The Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, the rugged backdrop for the sportsmen shown on the preceding pages, is a monument to the extravagance of nature's imagination. Within its borders lie almost a million acres of virgin forest. Out of the dense pine valleys, limestone mountains rise to more than 8,000 feet, backing upward toward sheer cliffs that leap another 1,000 feet to form the awesome barrier of the Continental Divide. Not a single road cuts through the woods and mountains to disturb an abundance of wildlife that is unequaled elsewhere in the United States.
Yet this ageless wilderness is open to everyone. It is part of the vast natural inheritance that a few farsighted conservationists saved and protected for a leisure-conscious nation. One of the leaders of the wilderness crusade was the late Bob Marshall, who spearheaded a movement that in two decades has grown to include 80 wilderness areas in which more than 20 million recreation-hungry Americans have rediscovered the outdoors.
A year after Marshall's death in 1939, three primitive areas, situated in the Lewis and Clark and Flathead national forests in northwest Montana, were consolidated into one great hunting ground and named the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It is the most beautiful and at the same time one of the least known and least visited of the wildernesses. Each year only 500 sportsmen pack in during the hunting season. This year I was fortunate to make the trip, and one thing was immediately apparent: hunters in the Bob Marshall are a very special breed. Most of them come from out of state. Many travel 1,000 miles or more, but they all share one thing in common. They are quality hunters seeking quality hunting.
"That's a distinctive part of this Wilderness," says Robert F. Cooney, Chief of Game Management for the Montana Fish and Game Commission. "Sportsmen who seek out the Bob Marshall want the highest level of hunting experience; the pursuit of an animal in the wildest range of its habitat under conditions most difficult for the hunter and most advantageous for the quarry. They want to engage in a competition between man and nature as primitive as the area itself. This kind of competition demands a particularly pure sportsman, a hunter who does not care if he leaves the Wilderness empty-handed, because the hunt and not the bag is his primary goal."
Because the Wilderness is roadless, and will always be if the combined vigilance of the Forest Service, the Montana Game Commission and the Wilderness Society has anything to do with it, a hunter going into the Bob Marshall faces a six-or eight-hour ride on horseback, or, harder still, a hike of several days. The 1,500 miles of narrow trails (see map) are marked, but in some areas only at intervals of several miles. Although maintained and cleared each summer by Forest Service crews, they are rugged, mountainous paths which wind through dense forests, over jutting shale cliffs, across fast-moving streams and through canyons and rock-slides. They are difficult and sometimes treacherous.
A number of Forest Service guard cabins and mountain lookouts are located strategically throughout the area, but these exist solely as fire-control measures, are often unmanned, and never for use of the hunter. Nor is the Bob Marshall a park where the trail leads eventually to a lean-to and kindling stacked against a fireplace. The trail leads only to other mountains and other canyons, each as barren of man-made improvements as the last.
In this wild country the grizzly bear roams one of its last remaining haunts. There are a few in Wyoming and Idaho, but the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the world is in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
The nation's second largest elk herds are also here, sharing their habitat with mule deer and whitetails, black bears and moose. On the sheer cliffs of the Chinese Wall, where for one stretch of 22 miles the great barrier of the Continental Divide towers 1,000 feet above the surrounding country, mountain goats pick their way among massive boulders and sun themselves on unscalable ledges. Rocky Mountain sheep move stealthily above the timber line. Blue grouse whirl out of brambly clumps, and loons call somberly across Big Salmon Lake. Along darkened crevasses, long, sleek mountain lions pursue their nightly paths.
The hunter, regardless of experience, who tackles this kind of country alone or without a first-class guide takes a needless and foolish risk. There are at least two dozen fine guides and outfitters scattered around the edges of the hunting ground. They provide riding and pack animals, and all basic camping equipment for a week or 10-day hunt. Customarily, they furnish at least one guide for every two hunters. The usual outfit consists of a sleeping tent for two to four people; a dining tent, like the one shown crowded with relaxing hunters on page 70, which doubles as a bar and recreation room; portable wood-burning stoves; canned and dried provisions; materials for packing and salting trophies; and medical supplies for almost anything from a hangnail to appendicitis. Some outfitters even have facilities at their home lodges for entertaining wives and children who cannot or don't want to pack into the Wilderness.
Generally the hunter is expected to bring his own sleeping bag, since bedding is usually a matter of personal preference.
