I’m far, far from an expert or even good hunter, but I’m working on it. The last year has been a fantastic journey, and for folks like me who are experienced backpacker/skier/packrafter/etc types looking to get into backcountry hunting, I offer the following for consideration.
First, hunting it not backpacking. You can and often need to backpack to hunt, but the structuring goals are completely different. Embracing this is a vital first step. You can still go hunting in aesthetically interesting places, and hunting will likely push you to both slow down and consider places you’d breeze through as a backpacker, as well as crawl into some nasty holes you’d never, ever hike through on a backpacking trip where going from A to B is the priority.
Second, get away from trails, get high, sit still, and glass. Using optics to find and then stalk game has become the technique in the western US for good reason. The corollary here is that you’ll be more likely to succeed if you hunt in and from places where glassing can be put to good use. There are places around here with lots of deer and elk, where 50 meter visibility is the best case. It’s tough to find, and not make enough noise to spook, ungulates in such terrain.
Embrace the off-trail hiking in rugged terrain, and spend time looking for unlikely places on maps. Even in a place as big as the Bob there aren’t that many places which have good deer food and are away from where people go. Find them and hunt there.
I bought a full array of new optics for this fall: Meopta Meopro 6.5×32 binoculars, Minox MD50 spotting scope, Vortex Summit SS tripod, and the Outdoorsmans tripod adapter for the binoculars. The Summit has been problem free, and the compact collapsed size very nice. I’ve yet to come close to using it’s full height, so naturally the thought of something shorter and lighter enters my head, but as that isn’t possible without spending quite a bit more, I’m content. The Minox was a compromise, mainly financial. I like the size and weight (22 ounces). The 30x zoom is really not enough, and the optics could be clearer. Good enough, but it will need to be augmented with a big brother at some point. Unfortunately, that big brother will cost a grand or more.
Binoculars get used a lot more than the spotter, and thus they and the means by which they get stuck on your tripod are worth getting excited about. The Outdoorsmans adapter is expensive, but it functions flawlessly and became indispensible the first time out. The aluminum post takes a tripod adapter plate which clamps to your tripod. The binocular stud, seen above, stays attached to the binos, and fits into the hole in the adapter. Push down on the knurled knob to release when you’re ready to move on. Highly recommended.
I really like the low-power Meoptas. They have tons of eye relief, and are thus easily useable with my glasses on, and have a massive field of view. They make it easy to move your eyes, not your binos, when scanning terrain. Only bummer is that the diopter adjustment does not lock. All this seems like a lot of crap to carry, but it really is borderline essential for western hunting.
I used a Havalon all last year and this summer, and it works as intended. The main/only virtue is having instant access to a very sharp blade. Unfortunately everything else about it bugs me: the blades are fragile and disposable, changing one in the field with hands covered in blood is hazardous, and the folding design and grip panels on the handle are an absolute nightmare to clean. I’m retiring it in favor of the above, an Esee Candiru. It’s a tiny little thing with a brilliantly simple design. I used it for almost the whole deer this weekend, only switching to the Havalon when the Candiru got a bit dull to cut through all the neck sinew. In the future I’m bringing just the Candiru, and a ceramic sharpener. The blade geometry is great for both skinning and boning meat, the factory scales (knife nerd for handles, orange) have just enough texture without trapping gore, and the whole package is somehow just a hair over 5 inches long without feeling small in the hand. Solid and impressive.
Lastly, while I certainly sweated plenty packing the deer out, it was obvious that with a bit of training long, multiday packouts of deer sized animals is totally possible with a pack like the Unaweep. This opens up a massive range of possibilities. For reference, the four bone-in quarters plus backstraps and tenderloins were 45 pounds and took up about 30 liters of space. Boning out the quarters would cut a decent bit of weight and cut the volume by a 1/3 if not more. Deer certainly get bigger, but it’s safe to put larger mulies as well as the various sheep and goats in this category. Obviously elk and moose are a different case entirely.
Look for plenty more hunting here in the next few months, and a much more exhaustive article on the subject over at BPL towards the end of the year.