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6 reasons why llamas are the ultimate pack animal for hunting

Six reasons why llamas are the ultimate pack animal for hunting

Are llamas the ultimate pack animal? All photo credits: Brady Miller

The backcountry truly is an amazing place. It only takes one trip deep into the mountains to fall in love with backpack hunting. However, getting there takes plenty of sweat equity and every step is earned when you’re carrying enough gear, food and water to survive a week-long hunt.

One thing I love about the backcountry is the adventure side of things and pounding mile after mile on my feet carrying all of my own gear on my back is a level of excitement that is hard to describe. Flashback to the 2016 season. This was a year that I wanted to try something new; find a way to add a twist to that adventure that I seek on all my hunts, which led to me trying out llamas for a backcountry hunt. When it comes to pack animals, in the past, I’ve been fortunate to have used horses and also pack goats for mountain hunts. Both of those pack animals were enjoyable and I can see why people love a good horseback hunt and why others choose to hunt with pack goats. But the animal I’ve always been intrigued with are llamas. After meeting Beau Baty of Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas a few years ago at a hunting show (and talking his ear off), I knew that I needed to find a way to rent a few for a backcountry hunt.

Fast forward a few years and that dream finally became a reality. Before I get started, I will say that pack goats are a fun animal to be around. In terms of their demeanor, pack goats are like labrador retrievers (but with horns). I fully enjoyed hunting with them. But…after using llamas on a backcountry hunt in Wyoming, llamas are easily my preferred pack animal. They are absolutely perfect for my style of hunting. Below are a few reasons why I now feel that llamas are truly the perfect pack animal.

Before we go any further, when I'm talking about the ultimate pack animal, I'm especially referring to a pack animal that can be easily accessible for the average person. To my knowledge, you can't rent horses or mules and use them for a hunt. Then at the same time, would that person renting a horse and some mules have the experience to use them in the mountains? Renting llamas opens the door for the average person to greatly improve their time on the mountain without having to go on a guided hunt in order to get access to horses or mules.

1. Ability to go where no pack animal has gone before

Steep terrain and llamas while hunting

What I mean by this is llamas have the ability to follow you in some of the roughest terrain the West has to offer. During my eight-day trip into the mountains of Wyoming for mule deer a few years ago, I moved camp three times. Each time, I would take my trusty llamas (Marshall and McShane) up to a ridgetop where we would dive into a steep basin and then climb up the other side. The two llamas never gave me any attitude at the challenge and their sure-footedness instantly proved how amazing they can be.

Llama feet close up image

It didn’t matter if the llamas were navigating a small scree field, small boulder section or a thickly timbered jungle of trees…they had the drive and focus to carry the gear anywhere I wanted to go.

2. Peace of mind camping in grizzly country

Electric fence while hunting in grizzly country

By using llamas, I was also able to pack in a lightweight electric fence.

Up until recently while filming hunts, most of my hunting has always been solo. Hunting solo adds a lot of freedom, but also has its challenges. One of the biggest challenges or hurdles is staying safe in grizzly country. I’ve lived around grizzlies most of my life when doing fisheries work in Montana, but it can get a little uneasy when you have to hunt deep in the mountains in known grizzly zones.

This slight uneasy feeling can easily be cured when you add llamas to your hunt. While hunting with llamas in 2016 in Wyoming, I was in known grizzly bear country. However, I slept extremely well each night thanks to the llamas that were staked out near my tent.

Llamas feeding near camp while hunting

Having llamas in camp can double up as a security system. If anything comes by at night that they are uneasy about, a llama will make a bunch of racket, which could spook the animals away and, at the same time, wake you up. Before I headed out on my hunt, Beau told me that llamas are very alert and attentive by nature and they know when something is wrong. If they see or smell a predator, they will make a loud alarm sound that will not only alert you, but also greatly has the ability to warn off predators for the most part.

Small radio to use when hunting in grizzly bear country

Another trick Beau taught me for hunting in grizzly country is to bring a small radio and extra batteries and leave the radio on at camp near the llamas when you leave in the morning. It keeps them calm, and also provides a little deterrent to keep bears away from your camp.

