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Selecting the right shelter for your hunt

Selecting the right shelter for your hunt

Photo credit: Chris Neville

One of the common questions I’m asked is “What type of tent should I buy?” This is understandable since there are so many options on the market. To answer that question, I typically respond with my own series of questions to help me understand their needs before I can offer a recommendation. Those questions include: what type of hunt are you using it for? What style hunt are you after and what time of the year are you hunting? How many people will be staying in the shelter? What are the top priorities for the shelter you are looking for? And finally, what is your budget?

In order to decide what type of shelter is best for you, you’ll need to think through those questions and make decisions based upon your needs. In this article, I’ll explore the type of shelters I would suggest for different types of hunts, times of the year, group size and budget. I’ll also offer some additional insight into hunting styles that can help you make a decision and, hopefully, help you be more comfortable and effective. 


Types of hunts

The species and season you are hunting are the first things to consider. If you hunt multiple seasons and species, then you will need a few shelters in your gear arsenal to take you from early August archery hunts to late season rifle hunts.

Mule deer August to September archery/muzzleloader 

Mule deer inhabit a variety of habitat types that range from alpine high country to sagebrush steppe at lower elevations. You can usually find deer in August and September in both habitat types. The one thing that is relatively consistent during this timeframe is that bucks will occupy a core home range. In my experience, the older bucks often have a very tight home range, especially from July to September. That doesn’t mean they are easy to kill though. They may be almost entirely nocturnal or use the landscape in a way that allows them to avoid hunting pressure; however, the point is that if you find a buck or a bachelor herd of bucks in late August and hunt them through September, there is a good chance they will be in the same area.

Additionally, since mule deer won’t give you the audible clues to their whereabouts that a bugling bull elk will, the primary method of hunting is going to be spot and stalk. What this is all building up to is that August and September archery and muzzleloader mule deer hunting is regularly spot and stalk approach in much smaller areas. By that, I mean, you may be camping at a 10,500’ treeline and hiking up to a glassing point where you can glass into one or two alpine basins. Or you may be camping in a low sage and pinyon/juniper ridge and hiking up to a rocky outcropping to glass into a burn scar. It’s not uncommon to spend two or three days glassing from the same spot(s), or even more if you continue to see the buck in the area you are targeting. I have spent as many as 16 days within an area as small as a one-mile radius glassing from three different overlooks to find the buck I knew was there.

Tarp setups for elk hunting

This time of year and style of hunting is a great fit for a more traditional double wall type of tent and here is why. One, during the early season, bugs can be an issue whether you are hunting the high country or the low stuff. A fully enclosed tent can keep the flying biting insects out as well as void the possibility of having a rattlesnake curl up under your sleeping bag during the day. 

Two, early season hunts often have massive temperature swings from daytime highs to nighttime lows. This can cause condensation to build upon the inside walls of a single walled shelter if the ventilation is poor. If condensation gets bad enough, any of your gear that touches the sidewall will get wet. I’ve even had it bad enough it’s begun dripping like a light rain from the inside of my shelter in the middle of the night. A double wall tent will almost entirely eliminate the condensation buildup. 

Three, August and September throughout much of the high country in the West can have unpredictable weather. It can be sunny and 75° and then 40° and a torrential downpour in a matter of hours. I have gone to bed with clear starry skies and had colossal lighting, rain and thunderstorms wake me up only a few hours later. I’ve had high winds for days at a time as well. For these reasons, I almost always think a durable double walled tent with a bathtub style floor is the best option. These types of tents offer more protection and are better at holding up to high winds and nasty rainstorms. A lightweight three-season tent is often capable of handling weather conditions from August through September. 

Finally, where this type of hunting allows you to camp in the same spot for several days, you aren’t really limited to the time and space it takes to set them up. Find the best spot, take the time to establish a great camp and enjoy the benefits of a solid shelter. Below are some of my favorite options for early season spot and stalk mule deer hunting.

Two person early season mule deer tent options

Item

Packed weight

Dimensions (LxWxH)

Cost

Favorite feature

Hilleberg Enan 2lb 10oz 84”x37”x36” $675.00 Most durable/extremely good in wind and rain
Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 2lb 3oz 84”x38”/28”x39” $349.95 Lightweight/good price point
MSR Hubba NX Solo 2lb 15oz 85”x30”x36” $379.95 Best selling/good foot room/more vertical sidewalls
Seek Outside Silex w/nest 2lb 9oz 78”x25”x50” $433.00 Pitch with trekking poles/roomy vestibules/versatile
Stone Glacier SkyAir ULT w/Mesh Insert & Vestibule 1lb 8oz 90”x36”x41” $339.00 Pitch with trekking poles/lightweight/good price point

Of those listed above, the Hilleberg, Big Agnes and MSR are all freestanding with provided tent poles and may handle inclement weather better. The Seek Outside and Stone Glacier tents require trekking poles to pitch, which you should take into consideration if you are hoping to use them daily for hiking. The Stone Glacier is the lightest, but is front entry only and likely has the least amount of gear storage.

