2018 Backpack Hunt

Formidilosus

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This has more than one species, so didn’t know which to put it in. If it needs to be moved, feel free.






I don’t generally post about trips as I/we don’t approach it how most people do, nor do we hunt like most. A lot of times hunts are half testing/half hunting, or at least a portion of it involves things other than pure hunting. Typically we need terrible weather, terrible terrain, and hard to find animals...











The backstory....




We do an annual backpack hunt every year with a couple of friends. Pretty much everyone lives on the east coast. Last summer (a year ago) we started talking about hunting with some people we work with. Two guys (“Yo” and “TJ”) were really interested and we planned for a Mule deer hunt. It ended up that while both planned to join last year, only TJ ended up making it. TJ hunts whitetails in the normal eastern way- tree stands, shooting houses, etc., but had never done a western backpack hunt. He is an extremely proficient shooter, in very good condition, and has done some recreational backpacking.


There were five of us that went on the second part of the trip last year (the first part was Colorado elk)- myself, RC, OC, TG, and TJ. Other than I, everyone else has limited backpack “hunting” experience.


RC is a early 30’s female, and has never hunted or shot before a couple years ago.


OC is early 60’s friend that shoots quite a bit competitively, with a solid fitness level.


TG, is a early 30’s coworker. He had never backpack hunted out west, but his fitness and field shooting ability is very high.


TJ, is in his late 30’s early 40’s. He is in an organization that we work with- his shooting ability is stellar, with a high level of fitness. He had broken his ankle a few months before this years hunt, and had surgery 8 weeks to the day before we started. It felt good he said, but we did have a concern about it.


Yo, is a mid 40’s male that works with TJ. World class shooter, good fitness level, and again, hunts whitetails though not backpacking. He had almost no backpacking experience outside of work.








The hunt ended up being a 5.7 mile pack in off trail, but with mild weather for the duration.


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Lows were in the low 30’s, highs up to mid 60’s. TJ packed in more weight than needed, but was able to kill his first mule deer after a half mile or so stalk, shooting the buck while it was bedded with a 223 at just under 200 yards.




















TG also killed his first mule deer on the last day after chasing him the entire week with my 6.5 Grendel that mtnboomer did his stock magic on.











When we hiked out, we packed out two bone in bucks, the two heads, neck meat, rib meat, etc. and one hide as TG wanted to get it tanned.
Every pack was over a measured 80lbs except RC’s, who’s was right at 75lbs. TG’s and TJ’s packs were well over 100lbs.










RC carrying 75lbs with all her own gear and part of the meat was a big deal for her, as it was only her second season/backpack hunt. The first year was a cow elk and deer hunt, where she killed her first animal ever. That year she was only able to carry around 45lbs, and worked the entire year to get her strength up to be able to carry all her own gear, plus animal. We don’t hunt “easy” and she did it in spades.


The whole process lit a fire in TJ and he was hooked. He ended up talking non-stop to “Yo” about it, and the planning for this years hunt started before last years was even over.....








To be cont.......
 
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Formidilosus

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Cont....






This year it was between Antelope for a fun hunt, or elk for an hard hunt. TJ and Yo decided they wanted elk.










This years hunt would be OC, TJ, Yo, and myself. RC and TG couldn’t make it do to work. TJ and Yo spent the summer hiking, shooting their hunting rifles and getting gear together. Both researched the area, learned what they could about elk hunting, and experimented with different gear.




Eventually we arrive at the time: the plan was for me to I drive up from my house, picking TJ and Yo up Thursday at the airport and meet OC at the trailhead that afternoon. However, OC was delayed due to a family issue for two days. He would meet us at the trailhead on Saturday.




After I picked them up we we decided to go to the trailhead that afternoon, hike up the ridge to glass for a bit, then come back down and camp at the truck that night.









We didn’t see anything but a group of Mule Deer feeding up and over a saddle about a mile away, but even this relatively short jaunt showed a bit of altitude issues.


Once it got dark we headed back down, and once back at the truck we decided not to setup the tipi as we were just going to break it down tomorrow and hit the trail to get to a ridge to try and locate elk by the time OC arrived.













