Hunting elk from Guide Creek Saddle in the East Fork of the Bitterroot River can be both productive and frustrating. The Saddle is heavily hunted as it is above Pasture Draw and French Basin—the two places the elk roll to if there is an early snow. The private ranches at the base of Pasture Draw and French Basin are a natural reserve for the elk, and after they have migrated, you may see as many as 700 elk on those ranches from the above public lands.
In any event, there can be some good hunting through there—if you are very early both in the season when there is snow and in the morning. Get there an hour before first light and prepare to be on the trail shortly thereafter. If you arrive late, there will be as many as six to eight trucks parked at the Saddle.
There are several skid trails that take off from the Saddle: they run east, southeast, and northeast. The skid trails overlook Jakes Draw, Lyman Creek, and Pasture Draw. It’s best to take one of the trails above Lyman Creek, but instead of following the trail, gain the ridge and head down the drainage that way. Staying on the trail will make you too easy to spot and hear.
Bull elk can settle in the creek bottoms along here, which means that you have to take it extremely slow if you expect anything to be more surprised than you. Explore the ridges above Lyman Creek and Pasture Draw. There are great skid trails in Pasture Draw, but it is very hard to hunt. It’s best to go up the night before and bivouac toward Guide Saddle. Late in the season, the bulls may be in there, but they’ll be very wary. This strategy is also complicated by too many hunters.
I kicked up a bull this year off of Lyman Creek, but did not get a shot. Again, hunting in this area is best just as the elk are moving out of the backcountry. There is a way to access French Basin via Hart Creek, but the times we’ve been up there, we’ve found four to five outfitter tents. Think: are you hunting or trying to avoid being shot by other hunters?
Bertie Lord Creek
What a great name for a creek—apparently Bertie Lord’s family were early settlers. The skid trail that leads out to Bertie Lord is well worth hunting, but again, get off the road and up the ridge if you expect to see anything. It feels like a transitional area rather than a stopping point for elk.
McCart Lookout on the South Side of the East Fork
If you head up Johnson Peak Road toward the McCart Lookout, you will find excellent elk and mule deer habitat on your way up. There is open ponderosa pine forest here, and you can see an effort to turn the Forest Service Roads into better fire breaks. We saw a mother bear and three baby bears running up the road there two years ago—all looking fat and healthy. Must be tough to have triplets!
There are a few ways to hunt this area, in my view. The first route is up the trail to the lookout—we have seen bulls along the trail—but unusual. More interesting is how the trail continues into the meadows beyond the lookout. There is a good bivouac hunt there.
Past the lookout, the trail continues toward Swift Creek. The trail is ok for a while but then becomes clogged with downfall, pretty seriously. However, there is lots of elk sign early in the season—so it may be a great bow season hunt. All in all, a bivouac hunt in the trees above the meadows past the lookout seems the most obvious option.