2019 Outfitter Of The Year – Banthem Outfitting Montana Elk Hunts
OUTFITTER REVIEW ON
Part 1: THE HUNT
NAMED THE 2019 HUNTTHENORTH.COM OUTFITTER OF THE YEAR!
ARCHERY ELK HUNTING WITH ONE OF MONTANA’S BEST
By Dan Wennerlind
It had been a long time since I had hunted the state of Montana for elk. The last time was with my father on the west side of the continental divide, years ago. After sending numerous clients and personal friends to hunt elk with Jesse Banthem of Banthem Outfitting over the past several years, and seeing photo after photo of the big 6 point bulls they were bringing home, I was growing envious. Finally this year everything lined up and I jumped at the opportunity to join Jesse on one of his World Class caliber Montana archery elk hunts.
The day finally arrived and my good friend and hunting partner Ross and I were on the road headed to the great town of White Sulfur Springs, Montana.
Along the way we met up with another one of my hunting pals Jon and his friend Eric, near Saint Cloud, Minnesota. Being that this was Jon’s 3rd trip out to Jesse’s camp since I first turned him onto the hunt several years ago, the stories he shared from his past hunts, and the caliber of animals he had seen on Jesse’s properties, had us all hyped up about the upcoming hunt. For Jon, he hoped this would be his redemption hunt, as last year he lost a big 6 point bull during the last rifle season at Jesse’s camp.
Now even though I had hunted Montana years ago, this was going to be a much different experience. Jesse offers a private ranch style elk hunt, unlike the backcountry horseback hunt my father and I shared in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area. This hunt involved a lot less climbing and a lot more motorized vehicle access. This was great for me, since I was about to turn 46 next month. I am not THAT old, but I’m not THAT young anymore either and packing an elk quarter out of the mountains on foot is not as exciting as it used to be.
The “Three Amigos”
Head Guide Cole Hunsicker (left) Outfitter Jesse Banthem (middle) Camp Chef Adian Valez (right)
We pulled into Jesse’s elk camp on Sunday afternoon, the 4th week of the Montana archery elk season. I was finally able to meet my good friend and outfitter Jesse Banthem face-to-face for the first time. Jesse invited us to meet his crew which consisted of: His head guide Cole Hunsicker and his Camp Chef Adrian Valez. I would soon find that this was a very tight knit group. These “3 Amigos” had all graduated high school together many moons ago. From their Jesse and Cole joined the professional rodeo circuit. Jesse rode bulls while Cole specialized in bucking horses. These guys are true cowboys. They spent 6 years on the professional rodeo circuit as their full time gig and in the off season gained valuable experience guiding elk hunters three months a year, for a local outfitter every fall.
In 2013 Jesse switched gears and bought the license from the retiring outfitter he had previously worked for and started his own operation. Jesse now has exclusive rights to over 18,000 private acres, full of elk on 6 different ranchs. Jesse currently runs two different camps. His outpost camp is located in White Sulfur Springs, Montana located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. His main camp is located 45 minutes south of there, in Livingston, Montana which is where he grew up. Although quite rustic, Jesse’s camp at White Sulfur Springs provides the authentic
feel of a true rustic elk camp consisting of 3 cabins, a hot shower house and of course an outhouse. We had everything we needed to make for a most memorable experience.
After zinging a couple dozen arrows into Jesse’s big “elk target”, to make sure we were confident in our shooting abilities, we were all eager to get out and see what we could find on the 1st day’s hunt.
That afternoon Jesse took Ross and I up to the northwest side of the property, while Cole took Jon and Eric down to the south side. It didn’t take long before we heard the first bull elk of the trip bugling along the north ranch property line. We then spotted a small herd of elk on the opposite side of the valley. Jesse showed us just a taste of what he had in store for us.
Back at camp that evening we were excited to hear that Cole had called in a nice 5 point bull for Jon and Eric. Unfortunately, Eric took a shot that went right over the top and the bull got away. However, it was a great start to the hunt and Jesse even said a clean miss is much better than a poorly placed hit, which could have also ended Eric’s hunt early.
The next morning we awoke at 5:00 a.m. to the sound of the generator, as Adrian was preparing what would be a wonderful breakfast for us. After a delicious bite to eat we were on our way by 5:45 a.m. sharp. It only took about 20 minutes to get back to the ridge that we were walking on the evening before, in hopes the herd would follow that trail up to the top of the peak. We could see over 30 elk still below us in the alfalfa field, getting ready to make their move up- perfect. They had 2 choices; our ridge or the neighbors ridge. As luck would have it, they chose the neighbors ridge. Jesse did his best to coax the 2 big bulls over to our side of the valley but with that many cows with them in full rut, it just wasn’t happening. Once we were sure the herd had moved past us up the ridge, we hopped back into Jesse’s 1985 Chevy K5 Blazer and headed to the other end of the ranch, where there was yet another herd waiting for us. We put the stock on them for the next 2 hours but fell just out of reach again. Although we were unsuccessful that morning, it felt good to get out and stretch our legs. Seeing elk everywhere really lifted the camp spirits. It was a truly a great start to our trip.
