Backcountry Elk Hunting Prep

Back in mid January, I committed to making a DIY backcountry Elk hunt become a reality this September. After months of training (over 800 training miles & 100+ Crossfit workouts) and planning, we are about 2 weeks out from heading to Colorado.  This will be a “backpack” or “bivy” style hunt in that we will have no established base camp, rather, we will stay mobile on a day to day basis until we find what we are looking for. Our philosophy is that since we have no opportunity to scout and have no real idea where we may run into other hunters or, worse, outfitted pack camps, our best chances for success as well as an aesthetic experience will be found in a highly mobile, ultra light backpacking method of hunting. So, with the goal set to have pack weights of less than 40 pounds (including water) and a total load out (boots, clothes to be worn, weapons etc) of less than 50 pounds for seven days, each of us sorted through our present gear, upgraded where necessary, weighed, re-weighed, calculated, experimented, researched, asked for advice and compiled our gear. 



Gear List: 

  • Empty Pack: 82oz
  • Sleeping Bag + dry sack: 59oz
  • Tarp Shelter: 29oz
  • Trekking Poles: 18.8oz
  • Water Filter: 4.9oz
  • Sleeping Pad: 7.9oz
  • 2nd Merino shirt: 9oz
  • Down Jacket + dry sack: 20.5oz
  • Food: 160
  • First aid kit: 2.1
  • Water: 70.4 (2 liters)
  • Bladder: 6 oz
  • Extra Bladders: 3 oz
  • Rain gear (top & bottom): 34.4
  • GPS w batteries: 4.7
  • headlamp w/ batteries: 3.2
  • Spare batteries: 1.6
  • dry sacks: 2.5
  • bowl/cup/spork: 3.7
  • Fuel: 7.5
  • Lighter: .4
  • *Kill Kit: 16  (game bags, knife, 550 cord)
  • socks 2
  • Soap 2
  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste: 1.2
  • wipes/TP: 3
  • towell: .7


Base Pack weight: 555.8oz / 34.73 lbs

Bow: 96 oz

Clothes/ Items to be Worn: 

  • Merino Base layer pants: 9.1oz
  • Merino Base Layer shirt: 8
  • Outerwear Pants: 18.5
  • Gloves: 2.6
  • Merino Neck gaiter: .75
  • Merino hat: .75
  • Hat: .75
  • Optics + Harness: 35.2
  • Boots: 64 (size 13)
  • Socks: 4

Total: 143.65oz / 8.9 lbs

Total Clothes + Weapon: 239.65oz/ 14.97lbs 

Total Load Out (everything): 798.4oz/ 49.90lbs

Gear wise, I went back and forth on many items. Some of my existing gear was applicable, other items had to be upgraded for more specific purposes. In other cases, such as my bow (which was not purchased with ultralight hunting in mind) and my sleeping bag (which was light by the standards of the late 90s but not today), upgrades were financially not feasible this year. The backpack was the focus of much attention for several months. I do have several backpacks ranging from a dedicated “backpacking” pack that I purchased in 1998 to day packs for day hunting whitetails and small game to a mid size pack suitable for overnight and weekend hunting trips. The main problem with my selection of packs is that none of them are particularly comfortable for heavy duty hauling, which backcountry Elk hunting potentially requires.  Since we’ll have to be prepared move several hundred pounds of meat from a backcountry kill site back to the truck, I needed a pack that is capable of handling extreme loads yeth still maintains our ultralight ethos. Many conventional packs just aren’t designed to go into the 80, 90, 100+ pound weight range. There is an exceptional selection of such packs (dedicated to backcountry hunting) on the market manufactured by boutique companies. The time tested standard is the Kifaru pack and one of my partners went with this pack. The Stone Glacier was a pack that I closely considered as well. Kuiu and Mystery Ranch are also packs commonly used by serious backcountry hunters (my other partner went with a Mystery ranch). After much deliberation, I decided to go with the Exo Mountain Gear 5500. It is a titanium frame pack that is light, strong, simple and at a competitive price point for the high end pack market. 

Food: In order to hit a desirable weight to calorie ratio (general ultralight rule is 100 calories minimum per ounce) of food that I can find enjoyable to eat yet balanced with the consideration of practically in the backcountry setting, I went with a combination of dehydrated meals, jerky, pemmican, salami, dried fruit, drink mixes, almond butter, meal replacement bars, granola+dried milk+whey protein, energy gel shots (for hard climbs) and Starbucks Vias for morning coffee. 


Breakfast: Granola + Nuts + Dried Milk + Whey Protein, Dried Fruit (Mango, Banana, & Tangerine). 