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3. Hunt fresh from day one to the last day of your hunt

Everyone understands that the mountains will test your body every single day on a hunt. And, because of that, offseason training can increase your chance to tackle the mountains.

However, toss llamas into the mix and this will open up the doors even further to where you can hunt and how many days you can stay out hunting. Plus, the llamas I rented were on the taller side which meant they could easily handle the speed I can hike. So not only was I fresh each day, but the llamas didn't slow me down in my haste to move from location to location in search of bucks on the days I wanted to move camp.

How much can llamas carry?

Weighing gear to be loaded on a llama while hunting

Weighing gear bags that will be loaded on a llama while moving to a new hunt location.

The ideal packed weight for a llama that is at least five years old to carry is 18% to 22% of their body weight. For example, for a llama that weighs 400 lbs, its efficient weight would be 70 to 80 lbs.

Normally, on a backpack hunt, the first couple of days of your hunt can put a huge toll on your body, especially if you’re anxious to put the miles on. Going all out early in a hunt could prove to be detrimental if your body is not used to the miles and elevation.

Now, if you have llamas, you can be as fresh as on day one of your hunt as you are on day seven. Llamas will be able to take the brunt of your load when you pack a week’s worth of food, camp, gear and, even, water to your camp location.

4. Packing out your meat in one trip

Using llamas also opens up the doors to hunt further from a trailhead without risk of spoiled meat. For example, that elk hunting spot you always thought looked great on the map, but is four miles further from the trailhead than your normal hunt area…well, if you have llamas, you now have the ability to hunt the spot you’ve always been dreaming about. And, at the same time, you now have the peace of mind knowing that you won’t lose any meat if you kill a bull that far from the truck.

According to Beau, one llama can pack out an entire quartered out deer, head, rack, cape, etc. However,  for exceptionally large mule deer and longer pack out, it is best to utilize two llamas. For an elk, three llamas can pack out a quartered elk including back straps, tenderloins, neck, brisket, rib meat and the head. For very large elk, four to five llamas are best, especially if you are going more than seven miles in steep country. Keep in mind that you should not exceed weight limits for each llama so you might have to plan to make multiple trips. However, even if you have to take multiple trips, those trips will be much easier on your body and you can always carry some meat and gear on your back as you pack an animal off the mountain.

5. Easy to stay mobile

Staying mobile while hunting with llamas

Moving camp is a breeze with llamas.

Along those same lines of packing meat, llamas make it easy to stay mobile and move around to your plan B, C or D spot if things aren’t panning out on your hunt. So now, the basin that is two miles away—that’s now within reach. Packing up and heading further into the mountains is easier on the mind knowing that, with llamas, you can pack up your camp extremely quickly. Llamas can easily go four to nine miles per day while packing 18% to 22% of their body weight in rough terrain.

6. Hauling water

Llama grabbing a drink of water

Depending on where you're hunting, water can be scarce—even in the mountains. Llamas are great to have after you set up camp and need to drop elevation to get tons of water. I carried five 6 liter MSR Dromlite bags when I used llamas. This enabled me to stay high for deer and focus all my efforts on finding bucks instead of burning my energy looking for water.

In conclusion

Energetic face of a llama while hunting

I thought about making a few more reasons why I think llamas are the best pack llama... like not getting bucked off a horse (side note: on a BC moose and mountain goat bowhunt I did back in 2013, I was bucked off my horse three times in a 14 day period. Once on the first day of the hunt which I landed on my bow and luckily didn't break anything, and two other random times. My horse had bad eyes and kept thinking anything it saw was a grizzly I was told. I had been riding horses for many years before this hunt too. Never a great feeling knowing you're trusting your life and gear on an animal in my opinion.

With all that information, there shouldn’t be anything holding you back from considering a llama rental for your next hunt. The popularity of llamas for western hunts is well earned! Plus how could you not wake up every morning and smile when you're greeted face-to-face with a llama like the one in the above photo? These animals have a laid back demeanor, are extremely sure-footed for any terrain and are very easy to handle after a short training course. While I still love backpacking everything on my back for hunts, llamas have their place and I'm counting down the days until I can hunt with them again.

