I just watched a hunting show on TV where the guide did one of my biggest pet peeves – he dropped his pack before making the final stalk. I know there are many hunters who do this, but I think it is one of the worst choices you can make. I can guarantee EXACTLY what will happen if you drop your pack… that’s right, go back and pick it up! At the very least, it costs you time and effort to return to your pack. At the most it could cost you an animal or your life. Let me give you a couple exampes...
Scenario 1: You’re sneaking up on a big 6x6 bull. His huge back end rocks back and forth as he feeds across the hillside. With just 50 yards to go before the edge of the trees where you can get a clear shot with your bow, you decide to drop your pack. You are one sneaky predator! You make the 50 yards undetected, but by the time you do, the bull feeds just over the hill and his antlers slowly bob out of sight. What do you do now? Should you press on across the open hillside without your pack? Or should you retrieve your pack?
If you move on, you’ll have that much farther to go without your pack, leading into the unknown without your water, your survival gear, your extra clothes, your knives, your GPS, on any of the other tools you carry in your pack. What if you get there and he’s moved over the next hill, and then the next, and then the next? When do you stop to go back?
If you retrieve your pack now, will you miss a shot opportunity as he continues to feed away from you? Will you completely lose track of him? Will you ever find him again?
Scenario 2: After making a pre-dawn climb to your glassing point with your optics, you spot a huge mule deer buck running along the base of a not-too-distant cliff. Did you inadvertently spook him on your way in? He slows to a walk as you focus your spotting scope on him. He’s a great buck, definitely one worthy of the tag in your pocket for this well-known trophy unit. You grab your binoculars, rifle, and rangefinder, and run to intercept him with nothing for warmth but a chamois shirt.
Once you make it around the buck, he somehow gives you the slip, but you know he is right below you so you decide to wait him out. The sun isn’t even up yet, but you’re determined. You sit under a juniper all day, just waiting for the buck to stand. The day only warms a few degrees and there’s a persistent wind blowing. With no coat, you spend the longest, coldest day of your life on the side of the hill. Luckily, when the buck finally shows himself you make the shot, but then your brother, who stayed up on the glassing point with your coat snugly wrapped around his legs all day, piggybacks your pack down to you.
(By the way, this is a true story from my brother’s hunt on the AZ Strip... I was the brother who stayed snug on the glassing hill, not the brother who froze all day! It is one of the personal situations that indirectly taught me the value of always taking your pack with you.)
This scenario turned out okay when my brother shot a monster mule deer, and then my photo of him graced the cover of Trophy Hunter, but my brother still talks about how cold he was that day!
Scenario 3: With a trophy ram bedded just one more ridge away, you stash your pack under the last small pine tree and crawl to the edge. Since the mountain is relatively steep with little curve, the sheep can nearly see you when you crawl so it takes almost an hour to cover 100 yards. Over the hour, the snow really picks up and you can barely see the bedded ram. You wait for the weather to clear, and luckily it doesn’t take long. The ram is in a perfect position for a shot and you make it count—he dies in his bed. You head back to your pack, but slip and roll down the mountain, sustaining a broken femur and a concussion. As you lay at the bottom of the hill with your sheep at the top along with your pack that holds extra clothes, firestarter, survival gear, a satellite phone, and a PLB, you wonder to yourself why did I ever drop my pack? The snow falls gently around turning the world white as you slip off into black…
Obviously, each one of these scenarios could have turned out differently. They each could have had a happy ending without any problems or discomfort at all. However, in hunting as in life, you never know what’s going to happen so why hamstring yourself by requiring that you or someone else return to pick up your pack? You have already determined your pack (and its contents) is important enough to carry otherwise you would have left it at camp. If it is important enough to carry 99% of the time, why not carry it ALL the time? I’ve heard the arguments before: I can’t shoot as well with my pack on (I guess you need more practice), My pack’s too heavy (Get a lightweight pack and take some stuff out of it), I can slip through the brush better with my pack off (Get a smaller pack constructed with quiet material).
I just can’t think of a situation where it is better to leave your pack behind. I feel you should always be thinking forward, not thinking backwards, but by dropping your pack, you are forced to think backwards. On your next hunt, when you are making critical decisions that may lead to success or heartbreak, always pack your pack!
Okay, so I let my friend Matt break my rule when he was hunting mule deer with me, but coming from Ohio, he had never worn a pack in the woods and he had not practiced shooting his bow with a pack on. When he went on a stalk, we agreed that he would feel better without the pack, but guess what? Yep, I had to piggyback it down to him afterwards! I carried the Badlands 2200 on top of the Outdoorsmans Pack.