Over the next 2 days we had a chance to see all 6 of Jesse’s properties and we saw elk on every single one of them. We came “Dang Close” on Wednesday morning as we were able to spot three nice bulls in with a bunch of cows at first light. The big one was an estimated 360 class bull with a 50″ spread walking across the top of the ridge above us. He was just too far ahead of us to catch up.
We then found another herd of 8 animals with 2 bulls bedded down on the adjacent slope and quickly made our way up the back side of the ridge to try and head them off near the top. This herd had another nice 6 point bull as well. Half way up, Jesse whispered to us that this was the exact spot where a hunter the week before had passed up a big 6 x 9 bull at 55 yards. There were giant elk running everywhere on this property! It was like Candyland for elk hunters.
We finally reached the top of the butte just in time. Jesse’s experience came into play once again and this time he guessed right. The elk herd was right below us now and Jesse got Ross and I into position to take the shot. After a couple soft cow calls he had a spike bull at 10 yards. Luckily it did not bust us, and the rest of the herd, with the 6 point bull, kept moving up the hillside toward us. Unfortunately they chose the other side of the ridge to pass over, a mere 45 yd away from our first kill, with only the top of the ridge in-between us! We were that close.
Three days into our six day hunt, everyone in camp had now had a close encounter but none of us had hit home yet. Since Jesse was excited to showcase his Livingston property, Ross and I packed it up that afternoon and headed south to finish off our hunt. It felt like a fresh start as we were now hunting Jesse’s home turf. Jesse talked it up big on the way down. Sharing that the week before there were over 300 elk on this property. He even showed us a video of 30 bulls together in one herd. I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself. In fact, 3 of the 4 hunters in camp the previous week successfully harvested 6 point bulls off of the Livingston property. The fourth hunter had elected to stay in the White Sulfer camp and was the one who passed at 55 yards on the big 6 x 9 bull. It was almost too good to be true.
Late that afternoon we arrived at a spot where we could glass the main hillside in preparation for the next morning’s hunt. Jesse said we could expect to see the massive herd across the entire hillside from this location. When we got there, guess what we saw- to Jesse’s disbelief there wasn’t an elk in sight. “Where had they gone?” Jesse exclaimed. They were here less than a week ago. How could things change that quick. After an hour of carefully glassing across the top of the ridge we finally found a group of 4 nice bulls together. At that point all we could do is hope the herd would funnel back down into the valley that night for the next morning’s hunt.
We were back bright and early the next morning. Jesse drove us halfway up the mountain in his side-by-side and after a short but intense 20 minute climb we were at the peak. Jesse quickly found a small group of bulls again with 2 nice 6 pointers in it, squaring off. They entertained us for a while before they headed back into the thick timber across the way. Then Jesse spotted a big black bear foraging down below us. It was exciting to see as we were in no danger with Jesse packing heat. After another day of seeing elk but not connecting, we were feeling a little discouraged to be honest. We called the guys up north to see how they were doing. We found out that Jon had a big 6 point bull almost in range that day, before a gust of wind switched and blew it out.
Tensions were starting to rise in both camps now, with only 2 days to go. Lucky for us we had a weather change moving in with a rain/snow mix and temps dropping into the thirties that night. It was just what the doctor ordered. As we pulled up to the same ranch the next morning, we could already hear a bull bugling on top of the hillside we were hunting the day before. It was foggy and damp, and Jesse was very excited. “This is exactly what we needed to bring the elk back down to the valley from the thick timber above” he said.
After a slightly strenuous hike up what Jesse refers to as “The trail of tears” we hit the top of a gorgeous butte with a rock outcrop. This was one of Jesse’s favorite ambush spots and he told us his hunters had harvested numerous elk sitting in this exact location over the years. We barely had a chance to catch our breath before we heard a deep bugle from the ridge across from us. Jesse quickly got Ross and I into position and gave two soft cow calls. We got an immediate response and the hunt was on. Jesse called again and said he expected one more bugle before the big bull made his appearance.
