Evolution Of A Backpack Hunter

Like most of you, I work hard and I play hard…. Come to think of it, I do a lot of things the hard way and my intro to the world of “backpack” hunting was no different. Having hunted all of my life I figured I knew a thing or two about the “hunting” part. That, and “rucking” the bulk of my stint in the Marine Corps led me to believe that there wasn’t much more I needed to know about strapping on a pack and hunting in the wilderness for a few days. If only “fore-sight” was as 20/20 as “hindsight!

Back then there weren’t nearly as many computers around, heck cell phones were just coming on, so internet searches were non-existent and research (if any) was conducted reading magazines or books.

After I was honorably discharged from the military I fell back on what many at the time were doing in my little community and that was logging. Having just gotten out of the military and with the physical requirements of packing a 20 plus pound chainsaw, rigging cables and climbing gear all day I figured I was in pretty good shape, and truth be known I was.

So when the Washington High Buck Hunt came around in Sept. I had a grand plan. Why not strap on my Dad’s old packboard and hike up into the Skokomish Wilderness Area for a 3 day high hunt?! Three days was all I could get off from work that time of year.

The week before the hunt a Marine Corps buddy decided he thought it would be fun even though he had never hunted before, and so we prepared for our trip. “Tim” (my buddy) was into backpacking and had the latest and greatest 3200 cu inch external frame backpack. He looked at my old marine corps “Alice” pack sack that I had attached to my old packboard and encouraged me to “get a pack with a waist belt” (this later proved to be sound advice!) so then and there I tied my high climber/rigging belt to the packboard with some twine. We loaded up with the old school MRE’s compliments of Uncle Sam, and being the thinker I am I strapped on two half gallon canteens full of water, and a bota wine skin. Those of you that are familiar with the original MRE’s will remember the dehydrated pork patties and the dehydrated everything else that, when consumed in their dehydrated state tasted at best like dog biscuits and when the meals reached the moisture of your belly ballooned up like a whole ham, sapping all of the moisture from you! But we were on a budget and it was what we had on hand so off we went, barging into the wilderness…

Al's evolution of a backpack hunter.

Al with his black tail packed up for the hike out.

Here’s where a little research would have paid off… In most of the wilderness areas in Washington save the Pasayten Wilderness, there are no fires allowed above 3,000 ft elevation. This is done to preserve the foliage which due to the altitude and climate has a relatively short growing season. A relatively small tree can potentially be over a hundred years old. Imagine if everyone just started hacking trees and limbs for fires, the landscape would ultimately not be able to keep up. I get that, but there I was, a logger, hiking in my cotton flannel shirt, with my denim logging jeans, high climber WESCO logging boots (that weighed literally 5 pounds a piece) and wool socks. My only head gear was the old school red felt “Crusher” that was prevalent among hunter’s and loggers of the day… needless to say nothing I wore was water-proof or even resistant (other than my  old greased logging boots!) So there we were… a dark and stormy day, trudging into the wilderness in the soaking rain and there before me was the sign “No fires beyond this point”. We weren’t even half way to our destination yet!

We arrived shortly before dark and set up our camp. Fortunately, “Tim” had brought a camp stove and propane (yep, he packed a six pack of propane bottles up there!) and we were able to cook up a delightful combination of all things re-hydrated!

By then it was after dark, we were wet, tired and unable to dry out so we turned in. Next morning we awoke to thick fog and so we still hunted the forest and came out on the shore of an alpine lake surrounded by alpine meadows, avalanche slopes, etc.  We took a break there and I began glassing the meadows as soon as the fog lifted. Shortly I spotted a couple of bucks high up, one of which was good size. We planned our stalk and up, and up we went. It took us a few hours to get up to the deer and by then they had bedded down. I kicked the big one out of a small patch of alpine fir and shot it. 8 hours after I shot it (and long after dark) we had it back to camp.

The next day, which was the day we had to return, we packed up our stuff. Because the deer was a trophy coastal blacktail (by my standards) I caped and saved the head, I put all of the meat on my pack board and “Tim” stuffed all of my gear on or in his pack. “Tim” was a smaller man, short and wiry but strong and fit. When he got done his pack (leaning upright against a tree) appeared only a foot shorter than he, and he couldn’t get it on his back by himself… people, don’t try this on your own… please! Learn from the errors of tortured souls such as myself! I strapped on my packboard and off we went down the trail. 9 hours later, and still no truck in sight, it was all I could do to travel 100yds at a time without stopping for a much needed break. Tim had “obtained” two large sticks to use as hiking staffs because the enormous pack that towered above him threatened to topple him at every turn! We eventually made it to the truck but not before my twine had completely given out and the narrow packboard shoulder straps had bitten into the flesh of my shoulders.  Later, I took that pack down to Farmer George’s Meats and had them weigh it… 115 lbs.

After that “learning experience” I’ve worked to stay current on the latest in ultra light backpacking gear… There are Gore-Tex (and other water repellant manufacturers) boots and clothes now, ultra light bivy sacks and sleeping bags. Camel Back’s have taken the place of canteens, ultra light stoves and fuels have taken the place of propane bottles. Backpacking meals have evolved from de-hydrated something’s to full scale entrees, with half the weight. Buck Knives makes a line of pack-lite knives as do a host of other manufacturers. Packs themselves are much more comfortable and especially designed for back country excursions. Boots don’t need to weigh 5 pounds each and optics are more compact and clearer than ever. Yes, the world of the back country outdoors person has evolved, hopefully you have evolved with it! If you are new to being a backpack hunter, take some advice, it’s cheap (the advice that is!)… do your research. Research equipment, read the reviews, learn the do’s and don’ts and regulations for the area you are heading into. Plan in advance, share your plan with someone who is not going and most of all… enjoy yourself and your time outdoors immensely!


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About A. Schultz

Al Schultz has been hunting and “playing” outdoors for over 40 years. He’s written several articles for such magazines as NW Sportsman, The Varmint Hunter, Fishing and Hunting News, etc., and has been featured in the Western Shooting Journal and on Outlander’s TV.

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