Back to The Life

Are you solo tough?


Relaxing back at camp on a solo hunt
All photo credits: Justin Klement

Solo tough…I never used to be. For most, hunting season is a social event that happens each year—a way to fill the freezer, but, in many cases, it's also a chance to get away. For some, hunting season can be the time when your obsession finally turns into a reality. For people like me, we often prefer to go it alone. We realize the chances and success rates, which are utterly important, can increase dramatically when you are solo. But, there are also a lot of people who fall in between.

The type of guy I'm talking about is on the verge of taking hunting to a new level. This means a certain aspect of seriousness; you aren't just a weekend warrior, but, instead, you spend every waking minute thinking about the coming seasons and preparing for upcoming hunts. For this type of person, the idea of going solo on a hunting trip seems like a great idea; however, doing it is another thing.

Solo mountain hunting scenery

For some, it comes easy; for me, not so much, especially on a backpack hunt when I know I am miles from anyone or anything civilized. I find myself worrying about my safety more than I would on a normal basis, which, if you think about it in hindsight, is sort of crazy. When I have a hunting partner, I basically am using that person as a crutch in a way—someone to alleviate my fears of being alone, being attacked by a bear or cougar, breaking my leg or arm, or anything that could possibly be devastating. Having someone else there mentally soothes me; somehow these things can’t happen because I have another person with me. I don’t know why this happens, why a switch flips on in my brain the second I know that either I'm on my way out to my truck or I know that someone is on their way in to meet me. It's like people who are afraid of flying. When they have someone with reassuring them it will be OK, everything is fine. I guess it's more of a distraction for your mind than anything. Whatever the case, it works and it works well. At least for me.

Camping solo in the backcountry

It took me a long time to get used to going alone, especially the sleeping part. I could go out and hike all day long alone and be fine, but the second natural light starts to dim, then my mind brings out the tricks. Suddenly, I can’t hunt out to that far ridge line or basin for fear I'll be hiking back in the dark alone. But for some reason with another person, it seems perfectly fine. Yet, as odd as it may seem, I've managed to trick myself recently into staying longer and going farther when I'm solo hunting, thus allowing me to hunt harder and more effectively.

The first couple of times I went it was just for one night. I hiked in, stayed the night, hiked around the next day and then went home. Once I completed a couple of trips like that, multiple days didn’t seem as big a deal and, in short stints, they aren’t. But the first time you plan a four to five day hunt on your own, backpacking however many miles in, it can be. By the third day, unless you have had immediate success, you will find yourself questioning what it is you are doing. You'll wonder about what happens if you get attacked by a bear in the night, what happens if you tumble and one of your arrows gores you so badly that you can't make it out, what if you crush your arm and you have to “Aron Ralston” yourself out of there, plus more. Many things will run through your mind, making you seriously question whether or not you are cut out for hunting. These are some of my own fears while solo hunting in the backcountry. I've been there, sleeping alone, eight or so miles in, wolves howling in the distance (even though it sounds like they can get to you in a couple seconds), wishing anyone was nearby in case of a dire need of help.

Ways to stay focused

Justin Klement on a solo hunt

There are a couple of things that really keep me going in the backcountry when I am hunting alone. These things allow me to stay even when I don't want to; things like the dreaded recipe of “tag soup” really push me to keep going. As much as I believe hunting is not always about the kill, I do not like eating tag soup, especially on an expensive nonresident priced tag. Another thing that keeps me out in the field is seeing my meat inventory in my freezers dip below levels that I'm uncomfortable with. I like to have enough meat in my freezers to last my wife and I all year long, eating as much wild game as possible. And, if I'm lucky enough to harvest again the following year, I can easily give away the meat I am unable to eat to friends and family who need it.

Gear Shop - Shop Now

I also have a fear of letting myself down. I believe every year I will have my opportunity and if I screw it up I have a very tough time living with myself for the winter months that follow. I work my tail off each year to do the research on my hunt area, on my gear and everything that involves the hunt in order to make sure I have the best chance possible of success. It’s not something I take lightly and the thought of failure is usually enough of a drive to push me out of my comfort zone.

Putting it all together

Justin Klement 2017 Nevada archery mule deer
My 2017 Nevada archery mule deer.

Given all of the above information, self-motivation is not easy. Recently, I had the opportunity to have about an hour and a half conversation with a man I aspire to be. The twinkle in his eye gives an impression of a much younger, physically fit, and not yet white-haired Santa. The fact that we were able to spend an uninterrupted conversation about being alone in the backcountry, even though we had never met, says a lot about him. Ryan Lampers of Hunt Harvest Health has gained some notoriety lately for his steadfast hunting ethics and ability to push himself to his extreme limits. This is something I personally struggle with. I know I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and hearing some of his trials and tribulations firsthand throughout his long career helped to reassure that in my short six-year career of backpack-style hunting, I am indeed on the right track.

