It does not matter if you are hunting deer, elk, bear, predators or rabbits, you cannot hunt and harvest an animal if you are at camp. Or, at least, your chances are way less. Staying afield all day long — especially in poor conditions or when your confidence is low — is tough for most people. This is because most hunters are realistic and know that the first few hours of the morning and the last few hours of the evening are their best opportunities to get a glimpse and hopefully harvest a trophy animal. Though the odds of you harvesting a trophy buck, bull or other animal at noon are probably less than the morning and evening, you still have odds. And, if you are like me and have limited time to hunt each year, any odds are better than no odds. So for that reason, I encourage you to stay in the mountains all day, every day, rain or shine. Here are some tips to help you pass the time and be in the best position to harvest an animal at any time of day.
When it comes to picking a spot to hang out for the day, there are three main things to think about. First, what is your evening plan? I always like to position myself in a place near my evening hunt or at the spot I want to be for the evening. The second thing is wind and thermal directions. As you probably know, the daytime thermals rise up the mountain and there is usually some sort of prevailing wind wherever you are hunting. Position yourself in a way that these prevailing winds and thermals do not blow anywhere near where you think the animals might be. That means you might have to travel up and over the top to keep your thermals from dropping down the mountain. The last thing that is important when picking a spot is to choose a huntable spot. You are going to be staying back in the mountains all day. Yes, it will save you some hiking and allow you to take a nap or two, but the important thing is that you are hunting. Pick a spot that you could hunt from if you saw or heard an animal.
When it comes to hunting out West, there is physical preparation, there is skill preparation and there is also mental preparation. Western hunting is hard. Brutal elevation gains, painful blisters, muscle cramps and sheer exhaustion can break down a person who is not mentally prepared. Understanding what you are getting yourself into and remembering a common goal throughout the hunt is crucial if you want to keep your morale up and hopefully harvest an animal. I have heard many hunters plan a ten-day trip only to cut it short a day or two early because they have been unsuccessful or are just worn out. They lost mental focus of what they were striving for, tucked their tail and went home. I am willing to bet that they wished they were back on the mountain one or two days after they got home. Remembering that mental toughness is essential and staying focused every day of the hunt is necessary. Mental toughness is what is required if you want to stay in the mountains all day.
If you have decided to stay back all day, you need to be prepared for changing conditions. Any western hunter knows that the mountains are unpredictable and the weather can change at a moment’s notice. For this reason, I always come prepared with a change of base layers, a tarp or rain fly and some rain gear. Whenever I decide to stay back, I constantly get tested by the weather and unforeseen circumstances. This is why mental preparation is so important. During the rain or snow — or right after — might just be the time that buck or bull stands up and walks out, so be prepared and don’t make excuses.
You are back in the mountains for the long days of fall and early winter, so boredom could be a problem. For this reason, I encourage you to find something to pass the time. For some of you, this might be reading a book, journaling the day’s events or even napping. There are plenty of quiet ways to enjoy yourself in the mountains and I encourage you all to find one that works for you. I often set up my binos on a tripod and then glass for a little while and then take a break to read a hunting book or action novel that I have packed in with me. Pass the time and you might even enjoy the experience.
Another super important thing to remember when you are back in the mountains all day is to bring some high-calorie food to eat. You are trying to be an efficient hunting machine and this requires food. Remember to bring some snacks and some solid meal choices that will replenish your body and keep you hunting hard whenever you get the opportunity. It should go without saying that you need to remember to pack enough water or have a way to get and purify water in the backcountry. Take care of your stomach and it will be easy to stay back.
Though there is not much guaranteed in hunting, I can assure you that you will have a better chance to kill an animal if you are back where the animals live instead of at the truck or camp. This should be enough of a reason to plan on staying back in the mountains all day instead of wasting energy and hiking out just to hike back in. This fall, be mentally prepared, have the right gear, a way to pass the time and some good backcountry meals. You might just fill your tag at a time you would generally be getting back to camp!