Planning Your Hunt Around Your Energy

It was too good to be true. In the summer of 2021, I learned of my good fortune in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep draw. I’d pulled a coveted tag after 19 years of waiting, and on August 3, 2021, I arrowed a massive 171-inch ram. 

Lightning struck again in the summer of 2022 as Colorado’s draw results started trickling. I was blessed to draw an archery elk tag I’d waited nine years for in a unit I’d longed to hunt since I was a starry-eyed boy. 

As I did in 2021, I went straight to work. For the past ten years, aside from hunting, ultra-running has been a big part of my life. After learning about my tag draw, I signed the dotted line for the Silverheels 100. This would be my fourth 100-mile ultra-marathon, and this one would be a doozy — 18,250 feet of vertical gain over 100 miles of demanding mountain trails. 

Why do such a thing?

First, I want to note I don’t believe that running is a prerequisite to being a good hunter. I know many guys and gals that punch tags yearly, true ten percenters, that don’t run a mile during the year. I do it because I love it, and I feel that being in great physical shape has allowed me to hunt harder and longer over the years. When most are ready to come off the mountain, I’m good to stay. When a 600-pound elk are harvested six miles from the truck, I’m prepared to bone it out and haul a load. 

Months before his injury, the author finished the Silverheels 100-Mile Endurance Run.

Of course, aside from the training, I followed a strict shooting routine. Then, in mid-August, something went very wrong. I’d finished the 100-mile Silverheels and done well, taking fourth place overall. I was on a recovery run, pounding the dirt roads near my southeast Colorado home when I felt a sharp pain in the lower part of my back. I kept running. I’m no stranger to running pain. This pain, though, got worse. I stretched and iced after the run, but nothing helped. The next day, the pain was worse. The day after that, I could hardly walk. 

I saw an orthopedic back specialist and was informed I would need an MRI. The x-ray showed damage to the lower back, discs L4 and L5. I explained to the doctor that I’d pulled an excellent archery tag, and she smiled and said, “We can wait on the MRI, but you’re going to need to be smart about where and how you hunt.” 

Better Planning!

Injuries and health issues are a part of life, and I know I’m not the first hunter to suffer an injury less than a month out from a prime hunt. The injury itself is not what this article is about, but rather how you can plan accordingly around your injury, hunt smart, and still come out with meat for the girl and antlers for the wall. 

First, evaluate what your injury is. If you’re dealing with knee, back, or neck issues, the biggest hurdle on a physical mountain hunt will be the terrain and weight on your back. If you’re a bowhunter dealing with a severe shoulder injury, you’ll have to look at the laws in your state. Many states allow crossbows during archery season. Though Colorado does not, a letter from a physician and jumping through some paperwork hurdles can get an upper-body-injured individual crossbow use during the state’s archery seasons. Stay positive; there are always things you can do to salvage your season.

When you have an injury, especially a serious one, you must plan your hunt around that injury.

Terrain

The most significant injuries that can wreak havoc on a mountain hunt, as noted earlier, are lower-body injuries. In my case, the country I’d planned to hunt was extraordinarily remote and vertical. It was the roughest, elky-est country I could find, and in June of 2022, my hunting partner and I made a trip into the area. We found some monster bulls and, most importantly, a ridiculous amount of rut signs from the previous fall. 

That spot was now a no-go. 

In June 2022, the author backpacked into a remote, difficult-to-access area. This would be a landscape he would not be able to return to due to injury.

The injury to my back was severe, and I needed to find country in less extreme terrain that held elk. The answer was digital map research, social media, and a call to the Rio Grande Forest Service Office. The updated Monthly Satellite feature on my Huntstand App allowed me to find off-the-beaten-path locales in lower-elevation terrain that was less extreme. The area that piqued my interest the most was several miles of logged-years-ago land. When mountain property is logged, logging roads are created, and these roads are typically closed after the logging operation. In short, this means no vehicle access but more manageable walking.

After exchanging messages on social media with multiple hunters who’d had the tag in previous years and wanted to help, my suspicions were confirmed; I’d found an elk-rich area. A phone call to the local forest service office provided information about ATV access in specific logging road areas to retrieve game animals, which would have been huge had I killed my bull in this area. 

