5 of the Toughest Hunts in North America
Tough terrain demands the best in conditioning, equipment, and of course a pack full of protein-rich snacks.
When it comes to going on tough hunts, Colorado bowhunter Brian Strickland is a veteran. Since he became a dedicated bowhunter a couple of decades ago, the Colorado Springs resident has chased bears, mountain lions, mule deer, elk, sheep, and mountain goats.
But amazingly enough, he rates sharp-eyed pronghorn antelope among the toughest game animals that he’s ever chased.
That was particularly true on a hunt a few years ago in a limited-entry unit in Colorado where Strickland finally cashed in a decade’s worth of preference points, securing a hard to draw tag that opened up a rugged unit with limited numbers of antelope.
“I’d rate antelope as a tough big-game animal to hunt because they usually live in the wide open, they’re the fastest big game animal in North America, they have a pretty good nose, and because they possess virtually telescopic eyesight and a 320-degree field of vision,” said Strickland.
While Strickland gave the tried-and-true waterhole blind-hunting technique a try on his speed goat hunt, he eventually decided that spot-and-stalk hunting was his best chance for success that year, particularly on an 82-inch buck that never seemed to be in a spot where he was vulnerable.
“I bowhunted that Booner for a couple of days, trying to find an opportunity to get into bow range,” said Strickland. “His horns swept past 16 inches in length, he had great mass and prong length, and he was a real beauty. But I never could get close enough for an archery shot. I eventually shadowed him, trailing him for five miles hoping that he’d give me a chance to close the distance. But he never did, and I guess I eventually chased him out of the country.”
About all that was left for Strickland to do at that point was to sit down, dig into his pack for some Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky
and get ready for the long hike back to the truck.
“I burned a lot of points to draw that tag and I wasn’t willing to settle for an average pronghorn buck,” said Strickland. “There were miles of strenuous stalking on rocky, thorny ground in mountainous terrain under the hot sun. But when I saw that tremendous antelope buck, it was him or bust, and I guess I busted, huh?”
While spot-and-stalk maneuvers for a sharp-eyed pronghorn antelope buck is a tough hunt for sure, there are others that will demand supreme physical conditioning, a mentally strong mindset, and a backpack full of water and Jack Link’s protein snacks.
Doug Rodgers is a North Texas resident in his 50s that has dreamed of high alpine adventure much of his life. Spurred on by tales of sheep hunting by the legendary outdoor writer Jack O’Connor, a gun toting scribe that penned the iconic volume Sheep and Sheep Hunting a couple of generations ago, Rodgers dutifully learned all he could about Rocky Mountain bighorns, Desert bighorns, Stone sheep and Dall sheep.
Faithfully applying for limited entry tags for years, Rodgers hoped to eventually beat the long draw odds. He did just that a few years ago, securing a Dall sheep tag in the Tok Management Area in the rugged mountains of Alaska.
After booking his hunt dates with well-known guide Lance Kronberger of Freelance Outdoor Adventures, Rodgers spent several months fine-tuning his gear, his shooting skills and his physical conditioning with many miles of running, lifting weights and hiking up and down hills with a fully-loaded pack.
Then there was traveling to Alaska and accessing the rugged hunting grounds his sheep tag was good for.
“It was a real beating to get in there,” said Rodgers. “It started with a 13-hour death march just to get into sheep country after we left the truck. Then we set up a spike camp, spent the night, and then hiked out even further to even get into our hunting area.”
After endless preparation and travel, Rodgers could hardly believe it when he finally found himself on a mountainside glassing a band of golden-horned rams a couple of miles away. When Kronberger confirmed that one was indeed a shooter, a long stalk ensued to get above the rams and into shooting position.
As the yards slowly melted away on the steep slopes, Rodgers eventually settled the crosshairs on the ancient ram, turning loose a Hornady bullet from his .300 WSM rifle at nearly 200 yards.
The shot was perfect, putting the 10-year-old ram down and leading to an hours long ordeal of securing the meat, cape and horns, eventually packing it all off the mountainside as per Alaska law. It was a tough day for sure, but Rodgers said it was all worth it after he put his tag on a ram that sported 41 1/2-inch horns on each side and a set of golden curls that eventually stretched the measuring tape to 167 inches.
“My sheep hunt didn’t last as long as some do, but it was still very challenging physically and mentally,” said Rodgers. “But once sheep hunting gets in your blood, it never really goes away, and I’d do it all over again tomorrow if I could get another tag.”
Truth be told, when Rodgers’ tag luck changed, it did so in a big way as he also drew a mountain goat tag for that same autumn season in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains.
As challenging as his sheep hunt was, Rodgers said his mountain goat hunt over a week later was even tougher.
“The Chugach region is a really steep mountain range and it’s tougher to get into,” said Rodgers. “We flew in there in a Super Cub, then had to hike several hours through thick stuff to a camping spot along a glacier. The next day, we had to use a pack raft to get ourselves and our gear across a swift river on the edge of that glacier.”
Then things got really difficult as Rodgers and Kronberger spent several miles “brush busting” as they hiked through thick alders and painful stands of devil’s club. After setting up a spike camp, the hunt went vertical as Rodgers and his guide made their way up the extremely steep, slick terrain.