However, with the fog as thick as it was, it was hard to see more than 50 yards in front of us. The next thing we heard sounded like a horse coming down the hill through the brush in front of us. Jesse told me to draw my bow and just as I was at full draw, I saw this magnificent bull standing 30 yards away staring right at me. I held as still as I could with my heart was pumping wildly! The adrenaline was flowing through my veins. After what seemed like a minute, he turned and started back down the hill. He stopped and turned for one last look and gave me a perfect quartering away shot at 35 yd and I squeezed the release and hit home. The big bull stumbled 50 yd down the hill and fell over stone dead!
The feeling of that first archery elk kill was indescribable. I couldn’t help but jump up and give Jesse a big cowboy hug. I was on Cloud 9! We gave it 20 minutes before walking up to the monster and now it was time to celebrate! We took 15 minutes for a nice photo shoot while reliving the incredible hunt with my pal Ross, who had watched the whole thing from 30 yd away. When we were done, Jesse made quick work of the animal by driving up the valley with his custom side-by-side and hoisted the bull up onto the bed with his custom roof winch system and 10 minutes later we were loaded up and headed back to the truck. Wow was that easy I thought- no packing out quarters, no horses and we had the big bull to the processor within an hour.
That evening it was Ross’s turn. With so many elk on the mountain and the thick fog, we hadn’t really disturbed any of the other animals. After a hot lunch in town, we made our way back up the mountain for an afternoon hunt. It didn’t take long before we had another big bull bugling below us. With Jesse’s expertise, he knew exactly where the big boy was headed. We crept to the edge of a small ridge and just like clockwork a big 6 X 7 bull was screaming his head off just below us. Jesse ranged him at 86 yd. We hunkered down to see if we could pull the big bull up the hill to us, but he wasn’t leaving his gals. As the clock wound down, another smaller 5 point bull entered the picture. Jesse was confident that he could slide down the hill and pull the smaller bull away from the herd if Ross wanted him. After careful consideration Ross just could not pass up the opportunity at this 320 class 6 X 7 right below us. I couldn’t blame him one bit. Over the next 45 minutes Jesse did his best to bugle the bull into fighting mode. The night crept in and the closest we got him was 76 yards, just too far for a clean kill.
Although Ross didn’t get a shot it was quite a thrill none the less. On the way back to camp we checked in with the other guys at the White Sulfur Springs camp. We got word that Jon also connected on his “redemption hunt” by sticking another 6 point bull that night. He was also on “Cloud 9” we were told!
Big Jon With 6 Point “Redemtion” Bull
Going into the last day, by now everyone had a shot opportunity but Ross. The pressure was on. Ross had been consistent at 60 yards on the target back at camp the first day and it was now time to make it count. With a thick, cold fog just like the day before, we made our way back up the mountain for one last hurrah. As we headed to the top of “The trail of tears” where I was successful the day before, we saw a massive herd of around 45 elk coming barreling over the ridge across from us in the fog. We counted several nice bulls in the herd. I stayed put as Jesse and Ross tried to cut them off. Unfortunately, Ross and Jesse got shut down in the bottom of the ravine when a bull and 4 cows came over the top of another ridge. Ross was out of breath after the big run but was able to hunker in, settle down and get a shot off at 50 yards on the bull. Shooting uphill and still quite out of breath, Ross missed a clean shot and was unable to capitalize on the opportunity. It didn’t matter though, as there were still elk everywhere.
Ross and Jesse made their way up the ridge to where I was and within 5 minutes another bull and 3 cows made their way up over the ridge and into range again. However, this was a 5 point bull and was missing an antler, not the one Ross was looking for. Minutes later another big bull bugled from down where we had started earlier that morning. With the thick fog still in play we made our way down the mountain as fast as we could. Halfway down we ran into a spike bull & Jesse called him in to 20 yards. He meandered off & we continued down the mountain. As we closed in on the bull, a cow appeared directly in front of us, out of nowhere! We stopped dead in our tracks before she barked & alerted the rest of the herd. After 10 minutes we carefully slunk back down into the valley brush below & took a deep breath, boy was that close.
Unfortunately, instead of moving on, or going back to the herd where the bull was, the dang cow bedded down not 30 yards above us. We were stuck! Finally the thick fog began to lift and we could see the big bull. It was a 320 class for sure, according to Jesse. This was the one we were looking for. Now we just had to wait it out for an opportunity. The big boy was with 20 more cows, and the cow still above us had an eye on our position. Two hours later we were still stuck in the same spot.
Finally she got up and moved along back down to the herd, giving us our break. We quickly slunk through the brush back up to the ridge where we had come from an earlier. As luck would have it just as we got back over the ridge the herd made their move and began to cross over the ridge below us. I stayed up high to watch as Jesse and Ross scampered down the back side of the ridge to cut them off and get into position. It was the perfect set up. As Ross and Jesse got in position the herd crossed single file right below them through the thick brush. The big bull was bringing up the rear. Ross finally saw antlers through the brush and into clean view. Jesse used his range finder and had him at 60 yards, the edge of Ross’s comfort zone. He drew back and let one last arrow fly!
