Backcountry school of hard knocks

Chape1rm

Well Known Rokslider
Joined
Apr 15, 2022
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100
I'm relatively new to backcountry hunting and it amazes me how much I can learn from each and every trip. Like most lessons that actually stick seems I need to learn the hard way. I figured I'd start this post to discuss these hard knocks so maybe someone can save themselves some wear and tear.

I was hunting SW Montana late November with a big game combo in my pocket. Day 5 I set out from my hot tipi before daylight into a -20 degree morning. The plan was to hike up to timberline and glass across a valley to catch migrating herds of elk cresting the opposite ridge and or spot and stalk critters that may already by there. With about 2ft of snow it was slow going and very difficult to keep from sweating so when I reached my vantage I worked on getting a warming fire started before I popsicled. I literally had my lighter and Pyro putty in hand when I heard cow elk chatter. I glassed them about .25 miles already on my hillside working diagonally away from my position heading towards the top. At this time all I could see were dark figures. I grabbed my rifle and took off through the snow towards the ridge straight above. Once there I relocated them but could only see a few cows popping over a small spine still slightly headed away from me. I thought if I could get to the peak I might be able to cut them off but I had to really move. I got on my horse and found high gear in hopes a bull was in tow of this herd. I belly crawled onto the peak peering over to see the lead cow at 440 yards and the closest cow coming around the backside corner at 220. Steadied my breath and helplessly watched through my scope as cow after cow appeared into view. No bull. At this point the wind is blasting through me layed out on this peak and I'd sweat like a hooker in church getting there. I headed back towards the fire I gathered but never lit. My feet were completely gone and I had to watch them into my previous tracks having no feeling until my calves. I've never had frost bite but I feared I was close to it. When I got back to my fire I began warming up. After all that story here's the hard knock. My fingers came back first but my feet were still completely numb. Having no feeling in them I didn't realize I was cooking my toes inside my boot until it was too late. Once the burning sensation hit I had already received 2nd degree burns on both big toes and my 2nd toe on my right foot which really sucked pickled ass because I still had 4 days left to hunt.

Lesson I learned was stay patient and warm up slow. Call me an idiot that's fine I'm a lineman by trade and skin is thicker than a tick tok chick's thighs. I did get my bull on the last day so it wasn't all in vain I suppose.

So let's hear some hard knock stories!
 
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Chape1rm

Chape1rm

Well Known Rokslider
Joined
Apr 15, 2022
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100
What did the boots and socks look like?
The sole separated a little at the toe on the right boot so I'm sending them back to shnees. They held up a lot better than I thought after heating up like that. I was trying to watch them while I was warming up to guage how hot things were getting but they were iced up pretty good and it was hard to tell.
 

bsnedeker

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May 17, 2018
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2,866
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MT
Just because you are cold it doesn't change the properties of fire. I have to remind my wife of this every time we have a campfire....she just wants to get RIGHT in the fire because she's cold....it blows my mind. She's burned SO many clothes...luckily never burned herself.

This phenomenon happens on Alone quite a bit. I remember watching this last season one of the folks got cold (I think it was the british chick) and she yeah, basically climbed right into the fire. I'm watching this thinking my god this woman is burning the absolute HELL out of herself and just can't feel it....sure enough!
 

dieselchessy

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Apr 21, 2015
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792
Growing up outdoors I don’t think I know anyone who’s tried to dry gear by a fire and not melted or burnt something. Can’t say I’ve ever seen someone burn their feet though.

Sounds like you weren’t well dressed for the conditions, and weren’t adding and subtracting layers depending on situation and activity level as one should.

In the excitement of the hunt it’s easy to get carried away and forget the basics. I still do it some times.
 

SonnyDay

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Jul 22, 2019
Messages
298
Glad your toes are going to pull through! And congrats on your bull.

I had to learn this lesson twice: if you are out in cold weather and there’s even the slightest chance you might have to sit for a long time or spend the night, have a closed cell foam pad. I’ve slept in all my clothes with no bag, and once in my backpack (legs) with my plastic-coated map for a blanket… keeping myself off the snow/frozen ground would have made all the difference. They weigh basically nothing…
 
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Chape1rm

Chape1rm

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Apr 15, 2022
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100
Curious what your layering/ clothing setup was this whole time?
Shnees beartooth 0g boots Duckworth medium weight wool socks and smartwool liners. First lite Merino zip off 3/4 long John's, SG dehaviland pant and usually wore Pnuma 3m rain pants for a windblocker. Peax Gaiters. Duckworth wool baselayer up top, kuiu strongfleece 260, SG dehaviland jacket. Black ovis wool gloves under kincko leather winter gloves and kuiu beanie. I kept Kifaru lost park puffy top and bottom in my pack along with the Pnuma rain jacket and used as needed.

