The Beginner’s Guide to Backpack Hunting
Do you want to be the ultimate outdoorsman? Backpack hunting is a true test of your hunting and survival skills, all the while giving you the chance to immerse yourself in the great outdoors.
Because backpack hunting takes you to areas that are more difficult to access—those without trail access, long distances from roads or even in the remote wilderness, for example—they are more likely to hold ample, diverse game. These backcountry areas are bastions of hunting for those that aren’t afraid of a rugged excursion, and taking the road a little less traveled.
But, the practice certainly isn’t for everyone. Hauling camping, hunting and survival gear through often-difficult terrain (not to mention the meat from any kills), overnight camping and a strong sense of survival are just some of the things you can expect on a backpack hunt.
If you’re ready to test your skills as an outdoorsman and hunter, load up your backpack, toss it over your shoulder and plot your route — here’s the beginner’s guide to backpack hunting.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
Table of Contents
Gut Check: Do You Truly Have What it Takes?
Not everyone has what it takes to undertake a backpack hunt, and it takes a strong-willed person to succeed at the process. There are many considerations to take into account before marching into the forest, including the logistics of navigating the wilderness, packing the proper gear and hauling it, planning meals and cultivating water, just to name a few. In other words, it isn’t a process that you should jump into without looking at the landing.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t take the necessary steps to prepare and complete a successful backpack hunt. Gaining the proper knowledge, acquiring the gear and taking the ultimate leap starts with understanding a basic set of expectations.
Understand the Dangers
One of the thrills of backpack hunting is that it tests your survival skills. And, while it is exciting, knowing the dangers will help you better prepare and stay safe in the wilderness.
First, and most obvious, is the fact that you’ll be subjected to the elements for an extended period of time. Unless you’re with an experienced guide, you likely won’t be taking off for a weeks-long excursion on your first trip. As such, it’s important that you’re fully ready to take on the challenges that come with hiking, camping, feeding yourself, finding water and other duties that are inherently involved in the process.
Another threat to pay attention to, particularly on a backpack hunting trip, is the wildlife you’ll encounter. Depending on what you’re hunting, there could be a larger number than what you’re used to seeing near trail systems. Big game like moose, elk and bison, for example, can be particularly dangerous, and even more so in herds and/or when with young calves.
Evaluate Your Skillset
Not only will you need to be a competent outdoorsman, you’ll need to be a skilled shot as well. Most hunting opportunities in the United States are available on public land. This has both positive and negative implications – one of which is that hordes of hunters descend on those same areas to hunt the same game. This means you need to hunt smarter and harder than others to maximize your effectiveness. Backpack hunting can bring you great success, but do you have the marksmanship, physical stamina and mental fortitude to see the whole process through?
Beyond your advanced hunting and camping skills, you’ll also need to be able to break down any game that you kill, so be sure you understand all that is involved.
Meet the Physical Fitness Requirements
While you don’t need to be a world-class bodybuilder for basic backpack hunting trips, you should be at least moderately physically fit and generally healthy starting out. For those that take it really seriously, they stay in peak physical condition year round – anyone experienced with the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains, treacherous hikes through Yukon Valley, desolate areas along Alaska’s Brooks Range and other tough backcountry knows that it commands such.
There are a ton of things to be said about exercise plans and getting into shape and you can probably figure a lot of that out as it pertains to you personally. However, we’d recommend incorporating exercises into your workout that resemble what you’ll experience on a backpack hunt: like squats and lunges for when you’re silently stalking prey, power walks for when you’re hiking long distances, and shoulder/back lifts to prepare for carrying a heavy pack.
It may sound simple, but the best approach is to simply keep up an active lifestyle throughout the year. Even a few rounds of tennis, pick-up basketball games or walking a few times a week can help keep your cardio up and extra pounds down.
