Big South Fork Trip Report

Big South Fork National Recreation Area is one of the few properties managed by the National Park Service that allows hunting. Being a resident of Tennessee, I have long thought that I should take advantage of the opportunity to hunt not only such a large property that offers historical significance, but that I strongly believe many of our National Park systems should be open to hunters as a user group and, biologically speaking, the properties are in need of hunting. Alas, that is a different conversation altogether.

On the Tennessee side, Big South Fork is open to most of the statewide hunting seasons, but one should bare in mind, at least with regards to deer hunting, that Scott county is a “Unit B” county. For deer hunting, Tennessee has 3 different units. About half of the state consists of “Unit L” counties where bag limits are 3 antlerless deer per day every day, all season. “Unit A” counties have more restrictions on antlerless harvests and “Unit B” counties have the most conservative bag limit restrictions on antlerless deer. All units are open to 3 antlered deer per season. As the bag limits imply, many parts of Tennessee have fairly high deer populations, especially where there is agriculture, while other counties, mostly on the Eastern portion of the state, support far less numbers of deer. So, it may seem a bit non intuitive for a hunter who lives in, hunts in and is surrounded by not only counties with high deer populations, but some of the more “destination” deer hunting counties in the state to drive three quarters of the way across Tennessee to hunt in a county that has a very low deer population, but hunting is about experience as much as anything and Big South Fork presents the opportunity to turn deer hunting in Tennessee into a bit of an adventure, so why not take advantage?

2014-11-13 11.13.07-1Shaking off a whisky hangover after a night of catching up with an old friend, I arrived in BSF with plummeting temperatures and a light snow.  Most of the country was experiencing an arctic blast and nightly lows were looking to be in the teens. I spent a little bit of time on the scenic and historic John Muir Trail.

2014-11-13 11.19.56This section of the trail follows an old railroad track. After making a river crossing, I was off trail and, finally seeing a little bit of deer sign. Going off trail, the first thing I noticed was how deep the leaves were and, with the frozen snow on the ground, how incredibly loud I sounded walking through the woods.

2014-11-13 11.43.22I spent some time investigating various terrain features  and trying to figure out how the deer were using the terrain. Upon meeting a tributary, I turned North in a drainage towards the Kentucky state line, establishing camp about 4.5 miles from the nearest point of access on the Tennessee side, my thinking being that, short of hunters coming across the Kentucky state line (which would require a license in both states), I would find myself based in a unpressured area.

2014-11-13 12.44.3620.5 oz, Titanium Goat wood stove and chimney rolled up. The stove proved its worth on this trip as the temps dropped into the low teens with high humidity and most of my days were spent hunting shady drainage systems with cold air coming off the creeks.

2014-11-13 13.45.20-1In addition to providing warmth during the nights, the stove created a dry environment where my gear could dry out each night and that stood in stark contrast to the heavy, damp air that was constant throughout the trip.

2014-11-14 09.05.31As is typical with hunting rolling hills, the deer had a system of established trails traversing the mountain slopes and hillsides. In this case, there were usually three: One at the base, one a third of the way up and one on the upper third. In the event there was a saddle at any point along the ridge, there was usually a trial there leading over the top of the mountain. I was not able to find a place where I had the visibility or shooting lanes to cover an entire sloop that had multiple trails, but I did find places where the terrain got so steep that any trail systems were funneled into one trail. I focused on these funnels. I also spend some time sitting on ancient, overgrown logging roads, a saddle at the top of a mountain, and, the best looking and most used feature of all: the confluence of three creeks.

2014-11-14 09.54.30The upper portion of the hills and mountains were jungles of Mountain Laurel that were impossibly thick and made for perfect bear habitat.  I had a hog permit for the area, but, despite such thick cover, I never saw any hog sign.