Personal clothing and toiletries are, naturally, the hunter's choice but the lighter he travels the more comfortable he'll be. For my trip I took along a pair of trousers (although two pairs are advisable), long-johns, two lightweight and one red flannel shirt, a warm jacket and red cap, six pairs of good walking socks, a well-broken-in pair of boots, moccasins for evening lounging and a foul-weather parka. Since bathing is an unknown luxury, I added a bottle of Chanel No. 5. Many hunters take along a set of insulated underwear—which often doubles for pajamas—and waterproof boots. Weather changes in the Wilderness, especially after the first of November, can be sudden and unpredictable.
A duffel bag for carrying all this gear is essential, and most outfitters expect the hunter to provide this item. The hunter is also expected to have his own saddle scabbard, a piece of equipment few eastern or midwestern hunters own or care to buy. But by notifying the outfitter well in advance of the trip, indicating the type of rifle and scope, saddle scabbards can generally be borrowed or rented. They are necessary in this kind of hunting; so, too, is a shoulder sling. After a long hike over rugged, windfallen trails, a rifle has a disturbing tendency to apparently double its weight. A sling makes the load seem lighter, and is also a convenient way of keeping both hands free when boulders must be climbed or slippery logs crossed.
The choice of rifle is particularly important. Before the veteran of other hunts pats the .30-30 he's used for 20 years and starts off into the Wilderness, he should consider the kind of country he is going into. Though a hunter in the Bob Marshall may be seeking nothing bigger than deer, he may find he himself is being sought by a bear. This is no scare story. People have been killed here trying to knock down a grizzly with a .30-30.
Unfortunately, a hunter really loaded for bear will make mincemeat of a mountain goat. Since, as I discovered, carrying two weapons is highly impractical, the solution is a medium-heavy rifle such as the Remington 721 in .300 H & H Magnum or the Winchester 70 in .30-06. Either of these will do a good job on bear or a 1,000-pound bull elk, yet leave a mountain goat or deer in reasonable condition. They are, incidentally, the rifles many of the Rangers carry, and they should know.
These same Rangers also use scope sights, which have two advantages for Wilderness hunting. Their light-gathering quality in early morning and late afternoon is particularly valuable, since game is most often encountered at these times of day. Elk, particularly early in the season before the big snows, tend to move at the end of the day out of thick woods onto the grassy parks which spot the mountainsides. An elk's coloring blends neatly with the tawny grass, often making it impossible to distinguish without a scope. As for goat or sheep, they are almost always too far off to bring down without a scope. A 2½X to 4X is probably maximum power needed for hunting the Bob Marshall, but a variable such as the Bausch & Lomb BALvar 8, which can instantly be turned from 2½-up to 8-power, has the added advantage of doubling as a spotting scope when surveying distant country.
In the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a well-outfitted hunter with a good gun and a good guide has a 75% chance of getting his trophy. For the hardy sportsman, willing to walk a few dozen miles and scale a cliff or two, the success figure is closer to 95%. Mountain-goat hunting is a good example. Among many sportsmen, this animal is considered one of the toughest to hunt and the finest to bag. Yet, in a single day, I was within shooting range of 13 presentable trophies.
Finding this kind of shooting opportunity, however, meant riding out from camp somewhere around 5 in the morning, leaving the horses six miles later and beginning a three-hour mountain climb, much of it hand-over-hand across shale slides, around gaping crevasses and eventually to the top of a 9,000-foot mountain. There, on the wrong side of a boulder-strewn canyon, were five goats.
The job then was to crawl around the canyon, being careful to stay downwind and behind sufficient cover to escape their vision, which is as good as a 20X telescope. The strategy for the approach was beautifully plotted by my guides, State Game Rangers Ross Wilson and Lawrence Deist and Game Biologist Faye Couey, and as I crossed the canyon they dropped behind so as not to disturb the goats. For almost an hour, I tiptoed from one protecting rock to another until finally I had circled to the other side. When I was 50 yards away, the goats sensed danger and took off along the rocky edge of a jagged cliff. Behind them, but much less adapted to the terrain, I zigzagged between the rocks, singled out the biggest of the five and fired. The goat did a somersault as the bullet struck, rolled twice toward the edge of the precipice and stopped against a jutting rock.
