Photo credit: Brandon Koomler
Backpack hunting definitely seems to be at the top of the “to-do list” for many hunters these days. Each year that goes by, the allure of the backcountry life attracts more and more folks. They want to break the monotony of their “normal” and strike off into the hills to live in the dirt for a spell. Hunters will train year-round, hike countless miles in and out of the backcountry and burn more than a few holes in maps with their longing gaze. Just simply getting into your hunting area can be tough enough. And, then, if you get something on the ground? Man, get ready for some heavy miles. Not only does a hunter have to get that meat out, but also their camp. Sometimes, this can involve multiple trips. The miles add up and so do the sore muscles. It is both mentally/physically taxing. So, is backpack hunting worth it?
I’ve always considered myself a glass half full kind of fellow. So, let’s look at the positives of backpack hunting first. These are the reasons why the juice may be worth the squeeze.
While backpack hunting has grown in popularity, that doesn’t mean the backcountry is crowded by any means. The fact of the matter is that the majority aren’t willing to throw a fully loaded backpack on, hike into the mountains and live there for days on end. I don’t blame them — it’s a lot of work. This is where the backpack hunter gains though. Most hunters are going to be operating around road systems, plain and simple. Getting away from those roads will yield fewer hunters and more solitude.
My first backpack hunt took place here in Arizona for our beloved coues deer. Both my brother and I packed into the high desert with our bows and more ambition than could fit in our overstuffed backpacks. We saw deer and lots of them. It was apparent that these particular deer weren’t used to seeing humans based upon their reactions to our presence. They were more curious than anything. I actually had one walk up to a mere 8’ of me wondering what I was. So, along with less pressure from hunters, backpack hunting offers the ability to hunt less pressured animals. They don’t know what they haven’t seen.
Photo credit: Brandon Koomler
That Coues hunt I mentioned above is what really sealed the deal for me on the idea of backpack hunting. From the hike in to the most stunning view outside of the tent to the rutting Coues bucks only a stone throw away, I was hooked. While we got real close at filling a tag back there, we didn’t leave empty-handed. No, we left that camp with smiles on our faces and the yearning for the next trip. Backpack hunting is a change of pace from city life. It’s the ultimate adventure. Just going through the motions of the whole thing is rewarding enough to leave you glowing. Put an animal on the ground and you’ll be shining brighter than ever.
Even though I like a glass half full mentality, it doesn’t change that the other half is empty. Backpack hunting has downsides. These are reasons why the juice may not be worth the squeeze.
Backpack hunting is a commitment. It is both a commitment in energy, for obvious reasons, but mostly in time. Packing into an area takes time and once you’re there, you’re there. What if there are no critters? Sure, you could decide to pack up and move camp into different country, but you can only go so far. There’s no jumping in the truck and driving 10 miles down the road. I suppose you could do that after hiking all the way back out to the vehicle, but then we are burning precious hunting time once again.
We’ve all heard the saying, “now the real work begins,” I’m sure more than a handful of times. It’s usually uttered when an animal hits the ground and it’s time to start packing meat. On backpack hunts, “now the real work begins” s right when you leave the vehicle. And then if you are so fortunate to harvest something it is magnified 10x. Those heavy miles just got a lot heavier and they will be rich in abundance. Remember that you’ve also got to pack your camp out with your game meat. Real work.
The physical and mental toll that comes from backpack hunting is nothing to scoff at. Backcountry miles are proficient in beating us hunters up. After so many days — and even years of that — you’ll feel it. Then there is the mental side of things back there. Backpack hunting is hard and there is no denying that. It’s hard heading back to a “poshless” camp after getting your teeth kicked in day after day. The thoughts of a burger and warm bed are really easy to give into. There are much easier ways of hunting than backpack hunting.
There may be easier ways of hunting than living out of a backpack, but what we get out of it in the end is what makes it worth it. And that “thing” is just much more worth it to some than others. There is nothing wrong with that. If it isn’t your cup of tea, then it isn’t. Backpack hunting is so much more than just going hunting. It’s an experience. It’s the ultimate adventure. That’s the “thing” I’m referring to. The rewards that come from hunting the backcountry and living in the dirt exceed far beyond that of a filled tag. These rewards shape us and set us right. I can’t think of a backpack hunt where there wasn’t a smile on my face during the departure. Creating and reflecting on those special times keeps me and many others thirsty for more. And that is a juice that is worth the squeeze time and time again. For more information, check out this great article here for tips on your first backpack style hunt.