Came across this article posted by Flat Tops Wilderness Guides. I am not totally dissing the article, but I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself when I read through it.
In block quotes, you’ll find the actual article’s text and you’ll find my extremely sarcastic and potentially caustic responses interjected in normal font format. The article is fairly lengthy and as such I’ll only focus the section he (Cliff Gray is the author and a darn good writer I might add) devotes to the DIY method of backpack elk hunting.
In no way should this be read as an ultimatum on DIY backpacking versus drop camp elk hunts, this is MY opinion and based on MY experiences. Form your own…
This discussion assumes the definition of wilderness hunt is camping and hunting 3+ miles from any vehicle access for 7+ days.
After my father’s career as an outfitter was over and before I personally became an outfitter, I spent years backpack hunting past outfitter camps deep (3-8 miles) in road-less areas. I always thought to myself, “suckers!”. Now I realize that those hunters had a huge advantage over me. They woke up refreshed every morning to hit the hunt. They ate well and enjoyed the company of their friends. They knew they had help in case of an emergency. By the time I got up to my destination, I was beat and never really did enjoy myself. It was a personal mission to “kill” elk. I was proving something to myself. It wasn’t what enjoyable elk hunting is about. I do grant that hunting that way did teach me how to deal with extreme amounts of discomfort, taught me a lot about deer and elk, and made me a more durable hunter.
Yep, I still think “suckers!” but I have yet to realize the advantage (especially a huge one) they hold over me. My mission is to hunt elk as efficiently and effectively as possible (longhand for…I want to kill elk!). Creature comforts, restful sleep, fancy vittles, and peace of mind can be accommodated the other 355 days of the year.
Also, contrary to popular belief, success rates per day in the field for backpack hunts are much lower than outfitted hunts in the wilderness. How can I say that? First, I know a huge sample of backpack hunters in my area and all over the West. They just don’t harvest many animals for the amount of time they put in. Like I did, most of these hunters hunt a lot more days in the field than outfitted hunters. Compare the basics of a backpack trip vs a horse/mule drop camp:
Colorado’s archery elk success rates for OTC units range from mid single digits to mid teens…thankfully we aren’t average. Considering most drop camp packages are 5-7 days, the only thing he got right here is that we do hunt a lot more days in the field than outfitted hunters…thank goodness.
Day 1) Pack in 40-50lbs of gear on your back and setup camp
Day 2) Opening day. Hunt very little because you can hardly move due to the soreness. Sleeping in a freezing-cold, ultralight tent, equates to not sleeping at all
Day 3) You’re already tired of eating freeze dried shit pie and ready to go home, but you do get some good hunting in
Day 4-5) You tough it out and spend a couple days hunting hard
Day 6) You destroy your spinal cord by packing out 250lbs of elk or you hobble down empty handed. You sleep at the trailhead, contemplating your unhealthy desire for pain
Day 7) You drive home. Over the following week you down a couple bottles of Tylenol.
40-50 pounds…unfortunately this is the norm of a backpack hunter trying to bring along an outfitted camp on his back. Gotta dress for the occasion. 30 pounds plus me naked… Can’t argue with the sucky sleep situation.
Day 2 – fish oil…repeat ad nauseum…goodbye soreness.
Day 3 – freeze dried is good. Buy quality and buy variety.
Day 6 – best pain I’ve felt.
Outfitted Drop Camp:
Day 1) Unload your truck at the outfitter’s pack station. Watch as each hunter’s pack animal is packed with up to 60lbs of food and 60lbs of gear per person. Jump on a sturdy mountain horse that knows the trails as good as the local elk. Enjoy the scenery on a 1-4 hour ride into camp. Go to bed in a warm, well equipped wall tent.
Day 2) Opening day. A little sore from the ride, wake up to prepare a hearty breakfast and be at a nearby meadow before light.
Day 3-5) You’re eating well and keeping your energy level up. Hiking 2-3 miles a day on fresh legs, you are starting to understand the area and getting into elk on a daily basis.
Day 6) You make the best of an opportunity and manage to kill a bull. You quarter the bull with a partner and call the outfitter on your satellite phone.
Day 7) The outfitter shows up at first light to pack out your bull and help get things ready for your ride out. As the outfitter heads down with the elk and some gear, a wrangler shows up with your riding horses and a couple more mules. A short ride out, gear thrown in the truck, and you’re on your way home.
There’s an optimist (and a good marketer) for you -
Day 1 – ride past other hunter’s camps on your way to “paradise” only to find trash and refuse left by last week’s group of hunters. The better sleep cannot be denied.
Day 2 – you hear a distant bugle and give chase. Unfortunately, the thermals switch and you bump the herd into the next basin.
Days 3-5 – you think you hear a distant bugle, but can’t be sure. You find a decomposing elk that last week’s group shot down by a wallow. Lots of bear sign but you don’t have a tag. Hiking 2-3 miles that day you realize that there are no elk within reasonable distance of camp, but at least you are learning where elk like to live in late August. At least you got to see that nice mulie buck.
Day 6 – you hear a bugle and give chase. This time the scenario nearly results in a shot opportunity, but it doesn’t quite pan out. You leave the herd alone, and contact the outfitter that night to request an additional day in the backcountry.
“We finally got on elk tonight but couldn’t quite get a shot. Any chance you can give us an extra day and pack us out day after tomorrow?”
“Cause we gotta get you out of camp to prepare things for next week’s group [of suckers]. Sorry.”
Day 7 – “a short ride out, gear thrown in the truck, and you’re on the way home”…if only I had done a little more research on the outfitter and the unit…if only I had been more in shape…if only I had been equipped to bivy out a night or two…if only I had backpacked…
Again, just my .02, but I had a good chuckle over this one.