Learn more and rent llamas here

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11 Comments

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Phil N. - posted 2 days ago on 06-15-2019 10:17:13 am

I have been hunting sheep in Alaska for more than 35 years with pack llamas. This Go Hunt article on pack llamas is factual and well written. I can tell you from personal experience that Scott W. is indeed correct about Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) monkey business. I think what many members of the WSF don't realize is that WSF is a politically motivated organization that uses science only when it serves to promote their interests. This is all about money. The WSF CEO makes $350k per year. The WSF mission is to promote the guiding industry. WSF has legislative authority to auction sheep tags (a public resource) for huge sums of money to wealthy bidders. WSF is allowed to keep a percentage of that money and some of that money is funneled back to the guiding industry. Although the majority of the proceeds from the sale of auction tags in Alaska goes back to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) for wild sheep research, this process can allow the WSF to exert unusual control over public agency decisions and the allocation of public resources. Although there are some benefits to what the WSF does, there are also many problems. Public agencies want this money. Many hunters are unknowingly supporting an organization that is taking away their opportunities to hunt sheep. WSF is making considerable progress toward eliminating the average man of simple means and turning sheep hunting into a sport for the elite and the wealthy. I must say that the ADF&G has done a pretty good job of not caving in to WSF political pressure with respect to the pack llama disease issue. ADF&G has officially made it clear that there is no merit to WSF promoted rumors of pack llama disease transmission. ADF&G welcomes pack llamas in wild sheep and goat habitat. If you really want to know the truth about WSF monkey business go to www.packllamas.org and read "The Commentary". If you want to know the truth about how the auction tag process works go to: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=huntlicense.auction_overview

Scott W. - posted 4 days ago on 06-12-2019 10:05:48 pm

@Robert. Don't worry about endemic pathogens in llamas that would threaten wild sheep. Because there aren't any in llamas. Its unfortunate the WSF has politicized this issue so they can protect thinhorn sheep hunting in the north for the outfitters. You are a victim of their propoganda, misinformation, and weatlth. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Wild Sheep Working Group disagrees with the WSF on the issue of disease transmission to wild Caprids from llamas. As do many scientists and multiple land management jurisdictions. Especially now since some of these pathogens that cause wild sheep pneumonia, are present in other wild species, like Dall sheep, Moose, Mountain Goats, and Caribou. The pack llama poses far less threat to any wild sheep than cattle and cervidae. You see, llamas have taxonomic separation. Far removed from the Caprinae sub family. They are not even in the sub order Ruminatia, like all of the Bovidae and Cervidae families. Very similar to horses who also have taxonomic separation. You dont see horses on the WSF ban list, do you? I wonder why that is? Arbitrary and capricious is what we call it. Public lands have no business banning llamas based upon disease threat to our public asset, the wild sheep. Scott Woodruff, Lander WY.

Robert S. - posted 5 days ago on 06-12-2019 04:37:10 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

Copy all Brady, but your article fails to mention the WSF concern and position - a significant omission. I'm sure the WSF has access to all the science, but has still taken this position - there's a reason for that.

As well, the domestic sheep issue is certainly a concern for hunters and wildlife advocates, but not a hunter-caused concern. Hunting with llamas is - at least for the WSF.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 5 days ago on 06-12-2019 04:29:45 pm
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Robert - Thanks for reaching out. I myself am a Life Member of the Wild Sheep Foundation and definitely read a lot of this information about pack animals and wild sheep. I have read that article before and have also covered several of those new releases on goHUNT. But what you will see in that article and other reports, is that there is still no cases and no scientific proof that they do transmit diseases to wild sheep. The study that is referenced in that article and from WSF states, "We found no peer-reviewed publications documenting pathogen transmission from camelids to wild ungulates or to domestic sheep and goats for the identified pathogens." Also, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in a June 11, 2018 letter, disagrees with the WSF on banning llamas. See letter here: https://www.packllamas.org/pdf/akban/alaska_department_fish_game_to_gala_06-11-18.pdf

You can also check out a report on WSF's website that shows a study where they mixed cattle, llamas, or horses with bighorn sheep and no pneumonia outbreaks occurred: http://www.wildsheepfoundation.org/assets/Day_2_Morning/Tom_Besser_(Peri_Wolff)_Movi_THS_Summit_II_no_animation.pdf

