Ultralight Hunting: Towards a Coherent Definition
Nov 24, 2021 at 7:56 pm #3733159
I grilled up both tenderloins this evening. Very simply; rubbed with olive oil sprinkled with coarse sea salt and pepper, grilled on high heat until slightly charred, but rare. Excellent!
We only ate the one tonight. The other one we’ll serve sliced thin (and cold) on crusty bread with a horse radish sauce :)Nov 27, 2021 at 12:00 am #3733265
I’ve tried backpacking hunts a few times in Alaska but they never quite worked as planned.
Twice I’ve “backpacked” with overnight gear and shot my caribou before I could find my first camping spot. Then I just had more stuff to carry out! But I’ll take my wins.
A better strategy was to paddle a canoe through a lake chain and the day hike from a basecamp. I packed light so the portages were easier. The canoe made getting the meat out a lot easier.
I keep thinking about a Kimber but a Ruger American is light enough and cheaper. I got one in 358 Winchester and trimmed it down to 6.5 pounds with a scope. Now I need to work up some reloads so it more the a 250 yard gun. It hammers caribou and bears though.Sep 20, 2022 at 10:37 am #3760361
Well it’s 2022 :) I haven’t been hunting yet for myself, but got to play “sherpa” on two different trips.
Tom’s father-in-law drew a Cabinet Wilderness sheep tag after 40 years of putting in! It was archery season still for sheep (it’s now open for rifle) so we knew it was probably more of a scouting mission, but you never know. We hunted for three days, scouted several nice looking basins and turned up some younger rams, but nothing worth pursuing. Great trip in some fantastic country nonetheless. I told Tom his fall is booked until his FIL fills that tag :)
Just two days after I got back from the Cabinets, I had to clean and repack my gear for a four day mule deer hunt that my buddy Josh drew in the Mission Mountains. It was another rather arduous hunt in more steep country. Josh passed on a nice buck; he’s holding out for even nicer buck. Also another great trip!Sep 20, 2022 at 2:31 pm #3760375
Amazing country Mike. Looking forward to it!Sep 20, 2022 at 2:57 pm #3760378
Amazing country Mike. Looking forward to it!
should be a good trip :)Oct 13, 2022 at 10:50 am #3761807
Another trip into the Missions with my buddy (still has his tag)
Went antelope hunting last weekend in the Southeast corner of the state; was being very picky as I have two elk tags and passed over four pretty nice bucks. My buddy shot a decent buck, replete with a new antelope pack out for me- 4 miles.
I set up a day hunting rig- Seek Outside Revolution breakaway frame w/ a Merlin daypack- worked great! Also tried out a new custom knife (2 years of waiting!), it’s going to be a gem :)Oct 14, 2022 at 4:29 pm #3761915
I took my wife, stepson and nephew on a “lightish” backpack trip hunting for 40 Mile caribou. No caribou but the boys got Ptarmigan with my little. 22. Good times.
We did better on a day hike for a black bear. I’ve been eating that guy for lunch for the last couple weeks.Oct 14, 2022 at 5:13 pm #3761917
Congrats to Gabi- fine looking bear and well earned! :)Oct 14, 2022 at 11:48 pm #3761936
I thought you’d like that Mike.
We also tried a hike in moose hunt. I called in two bulls but they were not of a legal size. I think we’ll do more of that mountain bear hunting. It’s a lot of excitement and the logistics are easier. Caribou are so migratory its a roll of the dice where they’ll be each year. We seem to have bears figured out a bit more.Oct 16, 2022 at 9:46 am #3762023Philip TschersichBPL Member
@philip-akLocale: Kodiak Alaska
We don’t qualify as ultralight, but cuben fiber gear, small titanium wood stoves, and lovingly customized items like carbon arrow electric fences etc make getting deeper into the backcountry possible, increasing our success rate.Oct 16, 2022 at 11:55 am #3762031
Phillip- great video and congrats on your guys success! Never thought about elk hunting in AK before :) Those ribs look really good!