The temp was only going to be mid 30’s and Yo had a Sierra Designs 20 degree down bag. Waking up in the morning, turns out he froze all night getting only an hour or two of sleep. Now to go back a bit, he was extremely nervous about being cold, as he doesn’t really do things in true cold weather, nor is he extremely comfortable backpacking in it. This was his biggest concern for the hunt. So the first night of him freezing really started to make him worry.


When we woke up before daylight he said he was freezing and just started to fall asleep, so I told them to go back to sleep and we’ll move after the sun comes up. I had a 19 hour drive to pick them up, and only had about 3 hours of sleep in the last two days leading up to it, so I could use the sleep as well.


Once the sun came up and hit Yo, he got warmed up enough to start moving. After trash talking him for not getting in the truck and turning the heater on- his response was “I didn’t want y’all to think I was a [email protected]”. This lead to the first lesson on gear with an explanation of how bags are “rated”. We switched out his bag for my Kifaru Slick 0 degree bag and Gore-Tex bivy, packed up and headed down the trail.




Enter the first learning point- sleeping bag ratings are generally not “comfort” ratings. The rating can, and are all over the map. Most are “survival” ratings, not comfort. To be comfortable most seem to need to use the EN “Comfort Rating”.






The ridge we wanted to get to was around 1.5 mile down a trail with a few half frozen creek crossings.









And then right at 1,000 vertical feet up. We arrived at the glassing spot around 9am, while it lightly snowed off and on. The wind was pretty decent at about 10-15 MPH. Got to the glassing point, put on puff suits even though it was only in the mid to high 30’s, fired up the Jetboils and started glassing.


Probably shouldn’t put aluminum mugs randomly in your bag....











Mid afternoon, the sun came out, and it warmed up to the mid 40’s. Yo was feeling a bit of altitude sickness and we had planned on there being snow up top for us to boil for water but it was dry as a bone, so around lunch time I made a water trip taking all the Nalgenes, dropping the 1,100 feet and back up in about an hour or so.




The best part of spot and stalk hunting....




Napping-




















Cont.....
 
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Formidilosus

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Cont....


All day the weather came and went. Blowing snow, sunshine, a bit of hail, then the sun would pop out. Every time the snow would blow in, Yo would say “hey bro, why don’t we build a fire?” TJ and I kept messing with him and saying you can’t as it will scare all the elk. Really I just wanted him to figure out his clothing system, and learn to trust it.








By the time dark hit, it was below freezing, and the wind had picked up to over 20mph.















We moved over to the backside of the ridge to setup the tipi. Found a decent place out of the wind mostly, threw the 4 man SO tipi up and started a fire.


This made Yo quite happy.







It was at this point that I realized that in sleeping at the truck and fixing Yo up with my extra bag, I had left my quilt in the front seat of the truck where I put it so I wouldn’t forget it. Tonight wouldn’t be the best sleep ever. Grin.






Enter the second learning point- once gear is packed, do not switch and use vital gear without a quick layout afterwards. Also, having insulating layers separate from the sleeping system and an emergency bivy/blanket can be quite important. We all carry an “emergency bag” with certain items such as an emergency blanket, fuel, lighters, signaling gear, snickers, tourniquet, etc., and no one has ever had to get into it before. To the point where some started asking if we really to need to carry it. Yes, you do. I have never forgotten a major piece of equipment before, but it can happen. Carry enough to get through a night.



We ate and went to sleep. I slept on my sleeping pad wearing my puff suit and inside a SOL emergency bivy. I was quite warm, but of course when I woke up a few hours later, the outside of my clothes were completely drenched in sweat with about a 1/4 inch of water/sweat was in the bottom of the bivy. Pulled that off of me and was generally pretty cold the rest of the night.




The next morning we woke up to frozen ground and headed over to glass. About an hour after sunrise I spotted a herd of twenty-eight elk with several small bulls in it, leaving the tree line about two miles away and heading up and over the ridge.


Yep








We watched for a while to see if they came back once they fed over, but after an hour or so we hadn’t seen them again and figured they had bedded down. We had to meet OC in a couple of hours, so we would go out to meet him, grab lunch and my quilt, repack and head across the valley to be below the elk that afternoon.


We popped back over the ridge, and broke down the tipi. While shouldering my pack, I grabbed the quick release on the gun-bearer, and the rifle slammed down on the frozen ground from shoulder height with the scope taking the full impact. I looked at TJ and Yo and said “it’s fine I’m sure, but we’ll check it when we go out today”.









