Eleven months ago, I went on an adventure that forever changed my life. I left the comforts of bowhunting the eastern states, and drove almost 2,000 miles across the United States towards the Rocky Mountains to chase the mighty Wapiti on federal public lands. With an average success rate for the unit of 7%, the odds weren’t in our favor. After spending 7 days in the backcountry, giving it all we had, we drove home with empty coolers. That definitely didn’t mean that it was a wasted trip.. The adventure at 11,000 feet has made me long for that feeling to get back to the high country every day since!
Fast forward to the current time, August 2017, and I’m only a few weeks out from heading back into the wilderness for some thin air therapy with my brother, father, uncle and a few close friends. I learned a lot about myself, and what I needed to improve on for this upcoming trip. Although, I thought I was in good physical conditioning leading into last year; the altitude and rugged country was eye opening. This year I made some changes in my physical preparation, nutrition and some gear choices.
Physical Preparation for Backcountry Hunting
Realizing that 1,800 feet elevation is much different than 11,000 feet, I knew that I needed to ramp up my conditioning. Last year, I did a lot of trail running and lifting weights to prepare for the backcountry. Most recently, I decided to focus my needs on building a strong foundation (legs) with increased stabilization (core) to haul around a heavy pack for days on end. I need to be able to cover as much ground as possible to reach my goal of taking my first elk with archery equipment on public land. My workouts have consisted of filling a dry bag with sand, and throwing the pack on. I’ve cancelled my gym membership and solely rely on kettle bells, a TRX suspension trainer, sand bags, and hiking on the weekends. Another gap I’ve worked on filling is being able to run up steep terrain to chase bugles, and still be able to shoot under pressure. Signing up and competing in a Train to Hunt event has helped tremendously in this area! The biggest issue I think we all run into is finding the time to get yourself in the condition you’d like to be in. With working a full-time job and helping out part-time at a local archery pro shop, I found that I needed to get my workouts in early. Every morning I wake up at 4:30 am to get a workout or run in before work, and this discipline has been a crucial component to getting where I need to be.
Backcountry Nutrition for Hunters
In recent years, I’ve really started paying attention to my nutrition for overall health. It didn’t take long to realize how much better I felt physically and mentally, cutting out wheat and dairy from my diet. Don’t get me wrong, I like to enjoy cold beer from time to time. As with everything in life, moderation is key. Last year on my Colorado hunt, I had between 2,400 and 2,700 calories per day with almost 1,200 of those calories from fat, and 100-110 grams of protein. The Heather’s Choice buckwheat breakfasts, packaroons and dinners were able to get those numbers to where I needed. I realized that this year I needed to start getting more fats into my every day diet, so it wasn’t such a shock when I started taking in that much fat on the hunt. In addition, I still lost roughly 15 pounds in those 7 days. I am shooting for over 3,000 calories and getting another 25-30 grams of protein each day to help maintain that weight. Everyone’s body is unique and reacts differently, but that’s why it has been so important for me to test many options. An extremely positive aspect that came out of last year’s hunt was that despite hiking close to 10 miles per day with a loaded pack, I never felt sore or hungry.
Gear Planning for Backcountry Hunting Trips
From hours of research and talking to other backcountry hunters and hikers, I had a pretty good handle on my gear for last year’s hunt. With that being said, I still have room for improvement. The main areas that I felt I needed to improve on was cutting out the “nice to haves”, sharing gear with my partners, upgrading my optics and changing out my pack. I’ve really cut down my clothing system by only keeping the necessities. I will be bringing merino underwear and socks, along with an ultra lightweight synthetic system from Sitka Gear comprised of a base layer, mid layer, insulation layer (puffy jacket), outer shell and rain gear. My dad and I will be sharing the weight of my shelter, first aid kit, and water filtration system, now fully understanding why everyone told me that ounces add up to pounds quickly. Furthermore, it’s difficult to hunt elk if you can’t see them. I upgraded my binoculars to a set of Maven optics that work extremely well in low light with crisp clarity. Lastly, I fell victim to trying to cut costs on a pack system that wasn’t up to the task. After ripping the bag, and breaking a few buckles, I upgraded to a sturdy Kifaru pack that handles weight much easier than my other ultralight pack. Other than those few changes, my gear won’t change much from last year.
As you can see, I’ve learned a lot from my first backcountry hunt and changed a few things to increase my odds at success. I’m sure that I will continue to tweak and change my approach as I get more experience with this style of hunting. With that being said, there’s never a bad day to get away from the stresses of everyday life when you’re miles deep in remote country. I feel extremely blessed that we have this opportunity to enjoy these public lands and gain the experiences that will be remembered for a lifetime.
In the coming months, I will have a few articles in the online Journal of Mountain Hunting digging into these topics with greater detail. My brother, Kurt, will be packing in with us, but heading above the tree line to chase mule deer with his muzzleloader at the same time. Check back here in a few months to read about how this adventure pans out for the both of us!