Libby hunters pack out elk on mountain bikes

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  • Jimmy Smith, right, and his hunting buddy, Kelly Rooney, show off their unique method of transporting a bull elk Smith bagged Oct. 20 while hunting in Flathead County. The mountain bike method shaved hours of packing time off their journey from the kill site to their vehicle. (Photo submitted)

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    Caston James Smith, 1, poses with his dad Jimmy’s 5x5 bull elk that he bagged Oct. 20. (Photo provided)

  • Jimmy Smith, right, and his hunting buddy, Kelly Rooney, show off their unique method of transporting a bull elk Smith bagged Oct. 20 while hunting in Flathead County. The mountain bike method shaved hours of packing time off their journey from the kill site to their vehicle. (Photo submitted)

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    Caston James Smith, 1, poses with his dad Jimmy’s 5x5 bull elk that he bagged Oct. 20. (Photo provided)

Little, if anything, is easy about elk hunting, but two Northwest Montana men who have hunted them together for several years came up with a creative way get their bull out of the woods after a recent hunt.

Jimmy Smith, 40, and Kelly Rooney, 34, both of Libby, became friends in 2003. Smith, who was from Washington, hunted elk with his dad for many years in their home state and in Idaho.

“That’s where I got the bug,” Smith said.

He moved to Libby and went to work with a friend of Rooney’s. After a few cold ones, both became good friends and they now do everything from hunting and fishing together to bowling and softball.

They have hunted together for 15 years and were hunting together when both killed their first bulls.

For Rooney, a Libby native, he tagged his first three years ago.

If one or the other bagged an elk, the meat usually came out on their backs.

But, this year, Rooney had something else in mind.

“We’d found this spot about six years ago and Kelly texted me what I thought about using mountain bikes,” Smith said. “We kicked it around and decided to give it a try.”

Smith said not many places they’ve hunted elk would allow for such a plan, but where they were on the first day of the general elk and deer season a few weeks ago in Flathead County happened to be one such area.

“We had some uphill riding, but generally, it wasn’t like some of the places we’ve been where you would have had to push the bikes,” Smith said.

The plan began a week before the opener when they biked into their hunting area about one-and-one-half miles from where they parked. They stashed their bikes in the brush and left them.

On the first day, they hiked back and when they got to their bikes, there were even more pleased with their decision after seeing the flashlights of hunters coming behind them.

“We rode another two-and-a-half miles before we stopped, so we were back in pretty good and there wasn’t anyone else around,” Smith said.

After dropping their bikes, they had walked less than 100 yards when a bull bugled.

“The cows were still chirping and he was still going off, so we were definitely in the right place,” Smith. “We had seen him the year before and he had grown some.”

Before long, Smith had the 5x5 bull in his sights and down with one shot from his .300 Winchester Short Mag. It was his first bull in 25 years of hunting.

“We were both pretty happy and I was asking myself ‘is this real?’” Smith said.

While the two buddies shared the tremendous accomplishment, there were a few other factors that made the hunt even more special.

When Smith tagged his first bull it was four years to the day that his father had died.

“It means a little more to me, considering he’s the one that got me into hunting,” Smith said.

Smith also said he hadn’t been able to spend much time hunting after the birth of his son, Caston James, in September 2017.

“You definitely don’t get the time you used to, but I know he’s my good luck charm,” Smith said. “He sure was excited when we got home with the elk.”

Smith said the chance to hunt with a good friend such as Rooney and be able to enjoy the outdoors is what makes hunting so special to him.

“It’s not just about killing something, there’s so much more to it. Some of the things you get to see, the beautiful country, it’s pretty meaningful,” Smith said.

When the two hunters had quartered the bull, they tied the pieces and head to a pole they had cut and lashed it to their bike seats. After shouldering their packs and slinging their rifles, they headed back down the way they had come, taking less than an hour to get the bull back to their rig.

“It sure was a better way to get it out,” Smith said. “It rarely works out like that, but it did that day.”

Smith said they tied the quarters up enough that they didn’t drag on the ground much.

“It really worked well, kind of like we had imagined it would,” Smith said.

Smith said the bull produced about 350 pounds of meat and both families have been enjoying it ever since.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said.

Smith, who works as a taxidermist at Philip Soucy Studios in Libby, said he plans to do a head and shoulder mount of the bull elk.

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