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Backcountry Hunting: How Far Back?

There is no equal to going deep into the wilderness to bowhunt mule deer and elk.  There is just something about being far back into the mountains, away from roads, away from cell phones, and most of all… away from, so called “road hunters.”

A disappointing part for me can be hiking into a basin that you scouted in the spring and summer and now you have bivy sack camped there one day before opening day. In the morning you begin glassing and you spot someone plodding through the area, and that hunter is spooking game as they go.  After that scenario happened to me a handful of times that was enough for me.

It was then that I decided to go further, work harder and pack on more miles than other elk and mule deer hunters.   Crazy maybe? To some yes, but in my opinion the less people I see the better.

I prefer to get as far from an established trail, and roadway as I can.  Trust me; the mountains will beat your body up when faced with a public land bivy type hunt.  That is why in my opinion, besides good shooting skills and physical conditioning; proper backpack weight is crucial to ensuring that you can travel on foot deep into the mountains, And then hunt hard every single day in the far away mountains. The type of hunting I love is public land, do-it-yourself bowhunting.

I pack and carry all my gear, my camp, and my food on my back.  This enables me to get into some rough country, away from other hunters and into the un-touched country.  Doing it this way, you may sacrifice some nights when you could be sleeping in your warm house, tucked in that nice bed.

Toughing it out in the mountains, puts you right there in the action every single morning.  There is no need to hike back to the truck as darkness approaches, and there’s also no waking up early to grab a cup of coffee with the locals before you drive to your hunting spot.

Iodine tablets for water purification is an easy way to shed a few ounces.

I think that the weight of your backpack is a major concern on these hunts.  Everything I pack with me, has a purpose, and is definitely geared toward the lighter side.  Every ounce I save in my pack, enables me to hunt harder, longer, and still feel fresh before the morning hunt because my body isn’t in pain from a heavy pack.

When going light weight for backcountry bowhunting, there are a number of things you can do to lighten the load. Choosing the right pack for the job is essential. Is a two or three day hunt, a five day, or a week plus hunt?  Packs are designed for certain tasks, and some work better than others when it comes to backcountry hunts. You do not want to throw all your gear into a small daypack that wasn’t designed to carry your gear.  The shoulder straps will tear into your shoulders. Ouch!

I used to use an old Jansport external frame pack to get deep into the backcountry, and those packs are heavy!  Nowadays I strictly use internal frame packs, it is my personal preference for the type of hunting I like to do. For a 2-3 day hunt you can get by with a 2,800 cubic inch pack, then something around 3,500 for a stay of up to 5 days.  Any longer and I would steer towards a 4,500 or larger pack.

The items I pack with me bowhunting are items that, first and foremost, I trust and feel will stand up to the rigors of the backcountry. When assembling my gear, I always try to come up with ways to shed  weight.

I remove all tags (example are tags that talk about the material in your sleeping bag, tent, etc).  Replace alkaline batteries with lighter weight lithium ones.  I also cut weight by removing the handle on my toothbrush, you really only need the business end in the backcountry.  Also I do not take a tube of toothpaste with me but  instead I take a contact case cut it in half, placing a full amount of toothpaste in one side of the contact case.  This easily lasts eight days of brushing your teeth in the morning and evening.  I feel brushing is important, so this lightweight setup definitely works well in the backcountry.

For water purification, I skip the bulky filter method and use Iodine Tablets, for making stream and lake water safe to consume.  On all my backpacks I remove the metal zipper pulls that most come with, and replace them with a short length of parachute cord.  This has saved a ton of weight as most hunting packs nowadays have lots of zippered compartments. All this unnecessary weight adds up…trust me here.

My lightweight dinner combo for the backcountry.

Let’s touch on the topic of the food I take into the backcountry as that could be a whole article in itself.  My food setup is simple, breakfast is two, sometimes three oatmeal packets (usually I remove the oatmeal from their packets so I don’t have the extra weight of the paper to carry around), snacks consist of protein/energy bars, trail mix, or jerky.  Lunch is always peanut butter, bacon, and honey bagel sandwiches.  Dinners are Mountain House freeze dried meals.

In my opinion, oatmeal is the breakfast of champions in the mountains.

Here is a list of equipment and their weight in ounces, that I took with me on a recent Elk scouting trip. This is the exact same equipment I take when I’m hunting. I just add game bags, knife, sharpener, rangefinder, tags, elk calls, bow and release.

Items that I carry on my Backcountry scouting and bowhunts.

Every ounce counts bowhunting the backcountry!

Pack: Badlands Sacrifice = 61.3 oz. Tent: MSR Hubba Hp = 46.7 oz. Sleeping Bag: Big Agnes Pomer Hoit SL Long 0 Degree = 47.3 oz. Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes Insulated Air Core 20x78x2.5 = 26.1 oz. Binoculars: Cabelas Euros 10×42 with Badlands Bino Case = 46.3 oz. Spotting Scope: Vortex Nomad 20x60x60 Angled  = 36.4 oz. Tripod: Cabelas = 26.7 oz. Bear Deterrent: Counter Assault Bear Pepper Spray = 12.3 oz. Taurus .45 ACP Handgun with one clip ammo = 47 oz. GPS: Garmin 76Cx = 7.8 oz. Cooking Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket = 3.9 oz. Cooking Pot: MSR Titanium Pot = 4.8 oz. Spork: Spoon/Fork combo, Sea To Summit Titanium = 0.3 oz. Stove Fuel: 4 oz. MSR Fuel Can = 8.1 oz. Headlamp: Petzl Elite = 0.99 oz. Multi-tool: Leatherman Wave = 8.5 oz. Toothpaste: 0.4 oz. Toothbrush: 0.1 oz. Parachute Cord: 3.7 oz. Water Purifier: Potable Aqua Iodine Tablets = 1.1 oz. First-Aid Kit/Firestarter/Waterproof Matches = 6 oz. Bic Lighter: 0.8 oz. Carabineer: 0.2 oz. Notepad & Pencil: Rite in the Rain paper does the job here Digital Camera: Nikon Coolpix S3000: 4.0 oz.

I am sure you can add or subtract items that you may need on your next backcountry bowhunt.  This is just a list I have developed over the years that has worked successfully for me.

Work hard, play hard, and bowhunt even harder!!!

Brady Miller



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