This hunt began, as many hunts do, as a day dream many years ago. For as long as I’ve been hunting I have been thinking about how awesome it would be to wander up the side of a mountain and return with a bighorn sheep on my back, one of the most prized hunting trophies in North America.
One day while at work, I concocted some excuse to get away from the rig and go to the nearest town. While in town, I noticed they had an outdoor shop. Since it was late in the summer I figured the new hunting regulations booklet might be out so I went in and luckily they were kind enough to give me a copy. I thumbed through it as I always do, checking species and dates against the various WMUs (Wildlife Management Units) that my friends and family lived on. One thing kept popping up in the corner of my eye: 410, archery only. There was just an amazing amount of wildlife available for hunting in this seemingly mythical 410, and it was all archery only. I investigated further and found that it was a small chunk of mountain near Canmore. It was set, this was now the plan.
I booked two weeks off work, one at the end of October for the mountains, and one at the start of November for deer season near home or possibly to stay longer in the mountains if I was just having too much fun. I realized early on that the very few people in my friend group who were interested in accompanying me weren’t going to be able to find the time. So this would be a solo hunt. People have done solo hunts for as long as people have hunted, so why can’t I?
I began planning, prepping, and buying. Lordy, did I buy a lot of gear. I finally cracked and bought a properly insulated hunting suit. Previously I had just layered a lot of old jackets and hoodies etc. Now I had proper base layers, hiking poles, a GPS unit, and a personal locator beacon (so I could call for help if needed). A friend of mine was kind enough to lend me his food dehydrator and give me a crash course on how to use it. I spent days dehydrating and packing meals based on his award winning combinations (1/2 cup of starch, , 1/4 cup of veggies, and 1/4 cup of proteins). The meals I concocted were mostly 1/2 cup of rice or quinoa with 1/4 cup of bell peppers or broccoli and 1/4 of salmon (please note these portions are measured out after dehydration). From there, all I had to do was add in 1 cup of water bring the whole thing to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. Let it cool and its ready to eat.
After dehydrating and testing the food, I partitioned the meals into plastic freezer bags which were then put into larger plastic bags along with everything else I intended to eat on each day. In each pack I had two packages of instant oatmeal, two tea bags, a few granola bars for lunches and snacks throughout the day, and a dehydrated meal for dinner.
Next I packed my bag for the trip, I brought a lot of gear, but it was all things that I felt were essential (this is everything I can remember packing):
1 65L Internal frame backpack
2 Buffs (one to wear as a toque while sleeping and one to wear while out hunting)
1 spotting scope and tripod
1 two person tent
1 down sleeping bag and liner
1 emergency bivy
2 sets of base layers (one pair for sleeping in)
1 fleece jacket and pants (mid layers)
1 two-piece hunting suit
1 pair of hunting boots
3 pairs of wool socks and boxer brief under pants
2 pairs of gloves that can be worn over each other if it gets too cold
2 hiking poles
1 water filter
2 maps of the area (one topographic and one showing the hunting/no hunting areas)
1 GPS emergency beacon
1 can of bear spray
1 folding saw (for cutting branches and/or bone)
1 hunting knife
1 range finder
1 pair of 10x binoculars and harness
1 deck of cards (for entertainment purposes)
Spare batteries for all electronics (4 AAA and 2 AA)
2 old tobacco tins filled with fire starter (dryer lint and Vaseline mixed together)
1 basic first aid kit
1 stick of scent free deodorant
1 tooth brush and tooth paste
1 roll of flagging tape
1 trowel and roll of toilet paper
1 tomahawk (lighter and more versatile that a hatchet, plus I can say I own a tomahawk and my inner child likes that idea)
1 cook stove and cooking pot
2 fuel canisters for the stove
2 disposable lighters
handful of strike anywhere matches
1 pack of game bags (cheese cloth to help transport meat down the mountain, if I get lucky)
50 feet of para-chord (just handy stuff)
20 feet of nylon rope (also very handy)
1 bow sling to attach the bow to my pack
1 trigger release
2 water bottles
7 day’s worth of food
1 mp3 player and 1 cell phone (I have music and books on both and according to the sunrise/sunset tables I was facing about 14 hours of darkness a day)
While I was prepping for the trip I asked anyone I could think of for advice and tips. Very few people had much to say, but a few common themes emerged. First, good boots are a must, and second, hunt from the top down. Simply put, get to the highest peak and look below, because very few animals bother to look for danger from above.
I also did some incredibly brief scouting of the area when Erin and I were headed back from our Yoho trip. All we had time to do was find the trail head. I figured that would be enough since I had done so much hiking in the mountains before. The trail was described as “a dried river bed” so naturally I assumed it was relatively flat with a bit of an upward grading.
It was Saturday, and I knew I had to be back the following Friday because I had myself booked for laser eye surgery the following day. Now was the best chance I was going to get. My plan was simple, drive from my house in Edmonton to the trail head near Canmore, spend the night in my SUV, and hit the trail first thing in the morning.
It was a long drive and I daydreamt most of the way there. The closer I got to the trail, the more excited I got. Finally I arrived and went to bed, but sleep didn’t come easily due to nervous excitement, and a rather active set of train tracks nearby.
The next morning I awoke with the sun. I called Erin and chatted with her while I got changed and organized to hit the trail. I suited up and hit the trail. The temperature was about 5 degrees which was perfect; I didn’t want to overheat during the hike.
