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Home / Hunting / Hunting Articles


Guide To Do-It-Yourself Bowhunting
 — by Cameron R. Hanes

Who wouldn't want to go on top-notch guided hunt after guided hunt? I would love to have that opportunity someday, but currently as any other budget conscious bowhunter, I simply cannot pull it off. This means either I don't hunt or I set up my own hunts, which is what we like to call, Do-It-Yourself bowhunting. There are other differences besides the obvious monetary consideration when comparing guided to DIY trips. The thing I like about on your own hunting is that if I kill it is because of me and if I don't kill it is because of me. In the field, making all the decisions in the heat of the battle is how many of us like it. Plus, the feeling of accomplishment after a successful DIY outing is indescribable.

I will share the gear I have used and the lessons I have learned over years of backcountry hunting. Much of my hunting has been solo, so the gear listed is what I carry on my back to go remote after bulls or bucks for 4 or more days at a time. Here is a list of equipment or gear, thoughts or theories that you must consider.

Pre-season Preparation

To pull off a dream DIY endeavor you are going to have to do your homework. Just as in life, in this type of hunting, there are seldom shortcuts to success. This is where the most tedious, repetitious and mundane work is done, but also, possibly the most important. This is the foundation of your successful hunt.


I would suggest hitting as many 3-D shoots as possible. These are great for preparing you for steep angle shots and pressure shots. I also shoot an indoor league at my local Pro-Shop, The Bow Rack, once a week and make certain that I shoot at least 20 arrows every single day from about February on.

First arrow – Your first arrow is really the only one that matters. You have to be able to hit what you are aiming at, every time with that first arrow of the day. Remember, there are no warm up shots in the field.


Gaining intimate knowledge of your hunting area is huge. Get out into the country you will be hunting and verify hunches and investigate any leads you picked up from studying your topographical maps. This is also a prime time to test gear. There is no better time than during scouting trips or overnight outings to test new gear or learn things you may not have thought of.

Physical Conditioning

The fact is that you simply cannot be in too good of shape. I also realize that everyone has his or her own levels of fitness and conditioning. Keep in mind that even a guy in marathon shape will probably still be fatigued during a 10 day high mountain elk hunt, so it is your best interest to pay particular attention to the conditioning aspect of hunt preparation. Whatever you have been doing to get ready for your big trip, do more. More stamina is better and you will need it. That being said, it is also true that:
  • You will typically hike and climb 5-15 miles a day in terrain that is rugged and at higher elevation than most of us are used to. This is why a good cross-training fitness program is most effective. You should incorporate hill work, weights, biking, road running, etc. in an effort to achieve total body condition.
  • One thing that most of us can't do in advance is to get acclimated to high altitude. Many live at elevations that may only be a few hundred feet or even less above sea level, while most elk hunting takes place at 3,000-10,000 feet. The only way to get acclimated is to go to the elevation you will be hunting at, which is not feasible for most of us, but consider that the person who is in good shape physically will have much less of a problem with altitude and will acclimate much faster.

With every rule there is an exception. What can't accurately be quantified is desire. My hunting partner, Roy Roth, is one of the mentally strongest guys I have ever met and what he lacks for in the conditioning department he more than makes up for in the, "Quitters never win and winners never quit" department.

Food and Water

Average daily calorie requirements in the field are 2,800 to 3,600 calories for males and 2,000 to 2,800 for females. Not getting enough food and nutrients leads to rapid weight loss, which leads to; loss of strength, decreased endurance, loss of motivation and decreased mental alertness. Given this, it should be obvious how important packing the right foods are to bowhunting success. I am not even sure if a guy can haul enough food in his pack for an extended backcountry hunt, but you need to really pay special attention to exactly what you'll be hauling on your back for body fuel.

So far as food goes it should contribute at least 100 calories per once of weight otherwise it's not worth packing. For instance, I pack a handful of Nature Valley 100% Natural Oat ‘N Honey granola bars. They weigh 1.5 oz. and have 180 calories, 29 grams of carbs and 4 grams of protein.

You must treat your water, period. This means either with a filter or iodine tablets. I prefer iodine, as it is safer, lighter and more convenient. A filter weighs anywhere from 11 oz. to 14 oz. and costs approximately $60. Iodine tables weigh next to nothing and cost $5. Some complain of the taste, but for one, you do get used to it and besides, I cover the taste with… Emer'gen-C powdered drink mix. This powder mix, which is added to water, comes in small packets that weigh a piddly .29 oz. yet contain 1,000 mg of vitamin C, which 1666% of you Daily Allowance as well as 500% of B6 and 416% of B12 plus it is high in potassium. This is something you must use.