With that we went back around to the glassing spot where Yo spotted some elk about a mile to the left of the initial herd. There were just shy of fifty elk, but no bulls we could see.











We marked where they were on the map, and headed back down to the trailhead to meet OC.















To be cont......
 
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Formidilosus

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When we got back to the trailhead OC was waiting. He had driven the 39 hours without sleeping after a couple of stressful days and was feeling it. We showed him the pictures of the elk and discussed our thoughts for the plan. He agreed, and on the way out we found a safe spot to check my zero on a 1.2’ish MOA rock at 780 yards. It hit the left edge.


Enter third learning point- rifle systems and scopes should stay zeroed even through abuse. Scopes are a aiming devices and they must maintain POA/POI.








So we all went into town, ate lunch, picked up a couple of supplies and drove back to the trailhead. After packing, and parking the vehicles it was around 3:30 when we stepped off. By the map it should be 4.5 miles to where we figured to setup camp, with 3 of those miles on the trail- the last 1.5 miles would be mostly “up”.







We made decent, but not great time with OC and Yo both feeling a bit beat down, stopping for dinner where we left the trail. By the time we hit the planned spot to setup camp it was 11pm. We had hiked pretty hard for 7 hours and everyone was ready for bed. We pitched both tipis and fell asleep.


The plan was to be up at daybreak and move up the finger ridge we were on, to glass across to the big ridge that the elk had been feeding on. Imagine a 11k foot ridgeline running left to right with some spurs and draws coming off of it, a very steep valley separating that big ridge from the smaller fingers, and both being hidden from the trail or prying eyes by the terrain.


The alarm went off way too early for me, and I rolled over and asked OC if he was ready. I got a “I feel like hell” response. Yo said he was a bit sick. I told everyone to go back to sleep, and we’d get up when it broke light a couple hours later. There wasn’t any use hiking up the ridge in the dark when none of us had ever been there anyways.
After day break we started stirring, noticing that it was snowing decently. I grabbed the spotter and went outside to glass what I could while everyone got up. The guys were feeling much better with a bit of sleep and some food and coffee, and were smack talking back and forth when I glassed a couple of bulls across the valley feeding in a meadow 1,200 yards or so away. The dudes were being pretty loud so I hissed at them to “shut the fugg up. I got a couple of bulls”. One of them said “what?”, and I said y’all get your chit ready right now, we have 5 or 6 legal bulls across the valley. I kept the spotter on them, while everyone hurriedly got packed. 4-5 minutes later someone came out and I talked them on to the elk, with them watching while I grabbed my gear.















Once everyone got eyes on the bulls we discussed how to do the stalk. The valley that separated us from the elk was way too steep to cross in a timely manner, with TJ pointing out the only option to go up the spur we were on, as it looked like if we got straight across from them they would be in range. Yo and I took off, while OC was getting his pack settled with TJ staying with him. We crossed the few hundred meters of the meadow into the wood line and my calves were cramping a bit- probably from mild dehydration. I stopped and worked them out while letting the other two catch up. When they got there we made sure that everyone knew the plan, and we started climbing.

The only OC and I had elk tags. Yo and TJ had deer tags. Usually the way we work it is the person who spots the animal gets first choice at it. However, most of the time I don’t shoot anything until everyone else has had a chance. But, this time I told OC that I wasn’t going to wait for him- as soon as I had a shot I was going to kill one of the bulls. He looked at me like “duh” and said “kill the big bastard”.


We were climbing the spine of the spur we were on, with it dropping off pretty quick on our left and right. After 400- 600 feet of vertical we broke through the timber and hit the open area where we thought we would be able to see the elk. Just a bit higher and we spotted them through the falling snow.
We had two types of binocular rangefinders we were testing- the Nikon Laserforce and a European one that isn’t available in the US. OC and TJ had the Nikons and I had the Euros. Yo had Swaro EL ranges. Mine had been acting a bit cantankerous the second morning but I had switched batteries and it seemed to cure it. Now, they wouldn’t hardly range at all in the cold, and when they did only to about 200m. I couldn’t get a range on the bulls at all. There was a large rock about 50m above us that wrapped around the ridge that we climbed up to and I thought it might offer some concealment to get a bit closer. Once we got to the rock, my binos wouldn’t range the elk, but Yo said “666”. I said “are you sure?” So he tried to range again, but the snow had started falling a bit harder and he couldn’t be positive of the range, and I got a range of nearly 800.


