy if a few does mill around you for something to watch.

So there I stood, bow in hand and release on the string. I couldn’t help but be a little nervous about drawing back if I was lucky enough to see a buck. Any movement would give away my position, because I was covered only from the front of the antique blind.

Montana whitetails

This old, demolished hay baler, after getting a little TLC in the form of brush and branches, created a great hide for the author, and just happened to be situated in a perfect spot.

I realized after the first couple of antlerless Montana whitetails ran by me at Mach speed that if a buck were to come by, it might happen so fast that I had better be at the ready and keep any movement to a minimum. That’s the reason I stood at attention with release on string. Although the slant of the hill made it tough to stand completely still for hours, I was happy to have a nice break from the countless miles that came with chasing elk.

After a few hours, a pair of forkhorn bucks quickly made their way down from the ridge above me, anxious to visit the alfalfa. Their presence lit an ember of excitement. It was validation that I was in a great spot, and the wind was playing to my advantage as the pair walked directly down the game trail to my left at 30 yards, exactly where the does came down earlier.

Suddenly, my peaceful evening took me from the bleachers straight into the big game.

Prime Time for Montana Whitetails

The sun was beginning to fall behind the mountain ridge in the distance. Only an hour was left on the play clock, but with every passing minute I was seeing more deer step out onto the field below me.

Montana whitetails

This tall-tined Montana brute, though not her biggest, created an unforgettable evening for the author.

Sudden movement caught my eye — this time to my right. Through the thin brush I could see a rack making its way in my direction. I drew my Mathews Avail bow, praying the wind would mask any noise or obvious movement. When the buck was directly even with me, I doe bleated to make him stop. Before he realized I wasn’t a doe, my broadhead traveled 35 yards and found its mark perfectly behind his shoulder. I immediately knew that I’d just taken my first whitetail buck from the ground.

Adrenaline rushed through my veins as I watched the beautiful 5x5 whitetail run straight into the alfalfa field and then tip over a mere 80 yards from my ambush. Not only was it a rare occasion to be face-to-face with these Montana whitetails from the ground, but I was alone. No camera. No cameraman. No hugs of excitement. Just a private party of one, jumping for joy!

I’ve taken much larger whitetails through the years, but they weren’t any more exciting than this Montana moment. Plan B paid off, and when my hands were done shaking with excitement, I texted Jim: “Buck down baby!”


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