I found the downside to living in a van on a Montana mule deer hunt. Actually, the van itself proved to be an incredible hunting rig. I bounced around the state, hitting multiple units where I hiked and watched whitetails, mule deer and elk. I passed on deer that I normally wouldn’t have hesitated to harvest simply because I wasn’t ready to stop hunting. Working different areas and hiking through new terrain definitely helped make me a better hunter however and Montana’s long season is a ton of fun when you have time to really explore and play around.
The weather was unseasonably warm for a while but the snow finally flew the first week in November and the temps dropped. I visited a spot in southwest MT where I saw some mule deer and elk the previous season. Besides having some animals kicking around, it’s a really cool piece of country with mixed timber that provides plenty of cover but it also has enough open ground to make glassing interesting. I arrived in the afternoon on a Sunday and hiked off in a random direction simply because it looked good. A mule deer doe crossed my path immediately and while a nice meat doe was tempting, I kept on moving and she bounced off into the timber.
The fresh snow was perfect for cutting tracks and I moved a good mile before crossing a single, big set. They were really fresh and my mind jumped to the possibility of a solo bull. I judged the wind based on the direction of the tracks, setup on a small clearing and let out a few lost cow calls. I waited and called again. Then waited some more. I turned my head to check a blind spot and a young cow moose was charging right into my call. I waited her out, hiked a bit more and the sun set leaving me with a cold and windy walk out in the dark.
The next day I worked into a different drainage that is steep and more heavily timbered. I looked at it the previous year and never made the journey into the timber. The morning hike was fruitless but it looked too good for a complete pass. I returned in the afternoon and about 7 mule deer does and a single small buck were crossing a steep hillside. I know there are bigger deer in that zone but the buck was broadside at 80-yards and I pulled the trigger. He fell down the hill and was on the ground in seconds. I was absolutely thrilled to have a beautiful little buck down and my deer tag stamped.
With the mule deer quartered off and tucked under the bed in my van, the whole vanlife issue during hunting season came to light. I needed to get the deer processed and frozen and am without a freezer or a place to butcher him up (I butcher my own game). I really wanted to spend the last few weeks of the season chasing elk but I had a deer, only 6 weeks before a full year of traveling and was in a van without resources for the meat. So I made the decision to scrap the elk plans and spend the next few days fishing before driving to Reno where I can butcher, freeze and consume for the next 6 weeks.
I can’t wait to explore fisheries on my year long Pan American road trip but I will miss an entire hunting season in the west. I’ll still be building points and can’t wait to put in another full season in Montana. Next time I’ll have a freezer somewhere local so I can do a Montana mule deer hunt and stay on the elk trail afterwards.