We moved across the open meadow, directly across from the bulls, but it was obvious that they would spot us before we got any closer. Going down wasn’t an option. We would have needed climbing gear. So we backtracked around the rock, to the backside of the ridge, updated OC and TJ that we can’t move across here, but we’ll stay on this side and move alone the ridge top, which should put us directly across from them. OC asked “can’t shoot from here?” I said no, we can’t get a solid range, and the wind is whipping pretty good. I also told TJ to be ready; I might need his binos.




We moved another 100 yards across the spine of the ridge, peaking over a couple of times to check that the elk were still there, as I was pretty sure one of them had noticed us. When we finally got to a small saddle, the bulls were stacked in a line moving up the opposing hillside. I asked matt for the binos, and ranged right in the middle of them. “Under 700” I whispered to the guys. I moved back a few feet to be out of view of bulls, dropped my pack, popped the tripod up with the spotter, pulled the weather meter out to get a wind speed, and started donning my puff suit. I said “we’ll crawl up over to where we can clear the grass and get a prone shot”. “Yo, you’re on the spotter for me, TJ you’re with OC, pick out a bull, run the rangefinder for him and as soon as my bull is down, OC you shoot”. Yo, and I will spot if we can”.




“Suite up as we may have to wait a while for the snow to clear out”.





It was snowing hard enough that we could only catch glimpses every once and a while of the opposite hill. Once they were ready, we crawled up the 10-12m to the ridgetop and found a spot to shoot from. Yo, set the tripod up and I started trying to figure out which to shoot. I range them again and told OC to set his turret for 650 as that was the closet elk.


There were 7 bulls, none were monsters, but all legal. They were 4x4’s and 5x5’s. Two looked to be the biggest- one was bedded and had a wider spread, the other was standing and looked to have a bit longer main beams but was narrower. YO, TJ, and myself all discussed for a minute which one. With the snow falling, I couldn’t get a great look at them through the 30x Meopta spotter. I’m a sucker for shooting things while they sleep, so I chose the bedded one. I let everyone know which one, told OC and TJ to pick the bottom bull after mine was down.




I ranges the bull with the Swaros at 666, and TJ confirmed. Yo, got on the spotter, found the elk, and started asking about wind. I dialed 4.1 mils elevation, got the pack situated to rest on, places a spare Mag beside the rifle, and checked the wind again. We had a 8-12mph right to left where we were, and because of the falling snow with the spotter we could see that right in the middle of the valley it switched 90 degrees and was left to right at about the same speed from there to the bull. The bull was nearly broadside facing to our right, so I told Yo that the average wind call should be “either center, or right .2 on a pickup” and “center will be splitting the crease on the ribs”. Yo replied “got it”. “Ready”.






To be cont....
 
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Formidilosus

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I put in my ear plugs, got on the gun, told Yo, “ready”. He said “center” and the shot broke. I saw the impact hit right .1 mil of the aim point, Yo said “hit”, the bull stood up and was nearly broadside, I immediately sent another into the ribs as I spotted my first impact. The second shot hit .2 left in the lungs. The bull stumbled back a step, and quartered away and started sinking. I held right .2 and shot again. At that shot the bull started going down, and I reloaded the second mag. He was hard quartering to us kind of sliding down the hill but his head was still up, and I put the reticle center of his neck, and held right .2. He collapsed at the shot. Yo said sarcastically- “you can stop shooting now.... he was dead on the first shot”.






I stayed on the bull for another second, but it was obvious he was down, and TJ said “OC, bottom right bull, 650”. OC confirmed which one, Yo said “got it OC, center when you’re ready”. OC fired, and it went high and left by nearly 2 mils. The bull trotted up the hill, TJ said “670”, and both Yo and I said “down 1.5, right .5”. OC, chambered another round, and fired. It was a wild miss. At that the elk went up and over the ridge, without stopping.


As soon as they were gone, OC said “[email protected]!”. We asked “what?”, and he informed us that he had his big gloves on and when he chambered the second round, he couldn’t feel the trigger and it fired before he was ready.


