This story was submitted to NRVO by George Angell of Floyd County, VA. It was written by a friend in Joliet, MT and his son. It is a true story! What you see in italics are the submitter’s thoughts and comments.
The story began in the summer of 2011. My son, Jeff, had a burning desire to bow hunt elk in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. He studied maps and did a lot of research to find a good location for his quest. He settled on the north fork of the Sun River in the general area around Elk Mountain.
In July of 2011, he and I planned a backpacking trip into the general area where he wanted to hunt. Our trip was to be a combination of fishing, scouting and wilderness camping. We planned a four day trip.
The first leg of our trip was an eight mile boat ride to the head of Gibson Reservoir. We used a 14 foot aluminum boat with a 5 ½ hp outboard motor. We left Helena around 5:00 pm. We arrived at the head of Gibson Reservoir on the Rocky Mountain Front around 9:00 pm. After unloading our gear, we noticed that trout were rising. Jeff decided to try out his new fly rod. I was observing in the background and giving a little advice on the proper casting of a fly.
The Rocky Mountain Front is famous for its wind and the mouth of the Sun River Canyon is a hotspot. I was off to one side and slightly behind Jeff. Just as he made his back cast, a huge gust of wind whipped his line toward me. On his forward cast, he sank the small fly past the barb into my cheek. Neither of us had any pliers so I just gritted my teeth and told him to yank the fly out. He gave it a yank and broke the hook off. We were perplexed about what to do next. As Jeff was giving it a closer look, he said, “I think I can pull it out with my teeth.” With a puzzled look, I said, “Give it a try.”
After some delicate maneuvering, he clamped his teeth on the hook and with a massive head jerk, he ripped the hook from my jaw. My cheek was sore for a couple of days, but it was ok.
(Thank goodness the hook was in JD’s FACE and not his butt cheek! )
We camped overnight and began our hike the next morning. We hiked about seven miles up the north fork of the Sun River. We found a great location and set up our base camp on a bluff above the river. We remained in this general location for the next three days. We found a great deal of very promising elk sign which indicated that elk were using this area for the rut as there were many large rubs with lots of springs and bogs with old wallows. Jeff started getting excited about the prospects for this area. We didn’t see any elk, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be there in the fall.
The fishing in the Sun River was fabulous! We caught rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout. We ate trout two meals a day and both improved our skills with the fly rod. On our second afternoon, Jeff and I hiked about two miles further up the Sun to try our fishing skills on a new stretch of river. As I was moving up the river on a sand bar, I looked down and saw for the first time in my life, the track of a gray wolf. Jeff also saw wolf tracks a little further up the river. It was pretty exciting for the both of us. Later that afternoon we returned to camp and after supper, we returned to the river for more fishing.
This time, we found a large Grizzly track on a sandbar near our camp. As a result of this discovery, Jeff decided he definitely needed to update his pepper spray! He also decided he should buy himself a wolf tag in addition to his elk tag for his bow hunt. Overall, we had a great adventure and Jeff was definitely excited and looking forward to September.
Fast forward to September 15th. Jeff and his cousin Jake Paratore from Virginia were headed back up the Gibson Reservoir for a week and a half of bow hunting in the Bob Marshall. They returned to the Sun where Jeff and I had camped in July on our scouting, camping and fishing trip. They were highly anticipating the sounds of bugling, rutting elk.
They were not disappointed! Their first morning was cold and clear with bull elk bugling in several locations up and down the river. Jeff and Jake split up and went in different directions to try to locate the bulls. Jeff spent the entire morning trying to get close to a 350 inch B&C class bull with a large harem of cows. He could not get any closer than about 150 yards. Not nearly close enough with stick and string. The big bull finally moved his cows across the river into the Sun River Game Preserve. Jake also heard elk but never was able to get close.
(Do you think the bull knew where the boundary line was? )
In the next several days, Jeff located another bull with about a 320 inch class set of antlers with a smaller harem of cows. He tried several different tactics but could never get closer than about 100 yards. The elk were always close but not quite close enough. In the meantime, Jake called in a raghorn bull but failed to get a shot. The hunters began to get frustrated at this point. Adding to this frustration, several other hunters moved into the area and the pressure on the elk definitely increased.
Jeff decided that the next morning, September 21, he would hike about five miles up the river to check out some new territory and hopefully find less pressure. Jake was getting tired from all the hiking and decided to just hang around camp.
(I guess the Virginia boys just can’t hang tough with the Montana Boys. )
About 2:00 am, Jeff awoke and stepped out of the tent to attend to Nature’s call. The stars were shining and the night was cold and crisp. He was enjoying the beauty of the wilderness night sky when he heard a low, mournful howl echo down the river valley. The hair on the back of his neck stood at attention as he realized he was hearing the howl of a gray wolf for the first time in his life and he had a wolf tag in his pocket.
Jeff returned to the tent and slept until 4:00 am, then got up and slammed down a couple of cups of coffee and some instant oatmeal. With great anticipation, he strapped on his gear and headed out in the dark. With nothing but a small headlamp, he hiked for an hour and a half. By that time, he came close to a large meadow as daylight neared. It was a cold, clear, frosty morning. Jeff heard a bull bugle up the river. Then another, in answer to the first.