I think the best main staple to the wilderness bowhunter comes in the form of military rations called Meal Ready-to-Eat, or MRE which are about $5 a piece or $2 just for the main course purchased separately. These things are awesome and have a ton of calories, are convenient and are balanced in nutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fruit, etc.). Also, they… Eliminate the need for a stove. They come with a sleeve that you insert the main entrιe into and then add a very small amount of water, which activates chemically a self-contained meal heating system. In minutes you have a hot meal. By packing MRE's you will not need to haul a stove, cook set or utensils in your pack. This is huge as every ounce is critical. MRE's come in many different combinations of main meals, fruits, crackers, potatoes, rice, noodles, ham, meatloaf, etc. They also come with a number of this I do not want to pack, like instant coffee and Tabasco sauce among other things, but I simply take these out and discard, along with the heavy package the MRE's come in, prior to my trip.


When in doubt go with quality. However, there won't be any doubt because this is what you'll need:

  • Headlamp – Must have a good headlamp. Mine is a Petzl and ran me about $30. I have had the same one for about 3-years with no problems. I also carry a small halogen flashlight for back up and extra AA batteries, which both of these are run on.
  • Sleeping Bag – Can't sacrifice quality here. Must be lightweight and not too bulky. I have a system in which I am able to put my entire camp into my sleeping bag stuff sack. My entire camp consists of my bag and my…
  • Bivy Sack – For true bivouacking, I don't think you can do better that the all Gore-Tex Bivy Sack. I have had mine for over 6-years and it still is going strong. It weighs less than 2 lbs. and with my sleeping bag inside, will, as I mentioned fit in one stuff sack. With this system I can set up and breakdown my camp in under 5-minutes. This is key in the world of the efficient wilderness hunter.
  • Compression Bag – This will compress your sleeping bag and Bivy sack into virtually half the size. When it is lashed to your packframe, size is almost as important as weight. You can get them at REI.
  • Rangefinder
  • Binoculars – The old clichι, "Get the best pair you can afford," still holds true. I honestly don't know how you could do any better than a 10X pair of Swarovski's. Remember, you can't harvest what you can't find. Quality optics are responsible for increased opportunities. Paramount item.
  • Bino-System
  • Platypus Water System – Must have item for the guy who will be working hard and covering lots of ground. You have to keep yourself hydrated and this deal will make that task much more doable. It will hold 2 liters of fluid and the tube that comes from the container and attaches to your pack's shoulder strap makes drinking very easy, which lends itself to more fluid consumption. This is a good thing.
  • Sleeping Pad – It is not about comfort it is about getting yourself off of the ground and retaining body heat. My self-inflating pad weighs about 1 lbs. 15 oz. and was $35.
  • Packframe – I like using an external packframe as I am able to lash quite a load on with my nylon rope. My Peak-1 packframe with a Tarantulas pack ran me about $170. This is a great pack, with very usable compartments, good waist belt and comfortable shoulder straps with a chest strap.
Miscellaneous – Doesn't really fit into any one category, but never the less, these items should not be overlooked:
  • Knife and Sharpener
  • Chapstick
  • Ibuprofen
  • Duct Tape – This might be the best first-aid kit ever.
  • First Aid Kit – At least should have some stuff to clean up cuts etc., as a nice complement to the Duct Tape.
  • Cut Your Toenails
  • Nylon Cord – 100' of small diameter, braided, nylon rope.
  • Extra Release
  • Extra Serving
  • Cell Phone – I have used one to call my packer for meat hauls and directions to the kill sight. Very important during those warm and getting warmer Septembers. Obviously, the battery will only last for a few days, but that is the precise time you'll need it. For instance, if I kill a bull early, I can still hunt for deer or bear and visa versa, but before I am free to do that I have to get the meat taken care of off the first kill.
  • Baers' Feet
  • Extra Broadhead Blades
  • Oversized, Durable Cotton Game Bag
  • Camera – Must have a good 35 mm camera with flash and self-timer and small tripod. Carry at the very least two rolls of 100 or 200 speed film and take a number of different set up shots with your kill.
  • Allen Wrenches – You should pack a couple of the key sizes. If a rest of sight comes loose your hunt could be over unless you have your Allens.
  • Toilet Paper
  • Handy Wipes – A package of these antibacterial wipes in a small resealable travel pack are worth the extra weight.
  • No Saw – This is extra weight and if you bone your animals – which will help the meat cool anyhow – you won't need one.

