By Mike Willis
Every elk hunter needs to have two packs. The first pack that you need is your day pack. The day pack will hold all of the essential gear for the actual hunt. The second pack needed is the “pack frame” or “meat pack.” As the name suggests, the meat pack is for carrying your elk off the mountain. This article will address those items needed for your day pack.
Carrying around excessive amounts of gear can be tiring and noisy. The time of year and conditions of your hunt will dictate which items are needed. Some hunters will venture deep into the wilderness and require additional supplies. Other hunters don’t wander very far from the truck and can actually shave some weight to complement their hunting style.
The list of items below will provide a solid gear inventory for the “average elk hunt.” On an average elk hunt, you will need to be prepared to stay on the mountain during all daylight hours. Store all materials on this list in Ziplock bags when possible. Ziplock bags will trap the scent inside of the bags and will keep items organized, quiet, and dry.
Your daypack kill kit should include a sharp knife for field dressing the elk. You will also need a bone saw for splitting the pelvis. Packing a few pairs of nitrile gloves is a good idea as well. While gloves are commonly recommended for safety and health reasons, I like them because they help me with my grip as I gut the elk.
Keeping meat clean in the woods is a challenge. I keep a 6×6 sheet of plastic rolled up in my pack. It weighs nothing and is very effective in creating a much-needed dirt barrier. BEFORE gutting the elk, I actually roll it onto the plastic, and my meat stays pristine throughout the entire gutting/ quartering process. This sheet of plastic can also serve as a makeshift shelter in a storm or provide a dry place to sit in wet/ snowy conditions.
It is not necessary to lug all of your game bags around during the hunt. Most hunters typically leave these supplies back at the truck with their meat pack. After field dressing your elk, you can pack your day pack supplies and rifle out to the truck. On the return trip, you will bring the meat pack and the remainder of your supplies needed for phase II of your hunt. (more to come on this next week!)
When hunting in unfamiliar land, a GPS is a must. Not only can you navigate areas with confidence, but you can also mark important locations such as kill sites and blood trails. Topo maps will save you from exhausting yourself unnecessarily because you can plot out a sensible route. There are also effective GPS apps for your smartphone, such as onX. A GPS will save your bacon when you find yourself hiking at night.
AKA toilet paper. Don’t venture off without it! If you forget your mountain money, you are guaranteed to experience the call of nature in an area that only has rocks, pine cones, bark, and tufts of grass. If you are forced to resort to these measures, the next item on the list is for you.
First Aid/ Survival Kit
Anytime that you go deep into the woods, you should have a good first aid kit. There are lots of lightweight options to help get you out of a pinch. The idea is not to set up a field hospital but to keep you alive long enough to get to the ER. It is also nice to treat minor ailments such as small cuts or blisters. Ibuprofen and a fire starter are excellent additions to a first aid/ survival kit as well.
Packing some lightweight rain gear is very important. Emergency ponchos are easy to throw in your first aid/ survival kit. The ponchos are cheap, weigh almost nothing, and can bail you out if you find yourself caught in a storm.
As the weather gets colder, I pack my synthetic down jacket. This jacket is very lightweight and packable. When wearing my jacket, I can comfortably stay on the mountain overnight if needed. In an emergency situation, I would wear the poncho over my jacket to serve as a wind barrier.
Elk have an incredible sense of smell. Understanding thermals and wind direction are essential to hunting elk successfully. If you do not take scent control seriously, you should not plan to have much success, especially during bow season. Wind checkers are small plastic squeeze bottles filled with powder. After you open the top, a slight squeeze will deploy the powder into the air. The powder will provide a visual indication of what the wind is doing, even in the slightest breeze.
Field wipes are an excellent tool for managing your scent—the longer you hunt, the more scent you generate. Having the ability to knock the funk off during your mid-day break will greatly improve your chances of success going into your evening hunt. When I cross creeks during the early season, I refill my water supply, bathe, and wash my clothes. When it is cold out, field wipes provide a comfortable way to clean up. Field wipes also offer an alternate form of currency if you are in need of some mountain money.
As the hunt progresses into the hottest part of the day, you will begin to reach the limits of your deodorant’s capabilities. If you wash off in a creek or use field wipes, it is nice to be able to “freshen” up before initiating your next spot and stalk.
Carrying a good supply of food will keep you from having to leave the mountain. There is nothing worse than having elk bed down and not being able to wait them out. Always be prepared to “dig in” for extended periods of time.
If you are hiking long distances during the early bow season, carry an electrolyte supply. Excessive sweating will make it very difficult to keep adequately hydrated during a dry and hot season. I use the chewable Clif Gel Blok [sic] or salt tablets. If you find yourself feeling “off”, electrolytes are a great way to make things right.
Hunting Licenses/ Tags
There are lots of licenses and tags needed to hunt. Make sure to store your tags, along with a pen, in a Ziplock bag. Stick a couple of zip ties or rubber bands in there as well for fastening tags to legs, antlers, or ears.
Whether you are hiking into your hunting spot early in the morning, or you are packing an elk out late into the night, a good flashlight is an absolute necessity. Your light should be bright enough for navigating through the pitch-black dark. Make sure to pack extra batteries as well.
I prefer to put my water in reservoirs such as a Camelback or Platypus bag; this means of storing water prevents the sloshing sound associated with water bottles. Since it is not feasible to pack enough water for the entire day, you also need a way to purify water in the field. With any luck, you will drop an elk and require lots of water as you lug your prize off the mountain. With a little less luck, you can get turned around and have to hike much further than you ever hoped to go.
For more information on getting water in the field, read the following GAW articles:
Check back next week for your meat pack gear list!