Tuesday, 6 August 2019

First Hunting Trip and Gear List Part 2: Hunting Essentials

It's summer and we're all looking forward to the upcoming fall hunting season.  Last summer I wrote the first part of a guide for hunting-curious people or new hunters who might be accompanying an experienced hunter into the woods for the first time.  Click here to take a look and read Part 1: Looking After Yourself.

For Part 2, we'll assume you now have a PAL (Possession and Acquisition Licence, ie. gun licence), have taken your CORE course (Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education), and have all the basic skills and equipment from Part 1.


Scenario


So, you've been invited along on a multi-day hunt where the plan is to set up a base camp with wall tents and trailers and strike out daily from there.  What do you need to know and what do you need to bring?

The goal of it all is to have a good time and be invited back.  On the show MeatEater, they call not being invited back OTC, or "Out of The Club".  There are lots of reasons you may become OTC.  Here's some tips on how to avoid that.

Things to Know

 

Committing to the Trip

 

If you're like most of us, you have limited days of vacation per year that you can spend on a hunting trip.  By committing to a trip, it's not just you relying on others, but they are also counting on you.  They may not have invited someone else in favour of taking you. They may have prepared or made special arrangements on your behalf.  They may be counting on your help to deal with logistics.  While flaking out may seem like it's not a big deal to our generation, for a group trip like a hunting trip, flaking can result in serious bad blood.

If you are going to agree to go on a hunting trip with someone then you need to be onboard 100%.  That means you need to prepare for the trip adequately, perhaps physically training, learning about the area and perhaps also procuring the right gear.

Spots, Locations, Campsites are Closely Guarded Secrets

 

The saying "loose lips sink ships" applies to hunting as much as anything.  People and groups guard their spots, locations, and campsite as precious secrets to prevent them from becoming overrun with other hunters.  Finding a good spot to hunt and camp can take years of scouting and trial and error.  If you are being invited to join then the expectation is that you will hold the group's locations secret.  Posting on social media or even telling a close friend the location of a hunt is crossing a line and totally uncool.  Personally, if I am told of a spot, or invited to join a group, I don't even like to say what management unit it is in and I will certainly never take someone there. In fact, if I am going to go hunting with someone, I'll avoid going anywhere near spots that I was shown or told about. 

When I am telling someone about a hunting success and use a vague term like "South of Vanderhoof" some people are very good at effortlessly and casually inserting pointed questions about where exactly and how far along the road with phrases like "Oh yeah, past ####" expecting you'll say yes or no.

If you are "in the club" and have been let in on some prime hunting spots then it is your job to keep those spots a secret, not just for you, but for the group.  I made the mistake of telling people who were camping in the same rec site as our group where I was successful with my first deer and for the next 3 days they hunted my spot.  It was a lesson I learned the hard way and won't make again.

Carpooling and Cargo


Before planning your trip with the group, you should find out who is riding with who and how much space you have for your gear.  If you are sharing a ride with someone it is good to find out early how much space you have for your gear.

Sleeping Arrangements


No one will have any fun if they don't get a good night's sleep.  It's really important to know where you'll be sleeping.  Do you have to bring your own tent? Do you need a cot? Can you just get away with a sleeping bag?  Pro Tip: Bring earplugs, either for yourself or for your tent-mates!

Trip Preparation and Packing


Different groups do things differently.  You may be expected to bring pre-prepared meals to share.  You may have to look after yourself.  You may do a group shopping and have to cook from time to time.  You may have to help pack group equipment.  Ask questions and pull your weight, and then some, if you want to be invited back. Pro Tip: Prepare a tasty dish or dinner for the group.  Everyone likes a good cook!

Know the Current Rules


A few years ago while hanging around the campfire a debate broke out about bag limits, regional vs. provincial, for deer.  There were as many opinions about the rules as there were people around the campfire.  As the newbie of the group, I was pretty sure I had the most recent knowledge from my CORE course the previous year, but rather than make an fool of myself I decided to go get the regulations and read them aloud for the group.  After that, more than a few people were surprised at the current rules.

Rules change from year to year.  Most recently, one of the changes was the rules about evidence of sex and species for deer and ungulates.  Each time the regulations are printed, the changes are highlighted in bold green text, but nevertheless, people often miss the rule changes.  Ignorance of a rule change is not an excuse in the eyes of a conservation officer, so don't put your group-mates in a difficult position by making a mistake because you aren't aware of the current rules.

Meat Sharing


Every group has different practices and traditions when it comes to sharing meat.  Don't expect to keep all of your own meat nor share in anyone else's.  It can lead to a lot of bad feelings if there is a misunderstanding about if/how meat will be shared. It's best to ask the question and sort out any confusion before the trip, or at the very least, before an animal is hanging back at camp.

