Backcountry hunter. That title is getting thrown around a lot these days. Visions of ourselves, battling it out deep in the mountains. Digging our feet into the soil, spearheading forward and pitting ourselves against the most violent of elements. Studying our quarry for days on end, learning their habits, their patterns, all in hopes of that one slip up, giving us the chance to sneak in and bring them down.
Flicking the middle finger to the modern day conveniences that have made us so soft, so detached from our once natural surroundings and heading off into the great unknown. Backpack, bow and a healthy portion of testosterone to keep us company in the deeps.
The solo backcountry hunter. The Navy Seals of the hunting community. What a vision.
Easy to visualize, not so easy to do.
It’s a loose term at best. I’m sure we all define it a bit differently. Two miles off the road for a day hunt? Eight miles deep for a ten day sufferfest? It’s your fantasy big guy, define it how you want.
But I’m going to go ahead and say it’s at least a three day trip. My blog, guess I get to take some liberties.
Working your way deep into an area that sees very little hunting pressure due to it’s “inconvenient” location, sure sounds like it will up your chance of success, right? Animals that have seen so few humans that they will eat an apple off the end of your broadhead.
So if it’s really that easy, why are so few backcountry hunters unsuccessful?
My theory: Not staying in long enough. Plain and simple.
So I Need to Train to Become A Backcountry Solo Hunter?
Short answer: yes
I’m not saying some people aren’t naturally meant for the loneliness of backcountry hunting, but they’re few and far between. Ever truly been alone with nobody to talk to for ten days straight? Some people lose their shit. I was one of them. I would talk to every fury or feather creature that would lend an ear.
I wasn’t above talking to a female deer asking her, “Hey, where are all your menfolk at?”
Lizards? Easily captured and therefore a captive, albeit unwilling, audience.
With the loneliness will inevitably come the excuses.
Excuses. Holy good God, the excuses. We will rationalize them as valid, but I assure you, we only do that to save our ego. They are full on, full blown excuses, no matter what way you look at them.
These excuses will gnaw at you until you justify your decision to quit. To leave the playing field with that handy excuse in your back pocket, ready to be pulled out and used on the first body with a pulse. Lord you can’t wait to use that excuse, have someone stamp their validation on it to heal that wounded ego.
But like everything else, I promise you, with mental preparation this can be overcome.
This is where the training comes into play. Find our excuses and we’ll find the key to the puzzle on how to stay in there for the planned amount of time, thus increasing our chances of success considerably.
Let’s have a look at some of these excuses and how we can weed them out.
The Keys of Staying Power
Wrap everything up at home. This one is crucial. If we feel like we pissed off the significant other or left business unfinished at home because of our hunt, I can assure you this will dig deep into your psyche when you have very little else to do besides glass and burn ants with your binoculars. Get this cleaned up before you go. Make sure you have your spouse’s full support and there is no other family or work business to take of.
I recently left for a ten day trip into the backcountry of Arizona to chase desert mule deer. This was easy to do when I was a single man with literally zero responsibility. That ain’t the case these days. With a four month old son at home and a beautiful and supportive woman manning the helm while I was to be away, I needed to be in contact. I typically love being out of communication from everyone while on these trips, but hey, a small request from the woman who was letting me wander the wilds like a carefree hippy.
Use technology. Embrace technology. Technology can be your friend. I took a Spot satellite phone with me while out there and I don’t ever think I’ll go in again without one. I was able to assure her that I was alive and kicking. And just to hear my little man’s babblings, I would have carried a phone the size/weight of a cinder block if need be.
I knew by bringing this technology I would alleviate the guilt of being out of contact for ten days. I foresaw this problem and remedied it. That excuse was as good as dead.
Hearing this one kills me. So easy to work around, yet I hear this excuse all the time.
“The valley was packed! I don’t think Super Bowl 50 is going to have as many spectators watching as there were hunters watching for elk in there!”
Yeesh… Backcountry hunting right? If you see other hunters, get in deeper. Simple as that. If you don’t want to, use the other hunters to your advantage. Know the animals escape routes and let the hunting pressure push them to you.
