If you read Part 1 of Preparing For The Hunt series, then you got some detailed information about how to select your Game management Unit (GMU), how to put in for your tags, and some pre-scouting tactics for an elk hunt.
You can do all of the research you want, but if you don’t have the right gear or take the time to prepare yourself physically, it won’t matter if you snagged that elk. You’re still going to have to field dress and pack it out, and this is where the real work is. Part 1 was all about the brains of the hunt. Part 2 focuses on the brawn to get the job done. You need both.
I’ll start this off with a little disclaimer – I have never packed out an elk myself before. However, I do have 10 years of personal training in my background of professional experience, with a focus on biomechanics. I’ve trained thousands of people for various goals – from losing 100 pounds to training for marathons. I know what your body is going to need to do to hike up a mountain with over 100 pounds of meat on your back.
If you want to do the most bad ass outdoor Crossfit style workout for hunters that I have ever seen, then you need to go check out Cameron Hanes’ website. It’s extreme and this is only recommended for the hunters out there who are already in great shape, and are frankly fitness obsessed. You have to be if you’re going to hike up a mountain side multiple times with a 130 pound rock.
I like this video, as crazy as it is, because it follows my thought process of train for your sport, and train for your terrain. By watching this video you can see what fitness aspects are really important to focus on: leg strength, balance and joint stability (specifically ankles), core strength, and most importantly – endurance.
Now, most of us are not this determined. I don’t think you have to be. You can have a well-developed training program in the gym that works on these aspects in a more balanced (and safe) manner. When I’m not on the trails, then I’m in the gym on the treadmill on high incline for an hour to work on hill endurance and prevent shin splints. You can also do the stair-mill (some people even bring their full packs to the gym to train). I’m also on the trail training for my terrain doing at least a 6-10 mile hike every weekend. As we get closer to hunting season, I’ll load up my pack heavier each week so I’m replicating the sport motions almost exactly.
Ironically, I hate working out in the gym (personal trainer burnout), so you won’t see me doing squats on the squat rack or lunges and deadlifts. I’ll do something similar on the trail instead and focus on functional training, like walking lunges. I’m only in the gym when I can’t get my boots in the dirt on weekday nights or when I’m stuck with poor weather conditions.
I think it’s essential to be hiking regularly if you’re going to hunt. Bill would beg to differ. He’s doing Krav Maga three times a week working on some serious cardio endurance, explosive power, and overall body strength, but no trail time.
Either way, there’s no “couch to elk hunt” program. You have to get out there and move frequently – at least three times a week. Start with hiking first and work on trail endurance. Then find some exercises that work for you that you can blend in. Do it on the trail, do it at home, or do it at the gym – whatever. Because honestly, the best workout is the one that you’re actually going to do.
The best way to pack for a hunt is to start with generous daypacking gear and camping setups and start adding the hunting-specific pieces. Each season is going to require a different set of gear too. We’re going into 3rd season rifle. I was up in Redfeather Lakes on Sunday where there were patches of snow and it was blustery at 10,000 feet while gunshots echoed through the forest. As I write this post now, there’s over 8 inches of snow in the same spot. So, while you always have to prepare for unpredictable Colorado mountain weather, you really have to plan for it all in late season hunts.
This list gets kind of long, and some items can be expensive. We have a saying in our house, “only chumps buy retail.” I have to say that Bill is one of the best bargain shoppers there is out there and we didn’t purchase any of this at cost. I’m pretty sure we’ve saved over $2,000 buy looking for discount codes, coupons, sales, and killer deals. Sierra Trading Post, Cam0Fire, The Cymb, and Amazon have been our hunting gear saviors.
There are two types of gear you’ll need to accumulate: pre-kill and post kill. Pre-kill gear is what you’re going to need to stalk.
- Cammo and hunter orange is a given. Lady hunters – find a stretchy yoga hiking pant material. The regular hunting pants SUCK if you actually want to hike and move around freely. Also remember that cotton kills. Wear wool or poly fabrics and dress in layers.
- You’ll need sturdy worn-in boots, no matter the season – I bought a new pair of Keen boots just for this trip (I needed something warmer and more water-resistant). You’ll need a solid 4-6 weeks of regular break-in time before you hunt.
- Gaiters – You’re going off trail and running through streams and water. Or snow.
- Binoculars or spotting scope – we each have a pair of Bushnell binoculars for glassing. I have a waterproof 8×42 mm pair and Bill has the Waterproof Legacy 10x55mm.
- Binocular harness – these binoculars are heavy and you want them handy instead of in your pack. We have the Bushnell Delux Bino Harness.
- Range Finder – we don’t have one, but we’re making due.
- GPS Unit – another thing we don’t have this year, so we’re going old school with maps.
- Scent elimination products – this is the one thing that will ruin your hunt because elk have a very developed sense of smell. We have spot-wash detergent to launder our clothes, control freak spray, scent-a-way field wipes, Fresh Earth scent wafters, and elk bomb elk urine.
- Windicator – or you can throw some grass in the wind to gauge direction, but this is nicer.
- Elk calls – cow calls and bull bugles. This is a post all on its own, really. But you need these to at least get their attention no matter if it’s during the rut or after.
- Last but not least – a backpack with a frame. I grabbed a new one since I’m going to go on some backpacking trips this summer. Nothing like an excuse to shop for gear!
And let’s say that after all of that, you’re successful in bagging an elk. Now what do you need? Your post-kill gear. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a fantastic video showing everything you need to pack to field dress. The only thing we found that was missing was a tarp to help keep the elk free of dirt. It’s just easier this way. We have the same E-Z saw in the video and then a Havalon knife to quickly change blades instead of sharpening.
That pretty much covers everything that you need to prepare for an elk hunt in Colorado. There’s what you need to know, what you need to have on hand, and what you need to do to get your body ready. I haven’t covered game habit education or tracking, but we’ll go over that in next year’s hunt. For now, it’s all down to some skill and mostly a whole lot of luck!
The next hunting post will be the story of what goes down while we’re out there. Elk or not, I’m sure it will be a great story to tell.