“Just over his back!” Jesse explained as the big bull crashed down the mountain in panic-yet unscathed. And so the hunt ended….
Although Ross was thoroughly upset with his miss on the monster bull, that’s why we call it hunting. Jesse had come through yet again and everyone in camp had an opportunity to harvest a bull by the end of the week. But more importantly Jesse showed why he runs what we at HuntTheNorth.com consider to be a World Class caliber, trophy fair chase Montana elk hunting experience. I was pleased and honored to share with Jesse that he would be named The 2019 HuntTheNorth.com Outfitter Of The Year!
Part 2: THE REVIEW
|OUTFITTER KNOWLEDGE / PERSONALITY||Score||5 / 5|
Jesse Banthem is a passionate and experienced elk hunting outfitter. It was evident on our hunt that numerous hours of research and effort were put into each and every one of Jesse’s properties. Jesse also has many years of experience hunting elk. It was clear he knows how these animals think and react to different situations. It was particularly present when we hunted the Livingston Camp where Jesse grew up hunting. He also has the hunter’s best interest in mind and does his very best to meet the expectations for each hunter’s personal goals while accommodating any physical limitations that would stop that from happening. He was also a joy to be around and did a great job keeping the spirits up throughout the week until everyone had a shot opportunity!
|QUALITY OF EQUIPMENT USED||Score||5 / 5|
All of the equipment Jesse used throughout the hunt were top notch. The old throwback ’85 Blazer added a special twist and Jesse’s custom side by side with his custom winch set up made quick work of the elk harvested. The full carcass was winched up and on the back of the machine in less the 20 minutes. Jesse also has the very best set of binnos on the market that has a built in range finder so the distance of every animal was never in question.
|OPPORTUNITY TO TAKE GAME||Score||5 / 5|
The amount of trophy caliber bulls on every one of Jesse’s properties, specifically what we saw on the Livingston property was truly amazing! The fact that not only did everyone in our group have a shot opportunity during the trip, but the fact that almost every hunter during the 2018 archery season overall, also had a shot opportunity on a trophy caliber 6 pt or better bull is almost unbelievable. It just shows the caliber of hunting that Banthem Outfitting can provide.
|QUALITY OF MEALS AND LODGING||Score||4 / 5|
The rustic style lodging accommodations at the White Sulfer Springs camp were more than adequate. It provided a very authentic elk hunting experience. And very exciting news for the 2019 hunting season is that Jesse is now currently building a state of the art, elk lodge at his Livingston ranch location. It was also very helpful to have the opportunity to zero in the bows at camp during the afternoon hours on Jesse’s big bull elk target and added a little something extra to the hunt. On top of that, the meals that Adrian provided were absolutely delicious and there was more then enough to go around.
|HUNT PACKAGES AND ADDITONAL FEES||Score||4 / 5|
In addition to the incredible archery elk hunt we experienced, Jesse also offers a trophy caliber Montana rifle hunt as well. For those looking for a trophy bull, Jesse’s rifle hunts are very productive year in and year out. Jesse currently charges $5,900 per hunter for a 2 on 1 fully guided elk hunt with gun or bow. To have a legitiment opportunity at a trophy, fair chase 6 point or better bull, this a great value! Jesse can also accommodate a trophy Mule deer and Whitetail hunt as well, with packages from $3,500 – $4,500 per hunter.
|OVERALL QUALITY OF THE TRIP||Score||5 / 5|
The overall quality of each of Jesse’s Montana archery and rifle elk hunting packages are both incredible. Both are trips offer the opportunity for a wall hanger trophy. There is no doubt that this is a World Class caliber, fair chase adventure that anyone would consider the Hunt Of A Lifetime! 5 / 5!
|Overall Banthem Outfitting Scored A 28 Out Of 30 Giving Them An “A” Rating. We Would Not Hesitate At All To Refer Jesse For Either Of His World Class Trophy Elk Hunting Opportunities and Thus Have Named Banthem Outfitting The 2019 HuntTheNorth.com Outfitter Of The Year!||Final Score||28 / 30|
Part 3: Booking Information
Contact Information For: Banthem Outfitting
Outfitter: Jesse Banthem
Specific Montana Elk Hunting Packages Offered
- Montana Archery Elk Hunts (5 Day Hunt Package- $5,900)
- Montana Rifle Elk Hunts (5 Day Hunt Package- $5,900)
- Montana Elk / Deer Combo Hunts (Additional $1,000)
- Montana Elk and Antelope Hunts (5 Day Hunt Packages From $2,500 – $3,500)