Bear, on the other hand, may be anywhere, as I discovered the next morning when a 400-pound black made the mistake of wandering almost into our camp. It was quickly converted into a long-desired bearskin rug.
To hunt the wilderness
The general big-game seasons in the Wilderness opened west of the Divide on the 15th of September, east of the Divide on the 20th of October, and will run on till the 24th of November. By now the brilliance and warmth of Indian summer is gone. But there is still nearly a month of fine hunting when November snows push much of the game down from the mountaintops.
For any hunter who can get away this fall, or who wants to plan ahead to the early season next year, the cost of a trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness is surprisingly low. An average outfitter charges approximately $35 to $45 per person per day. The Montana nonresident license costs $100 but, unlike permits in many other states, allows hunting of both big and small game. This fee also includes bird shooting and fishing (fall angling for rainbows, Dolly Vardens and whitefish is as good as the hunting). Goat permits are only $5; a few sheep and moose permits are parceled out in a special drawing. Total cost, then, for a week in this Wilderness is about $500, a small price to pay for an outdoor adventure that Bob Marshall himself once described as "so great that the human being who looks upon it vanishes into utter insignificance."
THE FREEZING TRAIL
On snow-swept slopes like those of Montana's vast Bob Marshall Wilderness Area (above), hunters now are seeking out the biggest U.S. game. For more on this rigorous sport and this rugged country turn the page.
THE WARMING TENT
The hunters above, happily thawing out after the frigid ride shown on the preceding pages, are members of the Rocky Mountain Big Game Hunters' Club, an informal group of Great Falls, Mont, business and professional men who hunt the 990,900-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in northwestern Montana every year. They could hardly find better big game country. For the Bob Marshall Area is virgin land, one of 80 wilderness areas set aside by the Forest Service to be preserved in their primitive state. As the guide and map on the following pages show, it is rich with bear, deer, elk, mountain sheep and a variety of other game, ready for any hunter with the time and the inclination to make a grueling pack trip into the back country.
Last year 500 hunters packed into this roadless wilderness, among them the Rocky Mountain Big Game contingent, which turned out to celebrate its 25th annual hunt. Setting off from Great Falls at 6:30 a.m. on a chill October morning, the hunters drove 83 miles over back roads through Choteau to the edge of the wilderness, where they climbed onto their horses for the 12-mile ride to hunting territory. Then, for a week, they enjoyed a perfect hunter's holiday, stalking game, playing cards and, at day's end, crowding into one of the 12-by-14 sleeping tents to warm body and soul with hunting chatter and good drink. Shown above are (from left to right) Louis DeLegro of Great Falls, the camp cook; Earl A. Gray, Great Falls contractor; William R. Davis, Great Falls businessman; George Nilson, Great Falls contractor and cattle rancher; Leo Beaulaurier, Great Falls contractor and artist; Clark Fergus, Billings supermarket operator; Dr. G. Keith Brumwell, Seattle dentist; Paul Matteucci, Great Falls supermarket operator; Eugene E. Montgomery, Des Moines manager of Sears Roebuck and Co.; Carl E. Thisted, Great Falls stockbroker and rancher; Frank Kops, Great Falls, owner of Kops Piano House; and Dr. Charles F. Little, Great Falls physician.
BOB MARSHALL WILDERNESS
ANIMALS INDICATE HEAVIEST CONCENTRATIONS OF GAME DURING HUNTING SEASON
[GRIZZLY BEAR]GRIZZLY BEAR
[MOUNTAIN GOAT]MOUNTAIN GOAT
[BLACK BEAR]BLACK BEAR
[BIGHORN SHEEP]BIGHORN SHEEP (special permit only)
[MOOSE]MOOSE (special limited permit only)
[GUARD CABING]GUARD CABING
[RANGER STATION]RANGER STATION
[LANDING FIELD]LANDING FIELD (public)
[FOREST SERVICE LANDING FIELD]FOREST SERVICE LANDING FIELD (emergency only)
[ARROW TRAIL]MAIN ACCESS ROUTE
[HYPHEN TRAIL]FOREST SERVICE TRAIL
SCHAFER RANGER STATION
SPOTTED BEAR RANGER STATION
LITTLE SALMON CREEK
BIG SALMON LAKE
BIG PRAIRIE RANGER STATION
SUN RIVER GAME PRESERVE (Area closed to all hunting)
FOR BEST OUTFITTERS, WRITE TO CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, HELENA