-first 3 days is about 350 calorie breakfasts at 2.8 oz. 
-last 4 days, I increased the portions to get 400+ calories
(thinking here is that I’ll have some initial loss of appetite due to altitude and/or, I’ll need more fuel the last few days than the first few days). 
Lunch & Snacks: Pemmican (fat & protein), Venison Jerky (protein), Almond Butter (protein, fat, sugars), Dried Fruit (sugars/carbs & fiber), ProBars (protein, fat, carbs -heavy on the Greens and Fruit options), Gel Shots (carbs), Salami (fat & protein). 
Dinner: A mixture of Mountain House, Alpine Aire, and Backpacker’s Pantry dehydrated meals. My entire selection of meals are the “ethnic” options: Jerk Chicken & Rice, Sweet & Sour pork & Rice, Chicken Cashew Curry & Rice, Southwestern Style Masa with Beef, Thai Style Chicken with Noodles, Chicken Vindaloo, and (the more bland sounding) Lasagna with Meat Sauce. I also packed some dehydrated desserts consisting of Three Berry Crumble, Ice Cream Sandwiches and Neapolitan Ice Cream.  Most of the Dinners + Desserts came in over 1,000 calories. So, I’m running about 3,000 calories a day at 1.5 pounds (24 oz) per day. Given the terrain we will be hunting, this will surely be a caloric deficit, but should be just enough to keep hunger at bay. 
Supplements: Since my usual Paleo-esque diet includes massive amount of fiber in the form of greens, I included a green concentrate drink mixture, one serving of which provides two daily servings of fruit and vegetables. I plan to take two servings daily, which should provide a steady supply of fiber and nutrients in addition to what I get from the dried fruits and other foods. I also packed energy drink mix with a high vitamin concentrate as well as daily multivitamins and fish oils (Omega 3 Fats). 
At home, I would normally not eat grain (granola) or rice with any kind of regularity, however, under the circumstances, I hardly think that the daily intake levels of each are enough to cause me any problems (upset stomach, inconsistent energy levels etc) as I have done my best to maintain high levels of fat (which my body is accustomed to drawing energy from) and protein.
Training: Since we will be hunting in very difficult terrain, constantly on the move with camp on our backs and will potentially be required to pack very heavy loads of meat for long distances, off trail and through very difficult terrain, we considered physical preparation to be of the highest priority for this trip. The core of my training schedule consisted of a strength based Crossfit program (generally 4 times a week) split with rucking (trails, hill repeats, stair wells, stair climbers), cycling, and a bit of running (which tapered off over the months). My approach was to add strength where it counts most (legs, back and core), increase the amount of time I can operate at or very near my VO2 max (through the HighIntensity Interval Training/ Metabolic Conditioning workouts programmed at my Crossfit affiliate) and be comfortable moving under the weight of a heavy pack for extended periods of time. My training volume was generally 7-10 hours a week, some split days, and always with 2 rest days. Every 2-3 weeks, I would make sure to get 2 consecutive rest days and I took 4 consecutive days off 4 times over 8 months. These recovery days were not always easy to make myself do, but they insured that I made consistent gains (recovery is greater than 50% of any training program) as well as stayed injury free. There are many different approaches one can take to train for mountain hunting and mine is but one of them. Once my regimen has been tested in the mountains, I share more thoughts and details.  
Final thoughts: At any given time, one can be focused on anyone of the many facets of hunting. This could include being a wild game chef, a dedicated duck hunter, backyard squirrel hunting with a pellet gun, sitting in a treestand, being an athlete, dog training, planting food plots, hosting dinners, shooting, researching gear etc. For me, infusing more adventure into my hunting experience is presently the aspect of hunting that is most attractive. 

Whole Foods under fire for selling Rabbit meat

Absurdity. People are protesting Whole Foods for selling rabbit meat


Surf n Turf

Ken Owens has skinned and mounted an untold number of wild animals at his Autaugaville taxidermy shop. This week, he put his knife to what is believed to be a world-record alligator killed on the Alabama River during this year’s state gator hunt.

Owens said that when he cut open the gator’s stomach, he saw a pair of ears. He pulled on them, and out came the carcass of a fully intact, yet deteriorated, adult female deer.

The gator had caught it and gulped it down whole.

Read the full story with detailed pics. 

Carnivore News, Augst 2014

Plans to Kill 2,800 Deer on Civil War Battlefields

The National Park Service has tentatively approved a plan that envisions government sharpshooters killing more than 2,800 white-tailed deer at three Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia over the next five years to curb damage to plants and trees.

The agency aims to reduce herds that it says are over-browsing vegetation at the Antietam and Monocacy battlefields in Maryland and the Manassas battlefield in Virginia.

Spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said Friday that the number of deer to be killed would depend on how quickly the forest regenerates.

