Mark and Steve recently came out of the Idaho backcountry after a backpack elk and deer hunt. In the previous article, Mark shared his complete gear list for this hunt — along with some thoughts on packs, shelter, and clothing choices for mid-October rifle hunts in the Rocky Mountain west. Get Mark's complete, itemized gear list here.
HEAR THE HUNT STORY
In addition to the full podcast story above, Mark shares some thoughts and takeaways from the hunt below…
THE EFFECTS OF SHELTER CHOICE ON YOUR HUNTING CAPABILITY
As we have done on previous October rifle hunts, Steve and I packed a bivy and tarp for our shelter on this hunt. One of the overlooked benefits of bivvies is that your hunting capability is directly influenced by the bivvies' adaptability. Because you only need a very small spot to set up a bivy, you don't have to worry about finding or creating a proper "campsite".
Weather allowed Mark & Steve to use their bivvies without a tarp each night on this thunt.
For an October rifle hunt, when it is often critical to be glassing in the first and last moments of the day, a bivy setup will allow you to camp near, or even at, a glassing vantage point. This saves time, effort, and energy — giving you the freedom to be where you want to be for glassing and hunting, and not be tied to a good camp spot that larger footprint shelters require.
After killing my bull in the final hour of daylight, and it being well into the night once we had the meat cared for, our use of bivvies allowed us to make camp in a nearby game trail. If we had a larger tent or tipi-style shelter, we would have wandered in the dark, searching for a proper campsite, when we were already tired and dehydrated.
A bivy isn't the best shelter for every backcountry hunt, but it was the perfect choice for this hunt.
PATIENCE, EXPERIENCE, & INTUITION
It took a lot of patience to sit for 9+ hours, waiting on a bull to hopefully reappear. But the gamble paid off. If my bull wouldn't have shown up that evening, it would have been a wasted day of hunting. I certainly would have regretted sitting there all day, when I could have been covering ground and actively hunting.
Mark watches the bull, which he would shoot 9 hours later.
As you gain hunting experiences and learn more about animal behavior, you're able to assess situations and evaluate odds. Wild animals in wild places will always do wild things, so there is never a "sure thing" in hunting, but you can use your knowledge and experience to try and calculate the odds of the situation.
And in addition to relying on your knowledge and experience, you have to stay "in tune" with your intuition. I believe that something like a "hunter's instinct" is real, and that we shouldn't be so analytical or outward-focused on the circumstances that we fail to listen to what our instincts are telling us.
On the day I killed my bull, my gut said to sit and wait. There were also external, practical reasons why that decision made sense. It may not have worked out, but it did. Five years ago, when I had less experience and didn't rely as much on my instincts, I wouldn't have made the same decision to sit and wait all day. I am glad that I am a different hunter now than I was then.
SHOOTING AT YOUR EXTENDED RANGE
Notice I said "your" extended range. Regardless of the weapon — bow or rifle — we all have different capabilities, levels of competence, and degrees of confidence. And I believe it is up to us, as individuals, to know ourselves, our weapons, and our true in-the-field, under-stress capabilities. Shooting an archery target at 60 yards and shooting a deer at 60 yards are different things. Ringing steel with your rifle at 600 yards and shooting an elk at 600 yards are different things.
Mark evaluates different shooting setups while waiting during the hunt.
The shot on this elk was the longest shot I have taken at a big game animal. I have practiced at ranges more than double that distance, and also walked away from many other opportunities to shoot game at that distance on previous hunts. So why did I take the shot this time? Well, there was a perfect combination of factors that led to it…
The conditions were perfect, with as calm of a wind that can possibly be. I had hours to set up in different positions and evaluate different scenarios before the actual shot opportunity presented itself. We had searched for better shooting locations and couldn't close the distance without making the shot more difficult (steeper angles and limited field-of-view). When he made himself visible, the bull was unaware, calmly feeding, and perfectly broadside. I wasn't in a rush or trying to "make something happen" and was willing to give-up on the shot opportunity if everything wasn't perfect. I knew my weapon, its capabilities, and the ballistics of the ammunition that I handloaded. I have a lot of experience shooting that rifle — at the range, in the mountains, and in hunting situations. I had a spotter to help call shots, if needed, and also video the impacts. Although it was evening, there was more than an hour of daylight left, providing time to not rush, and/or for post-shot evaluation.
Hopefully those things are helpful for you to consider and evaluate for any shot that is pushing your personal extended range — whether that is dozens of yards with a bow, or hundreds of yards with a rifle.
My one final takeaway is this — be grateful. There are so many aspects of a hunt like this that can be taken for granted. The animals themselves, the wild places we have access to,the physical capability to hike and haul meat… I could go on and on.
Treat every opportunity to explore the outdoors with gratitude, and enjoy it!
Mark Huelsing is the host of the Hunt Backcountry Podcast and works at Exo Mtn Gear — though he's never been able to figure out his job title. Connect with Mark by sending him an email (mark at exomtngear.com) or DM @MarkTheFark on Instagram.