Through the years I have found it difficult to connect with others who have the same mindset. goHUNT’s own Brady Miller is another prime example of a badass dude who has no problem going at it alone.

Once you understand what is necessary for survival and effective for hunting in the backcountry, it becomes much easier. For me, it was the realization that I have about a hundred times higher chance of crashing my pickup on the way to hunting than I do being attacked by any type of wild animal in the woods. It's much like the fear of flying people have, which is almost always unjustified. As long as I keep these things in perspective and keep my mind distracted from those stupid thoughts, I can do anything. Eventually, I want to be so comfortable in the backcountry that those thoughts never entered my mind in the first place. That's where reaching out to others who have been there helps. The familiarity and common ground you can share with another reassures you that what you are feeling is normal. You can also check out another great article on this subject: The challenges of western solo hunting and how to overcome them.

goHUNT INSIDER equals better hunting research


Log in or register to post comments.

Benjamin P. - posted 1 year ago on 12-21-2018 02:57:34 am


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I’ve been doing a few solo hunts lately and have been woken up by a bear right outside my tent. When you’re inside your sleeping bag with a bear sniffing you from inches away you start to feel like a human burrito and it’s not much fun. It is scary but the benefits are definitely there. I don’t like having to figure out who is gonna shoot first, telling people to stop being so loud, arguing about which way to go and on and on. Solo hunting allows me to do things exactly the way I want to and gives me great satisfaction when I’m successful.

Josh B. - posted 1 year ago on 06-10-2018 08:37:59 am
San Antonio, TX

Good thoughts. I have 3 solos this year 2-NM and 1 CO. I’d like to try the one nighters, but might as well jump in the deep end.

Hello G. - posted 2 years ago on 03-21-2018 09:08:38 pm
San Francisco, CA

I found your willingness to discuss your fear of the dark in the backcountry refreshing. I've had an unfounded fear of sleeping outside since I was a kid (did have a bear aggressively sniff my tent once...). To this day, once night arrives, even when camping around others, fear kicks in. Pushing myself physically throughout the day helps me to quickly fall asleep when I lay down, but I'll be damned if there isn't always some bump in the night that wakes me and gets my mind racing.

I can say that the more time I spend alone in backcountry the more comfortable I become, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I have a can of bear spray and 44mag laying next to me in the tent, ha!

Hello G. - posted 2 years ago on 03-21-2018 09:08:02 pm
San Francisco, CA

I found your willingness to discuss your fear of the dark in the backcountry refreshing. I've had an unfounded fear of sleeping outside since I was a kid (did have a bear aggressively sniff my tent once...). To this day, once night arrives, even when camping around others, fear kicks in. Pushing myself physically throughout the day helps me to quickly fall asleep when I lay down, but I'll be damned if there isn't always some bump in the night that wakes me and gets my mind racing.

I can say that the more time I spend alone in backcountry the more comfortable I become, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I have a can of bear spray and 44mag laying next to me in the tent, ha!

Schyler G. - posted 2 years ago on 12-22-2017 09:38:43 pm
Medford, OR

Awesome article, I have been trying to get the nerve to do my own solo hunt. Do you by chance have any articles about your gear/equipment setup (I.e. tent, sleeping bag, food, stove) for your solo hunts? Any info would be greatly appreciated! Thank you

Scott L. - posted 2 years ago on 12-12-2017 12:48:37 pm
Mohave Co., Arizona

Great article Justin, I have my entire life been a solohunter. On an occasion or two a friend has accompanied me, but that's been the exception to the rule. I like the solitude.

In the past four years though, I've not been able to do as much as I'd like to, due to my injuries while on active duty. For me now, its more of a mental hurdle than anything else, despite the fact that I've planned for it to a degree or another by obtaining a satellite communicator, GPS, etc. Still, it causes a little anxiety. But, I'm slowly overcoming the mental hurdle. By getting out as often as I can on day excursions.

All that said, and I don't say that for any sympathy, just a note as some of us would love to do it, but, for one reason or another either can't or don't any longer.

Seth D. - posted 2 years ago on 12-11-2017 01:40:15 am
Public Lands

I fight this struggle, not that I care about being alone. I investigated a few bear related deaths in Alaska when I was a police officer up there about 20 years ago. I spent a lot of nights hunting sambar in Victoria, Australia and sleeping on the ground in an Australian swag. Wonderful experience to not have a tent, but those stinking night snake fears killed a lot of the fun. A tent made things nicer. Our problem in much of the west is grizzly bears. I grew up hunting South-West of Dubois, Wyoming and until I was probably 30 the area we hunted elk had no grizzly bears. That is no longer a thing. For most hunts not having an accomplice is find, for wilderness hunts where grizz live, I am not sure how I feel about that.

Zack Fava_10208023923459177
Zack F. - posted 2 years ago on 12-10-2017 08:17:06 pm
Ridgecrest, CA

Thanks. That helps. I’ll give it a go!