2014-11-14 12.29.30-1While down at the creek filtering water on the first day, I returned to find my Muzzleloader missing! I quickly found the gun laying down the hill. A bear had apparently wandered into camp and decided to eat my Muzzleloader! It picked up the gun, which was in this rifle cover, and slung it around. The gun came out of the cover and slide down the hill. The bear then ripped the rifle cover up, leaving holes and teeth marks. Fortunately, most of the snow had already moved out.

2014-11-14 12.30.29After posting a couple of pics and brief story on Instagram, the the rifle cover manufacture immediately offered to replace the cover. I thought that was a very generous customer service gesture on the part of SoloHunter. After all, it was not a manufacturing flaw that caused a bear to eat my Muzzleloader for lunch.

2014-11-14 18.18.50Hovering over the wood stove while rehydrating some dinner. On the coldest day, I returned to camp a few times over the course of the day to make sure there were coals still in the stove. As soon as I got back after dark, I cranked this thing wide open to warm myself back up.

2014-11-13 14.59.55With frozen snow on the ankle deer leaves, putting in long hours over terrain funnels was the only type of hunting that made sense. Walking around in the woods was incredibly loud. I did, however, spend some time stalking up shallow creeks (much to the dismay of my freezing toes!) since that was a relatively quiet way to move.

2014-11-14 13.05.13Cold water!

2014-11-14 11.19.36There is a new, boutique brand of dehydrated meals on the market called Heather’s Choice. They are made using all premium ingredients and most of them are Paleo. These meals are great. I ate the Chocolate Chili (I usually won’t eat dehydrated chili), Rancheros, and Salmon Chowder and they were all top notch. I also enjoyed the Buckwheat Breakfast and Snackaroos. Mountain House brand meals are just too bland for me. Backpacker’s Pantry gets more creative with the menu, but comes up short on flavor. Alpine Aire is my second favorite with Heather’s Choice at the top. -be sure to check these meals out.

2014-11-15 09.32.44I hunted this saddle on the last day. It was one of the few more open areas I could find up high. By this point, I was tired of sitting in cold creek bottoms and not seeing anything. There were a number of tracks leading up and over this feature, but only 1 set of deer dropping that I could find.

2014-11-13 14.31.48Despite several days of hard hunting, this recently used bed was as close as I came to even seeing a deer.

2014-11-13 10.31.26On the move with a full pack.

2014-11-15 08.52.34The home of Davy Crockett, the hills of Tennessee.

Overall, this was a pretty sobering experience in terms of deer encounters. The bear, population, however, must be on the rise as I saw bear sign everywhere. I did buy a hog permit, but saw no sign and I swear I heard an Elk cow call one night.

The wind was very funky and shifted constantly the entire time, blowing one direction in one drainage system and the opposite in the next. Hunting down low by the creeks at least afforded dependable wind since the cold air coming of the water is going to rise. *Note: You will feel every bit of that additional cold air*

I was also surprised at how rugged the terrain was off trail. I have pretty good ankle mobility and strength and that’s a good thing because even with burly hiking boots on, my ankles took a beating with all the twisting and turning on leaf covered rocks and hidden holes. Difficult deer hunting, good adventure; I’d do it again -might even make an annual trip out of it.

Gear packing for this Trip. 

Gear: Exo Mountain Pack, Zamberlan Boots, Kuiu, First Lite, Sitka, Icebreaker, Knight Muzzleloader, Titanium Goat stove, Mountainsmith Mountain Shelter, SoloHunter rifle cover, Smartwool Socks, Heather’s Choice meals, Pemmican, JetBoil, Enlightened Equipment down quilt, Thermarest, Black Rock down beanie , Black Diamond , Alpine Aire  Seek Outside Sawyer Filtration 

Colorado Backpack Elk Hunt 

Cold Weather Backpack Hunt

With an arctic blast coinciding with a November backpack hunt trip, I have a great opportunity to test out some gear upgrades. I’ll be heading into the 125,000 acres Big South Fork National Recreation Area on the Tennessee/Kentucky border for a 4 day hunt. BSF is just one of only a handful of National Park Service properties that are open to hunting. It is muzzleloader season here in Tennessee, so I’ll be packing the smokepole looking for Whitetail and incidental hogs.

