Choosing a Camp Site while Backcountry Hunting

Hunting and camping is a lot different than just camping for camping’s sake. When you throw a hunt in the mix, suddenly  you may find yourself camping somewhere you never would have otherwise. There are a lot of factors to consider when hunting in regards to choosing your camp site.

For me, it is worth choosing a marginal camp spot if it means it increases my odds of having success on a hunt.

In this article we’ll discuss some of the most important things to think about when choosing where to pitch your tent.

Proximity to Game:

I consider this to be the most important factor, and will look at camp to game relationship before considering the other factors listed below. Choosing your camp location in relation to the game is very important. The last thing you want to do is set up your camp somewhere that is too close, or too visible, and spooks your target animals out of the area. At the same time, you want to camp close enough to be able to quickly be in hunting position so you don’t waste too much time and energy just getting there every day.

Some species are more prone to being displaced by a camp than others. I find that big bucks are particularly susceptible, whereas elk don’t seem as concerned.

I like to err on the side of caution and camp a little farther from my hunting area, but this will vary depending on the terrain and possible camp locations. I also prefer to usually sleep in a small solo style tent that’s easy to set up in small flat places. Be careful not to camp right in the basin you’re hunting, find a spot that is out of the way, out of site, and will keep your scent from being carried through the basin all day. Sometimes you can find a camp spot that is within a few yards of a great glassing vantage, other times you may need to camp a half mile away. I sometimes will set up camp farther away, and multiple times, have moved it after a day or two of hunting because I felt comfortable moving closer after seeing the location and behavior of the animals.

Proximity to Water:

Water is a big deal in the backcountry in a lot of areas. You’ll probably have to hike to water at least every few days to resupply. If you can find an area close to water that also fits your criteria of being close to your hunting area, but not right in it, then you’ve hit a home run.

Knowing how close you are to water will let you budget time to resupply and keep enough water in camp to meet your needs. You need to know beforehand where water will be and plan accordingly. If you’re going into a new area blind, always keep note of the last water you saw and consider it the closest water. If you make camp, and then find a surprise source that’s closer then great! Whether you are 3 miles or 200 feet from a water source, make sure you are able to make trips to keep enough water on hand so you don’t become dehydrated. Remember to never camp too close to water or contaminate your water source.

Avoid Potential Dangers:

Being familiar with, and predicting hazards or dangers is also very important when choosing your camp site. There are a lot of things that can happen in the backcountry. I know hunter’s who’ve had trees fall on their tents, or bears rip their camps to shreds. If you can anticipate some of these issues, it can be a matter of life and death.

Examples: If you’re hunting in bear country, be sure to keep your food hung in a tree or in a bear safe container and not in your tent so they aren’t drawn to it by the smell of a meal. If you’re hunting in an area where flash flooding can occur, don’t camp in low areas. If you’re hunting in an area with a lot of beetle kill, or an old burn, or an area that has a lot of deadfall and standing dead trees – don’t camp where a tree can fall on your tent. The list can go on and on, and varies depending on where you are hunting. The key is to be aware of things that can potentially happen, and make choices to reduce the odds of something happening to you or your camp.

Wind can be a pretty big issue in the high country, especially. It can keep you up at night, carry your scent around, or in stormy situations make having a pitched tent stay in place troublesome. Look for a spot that’s out of the wind.

Livestock Considerations:

Camp needs change if you’re using livestock. Whether it’s horses, llamas, or pack goats, you’ll need to make sure there’s trees to tie to and available feed close by. Bringing pack animals can greatly affect where you camp and needs to be taken into consideration when choosing your camp site.

Have the Right Gear:

Wherever you choose to camp, invest in the right gear that will fit your needs and allow you to camp and hunt effectively. Even gear choices like the size/style of tent you use can affect where you can camp. Once again, a scouting trip is very valuable because it can allow you to go into an area and see it in person, and you can test your gear and methods without the accompanying rigors of hunting. I always recommend using your gear, even if it’s in your backyard – so you can know how it works and what to expect. Then, when the hunt comes, you can have a much better idea of what to expect during the season.

Most of all, have fun, making informed decisions, anticipating you can have some of the greatest hunts and experiences of your life in the backcountry!

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