Thought I was doing okay managing heat through side vents and shedding the SG jacket when I needed too. I definitely went balls out trying to cut off that herd obviously sweating in the process and then laying out on the peak in the wind was no bueno. If my layering was sub optimal I am all ears!
 
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Chape1rm

Chape1rm

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Joined
Apr 15, 2022
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100
Glad your toes are going to pull through! And congrats on your bull.

I had to learn this lesson twice: if you are out in cold weather and there’s even the slightest chance you might have to sit for a long time or spend the night, have a closed cell foam pad. I’ve slept in all my clothes with no bag, and once in my backpack (legs) with my plastic-coated map for a blanket… keeping myself off the snow/frozen ground would have made all the difference. They weigh basically nothing…
Thanks

Nothing like a frosty night under the stars!

I've never tried a foam pad. It might have been handy for sure. I had a nice stack of pine bows to insulate a sleeping surface but after that I felt my air mattress put me up too high and it was kinda tippy. Something to consider, thanks 👍
 

mtnrunner260

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Aug 6, 2012
Messages
1,490
Let's see pic of bull.
Stuff happens. I've melted a thing Orr two in my day.
Would you make any gear changes for the next time?
 

JohnB

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Joined
Aug 28, 2019
Messages
296
I'm no doctor but if your feet were that cold I'd have an easier time believing that was a cold injury that caused those blisters rather than burns. I feel like it'd be hard to burn the tips of your toes but that is exactly where I'd expect to see frostbite issues.

Also if you expect to hunt in those sort of temps I'd recommend looking into some boots with insulation in them. Even if the days are a bit warmer standing around in snow sucks the heat out of your feet!
 
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Chape1rm

Chape1rm

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Joined
Apr 15, 2022
Messages
100
Let's see pic of bull.
Stuff happens. I've melted a thing Orr two in my day.
Would you make any gear changes for the next time?
Yes as @JohnB mentioned I would like to try some boots with around 400g insulation. Also been eyeing those kuiu down glommits. Honestly felt like my layers were solid other than that. I'm going to look into a foam sleeping pad vs air mattress.

If I hunt in deep snow again I'd definitely consider those short fat cross country skiis.

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woods89

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Sep 3, 2014
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Location
Southern MO Ozarks
Shnees beartooth 0g boots Duckworth medium weight wool socks and smartwool liners. First lite Merino zip off 3/4 long John's, SG dehaviland pant and usually wore Pnuma 3m rain pants for a windblocker. Peax Gaiters. Duckworth wool baselayer up top, kuiu strongfleece 260, SG dehaviland jacket. Black ovis wool gloves under kincko leather winter gloves and kuiu beanie. I kept Kifaru lost park puffy top and bottom in my pack along with the Pnuma rain jacket and used as needed.

Thought I was doing okay managing heat through side vents and shedding the SG jacket when I needed too. I definitely went balls out trying to cut off that herd obviously sweating in the process and then laying out on the peak in the wind was no bueno. If my layering was sub optimal I am all ears!
Opinions differ on this but I go all synthetic with baselayers for later season hunting, as I find it moves moisture so much better. I brought merino baselayers one year, and they just stayed soggy way too long.
I do like merino for mild weather, not for cold, though. Kuiu's Peleton 97 line is a really good choice for cold weather.
 

WV Mountaineer

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Oct 2, 2016
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2,204
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West Virginia
Always carry water filtration pills as a back up even if you prefer a Steripen, pump, or squeeze filter as your first choice.

Two springs ago, I left work on Friday around 2 and drove 3 hours to the mountains and national forest to do some solitary trout fishing in a wilderness area.

It was a BEAUTIFUL day. Mid April, trees were starting to bud. So, no humidity. The sun was hot and dry. It was a nice hot though. Sweat didn’t lay on you and the sun just soothed your bones. I was so excited.