My gear list is essentially the same as my Colorado Elk Hunt, though I have made some upgrades that have lightened the load as well as added a couple of extra items to make cold weather hunting more comfortable. photo 1 (2)I added a stove jack to my tarp shelter which allows me to run a very cool,  titanium cylinder wood burning stove. The entire stove rolls up into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter and weighs in at 20.5 oz.  Since I will be burning wood during the night, I added a lightweight hand saw for cutting wood. It can also split double duty on butchering jobs. I also upgraded from a mummy bag to a down quilt from Enlightened Equipment. This cut my sleeping bag weight from 52oz to 21oz, essentially giving me a weight allowance for carrying a wood stove.

Food wise, I’m carrying a combination of Alpine Aire dehydrated meals and a few from a excellent new company called Heather’s Choice. Heather has entered the dehydrated adventure meal market offering premium food with super high quality ingredients. Many of the meals are Paleo, use “superfood” ingredients, and the meats are grass fed/organic (wild caught seafood). The meals come in at about 600 calories each (high calories meals are reportedly on the way) with 50+ grams of protein. Because these meals are targeted towards a more specific consumer, the ingredient combinations and recipes seem to be more interesting than the competition. I have tried one meal so far while out on a weekend hunt and found it to be excellent. You can expect a full review coming soon. photo 2 (3)

Of course, I also packed a few bars of my recent Pemmican experiment, “Cranstachios” (cranberries & pistachios), and Kind bars. At the last minute, I threw in a 1 gallon bag of spinach. Yeah, I know…. hardly ultralight in terms of calories to ounces, but I sure do like having my greens. I hope to be cooking some fresh backstraps up over an open flame as well. Full report coming next week.

Pemmican

2014-10-15 15.36.26-2Pimi: “Fat or Grease”

Pemmican is a traditional food of native North Americans that was later adapted by European fur traders and explorers. It generally consisted of a lean game meat such as Deer, Elk, Moose or Bison which was preserved in rendered fat and combined with whatever other “superfoods” were available: Dried berries, nuts and seeds. Preserving dried meat, berries and nuts in rendered fat creates an ultralight, calorie charged meal that is has an indefinite shelf life. The concept shares close similarities to both confit and traditional Mincemeat pies. With the high calorie to weight ratio and storage ability, pemmican is the perfect backcountry hunting/backpacking/paleo meal. Throw in the historical relevance that pemmican fed generations of hunter/gatherers and you need to look to further for a calorie rich, ultralight superfood.

In the spirit of tradition, pemmican need not be a fixed or rigid recipe, rather, use what you have and improvise. Here is an outline of my most recent experiment.

Ingredients:

*1-5 pounds dried venison (or beef)
1/2 pound (or more) Bacon
Coconut Oil (optional)
Dried berries of your choosing (I used Cranberries)
Dried nuts and/or seend of your choosing (I used Walnuts)
Cardamom
Ground Allspice
Ground Nutmeg
Ground Cloves
Brown Sugar
Maple Syrup

 

*Traditionally, the meat was dried in the sun (Southwest) or slowly next to a fire. What you are doing is making jerky without using a cure or marinade. Follow these steps to dry jerky out in your oven, or use a smoker or food dehydrator. I dried a couple of pounds even though I only used 1.5 cups in this recipe. The rest will be stored for use on the next batch of pemmican.2014-10-15 12.51.05-22014-10-15 16.24.10