I talked to a guy this year that had the same tag as Dave C for backcountry bison; they used an electric fence w/ success as well. If I ever draw that tag, I’ll do the same. Hanging all those bags of meat was a lot of work and he we had a couple of bags fail adding to the work. Electric fence definitely sounds like the way to go!Nov 20, 2022 at 10:34 am #3765716
Well Montana went from Indian summer straight to Winter, skipped Fall altogether (sadly). It really changed up my elk hunting strategies. After three weeks of hunting my usual haunts (in 1-2′ of snow, even snowshoed a couple of the days- highly not recommended!), I finally wizened up and changed locations much closer to their wintering grounds. Started bumping into a lot more sign and started bumping some elk too. On day three of a three day hunt, connected with a cow (the largest cow I’ve ever harvested!) utilizing my B elk tag which I drew.
Still have my bull tag in my pocket and going to give it a couple more days of hunting and see what happens. Regardless, the near empty freezer will be filled up again :)Nov 21, 2022 at 11:18 am #3765781
You need to do a trip report Mike. How is that little Kimber working?Nov 22, 2022 at 8:24 am #3765942
Kimber is working great. I have it down to under 6 lbs all in (w/ a 2-7X Leupold and Talley mounts). Guys pick it up and want to trade for the day :)Nov 22, 2022 at 8:56 am #3765944
On our hunt a few weeks ago (trip report coming), I briefly handled Mike’s Kimber mentioned above…struck me as crazy light! About 1.5# lighter than what I was carrying. I especially liked the look/feel of the shortened barrel. I think we had rifles in hand nonstop for what, ~30 miles of XC hiking, including plenty of climbing, descending, rough stuff, etc? (At one point we borderline cliffed out and a rope would’ve been handy!) Given where/how the weight is so often carried (in hand), strikes me that the benefits of the savings add up quickly vs. something in the pack.Nov 22, 2022 at 3:27 pm #3765999
I worked a Ruger American 358 down to 6.5 pounds scoped and it’s great. A Kimber is tempting though as more of a good thing. One lesson learned from our moose hunt. Don’t skimp on scopes. We had a bull circle us for 20 minutes right at dark. We caught glimpses of him and eventually decided he was probably not legal. I really wished I’d had a tad more magnification and more expensive glass. My son was acting as spotter with Binoculars. If I’d been solo it would have been harder. So I’ll probably get a bigger scope. It will add weight but if that buys me a full freezer I’ll take it.Nov 22, 2022 at 3:36 pm #3766006
I’m using an American in .308 with a Vortex 3-9 x 40. No sling. Currently 7 pounds, 4 ounces with an empty magazine. What did you do to lighten yours Luke?Nov 22, 2022 at 4:39 pm #3766012
Mine was a 358 Predator model and was about 6 lbs 7oz if I recall. I cut the barrel to 16.5 inches. Then I swapped out the Predator stock for a compact youth stock. I cut the forend of the stock off an saved about 1.5-2oz (I attached the round end back on, smoothed the edges with epoxy and painted over it). I finished by adding an iron front site (maybe 0.5oz?). There is a quick detach peep sight in case I ever take the scope off. The scope is only 8.5 oz. So the actual rifle is probably 5.75 lbs roughly. With the scope and rings it’s about 6.5.
It’s not a long range gun at all. My plan was a short gun that I could packraft with. I was going to hike into the mountains, shoot a black bear and float it out. I ended up moving to another part of Alaska and that trip never happened. But I did raft with it once. No real issues.
In your case a lighter scope would save a few oz. Trimming the barrel probably won’t be worth it unless you want to go real short. I believe you use copper bullets in CA. Those require more velocity to work well so a short barrel is probably a bad idea.Nov 22, 2022 at 6:33 pm #3766031
That’s a cool small build. Yeah, I was curious if you had any tricks but I think the scope is indeed the only place to get real weight savings. I think mine is ~14oz. I do use copper, even on my recent Montana trip that didn’t require it. I figure it’s simpler and cheaper to find a hunting round and just stick with it.
