Finding the right distance when hunting solo
Scenario: You're packed up, boots tied tight ready for three to five days of solo hunting with plans of coming out heavier than when you entered. You won't have the availability to call anyone with horses or llamas. All the meat transportation will rely solely on your back and feet. The question becomes how far is too far? Here's what I've learned about certain distance ranges throughout the last couple seasons when hunting solo.
0 to 1.5 miles
This range is where I believe a good portion of hunters focus. That's not to say there isn't any good hunting to be had in this range — I’ve had my fair share. Surprisingly, there can be a lot of chances for game opportunities depending on species, difficulty of terrain and access. One of the biggest problems with this range for our dedicated three-to-five-day excursion scenario is that there is a high probability of running into other hunters from the weekend surge — especially if game can be seen from roads. However, there are some spots where terrain makes it a terrible hike in and deters most folks who are looking for the path of ease. In these difficult to access short distance spots, you may find where the animals are hiding from the general populous. I have one or two spots like this, but for the sake of the scenario, I wouldn't use them. Plus let's face it, you wanted a tougher pack out. Right?
1.5 to 3 miles
This is a pretty attractive range. This is a good range when planning a long weekend or when trying to avoid crowds. If I can, I will try and plan to start my hike-in during the middle of the week and be out before the weekend kicks off. This is my go-to range, more specifically closer to the three-mile area, especially when solo. There is plenty of good hunting to be had if you're willing to do some off trail exploring. You will also get a good amount of elbow room when resting up at camp. Road noise is nonexistent, fewer people are seen and there is more than likely room to adventure out in all directions. I like this range because I can pack in — whether on trail or off — with a hefty pack full of my favorite creature comforts since I know I'll be setting up a "base camp" to continue hunting the surrounding areas. The 1.5-to-three-mile range isn't too bad either if you do harvest an animal. Granted it will be a multiple trip pack out, but it is manageable.
3 to 5 miles
Solo hunting speaking, you have entered the area of stamina. Depending on terrain, this can really kick your ass. However, what you may pay in pain just getting there, you will be rewarded in serenity! If you're searching for the real deal when planning a do-it-yourself (DIY) hunt out West and want the full experience of a backcountry hunt, then this is the range for you. Now, remember that we’re talking solo hunting for a couple to a few days, which means everything you need will be on your back. For most, humping a 60 lb+ pack close to five miles will be a real workout and test of mental fortitude. Training is a must when entering this realm. The beauty of this range is that people are rarely seen — at least in my experience. When planning for this range, be sure to only pack what you need and try to find items that can be used multiple ways to help keep your pack weight down. Depending on location and time of the year, you may get some unexpected weather so prepare for that. I don't trust forecasts too much because I know from experience that Mother Nature's mountains make their own decisions. Always pack rain gear! Consider lightweight yet nutritionally dense foods to assure you will be getting enough nutritional support while exerting a lot of energy. Another consideration is water. If you won't have the availability for it near camp you may have to resort to packing in a couple gallons, which adds a lot of extra weight. If you're lucky enough to harvest an animal, then get ready for the real fun! I'm a fan of deboning the meat since I don't want to pack the weight of bones, but that's just a personal preference.
5 miles and beyond
This is horse country! That's not to say that people don't venture out into the wilderness solo at these ranges, but those people are some hard chargers! This area isn't for the beginner or first timer. I have yet to find a need to go this far; however, part of me is curiously tempted. You're more than likely not going to run into anyone, but may run into the occasional horse rider. The animals in this range are more than likely not as educated as some in the previous ranges mentioned. Although you may see some of the most majestic views you'll ever encounter, caution must be noted. Ranges beyond five miles requires you to fully understand what you're getting yourself into. There can be no wasted items in your pack and your nutrition has to be a priority. I would highly recommend some kind of communication device like the Garmin inReach mini or Garmin inReach Explorer so you can stay in contact with someone just in case things get hairy. Something I have thought about doing is starting at one trailhead and covering as much ground as possible, finding game throughout the few days, with a plan to get picked up at another trailhead some five miles away. The theory would be that if I did tag out, then I would just pack it out to the closer of the two trailheads. If you are someone who hunts in this range, let me know, I would like to hear what you have learned.
What range is the best?
Not quite sure. It will depend on your experience level, where the animals are and how far you're willing to pack an animal out if successful. Every one of the ranges mentioned will hold game; there's no doubt. Mainly, for me, going further or hunting less forgiving terrain just helps me hunt animals that could be less pressured. Additionally, it challenges me both mentally and physically. If you have hunted solo you know just as well as I do the games your mind can begin to play after a day or two. For those who haven't hunted solo but plan on it in the future, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is prepare. Prepare yourself for boredom, solving problems, physical strain, etc. There's really only one way to find out what you require and that's to get out there and put miles in!
Be sure to let us know in the comments what range you prefer for a three-to-five-day trip. Stay safe and hunt hard!