The trail was a pleasant dirt path through the trees that slowly transformed into a river bed of rubble all about the size of apples. The walking was rough and slippery, but I had hiking poles and big feet (size 14), so it wasn’t too bad. Gradually the trail started to get worse; it was no longer a gentle river bed, but appeared to be more of an old rock slide. After a few hours I stopped for a rest and a snack break. I surveyed the area. It was a beautiful rocky trail framed by cliffs, many of which had eye bolts and climbing ropes hanging off them. Looks like fun, but I don’t like heights.
I was becoming aware of my stomach starting to hurt, I took a large swig of water and passed a bit of gas… a second later I turned around and there was an older gentleman standing 30 feet behind me and I jumped.
“Sorry” he said “I thought you heard me walk up.”
“Nope, you scared the bejesus out of me” I laughed.
We made some casual conversation and he mentioned he was only doing a day hike. He wished me luck and headed off at a much faster pace than my pack and I could achieve. I hiked for another few hours, and the trail continued to worsen. At this point it, was similar to walking over a line of cars in a junk yard, the hard way. I stopped for lunch, admired the beauty of the area, and sent in a check in with my locator beacon. I then whipped out my GPS and compared it to my map.
According to my GPS, I had hiked about 1/4 the distance I had intended to hike that day. The landscape, my pack, and my physical condition were forcing me to go substantially slower than expected, a rough estimate is about 1 to 2 km/hr. Usually in the mountains, Erin and I average about 4 km/hr. This was disheartening because my intention was to haul out anything I shot over several trips since I was alone and had a smaller than usual pack.
Typically an external frame pack is used for hunting because they can haul more weight, but I just couldn’t afford one for this trip. I did the math, and if a one way trip in or out took an entire day, that meant shooting an animal would take about 8 days to haul out, I had 5 days total to hunt. At this rate anything I shot ran the risk of being left behind to spoil, and I wasn’t willing to lower myself to wasting meat like that. No trophy is worth my integrity.
After lunch, I decided to press on for a bit to see if the trail got better. Worst case, I could still hike, camp, and scout around a bit for next year. I had my camera, maybe I could get some good wildlife photos with it. A short while later, I ran into the older gentleman again. He was on his way back. Excitedly I asked “did you go all the way to the end?” if he made it in that time I could easily make it before dark.
“No” he replied “the trail got too difficult, so I turned back.”
“I’m thinking of doing the same” I confessed.
We chatted a bit, and I told him my plan to hike a bit farther and have a look for myself, he wished me luck and was off.
I wandered for about another 45 minutes on the worsening trail. I had now lightly rolled both my ankles multiple times, but it could have been a lot worse. Those hiking poles were a life saver. Finally, I reached where the maps had shown streams draining into the trail on which I was walking. Maybe they could offer a side track to a closer camp site I could hunt from. I was wrong. When I found them, they more closely resembled water falls than rivers, walking up their dried beds would make the rest of my hike look like a casual stroll on the boardwalk.
I pulled off my pack and had a seat to think. I drank some water and looked at the snow coming in and pulled my Buff a little higher on my neck to keep the cold wind off. I pulled out my camera and took a few pictures of the mountains, then I grabbed my GPS and marked the spot as “Tyson’s Shame”. I was turning around, and I wanted to remember this spot when I hike passed it next time. I ate a granola bar; it tasted like failure, embarrassment… and peanut butter.
I loaded my pack on, propped myself up with the poles, and slowly trudged down the mountain. Going downhill was only slightly better than uphill. It was a long and sad walk back to the start of the trail, but it gave me time to reflect on where I went wrong. All the failings of this attempt had completely been my fault.
The first failure was improper footwear. I was told to get specific mountaineering boots with way more ankle support than you’d ever think necessary. The experienced man who suggested them compared them to ski boots. I thought my high topped insulated hunting boots would be fine, but they lacked the ankle support. Days after the hunt I went and looked at a set of the “right” boots. They were about half the weight, and with all my strength I couldn’t bend the ankle sideways.
The second failure was the pack. I brought a 65L internal frame pack, great for hiking, backpacking, and travelling, but for hunting you need the added size (usually 100+L) and rigidity of an external frame. This would have allowed me to haul out a sheep in a single trip, meaning I could take even two days to hike in or out and it wouldn’t have mattered much.
The last and (if you ask me) most important issue was that I just wasn’t in good enough shape. I’m no stranger to mountains and heavy packs, but this trail was something beyond my skill level, and it’s a whole other league of fitness to do it with heavy hunting boots and insulated clothes on.
When I finally reached my truck in the parking lot, I stripped out of my clothes and felt light enough to jump over the truck, but tired enough to have trouble opening the door. I packed my gear away and called Erin and my dad to let them know I had to pull the plug and that I was coming home. Erin was sad to hear it, she knew what this trip meant to me. My dad offered his condolences and offered me several reasonable excuses: it’s a hard thing to do alone, hard to do late in the season, it’s your first time doing it, etc.
While some of those things are true, there is only one reason why this hunt failed. This hunt failed because I was unprepared, plain and simple. I was offered advice and I didn’t take it. I am now working out every day, and when I go back I’ll be sure to have the right gear. I’m not done with mountain hunting just yet.
Since writing this story I have had time to talk to a few hunters who can easily be described as older and wiser than me. They have unanimously agreed that I learned a lesson about hunting the only way one can really learn about hunting, first hand experience. They can tell you everything they know, but it won’t stick until you go out and do it. Achievement or failure I am still glad to have had this experience I feel I did learn a lot. I was also recently reminded of how lucky I was to have the lifestyle that allows me to at least try and go hunting in the mountains, or even to visit the great Canadian Rockies. And hey, there’s still time left for white tail season at home, where I can sleep in a nice warm bed in a heated house, eating actual meals… I dont think I could ever get tired of that.
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