Originally I thought that hunting would be an extension of the backpacking season. Like in the summer but now with a rifle in hand and in the pursuit of elk and deer, I wanted to roam deep in world-class wilderness areas and to camp in different spots each night.
But I’ve learned that this approach is perhaps more romantic than practical, because the ingredients of a great backpacking trip are often at odds with those of a great hunting trip. And so to improve my odds at filling my chest freezer, I’ve made multiple compromises to the backpacking experience.
The Gore Range and Indian Peaks are dramatic, with 13,000-foot peaks and deep glacier-carved valleys. But they’re hard to hunt, and three years ago we abandoned them for aesthetically subdued Morapos Creek, where the elk herd is bigger, where harvest rates are higher, and where the topography is less of a hindrance.
2. Consecutive days out
I used to leave the trailhead with enough food for the entire hunt. But at two pounds of food per day (on top of 35 pounds of hiking gear, hunting equipment, and water), my pack became annoying cumbersome, especially when hiking at altitude, uphill, off-trail, or in snow.
Now, I carry just two or three days of food, and restock at my vehicle when it’s convenient or when my food bag is empty.
Areas that are difficult to access — due to distance, vertical change, vegetation, or lack of trails — are more likely to hold game. And I’m more capable than most in getting to these places.
Even so, I try to hunt relatively close to the trailhead (within about 5 miles and/or 2,000 vertical feet of gain, depending on the conditions), because hauling meat from such areas would be epically long and hard, to the point of being impractical (at least without a horse and/or a lot of vacation time).
4. Base camp
By carrying my camp on my back, I’m more flexible and efficient than hunters who sleep in a base camp. I can hunt where the game or my gut take me, and sleep nearby when it gets dark. And I wake up and go to bed where the action is (or where I think it is), and avoid tiring hikes from or back to a fixed camp each morning and night.
But the conditions in the Colorado Rockies in October and November can easily overwhelm a backpacking hunt setup. In most years, temperatures fluctuate around freezing, high and shady slopes are already snow-covered, and storms temporarily suspend hunting and blanket the area in snow. Every year, the nights are long. Within a few days, we have damp clothing, damp boots, and damp sleeping bags.
This year I found the solution, courtesy of Noel: a supplemental base camp. This allows us to “reset” both physically and mentally, by drying our gear and getting out of the weather for a while.
Gear list: Supplemental base camp
If I’ve been sleeping in a small, damp, and unheated tent for several nights, a basic base camp is a treat. Noel’s consists of:
Guide Gear Teepee Tent – 14′ x 14′, which is shockingly large and well designed for its $120 MSRP. It can fit three people plus gear comfortably, or four plus gear snugly.
- For even more space, there is an 18′ x 18′ model.
- Noel didn’t like the included pegs, so he swapped them out for Coghlan’s 12-inch Steel Stakes.
Mr. Heater MH18B Portable Propane Heater ($135), which seemed to be a good size for the tent and which was more user-friendly than a portable wood stove.
Dust pan and brush, to sweep up snow and dirt that gets tracked into the tent.
Boot mat ($20), which served double-duty: to better distribute the pressure under the center pole, and to collect melted snow off our boots.
Make sure the base camp is also stocked with:
- Clean water, which may have to be insulated in a cooler on colder trips;
- Extra stove fuel, to avoid tapping into your backcountry supply; and,
- Portable battery packs, to recharge smartphone, inReach, GPS, etc.
How have you evolved as a backpack hunter? What other items are critical in a hunting base camp? Leave a comment.
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