Choosing an Alpine Hunting Camp Site

Camp in a high mountain saddle allowed hunters to ride out an early season storm front that raised water levels substantially overnight.

“There’s sheep right above us on that ridge to the east!” One of the tent occupants had slithered outside in the gray morning light and while answering Mother Nature’s call, had prematurely started our hunting day. Having unfolded tired bones into damp sleeping bags just hours before we fired up the stove for coffee and began formulating a game plan.

While not all hunts require breaking above timberline and trying to subsist in the rocks for days on end with mountain quarry, several can and do and it’s of utmost importance to know what to look for in a campsite. Read on for some tips on safe and successful locations to maximize your days afield.

A creek bed acts as a natural trap for rocks breaking off the mountain above. Although tough to see, there were plenty caught between the banks.

Hunting in any mountain range’s alpine habitat carries inherent risks: less combustible material for fires means moisture management must be thought of continually, concentrated food sources can be predator magnets, not to mention lack of vegetation adds to rock- or landslide possibilities. Water holes can be hit or miss and can directly impact the days route. Overlooking one or more of these potential dangers could make the difference between exiting the mountains under your own power or an involuntary airlift.

Less Firewood- While firewood of any sort can be at a premium in the alpine, occasionally a few armloads of wood can be scavenged and set aside throughout the hunt. While not affording a nightly fire, a few keen hunters can accumulate enough fuel for a last night rib roast and clothes-drying session before dropping back down into the timber. While not a primary reason for an alpine camp, I prefer to dry my clothes over a fire rather than wearing them to bed to dry out in a sleeping bag, and will take every opportunity to do so on extended alpine hunts.

Close to water and just over the ridge from a band of rams, this camp was used to take a great Dall sheep the second week of season.

Concentrated Food Sources- On the sheep hunt in the opening paragraph, berries were in season while we hunted and abutted the canyons we were traveling through and camping in. Most drainages had a band of berry bushes at their mouths, dwindling as the elevation increased but leaving a veritable grocery store for the plethora of grizzly and black bears that call the area home. There was a noticeable slackening of bear sign as we climbed higher into the drainages, making a higher camp an easy decision. While the opportunity of dealing with predators wasn’t negated it was certainly lessened by familiarity with the native flora and fauna.

Rock/Land Slides- The alpine country can unleash violent storms quickly, in effect creating “gully washers” made famous by the American Southwest. These fronts can drop so much moisture so quickly the ground is incapable of soaking it up, leaving large amounts of water hurtling down the mountain’s path of least resistance, eroding rock slides and creek banks. More than one hunting camp has been wiped out by a rock- or landslide that tore loose after excessive amounts of rain. A glance around a potential campsite will give clues to the proximity to danger; are there single rocks laying on a flat bench in the grass? Those rocks broke off of the headwall or slide above your potential campsite and odds are good they won’t be the last. Camping out of the sloughing zone of these areas will provide more piece of mind when rocks are coming down in the middle of the night.

A look at the rock detritus that breaks off of the mountain, camped on the opposite side of the creek on an elevated bench allowed for piece of mind while we slept.

Water Proximity- Most of my alpine hunting is done in Alaska where water quantity rarely falls in the “not enough” category. In some locales, it’s a challenge to simply get away from the water. Many of our backcountry brethren have the opposite problem though and need to manage hunts around water sources. If your area has few, isolated water pockets take some bulk carrying containers along and move off the water source as far as is practical. Chances are the game will be using the same water as you and the last thing you want is to start disrupting established animal patterns. Plan on carrying enough water to only have to fill every couple of days. This will allow scent to dissipate and the area to settle down before having to refill. Speaking of camping next to game…

Location to Target Species- Some instances don’t require much forethought into camp locations next to game; the thick of the moose rut or a big elk migration come to mind where I’ve known hunters who’ve had them come right through camps unbothered. This is the exception, not the rule though when talking about mountain animals. A good site allows enough distance to the game that camp sounds and smells won’t bust you before you get a look at the animal you’re after.

Leaving the firewood behind and pushing up into the alpine.

Back in the tent, the plan was made. The ram we’d been pursuing for several days had a change of heart overnight and was layed up above the drainage we were calling home. He’d dropped lower than any of us anticipated, in effect cutting our hunting distance in half while we slept. The result was tormenting in its simplicity. There he was, here we were with nothing but a few thousand feet of Alaska mountain air between us. We sat tight, there was nothing else to do, until he rose from his bed, stretched, and began to feed. Boots were laced tight and our roles were run through again, anticipating the upcoming stalk. When his afternoon appetite pulled him behind a curtain of grey rock, we were ready and made our move. An hour later we sat by the old sheep, a crane of the neck revealed the top of our tent fly we’d be working back to before long loaded with heavy packs.

Picking the right site to base out of for alpine hunting can and should require several considerations. It’s not a place for the faint of heart or half-baked attempts. As backcountry hunters new and seasoned, we owe it to ourselves and our families to be ever vigilant and always learning. Who knows? Pick the right alpine camp location and your next task may be what to do with all of that game meat and once-in-a-lifetime trophy.

Sharing a water source with sheep, this camp was put in a quarter mile or more from water. Bulk bags were used to transfer water every other day to camp.

About the author: Jordan Voigt is a lifelong passionate outdoorsman. He has been blessed to hunt in numerous countries and several different states, as well as having worked for outfitters in Montana and Alaska as a camp jack, packer, and guide. He lives in Montana with his beautiful wife and is busy teaching his two sons about the outdoors and chasing the next adventure. You can follow him on Instagram @jordan.voigt

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