When was the last time you practiced your marksmanship? If you’re like most hunters, you’re probably shooting your weapon at least once a week. Why? Because you know efficiency and accuracy matter most in the moment of truth. I’d also venture to guess that you’re also likely to be doing a little bit of working out as well; maybe running, lifting, or Cross Fit. Why? So that when it comes time to head into the mountains, you can do so confidently without sucking too much wind on those alpine ridges.
So, you practice shooting and prepping your body for what lies ahead during the hunting season, but when was the last time you practiced backpacking? After all, it is called Backpack Hunting.
If all your prep work goes into shooting and fitness without paying any attention to practicing the skills required to backpack, then you’re neglecting half of the skills required for backpack hunting. How many times throughout the year do you focus purely on your efficiency in backpacking? It’s possible that you haven’t even thought about it much more than what is required of you during your hunt. Depending on how you backpack hunt, that could be one pitch and teardown per trip, and if you’re only going on a few overnight scouting trips throughout the summer, then it’s likely that you can count on one hand how many times you’ve assembled all your gear, loaded it up, and learned what works and what doesn’t.
Each time you set up and tear down camp you get better at it and you learn. However, if you’re only doing it a few times per year and never really focusing on it as an important element of the hunt, then you’ll likely never know what it’s like to turn it into something resembling muscle memory. Backpacking is about efficiency, and the more efficient you become at it, the less you have to think about it, which in turn allows that leftover mental bandwidth to be use for focusing on the hunt (which is why you’re out there in the first place).
It’s as important to practice your backpacking skills as it is to practice your shooting and your fitness. Backpacking isn’t complicated, but it can be if you’re not putting in the time to really learn for yourself what works and what doesn’t.
Search YouTube all you want for tips and tricks, but that won’t do a bit of good for you if you’re not actually driving stakes into the ground, loading your pack over and over again, filtering water, and honing in on what works for you and not some random guy on your beloved hunting or hiking channel. Backpacking is a skill in its own right and it deserves your full attention so that when that bull bugles on that ridge above you at 4:30 in the morning you won’t have to think about how long it’s going to take you to pack up camp, so you can beat him to that bedding area.
Backpack Hunting is equal parts backpacking and hunting so do yourself a favor and practice both elements individually. You’ll not only become more efficient and skilled at the art of backpacking, but you’ll enjoy yourself more. In time it will become muscle memory, just like your shooting.
Emory is the creator of By Land, a website dedicated to helping others make the most of their backcountry experiences. He enjoys backpacking, traditional archery, and hunting Roosevelt Elk and Blacktail Deer in the fall months. Emory is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and currently resides in SW Washington State. In addition to his website and podcast, you can also connect with him on Instagram and Facebook.