The park service says with public hunting prohibited in the parks, the deer population has become too dense.

The government’s growing use of sharpshooters from the Agriculture Department’s Wildlife Services division to control wild animals on federal land has been criticized by hunting proponents and animal-welfare advocates.

These culling programs costs taxpayers anywhere from $100 to $500 per deer. The sames ends could easily be accomplished with the NPS hosting a few controlled archery only hunts. At what point does reason prevail and we start considering controlled (archery only, lottery system etc) hunts as a sensible solution to overpopulation in National Parks and Battlefields? These hunts could even potentially be revenue generators. 

Hunting From a Mountain Bike -Trailer or no Trailer?

I personally prefer no trailer, though, a heavy pack can get very uncomfortable when it comes to sitting on a bike seat.

Utah’s First-Ever Crow Hunt Has a Catch: Eat What You Kill:

I have a crow sandwich spread recipe if anyone wants to give it a try.

What Type of Hunter Am I?—jed-meunier-response-121.php#.U9lFCxb2sM4.twitter

As former Bugle editor Dave Stalling and others have pointed out, “in order to assure the future of hunting, we don’t need more hunters; we need better hunters.” We do not need a Homo sapiens equivalent of domestic housecats torturing their prey for amusement. We need “nature hunters,” as described by Kellert, who regard their prey with affection and respect and consider how both the prey and the hunters themselves fit into their environment. An easy first step centers on self-identity in the same spirit that Grinnell and Roosevelt showed when redefining hunters to save hunting at the turn of thenineteenth century. By redefining hunting within an ethical framework we may begin to satisfy public concerns about hunting, but, more importantly, we can revitalize the hunting experience. We successfully restored the populations of game animals. Now, more than ever, we need to restore hunters and the meaning of hunting. I will begin by redefining what type of hunter I am. I am a “nature hunter” and this helps make me human.

Tennessee Bear Hunting Regulation Change

In November of 2013, I experienced first hand the impossibilities of the Tennessee bear hunting regulation requiring hunters to check in bears as a whole animal (unquartered). During the public comment period, I sent a long email to our state game agency explaining the difficulties of this regulation and and am happy to report that the regulation has been changed to where bears may be checked in quartered so long as the quarters add up in weight to 75 pounds. This is a very significant and practical change. I am unsure how much influence my comments on the matter had, but it is at least comforting to know that our state agency is listening to hunters.

Proclamation 14-05 in the Big Game Tagging section reads:

(2) All harvested bears must be checked in at any approved checking station (excluding internet and mobile applications). Bears may be whole or field dressed, but must weigh 75 pounds or greater when checked in. If bears are quartered or boned out, the total of the meat, hide, etc. must equal or exceed 75 pounds. The reproductive sex organs shall remain attached to each bear harvested at least until the bear has been officially checked out at any official checking station.

Deer Farms: Hunting’s Ticking Time Bomb:


“Make food part of your identity. Hunt, gather, grow, or prepare it yourself. Hunt a wild animal, kill it, thank it, gut it, get your hands bloody -then share the meat with others. Get your hands dirty: plant a vegetable garden, grow herbs on a window-sill, or gather wild berries. Raise some chickens or learn to butcher an animal. Fish.”

-John Durant, The Paleo Manifesto

Venison Barbecue 2014

2014-07-04 16.20.39We’ve had good success with smoking venison in the past, but the fine art of smoking meat is a continual learning process. Where I ran into previous problems was that fact that the venison was seldom ready to pull by the time it reached its desired internal temperature of 160F. To get around this, I usually finished the meat by braising it in a combination of its own drippings and venison stock.

After reflecting on some of my favorite barbecue joints in the Memphis area, I realized that I tend to prefer chopped barbecue versus pulled barbecue. By chopping the meat, you are tenderizing it and this process allows you to shave a little time off the smoking/cooking process resulting in a more firm texture. Pulled meat certainly can be wonderful, but it can easily easily be over cooked, resulting in a “mushy” texture.

Similar to the recent experiment with venison pastrami, I applied a thin coat of lard to the meat before adding the rub. You can use bacon fat instead, but bacon fat tends to have a very dominate flavor. For the rub, we used the following recipe:

1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Paprika
1 Tbsp Black Pepper
2 Tbsp Salt
1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Tsp Cayenne


After applying the lard and rub, the meat was placed in the smoker at 180F degrees for several hours and then cranked up to 200F for several more until an internal temperature of 160F was reached. The meat was then allowed to rest for over an hour in foil. The subject matter of smoking temperature can be a topic of hot debate. The general idea with using these lower temps is to prolong the smoking process for as long as possible. If your smoker doesn’t operate very well in these lower ranges, you can adjust to 200-225F, but observe the internal temp of the meat carefully.

