Steve Speck is the owner of S&S Archery, the designer and founder of Solid Broadheads, the creator of the Bogus Challenge, and a founding member of Pure Elevation Productions. If you have been following Sole Adventure for a while, you might recall that I interviewed Steve last year. (If you missed that interview, please check it out!)
Steve has been a huge help to me over the past couple of years, and has been especially generous in helping me with my elk trip. I had a few questions for Steve, and he graciously agreed to let me share his insights with you in this interview…
When backpack hunting, how do you choose where to camp in relation to the core area that you think you will be encountering animals?
Where to camp is really a tough one, and I think really depends on where you are hunting, and how. If you plan to set up a spike camp and hunt from that camp day-after-day, I would make sure you are set up out of the way, with a good water source nearby. Thermals will be blowing downwind in the morning and evening, so I would have my camp down in the bottom of the canyon.
Last year was my first year really hunting with camp on my back all day long and this comes down to a risk/reward situation. There were a couple nights where the only flat spot we could find was right in the middle of a couple herds of elk. We had bulls bugling not 300 yards away as we set up the tent. The risk here is that there is a good chance you could “bump” the elk in the middle of the night, but on the other hand you also might wake up and be in the elk immediately, which give you a good opportunity to move on them before they start heading to their bedding grounds. If you to camp down in the bottom of the drainage you might not make it up the mountain in time to get to them.
What are some of the best, budget-friendly ways to reduce pack weight, without upgrading all of the high price gear items?
I’d say the biggest problem most people have is simply packing too much gear with them. Over the years my pack list has come down to a science, and I know exactly what I need to pack, and that’s all I bring. My 3 day pack with all my gear, food, water, etc is down to 28lbs. Granted I have some lightweight gear, but I see no reason why anyone’s pack needs to be more than 35lbs. If it is heavier than that, you are packing way too much.
Speaking of budget…Saving money is great, but what items should someone absolutely consider investing in? What items require buying quality vs. trying to “cheap out”?
I would say the two most important gear decisions for a backcountry hunter are his pack and his shoes/boots. Clothing would also be my third on that list. You can easily get by with a cheap tent, sleeping bag, pad, stove, etc., but taking care of your feet and having a comfortable pack will make all the difference in the world on your hunt.
What method do you use to treat your drinking/cooking water?
I have bounced around a lot with water treatment options, but always end up going back to a water filter. I have tried Iodine, UV light, etc., but it seems on every hunt I have to get water out of less-than- clean sources, and having a filter is the best option in that situation. If I hunted in an area that had tons of fresh springs I would probably use something different to save weight.
What strategies or techniques do you use to control your scent on a multi-day backcountry hunt?
Honestly I don’t do much here. I make sure to wash my clothes in scent-free detergent and spray down with scent killer at the truck, but the reality is that after 3+ days in the backcountry you are just going to smell. One thing that has really helped is wearing First Lite Merino wool, which resists bacteria more than synthetic fabrics, so you don’t smell near as bad when hunting in merino. You can also rinse off in the creek when you get a chance. And if the country allows, smoke from a fire at night can help cover up odors as well.
Really it just comes down to hunting smart and knowing how the thermals and winds work. I don’t care how little you smell, or how bad – if the wind is blowing towards your prey, you don’t stand a chance.
There are different calling strategies for different times of the season, but what is one calling technique that has proved valuable to your hunting?
I have had a lot of luck in the opening week of the season by using a lot of aggressive cow calling. The bulls are just starting to leave their bachelor herds, and if you can find the right one, he will almost always check out what’s making all the noise.
Give me a general timeline of a typical day of elk hunting. How are you hunting, and where are you focusing your efforts for morning, mid-day, and evening hunts?
A day actually starts by determining our plans the night beforehand. Then, depending on where we set up camp, we get up about one hour before sunrise get to where we planned to be at first light. Remember that the thermals will be going down in the morning, so you want to approach from below or at least side-hill. Depending on the time of the month, we’ll either bugle or cow call and see if we get a response. From there we really go where ever the day leads us.
In one of our favorite backpacking spots we usually try to keep to a plan because we know the country so well, and we also know what the elk tend to do. If you are in new country you’ll have to figure out what you want to do. If you are hunting a small area you won’t want to run all over the place and bust the elk out.
Usually around 10 in the morning the elk have all moved to their bedding ground and things will get quiet. This is when we usually plan to do some still-hunting through thick timber with some light cow calling. Mid-day can be a great time to hunt and catch a bull getting up to feed, or later in the month getting up to check in his cows. Also, if you know of an active wallow I would just sit on it for 3 or so hours at mid-day and see if something comes in. If nothing pans out there we’ll make a plan for where we want to be in the evening and go from there.
What one piece of advice would you give to all first-time elk hunters?
I think new elk hunters just need to get out there and learn from the experience. Every elk hunting situation is different, and there isn’t necessarily always a right or wrong answer in regards of what to do. If you are in completely new country you need to cover as much ground as possible while being smart about it. Elk can move miles in a day just going from feeding to bedding grounds, so you need to figure out their habits and that way you can hunt them smart.