Adopting a weight-training routine is also incredibly beneficial for backpack hunts. Not only will you be carrying all of your gear (anywhere from 20 to 60 lbs.) over long distances, you have to pack the meat of your kill as well. Consider a deer – even a smaller whitetail buck will require three to four trips, hauling 100-lb. loads of meat at a time. On another level, a moose will take about seven to 15 trips with 100-lb. loads of meat, since they can weigh up to 1,500 lbs. Even if you’re just a few miles away from the trailhead, the distance and weight adds up substantially when going back and forth.
One final note is to commit to a healthy diet now. Not only does this contribute to your physical fitness, it helps you get used to foods you’d consume or find while backpack hunting. For example, vegetables, fruits, nuts and other natural foods, as well as lean sources of protein regulate your metabolism, keeping hunger pains at bay. Training your body to operate on a certain number of calories or tight nutritional focus is critical in keeping your mind and body agile throughout the entire duration of a backpack hunt.
How to Scout Backcountry Hunting Locations
Finding the best backcountry hunting locations can be as easy as finding any parcel of hunting-friendly public land and hiking a few miles away from the road or trail, or as difficult as mapping out a weeks-long adventure through Yellowstone. Many backpack hunters prefer something that resembles the latter, and may want to find a more-remote place surrounded by miles of wilderness and well off the beaten trail.
However, not all backcountry locations require an intense remoteness. In fact, some of the best backpack hunting locations are places that are simply inaccessible to vehicles, as that normally lowers the number of people and minimizes elements of civilization. It can be as easy as hiking beyond the reach of road hunters.
It’s critically important to read the rules and regulations within the particular area you’re planning on backpack hunting in — some land may have restrictions on when, where and how you can hunt certain game. State game agency websites provide information related to each area including hunting boundaries, maps, harvest data, male/female ratios and so on.
With that being said, here are a few reliable ways to scout backcountry hunting locations.
In general, good old fashioned, boots-on-the-ground scouting is the most effective way to prepare for a trip, but sometimes that luxury isn’t always available. That’s when digital scouting comes in handy. First, do a simple search for hunting land near you—it can be either private or public. Much of federal, state and local areas designated as parks, forests and management areas are open at some point throughout the year for hunting various animal species. The great thing is that everyone has access to this land, much of it free, and there are millions of acres open to explore.
Next, with the help of a computer or smartphone GPS system, zoom in on your desired location. Toggling between the topical mode helps you visualize the landscape, all its peaks and valleys, lakes and rivers, potential camping and hunting spots. You can use the mapping function to draw hiking routes and measure distances between places like basecamp, hunting perch and water sources. And, don’t forget to memorize an easy emergency route should you run into any trouble like injury or wildfire.
The Wisdom of the Crowd
Another option for social-savvy hunters is to browse the many digital resources related to backcountry hunting locations. For example, plenty of forums and social media groups related to the backpacking, hunting and camping communities exist and supply ample information about traveling to and staying at countless locations. Even if there’s a new place that you can’t find information on, joining these forums lets you post your own questions and get feedback from fellow enthusiasts.Shop BANISH Suppressors >>
Make Sure You Have the Right Gear
Perhaps the most important aspect of a successful backcountry hunt is the gear you choose. Not only does the right gear help you be comfortable on your journey, but can also help ensure your safety while you’re in the wilderness. It wouldn’t be wise to just grab anything and go – you’ll need to acquire a few necessary supplies:
Hunting Tent and Sleeping Bag
By carrying only the essential elements of camp—a tent and sleeping bag—on your back, you’re giving yourself much more flexibility than those hunters with a complex sleeping arrangement. With a lightweight tent and sleeping bag that can go anywhere, you now have the ability to move where the game is, rather than waiting for the game to come to you. Make sure to check the temperature ratings of each before you leave to ensure that you’re protected from any excess cold or heat, as well as moisture.
The elements do what they want, with little regard to your situation and even the best-laid plans. So make sure to pack properly. Attire essentials may include rain or snow gear, hats and gloves, base layers and camouflage for hunting purposes. And, perhaps most importantly, a good pair of hiking boots! You don’t want to be stomping around mile after mile in soggy, blister-causing footwear.
