All photo credits: Chris Neville
All photo credits: Chris Neville
When it comes to hunting out West on national forest and BLM land, you can virtually camp anywhere. Sure, there are some restricted areas or restrictions on where you can drive or park, but this is your land so camp where you please. However, time and time again, I see people camping in less than ideal spots for hunting. We all want to be as close to the elk as possible in order to get up and not have to hike miles on miles every day, but there are several factors in choosing the right camp. Below are the three most important factors in selecting the right place to park your camper or set up a bivy camp in no particular order.
Out West, the wind and weather can play a huge role in our hunts. It is crucial to select a spot to pitch your tent or park your camper that is out of the wind and harsh elements of the weather. This may mean using pines for cover or natural terrain breaks to block the wind. Looking at a spot in a worst case weather scenario can help pick an ideal spot to be for the night. The wind can blow hard and give you a terrible night’s sleep or worse yet rip up your tent and ruin it while you are out hunting. The snow might bury your setup or your tent might be in a low spot that will soak your supplies during a rainstorm. All of these and more are why you should consider the wind and weather when picking your camp location.
When it comes to hunting out West, we need shelter, food and water. It is important to have a plan to get supplies, such as food, water, changes of clothing and other items when camping. Camping in a back drainage over six miles from the trailhead can be an amazing experience, but also can give you problems, especially if you run out of food or there is no water supply. When picking a spot to camp near a road, it’s important to think about where you might get your water, food, gas or other supplies from and see if it makes sense. Ultimately, you are hunting, but also surviving, so make sure that you pick an appropriate place to spend your nights and take into account your supplies and a plan to restock.
Time and time again, I see people camping directly on routes that the game wants to use daily to feed, drink or breed. I completely understand wanting to be close to where the animals will travel; however, being directly off an active game trail is too close. This will most definitely cause the animals to change their patterns and find alternate ways with more cover to get from A to B. These changes in the animals’ natural behavior are compounded significantly when hunters and hikers choose to camp right in the middle of a deep, lush, wet valley that elk or deer would like to use for nightly feeding, watering and breeding. Again, it is a great idea to get close to the game, but think about thermals, wind direction and animals’ prime habitat and move your camp back. If you were not right in their prime area, there is a good chance that animals might use that area and allow you to hunt them. I highly suggest camping off a main trail a few miles in where animals are used to seeing, smelling and hearing people. They will continue to use their habitat as intended and you will have a greater chance of catching them in their natural behavior. Also, camping off a trail helps deter other hunters from being back there since they know that you are hunting it as well.
Ultimately, where you camp is up to you; however, thinking about the wind and weather, supply routes and animal habitat will give you a greater chance to be successful. Hunting pressure can already affect the animal behaviors a lot, but at least they get a break at night in order to revert back to their normal behavior. If you are putting pressure on them all day and all night they will eventually leave that basin dry and find a place with less day and night pressure. Thinking about your camp location will only make you a better hunter this year and years to come and will also make your hunt a better experience.