Through all of the years I have been hunting in the mountains I have found that I prefer to hunt alone. Not just the hunting part of it, but the overall experience. There is one exception to this, and that is my best friend Rich. Rich and I have had some amazing times together on hunting and fishing trips, but since he moved to another state several years ago we don’t get to take those trips together much anymore. Once in a while he will come out to Colorado and we’ll hunt together, but other than Rich I haven’t found, or tried to find, someone else to hunt with. Maybe someday my sons will want to hunt with me, but until then I prefer to be alone.
There are some downsides to hunting alone, like no one else to help with the camp chores or taking care of an elk, or the risk of potentially suffering a slow death from an injury with no one there to help, and there is no one to talk to or share the experience. But I’m OK with those things, the solitude I find in the wilderness is something I treasure.
In my early days of elk hunting I went on grueling backpack hunts with some guys I was in the Air Force with, and while we all got along fine in our day-to-day interactions, things can change when you are living in a primitive manner deep in the wilderness. I remember one year we took a guy, I won’t say his name, who did nothing but bitch about every possible thing the entire time; the hike was too long, the mountains were too steep, his pack was too heavy, it was too cold at night, the rain and snow were annoying.
In fact on the first night of that trip we got to camp in the dark after hiking six miles in the rain on a cold September night. Our camp was a place we had been going to for a few years, it was beneath the canopy of three huge fir trees which provided nice shelter from the elements. We got situated, built a fire, and made some hot Tang to drink. My friend Ray handed a cup of hot Tang to this person and told him it was hot. This guy took a big slurp and immediately spayed it out of his mouth all over three of us sitting by the fire, and said “Damn, that is too hot!” Needless to say I never hunted with that guy again, and that was just the first night.
I once guided an elk hunt where I was the camp guide, meaning that I took care of all the meals, the firewood, the horses, and whatever else had to be done around camp. The clients were four guys who were friends, but they had all moved to different parts of the country and didn’t see each other much. You wouldn’t know they were friends by the third day of that trip. Every idiosyncrasy of each person was magnified by the other’s observations, and they just bickered and complained about each other the entire time, I don’t know how that can be fun.
But hunting alone isn’t for everyone. The fear of being alone or the feeling of being small can overwhelm some people. One year when I was working as a guide I was making camp checks on our hunters. There was a guy who was there by himself at my favorite camp in the Flattops Wilderness Area, and after being there one day he said he wanted to go home, he said he felt claustrophobic, which I thought was an odd way to describe being in complete wilderness. I only had one horse with me in addition to the one I was riding, and I told him I could pack his gear, but he would have to walk out. He was so anxious to get out of there that he didn’t hesitate for a second.
It’s really a matter of personal preference whether you go alone or with a group. Sure, there are wonderful stories about deer camp and elk camp, and I’m not opposed to those situations, they can be a big part of the hunting experience, especially if it is with family or good friends. And any time I have the chance to hunt with Rich, I will, and I know we’ll have a great adventure. But for me, for now, I am happy to hunt alone, and I can’t wait for what lies ahead for me this fall.