What will ruin your next hunt?

A quick overview of things to consider in the offseason.

20180513_125309.jpgAlright, GO!  Lack of preparation, lack of skill, misunderstanding the terrain, misunderstanding your quarry, poor woodsmanship, lack of mental toughness, poor physical conditioning, equipment failure, laziness?  How about several of those problems, to some degree. I like to consider it a “smattering” of inefficiencies, and it’s basically my list of focus points.  Maybe this list of issues could simply fall under the heading of “A Lack of Honest to Oneself”.  I have gone into more than one hunting or backcountry situations (or daily life situations, really) feeling totally prepared, at least until I reached the point where I realized I was totally unprepared.  It can have real consequences, too.  I almost missed out on a great bull on my first backcountry solo hunting trip, simply because I had not given enough consideration to my mental conditioning.  Prior to the hunt, a week without human contact or personal interaction was not something that I expected to have any trouble with.  As it turned out, the solitude was miserable, and I chose to end the hunt a couple days early.  I lucked out by filling my tag the morning I had decided to pull out and head for home.  If it weren’t for luck, all those months of preparation for the hunt may not have added up to much more than a very long and drawn out learning experience.  Prior to that hunt, I had considered myself a rather socially independent and stoic person, but I had to immediately reevaluate my condition.

Preparing for a hunt should be fun (mostly).  But what happens when that sensation of enjoyment gives way to feelings of tedium, or futility, or obligation?  There is a lot of talk of “focus” while on the hunt, but I believe most of the focus begins during the summer well before you head out in the fall.  I’m going to hit on some more specific elements in the next couple weeks, but here are a couple overarching thoughts to put in the old brain bank for next time you’re prepping for the early season.

Know yourself, and be honest with yourself.  Not many people realize this little secret, but the beauty of being honest with yourself… is that it doesn’t require you to be honest with others!  You can still talk a big game to your buddies and partake in all the obligatory self-aggrandizing!  Believe me, this is something I know very well.  But all half-joking aside, it is a lot harder to make improvements if you don’t start with a solid understanding of your own limitations.  Sometimes you have to challenge your own beliefs and self-image to improve.  Truly acknowledging your limitations and weaknesses can be tougher than it sounds.

Aim for skilled balance.  We have a finite amount of time each day, so focus on the weak points that will bring you the most improvement.  Don’t fall into a trap of focusing on one thing and honing it down to perfection, while neglecting other areas.  An example would be archery skills.  I know a lot of guys that want to deck out their equipment to the point where they can stand at the range and shoot a golf ball-sized group at 60 yards, when grouping a paper plate at 60 yards is plenty accurate for hunting deer-sized animals or larger.  If you’re trying to reach perfection, you’ve likely reached a point of diminishing returns, and it may be time to look for other areas where you may have more glaring weaknesses.  Maybe focus on draw hold time, quick shots, shooting while winded, shooting on cross-slopes, or put the bow down and pick up your pack for a scouting trip to the woods.  Focus energy on the weaknesses, and you’ll find more success.

What do you hate to work on?  Do that one first.  I kind of alluded to this a couple times above.  If you find something you enjoy, you’re more likely to strengthen it to the point of unbalance.  Everything needs to fall into place for a successful hunt:  Know where the animals are, be fit enough to get after them, understand how they behave, be able to go through all the steps of an ethical harvest, and have the ability to get back home with the meat.  Lacking ability or knowledge in any of those areas will result in a failure.  If there are areas for you to improve, rank them in the order you want to do them, and complete the list from bottom to top.  This will help you touch all the bases, and also motivates you to complete your least favorite tasks in order to get to the ones you enjoy.

Daydreaming with purpose. I prefer the term ‘daydreaming with purpose’ over ‘visualizing’.  Regardless of what you want to call it, this can really help prepare.  Take some time to focus, and walk yourself through a full day of the hunt.  Imagine the steps you’ll be taking in the field, the experiences you’ll be taking in with all five senses, and especially the challenges you will likely face.  Imaging yourself facing a challenge and calmly addressing it with a confident solution.  You’ll find that you’re actually training your brain for success, and will be less prone to frustration and negative thoughts.