Trouble was that after the first day of glassing lesser goats, the infamous Alaskan mountain weather closed in with rain, wind, and at times, zero visibility in fog. That essentially grounded the pair in a small two-man tent for the next several days, bringing claustrophobia, dwindling food and supplies and the frustrating realization that Rodgers mountain goat dream was slipping away.
When satellite phone communication with the outside world brought news that the weather should break a day after his hunt was supposed to end, Rodgers and Kronberger decided to tough it out for one extra day.
As they did so the next day under clearing skies, the two hiked away from the tent, glassing in different directions. As sand slipped from the last-day hourglass, Kronberger finally spotted a decent-sized goat slipping through an opening in the mountainous terrain, leading to a sprint to get into shooting position.
When Rodgers settled his crosshairs on the goat, his chest was heaving as the billy passed through an opening. With only a second or two to spare, Rodgers got everything steady and turned loose a good shot from his .280 Remington rifle, achieving last second success in the 11th hour.
“After we got over to the goat, we did some high fiving, took some pictures, and started caping the billy out,” said Rodgers. “It was so late in the day that Lance said we’d have to spend the night on the mountainside.”
Around 2:30 or 3:00 a.m., the pair finally got finished, loaded up the packs, and then huddled under a space blanket for a few hours of difficult shut-eye, trying not to think about the wolves and bears that roam in Alaska’s rugged terrain.
A perfect way to help pass the time in such a hunting situation — not to mention calming a growling stomach and packing away calories and protein to re-fuel for the grueling march down a mountain at dawn — the meat snack products from Jack Link’s are a perfect item to have stashed away in a hunting pack.
One choice is the Jack Link’s Original Beef and Cheese combo pack, a jerky and Wisconsin cheese snack that brings 140 calories and seven grams of protein per serving. If you’d like something with a different flavor, the Jack Link’s Teriyaki Beef Strip is a sizable snack bar that fuels hunters with 70 calories and eight grams of protein.
There’s also Jack Link’s new Zero Sugar Original Beef Jerky, a snack that brings 80 calories and a whopping 15 grams of protein per serving in addition to being a keto-friendly selection that is perfect for hunters seeking an energy boost in the field.
And don’t forget the Jack Link’s Sweet & Hot Beef Jerky, which has 80 calories and 10 grams of protein per serving, or the Original Recipe Beef Smoked Sausages with its 140 calories and eight grams of protein in the small, easy-to-carry package.
In many ways, these are the good old days of elk hunting across North America as numbers have expanded thanks to the work of state agencies and groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. With millions of American elk dotting the western portions of the continent in such wapiti rich ground as Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, many hunters are tempted to think of elk as being kind of easy to hunt.
But that isn’t always true, mind you. Want a world class bull, one that might edge towards world record territory? Then get ready for long, tough drawing odds in such places as Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Want a unique challenge? Then get ready for similar draw odds — or plenty of dollar bills exiting the wallet — as you try to find a hunt for a big bull as they are reintroduced into old, traditional habitat in midwestern and eastern states.
Either way, elk — especially the old, mature, cagey bulls that bugle fiercely in September — don’t come easy, usually living in the most rugged and inhospitable areas that a hunter can imagine. And that’s after you’ve been lucky enough to get a tag to even hunt bull elk in such areas.
Put simply, chasing elk is one thing in places where smaller bulls and rag horns are numerous. But successfully hunting a big bull — a really big bull — is a difficult dream at best.
High Country Mule Deer
Standing near the top of a rugged peak in the Rocky Mountains is usually an exhilarating experience. So, I should have been enjoying myself while standing near the top of an alpine bowl guarding a mountain peak nearly 12,000 feet high underneath the Utah sky.
But instead, I was down to my last precious drop of water, nearing heat exhaustion, wickedly tired after a strenuous hike up the side of a mountain, and more than a little frustrated.
Frustrated as I watched a mule deer buck racing down the side of the mountain, that is. All thanks to one last step to get into bow range, a step that had inadvertently kicked over a rock, spoiling the hours long stalk that had allowed me to purchase that steep ground.
Without a doubt, bowhunting velvet-antlered mule deer in their high-altitude late summer and early autumn environment is one of the toughest hunts that a hunter can find anywhere in North America.
Part of that difficulty comes from the high alpine bowls that big muleys occupy in late August and early September, virtually barren ground in many cases. Competition for limited entry tags into such country is fierce, the physical challenge is intense, and the endeavor demands shaving ounces out of a backpack as you navigate steep terrain.
In the end, I didn’t let an arrow go from my Mathews’ bow, keeping me from securing a grip-and-grin photo of a big muley that was destined for the cover of a periodical like Bowhunter Magazine.
But it was still hard to keep a weary smile from creasing my face, because in a place like North America — a continent filled with woods, prairies, deserts, and mountainsides all teaming with big game animals — there’s always another ridge to climb and another wild critter to chase. All of which is more than enough to keep inspiring the dreams of this hunter and many others for years and years to come.