The many parallels between bowhunting and backpacking might surprise some people. But they shouldn’t. These groups represent many of the people fighting for conservation, access to public lands, and sensible management of this country’s amazing wild places.
In many ways, bowhunters are backpackers by default. In fact, bowhunting is often as much about ultra-light tents and dehydrated meals as it is about treestands and hunting cabins. Although many bowhunters prefer discussing those latter topics, hunting’s diverse community is experiencing a surge from a new generation of fitness-conscious bowhunters who break the hunting mold. Likewise, many backpackers today view hunting from new perspectives. Namely, bowhunting provides great opportunities for those wishing to source their own meat.
Whether you bowhunt new areas to wear off more boot tread or you avidly hike while seeking new challenges by bowhunting, the packing tips that follow will help you function in the field.
When setting out for a day in the woods or on the mountain, be prepared but not overloaded. Whether you plan to spend all day hunting, or a few hours scouting or looking for shed antlers, pack the following essentials:
1. Clothing: How you dress greatly affects the experience. Dressing in layers lets you regulate your body temperature. If you get too hot while trekking in the afternoon sun, shed layers and stash them in your pack. If a cold front rolls in, pull out the extra layers you packed for protection. Don’t make the common mistake of wearing cotton next to your skin. Choose wools or synthetics.
2. Boots: Whether you’re on a weeklong backpacking trip in the Muir Wilderness Area or a daytrip to bowhunt turkeys in Tennessee’s hills, choose your boots carefully. When you’re on the trail or on a hunt, you rely on your feet to take you where you want and back again. Take care of them. Your boots must fit right and support your feet. Don’t wear cotton socks. Unlike wool or synthetics, cotton traps moisture instead of wicking it away. Wet socks cause cold feet and blisters.
3. Navigation: Handheld GPS units can be useful, even vital, when out for the day. Unlike backpacking, where travel is generally confined to trails, hunting, scouting and shed-antler hunting take you off the trail. It’s easy to get turned around, so never leave the road without a compass, GPS unit, backup batteries and a map of the area.
4. Water: Always carry water to stay hydrated. Water won’t be an issue for most short trips, but it’s essential for all-day ventures. In fact, before setting out for all-day or half-day backcountry ventures, identify sites where you can find water. Pack a small filtration system or tablets to rid water of bacteria and parasites.
5. Food: Always bring food and emergency food to keep you going. Trail mix and venison jerky keep hunger at bay, and fuel your body in a pinch.
6. Rain Gear: Unexpected storms can make a daytrip miserable if you’re unprepared. Fortunately, today’s lightweight and packable rainwear easily stuff into the bottom of your pack.
7. Head Lamp: You might plan to be out of the woods well before dark, but don’t assume you’ll stay on schedule. Pack a small headlamp with backup batteries in case you’re delayed.
8. Toilet Paper: Hey, nature calls. Answering is mandatory.
9. First Aid/Survival: Daytrips seldom require survival gear, but never assume it’s only needed for multi-day outings. Pack basics like bandages, antiseptic wipes and blister pads.
10. Binoculars: When bowhunting all day, carry binoculars to glass for game, but realize they have other uses besides spotting animals in the distance. For instance, they help you scan distant hillsides and openings when hunting shed antlers, making it possible to cover large areas while resting.
11. Hunting Gear: If you’re scouting or hunting sheds, you won’t need to tote hunting gear. When hunting, you’ll want your bow constantly ready. That requires adding some gear, including Allen wrenches. Almost every bolt on a bow and its accessories require different wrench sizes. Bolts can wiggle loose, and you must be able to snug them up in the field. Also carry a good knife and a backup release aid.
Spending multiple days away from home or base camp seldom happens except when bowhunting the West. That’s because of vast Western landscapes, and the fact Eastern bowhunters usually hunt whitetails from treestands or ground blinds, which are too heavy or bulky to carry far. That said, when spotting, stalking and hiking Western terrain, it’s usually necessary to pare down your gear to effectively bowhunt elk, mule deer, and alpine animals like goats and sheep. That, however, requires a packing list of another sorts. We’ll cover that another day.
Time spent on the trail provides amazing views and experiences, but time spent off the trail reveals far more fun and outdoors excitement. To learn more about backpacking for bowhunting visit your local archery shop. It’s a great source of expert advice from avid bowhunters who are eager to help.