“Ah, damn it! My socks are soaked. I knew I shouldn’t have stepped on that rock that looked so wet!” I grumbled as I was hiking out of camp and my foot fell in water deeper than expected in the river crossing. Now I had to hunt with wet feet all day and the morning was just getting started. That was not how I envisioned things in my head the night before.
As awful as it was to have to hunt with soaked feet all day, there was a valuable lesson learned from my mistake. I should plan with a slight insurance policy for times like this and it wouldn’t add too much weight to my pack. As with these lessons that I’ve learned, I’ll share them with you so you dont have to go through the same mistakes I did.
1. Never leave camp without an extra pair of socks.
On any hunt, but especially western hunts, walking around and hunting with wet feet all day is misery. I will never forget walking out of camp at 4:00am and getting to a river crossing around 4:30am. After 30 minutes of walking, I slipped on a rock which I could see was wet from my headlamp shining on it. I was the bold guy that thought he’s so incredible that he would never slip and of course, I did. The decision then was to either head back to camp or continue on. I couldn’t imagine going back to camp and losing so much ground so of course, I pushed on. The wet feet just sloshed around and caused my feet to blister like no other. On top of it, I was freezing cold and ended up having to take my socks off and wrap my feet with hand warmers and an insulation layer I packed in my bag. I didn’t want to get any colder and this was the way to get warm. After this one day of going through hell with my feet, I have always packed an extra pair of socks to make sure I avoid any issues with my feet because they will hobble you for more than just that one day. If anything, it could ruin your entire week of hunting.
2. Always carry a sidearm if you can.
I will never forget turkey hunting in Colorado back in 2012. I was on a rock that was elevated from the surrounding terrain as I was looking downhill. I couldn’t help but sense that I saw something brown pass by to my right about 200 yards away. I kept telling myself it was my imagination but within minutes I realized I was being followed by a mountain lion. It was coming into my turkey calls and I was about to be a dead Tom. At this time, I didn’t have a side arm on me and only had my bow in hand. The cat didn’t seem to be phased by me once I realized what was happening and my concern was my bow would be too slow in the event of a charge. Luckily, with some noise and movement, the cat decided to leave me alone and headed downhill from me. I quickly got up and headed the opposite direction back to my truck. After this day, I have yet to step foot into the woods without my side arm clipped to my backpack belt. The sheer confidence that I know I can draw my pistol out if needed and lay out 7+ rounds if needed let’s me sleep much better at night and hike much more in the day.
3. Test your Backpack out before a backcountry hunt.
I went on a hunt where I was wearing a brand new bag that was never broken in, nor was it tested by me in any regard. I just believed that my sizing charts online were correct and there I went. I was in the middle of nowhere with 50+ pounds for 5 hours and quickly realized I was in a world of hurt. My shoulders were killing me! I kept trying to figure out what the heck was causing the pain. Was it the weight? Was it my shoulder straps? Was it not sinched tight enough on my waist? Well, lone and behold when I got back from my hunt and took a week off from doing anything, I went ahead and took apart my pack to see what happened. I learned that the spine length I thought I was, was incorrect. I needed a different size pack and I also realized that I’m slightly crooked. Most people are but I was needing to have my bag higher on my left side and less on my right. This leveled out my back and caused no strain. This could have been easily solved had I packed 50+ pounds in the bag a month prior and had taken it out on a long hike for half the day. I’d advise you to do the same and hash out any issues that you may have with your bag. It will save you time and pain. Who doesn’t like that right?
4. Plan on bringing the best food you can afford.
Quality food is a game changer. As written in a post on different backpacking foods earlier in the year, I’ve done trips with mountain house meals and snack style foods and quickly realized how awful my body felt after a few days. Quality nutrition will make you feel so much better out in the backcountry for potentially that same weight that you would be carrying and roughly not that much more when it comes to cost. When it comes to food, I do believe you get what you pay for and this is one area I would not skimp. My personal favorite are the healthy options from Heather’s Choice. They are tasty, gluten free and full of good fats which drastically help you on those long strenuous days.
5. Plan on carrying an extra GPS
When you think about carrying an extra GPS, I’m sure you are thinking “why would I carry 2 of the same thing? This guys just dumb.” Well, hear me out. Alot of hunters now use their phones as their GPS. OnXhunt and google tend to be good options since your phone can do location without service. I’ve done this myself to save weight and wanted to have a camera, GPS and phone all on one when needed. I can also tell you that having all your maps and information on your phone and then it either cracks, stops working or the apps needed stop responding and you become screwed if you didn’t plan accordingly. I luckily did this on a small property and was not a lost soul but I couldn’t help but think if this was to happen to me in the big woods or mountains. Last year, I was hunting in a wilderness area and another hunter I was hunting with had the same plan and his phone application stopped working. I had my phone with my maps on there and I also had a Garmin 62S GPS that I was carrying. We ended up hunting together the rest of the week but all I could think about was what if that was me and there was no help. The best advice I could give you all is to pay attention to your surrounding markers and plan to have an extra GPS plan, whether that is your phone and a Garmin or another form of map.
Scout, Hunt, Repeat