In the East Fork of the Bitterroot River in Montana, the Reynolds Creek Gate is a great jumping-off point for elk hunting early in the season.
There is a bit of a problem in that some hunters use ATVs to circumvent the road closure and go up quite a ways above the gate and rudely interrupt your hunt. Fortunately, this is not a common occurrence, but don’t be surprised.
In my experience, there are three hunts past the gate. The first is to follow the road that eventually heads toward the 7,066-foot-elevation knob between Reynolds and Lick Creeks. The difficulty with staying on the road further up is that you can be seen easily by any animals above. The best option is to take one of the tributary drainages up toward the ridge where both you and the elk have some measure of cover. We had fun one year tracking a cow moose into its bed up through there. The challenge of that hunt is that you’re going uphill the whole way, so slow is the motto here. There is a skid trail that traverses a saddle about 200 feet elevation below the 7,066-foot knob. This is a great place to sit during the early and late magic hours of the day. There is lots of elk sign, but not many beds—it appears to be a transition area, not a stopping point.
The second way to hunt the Reynolds Creek Gate is to take the road to the second switchback above the gate, which overlooks Lick Creek. Hunting east from the switchback until you hit a broad ridge and then down can be productive. Occasionally, bull elk will take cover in these untrailed portions of the drainage, where it is hard to be quiet, but density of cover is an advantage. This can be tough going depending on how you make it down the ridge. There is dense lodgepole pine and lots of hidey-holes for elk and deer, and lots of water for the animals. There is something of a trail, intermittent at best, which winds down the creek bottom and comes out where Lick Creek meets Lick Creek Road. Some whitetail deer may be found in here as well. However, all the animals are very hunkered down, so slow is the only way to go.
The third way to hunt Reynolds Creek is the creek bottom. Winding down through the fairly good grade before the gate into the creek bottom is a good approach. The elk will congregate in the drainage—groups of eight to 10 cows and an occasional bull will hide out in here. I’ve chased a bunch of cows through here in early November. There is somewhat of a trail as you get further down Reynolds Creek—but like Lick Creek, it is intermittent at best. There is a fair amount of downfall, but it’s not insurmountable.
The ridge between Reynolds and Sign Creeks is also worth a look, but again, hunting up hill is difficult. There is lots of elk sign, however.
Tepee Point appears to be a major crossing point as the elk come out of the backcountry towards Bertie Lord Creek and the private ranches further below. The Tepee Point Lookout Road is gated just a few hundred yards from the turn-off to the lookout. Walking on the road beyond the gate for about a half-mile or maybe less, you’ll find yourself looking down on a well-managed, mostly ponderosa pine forest with excellent shooting lanes and generally great elk and mule deer habitat.
Below the lookout where the road splits, there is another gate and a major crossing point for elk. There are also numerous trophy mule deer in the neighborhood, but as stated previously, that tag is notoriously difficult to score. Sitting above that junction can be very productive at the right time of day. Again, the question is how early the herd is coming out of the backcountry in its migration.
There is a skid trail just before a significant turn on the main Tepee Creek Road that leads out onto a ridge. Much elk sign is visible. A bit past, there is a ridge leading down into Paint and Martin Creeks (5778) that is part of the migration route. Posting up on the ridge above the road early in the morning can be quite productive—there is huge amounts of sign. It’s clearly a major throughway.
Featured Image courtesy Micah Sheldon | Flickr