As Sportsmen and women, we all have a mutual respect for our way of life.We all share that passion and respect of the amazing, and very diverse, landscapes and animals that paint this earth.When it comes to hunting, this word means very different things to all of us.Whether it is sitting in a tree stand on a twenty-degree morning, waiting for that rutting whitetail to come by, or climbing desert mountains in eighty-degree heat to find that ram of a lifetime, we all have a different picture of what “hunting” is.When I hear the word “hunting,” I picture chasing high country mulies and elk, with my bow, far off the beaten path.I imagine a place that is far from easy access but thriving with the game I came to pursue.I portray a long hike into the wilderness, carrying everything I need to survive for ten days.I am a solo back country hunter.That is my passion.To define “backcountry”, I am talking about those places miles from any roads.The types of places you must earn your way into and respect them while your there. The type of terrain that will take your breath away but just as quickly could take your life if you don’t go in prepared.Hunting these places solo can be very rewarding in so many ways, but at the same time can turn bad quickly if you go in without a plan.I am going to talk about some of my own experiences throughout the years, what to expect, preparation, and after the kill.
I have spent about 19 years of my life solo hunting in the backcountry for multiple game species.I also spent 10 years in the Army, so I have a lot of experience when it comes to living out of a backpack.What I have learned from my experience is that is there is no substitute for training.You can spend all the money in the world to lighten your load, but if you’re not in shape you are not prepared.This doesn’t mean you have to put on a pack every day and run stairs, or jog 10 miles 3 times a week.If backcountry is your passion, then be conscious of your nutrition and fitness year-round.If you eat garbage and don’t live an active lifestyle, you can’t expect to just magically “get in shape” in thirty days before hunting season.Be pro-active for your passion, but more importantly, for your health.Believe me when I say I have tried both fitness approaches and everything in between.I have planned 10-day hunts only to come home after three, unsuccessful, only because I didn’t prepare my gear, my body or my mind properly.It is a different world up there and will-power only takes you so far.There are sacrifices you will have to make when hunting this way, but the rewards are on a different level.I am drawn to hunting this way through chance.I moved to a new area and did not know anyone.I spent years just going in further and further every year as my comfort level went up.I found majestic places that I call my “honey holes” like we all do.They are not necessarily places where I always find game, but they are places that have that special aura that draws me out of my own head.These places free up my thoughts and allow me to be free of the “rat race” that is most of our lives.Last year I spent 18 days straight in these places and didn’t even speak a word out loud for 18 days!Who else EVER gets to do that.I came home a better outdoorsman, a better husband and father.This is my “reset” for the year, and I always look forward to it.
If you are new to this type of experience, there are some things that you should know.You will have to dig deep sometimes.Not only physically but more mentally.Even after hunting this way a good portion of my life, I get weak moments where I let my negative thoughts get the best of me.Its day 3 of 10 and I haven’t even got close to an opportunity for a shot yet.Rain settles in and causes me to stay in my tent for an entire day to keep dry.I get bored.Other hunters show up in my area, unexpectedly.I just want a home cooked meal!These are some of the excuses I have used to pack up early and end my hunt, and let me tell you, I always regretted it.When walking through my door at home and my wife says, “your home early, did you get something”, and I reply with some excuse why I came back early.When it comes down to it, I just didn’t go in prepared in the first place, and that made it easy to quit.If you can get past the mental part of it, being alone in big country, you WILL feel accomplishment at the end.Always start preparing well in advance and try to think of EVERYTHING to prepare.Be dynamic, expect challenges and have a plan to face them.
When it comes to preparation for this exciting hunt, like I said before, you must try and think of everything.I start at least a month before I leave by laying out all my gear in an organized fashion.This allows me to inspect my gear for accountability and damages.Let’s face it, after a hard hunting season, we don’t always leave everything perfect for the next season.I know I don’t.Preparing early allows me to clean gear, sharpen knives, inspect water filters and lights.It also allows me ample time to replace something if need be.I try to be very minimal when hunting this way.Other than, must have survival gear and first aid, I try minimizing my weight.Don’t get me wrong, even with the lightest gear out there, a pack filled for a ten-day hunt is going to be heavy.That’s ok, I train for that.What I don’t want to do is carry a bunch of unnecessary “comfort” items with me.I plan out my meals based off weight and nutrition needs.I have a meal plan for every day, no more.I carry a Nalgene bottle and a filtration pump to save weight.I pack an extra water bladder, empty, to keep at camp.I change out every battery, in everything that requires them and take a few extra.I always take a new book or two to read during down time.I just try and think of every primary need I WILL have and cover those things first.After that, it all comes down to what you want to carry.Don’t forget, you get to carry that same pack out, a lot heavier coming out if you are successful.
It’s day one, I just carried 79-pound pack four miles into my hunting area to setup for an 8-day hunt.I set up my camp just in time to go out for an evening hunt for elk.I walked about another mile from camp when a bull responded to my bugle.I move towards him and set up for a calling sequence.After bugling back and forth at each other for almost an hour, I started raking a bunch of limbs and that did it.Suddenly, I was face to face at 25 yds with a 340-bull thrashing a sapling in front of me.I settled my pin and connected about 10 minutes before sundown and filled my tag.It was a hot early September, so I had to get packing that same night.This was one of my early experiences hunting backcountry and taught me a lot about weight management and pack selection.The first trip back down that mountain was that same 79-pound pack with a rack, head, cape, and backstraps and loins added.My pack was not designed for that, so I had a strap break, and an unsecure load for most of that trip.I severely decreased weight in gear and bought a better pack after that hunt.The point I am trying to make is that, you must plan for this.After all, its why we are there in the first place.I use an Exo Mountain Gear pack, (which is AMAZING), which allows me to secure and carry insane loads if need be.Don’t ever carry more than you can handle, injury prevention is always #1 priority in the backcountry.A pack that allows you to carry camp, use as day pack, and haul everything extra down the mountain securely is key.After a kill in the backcountry, there are many things that need to be considered.Is it hot, are you in grizzly country, do you have buddies to help you pack out, etc.I am very adamant about getting as much meat as possible from that animal.I carry VIam reusable game bags and will bone out as much as I can.I start by doing a gutless quartering method (you can look this up on youtube).I use a lightweight tarp from VIam as well, to lay the meat on to keep it clean.Once I have all the meat removed from the carcass, I skin it out and bag it up in sections.For example, each quarter will have its own bag to make it easy for processing later.The bags I use allow good air flow but keep bugs and debris off my meat.I will bone out quarters if I have long distances to cover.I hang what I am not carrying from a limb to allow it to cool.I usually carry the head, antlers, loins and backstraps on my first trip with the rest of my gear.I will then remove my backpack at the truck and go back in with only pack frame and water.The next two trips, I carry one front and one rear quarter each trip.This allows me to pack out an entire elk, by myself, in three trips.You will be tired, but every time you cook up some elk steaks on the grill that year, you will appreciate it.You earned them!
There are a lot of details, listed above, to prepare you for an amazing journey.Just remember that if you are punctual in your preparation, you will have a more gratifying and most importantly, a safer hunt.This type of hunting is not for the faint of heart, it takes heart, body and mind.Always remember when your out there, very few people will EVER get to experience this in their lifetime. Don’t be afraid to get out there and see what you’re made of.