Honestly not worth it to me to spend the $$$ to reconfigure this rifle. I did fine with it on our recent hunt, the weight is hardly unmanageable. Just geeking out on UL stuff ;) I’ll build something lighter next time around.Nov 22, 2022 at 9:17 pm #3766065
Driving the long, lonely highway, hours rolling by. I’m always drawn to bluegrass and country on solo distance drives, it always seems fitting for endless hills and the asphalt peeling away beneath the wheels. Tyler Childers’ “Charleston Girl” was the #1 find on this drive from California to Montana. I was a bit dizzy and road weary, but eventually greeted with elk chili, a beer, and a warm spare bed, a welcome change from two days of gas station food, Starbucks, and a night sleeping in the back of my car in sub-freezing temperatures.
And we’re immediately off again well before it’s light, truck headlamps bouncing up a dirt road, sipping coffee, soon to be followed by the day’s physical warmup of shoveling snow and chaining up after getting briefly stuck in a drift. Packs are soon shouldered and wonderful silence sets in after the truck’s doors are shut; just wind, breath, and the crunching of ice and snow beneath our feet. We’re hunting right out of the gate and don’t speak too much beyond whispers for the next few days.
A few miles roll by. From a glassing knob Mike spots movement across a canyon, three or four spooked mule deer bolting across an open ridge and taking cover in the treeline. I catch a large rump or two protruding from the trees and they disappear from sight. Something other than us has them on the run. Too far, we write them off for the time being, assuming they’ll be long gone by the time we make that side of the mountain.
Climbing the same ridge a few hours later we approached the spot they disappeared, not thinking much of it, but I suddenly spot movement in the treeline. “Deer!” I gasp as loud as one can while still in a whisper. We fall back, drop prone, and a solid 3×3 emerges from the trees. “I’d take that deer…” I tell Mike. Before I can finish saying it, an even larger 4×4 steps out behind it. “That’s a good deer!” Mike says, excitement palpable while trying to stay hushed. The rangefinder says ~240 yards and there’s a brisk wind whipping through the canyon between us. Not the easiest shot for me, but doable. We stay low, making for the cover of a tree, preparing to drop a pack for a rifle rest. But the deer don’t stop moving, headed into the snow and timber traveling uphill across the canyon.
Binoculars glued, I give up on the prospect of a shot. They simply never stop moving, the wind is still howling, and there’s just too much cover between us. As they make the ridge they bolt, dark shapes disappearing fast through the trees, likely over the other side. These deer were spooky, definitely onto us, but also seemingly jumpy from something before we even found them.
That we were still on the morning of day one and I had ranged two of the largest deer I’ve hunted (by parched Southern California standards), things were looking good!
We spent the remainder of the day climbing and descending, occasionally postholing with heavy packs, deer sign everywhere, eventually descending into a canyon to find water, an endeavor that we nearly cliffed out on several times. Scrambling, sliding, we make the bottom spent and settle in for lunch on a grass bank, golden light filtering through the trees of an idyllic little streamside camp. Salami and cheese for me, a welcome rest, body sinking into the ground, a reminder of how hard we’ve been going. We make our way back into the higher country, into an elevation band where most of the sign was, and make camp for the night. On an evening scout a few does bolt across a meadow in front of us but no buck follows. Again, coming from the relatively game-poor areas I hunt at home, it’s been quite a good hunt already. In some places, simply seeing a deer is a victory.
Day two we hunt hard all day, covering some serious mileage and elevation cross country. The sign is there, the territory is right, but there are no deer to be found. The day culminates with us glassing the country below from a high point, endless mountains spread before us, evening light stretching across the land. I love the silence and stillness of hunting, of being in someone’s company but not having to talk too much, just watching, listening, and appreciating the land together.
