Heading afield solo can be very rewarding—if you have a solid game plan
Hunting was born as a community affair. In early times, it was all about feeding the collective, and success increased with additional hands. Through the 20th century, however, killing your own food became less of an imperative, and hunting evolved to become part food gathering, part social interaction. For most hunters today, heading afield remains a blend of collecting their own meat and enjoying the company of like-minded family and friends.
For some, though, hunting solo also brings rewards. These are the folks who are comfortable with their own company and who enjoy the challenge of going it alone. That doesn’t always mean extended trips into the backcountry, however. More often, it’s a day alone in the grouse or deer woods, or perhaps a morning on a favourite marsh. Irrespective of the length of the trip, or your motivation, here are some things to keep top of mind if you’re going to become a one-man hunting party.
Play it safe
Perhaps the single greatest benefit of hunting with others is knowing that someone has your back should things go wrong. No matter how careful you are, it’s undeniably easy to encounter a problem. It might be as innocuous as a simple slip and fall or equipment failure, or as imperiling as getting lost, suffering a heart attack or getting attacked by a bear. Whenever you plan to hunt alone, then, whether it’s a days-long backcountry foray or a single morning in the local bush, it’s crucial that someone knows of your plan and checks that you make it out safely.
If there’s one time to embrace modern technology, this is it. Cellphones are marvellous instruments when used judiciously, and where cell service is available, you can call your safety contact on a predetermined schedule, or request help if you get into trouble.
Self-sufficiency and safety are key
For those hunting alone for extended periods beyond cell range, today’s satellite technology is a reliable and affordable option, with sat phones enabling you to connect from virtually anywhere on the planet. If you’re looking for a more cost-conscious option, consider the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. It tracks your location, and can be set to send messages to your family or friends on a predetermined schedule. The device can also summon emergency responders at the push of a button.
As a solo hunter, you must be self-sufficient, even when you only plan to be afield for the day. It’s prudent to pack a little extra food and water, the means to start a fire and a basic first-aid kit. If you can stay warm and hydrated, and don’t bleed out, you’ll nearly always be able to survive in relative comfort until help arrives.
Plan an exit strategy
Hunting solo sounds like good fun—until you down a deer, elk or moose a long way from your truck, that is. Ensure you have the necessary gear to field dress your animal alone, as well as the means to get it out of the bush. That may require hauling the animal out yourself, or having helping hands on standby. Deer are generally manageable when you’re on your own, but larger animals or those taken in rugged and remote country will need to be quartered and carried out on your back, one piece at a time. Make sure you’re prepared for that.
Hunting alone tests both your physical and mental capacity. For many, the toughest aspect is the lack of company. Without a companion to provide mutual encouragement, it’s easy to lose focus or motivation on extended solo hunts. To combat this, it’s important to stay occupied when you’re not focused on the hunt itself. Take along a book or keep a journal to help pass those quiet moments.
Another one of the benefits of solo hunting is ample time to indulge in self-reflection, a healthy activity most of us find too little time for. Train yourself to enjoy those moments alone, as they’re few and far between.
In our busy world, it isn’t always easy to find a friend with the same schedule as you, meaning that hunting alone may be your only option. Fortunately, you’ll be surprised to discover how decidedly unlonely hunting solo can be. You’ll hear and see things you’ve never experienced before, giving you a whole new appreciation of heading afield.
Ken Bailey is Outdoor Canada’s Edmonton-based hunting editor.