There are not many places in the world where you can hunt on a piece of hallowed ground. The Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana is one of them.
Obviously, you cannot hunt on the enclosed parts of the battlefield itself – the fenced-off areas around the monument and the Indian memorial – but since the battle stretched out over almost six miles along the Little Bighorn River, a lot of it is public ground.
Well, not quite public. The battlefield is within the Crow Indian Reservation, and to walk the land you need a “recreation permit” issued by the tribe. To hunt, you also need a tribal hunting license and a guide. All of this, however, is neither difficult nor expensive.
A year ago, bear hunting on the reservation with one of the gunmaking companies, I met Willie Peters, a Crow who has hunted the reservation all his life. The bear hunt was a disaster through no fault of Willie’s, but I enjoyed being with him so much I booked a pronghorn hunt for this year. Two friends of mine joined us, and we ended up staying in an RV park near the battlefield, hunting the land around.
Although Custer’s “last stand” is the most famous element of the battle, there were a half-dozen individual engagements as the commander had split his forces into three before attacking the Indian village. For this reason, you find separate markers spread out all over the landscape, from the monument itself east several miles to the Reno-Benteen battlefield.
Since I-90 follows the river, cutting through where the village stood, and Crow Agency itself is right there with its casino, tribal headquarters, and so on, you are surrounded by history from the moment you exit onto highway 212. Our RV park was about a mile from the Reno-Benteen battlefield, and the first morning we drove out and over a ridge and saw pronghorns immediately.
The Crow pronghorn population is not as great as it used to be. A bad winter in 2010 reduced the numbers dramatically. The good news is that the Crow do not value the pronghorns the way they do elk and mule deer, which outsiders are not allowed to hunt. They seem somewhat bemused that anyone would want to hunt “goats,” much less eat them, and they cheerfully sell you a buck license for $125.
Each of us had different aims when we arrived. I wanted to get a doe or two for the meat; Dinny wanted a buck, and her husband, Mark, wanted to shoot a pronghorn with an 1845 John Dickson muzzleloader. Licenses on the Crow Reservation are good for five days, so Willie had to figure a plan to accommodate all this.
Dinny got first crack and, around noon the first day, knocked off an old rather thuggish buck at 373 yards with her Dakota .30-06. A boon to the gene pool. That was very close to the Reno-Benteen site. The next morning, on the other side, we spotted a nice bunch of pronghorns moving off through the ravines and sagebrush ridges beyond the monument. Willie figured their path, devised a strategy and, after a tactically perfect stalk, I got a shot at 215 yards on a nice buck.
We took the afternoon off to visit the battlefield museums while Willie took care of some logistics. He then devoted his attention to getting Mark to within 75 yards of a pronghorn – no easy task. Days three and four were fun but fruitless; on day five, Willie and Mark left the vehicle and embarked on what amounted to a still-hunting expedition. An hour after they left the truck, we heard a ka-boom. They had crawled to within 36 (!) yards of a dozen pronghorns, and collected a doe just as the wind changed.
Five days, three pronghorns, some great hunting. We stalked (but did not collect) one very, very good buck, and saw lots of animals every day. Combined with the history, and a chance to see the Little Bighorn terrain close up, it was a treat. And the meat is excellent, too.–Terry Wieland