Food and Water
The amount of food you bring will entirely depend on your caloric needs, pack size and trip duration. In general though, staples include dry, protein-rich food like beef jerky, peanut butter, trail mix and energy bars that don’t require any excess gear for storing and preparing. If you really need to eat something hot, consider freeze-dried food for a more substantial breakfast, lunch or dinner. Many packable stove mechanisms are on the market that make on-the-go cooking easy if you want to go that route.
Staying hydrated is also an important consideration on any backcountry trip. If you’re planning on collecting any water, be it rain, lake or river, you’ll need a way to purify it. Iodine tablets, water filters, reverse osmosis, distillation and other purification systems are available for this purpose. Research the best option that may work for your unique situation.
Modern backpacks have been designed in such a way that minimize excess weight, helping you carry a lighter pack farther. You may have to spend a little extra money, but cutting even 10 or 20 pounds off the overall weight can mean the difference between turning back early or being able to hike a few extra miles. A hiking backpack with a carbon-fiber frame and lightweight fabric is going to be much easier to haul than something made of metal and canvas, for example.
Rifle and Accessories
Make sure you are prepared with the proper rifle and accessories for the game you’re hunting. Your firearm is both your first line of defense in the wilderness and a tool required for filling up your meat freezer. Having an accurate, well-tuned rifle will make hunting easier and keep you ready to go at a moment’s notice—you never know when a 10-pointer may come meandering across your path.
Additionally, consider any rifle accessories that may make your hunting efforts more effective. Silencers, for instance, can help keep your shots quiet and game from scattering at the sound of a loud gunshot. Other things, like magazine extenders and scopes can come in handy with minimizing reloads and increasing accuracy.Shop Rifle Silencers >>
Backpack Hunting Tips for Use in the Backcountry
As you get started finding the right location and gear for your upcoming backcountry hunting excursion, keep a few of these tips in mind for when you finally get out into nature:
Warm-Up to the Process
As a beginner, it’s important that you don’t try anything that may be over your head right away. It’s one thing to imagine living the life of a “mountain man”, but it’s another thing to actually be exposed in wilderness conditions and completely fend for yourself with minimal supplies. Not only can you put yourself in danger, it may put a damper on your overall feelings toward backcountry hunting in the future.
To avoid this, start slow with a one-night camping excursion and day-long hike that can help give you a preview of the associated physical and mental demands. From there, you can build up trip length and frequency; before you know it you’ll have enough experience to survive in the wilderness for as long as you’d like. After enough excursions, you’ll realize that you’re actually spending more time hunting and less time “surviving”. This is the level of comfort you want to reach.
Figure Out Your Hunting Style
A lot of backpack hunters utilize the spot-and-stalk approach, where they see game from a distance and then execute a carefully planned stalking and shooting strategy. Others prefer an ambush style of hunting, whereby they’ll set up ambushes near and around possible feeding areas. With this, it’s important to clean yourself and your clothes, as many animals will start to notice your scent if you get too funky after a few days out in the wild. At the end of the day, you’ll find your own approach as it suits you. Just be flexible and try not to get too caught up in hunting style, just use what makes most sense at the moment and what the situation demands.
Careful Campsite Consideration
One of the most important aspects of your trip will be the campsite(s) you choose. You should know exact locations of a campsite before you even start hiking. Some hunters choose to set up a basecamp that they then make day excursions from, while others pack up camp after every night and move along to another site. Either way is fine, however after a long day of hiking and stalking game, setting up camp isn’t always the most welcome task. It’s also important to remember that you may risk losing vantage points and auditory cues from potential kills or even dehydration if you don’t know where you are in proximity to a water source.
Of course you’ll always want to be a good steward of nature and respect the outdoors. Remember to leave no trace, and take everything you brought with you.Buy a BANISH 30 >>
Start Planning Your Backcountry Hunt
Backpack hunting is physically demanding, mentally taxing, and requires a specific level of skill and commitment. However, the joy and fulfillment you receive from taking down big, backcountry game that you earned the challenging way — that’s something that sticks with you for a long time.
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