  1. You will need to grind the jerky into a powder form. Consistency is probably nice, but this is a rustic meal we’re talking about, so inconsistency is welcome in my opinion. Traditionally, this task would have been done using rocks or a mortar and pestle. Let me tell you, after a few minutes of manually grinding venison, I went for the food processor. This was no easy task!
  2.  Slowly render fat from bacon. How much bacon? That’s entirely up to you. I used the fact from 3 pieces of center cut bacon, used some stored bacon fat and then added coconut oil until I had about a half a cup of fat. If you have some bacon grease stored away, this is the perfect time to put it to use. The cooked pieces of bacon were used in the recipe.
  3. Place the nuts, seeds and berries in a blender or food processor and chop them into a medium fine consistency. I used 3/4th a cup of Walnut and 3/4ths a cup of dried Cranberries. Exact amounts can vary and feel free to mix and match. Macadamia nuts are a high calorie nut that would be excellent choice. Dried blueberries are also excellent.
  4. Remove the nuts from the blender and chop the cooled bacon. Add 1.5 cups of Venison (or beef) powder and blend together.
  5. Add the nuts and fruit back into the blender (or, probably better move everything to a mixing bowl or mixer)
  6. Add Nutmeg, Cardamom, Maple Syrup, Ground Allspice, Ground Cloves, & Brown Sugar. How much of each? Experiment. You can always add more later. Salt shouldn’t be necessary as the bacon should provide plenty of that.
  7. You’ll need a minimum of ½ cup of rendered fat (I used a blend of bacon fat and coconut oil) and you’ll want it to be hot so that it doesn’t start solidifying on you while mixing.
  8. Mix in the hot, rendered fat. A mixer works great here. A blender can easily get overwhelmed by this combination. You can also manually mix using a wooden spoon. You should have a moist consistency that sticks together. If your mixture is too watery, add more ground meat. If it is too thick, add more fat and/or syrup.
  9. Sample and adjust your spices if necessary. You should have a delightful combination of saltiness, sweetness and richness.
  10. Place the mixture in a greased pan and cool in the freezer. You can cut the finished product into squares or roll into balls.


Pemmican will store fine at room temperature, but it won’t do particularly well in warm temps as the fat will melt and become messy. I store it in the refrigerator, but pemmican should store and travel well so long as the temperatures are reasonably cool. You can also store it in the freezer.

Trip Report: Colorado OTC Backpack Elk Hunt

We had been awake for 40+ hours, but our drive West had been seamless. After spending 24 hours at 9000 feet, we decided to go ahead and push into the backcountry a half day early.  Even though we planned on spending 48 hours acclimating, we all knew that we couldn’t resist the lure of the mountains and had packed extra food accordingly. After a couple of hours of hairpin turns, mountain passes and suspension-breaking, forest service roads, we stood at the base of our objective: A mountainside leading to a 12,600 foot pass and, hopefully, a steep drainage full of elk while lacking in hunting pressure.

Our mountain ascent started with a decent down a steep creek bank and across the water. Some scrambling plus a couple of fifth class rock climbing moves later, we began the 2,000 foot elevation grind in a mere fourth of a mile and, much to our surprise, we were in Elk and Mule deer sign almost immediately. After the initial 2,000 feet, the topography began to soften with a series of benches that were separated by steep sections of elevation gain. After 4 hours or so of climbing, we set camp 1 up on an exposed ledge. We were awaken just a few hours later when a herd of elk attempted to pass directly through our camp. The first couple of hours of daylight were spent glassing and listening for bugling before breaking camp down and continuing our push up the mountain. We found more reasonably fresh elk sign and encounter our first mule deer (21 yards) on the way.2014-09-19 15.48.37 2014-09-19 15.59.54 2014-09-19 19.01.54Camp 1. 10,500 feet. 

2014-09-20 07.25.44

 

In an effort to go directly to the top, we elect to take the more technical high ground and push over the mountain pass. A scree slope, some scrambling, and hard front pointing with our boots into elk and mule deer tracks combined with aggressive trek poling (yes, that is a verb!) in very steep alpine grass, we clear 12,600 feet and drop down 600 feet to make camp 2. Not a lot of options for flat ground up here, so we do the best we can, which means that us two ground sleepers our resigned to sleeping with a bit of body tension to keep ourselves in place. The other member of our party used an ingenious hammock system which seemed well suited for the terrain. Night 2 gave us relentless rain, freezing rain, snow and hail all night. Our 4:30 am wake up call was ignored due to lightning. Once we got going, we split up in an attempt to cover some ground in the immediate area. I glass early from the mountain pass and spend the mid-morning stalking my way downhill through the alpine forest. Despite elk sign, I only encounter mule deer.

