You’ll have to hike in quite a distance and follow up with a very stealthy stalk to get a shot at one of these guys.
When I hunt, I am usually forced to hunt public lands. I don’t have the money for an expensive deer lease with a couple hundred acres and feeders, so public lands it is. Of course, hunting public lands is not without its own unique problems. I’m not the only hunter out there, and the presence of the dozens of other hunters, all looking to score their own big buck tends to cause the deer to make themselves scarce. Studies have shown that just the presence of one hunter on 40 acres hunting a couple of hours a day causes deer to react to the pressure and drastically change their habits.
Contrary to what many people will tell you, pressured deer don’t head for the hills, go completely nocturnal, or take off for the next county over. But they do change their habits and that usually means having to hike a mile or so into the thickest brush on the property. Having to hike for miles just to get to the game means that I have to travel light.
It’s taken years to perfect my ultralight setup, but I’m going to share a portion of my gear list here. First, traveling over long distances means that I need to stay hydrated. Even in the coldest Texas weather can dehydrate you, often faster than many people realize. Cold air is usually very dry, and that dry air can suck the moisture right out of you just from your normal respiration. Since I need to stay hydrated, the foundation of my setup is a 70 Oz Camelbak Rogue Hydration Pack. It holds enough water for me to cover as much as 10 miles (a distinct possibility depending on the game animal and the property I’m on) and still have enough water for the hike back out hauling a 150 pound buck.
Which brings me to game transport. This is probably the biggest pain in hunting public lands. Most of the properties only allow walk in access and, in some cases, equestrian access. I haven’t owned a horse in 16 years, so I’m not able to bring Trigger my trusty steed onto the property to help me pack out my quarry. Many types of game carts are on the market, but none of them are both lightweight and able to handle rugged terrain. They’re heavy and never seem to be able to handle transporting my harvest through thick brush and weeds. Instead of valuing the ability to cart out my deer, I find myself dreading the extra 10 or 15 pounds I have to haul into the woods with me.
It’s a bit harder to haul out of the woods, but my preferred method of game transport is the Dead Sled. It’s very lightweight and adds right around a pound to my gear. The drawback is that you have to drag a couple of hundred pounds back out with you. Still, I found that after a successful hunt the adrenaline and excitement gives me at least a little bit of an energy boost to help make hauling that dead weight back out a little bit easier.
All of the gear described here, with the exception of the dead sled, fits neatly into this hydration carrier.
Of course, before hauling out my harvest, there’s the matter of field dressing it. Proper field dressing after the kill is not just a weight saving measure: it also helps the carcass to cool off faster and minimizes the exposure of the meat to various juices from the internal organs. So, add in a good quality skinning/gutting knife, some nitrile gloves, a game bag, and a Gerber 46036 folding saw to my pack list. I prefer the increased sharpness of a small single bevel sushi knife, and I’ve crafted a custom leather holster to keep the blade safe. Sharpness is the key to a good skinning knife, and the single bevel on a Japanese blade means that it is twice as sharp as a Western knife. The Gerber saw isn’t necessary per se, but since I don’t want to damage the fragile blade of the skinner/gutter I prefer to use the saw to cut through the sternum. Plus, we are in the wilderness after all and having a saw could come in handy in a survival situation.
In addition to this I carry along a few accessories: first aid and survival kit including an MRE, GPS, compass, map, and camera. The camera, first aid and survival kit are fairly self explanatory, and I recommend that every hunter bring some sort of first aid and survival system. If you’ve got a GPS, I always recommend bringing it as a navigational aid as well as a compass for backup.
Most of this gear fits in the pocket and pouches of the CamelBak, except for the Dead Sled which is extremelt lightweight and easy to wear slung across one shoulder. The first aid and survival kit are also too bulky to fit in the CamelBak and have their own MOLLE pouches that are then hung off of the hydration carrier.
This type of setup can be customized to suit your needs with different hydration carriers and pouch configurations, but I’d encourage you to keep the overall weight in mind when putting together your gear. Whether you’re pursuing back country elk, big horn sheep, deer, or pronghorn, having a light load makes it that much easier to hike in and get to where the game are.