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Author: Chuck Adams
"Stelfox Mountain is one nasty piece of real estate," my friend Duane Nelson told me. "We hunt Dall sheep sparingly across our entire area...but we don't hunt Stelfox at all!"
As I craned my neck to look upward along the flanks of Stelfox, I understood why. This was a small formation by Canadian standards - only eight miles long and five miles wide. That's a mere fly speck on the map of Northwestern Canada's mighty MacKenzie Mountains. But what an imposing fly speck it is!
Duane Nelson has outfitted sheep, moose, and caribou hunters in the Northwest Territories for more than 20 years. His 5,000 square-mile hunting area has produced some truly giant animals, including my current World Record P&Y Mountain caribou. Duane has known for years that Stelfox Mountain harbors large Dall rams, because Stelfox rises directly behind his hunting headquarters. Sheep occasionally appear high above the tents and cabins...huge rams with horns curling well above the nose. But getting to those rams is not an easy task.
Most of Duane's sheep hunting is conducted from horseback, and there's no way to ride or lead a horse up Stelfox Mountain. This ancient granite plug juts up severely on all sides for more than 4,000 vertical feet, with sheer cliffs and shifting rockslides blocking all equestrian travel. Until I came along, no hunting client had ever agreed to scale the mountain on foot and backpack the sheep-rich basins on top. Though casting a shadow on the hub of Duane Nelson's yearly hunting activities, Stelfox Mountain remained an untapped treasure until July, 1995.
That's when I strapped on my old Camp Trails Freighter Frame, complete with Moose Bag, and climbed the mountain with master guide Lane Dyck. After an all-day struggle up talus slopes, eyebrow trails, and sheer rock bluffs, we unloaded our 60-pound packs in sheep heaven. Three days after that, Lane and I were packing out the largest archery Dall sheep Duane's area has ever produced - an 11-year-old monarch with 39-1/2 inch horns. Pure backpacking determination had put us in a place most sheep enthusiasts only dream about.
Take it from me. There is almost no virgin hunting country left in North America. Between landowners, outfitters, and free-lance hunters, virtually every place gets at least a little hunting pressure. The harder a tract of terrain is "hammered", the smaller and younger the animals tend to be. For big, mature trophy game, you must go where hunting pressure is light.
Some North American hunters naively believe that private or far-north locales are automatically hotspots for game. For example, one guy I know bow-hunted Kodiak Island, Alaska just last year. His bush pilot dropped him on a big, beautiful lake in the heart of the island, nearly 50 miles from the nearest road or town. He returned home disappointed, with two sub-standard 3x3 Sitka bucks and a puzzled look on his face. How could remote Kodiak Island, with its swarms of deer, fail to yield large 4x4 or 5x5 bucks?
The answer to this question applies to most public and private ground. For big critters, you must concentrate in lightly hunted, difficult-to-access places. This means either tricky little spots everyone has overlooked, or truly remote and roadless chunks of nasty terrain accessible only by foot.
For the archer in good physical shape, backpack bow-hunting prospects are bright. The same year my pal bombed out on big Kodiak Island deer, I harvested four high-ranking 4x4 and larger Sitka bucks by spike camping several miles from airplane access points. As in most places from California to Connecticut and Arizona to Alaska, animals on Kodiak Island tend to be small and young within easy day-hikes of roads, lakes, beaches, and ocean bays where autos or airplanes can easily go.
The principle here is simple. Most hunters refuse to work extra-hard for game. If you hike over one or more ridge, or climb one more mountain than the rest, you'll suddenly have elbow room galore and larger, calmer critters around you.
For mule deer, blacktail deer, elk, caribou, wild sheep, mountain goat, and other big-country species, backpack bow hunting makes sense. Do your research first to find productive roadless habitat. In my experience, state and provincial game biologists are eager to recommend remote public land where do-it-yourselfers can walk away from the crowds.
If you plan to bow-hunt with a guide, ask about brutal places like Stelfox Mountain...places outside your outfitter's normal sphere of operations. Bigger animals can be the result.
Backpacking is popular today, and great packs, tents, sleeping bags, mess kits, stoves, and other featherweight gear can be found in any medium-sized town. Such equipment can also be ordered through Cabela's.
I prefer a stout, external-frame pack for bow hunting. Such a pack does double duty as I haul in and out the basics for remote camping, and also pack out the meat, hides, and antlers or horns of trophies I bag. Since successful bow hunting is a silent sport, I prefer to day-hunt with a separate fleece fanny pack or compact daypack once I haul my remote gear to a suitable jump-off site.
Where legal to do so, you should remove the edible meat from animals like deer, elk, and caribou before you pack. It makes no sense to carry worthless bones. If you don't know how to de-bone a game animal in the field, ask a butcher for instructions. Generally, it takes me one hour to de-bone a deer, and two hours to de-bone an elk or caribou. From there, it's pure grunt work back to base camp.
You, and only you, can decide which items are essential for your backpack bowhunting adventure. When I walk five or more miles into promising Colorado or Wyoming mule deer country, I carry about 50 pounds of camping and survival gear, dry food, and archery equipment. With excellent tents, ground cloths, and other paraphernalia available from Cabela's, you should never need to tote more than 50 or 60 pounds for a seven-day to ten-day jaunt well away from roads. Some pleasant time spent browsing through catalog pages or online, will give you clear ideas about what equipment you need.
Here's a tip about backpack food. If you want to spend a fortune, buy commercial freeze-dried items. If you like to save money, concentrate on Top Ramen noodles, dried soups and cereals, Nutra-Grain Bars, and other light yet inexpensive products. High-energy trail mix-your own or from a grocery store-cannot be beat as compact hiking fuel. With a tiny backpack mess kit, a campfire or compact white-gas stove, and water heavily boiled to ensure purity, ordinary grocery store foods work great on backpack bowhunts.
Finally, don't make the mistake so many first-time backpackers do. Go light! Select clothing to dress in layers, and never carry more than one extra set. You can hand-wash and line-dry clothes in most remote bow-hunting camps, letting you alternate outfits and maintain hygiene. Unless an item is crucial to your hunt, leave it in the vehicle or base camp. When you become your own pack mule, there's no percentage in lugging extra weight!
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