How to Backcountry Archery Elk Hunt

How to Backcountry Archery Elk Hunt

By Chris Woodburn

How it begins!

Hey!  I thought it might be appropriate to post a topic on Backcountry Archery Elk Hunting, as most of the draw results are out and we all know; you landed high enough in the lottery to win an archery elk tag in AZ!!!  Ha!!!  Right, no luck, so you decided to go OTC since your premium tag didn't happen, again!  Well, it doesn't matter where you did or didn't draw, you have a tag in your pocket and you have an elk hunt to plan, and better yet an archery elk hunt.  My favorite!  I pride myself in killing a bull every other year, or at least close to it!  I'm not real picky, but I do start out by looking for a mature bull and will settle on a nice looking elk steak halfway through the hunt.

I'd like to cover some basics on what you need to have in your pack for a backcountry elk hunt.  The thing to keep in mind when looking at my list, I like to be comfortable in the back country, so keep that in mind when looking at my list!  What that means is my pack usually weighs a bit more than my buddies, but hey that's why we train!  Right!!!

In any case, I'll continue to update just takes time right?

Archery Equipment

Big Bull Elk

Since I fell in love with archery elk hunting way...way back in time, I thought it would be good to kick it off with some of my basic equipment.  I killed my first archery bull with an old Matthews Q2, but it was brand new.  I killed a few with that bow, but then I decided to upgrade to a newer bow, so I went to a Mathews DXT.  I think it has a 31 ATA (axle to axle), which means it was short and light.  I killed a good bull with that bow the first season out, but also had a few challenges that made me start to look for a longer ATA bow.  I noticed that the shorter bow was simply hard to be super consistent at long shots.  If I had any wrist torque I could be off about 4 to 6 inches downrange at 60 to 80 yards.  So, I went shopping.  I ended up narrowing it down to a Hoyt Carbon Defiant, which has a 34 ATA and a 7 inch brace height.  These numbers mean that you're not shooting the fastest bow on the planet, but it's going to be a solid shooting bow.  In any case, get a good bow and don't dig into all the fastest bow trends.  Get something you can shoot well, feels good in your hands and you can trust to harvest a big bull.  If you need tips, just ask and I'd be happy to give you tips.

Arrows - I just made the move away from Easton FMJ arrows and will be shooting Black Eagle Spartans.  Take a look at another post I put together, How to make hunting arrows, as it explains my decision on switching and how to get the most out of your hunting arrows. Take a look through my list below and you'll see some other things I'm planning to take in the woods this year.

Camping Equipment

Best Backcountry Tent

In this section on archery elk hunting I think it's important to make you aware of some things I carry in my pack that may not be obvious.  For example, I carry a thin high tinsel rope I picked up at REI, so that I can make shelter, build guidelines to hang and dry clothes, such as my Darn Tough socks in the tent, hang meat bags, food bags, or whatever I need rope for during the hunt.  The specific rope is generally used by mountain climbers for tying off small items, as it's not the thicker mountain climbing ropes, but a thinner rope to stick in your pack.

These items are expensive, but from my perspective having high quality products to increase your comfort and safety in the backcountry is worth scraping pennies together to make the "expensive" purchase.  Here's an example of when the expensive stuff saved my bacon.  When we packed into the backcountry of Wyoming a few years ago in mid September, we had a snow storm hit and hit hard.  We ended up hiking back to a basecamp where we had a larger 8 man tent set up, for refueling and stocking up on supplies.  During the night, while we were all fast asleep the tent caved in on us.  We were covered in snow, my sleeping bag was wet on the outside but dry, as a summer time deadhead in the Arizona strip on the inside.  To say the least, I was warm and dry.  So, yes this Kuiu sleeping bag is expensive, but its well worth the money.  The sleeping pad is also worth the value and weight, as it provides solid R value and comfort as well.

Some more things to consider when doing your backcountry elk hunt.  If you're not going solo and have another hunter with you you may be able to get by with some single items, such as the a stove/burner, extra gas, and water filter systems.  If you can put your list together and determine who's in charge of what items, you can really keep you backpack weight down.  An example, of keeping the weight down.  I generally backcountry hunt with my cousin, so we only carry 1 cook system, but each will carry 1 extra can of fuel. Also, if you plan on eating hot food you'll want a long handled spoon.  I don't use a spork as they're harder to clean.  The long spoon keeps you from getting food on your fingers, and you can also clean it with a wipe and hang it with a small karabiner in your tent.  One thing to think about in the backcountry is that you need to survive, so make sure you have back-ups, can at least eat something, and keep your body temp at a safe level.

The last few items on this list are pretty key to staying safe and being comfortable while on the backcountry elk hunt.  First off, Crocs, I do like to take my boots off when I'm back at the tent, so my feet can breathe and the boots can dry out a bit.  Crocs allow me to do just that, as they help me get to the quickly get to a tree when nature calls, so I don't need to put on my boots just to get some relief.  Also, regarding more comfort.  I like to use baby wipes or grime boss to keep refreshed by cleaning up my cracks and crannies every now and again.  Yes, I clean my feet, pits and other areas not to be discussed prior to crawling into my sleeping bag at night.  Also, you may, probably will, cut yourself pretty good when in the woods.  Keep a medical kit on you at all times.  You don't necessarily need to use a big, gigantic kit, but you need something to take care of yourself when stuff happens and it usually does for me...  The kit I'm sharing can be used to slow the bleeding enough to get you out and to the hospital!  I've had to use a band aid, or two, in the backcountry, so I make sure I can address cuts quickly.  Some additional things you need to make sure you have on your persons are aspirin, ibuprofen, Benadryl, and if you need an EpiPen in your pack.  I've had a run in with bees before, and if I didn't have that stuff available I would have been really bad off!  Please, I can't stress it enough!  Have a medical kit!  I also love having the safety of a Garman InReach Mini.  I use this to tether to my cell phone, so I can send and receive texts to and from my family on a daily basis.  This allows them to know I'm safe and secure, or if I need help packing out...  Oh, one last thing I make sure I have with me while on the hunt...  Toilet paper, better yet...dry toilet paper...  I use a simple little dry sack clipped to my pack, so I can get quick access to the TP.

