Going after elk for days on end is a tough task and no one wants to make it any harder by forgetting to pack essential gear. Here is a compilation of what to pack and things to consider when going on an elk rifle or bow hunt.
What to Consider When Packing?
Packing for an elk hunt is not as simple as buying the biggest backpack one can find and cramming it full of items you think will make your trip easier. There are various factors to consider when packing for a hunt.
It is crucial to get the right balance of weight versus essentials. Remember everything you take in, will need to be brought out.
A rule of thumb is that the pack should not weigh more than 20% of your body weight.
- Amount of days
You need to ensure you have enough provisions that will comfortably carry you through the trip. Elk hunts can go on for a week or longer. One of the biggest weights here will be rations. The longer the trip the more food you will need.
Take the time to learn about the area you will be hunting in, especially the weather and terrain. Weather reports and the time of year will provide some indication of what to expect. There is not much point to packing in waterproofs if the forecast is for scorching weather during your trip.
- Elk meat pack out
The number one goal is to come out of the trip after successfully hunting an elk. Yet, butchering up and packing out an elk is not as glamourous as it may seem.
The most important thing is that you know how to efficiently clean, butcher, and pack out an elk. Packing the correct equipment will make this process a lot easier, saving you valuable time and effort.
- Emergency plan
Bad things can happen, and they tend to happen in the most inconvenient of places. Packing a first aid kit is obviously a good idea but having an emergency plan for when the worst happens is crucial.
Ties in closely with weight as often the most comfortable things tend to take up a lot of space. With that said, to really hunt hard you need to have maximum energy and in order to achieve that you need a good rest after a day of hiking and quality sleep.
Elk Packing List
Below is a broad list of the items you should be packing when heading out on an elk rifle hunt.
- Ammunition – a minimum of least 20 rounds.
- Scope – If not already fitted
- Gun cleaning rod and oil – The rod is always helpful in removing a jammed cartridge and some gun oil will provide added protection against the elements.
- Rifle sling – Free up your hands to glass the area, a rifle sling is always handy.
- Spare magazines – Some rifles come with removeable magazines and although a spare one may not be necessary, strange things happen in the bush and a magazine can easily fall out without you knowing.
- Bipod/Shooting sticks – These are especially important if you plan on taking a long shot on an elk. Being stable at the shot will make things a little easier.
For the bow hunters, there tends to be more “tools” to consider.
- Arrows – It is suggested to pack at least 2 arrows for every day you are out there. So, if you plan on being out for 5 days, then pack 10 arrows, you can have 5 in a quiver and leave the other 5 in the truck if it’s close enough or at camp. Also make sure your arrows are made up before the hunt, so you don’t have to worry about making up new ones in the field.
- Trigger/Release – Imagine the feeling of hiking 10 miles in only to find out you have left your release behind (it happens). If you can and there is space, pack a spare release.
- Broadheads – A few extra broadheads is always handy but putting in a few practice tips is a good idea. The sight or bow may get bumped and a few practice tips will help to get things sighting back in without wasting your expensive broadheads.
- Allen Key Set – Most bows make use of Allen keys, if yours does not then bring which ever tool is best to keep the screws and bolt tight on your bow.
- On Bow Essentials – There are items that can be attached to your bow before heading out, such as the sight, quiver, arrow rest, stabilizer, and silencers.
- Range Finder – Even though this also falls under optics it is still an essential piece of equipment that every bow hunter needs to pack.
Apart from the rifle or bow, your optics are the next most crucial piece of equipment that needs to get packed for the actual hunt.
Binoculars, range finders and spotting scopes all fall under optics. Remember weight is always a concern and spotting scopes are generally heavier than binoculars so only pack them if they are truly needed.
Included in optics will be protective cases and shoulder harnesses which are ideal for packing other items into.
Backpacks are not created equal, you need to select the right backpack for the job at hand, which is bringing enough equipment with you on the hunt, while providing enough space to bring out meat, antlers, and a cape.
Below is a list of things to consider when choosing the ideal backpack:
- Frame design and fit
Adding weight to a pack means added strain on your back and shoulders. Not all backpacks contain frames, but if you are intending on packing out the meat then a frame will be essential.
