Waking up to the scent of a smoldering campfire, as it is still dark but the moon is falling in the sky. That is what I think about when I hear the term hunting camp.
Where I grew up, the camp was a small building with a ton of bunk beds, a large table, a small kitchen, and a wood-burning stove.
To others, hunt camp means a tent site in the mountains or a makeshift shelter in the elf woods.
What is a hunt camp?
A hunt camp can be any of the above and more. Some people set up camp for the night, some set them up for a season. The same site can be used year after year, or a one-time stay, never to be seen again.
A hunting camp is used to get the hunter closer to the game he or she is pursuing.
The site is strategically chosen to be a comfortable distance from the prey. Not close enough to spook the game out of the area completely, but close enough that the hunting grounds can be reached within an hour hike or so.
This keeps the hunter close enough to strike, but also within hiking distance of camp at all times.
Hunt camps are traditionally used for big game hunts in remote locations, usually out West or in the mountains. The terrain is tough, and it requires hunters to pursue the game for days on end.
When the hunts last longer than a few hours hike or commute, it only makes sense to set up a camp where the hunter can sleep comfortably for a few hours between the afternoon hunt and following morning hunt.
How to cook at a hunt camp?
A tired hunter needs a good meal to keep them energized as well. Hunting camp is a great place to enjoy a meal, either as simple or as elaborate as you want to make it.
If you are planning on going in light, a Jetboil mess kit is all you need to warm up a variety of packaged meals. Anything from MRE-style dehydrated meals, to oatmeal, can be quickly heated on the propane burner setup.
A longer camp or a larger group of hunters will require a more established kitchen setup. A Colman camping grill with a mess kit could do the trick. This would make bacon, eggs, and toast for an army when used correctly.
The days of warming food over a fire have not completely left the camp scene, but campfires are usually more for heat in the hunting scenario. A cooking fire would have to be a cooler bed of coals, which is not ideal for drying sweaty or wet socks and other gear.
If you are planning to cook at camp, be aware that humans are not the only critter that loves a nice warm meal.
If you are in bear country, which hunt camps usually are, be sure to clean the entire food preparation area. You also need to hang leftovers or the next meal high in a tree, out of a bear’s reach.
The large, curious creatures may end up coming to check out your camp regardless, so be prepared to ward them off.
Hunt camps are set up differently based on the game you are in pursuit of. As we discussed, larger, big game animals are what call for hunting camps.
This is because the animals generally move great distances in a single day, and do so far from cities or even the easily accessible public areas. Each camp requires a particular setup, but most are generally the same layout.
How do you set up an elk hunting camp?
Elk camp is what most people think of when the term hunt camp is brought up in conversation. The Elk are range animals, so they are far removed from society in most aspects.
Pursuing them is difficult and the terrain is tough to conquer. Because they are herd animals, there are a lot of eyeballs that scanning for danger at all times, so a stealthful hunter needs to be able to sneak in and around the territory under the radar.
As far as an elk-specific camp, they are generally built for a longer-term stay than a simple overnight. The camp is more of a home base for hunters to come and rest or eat between treks.
It is a mountainous territory, so tents are the preferred shelters, rather than RV’s or cabins that you may see utilized on bead or deer camp scenarios.
Elk camp needs to have large amounts of meat storage as well. Because these animals are so large, the meat packed out of the field has to be stored in coolers away from bugs and other predators that may want to investigate.
Elk are field dressed, meaning that the animals are butchered in the field and game bags are utilized to move deboned meat from the field to camp. When the meat gets to camp, it needs to be stored before it is eventually packed out to trucks and further processed.
Horses or mules can also be used in some elk camps. Again, the campsites are so far out and require so much gear, pack horses are employed to do the heavy hauling. This requires a whole set of extra amenities at camp.
The pack horses need to have food and water, but also need to be guarded against predators like bears that may inquire as to whether or not these animals are edible.
Being that the horses are usually tied to posts or trees at camp, they are generally vulnerable to attack. An armed guard means having an extra person, which requires their own extra set of gear, making camp even larger.
How to set up a deer camp?
Deer camp is a bit different. There are not many hunters who utilize deer camps for Whitetail Deer, just because they are so common and are generally easier to hunt on day trips rather than week-long adventures. They are used for Black Tail Deer and Mule Deer, which makes more sense because these roam the same ranges as elk.
Whitetail camps are generally going to be a cabin or RV. Hunters bring in their gear by vehicle and stay for a weekend or so and hunt each morning and evening before returning to camp to eat and rest.
This is a more comfortable and relaxed version of camp because you are sleeping in a bed and not facing the elements as much. If it is rainy or too cold, you can easily stay safe and dry in this type of camp.
Cooking in a whitetail camp becomes a little more lavish due to access to refrigerators and freezers. Deer camp for the other species discussed is a bit more rugged but is set up with shorter time frames in mind.
Because the animals are smaller, the use of ATVs and pickup trucks is utilized more often to just pick up the kill where it is found and trucked off to camp.
Once the kill is made and retrieved, hunters usually pack up and head out of the tougher terrain and back to civilization, rather than staying until the end of a week or season that they are hunting in.
The animals are not normally butchered in the field for this reason, so storage for the meat is not as necessary in these hunts either.
Tents and Jetboil stoves are still the norms, and lightweight is usually first priority for these hunters. Single night stays and rucksacks are what is traditional for this type of deer hunt.
What should you bring to a hunting camp?
Depending on how long of a trip you plan to go on, I would pack the following gear to be safe. First, think of your fire-starting and food rations. Fire means safety and food mean survival.
Bring lighters, matches, and flint with you in your pack. Remember that having one fire starter means that you have none. Having at least two forms of firestarter in the instance one fails is necessary. Food rations are important and water is included.
Bring some dehydrated food rations as well as some energy bars and a mess kit to cook with. If you are able to kill a fresh meal, that will be a bonus.
Water bottles made of metal are great because even if you use up the water you initially brought, there are ways to find more and the metal bottle gives you the ability to boil that for safe drinking.
Next is a shelter. How are you going to be able to sleep safely in the elements? A tent, a cot, a combination of both? The minimum is a sleeping bag and if you can get a layer of separation between you and the ground, you will be able to regulate your body heat much easier and stay warm.
A hammock or bed mat is a great addition to any camping setup.
Gear, everyone loves gear. Bring whatever you plan to hunt with, knives, a hatchet to chop firewood, a headlamp, and a flashlight. These are musts. Next are the garments you will wear.
Think back to having one is having none. You want plenty of clothing so that even if you come back freezing cold and sopping wet, you can change into a new set of clothes. Sweating is common on mountain hiking hunts, so wicking base layers should be accounted for.
Boots are also something you will want to focus on because of all the time you will be spending on your feet. Waterproof and comfortable are what you will want to have, possibly even a couple of pairs.
Accessories like game bags to pack meat and coolers to store food are luxuries and will be necessary depending on how long you stay. The Jetboil cooking gear and a mess kit are always a good idea as well.
Hunt camp is a great place to both spend time in the wild, and access game that is typically out of reach. Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before heading off to set up your own.
As an extra precautionary step, let a friend or family member know where you will be and how long you plan to be gone, just in case you are not back on time and something has gone wrong. This will give them somewhere to look for you if needed.
I hope this article helps guide you on what to bring and how to set up your next hunting camp adventure!