You need to be flexible in these situations. Scouting a new area doesn’t always tell us how much pressure an area receives. If you’re using the hunting pressure to your benefit, maybe you won’t attempt to spot and stalk, but rather setting up an ambush on escape routes.
With the amount of public land in the western states, this one simply is not a valid excuse. The two backcountry bowhunting trips I did in 2015 resulted in not seeing a single person in the deeps. Fifteen total days of hunting and not a single biped, oh and by the way, they were in OTC units.
Be an F-ing Gladiator.
Do you need to be in ridiculous shape to hunt the backcountry? Yup. I’ll catch shit for this one, but I’m gonna stick to my guns. I can’t think of a time that I said to myself, “You know what? All that training was a complete waste of time! I could have been plowing back Cheetos and sinking into the couch watching other motivated warriors kill each other over a football.”
Training does two things for you. It allows you to get where ever you want and makes you think that you’re badass enough to kill whatever walks in front of you.
For me, physical training throughout the year boosts my mental game more than anything. Believe me, you can’t have enough mental game when it comes to being a true backcountry hunter.
Never Give Up.
Unlike most team sports, the success of a hunting trip can change in a second. This is SO imperative to understand. You could be out there for two weeks and see nothing but your own shadow. Then the last hour of the hunt, bam, there’s that trophy animal staring you down forty yards away.
But the key is, you have to be in there for that to happen. Every second you spend hanging in there gives you another chance of taking that animal.
So find your own mantra. A key word or phrase that you say over and over when times are rough. When you want to give up and find that excuse as to why you should leave. They will come pouring in, by the hundreds. Don’t play that victim game with yourself, man up and stay in there.
For me, I picture this image and repeat over and over, “Never give up.”
This is probably the easiest excuse to make. Why blame ourselves when we can blame something that can’t defend itself. If our equipment fails, we are the ones that really failed. We buy it after all.
So do the research, then test it!
“My tent leaked. My boots fell apart. I didn’t have enough food.”
Lame. This is what the preseason is for, weeding out these problems. You’re out scouting anyway, so this is the perfect time to test everything out. If you don’t like it, sell it on Craigslist and start over. No excuses.
Finding Our Weaknesses
Time for a trial run. We are going to actively seek out our weaknesses with a test run.
Don’t have the time you say?
Instead of spending your money in that new bow or spotting scope, buy a few days off of work. I mean this quite literally. Do whatever it takes, but get yourself four or five days off in a row and plan on heading into the backcountry on a solo scouting trip. Do this well before the hunting season starts. Your goal here is to learn what excuses will arise and you can’t do that if you have someone else to help rid the loneliness.
Take a small notebook with you to write all your thoughts down. Don’t rely on remembering what you were feeling, you may be so flooded with emotions that you couldn’t possibly remember them all.
Write down all the doubts and fears that come to you while you’re out there. All of them. These WILL become your excuses later on as to why you quit.
Learn them well right now and you can work on countering them before the big trip.
Some examples of what I found out about myself and how I countered them:
- detachment from my newborn son → brought a satellite phone with me
- sketchy area with illegal aliens and drug runners → carried a handgun (not always legal when bowhunting)
- feeling like I picked the wrong spot → reminded myself that I did my homework, there were animals in here, though they wouldn’t be tied to the rocks. Have some patience.
- violent storms → had an alternate camping area that was lower in elevation if the storm really pounded the area
- hopelessness → found my inner motivator, a frog choking out a bird while being eaten. NEVER GIVE UP
Backcountry solo hunting has become an obsession with many of us. It’s the most primal and exhilarating way to experience hunting. It tests us physically but most of all mentally. Like anything difficult, we don’t become experts at it overnight. But like most things in life, the things most difficult to achieve tend to be the most rewarding to us.
Share the same passion? Well freakin hit me up in the comments section and tell me about them. I’m not here to just spit my opinions at you, let's hear what you got!
// Fred Bohm