Must-See Deer Destination: Montana’s Powder River Region

Mule deer. Whitetails. If you like your deer hunting with incredible scenery and some western flair, southeastern Montana's Powder River region delivers.

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Mule deer. Whitetails. If you like your deer hunting with incredible scenery and some western flair, southeastern Montana’s Powder River region delivers.

// presented by Moultrie //

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Whitetails. Mule Deer. Or how about both? If you’ve got a hankering to chase either of these fine game animals, I’ve got just the place. Southeastern Montana’s scenic Powder River region is one of those must-see destinations all serious deer hunters need to experience, whether you’re toting a gun or a bow. And if you plan it just right an adventurous combo hunt can also include another handsome area resident: Prairie-loving pronghorns. Intrigued? So was I.

MarkMontana2 900The plan last fall for our group of like-minded deer addicts had been relatively straightforward: Head out west to Montana packing some of the latest and greatest deer gear we could get our hands on, and do a bit of field-testing during the hottest deer-hunting month of the year. Early November, of course, is near-legendary for whitetail enthusiasts looking to capitalize on the first hard push of the whitetail rut, and hopefully, the area mule deer bucks would also be feeling randy enough to put themselves at risk. What could go wrong? Well, lots, of course, if you consider the unpredictable nature of deer hunting. But maybe it was because of our cutting-edge arsenal that things just seemed to fall in place more or less from the get-go. I love it when that happens. MarkMontana3 900Shortly after pulling in to Powder River Outfitters’ Powder River Camp, we had to take a minute or two to gawk at a virtual sea of impressive shed antlers and ancient trophies piled or hung around the grounds. But then, with evening fast approaching, our group was soon on a more-urgent mission: sighting-in a cutting-edge new rifle: the Browning X-Bolt Pro chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, topped by a Leupold VX-5HD 3-15x44mm scope and loaded with Browning BXR 129-grain rapid-expansion ammo. I was excited for several reasons, maybe chief among them being that just a few years previous, I’d taken a trophy Wyoming pronghorn using the 6.5 Creedmoor and had almost instantly fallen in love with the light-kicking, flat-shooting cartridge. And of course it didn’t hurt that I was soon driving tacks on the range with the X-Bolt Pro, as fine a bolt rifle as I’d ever handled. Things were looking up. MarkMontanaD 900Powder River Outfitters owns and leases several hundred square miles of prime hunting land in southeastern Montana and our group got to experience a good chunk of it. Each morning we paired up and shuttled off to great-looking locations near and far with help from a veteran fleet of Chevy Suburbans. A few flat tires along the way (see above) are par for the course when covering lots of backcountry ground, but at most every stop, hiking in just a few minutes had us encountering either scads of whitetails or mule deer, and in some cases, both species. Predictably, the mule deer favored the high open plains and the whitetails, the brush-choked river bottoms.MarkMontana4 900It wasn’t long before our group’s many deer sightings started to equate to success. One evening Aaron pulled into camp with a fine riverbottom whitetail waylayed with help from a long shot from his X-Bolt Pro, and that same evening, Alex showed us all a few photos he’d snapped of a brutish, heavy-beamed riverbottom whitetail that carried 10 symmetrical tines and looked solidly in the 140s class. When we asked why the buck wasn’t hanging in the skinning shed Alex smiled and said he had passed, hoping to encounter the buck’s big brother. In truth, we’d all been seeing so many deer that you could hardly blame him, although I knew a bigger whitetail wouldn’t come easy.MarkMontana5 900One of the nice features of the Powder River camp is a huge skinning/hanging shed our group made use of regularly during the week. Here Aaron finishes up skinning his Montana whitetail with some welcome help from Joseph, another member of our group who would also end up bagging a fine whitetail, as well as a solid Montana pronghorn.MarkMontanaB 900My own Montana hunt would come together much faster than expected. The first few days my buddy Ben Frank and I had glimpsed many solid mule deer bucks and had even chased a fine whitetail for a good half mile. We’d spotted the thick-bodied buck as it was cresting a distant ridge shortly after daybreak using our powerful, Leupold BX-5 Santiam HD 15×56 binos that proved as valuable as a spotter but much more user-friendly. But that whitetail, precise headgear unknown, had somehow given us the slip. Once we topped the ridge where it was last seen we instead ran into a small herd of muley does. Tracks in the snow told the story. Once out of sight the wily buck had doubled back down the ridge, into a narrow drainage we’d passed on the way up. Had the buck known we were closing? Whatever the answer, my luck would soon change.MarkMontanaC 900As we were packing to leave we were simultaneously glassing what appeared to be another herd of muley does, when a stud muley buck, previously hidden in the tall grass, suddenly jumped to its feet. Game on! With startled does bolting everywhere, my sudden window of opportunity was closing. Rapidly. As quickly

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as possible I shouldered my X-Bolt Pro and leveled my scope. With heartrate pounding in my ears it was just seconds later when Powder River guide Levi, laser rangefinder in hand, chimed in: “He’s at 260…260!” My first shot sailed high, just over the buck’s back, but I caught a break. At the report the buck seemed confused and paused. A quick follow-up shot, with deer sprinting all around, took the tall, heavy-horned deer low in the chest. After a brief bull-dogging sprint the buck soon wavered, then toppled. A many-tined Montana monarch was mine.Montana10 900How did our group end our amazing week in southeastern Montana? Because I have photo evidence I can tell you: Seven deer-crazy hunters managed to bag five beautiful mule deer bucks and two fine whitetail bucks, while Joseph, the only member of our group to draw a pronghorn tag, also traveled home with a fine prairie speedster. What a week. What a hunt. MarkMontana8 900Are you on the lookout for a new deer-hunting adventure? Do yourself a favor and gear up for success, then head over to scenic southeastern Montana. It’s an area where both quality mule deer and whitetails are plentiful, and the hunting is as exciting as it gets. I can’t wait to get back.



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