Clothing and Footwear

  • Boots – All about timing of your hunt and comfort. I have hunted during times of unpredictable weather in mountaineering type boots, which incidentally wreak havoc on my feet after many miles and days, but are very necessary. I have also hunted during the September elk season, where chances of any substantial weather are nil, in Gore-Tex trail running shoes which are much more comfortable. Some guys might not feel as though the trail shoes or anything less than a heavy leather boot would give enough support to ankles, feet, etc. and they would be right. This is a personal preference and knowing what your body needs structurally to stay operable.
  • Two Changes of High Quality Socks. The new Bass Pro Shops catalog has some great CoolMax socks for about $8 a pair. These would be perfect for the typical archery elk hunt. They are 50% acrylic, 30% CoolMax, 18% stretch nylon and 2% spandex. This is a perfect blend of sock for the hunter who will be covering some country.
  • Lightweight Polypropylene Underwear. This is worn against the skin to wick away moisture.
  • Lightweight Waterproof/Windproof Jacket. Even late summer storms can be brutal in the high country.
  • Camouflage – I typically wear lightweight, cotton, large pattern camo during elk season.
  • Other – I always have a pair of cut-off camo pants and a t-shirt (not white) to wear during midday travel. You want to try and control body odor, so getting overly hot and sweaty should obviously be avoided.

Hunting Strategies, Tips and Bow Performance

Bottom line is DIY hunting requires more planning and logistics than that of a typical "backyard" bowhunt. If your quarry is elk or even big mule deer, you will probably need to figure on hiring or finding a packer to haul the meat out of the backcountry (In this case, I'll call "backcountry" anything more than 3 miles off of the road). Typically, I don't think one guy can pack out the meat off of a bull elk in time if the distance is over 3 miles. I know there are always exceptions, so just use this as a general rule of thumb.

You must be efficient with your energy supply. Over a long hunt you can only push the envelope so long before bad things start to happen, i.e., missed shots, loss of drive, half-hearted stalks, and so on. To be most effective in the backcountry you should bivouac out with the sleeping bag/Bivy Sack system I spoke of. It is a considerable squandering of energy to hike back and forth to a base camp. With camp on your back, you can, relatively speaking, sleep near the elk, roll out of bed and kill your bull. Bivouacking out means more opportunities and more opportunities, means more kills.

Additional Tips
  • Topography Map – Any seasoned backcountry bowhunter will have camp on their back and a topo map handy at all times. A topo map enables you to maximize hunting opportunities by helping you to locate water sources, funnels, saddles, likely bedding benches, etc.
  • Shooting With Your Pack On – This changes things a whole bunch. It is a kiss of death to practice all summer in shorts and a t-shirt then go run around in elk country for a week with 40 lbs. hanging off your shoulders and expect to be able to hit anything once "Crunch Time" comes. You must practice with your hunting pack on. You have to be able to not only shoot, but also shoot accurately.
  • Hitting the Target – You absolutely have to shoot your broadheads prior to season. First paper tune your field points then designate a couple of the exact same brand of broadheads you will be hunting with as "practice" heads. Shoot these with the exact same brand and size of arrow you will be hunting with and make sure they are flying straight.
  • Spin - your broadheads and arrow like a top to make sure they are a good match. There should be no warble or wobble.
  • Razor Sharp Broadheads
  • Sight Level – A bubble level on your sight is a must when hunting broken and steep country. Bow canting has caused many a miss or worse, wounded animals.
  • Hunting Bow Performance Expectations – In my opinion, you should forget speed. All excessive speed will do is allow you to miss faster. I might be a little envious as with my draw length I never have to worry about excessive speed. I think if a guy can shoot around 260 FPS and more importantly his bow is quiet and forgiving, this end of the deal is set. Durability is very important also. You have to have a rig that can stand some abuse.
  • Kinetic Energy – While too much emphasis is put on speed, not enough is put on kinetic energy. This is where you penetration power comes from. You should shoot for about 60 foot pounds of kinetic energy, which can be figured using this equation - square the velocity (speed), divide by 450,240 and then multiple it by the full grain weight of your arrow.

Backcountry Myths

  • Myth #1 – There is no way I could afford a wilderness or backcountry bowhunt.

    Fact – Three buddies and myself are paying $2,000 total or $500 a piece, for a horse pack in drop camp hunt in Oregon's largest wilderness area this coming elk season. This price includes four pack mules, which will haul 120 lbs. apiece gear and supplies and also includes meat hauls.

  • Myth #2 – I have to be in supreme physical condition to bowhunt rugged country at high elevation.

    Fact – It sure wouldn't hunt anything but if you pace yourself and hunt the entire trip, anything is possible. I like the saying, "You don't know if you don't go." You gotta do it to see where you're at. Everyone learns something every time out. But, you also must be realistic. Many guys go way too hard the first day or two and simply can't sustain it and quit. The desire is gone and essentially then, they are just on a camping trip.

  • Myth #3 – Wilderness bowhunting will be one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

    Fact – The truth is a hunt like this might not be enjoyable 100% of the time, but it will be on of the most memorable week or 10 day portions of your existence. Like all bowhunts a DIY backcountry hunt can be tough, fun, depressing, brutal and cherished to name of few of the biggies. The only difference is that back there everything is accentuated by approximately a factor of 10.

For more backcountry hunting information order a copy of Cameron's book, "Bowhunting Trophy Blacktail". The book contains pages upon pages and entire chapters dedicated to the subject. Order a signed, hardbound copy today.


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