Going Light(ly) afield

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
June 11, 2004
When Boone, Crockett, Bridger and all the other hunters in early American history stalked game, they traveled light. (I know Miss Edna, it's traveled lightly. But the adverb jus' don't sound rite here.) Even when they were horseback, their gear consisted of the absolute bare necessities.
By contrast, today's hunter has enough perceived necessities to lug along to give even California's governor a hernia. And if the "nice to have" paraphernalia must be included, a one person hunt could turn into a convoy.
(I must note that any belittling of today's hunters here is directed first at myself, for I am known across the land for carrying enough stuff afield to survive at least one winter in the woods.)
The old timers' tent was an improvised lean-to made of saplings and limbs. Their compass was the sun and stars. Their flashlights were torches made of pitch wood. None of these items weighed anything because they didn't have to be carried to the woods. We have invented substitutes for a lot of the free, if crude, necessities. And so we can't travel as "light" as the pioneers.
Now it matters little what your flashlight weighs if you are going to tote it from your 4-wheeler to your shoot house on the green patch. But even during these winter vigils on stand for deer, it's nice not to have bulging pockets.
What your gear weighs gets serious when you trek off after quail behind a far-ranging pointer or follow a squirrel dog in thinned woods where there is only one bushytail every quarter mile. Things get really serious for the many area hunters who long for something different and find themselves chasing pheasants in altitudes three quarters of a mile higher than back home or mule deer twice that high in steep country.
High country gear
As do throngs of us locals, I spin off to the mountains almost every year. Most of us hunt in areas where stores or restaurants are many miles away. We have to carry a lot of stuff. Even when we leave camp, we think we have to have the latest high-tech gadgets. Binoculars, for example, are a necessity today. Daniel Boone didn't need them because a deer more than a hundred yards or so distant was out of range for his rifle.
So we carry binoculars and range finders and spotting scopes and GPS units and meat saws and compasses and scent killers and wind indicators and game calls and on and on and on. While we are packing these items for our trip here near sea level it may not occur to us, especially those making a first mountain hunt, that lighter is better, much better. Having played out of oxygen many times just before catching up to an elk or antelope, I learned long ago to cut pounds, ounces and even milliliters wherever I could.
When buying gear that you might eventually use for a mountain or high plains hunt, consider weight as one important factor. I admit fanaticism here because my "getting in shape" never quite gets my body weight down where it should be. It is easier for me to trim down gear than to eat fewer barbeque ribs.
You can carry a flashlight that uses AAA batteries and weighs only a fifth of what a D cell light weighs. If you take extra batteries of course they weigh much less too. It's a good idea to have a light that uses the same batteries as some of your other gear, the camera or the GPS or the range finder for instance.
A large folding knife with two blades weighs less than two separate knives. Often it takes two blades (or one blade and a sharpening system) to get the hide off an elk or other large animal.
Dehydrated food and plenty of water is less bulky than fresh foods like fruit, vegetables, meat and liquids such as tea, milk and fruit drinks.
Lightweight warmth
A fluffy sweater may be just as warm as a canvas jacket or two heavy twill shirts. Boots that are part fabric can weigh a lot less than those high top leather ones with steel toes and lugged soles.
Most of these choices are obvious. But I admit here to having taken this weight thing to the extreme, which I justify by the fact that Mother Nature has nearly killed me on several occasions by situating the game animal I am after beyond ridiculously steep terrain that mysteriously gets steeper each season. You may laugh at these weight-saving actions only after you have walked the Smokies and Rockies for big game at least one season each.
I have drilled shallow holes between the rubber lugs on my mountain boots to shave off a fraction of an ounce. Likewise, if you take the recoil pad off my mountain rifle, you will find hollows drilled out of the wood and the inside of the recoil pad. I did this at the same time I drilled the magazine box full of holes and shaved down the stock and forearm, following its shortening on both ends.
My rifle sling is not leather or stretch rubber or a composite material. It is thin, nylon strapping with thin metal buckles that a mild breeze could blow away.
All excess buckles have been cut away from my back pack and excessively long tie straps have been shortened. In cold weather I wear a ventilated baseball cap with a stretch wool cap pulled over it instead of an insulated hat. If I take along a pencil, it will be a stub instead of full length.
Fanatic? You got it. But when I am almost to the top, I will be more inclined to denounce the mountain than my lightweight gear.

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