On day three we change locations, heading to lower country with less snow, making the travel a bit easier. Backpacking in shoulder season/winter conditions is gear intensive enough, requiring systems that are well dialed. Hunting is fairly specialized as well. Combining the two certainly requires an intelligent approach or one’s pack would be completely unmanageable. While certainly not shouldering ultralight loads, a lightweight base system strikes me as integral in offsetting all the other gear one must carry. In my case this is an MLD Solomid, WM Antelope bag, Thermarest Neoair Xlite, Z Rest (for extra insulation and glassing), and a Seek Outside Unaweep. Being <10 pounds for the Big 3 in cold conditions with potential weather while maintaining the ability to carry a bulky and heavy load is an excellent benchmark in my estimation. My gear, clothing, and footwear systems worked flawlessly, the latter being quite welcome when hiking in ankle deep slush followed by snow, then sitting and getting wind-whipped in a glassing spot. All a good sign that I’m getting this gear thing pretty dialed over the years.
We spend the day largely still hunting through deadfall, creeping along quietly through the forest. I spotted a decent buck running the canyon bottom not far below us, instantly putting us into high alert. More hiking, more miles, Mike is soon slowly leading us across the canyon bottom and up a nearby ridge. He crests it a minute ahead of me. As I arrive, he’s low, motioning for me to get down. He whispers that three bucks are just up the ridge above us and urges me to stalk in slowly. I quietly chamber a round and begin creeping through the junipers…
The three bucks materialize, but the two largest have likely already winded me. I catch a faint glimpse of them heading uphill at a quicker pace. We haven’t totally bumped them, but they’re close. The youngest, a decent sized 2×2, is hanging back a bit. I’m creeping ever closer, staying as quiet as I can. I make the edge of a large juniper and slowly peek out. He’s standing there, full broadside, nose in the air sniffing, ears twitching and alert, looking down the hill. Despite being younger, the body was bigger than all of the much older bucks I see here at home.
I swear he locks eyes with me but can’t figure me out as I’m low and in the brush. He’s about 50-60 yards out. I very slowly slide prone and realize I have to make a snap decision: I have a perfect shot on a good looking deer but he’s on edge enough that he’s going to bolt in two or three more seconds.
I’m new to big game hunting. I’ve been out for a handful of seasons, both rifle and archery, and have had some exciting hunts. I take my responsibility seriously, having passed on a few possible rifle shots, an archery shot that was easy but had me concerned I’d lose the deer down a canyon too steep for me, as well as an archery clean miss at about 40 yards in which I misread the distance on a steep hill and the deer jumped my arrow. I’ve been on a few successful hunts with friends, including an epic bison hunt in Montana in 2018, but this deer would be my first.
So I anchored the crosshairs, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger.
I think my greatest fear thus far has been getting myself involved in a failed tracking epic on a wounded animal; this fear has been strong enough to stop me from taking a shot on a few occasions, situations that if I could replay today, I’d likely take the shot (I’m a more confident shooter with both rifle and bow now). But this is the learning curve, and likely the right way to play it. I have no regrets.
To my relief the shot was perfect and the deer dropped exactly where it stood.
I was calm through the entire process, but now that it was over, I slapped Mike a high five and traded a hug with my knees and hands shaking. Disbelief, sadness, elation, adrenaline, the sheer intensity of being a predator dialed in on its prey; hunting is a complex mix of feelings, intensified and stewed in hours upon hours of waiting and working in silence. When the emotions eventually calmed, we went to work. I must have been riding a high, because despite a steep ridge climb, I don’t remember any fatigue on the packout…
I’ve got to thank Mike for his generosity out there, for being such a great guide and teacher, and a selfless one at that. It didn’t go without notice that he deferred every opportunity to me, despite having a rifle in his hand for every mile of our trip. We’ve had some great adventures together over the years, from the Grand Canyon R2R2R, the bison hunt with Dave C., to desert hikes and Sierra XC rambles, but I’m particularly thankful for this one. Here’s to more to come!
I butchered everything myself, ground the burger and sausage (I bought a grinder after the bison hunt), and have been treating family and friends to deer throughout this holiday week. I’ve been striking out so far this season freediving for lobster, but the goal is to have a true paleo-North American feast of lobster, fish, and venison for the holidays.Nov 23, 2022 at 6:58 am #3766076
Great write-up, great trip, great memories. We definitely need to work another one in! :)Nov 23, 2022 at 10:35 am #3766082
Wow Craig, I hadn’t realized you got one on that hunt. Great work. The first kill in the backcountry is a special experience.
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