In plenty of mountains ranges I have hunted across the West, they still allow domestic sheep grazing in bighorn sheep habitat, which we all know has a direct impact on sheep populations, and I know that state agencies and WSF are actively working on a solution with people that have their livelihood directly tied to domestic sheep in bighorn habitat

Robert S. - posted 5 days ago on 06-12-2019 02:52:14 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

This article fails to to mention that the Wild Sheep Foundation opposes the use of llamas and pack goats in Sheep Country because of disease transfer issues. Bighorn Sheep across the west are in decline. More here: https://billingsgazette.com/outdoors/should-pack-llamas-and-goats-be-ban...

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 5 days ago on 06-12-2019 09:32:31 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Hey Jacob. Very, very valid point and I do agree slightly. Sorry for the long-winded reply back ahead of time. I tried to explain a little scenario at the beginning of the article. But I can't recall ever finding a service to rent horses or mules for a backcountry hunt for the average person. Then at the same time... would that person have the knowledge to use that horse, both riding and loading panniers in the mountains? To use llamas, you just need a basic understanding of what to do and not to do which is covered under a short training session when you pick up your llamas. But for the average person like myself who cannot keep horses, I will go with renting llamas all the time.

I had friends in college who had "hunting horses" and they were the most stubborn horses I have ever seen. And wouldn't go anywhere you pointed them unless there was a trail. If I tried to mule deer hunt with them, there's no way I could have taken them into the basins I routinely hunt. Then when I tried to hunt with the horse by myself one day, the horse would freak out being by itself, since my friend and his horse went in another direction. Keep in mind these were horses that were used for hunting each year, but at the same time, maybe they weren't the best horses.

Lastly, I've been never been bucked off a llama (obviously I am not riding them), but every time I've hunted with horses, I've been bucked off several times. The one time in BC, I was bucked off and landed hard on my bow that was strapped to my back. Luckily nothing was broken. I've also had friends' guns get beat up in rifle scabbards on horses.

I'd use horses if I could, but for me, that would mean finding friends who have horses, and then those same friends would have to draw the same tag to accompany me on the hunt. If you do draw or have a great OTC spot picked out, you can easily rent a few llamas to make your hunt easier and go off on your hunt all by yourself without having to hire a guide to use his horses and services on a hunt. Horses have their place no doubt... but since they are out of the question for my hunts, to me, llamas really shine! Then there is the topic of drop camps where typically an outfitter will take you deep into the mountains on horses and then drop you off and return to pick you up on a designated day. That might work for some people, but I for one really love being able to be mobile. So having llamas at camp, means I can pack up camp and move very easily, with the llamas carrying the weight of camp.

@Tony - Thanks for taking the time to respond. I'm 6'5" tall and hike very fast and didn't really notice the llamas slowing me down, but it might have been due to me constantly soaking up the scenery :) The llamas I rented were amazing off trail, which was 80% of my hunt roughly.

Jacob T. - posted 5 days ago on 06-12-2019 07:19:55 am
goHUNT INSIDER

Llamas might have some advantages but I think horses are the ULTIMATE pack animal for hunting

Tony s. - posted 5 days ago on 06-11-2019 07:40:39 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

I rented 2 llamas for an Idaho backcountry elk hunt 3 years ago. To be honest I wasn't very impressed. They were very slow, and couldn't get off trail much at all. To be fair, I do think we got the best of the bunch because we only paid for two. If someone is looking to do this themselves, I'd say make sure you can afford to get several of them, and lower your expectations about how much country you can cover.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 6 days ago on 06-11-2019 11:48:16 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

Glad you enjoyed the article, Mike and John! I have a lot more reasons for why my choice is llamas over other pack animals. But I'll save those for another day :)

john f. - posted 6 days ago on 06-11-2019 09:21:02 am

great stuff right here.

nice work Brady, as I creep towards 50 the pack llama really is speaking to me.

Mike V. - posted 6 days ago on 06-10-2019 06:56:23 pm
goHUNT INSIDER

An all-time favorite article for me.