To me, there is no rush like going deep into the wilderness chasing mule deer and elk. There is just something about being far back into the mountains, away from roads, away from cell phones, and most of all… away from so called “road hunters.”
The most heartbreaking part for me is working your way into a sweet basin that you scouted in the summer, going over a ridge and camping in your bivy sack, only to find someone encroaching on your hunting area as you begin glassing, spooking game as they work their way up a trail. That scenario has happened to me a handful of times when I started bowhunting the mountains, and that was enough for me.
It was then that I determined that I would go further, work harder and pack on the miles. Crazy maybe? To some yes, but in my opinion the less people I see the better. I prefer to get as far from an established trail, and roadway as I can. Trust me; the mountains will beat your body up when faced with a public land bivy type hunt. That is why in my opinion, besides for shooting skills, and physical conditioning, that proper backpack weight is crucial to ensuring you can travel on foot deep into the mountains, hunting hard every day like it was your first day on the mountain. The type of hunting I love is all public land, do-it-yourself. I pack all my gear, camp, and food on my back. This enables me to get into some rough country, away from the road hunters and into un-touched country. Doing so, you may sacrifice some nights that you could be sleeping in your warm house, tucked in that nice bed. Toughing it out on the mountain, you are right there in the action, each and every morning. There is no hiking back to the truck as darkness approaches, and waking up early to grab a cup of coffee with the locals before you get to your hunting spot.
I feel that pack weight is something of a major concern on these hunts. All the gear I pack with me, has a purpose, and is geared toward the lighter side. I feel that every ounce I save in my pack, enables me to hunt harder, longer, and still feel fresh well before the sun rises in the morning because my body isn’t in pain from a heavy pack.
When going light weight for backcountry bowhunting, there are a number of things you can do to lighten the load. Choosing the right pack for the job at hand is essential in my opinion. Are you doing a two or three day hunt, a five day, or a week plus hunt? Each pack is designed for certain tasks, and some work better than others when it comes to backcountry hunts. You definitely don’t want to throw all your gear into a small daypack that wasn’t designed to carry a heavy load. The shoulder straps will start to tear into your shoulders, and you will understand what I mean.
Things have come a long way since the big bulky external frame packs. Trust me, I used an old Jansport external frame for awhile to get deep into the backcountry and those things are heavy! Nowadays I strictly use internal frame packs, it is mainly personal preference for the type of hunting I like to do. For a 2-3 day hunt you can get by with a 2,800 cubic inch pack, then something around 3,500 for a stay of up to 5 days. Any longer and I would steer towards a 4,500 or larger pack.
The items I pack with me bowhunting are ones that first and foremost, I trust and feel will stand up to the rigors of the backcountry. When going through my gear, I always try to come up with ways to shed weight. I remove all tags (example are ones that talk about the material in your sleeping bag, tent, etc). Replace alkaline batteries with lithium. I also cut weight by removing the majority of my toothbrush, as you really only need the business end when you are in the backcountry. Also I do not take a tube of toothpaste with me but instead I take a contact case cut it in half, placing a full amount of toothpaste in one side of the contact case. This easily lasts eight days of brushing your teeth in the morning and evening. I feel brushing is important, so this lightweight setup definitely works well in the backcountry. For water purification, I skip the filter method, as most are too bulky for my preference, so I stick with iodine tablets for making stream/lake water safe to consume. Also, on all my backpacks I remove the metal zipper pulls that most come with, and replace it with a short length of parachute cord. This has saved a ton of weight as most hunting packs nowadays have lots of zipper compartments. All this unnecessary weight adds up…trust me here.
I will briefly touch on the topic of food I take in the backcountry as that could be a whole article in itself. My food setup is fairly simple, breakfast is two, sometimes three oatmeal packets (usually I remove the oatmeal from their packets so I don’t have the extra weight of the paper to carry around), snacks usually consist of protein/energy bars, trail mix, or jerky. Then lunch is always peanut butter, bacon, and honey bagel sandwiches. Dinners consist of Mountain House freeze dried meals.
To get right down to it, here is a list of equipment and their weight in ounces that I took with me on a recent scouting trip, minus my food and a few pairs of clothes. This is basically the exact same equipment I take with me when I am hunting. I just add game bags, knife, sharpener, rangefinder, tags, elk calls, bow and release.
Pack: Badlands Sacrifice = 61.3 oz.
Tent: MSR Hubba Hp = 46.7 oz.
Sleeping Bag: Big Agnes Pomer Hoit SL Long 0 Degree = 47.3 oz.
Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes Insulated Air Core 20x78x2.5 = 26.1 oz.
Binoculars: Cabelas Euros 10×42 with Badlands Bino Case = 46.3 oz.
Spotting Scope: Vortex Nomad 20x60x60 Angled = 36.4 oz.
Tripod: Cabelas = 26.7 oz.
Bear Deterrent: Counter Assault Bear Pepper Spray = 12.3 oz.
Taurus .45 ACP Handgun with one clip ammo = 47 oz.
GPS: Garmin 76Cx = 7.8 oz.
Cooking Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket = 3.9 oz.
Cooking Pot: MSR Titanium Pot = 4.8 oz.
Spork: Sea To Summit Titanium = 0.3 oz.
Stove Fuel: 4 oz. MSR Fuel Can = 8.1 oz.
Headlamp: Petzl Elite = 0.99 oz.
Multi-tool: Leatherman Wave = 8.5 oz.
Toothpaste: 0.4 oz.
Toothbrush: 0.1 oz.
Parachute Cord: 3.7 oz.
Water Purifier: Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets = 1.1 oz.
First-Aid Kit/Firestarter/Waterproof Matches = 6 oz.
Bic Lighter: 0.8 oz.
Carabineer: 0.2 oz.
Notepad & Pencil: Rite in the Rain paper does the job here
Digital Camera: Nikon Coolpix S3000: 4.0 oz.
I am sure you can add or subtract items that you may need on your next backcountry bowhunt. This is just a list I have developed over the years that has worked successfully for me.
Work hard, play hard, and bowhunt even harder!!!