I can’t believe how fast time flies! I decided over five months ago that I was heading to CO for an Over the Counter Archery Elk Hunt, and it felt like I had all the time in the world. Now, I am just a couple weeks out from hitting the trail in a brand new wilderness in an unfamiliar state chasing these magnificent creatures that I haven’t hunted in two years…the mixture of excitement and trepidation is hard to describe (it’s like the night before your wedding day…if you feared you might fall off a mountain or utterly fail at getting married).
If you’ve been following along in this series, then you’ve already seen all the steps I’ve been taking to make sure I’m prepared in every way. If you haven’t, feel free to get caught up by checking out Part 1 and Part 2 of Planning a Colorado Elk Hunt. If you have also been trying to get yourself prepped for a brand new hunting adventure (whether out of state or in your own backyard), then what should you be focused on in these final weeks leading up to the big hunt? Well, here’s where I’m at…
Okay, hunting is more than gear, and plenty of people have been successful in the field without the best gear. (Case in point: I shot my first bull elk with a $400 beginner bow while wearing Walmart camo…gear is not everything). However, having the right gear and being comfortable with it can absolutely make the difference in whether you’re physically and mentally able to stay out there an extra day, whether you can bring yourself to hike up and over that next ridge, or whether you decide to call it a day and crawl back to camp an hour before the sun goes down (wasting prime hunting hours). You’re never comfortable on a backcountry hunt, but if you’re miserable you’ll eventually justify taking your foot off the gas and you’ll inevitably miss some opportunities.
As for my gear, I’ve already written about my Exo Mountain Gear pack and how I can’t wait to put it to the true test out in the field. Just hauling weight-plates around the desert I’ve been blown away by how comfortable it is, so I’m sure it’ll be a game-changer in terms of hauling camp and full loads of meat around the woods! In terms of other gear, I’ve already taken over our spare room laying stuff out and cross-checking it with my gear list. I’ve test-packed my pack to check for weight (I finally got the poundage below 50…including food and water), and to make sure I can get my whole set-up efficiently loaded into this pack (spoiler alert…I can). Essentially, I’m learning from the past and not waiting until two days before I leave to start laying out my gear and getting it all figured out. Yes, it’s annoying to pack, unpack, repack, etc. My spare room is upstairs, so I’m hauling all my gear from the garage to the upstairs room knowing that I’m just gonna have to haul it back down again when it’s go-time…but just because it’s not the most efficient process doesn’t mean it won’t pay off. I want to hit those mountains confidently dialed-in, instead of hoping I remembered everything and rifling through my pack multiple times a day because I can’t remember where I stashed some crucial piece of equipment.
The last piece of gear that I’ve certainly been guilty of overlooking in the past is food. Eating well on an extended backcountry hunt is definitely a challenge, both in terms of getting enough calories while keeping the pack-weight down, and when it comes to just not eating crap the whole time. If you try to live on nothing but dehydrated Mountainhouse meals and protein bars, you’re going to be seriously hurting by day 3! So this year, I’m experimenting with some cleaner eating. I’m trying some better dehydrated meals (they aren’t totally clean eating, but there’s a lot less words you can’t pronounce in the ingredients list than some others), some cleaner energy bars, and just trying to round out the diet a bit more each day without exceeding my desired 2 pounds per day when it comes to food weight. I’ve also been experimenting with some new supplements to keep my hydration and energy going while out there. I’m intentionally trying them out NOW not only because I want to know if they work, but because I firmly believe I don’t want to find out how something affects my body at 11,000 feet and miles from the truck…that’s a bad time to get the jitters or start crapping yourself. So, even though these food items and supplements are more expensive and I hate burning through a couple of them at home when it doesn’t matter as much, the peace of mind that comes from knowing what it will do to your body before it’s game time is well worth a few extra bucks, in my opinion.
I’ve been beating the drum for consistent archery practice throughout this series, and as promised in my last post, I’ve been much more consistent in terms of getting to the range at least a couple times per week. Even while juggling multiple business trips and trying to find a pocket of time when it’s not 112 degrees here in Phoenix, I’ve averaged twice a week over the past couple months. Now, I’m kicking it into high gear and shooting for 3-4 times per week. That’s still not every day like I would prefer, but at least it’s a realistic goal. And, don’t think that you need to find a whole hour to get out there and shoot a bunch. Even if you can just squeeze in a couple quiver-fulls before the sun goes down, that will still reinforce your shot sequence and muscle memory leading into your hunt.
One thing to note: if you haven’t been shooting with your broad-heads yet…you should start YESTERDAY! I’ve made the mistake before of throwing my broad-heads on a day or two before a hunt only to discover they weren’t giving the “field point accuracy” they promised, or that I was having some other tuning issue. You want to have the cushion of at least a few weeks (preferably a couple months) to make sure your bow is dialed in to shoot your broad heads where they need to go. Bow shops always get slammed right before season, so don’t be that guy standing in a long line desperately hoping they can solve all your archery problems two days before season because you realized your broad heads were all over the map! Personally, I have my bow tuned very well this season (part of that is because it’s an Elite Ritual and is the greatest bow I’ve ever shot…you can check out the full review here), but I threw on a couple practice broad heads already and I’m having a few drag issues at longer ranges. Fortunately, I have plenty of time to play with pins and make sure everything is dropping right where I want it!
I have a unique opportunity here in Arizona that I’m sure isn’t an option for everybody across the country, but I’m gearing up for a “practice hunt” at the end of August. Now, it’s not really practice, because I fully intend to hit it hard and be successful, but I’m also viewing it as a less daunting opportunity to get some reps in before the big focus of my Fall, which is this CO Elk hunt. There are actually some great OTC opportunities available to hunters in AZ, and so I’ll be hitting the woods in a couple weeks with three different tags in my pocket. I can chase velvet mule deer, black bears, and javelina all in the same unit over the same couple weeks at the end of August. I’m not a big hockey fan, but I think I feel a hat-trick coming on!
My point is this: if you can find some sort of opportunity to actually get out in the field and “practice” what you plan to do on your big out of state adventure, then do it. That may be a backpacking trip where you can fully dial in all your gear (minus your weapon), but that’s still valuable. You may not have any tags available, but you could still be out on public land practicing stalking in on some whitetail deer…just see how close you can get…bonus points if you can slap one on the butt. Maybe there’s a 3-D archery shoot nearby that you could enter into. Whether you win or not is irrelevant; it’s a great chance to fling some arrows in a setting that more closely resembles the kinds of shots you’ll be taking when it really counts. I always find when hunting season finally starts (especially on years where I’ve been embarrassingly lazy with my scouting) that there’s at least a day’s learning curve to get your senses dialed back in to moving through the woods, glassing up animals, or whatever style of hunt you plan to use. Why not get yourself over that hump pre-season so that you can hit the woods on opening day firing on all cylinders?
Well, that’s all there is left to do. I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes, I’ll forget something, and I’ll learn a whole ton through this experience. Hopefully, something in this series has helped you or given you something to think about that will aid in your success this season. I’ll wrap this whole series with a Part 4 recapping the experience and sharing both how it went, and things I wish I had known before I went in there. Good luck out there, and let’s go have some fun this fall!