Two person early season mule deer tent options

Item

Packed weight

Dimensions (LxWxH)

Cost

Favorite feature

Hilleberg Niak 3lb 12oz 86”x47”x39” $800.00 Most durable/extremely good in wind and rain/easy setup
Hilleberg Anaris 3lb 1oz 86”x47”x41” $595.00 Lightweight/pitch with trekking poles/duel vestibules
Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 3lb 2oz 88”x52”x40” $449.95 Roomy/lightweight/duel doors and vestibules
MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 3lb 14oz 84”x50”x39” $449.95 Durable/good weather protection/duel doors and vestibules
Seek Outside Eolus w/nest 2lb 15oz 90”x50”x50” $398.00 Pitch w/trekking poles/lightweight/good price point, roomy
Stone Glacier Skyscraper 4lb 12.8oz 92.25”x50"x41.5" $595.00 Very durable/roomy/duel doors and vestibules

Seek Outside also makes the Eolus and other tents in Dyneema fabric, which is more expensive but also more tear resistant and lightweight. There are other lightweight options, including the Fly Creek lineup from Big Agnes. Those are good tents, but not as good in bad weather conditions as the others listed above. I also recommend a duel door, duel vestibule setup for two hunters and gear. It just makes it easier to access your gear and have your own space. The Stone Glacier Skyscraper is a four-season tent and, as such, a pound heavier than others, but a nice option for this type of hunt with weight split between two people. Once again, the Seek Outside and the Hilleberg Anaris will require one hunter's trekking poles to pitch and are not free standing like the others are.

Elk August to September archery/muzzleloader

Early season elk hunting is different from mule deer. For the most part, elk are a much larger and nomadic animal. Where a mule deer buck will hold his summer home range until mid/late September, a bull elk will very likely be on the move by the end of August. Some states like Utah or Nevada have early opening August archery dates and you may be able to hunt a bull like you would a spot and stalk mule deer. In other states with a September opener, the bulls will be on the move, transitioning to areas where the cows are and then rutting. Bulls may rut in a similar area each year, but it also seems that on any given day during the rut, a bull can be miles from where he was the day before. 

Because of this type of behavior, my preference for archery and early season elk hunting is to maintain a mobile quick camp. I have recently listened to several other well-known and respected hunters suggest that a mobile camp — where you are carrying everything on your back every day — is not a good method. I understand their point of view, but I do believe there are times when a mobile camp is the better option. I’m not advocating that you aimlessly wander around bumping elk; I am suggesting you play the wind, be thoughtful in the way you navigate the landscape, but find elk and stick with them if you can. Another tip I would add with this type of hunting is that I think it’s important to keep a low profile. By that I mean keep a quiet, clean camp with no excess noise or smell. I prefer a bivy and a tarp, which I only set if it looks like I am going to need the weather protection. With that, here are some situations where I think a mobile camp is a good idea.

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One, if you are hunting a new area where you may not have done anything more than e-scouting and/or talked to a biologist, other hunters or a game warden. In this case, it’s likely going to take a plan, some boot leather and time to find the elk and begin to put together the puzzle. 

Two, highly pressured general season bulls are often called shy and get bumped from basin to basin by other hunters until they either find a pocket to hole up in or they just remain on the move. In both cases, I’d argue a mobile camp is a good idea. You may only hear a bull sound off once or twice a morning, especially when it’s hot. I’d like to be as close as I can be that early than further away. Remember to be smart as you move across the terrain. 

Stone Glacier

Three, targeting a specific bull. If you are trying to harvest a specific bull, I think a mobile camp can help you stick with that bull and put yourself into a position for a shot more often. Killing a mature bull generally requires multiple opportunities before everything goes right. It goes without saying, but the closer you can be at first light or just before dark, the better your chances. 

In conclusion, I would ask the question: would you rather cover more miles on foot and sacrifice some sleep, but carry a lighter day pack? Or would you rather carry a 50 lb pack on your back everywhere you go, but cover fewer miles and get more sleep? Both are great methods and you will have to make that judgment call. For me, if I am new to an area, hunting a high pressure area or targeting a specific bull, I’m utilizing a mobile camp. 

