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Bivy Hunting: Worth the Hype?

Photo: I love Alps Mountaineering tents. Notice the vestibule that you can leave wet boots under or shield your backpack from the weather. Also, a flyrod doesn't weigh much, and you can fish in the middle of the day when not hunting and have fresh fish to eat.

By: Tom Claycomb

The last few years you read everywhere about bivy hunting. But what is bivy hunting? It’s basically throwing everything you’ll need to hunt for the week in your backpack and camping out on top of a mountain. Why would you want to do that? I’ll tell you why:

Because it gets old hiking three hours up to the top of a mountain every morning to get into elk. And if you hunt until dark, then you’ll be stumbling down a mountain in the dark. So if you leave three hours before daylight to get up high, hunt until dark, and then hike down, get to camp, and have to whip up a dinner, that makes for a longggg day. And besides that, by the third day you can barely walk even if you’re in good shape. Or what if you kill something at dusk and have to track it and then gut it? Now it is really late, and you’ll be sleeping with your elk on the side of a wind-blown mountain.

Why not just hike up to the top, set up a camp, and then the next morning you can just roll out of your bedroll at daylight and start hunting. Basically, getting to sleep three hours later. Then at dusk, when the hunting gets good again, you can hunt right until dark, and then take a short hike over to your camp, whip out a fast dinner, and go to bed. That sounds a lot better, doesn’t it?

If the elk move a little, you’re still on top and can hike the ridges over and hunt different drainages but still save the three-hour uphill hike every morning and the hour-and-a-half hike down at night.

It’s basically the same as backpacking into the backcountry to fly fish, except you’re hunting instead of fishing. Albeit, some of the hardcore bivy hunters don’t use a tent. They sleep in a bivy bag or maybe under a tarp. I don’t like waking up with a bear licking my face, so I take a tent.

As I said, it’s basically the same as flyfishing/backpacking trips, but instead of carrying a flyrod, you carry a rifle or bow. It’s nice to carry up a load the weekend before you actually start hunting. But then that kinda disqualifies it from being a bivy hunt, huh? Or another twist is to have someone pack in on horses and drop you off on top, and then you take out with your backpack and bivy hunt. But that is leaning towards a drop-off camp. So figure out your plan to hit your destination.

If this sounds like something you want to try, then most likely your next question is, ‘What gear will I need?” If you’re camping right in elk country and build a fire every morning and night to cook on, that may make them move out. So, you might want to use a backpacking stove like the Camp Chef Stryker 200. But I like having a campfire at night. Yes, I know, it will make you smell smoky, but I still like them. I remember one September bivy hunt we did 25 years ago up high. A blizzard hit, and it got wet and cold. A Stryker 200 would have been nice. We could of cooked in the dry warmth of our tent. So you might consider a backpacking stove.

You’ll need a good pack. For the last 30 years, I’ve used an old Kelty external frame pack. I’m about to start testing some Alps Mountaineering packs. You’ll need a big pack to haul all of your gear up high, plus to pack your game out with.

You'll need to get in shape to hike up a mountain with a full pack.

You’ll also want to take a daypack for your day hunts. Some people only sleep under a tarp. I hate to be a wimp, but there are just too many bears here in Idaho for me to do that, so I pack the extra weight and take a tent. There are small, lightweight, what I call “bicycler tents,” but the ones I use right now are the Alps Chaos 2 or Taurus 2 tents. Yes, they’re a little larger than they have to be, but they both have two vestibules that are great for shielding your packs and boots from the elements. Then, of course, you’ll need a sleeping bag and pad. I like to put on a toboggan at night to keep my head warm.

Pack clothes according to the weather, but for sure pack a lightweight Gore-Tex raincoat, a few pairs of hiking socks (one to sleep in), and a base layer for sleeping, too. If you have an old pair of shoes/boots, it’s nice to have an extra pair to wear around camp and let your feet rest. You can burn them when you leave. I wear lightweight canvas-sided hiking boots like Irish Setter Vapr Treks.

I carry an Army/Boy Scout mess kit to cook and eat with. Plastic cup, durable plastic fork and spoon. Take a small aluminum coffee pot to sterilize water, cook with, and make coffee. Plan a menu. For breakfast, I like flavored oatmeal. In August/September you can pick huckleberries/thimble berries to put in your oatmeal. PBJ sandwiches are easy for lunch. For supper, I splurge and eat Mountain House backpacking meals. Motel coffee packs are compact.

Here’s a list or other items. Due to space limitations, it will not be all-inclusive:

-Fire starting gear
-Tarp can be handy
-Flashlight. Headlamp
-Camera. You’ll be in cool country and want pics
-Roll of twine
-Roll of paper towels for bathing, cleaning dishes, and TP
-Gun oil
-Tooth brush/tooth paste
-Knives
-Adventure Medical Kits Moleskin, band-aids
- Duct tape to repair tent walls, broken tent poles
-MyTopoMaps
-Compass

You don’t want a dry camp. Camp by a stream or high mountain lake. That way you can wash dishes, take a bath, and not have to haul up 10 gallons of water! I carry an Aquamira filtered straw and an Aquamira Frontier Flow filtered water bottle. That way as long as there is water around, I’m good to go.

I always carry a pistol, but especially when camping. It’s hard to maneuver a rifle in a small tent if a bear is ripping out the sides.

Well, that should be enough info to get you started. Have fun!

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

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