Extra pockets, internal dividers, hoods, straps, stretch ropes and clips are all additions to a backpack that may aid in ensuring your gear is well organized and secure within the backpack.
- Size and Weight
Doesn’t help bringing all your tools if you don’t have the space to fit them in. A general rule is a 1,000 cubic inches of backpack space for every day of your hunt. That means in an extended trip of 6 – 8 days, one would need a pack of around 6,000 to 8,000 cubic inches.
Clothing and boots
Remaining comfortable on your hunt is paramount. A good well-worn pair of boots is invaluable as well as a selection of clothes that are suitable for the varying weather conditions.
Elk terrain is usually mountainous and requires a lot of hiking. You need a boot that is supportive but above all comfortable.
Kenetrek and Crispi are some of the most popular brands amongst elk hunters.
By using a layering system you can pack the minimum amount of clothes, and layer up or down as needed.
Tents and sleeping bags, although extremely important, tend to take up most of the space within a pack.
Choose a tent and sleeping bag that remains compact while not sacrificing on the quality of warmth and a good shelter at night.
Some people prefer to use floorless tents while others like floored tents. It’s usually a matter of personal preference.
For the sleeping bag, there is really no other option than a down sleeping back. Anything else will just be too bulky, heavy, and really not practical for an elk hunt.
Backcountry, do-it-yourself, hunts can be physically demanding and will often drain your body of essential energy and nutrients.
Choose foods that are lightweight, non-perishable, packed full of calories, and easy to cook by just adding water.
Plan for 3 meals a day with snacks such as energy bars, trail mix, or jerky between each main meal.
We all know water is essential, but it is impractical to load and carry gallons of water for your entire trip.
The ability to boil from streams or rivers will help reduce the amount you need to bring in or the use of filtration devices and purification tablets will help.
A fire would be the ideal tool for cooking food and boiling water, but in adverse weather conditions or inside a tent that is not always possible.
Jet boilers and mini gas stoves like the Fire Maple Star or Jet Boil are great tools to pack for preparing food. There is a multitude of options to choose from and many of them come in compact options.
It’s the 21st Century and as outdoorsman, we no longer need to rely on the stars for direction. Packing a GPS device, smart phone, battery chargers and even satellite phones are all tools designed to help us in times of need and ensure we get home safely.
Hunting is all about getting up early and going to bed late after a long day. Pack enough lighting equipment such as tent torches and headlamps that will help make getting around in the dark a little easier.
Depending on your headlamp or torch of choice you may need to pack some spare batteries. It’s best to store these in a Ziploc bag and bring a spare Ziploc bag for the used ones.
A simple first aid kit can go a long way and the biggest risk to all backcountry hunters is getting injured.
\Apart from first aid kits, consider other items that could be used in times of emergencies, such as flares, stretchers, scissors, and alarm devices. Sunscreen, Chapstick and insect repellent may also fall under first aid.
Tools for butchering and caping
The goal of the entire trip is to successfully hunt an elk and get the meat back home. That within itself is a process and not having the correct tools can turn what should be a joyous occasion into a real waste of life. Some of the following items are essential for packing out an elk:
- Quality sharp knives (1 long blade for deboning and a short blade for caping)
- Sharpener/Stone/Replaceable blades
- Meat bags/ Game Bags
- Latex gloves or hand cleaner
- Small meat saw
- Additional string/rope to fasten additional bags to outside of pack
Not an essential item but certainly a tool that will increase your chances of success. Diaphragm callers remain small and lightweight without taking up much space, while Bugle callers are awkward and robust tools that can take up space in a pack.
However, as I mentioned it would be rare to see an elk hunter out without a call, which includes a bugle.
Bugles are one of the most effective elk calls and allow for easy locating of elk, I don’t recommend you leave yours at home.
Packing for an elk hunting trip is about finding the right balance and combinations. The hunter needs to consider the overall weight of the pack versus what is essential and non-essentials without jeopardizing their chances of a successful hunt.