If I am hunting a low pressure area, know the area well, know where I expect to see elk and know where they go when pressured, then a base camp is great. Access the situation and pick a shelter accordingly. Below are some options for a mobile shelter setup. I like to pair a bivy with a tarp/shelter. If you like more of a traditional base camp setup, refer to the mule deer table above.

One person early season mobile elk shelter options

Item

Packed weight

Cost

Favorite feature

Hilleberg Bivanorak w/ Tarp 5 1 lb. 15oz $425.00 Bivanorak serves as pack cover and rain gear if needed/good coverage/fast setup
Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy 1lb 4.6oz $249.00 Hooped Gore-Tex Bivy/fast setup/requires very little room
Outdoor Research Stargazer Bivy 1lb 3.4oz $259.00 Easy side access/good space over the face if closure is needed/breathable
Outdoor Research Helium Bivy 1lb 2oz $178.95 Lightweight/good price point
Big Agnes 3 Wire Bivy 1lb 14oz $329.95 More head clearance and space/fast setup/requires very little room
Seek Outside Silex 1lb 9oz $244.00 One man option/trekking pole pitch/roomy for one person and gear
Seek Outside Silex Ultralight 12oz $459.00 Dyneema fabric is more tear resistant, lighter and offers a tighter pitch
Seek Outside Eolus 1lb 12.5oz $199.00 Two man option/trekking pole pitch/roomy for two and gear
Seek Outside Eolus Ultralight 12oz $469.00 Dyneema fabric is more tear-resistant, lighter and offers a tighter pitch/palace for one person and gear
Stone Glacier Sky Air ULT Tarp 8oz $165.00 Solo shelter super lightweight at a good price point/easy pitch
Rab Siltarp II 14oz $135.00 Great price point/basic rectangular tarp/enough room for two/versatile pitch options/multi-use
Big Agnes Onyx Carbon Tarp 10oz $499.95 Basic rectangular tarp/enough room for two/versatile pitch options/multi-use and ultralight weight

Mule deer and elk October to November rifle spot and stalk

In mid to late October, most of the mature bulls will have moved away from the cow/calf herds and will be transitioning into winter ranges. A lot of the bigger bulls will seek refuge in some of the nastiest canyons and pockets away from pressure where they do not have to move as much and they can focus on putting bodyweight back on for the winter. Bulls also regularly hang up on windswept ridges and south facing slopes where there is exposed feed. In some states like Montana, Idaho or Wyoming, you may see bulls in some areas moving out into big open sage steppe more closely related to antelope habitat. Often you will see bachelor herds or doubles and even bulls by themselves. Your best bet for hunting late season bulls is spot and stalk hunting. Cover ground and put your optics to work.

Seek Outside

During this same timeframe, mule deer are moving into the rut throughout most of the West. In Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Nevada, the bucks can be hard to find in mid to late October but will be more exposed when they rut from mid November to early December. In late October, generally speaking, bedding cover on the edges of feeding areas is a great place to focus your efforts. In mid November, the bucks will begin moving in search of does and you can often use similar tactics to early season hunters — only this time, find the does and the bigger bucks will be close by. It’s not uncommon during an early November hunt to spend a day glassing a canyon and watch a buck check every doe within sight. Spot and stalk is again the primary method, only this time you’ll need to be prepared for the cold.

In the past two years, we have seen the popularity of floorless “tipi” style shelters growing immensely. It sounds odd that you would want a floorless shelter on a cold snowy hunt, but those conditions are exactly why you would want one. The popularity of these shelters is largely tied to the fact that you can use them in conjunction with a packable lightweight wood burning stove. Weather conditions that may have previously kept you from backpack hunting in late October and November are now manageable because you can heat your shelter up. You can also dry your gear out, which is another major benefit. The last benefit is that you no longer need to remove your boots or wet clothes prior to coming into the tent. You can now decompress inside a tent with a warm fire and don’t have to worry about getting your other gear dirty.

