Lessons Learned

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This story starts at the end of the 2010 elk hunting season. It was my first year of bow hunting. I went home empty handed but had a few chances at some bulls.  But being new to the whole archery thing I blew a chance and the wind blew a couple more. During the months prior to hunting season I became fascinated with the idea of going on a backcountry hunt. I bought Cameron Hanes’s book Backcountry Bow hunting and read it front to back 3 or 4 times. I already had the season planned out so my back country adventure would have to wait.

Let’s fast forward a little bit. It’s now the spring of 2011 and the Oregon draws are complete and I didn’t draw any of the tags I put in for. At this point I decided this would be the year of my adventure. I tried to recruit my dad and brother to go with me. After about 3 months my dad decided he could not do a hike in backpack hunt due to bad knees. My brother on the other hand committed pretty fast. I have been buying and collecting everything I would need for this type of hunt. Our plan was to head towards are normal hunting grounds in eastern Oregon and pack into some pretty remote country. We were pumped and really looking forward to it. Well a few financial snags later neither of us could save enough money for fuel and food for the trek across the state. We decided to hunt a bit closer to home in the Cascade Mountains. I spent most of the summer looking at maps and scouting different areas we could go. The only down side to hunting in the Cascade’s was the Elk are scattered and very hard to find. I finally found an area we should go. It was a 4 mile hike from the trail head and it was very remote.

Time flew by and it was now September 15th. We were all packed up and rearing to get into the Mountains. Here is where our inexperience with backcountry knowledge bit us. In all of our excitement we way over packed so our target weight of 50 pound pack’s were more like 80-90 pounds. At this point it was too late. We strapped on the packs and headed down the trail. It was now raining on us and so foggy we could only see about 100 feet ahead of us. I think we made it about 100 yards down the trail before we need to stop for our first of many breaks. I think we thought we were in better shape than we really were. The only nice thing was the trail was a gradual downhill. Our plan was to hike down the trail 3 miles and then hike 1 mile off the trail to a couple secluded lakes I found on the maps. The only problem was with the fog we couldn’t see down in the basin where the lakes were and from the ridge it looked pretty steep, and with the extra weight on our backs we didn’t dare go down and end up getting stuck. So plan B came into play. At the end of the trail was another lake so we just decided to head down to it. By the time we made it to the rim of the lake we were tired and sore. We had a 800 foot ¾ of a mile decent left and we only had about 30 minutes of daylight left. And just as it was getting dark we made it to the shores of the lake and quickly set up camp and tried to find some dry wood for a fire. After the fire was going and camp was set we were finally there. I have never been so tired in my life! We made up some dinner then I wanted to throw out a bugle to see if we could get any response. No such luck but oh well I was tired and went to bed. Morning came early, and with more than half the weight unloaded out of my pack we headed up the ridge behind the lake. We found deer tracks everywhere within 100 yards from camp. Our hopes were high at this point. We also found a few Elk tracks so things were looking good. We got to an opening to break and I let out a bugle. We waited for a few minutes with no response. I let out another one. We thought we heard a bull call back but it was very quiet. After 3 more hours of hiking and glassing we went back to camp. On our way down we ran into the main trail that we took the day before and 50 yards from camp we saw a set of elk tracks walking right down the trail. They were fresh as they were not there the day before on our hike in. Our hopes and spirits were very high. We followed them to within 10 yards of our tents and then they headed straight up to where we just came from. Well we had some lunch and looked around camp and found some chicken wire. We went down to the lake and it was straight out of a post card. I have never seen water so clear before. While looking in the water we saw fish swimming and crawdad’s walking around. We had the great idea of making a trap out of the chicken wire. After about ten minute we had the trap made and baited it with some beef jerky. We attached some rope and tossed it in the lake. By now we have wasted enough time so we went back to hunting. After some long hikes and long glassing we saw or heard nothing else that day. That night while we were sleeping I woke up to noises. I’m not sure what kind of animal it was but there was something walking around our camp. The next morning we woke up to voices in the distance. They got closer as time went on and finally 3 men came walking down the trail to use the lake for some fishing. These guys have been fishing the lake for years and were familiar with the area. After talking to them for a bit and got some bad news about the deer and elk population in the area due to bears and cougar in the area. We decided to pack out of the area 2 days early before another rain system came in. We ended up going to an area we have hunted several times for the remainder of our trip with no luck. Let me tell you that pack out was a pain in the everything.

Here are some of the things I learned in my first backcountry wilderness hunt. Don’t over pack your bag. More than half the stuff I thought I would need I didn’t. I brought 4 fuel cells for my stove not knowing how efficient it was. I could have gotten by with just 1. Make sure you’re in top shape when trying to pack into the backcountry. Also make sure you scout a bit more and make sure there is game where you plan to hunt. Although I came home empty handed again I learned a lot about myself and what is needed for a wilderness hunt. I also became better at glassing. And have a Plan B. My brother and I still had a great time and I wouldn’t trade that time with my brother for anything. Now I have a late season deer hunt to look forward to. Hopefully I will have a successful harvest story to write about then.


