Hunting365: Paying the price for bowhunting's success

As I prep for my Do-It-Yourself (DIY) elk hunt in the Rocky Mountains this fall, I recently found myself going back through some old resources including an interview that I did a couple of years back with well-known Hoyt pro-staff bowhunter Cameron Hanes of Eugene, Ore.

Unfortunately, that interview occurred right before my heart surgery a couple of years back and never saw the light of day that fall.

So I'm resurrecting Hanes' responses now, hoping that it will help me — and you as a faithful H365 reader — be successful in the mountainous backcountry this fall.

In addition to being a husband, a father of three kids, and a full-time buyer for the Springfield (Ore.) Utility Board, the 40-year old Hanes is also a two-time book author, editor of the highly popular Eastman's Bowhunting Journal magazine, and co-host and host of two big game hunting television shows.

Known for his world class athletic prowess and superb bowhunting skills, the bowhunter of 20 years is perhaps best known for authoring the immensely popular book Backcountry Bowhunting.

How serious is Hanes about his craft?

Well, how many bowhunters do you know that run 50K ultra marathons in the mountains to train physically for fall hunts, in addition to shooting super tight arrow groups on a Rinehart 18-1 target in their hotel room in order to keep daily pre-hunt preparation routines intact?

Hanes does.

Why? Because he loves the stick-and-string backcountry chase and success of hunting bears, mule deer, elk, antelope, moose, caribou, whitetails — and in a few weeks, Dall sheep — so much.

"Bottom line, I love bowhunting," he said. "I love challenge and I guess in some respects I am an adventure seeker."

This is why Hanes has been known to drive virtually all night long to a trailhead, bomb his way into a remote wilderness basin by way of a dark-thirty double-digit hike, and then come out a few days later with the antlered goods and meat strapped to his backpack.

Sound like a supreme challenge? That's exactly what draws Hanes to such remote places for a DIY hunt.

"For me the harder the better, the more remote the better because this means that I will be hunting unsullied land (and) unpressured animals which means the chance of success are that much more," Hanes said.

"If you are hunting country easy to get into, while it is easy for you, it is also easy for everyone else.

"For a bowhunter competing one on one with the animal is tough enough without throwing other hunters in the mix. Other hunters bumping animals or going after the same animal I might be is as frustrating as it gets.

"For that reason I head deep into the backcountry. Not to mention, the bigger, more mature animals I focus on, simply won't stand for too much human presence."

Getting into shooting position on a bona fide gagger sized trophy buck or bull in such places is vastly different than most guided hunting camp experiences.

"To me, plain and simple, (DIY) means the hunt starts and ends with you," Hanes said. "You have done the research, bought the maps, tested the gear, scouted the country, found the animals and if it all works like it supposed to, stalked or called your trophy to within bow range and finally, downed him with a razor sharp broadhead released from a well-tuned bow."

What does it take for a hunter to find himself in such a Kodak moment high up in the mountains?

"Honestly, I don't think it is necessarily harder, hunting wise, but it does take more planning and confidence," Hanes said. "Bowhunting is tough no matter where you do it. There are no slams dunks in bowhunting."

That's especially true in DIY bowhunting where the mountains exact a big toll on a hunter in more than one way.

"The biggest difference (to me) is that hunting and surviving on your own in the mountains, miles from any road or civilization, is intimidating for a lot of guys and I won't lie, it was for me too when I first started doing solo DIY wilderness hunts," Hanes said.

"So, mentally it is pretty tough and physically it can be demanding as I often times pack all my gear for living 5-12 days in the backcountry on my back. It can weigh up to 50 to 55 lbs. and I carry it virtually every step of the way all day.

"This is why I put so much emphasis on physical conditioning. Without being in peak condition, I would have thrown in the towel on many hunts, but in my mind I think, 'No, I have worked too hard and dreamed too long about this hunt to quit.'

"For me, quitting is never an option."

Interested — and I certainly am — in becoming a disciple of Hanes' style of backcountry bowhunting?

Then the Oregon based professor of such mountain hunting tactics has a few suggestions to make.

"First of all, I think you need to be a hard worker, love challenge and love the rugged mountains, (in addition to) being strong mentally as well," Hanes said.

"I have seen a lot of guys in the backcountry that were more than fit physically, but mentally, after a couple of days on their own, with no distraction of everyday life, they are a wreck.

"In the mountains, it is just you, the wind, the sun, (and) the animals and so on. Guys end up obsessing over this or that; thinking about their wife, their girlfriend or their family; create problems in their head; (and) get homesick, etc.

"What this means is they are not focused on the hunt and in about two or three days are ready to go home. Throw in a blown stalk or a miss or simply having a hard time finding animals and as the saying goes, 'Stick a fork in 'em.'"

To avoid that unsavory result, it seems necessary to me for a hunter to learn to love the journey as much as the destination of success.

Hanes agrees.

"One of my favorite quotes is, 'Make sure your goals are fueled by the love of the journey,'" he said. "What this means to me is, don't set the goal of being a great marathoner unless you love running.

"Same goes for DIY backcountry hunting. Unless you love challenge, don't head for a long DIY trip to the remote, unforgiving mountains.

"I know of a lot of guys who look at the photos of the beautiful and striking country, the incredible kill shots of trophy animals, see the videos and TV shows that chronicle these hunts, hear the stories, read the articles and think, 'Yes, that is what I've always wanted to experience.'

"The problem is, all the highlights that make the TV show and the photos are but a fraction of the time a guy will spend on your typical backcountry endeavor.

"A half-hour TV show has about 18 minutes of hunting footage at most. This is not much time out of a 10-day hunt.

"The rest of the time is usually very tough — bouts of homesickness, hiking in rugged up and down country with the sun beating down on you looking for an animal to hunt, self doubt, fear — those lonely nights can be long — and so on."

So is Hanes trying to discourage others from his style of hunting?

Well, perhaps... but only if you're looking intently on hunting his own favored backcountry basins where big bull elk and mulie bucks roam!

But in all seriousness, no. What Hanes is doing is reminding would-be backcountry bowhunters that as with most anything else in life, there is a price to be paid for success.

Especially in the lonely and windswept backcountry with a pack on your back, a bow in your hand, and miles of rugged territory to explore.

"(If) you want to be a DIY backcountry hunter, more power to you. Just know all rewards will be earned the hard way," Hanes said.

"I call it backcountry justice — no shortcuts to success in the mountains. Those who work the hardest are successful, period."