By Pat Wolfe, explorebigsky.com contributor

Sight in your rifle

This is critical for success. If your rifle isn’t sighted,
you’ll miss a shot, or worse, wound an animal. Once
you’re sighted in, practice shooting from different
positions – prone, sitting, standing. When you’re out
hunting, you don’t always have time to get a dead rest,
so you want to be comfortable shooting from different
positions. You can also carry a shooting stick or add a
bi-pod to your rifle.

If you slip and hit your scope when you’re out hunting,
go back to the range and shoot again to make sure
you didn’t bump it out of whack.

Go scouting

Go out and cover some ground. Look for fresh sign
such as tracks, scat and rubbed trees. Get to know the
terrain of the area where you want to hunt, and try
figure out where the animals are. Use your binoculars
or spotting scope, letting your eyes do the walking.
This is also a good way to get in physical shape for the
season.

Mule deer
Very sharp hearing, pretty good sense of
smell. Eyesight not as good. Habitat: open
sage and high mountains.

Whitetail deer
Generally all around spooky. Be careful
with scent, movement – everything. Most
people use a tree stand with whities. Habitat:
river bottoms and alfalfa fields.

Antelope
Eyesight is their main defense. If they can’t
see you, you can hide behind a ridge and
sneak up on them. They don’t have a very
good sense of smell. Habitat: prairie
.
Elk
Elk are smart, have good hearing and a
good sense of smell. Eyesight not as keen.
When they do smell you they’re going to
run to the next drainage, so stay downwind.
Get ready to put your time in and
cover some country. Habitat: timbered
mountains. After the snows hit they go
down into the valley bottoms.

Know your quarry

Understand the animal you’re hunting. See sidebar for
info on big game behavior.

Maps

Good maps are important for researching where you
want to hunt, and finding your way around when
you’re out there. I use Google Earth google earth for
pre-scouting, and quad maps and a GPS when I’m
hunting. The Montana Cadastral Mapping website has
land ownership maps at gis.mt.gov/MontanaCadastralMappingProgram

Secret spots

Look into block management areas, obscure pieces of
state land and BLM squares. Sometimes the animals
move from private land into these little squares. These
are usually less popular with other hunters because
they’re not as easy to access or un-marked.

Get up early

Be in place somewhere you think is going to be good
right at first light. Stay out ‘til last light. Big game
is crepuscular, which means they’re active during
twilight.

Weather

When it’s hot early season, animals will need to be
close to water. If it’s raining or snowing, they tend
to move more, so that’s a good time to be up, looking
around, glassing. If it’s windy they’ll hole up, so look
in protected places where they’re bedded down, and
glass midday for bedded bucks. Snow will push both
elk and deer down to lower elevations.

Be patient

Wait for the right shot to present itself. You want to
make sure you take a good clean broadside shot so you
don’t wound the animal. It is your responsibility as a
hunter to make a clean kill.

Keep a cool head

Stay calm when you’re about to shoot something so
you don’t mess up. Once you do get something, take
the time to deal with the meat properly so you don’t
waste anything.

Get after it

Get ready to put in some work if you want to be successful. Plan on hunting more than just a few days a
year. The more time you spend out among game, the
more you get an innate sense for where they’ll be and
how they act.
[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true” framed=”black” desc=”The author with the bull elk he shot during bow season, 2011″]
http://www.explorebigsky.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/pat-bull-elk1.jpg[/dcs_img]

Pat Wolfe is co-owner of Stronghold Fabrication, a
Bozeman-based metal and fine blacksmithing shop.