Cost Sharing


A hunting trip costs money.  It might be fuel, butchering fees, camp consumables, motels on the way, or any number of things.  Make sure you contribute your share, especially if your host is providing a lot of the camping gear.  If you have an opportunity to cover the cost of the wear and tear on a host's gear, you'll certainly endear yourself to them and the group.

Gear Coordination

 

 It's a good idea not to assume that everything is being provided for you.  Ask your group-mates if there is gear that you could bring for the group to use.  It's kind of funny when you show up and everyone has an axe for chopping wood when obviously the group could have shared a couple.  It's frustrating when everyone assumed someone would bring an axe, so no one has one.  Talk with your group about these kinds of things and offer to bring things you have or procure items if you can afford it.

Camp Chores are Not Optional


Well, they are optional if you don't want to be invited back again.  Camp chores involve everything from cutting firewood, preparing meals, cleaning up, doing dishes, fueling vehicles, and much more.  Every group has different traditions and expectations.  If you don't step up, ask how you can help, and volunteer to do more than your share, don't expect to be invited back.

Know the Area


Don't expect to be shown the best spots to go.  If you are lucky the group might point you in the right direction.  If you really want to do your part, use Google Earth to scout the area ahead of time and have an idea of where you want to hunt.  Be sure to communicate your intentions to go and hunt an area each day with the rest of the group so that you're not hunting someone else's area and they know where you are for safety.

Also, it is very important for your own safety to know the lay of the land.  It is a good idea to know which way to hike to find a landmark like a road or creek which will bring you to safety if you get lost.  No one wants to have to perform a search and rescue for the newbie.

Know the Animals 


Be sure to have a solid understanding of your quarry, its habits and the best hunting tactics.  No one likes someone who expects to be hand-held the whole time.

If you are going after an animal that is best hunted with the help of calling, YouTube is great!  I learned how to moose call from YouTube and learned how to use my elk calls from a DVD. MeatEater is also a great source of tips and tricks.  It isn't hard to learn to call and it is impressive if you show up with mad calling skills.

Knowing the animals includes knowing how to field dress and skin the animals in preparation for transport home.  Be aware that there are as many ways to do this as there are people on earth.  Expect experienced people to have strong opinions about the best way to field dress, quarter, and skin game.  Go with the flow and accept advice, but ultimately, with a little practice and advice from YouTube, you'll be better than many of the people you encounter in the bush and likely others in your group.

Dylan from EatWild has put together great videos for field skills such as field dressing and meat care which can be easy accessed through the EatWild app.  I strongly suggest downloading it or signing up for one of his courses.

http://www.eatwild.ca/
   
Also, if you want your butcher to like you, you'll want to do a very good job cleaning every last hair and piece of dirt and debris from the carcass long before it gets to them.  I recommend spending the time on the day you get the animal to make it perfect.  After it is hung and cleaned, use game bags to keep birds, bugs, and tree bark from dirtying your hard won meat.  Obviously watch the temperature and keep the meat cool and in the shade.  If you're worried about your meat, get it to a cooler or butcher ASAP.

Know How to Be Uncomfortable


Steven Rinella says hunting teaches you how to be uncomfortable.  It is often cold, rainy, hot, or tiring to go hunting.  No one wants to deal with your discomfort, so as prepared as possible to cope with discomfort without complaining.  Better yet, be as prepared as possible to minimize your discomfort. Pro Tip: Use Moleskin well before you get a blister.  If you feel rubbing or a hot spot on your foot, stop and deal with it right away!


Keep Your Spirits Up


Everyone who goes hunting wants to be successful in harvesting an animal.  It's only natural to suffer a decline in moral when things don't go to plan. However, that's no excuse for moral to drop so low that it ruins the trip.  The best advice I ever received was to go out into the woods with the mindset that you're there to practice and improve the many skills of hunting, and that just seeing an animal, let alone shooting one, is just a bonus.

It's better to see success in improving your ability to climb a ridge quietly, keeping the wind in your face, glassing, or remaining patiently still, than focus on whether or not you saw an animal or sign. If you improve your abilities as a hunter the animals will end up in front of you eventually.

Nevertheless, after days of not seeing animals, there are times when you need to take your mind off your quarry to get a fresh perspective and renew your resolve to hunt hard.  This is when it's great to have a .22 LR along with you so that you can go after some grouse that you may have seen while driving to a trailhead.  Alternatively, you might spend a morning fishing as a change of pace.  Often, the high tempo reward of a side hunt, or some good fishing, can lift the spirits of even the most frustrated hunter. 

Nail the Social Game

 

It may seem obvious, but being fun to hang out with is part of the experience of a group trip.  No one likes a complainer or a braggart.  No one likes a know-it-all or someone overly opinionated. It's annoying when someone over-indulges in booze or other substances and makes the evening around the campfire less enjoyable for others.  Be yourself, but make sure to be the best version of you. When in doubt, showing humility and holding back a little is better than talking big and being obnoxious. 