After the resting stage, I deboned and then expended a good bit of energy chopping the venison  with a heavy duty cleaver. Since you’ll invariably have some tougher pieces of meat when dealing with venison, you want to thoroughly chop, tenderize and mix the tough with the more tender pieces of meat. I’m not going to promise that you won’t encounter the occasional bite of meat that is a little too tough due to silverskin, but its venison, so this is to be expected. All and all this was the best results so far while experimenting with venison barbecue.

We used this recipe for a KC style sauce.

2014-07-04 20.10.12

Venison Pastrami

2014-06-30 21.07.26-2I’ve had some excellent success with venison charcuterie experiments in the past, but none have turned out quite as well as venison pastrami, which is something that I have been intending to do for over a year. The recipe itself is rather simple and is an adaptation of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s book Charcuterie.

Pastrami is basically corned beef (in this case, venison) with a smoking stage. A peppercorn and coriander crust provide the distinct flavor profile. The pastrami is brined, smoked, cooled and then a steamed (oven, roasting pan full of water and a wire rack). Beef pastrami is generally cut from the fatty part of the shoulder. For the venison recipe, I used a cut of bottom round from the hindquarter. To get around the lack of fat, I applied a thin coat of pork lard.


1 gallon water
1.5 cups kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1.5 ounces (8 tsp) pink salt (Cure #1)
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp allspice berries
1 tsp juniper berries
1/2 tsp ground mace
2-4 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 packed cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
5 garlic cloves, minced

2014-06-29 10.42.55Bring the brine to a boil  and refrigerate until chilled. Place the venison in the brine for 3 days. Make sure the meat is fully submerged (a plate or bowl can be used to sink the meat if necessary).

Remove the meat from the brine, rinse well and pat dry

Using a dry skillet, Toast 1 tbsp each of black peppercorns and Coriander seed until brown. Grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder.

2014-06-29 12.02.47-2Using no more than half of the ingredients, apply the peppercorn and coriander to the meat, then, using your finger, apply a thin coat of pork lard (or bacon fat) to the meat. Apply the remaining peppercorn and coriander to the exterior of the lard.

Smoke the venison at 180F degrees until it reaches an internal temperature of 150F, then remove. This will take several hours. A hotter temp will work (no more than 225F), but you want to impart as much smoke flavor as possible, so a lower temp is advised.

2014-06-30 16.41.00For serving, preheat the oven to 275F, fill a roasting pan full of water and place the meat on a wire rack over the water for 2.5 to 3 hours.

2014-06-30 21.04.10Slice the meat thinly across the grain.   -don’t forget the Sauerkraut!

See also:

Corned Venison & Hash 

Blood Sausage

Venison Bresaola 

Venison Salami 

Natural Instincts and Bypassing Anatomic Capacity

Eating meat made us human. In fact, there is strong evolutionary evidence that the principal reason that humans stood upright with sweat glands (instead of on all fours without sweat glands) is so that we (humans) could run game down in a manner of persistence hunting. As the earth’s landscape changed and dense forest retreated into open savannahs, humans took to running game animals into exhaustion in a highly organized manner known as persistence hunting.

This adaptation may be the primary reason that humans survived and Neanderthals went extinct. They (Neanderthals) had the odds in their favor: they were bigger, stronger, tougher and better conventional hunters, but, humans could run long distances for sustained periods. Game animals can out run us only in a sprint. Our meat eating allowed us to develop large brains which require proportionally more energy than any other animal. Not only do these large brains give us a ballast for balance when standing and running upright, it allowed (and allows) us to develop weapons for more efficient procurement of meat.

Fact of the matter is, we are both anatomically equipped (sweat glands, long distance running) and mentally equipped (large brains which allow technology i.e. weaponry development) for meat eating. We evolved for meat eating and we survived natural selection through meat eating and the adaptations directly associated with meat eating. To deny that fundamental connection to meat eating with arguments of humanity and compassion is anti-humanist. Our connection with meat eating is fundamental to our entire existence as well as part of our social and emotional interactive programming.

This is obviously an entirely different argument than tackling the industrial meat supply, however, the more I encounter arguments that suggest humans are denying our natural instincts and bypassing our anatomic capacity by killing and eating animals, the more I suspect that the industrial meat chain has shot itself in the foot by having removed direct experience with meat. Can you imagine, for example, someone making the “bypassing natural instincts and anatomic capacity” argument to a Native person living in the Arctic Circle? Remove Caribou, Seal, Whale and Fish from the diet and it would have been impossible for people to exist there at any point in history and it would be impossible for them to exists there now.  To argue that they are not “honorable” in their time tested existence is entirely dishonest.