All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
As the days tick by, we get closer and closer to the early fall hunting seasons. Soon, we’ll be hitting the mountains and scratching that ever familiar itch that never seems to subside. For me, this all starts with a certain smell. Now, hold on and let me explain myself. When a certain time of year hits here in the desert and the summer air blows through the junipers it’s like an alarm clock goes off for me. That very smell of warm juniper air mixed with the rain scent that comes from the creosote bush wakes me up. It tells me that summer scouting is in full effect and the early fall hunts are not far behind. One of the biggest battles during this time of scouting and hunting is the heat, especially if you live in the desert like we do down here. Sometimes, it can get downright brutal and even unsafe if you aren’t careful. If a hunter spends some time tromping the desert floor for years on end, they are bound to come up with a few tips and tricks for dealing with the summer heat. Dealing with scorching temperatures is a necessary evil if you are looking to be out and about this time of year. Here are some things I’ve personally learned living in cactus country.
The most obvious thing to make sure you are doing during the dog days of summer is finding shade. The sun is just relentless during this time and we’ve got to do what we can to manage its take on us. The shade is going to take the stress of the beating sun off of you and give you some relief. I try to map out my glassing locations based on where shade is. Doing so lets me stay there for longer periods of time, which means more time behind the glass. Not only am I paying attention to trees and such, but also bluffs. A hunter can squeak out quite a few hours up against a shaded bluff, which is nice. Plus, those rocks in the shade are oftentimes cool from the night’s temperatures. The critters that like to bed up against these rim rocks have got it figured out. We can learn a thing or two from them. However, sometimes there is no shade. So, what do we do then?
If you find yourself in a burned area or the barren desert, sometimes, there is little to no shade in sight. On top of us trying to stay cool, we’ve got to keep in mind where the animals are. If the best place for us to keep tabs on that area from has no shade, it’s time to get creative. Carrying a small tarp with you in your pack is a great option for creating your own shade. They are lightweight and set up quickly. This is also great for when those summer monsoon storms roll in and you might need shelter from the rain. There are also small umbrellas that will attach to your tripod for glassing. I have never personally used one of these, but it’s a great option. Aside from tarps and umbrellas, we’ve also used clothing tied off to tripod legs for shade believe it or not. You’ve got to do what you got to do out there!
As hunters, many of us tend to be super cognizant of our scent. Anything that we can do to evade the searching noses of our quarry is usually in our best interest. I don’t blame anyone for this. In the case of western hunting, this can be especially, though, and scent control is one of those things that almost becomes a moot point. Right when we leave the truck and start hiking, we are building up sweat and stench no matter how much of that spray you applied to your clothing beforehand. Where am I going with this? Well, this article is about dealing with the sun and the blistering heat that comes from that thing. Wearing sunscreen might be something that hunters turn their nose up to, but down here in the desert, you’d be smart to give it a good thinking before doing such a thing. I have routinely in the past carried a small bottle of SPF 50 from Sawyer in my pack. Even if that’s just to put on the back of my neck or face. Better to smell like sunscreen and work the wind than get beat up by the sun and work the wind.
Aside from sunscreen, though, I personally try to keep covered up out there as much as possible. Call me crazy, but on hunts, I don’t like wearing short-sleeved shirts, shorts or no hat. I’m usually covered from head to toe with the hood up and all or at least a hat on. The hood is nice, though, because it protects the back of my neck from the sun. The same routine goes for my hands. Either I’ve got my thumbs in the thumb holes with the sleeve covering most of my hand or I’ve got a very lightweight glove on. Personally, I think this is good practice anyway if bowhunting. Covering up as much skin as possible is just less that can be seen. Some folks don’t believe in camo, but I do 100%.
Do not, I repeat DO NOT take water for granted out there in the summer. You absolutely need to make sure that you are staying hydrated. With all of the sweat that is pouring out of your body from the heat, replenishing that is vital. If you find yourself all of a sudden not sweating, you better start taking in some water. This means that you are dehydrated and on your way to heatstroke. It’s best to stop that right in its tracks as heat stroke is some nasty business. Every year, people get helicoptered out of areas and some even die from dehydration during the summer months. Drink water and don’t become a statistic. On summer hunts I won’t even consider a 2L bladder. I’m rocking a 3L without a doubt and make sure that sucker is full before I leave camp in the morning.
On top of drinking water, I also think it’s super important to mix in some electrolytes to replenish those. Wilderness Athlete Hydrate and Recover is something that I carry in my backpack religiously for this reason. At the end of the day, I’ll shoot this down with dinner. It hasn’t done me wrong and breaks up the monotony of drinking only water.
Ever heard someone say, “I bit off way more than I can chew” or “My eyes were bigger than my stomach?” Well, these pertain to what we’re about to talk about next and that is knowing your limits. Each and every one of us are different and can handle different degrees of punishment. In this case, we’re talking about the sun, but the idea runs the gamut with hunting. Knowing your limits is really just about being honest with yourself. Don’t worry what someone else’s limits are because those are theirs and theirs alone. Those aren’t going to help you come game day. Pay attention to your body and when it needs certain things. Some folks have to drink way more water than others. Personally, I know I am not one of those people. I’ll drink a liter, maybe two, a day, and am fine. My wife, though? She’ll pound through a 3L and then come to start drinking my water.
Another reason for knowing your limits comes down to safety. There are more than a few people out there that can be super hard-headed—myself included. Sometimes that hard-headedness gets me in trouble because I’m just being stubborn instead of listening to myself and looking at the overall situation at hand. Hunters tend to be a somewhat macho group from time to time. That, too, will get you in trouble if not careful. If you’ve got to take a break during a hike to gather yourself, don’t feel less of yourself for doing so. Listen to your body.
During a hunt, I tend to really get wrapped up in my own little world. I’m just so focused on the task at hand and soaking that up that, sometimes, the things that are important fly right over my head. It’s easy for that to happen when you’re under the influence of pure bliss. We’re in such a good mood that paying attention to things like managing the sun or heat go unnoticed. By the time they are noticed, sometimes it can be too late and heat stroke is in full effect. Something similar to this happened to a friend of mine during an August bear hunt here in Arizona. After tracking a wounded bear for awhile, he found himself sitting under a tree unable to move and extremely dehydrated. If it weren’t for his buddy who came looking for him with Gatorade in hand, who knows if I’d still have the option of going hunting with this young man. Even so, I really do love hunting during this time of year. If managed right, there is no reason why you can’t go out there and have an absolute blast in the heat, whether you are scouting, at the shooting range or actually hunting. When you do make your way out there, don’t forget to smell that warm juniper air I mentioned…