Be Present; Leave the Phone Alone


Most people go hunting to get away from it all, catch up with old friends, make new ones, and experience nature.  There is nothing more annoying than someone who spends more time on their phone than hanging out with the group around the campfire.  If your significant other is needy, tell them that you'll be out of cell phone coverage and turn your phone off.  Short of a death in the family, don't expect the group to go home early just because your significant other is getting lonely.  You're there for the experience, so experience it.

Be Ready to Hunt


It kind of goes without saying, but make sure you have the required licence and tags, physical fitness, and expect to get up very early, spend the whole day hiking or hunting, possibly alone, and have a mental plan of what to do when you see a legal animal.  Make sure you are ready to hunt, both mentally and physically.


Things to Bring

 

Tags

 

While it may seem obvious, people often forget to get their tags.  With the current rules, you need ALL OF YOUR TAGS FROM THE CURRENT SEASON, EVEN CANCELLED ONES, NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE HUNTING!

There is nothing more annoying than someone wanting to stop on the way to pick up a tag or worse yet "shoot on your yag".  Don't be that guy or gal who inconveniences people with an unnecessary stop along the way to get tags you should have bought weeks or months ago, or worst of all, makes everyone uncomfortable with a request that is illegal. 

Firearm or Bow


Be sure you have firearm or bow that you know inside out, backwards and forwards, and in your sleep.  You should be so well practiced that if you see a legal animal that is within range and not moving, it shouldn't be a question whether or not you can take it.  Come prepared with an abundance of practice.

Choosing a rifle is not easy.  Check out the post about choosing a rifle.  I am sure choosing a bow is even more challenging, but I don't have any experience with that.

Binoculars


It is both illegal and unethical to point your rifle at something until you are certain it is a legal animal to hunt.  It is critical that you have decent binoculars to identify game.  A 10x magnification is more than adequate.  I strongly suggest you choose something with a good warranty.  Also, it is a good idea to get a binocular harness to keep your binos close at hand and reduce the pull on your neck.  I use Vortex Diamondback 10x and an Alps Outdoorz bino harness.
Vortex Diamondback 10x42mm, $350 Cabelas.ca

Alps Outdoorz Bino Harness $70 amazon.ca

Sleep System


A "Sleep System" is a fancy term for sleeping bag and mattress.  If you aren't sleeping well you'll have a miserable hunt.  It is far better to be too warm than too be cold.  If you are sleeping in a wall tent or trailer, it is a good idea to assume that the heat will die out during the night.  If there is a wood stove and a guy over 50, then you are likely to have someone who will feed the stove throughout the night when they get up to pee, but don't count on it.

If you are going hunting in the fall or winter, you can expect sub-zero temperatures.  The rating of a sleeping bag is typically 10 degrees C colder than is comfortable.  If you expect it to be - 5 C, you'll want a -15C bag to really feel comfortable. If you are doing backpack hunting, a low temperature sleeping bag that is light weight can be very expensive, but if you have the luxury of space in a truck for a large and heavy bag, it is not very expensive to get a -30C bag for wall tent/trailer hunting.

It is important to also point out that there are a lot of strong opinions about down vs. synthetic sleeping bags.  Generally down is more expensive and lighter than synthetic, but the downside with down is that it loses its insulative properties when it gets wet or packs down.  Down relies on "loft" which is a fancy term for fluffiness.  Moisture immediately eliminates loft, while even normal use slowly decreases it as the down packs together more tightly until you can put it in the dryer to fluff it back up.  Synthetic bags are heavier and bulkier, but keep you warm even when moist and don't suffer from a loss of loft.  

Pro Tip: If you have the space, bring an extra sleeping bag.  A spare sleeping bag doesn't have to be special or even very good, but I have been on several trips where after a day or two you find out that one of your friends is really cold at night and sleeping poorly.  Lending them a second bag to double up with will make you a friend for life.  On the other hand, if you need it for some reason then it's there.

-29C Ascend Whammy from Cabelas $180. Better for backpacking.  Takes up less room, but more restrictive while sleeping.

-29C Outfitter XLFrom Cabelas $230.Great when space is no issue.  Lots of room to sprawl out.


If you are in a trailer, it is likely that you'll have a mattress provided. In a wall tent you'll likely need a cot and perhaps a mattress.  It is actually more important to have good insulation on your mattress than above you.  As a mattress and sleeping bag compresses it loses its insulative properties.  It is actually the air which trapped by fluff that provides the insulation.  It is just as important to have a good mattress as it is to have a good bag.  If you are sleeping in a cot or on the ground, get the highest R-value mattress you can find.  R values from 4 to 6 are for below freezing.