toilet paper

Backpack Gear

Best Elk Guides

Now, when we start talking backcountry elk hunting, it means you'll need a pack of some sort.  I ended up trying a couple different packs and narrowed my dependency down to Kifaru.  If you want to see some comparisons check out some of our articles on backpacks; Best Backpacks of 2021 – Exo Mountain Gear K3, Best Backpacks of 2021 – Mystery Ranch Marshall, Best Backpacks of 2021 – Stone Glacier, and my favorite Best Backpacks of 2021 – Kifaru Hoodlum.  Austin did a great job of testing and writing an article on the best backpacks around to decide what's "Top Shelf."  There are all kinds of packs out there to choose from, but I can tell you from experience of years of backpack elk hunting in to the mountains, make sure you get good gear!  It'll pay for itself in the long term.

Best Backpack

I used to depend on a water pump, Katadyn Vario, but crap they're slow and I'd rather spend that time hunting, so I searched for a new option.  In a pinch I'll still use one, but it's not what I depend on.  Check out this article, The Best Water Filtration System for the Back-Country, for more details around the best water filter system.  I take in two 2.5 GL plastic packable jugs, use one for dirty water and the other to filter into.  When you find your camping spot and water source, collect the water, take it to camp pour it in the bag to be filtered while your out on a hunt.  Get back to camp and have fresh water!


You may be wondering: Why is Chris sharing the clothes he wears on a hunt?  Well, let me answer that question.  Your chances to survive unplanned events/weather in the backcountry will greatly increase with keeping your body warm and dry.  This in turn will increase your chances to kill an elk with your bow...  Being able to dry out fast after an early Fall rain or snow shower is critical, and it starts with your underwear.  Yes, underwear!   So keep your butt dry, pay for good merino wool!  It will dry fast and keep your body temp up.  DO NOT TAKE YOUR LUCKY TIGHTY-WHITIES into the backcountry!   Here're some clothes I make sure are in my pack.  I do mix and match the stuff I wear, yes I mix manufacturers and camo patterns...  Call the fashion police!

First Layer (next to skin):
Second and Third Layer:

I generally use a lot of Sitka gear, as it's not let me down yet and I use what I can trust.  If you find something out there you trust please let us know, as I'm always looking to test something out.  Word of note, we're lining up some new gear to try this fall in a very wet archery season, since we drew pretty good tags!


best backcountry meal Getting ready for a hunt!

When I first started my quest of back-country elk hunting the food of choice was Mt. House. Those were an awesome choice for a good hot meal in the backcountry.  They give lots of calories and keep you alive.  They have some minor draw backs, but they're a good option.  I've tried a few other brands, such as Heather's Choice, but I'm now really digging Peak Refuel.  They have some good flavors, such as Chicken Coconut Curry, Biscuits and Gravy, and Beef Stroganoff.  Also, besides the main meal you need to have snacks and some supplement drink additives in your pack to help keep your energy stable.  I generally take a few odd snacks, such as candies, nuts, jerky, sardines, tuna, cliff bars and dried fruits.  As someone told the elk hunting community awhile back, it's important to have a candy in the pocket, it can be a lifesaver.  I'm going to list out some basics, but if you want to learn more about backcountry foods please check out the article, The Best Backpacking Meals, for more details.  Make sure you pack in something that has electrolytes, to ensure you don't have cramps.  They happen and they suck!  I also throw in some seasoning, such as sale, pepper, cayenne pepper.  Another tip; I usually plan to have a certain amount of calories of food per day and to help me manage that I put each daily intake of food in a 1 gallon zip lock bag.  If you're wondering what that count is, think about your weight and how many calories your expending each day.  It varies.

Meat Care

elk meat

When you get it done, you'll need to have all the tools necessary to pack your big bull off the mountain.  It's interesting to me that all to often I run into someone who didn't pack in meat bags.  I use Caribou bags, but my cousin uses Kifaru, which are super light weight.  That's a real bummer.  I've learned that you can pack in 4 bags, a couple pairs of rubber gloves, a plastic bag, and a real thin plastic painter's tarp.  My hunting buddy and I will have a kill kit in our day pack, and then a back-up kill kit at the camp site.  I use the plastic bag to line the inside of my pack, so that I can drop a loaded meat sack into my backpack and not get the interior of my pack all bloody.   The painters tarp.  I use that to lay it out and have a clean place to lay my meat on it while I'm processing.  My cousin John and I do a pretty good job at keep our game meat clean.  Before you can do any of this meat processing you need to kill a bull, but you also need to have have a sharp knife or two.

game bags: Caribou

knife (multiple): Havalon Piranta and Cutco Orange Handle with gut hook


I hope you found this article helpful for your future hunt.  One last tip; keeping a detailed list in a spreadsheet would be helpful, which is something I use frequently to keep track of gear changes, if something didn't work, or just keep track of the weight. In any case, if you have any questions, need tips or input please ask.  I'd enjoy the discussion.  I look forward to hearing about your adventure and seeing some pictures of some great bulls, or cows!


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