Tom M. - posted 2 years ago on 12-10-2017 06:11:18 pm

I had to get my Archery Affidavit put on my profile by ID Fish and Game. Once they did that I could select the unit. IF you have your Archery education training certificate you can put that in. I took my class back in 1985 so I could not find my certificate. So I had to fill out the Archery affidavit and email it back to them. It took about 2 days and they got it put in and then Diamond Creek appeared on the selection list. Hope this helps

Josh S. - posted 2 years ago on 12-10-2017 05:42:21 pm
Spokane Valley, WA

I have the same exact feelings as stated in this article since I’m just now being able to afford taking this obsession of hunting more seriously as a 20 year old. I’ve been planning next year for Idaho and Montana archery season, I’m getting excited but also nervous.

Zack Fava_10208023923459177
Zack F. - posted 2 years ago on 12-10-2017 12:54:18 pm
Ridgecrest, CA

Tom, I have been having issues get my tag for unit 76, online. It wasn’t showing up as a choice zone to pick from for OTC archery elk. Was there a trick or am I just missing something??

As for putting your wife at ease, I have two suggestions. One, don’t go solo and find a hunting partner. Two, but an inreach device to keep in touch. In fact, I would suggest purchasing an Inreach device no matter the situation as it is a great too to have in the backcountry, no matter how many people may be in the hunt.

Tom M. - posted 2 years ago on 12-09-2017 08:21:14 pm

great article. I just bought my first ID tag to do a solo Archery hunt in unit 76. Any pointers on calming the wife down, lol. She is no to happy about me going alone.

Zack Fava_10208023923459177
Zack F. - posted 2 years ago on 12-08-2017 10:19:33 pm
Ridgecrest, CA

Just like any other individual activity, the mental always trumps the physical. If the physical is set, that is one less burden on your mental well being, but the mind tends to wander no matter how well prepared you may be.

I have taken to studying philosophy as of late and stoicism really seems to be a game changer for the mental aspect in not only solo hunting, but day to day life. Once you remove yourself from the situations you have zero control of (those that we tend to worry about non stop) the easier it is to focus on what YOU can actually do for yourself. I like to think of stoicism as a water filtration system... You start with murky, muddy water (self doubt, fear, emotion, etc.) you run all of that through the filtration system (a proper thought process) and all you have left is what is necessary to not only survive, but thrive in a situation such as this.

I can attest to each and everything you mentioned, but once you decide to change your outlook and approach to the way you work within the world... total game changer!

justin k. - posted 2 years ago on 12-06-2017 08:43:21 pm

John F. - Baby steps is probably your best bet. Start out with an over nighter or two here and there and work your way up to staying longer, from then, expanding your limits gets challenging but rewarding. The InReach is awesome. Hands down best tool. Thanks for reading!

Alexandre V. - Likewise on the InReach. Amazing tool. Wouldn't leave for the mountains without mine. I think as with anything, time will be the greatest teacher for solo trips. You have nobody to learn from but yourself so you either have to outwit the problems before hand or be really intuitive in the field. Either way its the best way to go! Thanks for your comment!

john f. - Thank you! This was my first year running a floorless shelter and a stove and its life changing! Thats another thing I never thought of, going to bed in a good frame of mind!
John F. - posted 2 years ago on 12-06-2017 09:54:08 am
Oxnard, CA

As someone that aspires to be a solo backpack hunter i enjoy these articles. Please keep this stuff coming. I agree with Alexander that the InReach is going to nice on solo hunts, not just for are own piece of mind but that of our families.

Alexandre V. - posted 2 years ago on 12-06-2017 08:33:45 am
Salt Lake City, UT

Great start, nuts to think how long you can go on about the trials and tribulations of solo hunting. Yes, it's physically demanding and I think a lot of solo hunters (at least I hope) have the physical capability. It's the mental game like you said... staying in it, staying positive, keeping focused, knowing when to take brakes, how to have some creature comforts to help replace a companion to make a bad situation better. A book, a notebook, and a plan A, B, C, D have been my primary keys to success. Second guessing yourself without someone to ask a question to will mentally wear you down. If you don't have plans in place for failure and adversity or an outlet to express yourself by writing or reading, you will break, and give up. Oh and, an inReach helps to be able to text a loved one every night, a quick story with an I love you and one back means more than anything I can express.

john f. - posted 2 years ago on 12-05-2017 08:13:38 pm

Great article.

As someone who hunts 90% of the time solo this is spot on.

I have a hard time second guessing myself on stuff I shouldn't and getting motivated on those cold wet mornings. It's been something I constantly work on mentally. I recently switched to a Seek Outside with a stove just to have some fire to clear my mind. Also saved a couple funny videos to my phone for nighttime entertainment. Anything to keep it light at night so I go to bed with good thoughts.