Core Stories

Marcus the Public Lands Llama: Big Sky Backcountry Hunting

Pressure at 10,000 ft

Many opening-weekends often start the same: high hopes, fresh legs, and sometimes, more ambition than good sense. The first day of Montana’s rifle elk season is no different. With ample access to public lands and a healthy elk population, your average hunter has plenty of reasons to get after it on the first day in Big Sky country.

Knowing they’d be sharing the mountain with their fair share of blaze orange vests, Randy Newberg, Beau Baty of Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas, and Lucas Burt of Leupold Optics hatched a plan to use the public pressure to their advantage. This meant taking Beau’s skilled trail llamas up to 10,000 ft in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and setting up a dry camp right in the middle of the local elk herd’s preferred escape route.

"It's always a little more challenging to hunt a place you've never trekked before, but using llamas gives you a leg up. You can stay longer, hunt harder, and explore more new areas along the way."

Randy Newberg, Hunter

Gaining an Advantage

Using llamas gave the three backcountry hunters several advantages:

  • Compared to horses or mules, llamas consume a lot less. While they’ll still drink daily, they don’t require nearly as much H2O. This meant the three could pack in substantially less water without worrying about finding an additional source along the way – less time replenishing resources equaled more time in the field.

  • The llamas also allowed the crew to pack in a couple extra amenities. While they slept in lightweight backcountry tents, they were able to add a small wall tent and stove to the pack list, which kept them out of the wind during evening meals and helped dry gear, as well.

  • Even though the crew positioned themselves at the top of the ridge, many stalks carried them thousands of feet toward the valley floor. Filling a tag with a llama in tow meant a few less pounds in the pack and a lot less trips carrying meat back to camp.

Like any public land hunting trip, the three experienced successes and failures along the way. The terrain was difficult and the public pressure was even more intense than they’d planned. But the llamas proved invaluable, giving them the advantage they were looking for. You can tune in to Randy Newberg’s YouTube page or watch Leupold’s Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg on Amazon to see the whole experience come to life over the next couple months.

Discovering The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is the largest national forest in Montana. It covers 3.35 million acres of the Big Sky state and lies in eight Southwest Montana counties - Granite, Powell, Jefferson, Deer Lodge, Silver Bow, Madison, Gallatin and Beaverhead. This vast section of public lands offers numerous recreational opportunities year around. You can camp in one of the 50 campgrounds scattered throughout the area or test your backpacking prowess on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and Nez Perce Historic Trail.

And, of course, you can take advantage of its ample access during one of Montana’s lengthy hunting seasons.

Where the pavement ends, onX begins. View detailed maps of Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

Start Mapping

Montana Hunting by the Numbers

  • Almost 30% of Montana belongs to you, while 3.7% of this land is protected wilderness.
  • Approximately 1,300 landowners have enrolled about 7.3 million acres of land in the Block Management Program, which gives hunters access to even more land during hunting season, and, in many cases, right-away access to additional public lands.

  • Montana offers many different hunting opportunities, including whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, antelope, black bear, bison, moose, sheep, mountain goat, mountain lion, turkey, wolf, upland game birds, waterfowl, and furbearer trapping.

  • For more information, you can visit
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