Late season deer and elk tent options

Item

Packed weight

Capacity

Cost

Favorite feature

Seek Outside LBO 1lb 11oz 1 with stove
2 without
$390.00 Lightweight/versatile/can be combined with a tarp and another LBO base to form a larger shelter
Seek Outside Cimarron 2lb 4oz 2 with stove
3 to 4 without
$424.00 Lightweight/good size for two hunters and a stove/easy setup/pitch with trekking poles
Seek Outside Redcliff 4lb 14oz 3 to 4 with stove
4 to 6 without
$729.00 Lightweight/good size for three to four hunters and a stove/easy setup/tall enough to stand up in
Seek Outside 8 Man Tipi 7lb 1oz 4 to 5 with stove
6 to 8 without
$919.00 Good size for four to five hunters and a stove/easy setup/tall enough to stand up in/good base camp
Kifaru Sawtooth 4lb 8oz 1 to 2 with stove
2 without
$797.00 6’ headroom/well designed for two hunters and stove plus gear/can pitch the rear portion using a trekking pole
Kifaru 8 Man Tipi 7lb 9oz 4 to 5 with stove
6 to 8 without
$1,174.00 Good size for four to five hunters and a stove/easy setup/durable materials/tall enough to stand up in/good base camp
Hilleberg Allak 7lb 4oz 2 $1,070.00 Extremely durable materials and poles/easy to set up
Hilleberg Akto 3lb 12oz 1 $585.00 Extremely durable/good in wind and rain/simple design for one person and gear
Hilleberg Nallo 2 5lb 5oz 2 $795.00 Excellent strength to weight ratio/tunnel shelter sheds water and wind well
KUIU Storm Star 2 5lb 5oz 2 $600.00 Four-season durability/good in high winds/duel vestibule/tent fly and body are connected for easy setup in adverse conditions
KUIU Summit Refuge 3 w/stove jack 1lb 13.3oz 2 $339.00 Lightweight floorless shelter/duel entry/stove jack option allows or a hot tent stove combo
Stone Glacier Skyscraper 2 Person Tent 4lb 12.8oz 2 $595.00 Roomy for a two-man tent/larger doors/duel vestibules/excellent weight to strength ratio

Late season deer and elk stove options

Item

Packed weight

Dimensions (WxHxL)

Cost

Favorite feature

Seek Outside Medium Titanium Stove 2lb 10.8oz 8”x8”x10.25” $390.00 Good size for a LBO or smaller shelter like the KUIU Summit 3
Seek Outside Large Titanium Stove 3lb 1.9oz 8”x8”x”14” $445.25 Good size for the Cimarron or Redcliff
Seek Outside SXL Titanium Stove 3lb 9.9oz 8.25”x10.25x14” $480.50 Good size for the Redcliff, eight-man tipi
Seek Outside Large Titanium Uturn Stove 2lb 8oz 8.25”x8.25”x14” $435.25 Good size for the Cimarron or Redcliff/lighter weight than the regular stove
Kifaru Box Stove Med 5lb 4oz 9”x8”x12” $333.00 Stainless steel durability/good size for a Sawtooth, KUIU Summit or comparable sized tent
Kifaru Box Stove Large 6lb 14.4oz 9.5”x8”x20.25” $391.00 Stainless steel durability/good size for a eight-man tipi/comparable sized tent
Kifaru Box Stove Arctic 9lb 11oz 12”x10”x24” $659.00 Stainless steel durability/good size for a 12-man tipi or other large tents
Kifaru Cylinder Stove 18” body 1lb 9oz 24”x18” $254.00 Very lightweight/simple to construct

Alaska hunts moose, caribou, bighorn sheep, mountain goat spot and stalk

Alaska hunts vary in terrain, timing and the species, but one potential that every hunt in Alaska has in common is that the weather conditions can be brutal. It can be sunny and warm with biting flies on a caribou hunt and then it can rain and have 70 mph winds the next day. You can get snow, sleet, cold temperatures and whipping winds on any hunt in Alaska. Because of that, shelters need to be able to handle that type of environment, which is why I would recommend a four-season shelter. 

If you are going on guided bighorn sheep, mountain goat or brown/grizzly bear hunts, it’s a great idea to ask your guide if they have a recommendation for a tent. If you are doing a DIY fly in drop camp or a raft trip, I have some recommendations for you in the table below. Overall, you do not want to be on a hunt you have probably dreamed about your whole life and have your tent break or disappear in the wind. 

A backpack bighorn sheep hunt may require a lightweight single or two person shelter. A caribou or drop camp moose hunt will most often be a situation where you are establishing a base camp and will hunt out from that point. A float trip for moose will often require you to set camp every few days while you glass and call. In these situations, as previously mentioned, the most important factor for your shelter that you take to Alaska is that it is durable and watertight. Many of the shelters above would also work for an Alaskan hunt. Below are a few more true four-season shelters worth considering:

Options for the far north hunts

Item

Packed weight

Capacity

Cost

Hilleberg Nammatj 2 6lb 10oz 2 $860
Hilleberg Jannu 2 7lb 1oz 2 $1,040
Stone Glacier SkyDome 6P - 6 Comming soon

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