I have been fortunate enough to have some great hunting partners over the years; and I haven’t had to look far to find them. Growing up, it was always my Dad and I. As I got older, it turned into my best friend and my Dad. My brother has also become a great hunting partner. Even though I haven’t had to search hard to find great partners, I have paid a great deal of attention to what makes a good hunting partner and how to go about choosing one.
The Solo Hunter
Solo hunting seems to be a growing trend right now. I hunt by myself quite a bit, and I do enjoy it. Solo trips were a bit unnerving at first, but after a few outings, the anxiety subsided and I started to enjoy my time alone in the field. Although I love the experience that solo hunting offers, there are definitely some drawbacks and concerns to pay attention to when venturing into the backcountry alone. The biggest thing is safety. If you get in a dicey situation and don’t have any means of communication with the outside world, you can quickly find yourself in big trouble. Having a reliable hunting partner there to help you get out of a dangerous situation could save you a whole lot of anguish — and even your life. Another concern when going solo is packing game out. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good solo pack-out, but sharing the weight and the experience is something special. That leads me to another drawback —the absence of camaraderie. Sharing special moments in the backcountry with stellar people makes the memories even sweeter.
With that being said, I want to lay out below some characteristics that I think make a great hunting partner. There are often additional things to consider when choosing a hunting partner, but these are some big factors that one should definitely pay attention to…
Same Physical Ability
Two people that share similar levels of physical fitness is a recipe for success. As backcountry hunters, we know how difficult the pursuit can be and how valuable being in shape is. Between packing in, heavy pack outs, and traversing steep terrain, we push ourselves both mentally and physically for multiple days in the field. I am one of those guys that didn’t ever think about hitting the gym for hunting. In fact, I found it sort of ridiculous. Why would anyone go to the gym for hunting? My attitude changed rather quickly after I experienced my first solo pack out with a mountain lion. I’m not saying that you both have to be the next Lance Armstrong, but if you and your partners are both willing and able to “go the extra mile” your hunt is going to be a lot more enjoyable and productive. Both of you will not only feel better and be happier out there, you will also have a great chance of capitalizing on success when opportunities arise. That big buck two-miles away isn’t going to be there forever. Can you and your hunting partner get there?
Same Mental Toughness
I find myself talking a lot about “mental toughness” and the importance of its role in hunting. That might sound funny to some of you that are new to backcountry hunting pursuits, but I assure you, it is a critical attribute. I think the reason I talk and write a lot about it is because it is something that I wrestle with myself. Of course, I have grown and improved my mindset over the years, but weakness still shows up at time. The tougher the hunt, the tougher your mindset needs to be. The call of a warm bed is all too tantalizing when it is cold, wet, and you aren’t seeing any elk. If you or your hunting partner are weak in the mind, this WILL affect the trip and the outcome of the hunt. I am generally not a selfish person, so if someone wants to go home, I am going to give in. Let me tell you, the mood dies very quickly when someone doesn’t want to be with you in the field. All of a sudden you aren’t hiking as far, sitting as long, or laughing as much. Anytime I find myself wrestling with a tough hunt, I tell myself, “you asked for this and have waited all year long to suffer. Soak it up and don’t go home.” Not everyone is cut out for backcountry hunting, and that is understandable. Some guys can handle a 3-day hunt, but not a weeklong hunt. Again, understandable. You and your partner need to be on the same page about what you are willing to endure.
If both parties are not willing to sacrifice and help one another out, the pillars are going to crumble. You need to want your hunting partner to find success just as much as you want it yourself and the same goes the other way. Let me draw up a scenario for you. It is day 5 of a 10-day hunt. Your hunting partner makes a marginal shot on a bull elk. This is a moment when you need to put your tag aside and try to take care of business. There is a wounded animal out there and it is up the two of you to find it. In this situation, my hunt would take a pause, and my sole focus need to shift to helping my friend. Why? Because, that is what I would want him to do for me. We are a team and we need to work together. When you do find that bull, those are the moments you are going to cherish for a lifetime. Times like this are what forge hunting bonds. Respect the animal, Respect your teammate, and Respect the experience.
To Wrap It Up
Some of my greatest memories are from times I’ve spent in the mountains with friends and family. The laughter, frustration, and success that we have shared over the years has shaped me into the man I am today. Like I said earlier, I love going on solo hunts as well, but I oftentimes wish that, say my brother, was with me to see the giant bear I laid eyes on that morning, or the gnarly Coues buck that I jumped at bow range. I reflect a ton on hunts from previous years and it is always nice when I can do that around a fire with a close friend. We help build each other up during times of sourness, as well as during times of sweetness. When I am old and gray, it will be nice to tell stories to my kids and grandkids about how Uncle Jake and John helped me pack a bear out up a cliff many years ago. Until then, we will just keep writing our stories.
Josh Kirchner is the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy, but for the last three years has been eating, sleeping, and breathing the hunting lifestyle. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, two herding dogs, and mischievous cat. Connect with Josh on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.