Life at 10,000 Feet: Hunting the High Country

Hunting at a High Elevation

Contributed by Field Staff Writer T. Stewart

It’s that time of year when we start getting out our hunting gear, placing trail cams, practice shooting, and overall just start getting the fever of hunting season.  We all have our favorite hunting season, whether it is deer, elk, bear or duck we are all hyped and getting our gear ready. Some preparation is less than others when it comes to the species and the area you will be hunting. When you take on a hunt that puts you at 10,000 feet above sea level the preparation can be extensive. I have been hunting Utah for seven years for elk and my base camp sits at the 10,000 foot mark. Over the past years I have seen and experienced many situations that can be avoided with proper preparation.

When you’re at 10,000 feet you have to work with your hunting party as a team.  Camp preparation needs to be done upon arrival, and doing this can sometimes be hard, especially when you go from sea level to 10,000 feet.  Elevation sickness can quickly set in.  Light headiness, headache, exhaustion, shortness of breath, and lack of appetite are all symptoms of elevation sickness. It feels almost as if you have the flu.  The best way I have found to combat this is to drink a lot of fluids and exercise before the hunt. I always carry Pedialyte® packets with me to mix into water bottles.  Drinking it will hydrate your muscles to prevent cramping, relieve headaches, and help regain your appetite by putting your body back into balance.  I always bring a good supply of Clif® Bars, granola bars, trail mix and chocolate with me as well.  At the higher elevation, your body burns energy at a much higher rate than it would normally. These bars replace the protein, salt, and sugars that your body burns.

Base Camp for High Elevation HuntingThe weather can change in a heartbeat at that elevation, so getting your camp built is first priority.  There are many styles of tents out there so choosing the right one can be tough. My suggestion is getting a wall tent with a wood burning stove. Heating a tent with a propane heater can end your hunt early depending on the use. Burning propane puts off moisture which collects on the inside of your tent.  Your clothes will be damp and boots wet if using propane. Having a wood burning stove in your tent allows you to wake up to dry boots and clothes every morning. Along with plenty of fluids and salt for your body, having a dry bed will help elevation sickness from getting worse or prevent it all together.

Once you’re in the backcountry there is no limit to how far you can go. Having the right pack, and having it packed correctly is essential to being able to go as far as you would like.  My pack is the Sitka® Bivy 45, I can carry everything I need to last a week in the backcountry.  In the very bottom of my pack I carry the items that I won’t need on the hike, such as game bags and my sleeping bag.  In the center of the pack sit a tight roll of wool socks, clean wool long underwear, and a hoodie. Dry meals are on top of that, as well as a high elevation burner with one can of fuel and a cup to heat water.  Carrying a lot of water can weigh you down and burn you out, which is why I carry the KATADYN® Hiker Pro water filter. The water filter is light weight, very efficient, and can clean almost any water.  I have pumped water out of a mud puddle and it came out crystal clear and good tasting. I keep my med-kit and the filter at top of my pack.  The top pouch contains little things, like a couple of flash lights, extra batteries, spark producer, toilet paper, trail bars, camera, knives, and rope.  On the outside of my pack I strap a one-man tent and a foam pad, packable fishing rod with flies, a lightweight hatchet, and more rope.  Attached to the waist strap, I have a GPS and a bottle of bear spray.  With the inside packed tight and everything on the outside tied close and snug, you should have no problem hiking for miles and even days.

Always check and recheck your gear and camp, there is nothing worse than finding a leak in your tent or running out of batteries when you’re trying to navigate back to camp after dark. Hunting season is upon us and I wish everyone good luck and good hunting this season.

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