Klymit Insulated Static V Sleeping Pad $100, R4.4
Cabelas Outfitter XL Cot $150

Communication


It is not a bad idea for beginners to bring a couple radios and give one to your closest hunting buddy.  Have a protocol such as that you'll turn it on after dark if one of you hasn't come back to camp or if you hear a shot.  Some waterproof radios for under $100 will serve you well.

Bear Spray


You may think that your rifle is the best bear defence there is.  Studies suggest bear spray can be as much as three times more effective in deterring a charging grizzly than a firearm (over 90% effective vs. around 30%).  Think about it.  Let's say that you have maybe 4 or 5 rounds in your rifle and a grizzly comes out of nowhere charging at you.  First, you have to decide if you are trying to kill the bear or scare it off with the noise.  If you feel like you have the time to scare it off, then you're using up both time and one of the rounds.  When a grizzly charged my father in law, the first shot made it charge faster.

Then, if you deciding to attempt to kill the bear, you need to aim and fatally shoot the bear.  Bears often don't charge in a straight line and in all likelihood, you have time for one, maybe two shots.  How confident are you that you will hit it in the central nervous system (brain or spine) and drop it in its tracks?  Even a heart or lung shot will still give the bear several minutes of life to maul you.   That is why the research suggests it is much less successful than bear spray.  Last of all, even if you are successful, you now need to report yourself to the conservation officers and prove your life was in danger to justify your actions in self defence.  All that said, if you make the decision that trying to kill a charging bear is your only option then keep shooting until you finish the job.


From the recent bear safety presentation at a BHA Region 2 Pint night, we were told that once the bear is down, don't approach it.  Check yourself for injuries, reload your rifle, compose yourself, take photos of the area and write down what happened and why you were justified in self defence.  Only after you are confident that the bear has expired, should you consider approaching the bear.  Follow the latest regulations for what to do if you have shot an animal in self defence or by accident.  If it says to field dress the animal and preserve the hide and meat, do so, and report the incident to a conservation officer in accordance with the rules.  An investigation will likely follow and they will likely look for holes in your story as part of a reason why you may be lying.  If you have acted in self defence and documented what happened it is less likely that you will face prosecution for unlawfully killing an animal.

Bear spray, on the other hand, is only useful if sprayed as a fog or cloud between you and a charging bear. Check out this video from Parks Canada for guidance for how to use bear spray.  Make sure it is easily accessible in a holster on either your hip or front backpack straps.  Bear spray will not help you if it is inside your pack or in a difficult to reach pocket.  If a bear charges, you will have scarce seconds to react, so you will want it within reach.  One nice thing with bear spray is that you don't have to be as accurate with the bear spray since it makes a cloud of deterrence between you and the bear.  You're more likely to be able to put the fog in between you and the bear than you are likely to fatally hit the bear with a bullet. 

 

Snacks, Food, Booze and Supplies


Everyone has to eat, drink and answer the call of nature.  Generally speaking, eating and drinking is a social event back at a hunting camp.  People tell stories, exaggerate (lie haha!), and tease each other to pass the time around a campfire.  Whether or not you drink, many of the other people will be drinking and so it's a good idea to have your own beverages or snacks along for the evenings.  Snacks also play a significant role in keeping up the moral when you are away from camp, cold, wet, tired, or just feeling down from seeing no animals.

Make sure you always have a toilet roll and Wet Ones in your pack and around camp when nature calls.  Trust me, Wet Ones are just friggin' magic for spending time in the bush without a shower.


Bonus

There are some things you can do to really help your chances of getting invited back.

Camp Skills

 

If you know how to chop wood and make fire and you take initiative in the mornings and evenings to get the fire going and have split wood on hand for the campfire and stoves you'll be very valuable to have around.

If you know how to use a chainsaw that can also be a valuable skill to share the load of gathering wood.

Knots

 

Some people think that "If you can't tie knots, just tie lots,".   As a former sailing instructor, that makes me sick to my stomach.  There are only two knots anyone really needs to know to get by.  Everyone should know how to tie a Bowline (pronounced boh-lin) and the Half Hitch. With these two knots you can set up a game pole, hoist game, and lash down or haul anything.


Vehicle skills


If you are using ATVs, trucks, snowmobiles, horses, or boats, it is great if you have experience in the operation and finesse the various modes of transport.  It is a great idea if you know how to drive in snow and ice, while towing a trailer, in poor conditions, using a manual transmission, operation of outboards and inboards, and possibly even how to ride a horse.  Knowing your way around the various modes of transport can come in very handy.

Generators


Being able to operate and maintain generators can come in very handy.

Cooking


Being able to whip together a fantastic meal from limited ingredients and improvisation skills will endear you to most groups. 

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