BikerRN's picture

First Year

It sounds like you had a first year similar to mine in that we both learned a lot.

As I delve more and more in to hunting I'm finding how little I know but also how much I enjoy it. Your story was a great, and very pleasurable, read. Thank you for that. If you ever want to travel down south to hunt Coues Deer let me know and I'll do what I can to assist you. 

From reading your story I know that hunting them is vastly different than hunting where you are hunting now. 


Ca_Vermonster's picture

Hey Josh, it's funny going

Hey Josh, it's funny going back and reading this after seeing that you finally got your first with a bow.  All those lessons you learned from each and every trip you have taken, all came into play.  It shows that if you work hard and keep at it, you will be successful.  Now, maybe if i can just get my first. ;wink:

Very good tips, and write-up.  Lots of good advice there! Thanks.

groovy mike's picture

You have the right attitude about your hunts.

Numbnutz – you have the right attitude about your hunts. You are enjoying the experience whether you fill a tag or not and you are learning from them. I think that is about the most that any of us can hope for. Filling a tag with elk or deer or anything else is a bonus that we have little control over. As you found out – God controls the wild and He decides whether there will be game in the area or not and if it comes our way. The very best we can do is shade the odds to take advantage of whether the animals show up within view and what happens after that. 

Nothing makes a hunt better than sharing it with people who you want to be with. It is awesome when those people can be family members to share the experience with too. I really like that you were able to make the hunt still happen even when plan A and plan B fell through. You found alternate hunting areas and campsites and just plain didn’t give up. Good for you! Over packing is something that we all do. If it is any consolation – over packing is better than under packing. Better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it! But it is amazing how little you actually need to survive for a couple of days if you are willing to rough it. Eventually I think most of us figure out that balance between what we can carry and what we want to have with us for comfort. Some guys go super light and love being in the back country. Others decide that they camp only where a truck can go and then the rest of us are in between. 

You definitely did some things RIGHT since you saw fresh tracks and both of you came home uninjured and without getting lost. That is a major plus. Good luck on your upcoming hunts. Definitely write up your successes and share them with us. I feel like we have just read the opening chapter to a great hunting story. God willing, this experience was just setting the stage for reading about your successful hunts ahead!  

I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.

SGM's picture

Nutz, sounds like you still

Nutz, sounds like you still had a great time with your brother even if you did not get an elk and ended up sore the next few days. I have always wanted to do a deep pack in hunt but never have had the chance. Still want to do it but now I think it will be on horse back rather than on my back. The lake sounds great and the photos are really nice. That is some great looking country for sure. I know what you mean about packing to much stuff. Seems I do it on every trip I take. I guess the thought is if I have it I can use it but if I do not have it I cannot use it. Cool story and thanks for sharing.

Retired2hunt's picture

  Great hunting adventure you


Great hunting adventure you shared here numbnutz!  I was feeling your pain... as I had done that myself 4 years ago.  I took my son out for our first elk hunt.  We definitely overestimated the amount of gear we would need.  2.5 miles into the armed hiking adventure we were exhausted.  When we finally finished our hunt we were physically so wore down from hiking with those packs that we just sat there for about an hour before we had enough energy to move.  I was actually thankful for not harvesting an elk during that hunt as we would have taken probably another 12 to 18 hours getting it out.  We have learned much from that hunt as you did and have made our hunts more efficient so we can focus on the hunt rather than trying to take that next step.

You wrote the story well as I could imagine the scenes in my mind as I read.  I wish you and your brother were able to harvest an elk... but the time and memory created is also what hunting is all about.

Did you ever catch any fish in that homemade trap out of chicken wire?

Great story of your hunt and wish you success on your late deer hunt!


numbnutz's picture


Thanks, I learned alot about what is needed and what is not. We did catch 5 crawfish that my brother cooked up that night to eat, I'm not a fan of crawfish so I stuck to my Mt house meals. We had a blast but was sore for about 4 days after wards. I had my gps on while we hiked around and when it was all said and done we put 32 miles on foot. luckily only 9 of those miles were with all the weight on our backs. we would go about 1/4 at atime and rest for about 10 minutes then chug along. I'm looking forward to my deer hunt as I'm going a bit stir crazy. I'm going to help my dad on his elk hunt Nov 12-15 then my deer hunt stars the 19th so it's coming up soon.

jaybe's picture

  I'm thinking that you

  I'm thinking that you really did yourself a great favor by using the occasion of NOT having a tag to go through a "dry run". You titled this "Lessons Learned", and that is certainly the case. You learned many valuable lessons that cannot be learned any other way except to actually experience them for yourself.

  As was already said, if you had an elk tag and actually got one, your difficulties would have been multilplied over those you already had. You now have the great advantage of this experience for when you do get a tag - - and I hope it's real soon!

  Thanks for the story and the great pictures. You told it well.


numbnutz's picture


Thanks for the great comments, I did have a deer and elk tag in my pocket for this hunt. Looking back I'm glad I didn't have the chance to shoot one.