As I’ve been documenting the process of preparing for my first elk hunt, I have had the privilege of meeting many other hunters that are also preparing for their first archery elk adventures. It has been an honor to share many comments, emails, and phone calls with kindred spirits that dream of the wapiti.
Unfortunately, one of these men (and his hunting partner) didn’t quite get the experience that they were hoping for.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This isn’t my story of my hunt. This is a guest post – it is his story, in his words. (There was some confusion from some readers.)
If you’re thinking about hunting the backcountry, please read this, take heed, and proceed with caution.
I wanted to have the elk hunt that I’ve been dreaming of for years, but what actually happened is that…
“We bought tags, drove 2,800 miles, had a $120 hotel room, and barely hunted for 2 Days.”
We leave for Colorado August 30th around 2pm. The plan is to just drive and till we’re both tired. We end up driving straight through to our hunting destination, with a stop in Gunnison to purchase Ryan’s tag. Arriving at the trailhead, we setup a “Base Camp”, shoot our bows – my partner, Ryan, needs to make some adjustments. We fix his bow, walk the trail into a glassing spot, return to the truck for supper and bed.
The next morning, Sunday, we throw packs on (after removing several unneeded clothes from Ryan’s pack) and hike in 3 miles to spike camp. The hike is slow with several stops for Ryan to catch up. We settle on a slightly lower spot, as Ryan can’t go any further. We set up camp and filter 2.5 gallons of water. After that we walk mostly same elevation and find a meadow to sit till dark.
On Monday we decide to hike up to a ridge to do some glassing. The hike is slow. Once up there, Ryan gets a headache, and after about 1 hour we start dropping down. We descend to lower elevation, looking for fresh sign, and Ryan does a good bit of dry heaving off and on. We return to camp at 5:30pm and Ryan goes right to bed. Ryan had been ignoring/denying it, and I didn’t fully notice it, but it’s now obvious that Altitude Sickness is setting in.
The next day, Tuesday, I decide we need to pack out and get to a lower elevation for Ryan to recover. He wakes up to me packing and is upset with the decision, but has no energy from not eating the previous day and gives in. The hike out takes a long time, as Ryan has no fuel in him. We come across another camp of 2 hunters and swap stories. They agree that the hunting is slow, and they are also backing out for a day or two. After loading everything in the truck, we start to leave the trailhead and the tie rod breaks on the truck. After another long adventure, we get the truck to a shop and parts are ordered.
On Wednesday morning we discuss Ryan’s physical abilities and make the tough decision not to go back in after the truck is repaired. Ryan is not anywhere near physically fit to help pack an animal out. He also is still not feeling good yet, and I don’t want to pack back up into the mountain just to have to turn back around. Shortly after noon the shop calls and has the truck repaired. We head east, arriving back at Ryan’s house at 10 am the next day.
My desire to go elk hunting clouded my judgment, and I failed to see the warning signs with my partner, and also did not push him in fear of him backing out.
Here’s How I Prepared For The Hunt
After everyone backed out of a 2012 drop-camp hunt, I began planning a 2013 DIY backpack hunt. Ryan immediately agreed, and I started planning.
From February-May, 2012, I continued researching and buying key pieces of a layered clothing system, and boots. This allowed me to test them in warm weather, as well as stand hunting Whitetails.
In December of 2012 I purchased my backpack and started hiking with 40lbs; building up to 100lbs by May 2013.
I continue shooting my bow after deer season in the basement, until the club’s first 3D shoot in March of 2013. After that I shoot outside, often times with a pack on.
In February of 2013 I pick up a Sierra Designs Lightning 3 tent and a Kelty Cosmic down sleeping bag. I set them both up in the yard and sleep a couple of nights below 30 degrees to test them. In March I take a weekend backpacking trip to Lusk Creek wilderness to test the gear I have acquired. Later in the month I finalize the target hunting location and start analyzing the area with Google Earth, topographic maps, hunting forums, etc. I also spent a lot of time listening to experienced elk hunters.
In April I buy a few elk calls and learn how to use them. I practice almost daily. Mostly in the truck when I’m alone. Over the Summer 2013 I finish buying all of the shared items – stove, bear keg, game bags and first aid (didn’t realize they were both going to be shared), bear spray, water filter, water containers, maps, compass, etc.
I also finish marking waypoints and trails, and load that data onto my GPS unit, along with the Colorado Hunting GPS Maps card. In June I complete my packing list with daily meal plan. This list is for the backpack and also truck items.
In terms of physical training, I had been doing Crossfit 3-5 days a week, hiking with up to 100lbs in my pack, climbing 220 vertical feet of stairs and conveyor legs at work on a daily basis with multiple trips at a time. I also jog gravel roads around the house, as time allows.
I shot my bow at least 3 times a week, mixing the practice up by shooting with gear on, shooting from different angles and positions, shooting with wind sprints and pushups between shots, etc.
Here Is How My Partner, Ryan, Prepared For The Hunt
May of 2013, Ryan buys a bow. This is his first bow in almost 4 years.
In July Ryan finally purchases a backpack – 4500 cubic inches, like mine (I’m carrying all the shared items). He also acquires a sleeping bag (32-degree synthetic), boots, and clothing (most of it wrong). The boots are the only item that gets any type of break-in or testing. I question the rating on his sleeping bag after seeing it. It looks like a 50-degree, and he discovers on the mountain that it sleeps like a 50. Fortunately, he had plenty of UA cold gear to sleep in.
Ryan’s clothing is almost all built for late-season whitetail hunting in the Midwest. I give him a lighter pair of pants and shirt at the trailhead, before we head in.
In August Ryan finally purchases some broadheads, but is in no hurry to shoot them, as the shop paper tuned his bow. He also buys an elk calling kit from Gander Mountain, but packs them away after a couple failed attempts of making any sounds. Ryan’s “packing list” is developed, and consists of the “Pack Isn’t Full Yet Method.” Remember – I am carrying all of the camp items and loaded bear keg in my pack; he only needs clothes and personal items.
On August 21st Ryan calls me in the evening to see if I think it’s too late to order a tag online. I think it is. Then, 10 days later, he purchases an antlerless-only elk tag that isn’t valid in our unit. Upon arriving at the trailhead I find out that Ryan has brought his .454 Casull for bear protection, but has no holster for it – he is going to pack it away in his backpack, after I cleared out most of his clothing.
On the 1st of September I discover that Ryan hasn’t loaded his Colorado topo map, let alone the custom GPS files I sent him for his GPS unit. I also find out that his “first aid kit” is nothing more than a bottle of Tylenol.
Here’s the physical training that Ryan had completed to prepare for this trip…
One half-mile hike down the road with 20#’s in back pack. This is performed only once. Climbing a 200’ vertical tower at work; one ascent performed infrequently, like when (by chance) something needed to be repaired at the top.
I Should Have Known…
Ryan and I had several phone calls throughout the year leading up to our hunt. We also had discussions whenever we were at get-togethers. I was aware that he wasn’t purchasing any of the needed items, nor was he training for the mountains, but I wanted to go so bad that I didn’t want to scare him out of going.
An honest evaluation of a hunting partner is the most crucial element, and I brushed right over it. I would have been better off putting if I had waited one more year to either properly prepare Ryan, (but I think he’s decided this isn’t for him), or find a suitable hunting partner. Now I am back in the flat lands, waiting on an October 1st deer season, wishing I was in the mountains trying to punch this tag that’s burning a hole in me. Don’t make my mistake and be blinded by ambition!