Just take a walk: Bow hunting Makoshika State Park

By: 
Daniel Nolker
Yellowstone Newspapers

Mark Goyette aims his modern compound bow while Viegut draws back on his traditional version. With this equipment Viegut has no sights and has about one-quarter the range of Goyette. Photos courtesy of Glendive Ranger Review

The Easton Axis arrow hissed through the air and thudded deep into the center ring of the square foam target. Mark Goyette held his PSE compound bow outstretched for a moment after releasing and studied the shot. Pleased with the result, he eased the bow back down and knocked another arrow onto his custom-made bowstring.
Nearby, Jordan Viegut took his own practice shot with an ultra-traditional re-curve bow and feather-fletched arrows. Without sights, he relied on instinct and hours of practice
“I can only shoot a quarter the distance Mark can, but this should still get the job done,” Viegut said.
Equipped with tools from the distant ends of the archery spectrum both men agreed that the close proximity required to harvest an animal makes bow hunting more challenging and exhilarating than any other outdoor pursuit. To add to the challenge, Goyette and Viegut have prepared for one of the most daunting deer hunts in the region and possibly anywhere.
Restricted to archery hunting only, Makoshika State Park offers a unique challenge to deer hunters beyond what is already a difficult task. As Montana’s largest state park, Makoshika encompasses 11,538 acres. Much of the park beyond the switchbacks is open to archery hunting for deer and that area is where Goyette and Viegut both set their sights.
Bow hunting for mule deer in Makoshika is not a new pursuit. Surely the name itself – “bad earth” or “bad land” in Lakota – partly came from frustrated hunters watching their wary and elusive quarry bounding out of sight into a steep coulee.
Originally from Great Falls and new principal of Washington Middle School, Goyette said he is returning to hunt at Makoshika after a hiatus since 1999. Hunting during his three years at Dawson Community College, he was captivated by the challenging and unique experience.
“Some of the biggest deer I’ve ever seen were in Makoshika, but it can be a frustrating place to hunt for a lot of people. The terrain is rugged and there isn’t a lot of cover. The majority of the time, the deer see you before you see them,” Goyette said.
Viegut, Dawson County Schools curriculum director and originally from Wisconsin, will be hunting Makoshika for the first time this year and he, too, was drawn to the rugged badlands of Makoshika because it presents unique challenges.
“In Wisconsin, tree stand hunting is the primary method because you are never exposed like here. The deer definitely know this country better than we do, so as a hunter who is always trying to develop new skills, techniques and perspectives, Makoshika is like a test area for those things,” Viegut said.
Also, since the deer see hikers all year, they are educated and know how far away they need to be to stay out of range, he added.
Goyette said the best strategy to harvest deer in Makoshika is to intercept them as they are moving from bedding to feeding areas. By staying in cover and waiting for the deer to walk within range, hunters are less likely to be spotted before they can take the shot.
“I’ve always been a spot and stalk guy because I’m primarily an elk hunter. Sitting still for too long isn’t necessarily something I’m used to. But out here if the deer see you first, you are in trouble. They are smart where they bed, always having multiple escape routes. It seems like they can just vanish and you never see them again.”
Although there is always a chance of killing a giant out there, Goyette said his expectations for this season in Makoshika will be enjoying the outdoors during the best time of year.
For Viegut, the proximity and majesty of the park make it a special place to hunt.
“Having this in your backyard, that’s why it’s so special. You get to be outside and in the park. Makoshika outside of a hunting day is great, so everything beyond that is gravy,” Viegut said. “Put on a heavy flannel, grab your bow and step into the woods. Just take a walk.”

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