Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Backpacking With a Rifle – Hunting and The Modern Woodsman

The outdoor community is certainly a fractured one. That is nowhere more evident than in the divide between backpackers and hunters. Earlier I wrote about the concept of the Modern Woodsman, and the attempts I have made to combine different outdoor disciplines into a cohesive set of skills that can be applied by woodsmen in this day and age. Hunting is the furthest outlier. It is the hardest for most people to reconcile with all the other outdoor activities. Many backpackers are also climbers, and even fishermen, but mention hunting at an Appalachian Mountain Club meeting and you will be greeted by eerie silence, or try posting about hunting on Backpacking Light, and watch the ensuing flame war. 

For that reason I have avoided posting anything about the subject on this blog. I know many people dislike the activity, and I am certainly not a big enough hunter to feel the need to write much about it.

At this point however, I have decided to change that. There are a few reasons. For starters, lately I’ve started getting a bit more serious about hunting; not more successful, just more serious. I also want to be able to share some of my hunting trips with you guys without having to avoid the subject. I think there is interesting information that can be seen from hunting trips that can be applicable to backpacking and other outdoor activities, even if hunting is not your thing. Lastly, there has been so much negativity about guns lately that I wanted to try to show a different aspect of that. I want to show that they can be reliable and useful tools in the hands of responsible person, and that they do have a role to play in the outdoors.


Now, hunting is a very large subject, and it is practiced by different people in many varied ways. What I will write about on this blog is related to the type of hunting that can be integrated into my concept of the Modern Woodsman. In particular it is a type of hunting sometimes referred to as backpack hunting.

Hunting, just like buschraft can be done in different ways, and as long as they comply with existing regulations, they are all equally valid, and a matter of personal choice. Here on the eastern coast, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of what I would call day hunting. It involves setting up close to a road or your house, quite often using a tree stand or a blind. It is not unusual for people to maintain a feed plot on the land in order to attract animals to the location. The hunt then consists of going out for the day to the prepared location, hunting, and then returning home. By now you guys know that that is not my style.

The type of hunting that interests me is, and I think fits the concept of the Modern Woodsman is what I referred to above as backpack hunting. It involves traveling on foot deep into the woods, carrying all of your equipment on your back. You then hunt in an area that may be unknown to you, and without any previously made preparations such as tree stands or blinds. If successful, you pack the meat out on your back. Such a trip typically lasts more than a day, and can go on for weeks. Judging by people’s trip reports, this type of hunting seems a lot more prevalent out west. Backpack hunting can also involve opportunistic hunting, where the hunt is not the main objective if your trip. In that context, hunting can be used to supplement resources during a trip, much like fishing or gathering.

The reason why I prefer this style of hunting is that it fits within my concept of the Modern Woodsman, in that it allows me to use it to further my ability to travel deep into the woods over longer periods of time. It also better fits my understanding of fair chase.

Fair chase is a concept in hunting that has some varying interpretations. The underlying factor in it however is the desire to give the animal the chance to beat you. You want the odds to be stacked in such a manner that a kill is never guaranteed. From my observations, animals are not stupid. They like the easy life, just like we do. That is why so often you will see them in populated areas. For every squirrel I have seen in the woods, I have seen several hundred in the city. For every deer I have seen in the backwoods, I have seen several dozen walking in front of my car on the road. For every turkey I have seen in the woods, I have seen a dozen walking through a farm field. And finally, I am yet to encounter a bear in the woods, but I have certainly seen them eat through people’s garbage cans. Animals go where the food is, and where travel is easy. That is typically areas populated by people. I remember Ron White telling a joke about how if hunters want to be successful, they should just invent a bullet with headlights and a loud horn attached to it. That way the deer will just jump right in front of it.

Going deep in the woods to hunt offers an additional challenge, not only because you have to get there, but because the animals are much more rare in those areas (there are species that are an exception) and are certainly less accustomed to people. You are hunting on their ground. While I can’t say that this is a “better” way to hunt, it is the one that appeals to me the most.

Backpack hunting involves some different considerations than other types of hunting mainly because you have to transport your gear deep into the woods. I’ve found that unfortunately, a lot of the hunting industry is not geared towards this type of hunting. The standard seems to be that bigger and heavier is better. While that may be true for more localized hunts, it presents a problem when you are trying to find equipment and techniques for hunting at the end of a three day trip in the mountains. In my hunting related posts I will try to focus on what I have found useful with respect to this type of hunting.

Hunting is certainly not for everyone, nor should it be. People who hunt do it for different personal reasons. When I write about the subject it will not be with the intent of converting people, but simply relaying the information I have managed to find. Also, when I write about hunting, I use the term loosely. You will notice that most of my hunting involves nothing more than me just walking around in the woods carrying a gun.

Which brings me to my last point, I am a horrible hunter, and don’t know much about the subject. Take everything I write about it with a huge grain of salt.

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