2014-09-20 10.42.05 2014-09-20 11.32.12 2014-09-20 11.42.13 2014-09-20 12.27.57
2014-09-20 12.28.51 2014-09-20 13.03.352014-09-20 13.53.25Camp 2. 12,000 feet. 

During the afternoon, Robert and I pair up and do an exploratory investigation of the drainage on the other side of the mountain.  In an effort to stay above the elk, we try to stay just higher than the elk sign, but this takes more effort than we anticipated. We end up traversing dicey slopes clutching handfuls of grass for balance and having to make technical, fifth class moves to get over and around exposed rock outcroppings. The effort comes up a bit short on providing the vantage point we had hoped for and dark clouds, heavy thunder and impending rain sent us reversing these moves in a hurried manner. The speed was both a relief (less time in the danger zone) and stress inducing. With a background as a climber, I find the rock to be stimulating and enjoyable while some of the grassy traverses with  potential cartwheel falls into scree fields  to be a bit harrowing.2014-09-20 16.27.33 2014-09-20 16.27.57IMG_0346Climbing22014-09-21 08.32.12

After another night at camp 2 with heavy rains, we break camp in the morning and descend into the upper third of the steep drainage to our East. With the weather socked in, we establish camp 3 at 11,600 feet. Due to the heavy storms and humidity, much of our gear is wet and the weather is looking to become increasingly bleak. Brett sets to the task of starting a fire while Robert and I spend some time stalking downhill in a hail storm. In the early afternoon, we began to see hints that the sun might just break through and we spend the next hour watching the sun battle the clouds and cheering as if this battle is a sports event. The sun finally breaks through and it is glorious! We shed our wet clothes and spread our gear out on any exposed surface, taking full advantage of the drying and warming power of the sun. Though our relief from the bad weather was not to last, 90 minutes of direct sun was all we needed to ensure that we were set for a comfortable night. Brett takes off around the rim of the drainage while Robert and I push for the top. Lung congestion and a cough has become increasingly bothersome and, though I push through the weather and altitude to get to an exposed ridge, I pay for that ascent with a poor nights sleep and a body that is just barely hanging on the verge of sickness. For the second afternoon in a row, we hear bugling well below us between the hours of 5 and 9 PM. 2014-09-22 09.41.19location of camp 3

2014-09-22 10.46.42Camp 3. 11,600 feet.

2014-09-22 12.20.492014-09-22 14.17.28

The next morning, Brett returns to the opposite of the drainage to descend 1,000 feet while Robert and I drop into a deep creek gorge and then reclaim our elevation for a 1,500 foot stalk down the opposing North side once the thermals began to rise. Though we encounter no elk, we find some of the very freshest and most direct sign of regular herd travel. The downhill stalk was steep, often requiring the assistance of a trekking pole for secure footing. After meeting up, we ascend to 10,500 feet and establish camp 4. After some cold hours of glassing, we encounter a herd of elk who move onto the East face of the drainage, about a 3rd of the way up. We make plans for the morning and continue to observe and listen as light fades.2014-09-23 10.01.53-1 2014-09-23 10.02.14 2014-09-23 10.09.312014-09-23 13.05.05Camp 4. 10,600 feet. 

2014-09-24 14.23.45

4:30 comes early and, even though our plan involves waiting for the thermals to begin to rise before getting aggressive on these elk, we hope to be ready and have eyes on them at first light. Unfortunately, the elk appear to have moved off the face, or, if they are there, we are unable to see them in the thick aspens. As was our experience all week, there was no AM bugling.

