While hunting by yourself is not for everyone, it certainly isn’t something someone should shy away from strictly because of the “what if” factor. Hunting solo requires most importantly a confidence in ones own ability to take care of themselves in extreme conditions. It also requires a skill set of both mental and physical preparation and a selection of gear and accessories that could potentially make the difference between simply weathering harsh elements or succumbing to tragic circumstances.
During my hunt for Rocky Mt. bighorn, I was fortunate to have the company of some very good and willing friends to help me at times. But I also found myself trekking the alpine ridgelines and peaks solo in sometimes formidable conditions. I found that fatigue can be a real enemy to the solo hunter both physically and mentally. A couple of times I found myself making choices on routes that were directly influenced by my level of fatigue. These “short cuts” were done with some real risk to my safety and quite frankly, I consider myself lucky to not have had any real serious accidents while hunting solo.
I crossed a very steep, wind packed snowfield where I found myself digging out each foothold with my plastic mountaineering boots and testing each foothold with trekking poles to balance before trusting it with all my body weight. I also stabbed myself in the calf while skinning the frozen leg of my ram resulting in a small arterial stab wound that filled my boot with blood and didn’t quit bleeding until late that night. I say these things to point out that accidents can happen and both incidents could have been much, much worse.
Being a career firefighter/paramedic for nearly 20 years and living in the high mountains of Colorado, I have seen and heard first hand what can happen when luck simply isn’t with you. Many experienced outdoorsmen and women have simply gotten themselves into predicaments that ended tragically. While Search and Rescue are very willing and ready to lend help at a moments notice, Mother Nature isn’t always willing to cooperate and those rescuers shouldn’t have to risk their lives in conditions that wouldn’t allow them a good chance at coming back safe themselves. Sometimes it is simply about being responsible for ourselves and doing the best we can to insure our own safety. There are some tips and equipment that are really worth considering when hunting solo.
- Always make sure someone responsible knows your intinerary. The what, where and when aspects of your hunt are information that is vital to rescuers should you not return when you were supposed to.
- Consider a “Spot” beacon. This ingenious little piece of equipment sends out a distress signal with your GPS location when you activate it should you have to. It is almost a mandatory piece of equipment for the solo hunter.
- Have a cell phone that works in your area. I had an iPhone for my sheep hunt but found the cell reception is spotty at best in the mountains of Colorado so I switched back to Verizon and have substantially better service while in the mountains. Cell phones don’t work everywhere but get a plan that offers the best coverage for your hunt area.
- Wear the right gear. I took my ram at over 13,000’ in December and to say the conditions were brutal would be an understatement. The day I finally was able to get my ram off the mountain required full face mask and goggles because of the high velocity winds and extreme cold. Layered technical clothing is a must.
- Have appropriate survival gear such as a high quality space blanket to reflect body heat and block heat robbing winds. Have multiple types of firestarter on hand. A simple road flare in your pack will get a fire going in almost any condition.