Then it happened: a wolf howled! Several more wolves joined in the song of the wild. At this point, Jeff’s excitement became intense..to say the least!
Jeff made the decision to sit down and try out his dying rabbit predator call that he keeps in his backpack. He then looked around for a good place to set up. He chose a high bank above the river which overlooked a wide sandbar. He sat down about 5 yards away from the rim of the steep bank. With an arrow nocked, he laid his bow on the ground next to him. He could still hear elk bugling up the river. He began a series of dying rabbit calls.
Everything went silent up the river. He had been sitting for about 15 minutes and was gazing at some clearings upriver and to his right. Suddenly, three adult gray wolves charged up over the rim of the steep bank and came to a stop 5 yards (15 feet!) in front of Jeff. Frosty breath was pouring from their nostrils. Their greenish-yellow eyes locked on Jeff. The three pairs of eyes stood out like fire coals in the early morning light. The “stare” was the pinnacle of intensity.
(About that time, I believe there would have been some intense bodily fluids flowing from
several parts of my body! )
Jeff had seen the motion out of the corner of his eye and froze, as he didn’t dare make any sudden movement. Several thoughts went through his mind as he slowly began to turn his head. The first thought was “Is this a dream? Is this really happening?” His second thought was “Wolves, I’m not dreaming!” His third thought was “Are these SOB’s going to attack, try to eat me or what?” He then realized the reality of the moment and he needed to get his bow in his hands.
The wolves continued their motionless stare at Jeff. Very slowly, he began to reach for his bow with his left hand. He began to slowly raise his bow into shooting position. The wolves didn’t move a muscle. Jeff moved his right hand up slowly and attached his release to the bowstring. Now he thought “I need to draw”. He quickly and smoothly came to full draw.
The wolves’ demeanors changed immediately. It was like they were thinking, “This might not be such a good idea and maybe we should move away”. They started slowly turning away from Jeff as he placed his sight pin just behind the shoulder of the large male. At this instant, the big male looked back over his shoulder at Jeff as he punched the release. Jeff’s arrow flew true through the big wolf’s ribcage like a bolt of lightning. Jeff saw the arrow kicking up frost and dirt as it skidded across the ground on the other side of the wolf. The mortally wounded wolf continued his retreat as if there was nothing wrong. Jeff saw blood spraying from the wolf’s wound as he went over the steep bank.
One of the other wolves exploded out of the area as the last one ran out about 20 yards and stopped to look back, then slowly turned and faded away.
As Jeff stood up, he began to go back to the dream from a few moments earlier. “Did this really happen?” Then he began to shake with excitement. As he approached the steep bank, he could hardly control himself. As he came closer and could see over the embankment, he saw the big male at about 20 yards and he was not moving. Reality kicked in as Jeff realized he had just taken a large male gray wolf with bow and arrow. WOW!!
The wolf was a beautiful gray color and as Jeff moved closer, he couldn’t help but admire its beauty. As Jeff knelt to admire the wolf and stroke the fur, some low mournful howls echoed down the river. As the hair on his neck came to attention for the third time this morning, Jeff thinks these howls were from the large male’s running mates. Maybe they were litter mates. Back to reality. This was truly a wilderness experience.
Jeff basically jogged the five miles back to camp. He hadn’t brought his camera with him that morning. Upon his return to camp, he excitedly told cousin Jake of his adventurous morning. They both returned to the scene of the kill and took photos and skinned the wolf and returned to camp. Jeff checked his GPS and determined he was 26 miles from his truck.
The next morning, Jeff and Jake packed and prepared to return home and report the kill to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. This ended the elk hunt and as they were traveling back down the lake, Jeff’s mind was filled with thoughts and memories. He had just had the hunt of a lifetime!
(I can only imagine the excitement and the thoughts going through Jeff’s mind as he was headed home and wanting to tell his Dad what he had done.)
After talking to me on his return from the hunt, I told Jeff that he had fulfilled a dream I have had my entire life. I consider the gray wolf one of the top trophies in North America. They are also one of the most difficult to take in fair chase. And to call one in using a mouth blown predator call and to get it close enough to shoot with a bow and arrow is truly unbelievable! Remember. Jeff’s wolf was shot at only 7 yards. Twenty-one feet! WOW!
A Montana biologist would later determine that Jeff’s wolf was three to four years old.
J.D. “Donnie” Jones grew up in Mocksville, NC and after schools and military service, he settled in Montana. He grew up as a hunter and spent many days afield with his Dad, “J”. He dreamed of a life out west and fulfilled his dream as he became a school teacher, school bus driver and later school principal. He has just retired from the Montana School System and just in the past two years has taken up bow hunting. This season so far, he has killed a 250 pound black bear. He also had a shot at an elk, but isn’t eating elk steaks these days. Jeff has had a fantastic season so far and I just wanted to pass this thrilling adventure to NRVO'S readers.