Mia & the Little Gal: Planning a pack-in, high-mountain elk hunt

Last fall LG and I went hunting for her first bull elk, and returned home empty-handed. Fortunately, she drew another elk tag in Colorado this year. She is super excited and we have been discussing, scouting and planning how to hunt this fall.

Packing in

Factoring in dry weather, hot temperatures, hunting pressure and location of animals, we decided to pack in to the high country for a 5-day hunt.

LG has been on many horseback hunts, as well as pack trips, and has also helped pack our hunting clients in and out of the woods. But, this time, she will be the hunter.

We will load the horses with our tent, food, gun and gear for the 5-day hunt. The horses will carry everything to the spot we have chosen for hunting camp. This is different than last year, when we rode the horses in and out each day of the hunt.

LG pulls a pack string with gear.

LG pulls a pack string with gear.

If you have horses and would like to pack your camp in, be sure to check with the United States Forest Service before you go. You need to verify where you are allowed to set up camp and for how long. You will likely want to arrive at the site of your camp a few days prior to your hunt so you and your stock can get accustomed to the altitude.

We have already scouted the location we will call home for the 5-day hunt. We even have a secondary spot, in the event another motivated hunter beats us up there. One advantage of packing in is that you can get farther into the wilderness and away from other hunters. Outfitters hunt in designated areas, so you don’t have to worry about them encroaching on your camp.

We will set up camp the evening prior to the hunt, have dinner and then climb into our bedrolls. A good night’s sleep should give us the advantage of an early-morning start on opening day.

Pack saddles

We have panniers and packsaddles for our horses. The packsaddle goes on the horse first, in a fashion similar to a Western saddle. The panniers are used to carry everything and attach to the packsaddles.

We will use both hard and soft panniers for our trip. Hard panniers are good for stowing breakable items, such as lanterns and foods. We also pack our hunting clothes in a hard pannier so they will not get wet if it rains. Due to its size, the tent will be packed in a soft pannier. The panniers will be loaded and balanced, then placed on the packhorse and lashed down with ropes. We don’t want the packs to rub, slip or fall off while we are going up and down the mountain trails.

Soft panniers adorn the rear horse, while the front horse has hard panniers.

Soft panniers adorn the rear horse, while the front horse has hard panniers.

Packing list

We will pack a variety of hunting clothing for this trip. The temperatures will vary from 20 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, so we will definitely need to dress in layers. We will also have sets of rain gear. We will each have 2 pairs of boots in case one pair gets wet from rain or snow.

Hydration and nutrition are important when hunting at high altitudes. A JetBoil will be our means of cooking food. For this, we will need water and propane canisters. We will also have water filtration bottles that will be filled each day.

Among other things, we will bring instant oatmeal, a variety of Mountain House foods, granola bars, dried fruit, nuts, jerky and summer sausage. All are good sources of nutrition and will not require refrigeration, as we will not be packing coolers or ice.

Harvesting an elk

I mentioned above that we will not have coolers or ice and temperatures may be warm. Because of that, we will need to pack out an elk quickly so it doesn’t spoil. We will tag, skin and quarter the bull as quickly as possible and put it in game bags. If it is late in the day, we will hang it from a tree to keep the meat safe from bears.

After it is bagged, the elk quarters, head and back-straps will be packed in soft panniers and lashed to the packhorses. We will deliver the meat and remaining carcass back home to be processed, then return to camp for another night. The next morning we will break down camp, pack up the horses and head for home.

In the event that we do not have time for another night in the mountains, our saddles are “Outfitter Saddles” which have loops and ties for packing. We will pack part of the elk on our riding horses and part on the pack horses. Camp will be packed up and we will lead our horses out on foot (we will hike).

A bull elk is placed on top of bow cases and hard panniers. Photo courtesy of Rich Holmes

A bull elk is placed on top of bow cases and hard panniers. Photo courtesy of Rich Holmes

Extra care for the horses

The area we choose to hunt has to be lush with grass, and horses will be lashed out with ropes so they can eat. Camp will be near a stream (check with your ranger for requirements as to how close you can camp to a stream or river) so horses can be watered each day. If an area looks like it will be over-grazed by the horses, we will have to relocate them so they don’t damage the habitat.

Above all, we always take care of our animals. They will need to be checked, watered, possibly untangled and moved each day. They are an added responsibility on the hunt. Packing in via horseback is very similar to backpacking in for a hunt, but a horse can carry much more than you can. Ultimately we would like to fill our freezers, but as hunters, we have a focus on conservation including wildlife and habitat.


We’ll be sure to keep you apprised of our hunting this fall. In the meantime, keep up with the adventures of Mia & the Little Gal at my blog My Many Outdoor Adventures!

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The Conversation

  • Sherri W. O'Neill says: August 5, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Wow! I guess you’re on your way to success! I think you’re all set for this elk hunting activity. I know you are excited. Well, i am too. I hope this will turn out really well, i guess you will be successful with the hunt because you seemed to have everything in place.

    • Mia Anstine says: August 5, 2013 at 7:39 am

      Good morning Sherri,
      We do indeed hope to be successful. Laying the ground work is an important start. The hunt is the challenge. It will be a memorable one for LG & me regardless of what we come home with. We are certainly excited!
      Thank you for your comments and best of luck to you in all you do.

  • Peter @ HuntingInfoNetwork says: July 30, 2013 at 9:21 am

    You seem to have everything very well planned. I’m sure your hunting will end successfully. Good luck!

    • Mia Anstine says: July 30, 2013 at 9:50 am

      If only we could schedule what time the elk will be in the meadow on top of the mountain. Haha! Thank you Peter, I hope we can put on in the satchel for her this year.