Oh, The Many Ways to Hunting Camp! Leave a reply
Oh, the many ways to hunting camp!
by Jason Brooks
It seems each year we find more and more hunters in our traditional hunting spots. And so the search for new areas and places to hunt begins. Thanks to the internet and Social Media platforms it can be very hard to find a new place that is void of hunters and rich with game. This is where we need to start looking at “how” we get to hunting camp as a way to get away from the crowds.
The Packable Raft
Over the years I have taken some unique modes of transportation to get away from people and find more game. None more exciting than this past month when my friend Jeff Martin and I decided to cross the Salmon River in Idaho. Now, I have owned a drift boat for well over a decade and have drifted most of the coastal rivers in Washington state so rapids, boulders and swift current isn’t something new to me. But when Jeff said he rented a raft to lighten our load as well as make the drive over two mountain ranges to get to the elk grounds easier I was a bit skeptical. My years of rowing a drift boat taught me to respect rivers and last year my youngest son Ryan had drawn a late cow elk tag in this same region. When we drove along the banks of the Salmon the cold mornings had frozen the flowing waters, creating shelf ice along the edges and ice dams in the calmer waters. Luckily the weather forecast called for mild temperatures during last month’s elk hunt but I still reserved some skepticism about using a blow-up rubber raft to cross the mighty Salmon in the backcountry.
The time finally came to go on our hunt. Jeff picked me up in the early morning hours and it wasn’t until we actually pulled into the pullout along the river that I finally got to see this raft. Jeff had rented it from Matt Harrington, owner of Backcountry Packraft Rentals (406-272-6468), a Montana company that will mail you the raft for your use for a very reasonable fee and when you are done with your hunt you simply mail it back to them. Pulling it from a duffle bag and hooking up the air compressor to the trucks power outlet it was soon inflated and I realized it was “self-bailing” meaning it has holes on the bottom to allow water to drain out of the raft. This is great when running whitewater but not so great when I didn’t have waders. Luckily I packed a dry bag with an extra set of clothes. Crossing the river with our gear first and then coming back to pick up Jeff made it easy. The raft was small but very sturdy and had no problem holding the weight of the gear and guys.
When our trip came to an end the worry started all over again. It had rained for three straight days and the river had come up about two-feet along with increased flows. But paddling across was a breeze and my pre-trip skepticism was for nothing. It might have been my first time using a packable raft but it won’t be my last. And yes, it worked like a charm. Across the river was a mainline Forest Service road with hunters driving up and down it all day long. On our side of the river we never ran into another hunter in 5 days of tromping up and down the mountains and saw elk every day.
Not the commercial airlines where you take a United Flight from Seattle to Denver, as that is a common mode of transportation. I am talking about bush planes. Mostly done in Alaska and Canada but for those seeking adventure in the lower 48 then head to one of the many small towns in central Idaho and fly into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The largest wilderness in the 48 continuous states. The “Frank”, as most call it, is huge and has several public dirt airstrips. I first took a flight into here in 1991 and have gone back 15-times since. Flying out of Cascade, Idaho with G&S Aviation, George Doris is a multi-generational pilot who grew up in the McCall area. When you find a good bush pilot you stick with them, and so George or his brother Mike has flown me into the backcountry ever since that first flight.
You might think that you will be getting away from the crowds, and you are, kind of. In reality you are reaching game rich hunting grounds and if you time it right with the weather then you will have a great hunt. But you won’t find solitude. These airstrips can become little towns during deer and elk season. This is where that packable raft can really be an asset since it only weighed 12 pounds. Another way to get away from the crowds is to utilize a “hot tent” and spike out several miles from the runway. One nice thing about flying in via bush plane is that you know exactly how many hunters are in the area, unlike camping on a designated road where hunters can drive in at any minute.
Some hunters hate hearing the UTV humming along and crossing the ridge in front of them. However, these little “jeeps” are a great way to get into the woods. Last year we were elk hunting my son’s late cow elk tag and daily the guys with the same tag were passing us in the UTV’s. Hard to be mad at them when they have the right to be there just as much as us. This past October while hunting whitetails in northern Idaho a UTV pulled up to talk to us as we hiked along a timber company road. Two older hunters asking if we had seen any deer. As they drove away I was happy to see them out in the woods at an age where most hunters stop hunting. The UTV has its place and once hunters realize this then you begin to accept their role. One added bonus to the UTV is hauling out heavy game such as elk.
Mountain Bikes and E-Bikes
A few years ago a popular elk hunting group called “Angry Spike Productions” put out a series of elk hunting videos. In it you see them access areas on mountain bikes. In the years since it seems I find more bicycle tracks on trails than I do boot tracks. Now with the invention of E-Bikes or pedal-assist bikes the popularity of riding a bicycle into the backcountry is becoming a norm. If you think about it they are a great way to get around in the mountains and is how Rob Endsley and Joey Pyburn covered some ground in Idaho awhile back. Very quiet and easy to use. The E-bike is one way to extend your hunt further from the road or behind gates. In places where you can hunt private timberlands and E-Bikes are allowed the pedal-assist bike will help you get away from the crowds.
There are plenty of other options like taking a helicopter into landlocked parcels of public lands or riding horses into the backcountry. A few years ago I took my 18-foot boat up to the far end of Lake Chelan for the High Hunt and took a nice buck. We ran into a few other guys with their own boats but compared to the trailhead that we normally drive to the area was mostly ours alone. Think “outside the box” when it comes to finding ways to get to hunting camp and you will soon find that you can locate that new area away from other hunters. It might be as simple as crossing a river to access canyons where others can’t get to.
Jason Brooks -Field Editor
The Outdoor Line