I finally got to the gated road and loaded up my pack for the 4 Mile walk in. It was heavy. I brought the kitchen sink in amenities. Potatoes, eggs, precooked brats and breakfast sausage, cooking oil, seasoning, etc…. I brought real food for every meal. With the idea I’d eat a few trout with my pre cooked brats for both suppers.

I didn’t stop there though. I had two bottles of fuel for a single mantle lantern. Etc…. I mean I brought everything. I even brought a fold out chair. I was fixin’ on living it up. It never occurred to me that deciding to not pack the aqua tabs was going to come back and burn me because my Sawyer worked just fine the night I tested before leaving.

On the way in, I walked by two mountain creeks I drink out of a lot. But, I decided I’d wait until I got to camp before fooling with water. Even though I was already very thirsty. Here’s the irony in all this. Even though I brought a filter, I rarely had to ever use it while doing this trip.

It’s important to understand the destination stream always has beaver activity in the head waters. But, there had always been mountain tributaries in the past that I could get water from without worry of filtering. Rendering the filter a security measure more than a dependency. So, I never gave the negligence of getting water on the way in any thought at all.


It was a dry winter too. And a drier spring. So, after walking by the last tributary that was clean, I covered the next 3.5 miles, with a 75 pound pack, in haste to get camp setup, get water, etc… before dark.

When I reached the big stream I intended to fish, I was alarmed by the lack of flow. But, I headed on another 1.5 miles to my camping location. I setup camp and went to the river to filter a 6 liter bag of water and my nalgene full. Because the tributary I had planned to camp by was totally dry. So, still no worries as I still had water. I just had to filter it.

I was so happy to be there. I had supper and a few sips of the pint of Wild Turkey on my mind as I began to try and filter water. Well, you could imagine my irritation when I couldn’t get water to squeeze through the Sawyer. I couldn’t get the Sawyer to twist open either.

How did this happen? I had tried the filter the night before I left to ensure it was working Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t water to squeeze through it and, I couldn’t get it twisted open.

So, here it is. I’m 4 miles in with 75 pounds of gear, 3.5 miles from the closest water I can drink unfiltered, and I hadn’t drank anything in about 6 hours, I was dehydrated badly, and out of options.

So I packed everything back up in my pack, and hiked out in the dark back to my truck. When I got within a 1/2 mike of the truck and the first safe water I could drink, I dumped my pack, and slammed a liter of cold spring mountain water like a hammer. Which turned my guts into a wrenching mess. I didn’t care. I filled my nalgene and slowly drank another liter this time.

I filled it the third time while contemplating if I was just going to go home or stay in the bed of my truck and day trip it the next day. Well, my irritation convinced me to just go home and regroup. So, that’s what I did. Got home around 1:30 AM.

A little content to the story too. I had spent all day putting shingles on before leaving at 2. I drove straight there, loaded up everything in my pack, and hiked 8 mikes with a 75-80 pound pack with an already dehydrated body. While not life threatening, I was exhausted. And, I still get po’ed EVERYTIME I see. Sawyer squeeze filter.
 

WV Mountaineer

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Joined
Oct 2, 2016
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2,204
Location
West Virginia
Opinions differ on this but I go all synthetic with baselayers for later season hunting, as I find it moves moisture so much better. I brought merino baselayers one year, and they just stayed soggy way too long.
I do like merino for mild weather, not for cold, though. Kuiu's Peleton 97 line is a really good choice for cold weather.
Everytine I read advice for a merino baselayer, I often wander If the person hunts cold weather. I get it, it’s great. But, it doesn’t dry like polyester. So, if there is a chance I’m going to get sweated up, I always wear polyester next to my skin. The merino doesn’t dry like it does.
 

Marble

Well Known Rokslider
Joined
May 29, 2019
Messages
2,599
After having cancer a few times, the last one being Thyroid, my feet are really messed up from nerve damage from Chemo. So I now carry the little warmers made for the toes that have an adhesive on them so they stay in place. My feet are always colder than everyone else's now. Just the opposite before.

It's best to do things to prevent or mitigate problems before they are a problem in the backcountry.

Don't get sweaty in really cool weather. Most hyperthermia cases are in the 30-40 degree window.

Taking your boots off, wrapping them in clothing and putting them in your backpack is helpful. Just getting them off snow helps.


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