Once the thermals begin to rise and carry our ascent up the mountain, we began our ascent angled towards a rock outcropping that sits at a diagonal and slightly higher than where we saw elk the evening before. The drainage here is steep. Damn steep. Our ascent is much more technical and slowgoing than we expected. We spend much of our time climbing and scrambling on all fours while trying not to knock loose rock off on each other. My two partners enter into a “spirited” debate about where we are and where we should be. We get set up by mid afternoon with Brett bugling from above with Robert and I set up to intercept on the path of least resistance between us and where we suspect the elk may be hiding. Our calling yields no interest so we began stalking while traversing the mounting. In terrain this severe and thick, stalking is a frustratingly difficult task. I end up taking a hard fall during this process. After checking myself over for injury, I decided it best to quiver my arrow for the more technical sections of the mountain as an encounter with a broadhead during a fall could be trip ending.

2014-09-24 16.45.11

While descending, we get separated in the Aspen thickets. The terrain is increasingly steep and we are forced to commit our entire body weight to the branches of Aspen saplings just to continue down. Like clockwork, the elk began to respond to our bugling at 5 PM. The bulls are spread out on the opposing face. We descend as quickly as we can while trying to cause minimal rockslides, but this is an impossible task. Descent at this point is more a matter of controlled falling by means of trusting our lives to sapling limbs than anything else. As I reach the bottom portion of the drainage, I look up to find the herd bull, a mature 5×3, standing 2,000 feet above me scanning the terrain below him like a mountain goat. The bull is firmly perched on a rock outcropping, surrounded by high angle (80-85 degrees), alpine grass slopes that drop off into 90 degree rock ledges. I was amazed to see an Elk moving so dominantly in what was clearly goat country.  In fact, I had dismissed the idea of elk using that portion of mountain altogether. I watched him for 10 minutes or so, trying to run the math on a way to get up there where he is while there is still daylight. It is impossible. Despite being less than 300 yards away, getting to the elk would require a 1,000 foot descent and a 2,000 foot climb. Finally, he loses interest and trots off, traversing those steep, grassy slopes with ease. Some of the subordinate bulls continued to bugle from various perches in dark timber of the same face. The day was both exciting and entirely defeating. We were certain that we had blown out the North side of the drainage and the South side was so steep and complex that there is no way we could attempt it without positioning ourselves on top; A task which would easily take a full day just to reposition. The general feeling was that we had gambled big time on the Elk remaining on the North side and that these same elk had used the severe terrain to defeat us. While we could have doubled down on that area, the concern became the clock (we were running out of days), the distance from the truck and, most importantly, the terrain between us and the truck. We would easily need 2 full days to get elk meat out of the hole we were positioned in. We made the decision to head up out of the drainage the next morning. With full packs on, the difficulty of potentially recovering meat uphill and out of the drainage became a harsh reality. Despite feeling recovered from my brief sickness and even feeling strong, the mountainside was relentless. After dropping into the other side, we spent some time stalking through the alpine forest, encountering more mule deer along the way. We set up Camp 6 on an exposed ridge at 11,700 feet (the first flat ground we sleep on) and spent the evening doing more stalking.

2014-09-25 10.23.55 2014-09-25 10.23.332014-09-25 13.58.152014-09-25 18.45.272014-09-25 14.00.35Camp 5. 10,500 feet. 

2014-09-25 14.00.01

2014-09-25 15.25.20We all three used the Sawyer water filter. Both of my partners used the filter inline on their bladders, filtering while they were drinking. I used the bag method as I had 2 smaller bladders -one of mixing drinks in and another for cooking water. 

2014-09-25 18.32.28Listening for Elk bugling in the late afternoon. All of the bulging we heard was between the hours of 5 PM and 9 PM

On the morning of day 7, we again waited for the thermals to begin rising, split up and, over the course of several hours, stalked our way downhill. This  ended up being a very hot day, especially as we dropped altitude. Once we descended the benches, we strapped our bows on our packs and pointed our feet downhill to polish off this last 2,000 feet of drop. I descended this section so quickly that I got a nosebleed. The last obstacle between us and the truck is a creek. Instead of wasting time picking my way across trying to keep my feet dry, I take the plunge in the thigh deep water and knock the crossing out in no time.2014-09-26 13.21.30

That night we ate dinner twice (beers with both) and spent time in a hot tub drinking bourbon.