Using his Huntstand digital mapping app, the author could locate milder terrain littered with old logging roads.

Get It Out?

When you have an injury, you must plan carefully to get a harvested animal out of the backcountry. This was a new step for me. In years past, even if I was alone and had to make multiple back-and-forth trips, I could pack loads of meat on my back, and this year would be different. 

Pack animals like horses, mules, lamas, and goats are always an option. If you don’t have animals of your own, you can contact a packer in the area, or you can reach out to a buddy or family member who has animals. Animals are the absolute best route, as you won’t have to carry a single ounce of meat on your back.

Animals, like horses, are a great option to use when getting big animals like elk out of the backcountry.

If animals aren’t an option, you need to request the help of good hunting buddies. If you’ve been hunting long enough, you have them; those people that will drop things in their own lives to help you be successful. Recruit them during the planning phase of your hunt. 

Another option, and one I’d never considered until my buddy mentioned it hours before leaving for the final trip of my elk season, is a game cart. This two-wheeled cart was our saving grace. By this point in the season, my back was done, I’d had lots of friends with me on previous trips, and one friend even brought horses. I’d taken the hunt down to the wire, and it was me, Steve, and a game cart. We were hunting a logged area — different from the previously mentioned locale — but the terrain was similar, and the logging roads were many. The big difference is that this logging area didn’t allow ATVs to retrieve game. 

A two-wheeled game cart kept the weight off the back and allowed easy travel back to the truck.

Goals

The last thing I want to mention, and something for the injured hunter to keep at the forefront of their mind, are personal goals. Before learning of the severity of my back injury, my goal was to arrow a bull that would score over 300-inches Pope & Young. I clung to that goal for a good part of the season, but as September rolled on and my back pain increased, I set a new goal. I told myself this: You’re hurt, and you may be hurt badly. You don’t know how many mountain elk hunts you’ll have left. Enjoy this, and shoot a bull that comes in hot to a call.

On the evening of September 22, 2022, I made that goal reality. After walking 3.1-miles on a logging road to a good-looking drainage, Steve got a bull to bugle. An hour after that first bugle, Steve pulled that bull past me at 35 yards, and I put an arrow in the money spot. We had to pack boned-out meat (don’t ever carry what you don’t have to) 1/2-mile back to the logging road, and then we pulled it out on the game cart downhill back to the truck. 

This was a fantastic adventure, and I learned so much. On October 1, 2022, I received the results of my MRI. I have bulged and hemorrhaged discs at L4 and L5 and compression on a nerve. Surgery is likely. However, I limped through a season and filled a tag because I took the time to change my tactics and hunt smarter, not harder. You can do the same. 

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  • Allen November 10, 2022, 4:41 pm

    Way to not give up. 18 years ago I was severely injured and nearly lost my life. I have severe nerve damage and central nervous system damage to my lower neck. I have constant pain and all kinds of weird crap going on in my body that changes by the minute. Also a small TBI. I did pretty good at first and was able to push fairly hard with help of friends also but as time wore on my body is rebelling. The pain keeps me from regular exercise so I “cram” for hunting season which isn’t sufficient. But I refuse to quit. I love antelope hunting and shot a Nevada record book last year. I was able to drive right up to him. It gets discouraging and this year I went out one day. To all those with injuries or sickness don’t ever give up on hunting. You may have to change how you hunt and swallow your pride and hunt in different ways either from vehicles or easier terrain. But enjoy the outdoors and Gods creation. Don’t let others tell you that your disabled so you need to act like it. If you’d watch me for any amount of time you’d realize that I am acting like it. Did you not see me catch my lazy foot on a piece of sage and roll down the mountain 40 ft? Just because I was laughing doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

  • Louis November 8, 2022, 9:16 am

    My hat to you Sir. Sometimes those things happen and we can only comply with the new conditions. You did what many fail to accomplish, you adapted and kept moving ahead, my warm congratulations to you. Today I send my best thinking to you, hoping for a valuable recovery which will allow the continuation of your activities. Take care

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