By Petersen's Hunting Staff
From the rolling grasslands to high, craggy peaks, backcountry hunts are varied in both trophies pursued and the country where those animals live.
The wide-open country of the West may look flat and featureless, but it might surprise you to learn it’s actually the home of big whitetails, mule deer, antelope and elk. Even the flattest looking terrain is broken by contours in the earth, whether it’s a shallow irrigation ditch, wide valley or deep coulee cutting through the high prairie. Those folds in the landscape are where trophy animals live, and how they’re able to move undetected through the most wide-open country in the West.
Out here, good optics are a must, and not just for glassing game from afar. As you stalk across the landscape, use your optics to pick apart the ground for the safest approach. Glassing frequently also will allow you to spot does or other deer you may not have first noticed; spotting them first reduces the chance of a blown stalk.
The land between the rolling foothills and the treeline is prime country for mule deer and elk. The terrain here is varied too, from high mountain meadows to dark timber to stands of quaking aspen with their distinctive white bark and golden leaves. These areas are often transition zones, and it’s important to identify how animals are using them throughout the season.
The foothills provide a staging area for deer and elk that move into lush valleys and agricultural fields to feed under the cover of darkness. These woods often also provide winter sanctuary, when deep snows push herds down to lower elevations, where large herds gather.
In early season, dark timber provides a respite from the heat. Find these dense, shadowy woods on north-facing hillsides, and still-hunt them slowly at mid-day to catch elk in their beds. Or post up with a favorable wind at dawn and dusk to catch herd bulls moving their harems to and from their mountain sanctuaries.
Don’t ignore open meadows, which provides some of the best mountain hunting opportunities. Post up on facing hillsides and glass these openings, which provide both feeding areas and travel routes for deer and elk alike.
Where the trees end is where the real work begins. These lofty peaks are home to mountain goats and spiral-horned sheep. Hunting these dream species requires the hunter to be in top physical condition. Alpine hunting also demands the right gear for hunters to survive some of the most extreme weather conditions imaginable, from high winds to dense fog/cloud cover to pounding rain and dangerous lightning.
These hunts start with a grueling climb, and once past the treeline, things get even more difficult. Talus and scree threaten to send hunters sliding toward to cliffs, and once you’re on top of the mountain, you’ll likely stay there for days, traversing ridgelines and basins in search of sheep and goats.
Finding that once-in-a-lifetime trophy requires quality optics. Good binos, often in the 15x56 range mounted atop a tripod are used to scan distant peaks. Once you find a spec of white or gray, a high-powered spotting scope will allow you to determine the trophy quality and whether or not that ram or billy is of a legal size. Then a flat-shooting rifles and high-quality riflescope will ensure the shot it true.
Fenix HT18 Long Distance Flashlight
The Fenix HT18 hunting flashlight is a hand-held long distance flashlight that can throw a maximum 1500 lumens 3,035ft (925m)—that’s over half of a mile! Extremely small, this flashlight is only 7.2” long and weighs only 7.8 oz (excluding battery), nearly half the size of other flashlights that deliver that type of power. Hunters will appreciate the included red or green filters allowing you to filter the light, preserving your night vision and reducing the chance of spooking prey. The Fenix HT18 will be your new go-to hunting flashlight, and you can’t beat the long distance capabilities. Extend runtimes when using the included 21700 li-ion battery and know its status with the battery level indicator. IP68 rated waterproof and dustproof rounds out the features of this spotlight built for those needing a small, tough flashlight with an incredibly far beam distance.
HuntWise – The Ultimate Hunting Toolset
In remote regions and rough terrain, the HuntWise app offers the ultimate hunting toolset for navigation and mapping in the backcountry. Built for multiple digital platforms: iOS, Android and Desktop.
Kenetrek Mountain Extreme Boots
A serious boot for rugged terrain, the Kenetrek 10-inch Mountain Extreme is made with 2.8mm full-grain leather and one-piece vamp boot uppers, meaning no stitching at the tongue to come loose or allow moisture to penetrate. The uppers sit on top of stiff, yet lightweight, nylon midsoles with high traction K-Talon™ outsoles. The waterproof, breathable Windtex membrane will ensure you stay dry. For temperature control, the boot is offered in non-insulated, 400 grams or 1000 grams of Thinsulate insulation to meet your specific need and application. Sure to become your favorite boot due to their awesome support, what will really surprise you is just how lightweight and incredibly comfortable they are. Retail price for Kenetrek Mountain Extremes start at $465. Made in Italy.
- 2.8mm water resistant heavy-duty full-grain leather
- Reinforced triple stitching in high wear areas
- 7mm nylon midsoles for extra support with heavy pack loads
- Anti-corrosion boot hardware that swivels instead of breaking
- Reinforced rubber sole guard for extra leather abrasion resistance
- Windtex waterproof breathable flexible membrane
- Non-insulated, 400 grams or 1000 grams of Thinsulate Insulation for warmth
- Lightweight K-Talon™ outsole provides excellent traction
Kryptek Dalibor Jacket
"Versatile, practical, and lightweight synthetic construction make the Dalibor one of our best active jacket offerings. Designed to be layered according to the temperature and your exertion level, this exceptionally durable jacket is ideal for mild-to-cool conditions and was field tested for over two years in the Alaskan wilderness." $199.99
Leupold BX-2 Alpine 10x42mm Binocular
Some consider a good set of 10x42 binoculars the sweet spot. Enough magnification for clear identification but still compact enough to take everywhere. Whether it’s your first set of binoculars or your 50th, your glass needs to give you a bright image, feel comfortable in your hands, and be able to take a beating. The BX-2 Alpine binoculars check all these boxes and more. With our Twilight Max Light Management System, this set of binoculars will out-perform everything in its class when it comes to seeing more in less light. And backed by our full lifetime guarantee, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t have to pay more. $324.99
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.