After that, we discussed what happened on OC’s first shot. He stated “I mean I guess it was me, but it looked good when it went off, and there is no way I pulled it two full mils”. I agreed with him. I’ve seen him shoot probably 100k rounds in my life in some really messed up situations, and I’ve never seen him jerk a shot that bad. There was nothing obviously wrong with the rifle, and he has a solid system, so we decided that he would shoot mine if he got another chance until we could check his rifle.


We had a couple minute conversation with Yo again saying that it was dead on the first shot. I explained the above, and Yo said “man, I work the bolt, but every deer I have killed has dropped at the shot”. I asked if he had ever missed, and he said “bro, no”..... “Well, you might want to be ready, because one day you will....”






A quick peek through the spotter confirmed we were good...



Yo was pretty excited



Within 5 minutes the snow started coming down hard again, and the wind picked way up. We moved down the backside of the ridge to get out of the wind to eat breakfast/lunch.




French press coffee is pretty good in a snow storm....







Third and fourth learning points


Rapid bolt manipulation:


If the animal is still up and/or alive, keep shooting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 223 or a 338 mag- if the animal isn’t completely down, keep shooting or eventually you will lose an animal. Be able to spot your own hits/misses, immediately run the bolt after follow through, and be prepared to shoot again.
In hunting and depredation/culling several hundred animals, almost all the animals I’ve seen get away have been because dudes want to shoot and then admire their work over the scope/look through binos/pat themselves on the back sometimes even dropping the rifle down without rechambering, just standing there waiting for the animal to go down. Then, even if it dropped at the shot, it gets back up and runs out of sight with the shooter standing there confused.


Learn to shoot very accurately and very quickly, and keep shooting until they are down and dead. This bull didn’t need a second shot- I watched the bullet hit and saw the splash of dirt after it exited. Had I waited he would have fallen over inside of 10 seconds. The first shot went between ribs, hit the top of the heart, and exited the offside shoulder/leg joint leaving an inch and a half exit hole. Doesn’t matter- keep shooting.




Light triggers, thick gloves, and stress do not mix.


Pull off gloves before shooting. If someone is extremely practiced to chamber and fire quickly without thick gloves- they are extremely vulnerable to having an ND due to the gloves hitting the trigger before their finger under stress and at speed. OC knew this: he watched it happen to a ridiculously trained and capable person a few years back on a 180+ inch mule deer. Yet he, like most people do not want to learn from others mistakes and adjust, instead just saying “it works for me” until it bites them on the butt.






To be cont....
 
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Formidilosus

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After about 30 minutes the snow slowed a bit and we rucked up, and started picking out way down the ridge across from the bull. It was quite steep, and some of it was done sliding on out butts, and some reverse climbing.




The least steep portion















Once at the bottom we paused to refill water in a small stream and find a place to climb up.
























It was a virtual cliff up the other side for several hundred feet. After filling up water, they waited while I moved up and down the gorge trying to see if there was a way up. I finally found what I though would be a route up it, but it would be climbing... not hiking. Everyone got their packs on and up we started. There was enough snow on the rock face that you could kick in foot holds and climb up. It was hands and feet the whole way, with several questionable spots even by our standards.











No one said a word until we got out of the cliff 30-40 minutes later. At the top only OC said “that was sporty.... let’s not do it agin”. I asked Yo how he was and he only replied with “fugg that”. TJ said his ankle was holding up ok.




The general consensus-









Once we got above the rocks, we got the trees and above that the snow started again, though not super heavy this time. We initially came up with TJ and Yo saying they thought the bull was to the right, and OC and myself thinking it’s to the left. So TJ and Yo went to the right, OC to the left, and I went up the middle. From left to right we were only 100-150 yards apart in the open, but the hill curved around so tight and it was so steep that we could see each other without someone in the middle. After 3-4 minutes of climbing and looking I spotted the bull above OC and called the others over.


Walking up to him you could see two exit holes in the chest, one being the aforementioned first shot through the off leg. The second being the broadside second shot.







This was the first elk TJ and Yo had even seen up close, let alone killed. Both were pretty darn excited but it didn’t taken long for Yo to notice that elk are big suckers. After a minute of checking him out he goes- “bro, this things coming out on our backs....”. Haha. Yes, yes it is.




To be cont.
 
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I’ve attended this fire side story each night while rocking my little girl to sleep.

Thank you for the great write up.


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Keep checking back to see when the next update will be! Looking forward to it

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