Trip Report: The Beginning of an Addiction

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Backcountry Hunting in Colorado

Last year my brother, cousin, and I ventured out west for the first time to hunt elk, while unsuccessful we all knew that it was the start of an addiction. What makes this style of hunting so addicting? Is it the late nights spent reviewing topographical maps? The months and months of planning? I still can’t answer that the same way every time I’m asked.

Looking from the outside in, many people won’t understand this form of adventure. An extreme form of grocery shopping that is much more than making a list and taking a drive to the store. This form of pursuit involves sitting for countless hours staring through binoculars and spotting scopes, dissecting the terrain, in hopes of finding the game you’re after. Growing up hunting in the thick clear cuts of the Allegheny National Forest, this spot and stalk method of hunting is new to me.

This year my dad, uncle, and two family friends joined my brother and I, on the hunt; everyone hunting elk except me. I was going after mule deer for those seven days, spending the majority of my time above tree line. While originally planning to camp by myself closer to the top of the ridge, the experience of enjoying this trip with my family trumped this desire. We found a happy medium and camped a little lower than planned so that we could all be together and talk about the days hunt around the campfire each night.

Colorado Backcountry Hunt

Backcountry Hunters Get Creative for Want of Water

There always seems to be something that drives the tempo of the trip. A theme that you come across everyday that affects what you do and where you go. Last year it was the constant changing weather on the mountain, sun one minute, hail storm the next. This year camp life revolved around water, or lack thereof. Choosing to set up camp at 11,400 ft meant that we were moving ourselves further from our known water sources.

This struggle in collecting enough water brought about some creative solutions. For instance, the second day brought on a decent rainstorm that resulted in us collecting three liters of water off one of our tents. We thought it was pretty funny, but soon wished we had enough rain to do that everyday. It was about a three hour round trip to our nearest water source, not an easy trip in the mountains. On day four, after once again only seeing bear while glassing two basins near camp, I decided to head down the lake to stock up on water. Arriving at the lake with only half a liter left, I sat down made some breakfast and started filling up all of my spare water bladders. With my stomach full of buckwheat, I decided to stow the spare bladders under a log and go check out the next basin.

When arriving at the next basin I was amazed at how great of a view it was, seemingly untouched by human expansion. The same three color phase bear I was watching that morning must have known about this scenic place, as they beat me to it and I found myself once again being amazed with their every move. After not finding any mule deer there, I headed back down to the lake to pick up my water supply and hike back to camp. I dreaded making the hike back as I would have all my gear and an additional 10 liters of water on board.

As I made my way to the water supply I could tell something wasn’t right. Everything had been pulled out from under the log and scattered throughout a small area. I picked up my big 4L bladder and immediately notice a stream of water coming from the middle of it. Bear… There was just short of two dozen tooth and claw marks in it, but only one had punctured the bladder. This one hole was enough to make it useless. A blessing and a curse as I was happy to be heading up the mountain lighter, but knew this would only add to our ongoing water supply issues.

Healthy food for backcountry hunters

Backpacking Meals and Water Consumption

This in my opinion is where Heather’s Choice meals really have an advantage. The breakfasts only take 4 oz of water and the dinners 12 oz. That day I heard my uncle mention how his freeze-dried meal for the night required over 20 oz of water, and that he really wished it was less considering our current water state. After dinner and splitting up the water evenly, we each had about 1.5L of water left.

Grateful for the Little Things

Up to this point hunting had been pretty slow for me. Every morning I’d wake up, throw my pack on, and hike up the ridge for about half an hour to one of my glassing points. I’d watch one basin for a while and if I didn’t see anything would then walk 20 or so yards to look into the next one. I had seen animals everyday, and put a stalk on one group of five mule deer buck on day three. While I wasn’t seeing a ton of mule deer, each morning would bring on something new. Some days it would be bear, others coyote, and even your occasional bull elk feeding well above tree line. When I wasn’t seeing large game I could easily be entertained by the chipmunk and weasels that always seemed to be intrigued by me and my gear. Too many hunting stories only focus on the animals that they are after, when in reality the little critters bring forward just as much to the story if not more.

In the end, I was not successful in harvesting a mule deer buck, in fact I never once even got to pull the hammer back on my side lock muzzleloader. This however, is not how I measure success. We spent a great week on the mountains disconnected from the stresses of work, doing something that we love and enjoying every bit of it. Most importantly, we had fun.

Kurt Martonik backcountry hunting

Backcountry Hunting Gear Tips: Cooking

After every trip I like to sit down and write down my big takeaways from the trip gear-wise. This year, I was most impressed with the changes I made to my cook setup. I’m going to share with you what I used and how well it worked; hopefully helping out anyone in search of a lightweight and effective cook kit.

On day seven, I found myself melting snow to have enough water to get back off the mountain safely to the truck. What surprised me was that I was still using the same small fuel canister that I had hit the trail with.* Last year I ran out of fuel on day five, and had to switch to my backup canister. Below is what I used and the weights associated with it (for you ounce counters like me). Weighing in at 9.45 oz without a fuel canister, this is about as light as it gets. As I said previously, this worked extremely well for me and I hope this helps!

                   TOTAL COOK GEAR WEIGHT:  9.45 oz

*The 7 days involved me boiling water twice daily, about 16 oz for breakfast & coffee, and 12 oz for dinner.

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