We’ll be back next year.

Thoughts on backpack hunting:

Obviously backpacking hunting is not for everyone. Combining your experiences as an ultralight backpacker with the concept of ultra light hunting is not as easy as a marriage as one might think. If you lack experience in either or both departments, this could be an even more difficult concept. Despite striping our gear to a minmimum and using extremely simple shelters, methods of meal preparation and a bag full of ultralight camping hacks, it was surprising how much time we spent dealing with camp on a daily basis. Not to say that a DIY basecamp or spike camp does not come with its own list of daily chores and tasks, but backpack hunting seems to have the highest tradeoff in terms of comparing benefits vs. consequences of different types of backcountry hunting. You will give up the most in terms of comfort and will require the highest level of physical conditioning in order to carry and hunt with camp on your back on a daily basis. At the same time, this approach allows the hunter the greatest range and ability for improvisation. For the out of state DIY hunter with no ability to scout an area for sign, outfitters and other hunters, the choice seems obvious, however, the execution of this method of hunting is something that will continue to appeal only to a small fraction of hunters. After all, you’re going to spend just as much time obsessing over the weight of your sleeping bag as you will sighting in your weapon.

Backpack hunting is not “backpacking” because you are often going into places based upon the movement of animals instead of the path of least resistance or aesthetics. You may end spending your time in a craggy hell hole rather than next to a nearby scenic river. You have to get up earlier than normal in order to break camp. You can easily overextend yourself in terms of distance from your vehicle. There are many things that can wrong, more decisions to be made on a daily basis. More decisions means more bad decisions. Additionally, you are not thinking solely in terms of “hunting” mode as you have many “backpacking” decisions to deal with. At the same time, this is a close as the modern hunter can get to the nomadic hunter gatherer experience without going intentionally primitive. It could be argued that contemporary equipment makes that type of experience impossibly modern, however, we are merely translating this experience into the modern world, not reenacting an experience from the past.

Backpack hunting maintains about a 60/40 hunting to backpacking (“camping”) ratio. Basecamp hunting, particularly if outfitted, maintains more of a 90/10 ratio. Your chosen method of backcountry hunting will reflect more of what you want out of your experience than anything else. One method does not guarantee success or outcome over the other, but the different methods do offer totally different experiences of backcountry hunting. In a contemporary setting where the hunting world has been entirely conquered, the next step in the hunting experience is to repeat what has already been done in improved style, means and manner; to move lighter, faster and further to accomplish the same ends and to do solo what in the past has taken large groups. Why strap on 40 pounds of gear for seven to ten days and hunt an animal that could just easily be hunted to and from a vehicle on a daily basis in a different area? Because it is a different experience.

Venison Prosciutto, 12 months later

Well, after 12 months of hanging, it was finally time to dig into the Venison Prosciutto.

2014-09-30 20.36.20 2014-09-30 20.48.12
The outside was tough and inedible, but as we got to the dark meat in the middle, the taste became increasingly interesting. Salty, but interesting. I think that with a pork prosciutto, the fat offsets the salt a bit, however, with lean venison,  you get the full impact of the salt. I’m not sure if the prosciutto is very substitutable for typical prosciutto uses such as wrapping asparagus, but it does make an interesting charcuterie offering unto itself. First impression is that this is an interesting novelty. Worth the effort? Well, there’s not a lot of effort involved. It is an interesting experiment, especially if you have an abundance of venison and a curing setup. I’ll likely do it again, perhaps even mixing in a bit of spice.

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. 

Elk_Backpacking_Gear_2014

 

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. 

Food-Scale

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