 

Economy of Elk Hunting Calories

It cannot be argued that wild elk meat is one of the most delicious and nutritious meats available to Americans.  But, it can come at a cost.  I’m not talking about the financial cost (hunting tags, equipment, travel, lost wages from bailing from work for a week, divorce settlements, etc.), I’m referring to cost in the form of calorie burden.  Elk meat is chock full of nutrition, but we put forth a lot of energy trying to harvest it.  But, before I dive into the calorie economics of hunting, let me just throw out this obvious disclaimer: I am not trying to say that any hunter looks to harvest animals with any one single goal in mind.  We hunters are all complex creatures, and the reasons we hunt are abundant and diverse.  But regardless of individual motives, if you’ve ever partaken in a multiday backcountry elk hunt without spotting game or hearing a single bugle, you may have found yourself questioning many of the reasons you choose hunting as a recreation and lifestyle.  It’s also important to consider our motivations compared to those of our ancestral hunters.  To them, calorie burden was their primary concern.  They were obviously not able to comprehend or quantify energy to units of such as calories (Quick high school chemistry review: One calorie represents the energy required to raise one liter of water by one degree Celsius, and one degree Celsius is equal to blah, blah, blah, blah…). They really only understood that they needed meat to keep themselves and their families alive, and that the more effort they put into an activity, the more nourishment they would need to survive another day.

So let’s get into it: How much energy do you expend while on a backcountry elk hunting trip?  Now, I’m admittedly trying to put a pin in a very broad question, so some assumptions must be made first.  Size of person, difficulty of terrain, load carried, fitness (or fatness) level, environmental conditions, and level of effort (intensity) all play into the calorie burning rate equation.  For this broad stroke, non-scientific article, I am making the assumption that (1) our hunter is 180 lbs, (2) he hikes in five miles into the mountains to camp, (3) he hikes several miles each day hunting, (4) he spends the majority of the day glassing or still-hunting, (5) he harvests a bull elk on the fourth day, and (6) he makes three strenuous trips packing gear and meat out of the woods by the end of the fifth day.

I have interpolated some calorie burning rates for a 180 lb hunter based upon information I have gathered from Nutristrategy.com and the Mayo Clinic.  Here are my estimates for calorie burn rates in calories/hour.

Activity Calories/hour
Orienteering 735
Climbing hills, carry over 42lb 735
Climbing hills, carrying daypack 600
Spotting, glassing 175
Packing meat out downhill 620
Bowling 245
Ballroom dancing 245

 

Below is an estimation in time spent at each activity on a hunt. The “Calories Over Baseline” estimates below are representative of the net, or additional calories that would be expended on an elk hunt, as opposed to calculating the total calories burned on the hunt.  This is based on premise that you would be doing some calorie-burning activities while hunting that are similar to your daily routine, such as preparing food, organizing sundries, and sleeping.  So, the calculations below subtract out the calories that would be spent if you lived out your normal day (about 120 calories/hour) and acquired meat from a more convenient and mundane source such as a grocery store.

 

5 Day Hunt Hours
Activity Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Total
Climbing hills, carrying over 42 lb 3 3
Spotting 3 7 7 4 21
Climbing hill, carrying daypack 5 5 5 3 7 25
Orienteering 2 2
Packing meat 4 7 11
Calories Over Baseline 4410 2785 2785 5130 6860 21970

 

By these calculations, you would be expending approximately 22,000 additional calories in order to harvest a mature elk over a five-day hunt.  My first impression is that this is a lot.  Way more than I expected.  But, I feel it is representative of the strenuous aspects of elk hunting.  Elk live in tough country, and a single person has to carry a serious payload of gear in order to get into elk country and live with them for a week.  You may take an established trail in and out of the woods, but much of your hunt is likely going to be cross-country.  There is a reason why hunting boots are built differently than hiking boots.

Given that elk roaming public land are naturally grass-fed, their muscle is generally much leaner that beef, and therefore has much fewer calories per pound.  Yet it somehow remains equally, nay, superiorly delicious.  If lean elk muscle contains about 33 calories per ounce, and you are able to retrieve 200 pounds of boned-out meat from your hunt, you are harvesting 105,600 calorie units of energy.  So, in our 5-day solo backcountry mountain hunt scenario, if our hunter burned 22,000 additional calories on his trip and harvested 105,600 calories worth of elk meat, he was still able to return with his meat payload at 80% efficiency.  For our ancestral hunter, that 200 pounds of meat would equate to over 50 total person-days of sustenance.  Plus, it would be a welcome change from the roots and possum and snow or weird mushrooms or whatever else they had found lying around.  In order to equate the total energy stored in that elk meat to something to which a more modern human can relate, 105,600 calories are about equivalent to each of the following: 2,300 strips of bacon, 320 avocados, 324 ground beef tacos, 51 gallons of Rockstar® energy drink, or 66 gallons of Coors Banquet® beer.  Although calorically equal, by no means am I suggesting that any of these items are nutritionally equal.

Now you may ask yourself, “What am I going to do with all these calories now that I’ve got them?”.  The Mayo Clinic offers energy burning options such as ballroom dancing or bowling (About 431 hours for either based on my conversions from their website).  But that’s a lot of time indoors, plus you’re probably going to take in a lot more calories from that Coors Banquet in order to participate in either of those.  My recommendation? Use those calories to Hunt Harder.