Why in the world, would a hunter want to buy an Alpacka packraft? Literally, what do these two worlds have in common? A packraft is like any other watercraft with one major exception; portability. Trucks and trailers are not necessary. It can ride shotgun in the front seat with your hunting dog or you can toss it in the back of your minivan. They’re compact, lightweight and they fit in your backpack (hence the name “packraft”). For hunters, the Alpacka represents access and opportunity. More info here.
Eleven years ago, my buddy sent me a text photo, from a flip phone. To this day, even with social media, it is still one of the largest mule deer I’ve ever seen from the state of Montana. Unfortunately, the area was inaccessible without a raft. Access is legitimately not possible with gear and a weapon. It is also in a designated Wilderness Area, so there are no roads. It’s too far to carry a canoe or a normal-sized raft. Heck, for me, it’s even too far to pack an inflatable kayak from a box store. So, the dream lay simmering in the back of my mind until I discovered Alpacka. Albeit, I was late to the dance but better late than never. More from their website here.
My brother-in-law, Adam, and I started to put together a plan. COVID almost ruined everything, but thankfully Alpacka was able to ship a boat in the nick of time. My boat is a prototype that will be available in 2021 (see below). Adam borrowed a much smaller Alpacka from a friend and we were off and running.
Heading Out On The Hunt
The day before the archery opener, we hiked to the lake and unloaded the packs. We then put everything into the rafts. The boats zip open and become one, giant, floating dry bag. Everything went inside the boat except for my bow and the Kifaru pack.
We paddled across the lake, stashed the rafts in a tree, and started hiking again.
We hunted for two days but didn’t see anything. Not even any sign to indicate that anything had ever lived there. There were no tracks and no spoor of any age. With the exception of a couple of black bears and a tuft of goat hair, it was totally barren. I let the dream die right then and there because “Mule Deer Hunters Can’t Be Too Nostalgic”.
We hiked back down the mountain, paddled to the far side of the lake, and spent the evening glassing the opposing hillside. We caught fish for an extra meal and the next morning we paddled to a different drainage and once again, began hiking.
Eventually we found some animals. A herd of 18 elk and about 13 mule deer. The mule deer were too small, and the bull was tempting, but neither was what we were looking for.
The hunt ended without punching a tag, but we learned so much! The raft provided us with incredible mobility. We would have been locked-in without options if not for the Alpacka rafts. It gave us choices and hope. It allowed the hunt to continue. We covered multiple drainages. We were able to glass both sides of the lake, without hiking around.
The usefulness of an Alpacka is only limited by your imagination. Here’s a little starter pack to get your mind running with ideas. You could float or paddle to access landlocked public land. Float to a legally huntable island, hunt the island, and float on. You could paddle around reservoirs or lakes with multiple drainages feeding into the lake. Sure, you could use a different watercraft in those examples, but you lose the ability to “bounce around” and move. You’re required to come back to a boat but a packraft can go with you.
Don’t hold my feet to the fire on these numbers, but…
Montana has 16 designated wilderness areas at approximately 3.5 million acres.
Colorado has 40 designated wilderness areas with 3.5 million acres.
Idaho has 4.8 million acres of designated wilderness.
The list goes on and on. I realize that I’m painting with broad strokes here, but a lot of the country is simply inaccessible to watercraft unless you can carry it on your back.
A land rush is underfoot. Backpack hunting has become popular and with the information available from OnX Hunt and BaseMap, there are fewer and fewer “secret” spots. The packraft isn’t just for Alaska anymore. It’s a tool that can give you an advantage and I expect we’ll see a vast increase in their use within the hunting community. For the sake of time, I’m not even going to address fishing and waterfowl. I’ll let your mind run wild on its own.
As I mentioned above, my raft is a prototype that will be available in 2021. It’s called the “Ranger”. If you are familiar with Alpacka, the Ranger (approx. 11.6 lbs) is smaller than the Forager (15 lbs) and bigger than the Mule (8 lbs).
A Hunting Boat
This boat was not designed for the paddling community and then adapted for hunting. It was designed with the hunter in mind and specifically for DIY caribou hunting. As a result, it is very easy to handle, even for the novice. It is a versatile, all-purpose, do everything raft. I can take my kid and go fishing, pack out an elk or recline in the sun on a mountain lake. It has a noticeably large tail for extra gear storage. Looking at the inside of the boat, I can’t imagine running out of space.
Maybe the Ranger isn’t a good fit. That’s ok, Alpacka has options and each boat is made to order here in the USA. There are rafts as light as 3.5 lbs. Alpacka has rafts for lakes and whitewater and hunting. Some are self-bailing while others have solid bottoms and spray decks. There are rafts for one person and rafts for two. If you want to raft more than hike, you can choose a heavier raft. If you want to hike more and raft less, you might want a lighter raft. Let the dreaming and scheming and planning begin!
You have to carry the raft. The weight isn’t an issue, but they take up bulk space. If you stash the raft, you eventually have to come back. Holes are unlikely but possible. They are easy to patch with some Tyvek tape, but it’s still something to keep in mind. The water conditions could change mid-hunt and make it difficult to paddle back or continue downstream.
Continue the Conversation
There are so many little lessons and details that I’m excited to talk about, that weren’t necessary for the review. If you want to chat more or have questions, meet me over at I’ll Pack an Alpacka Packraft and let’s chat.