Mental health in the backcountry can easily make or break your hunt. There are many different aspects of mental health when it comes to hunting that people need to consider, and I will be going over the ones that are important and have personally experienced. Going into a hunt, you should be focused on having a fun, safe, and successful trip. Returning home safe and sound to your family is the number one priority. Being successful is a bonus!
PLAN FOR THE WEATHER
Let’s start with the weather. Weather can cause a lot of stress if it’s not cooperating with the hunt. On a backpacking hunt, you must be prepared to spend many hours in a small tent. It can get very dull and cause your mind to wander. It’s a good idea to download movies and shows or have games on your phone to pass the time. Bringing a book as well is a good idea. I will also spend time writing about the hunt when I have downtime. The longest I have spent in a small tent is 22 hours, due to bad weather. We watched movies and rested to pass the time. It was pretty enjoyable.
Waiting out the weather can be good and gives your body a chance to recover from the previous days.
MANAGE FEAR WITH A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Fear is another big part of your mental health. Fear is a natural emotion that can be, for the most part, controlled by positive thinking. A lot of different thoughts can produce fear. The fear of getting lost in the mountains is one. Preparing and having the proper gear like maps, compass, and GPS and having the confidence and knowledge to use them should alleviate that fear. Getting sick or hurt is a fear I experienced firsthand with one hunting partner years ago. He couldn’t get it out of his head that he would hurt himself or get sick. I kept reassuring him that he would be fine. As a result of this fear, we cut the trip short and returned home unsuccessful. Positive thinking and being careful, as you always should, could have made this a safe, successful, and memorable trip.
One of the many grizzlies I have encountered over the years.
Fear will include wild animals, noises, and your imagination. You will run into wild animals, that is why you are out there, and most likely, you will be in black bear and grizzly country. Always be aware of your surroundings, and don’t get complacent, I am guilty of this, and I have had a few reality checks over the years. I carry bear spray and ensure I can get to my rifle very quickly. Practice this to give yourself peace of mind that you can be ready quickly.
You will also hear noises outside your tent. Animals move at night, and they might come to investigate your camp. Please keep it clean and hang or store your food away from your tent. Or you might hear a tree fall, which is quite common. When you hear something, your imagination is your worst enemy and can cause all kinds of thoughts that will cause fear. Never think the worst. Fear is a part of life; everyone has fear. But if you are going on a backpacking trip and fear is on your mind, that should be easy to overcome with positive thinking. Don’t focus on the negatives, only the positives.
DEALING WITH LONELINESS
When alone, you might find yourself missing your family. This is normal. Remember, time goes by quickly, and before you know it, the trip will be a memory. Keep busy and focus on the task at hand. If you are on a Solo hunt and missing someone to talk to, have conversations with yourself. I have even spoken to myself out loud at times. Or, as I said earlier, keep a journal. I always keep track of the animals I see each day, the number of kilometers we hiked, and the weather that day. I do that just before bed in the evening. It all comes in handy for reference on future hunts.
Example of what I document each day before bed:
Stone sheep chest 18-20 inches
- Day 1, 8.2 km to base camp 7 hours 47 min.
- Day2, 14.5 km 3 rams
- Day 3, 18.5 km 2 rams, 7 ewes, and lambs
- Day 4, 17.5 km many rams and shot mine
- Day 5, 12 km, we saw many sheep again and legal ones.
- Day 6, 7.3 km 1 ram and rob shot it.
- Day 7, 16.4 km, took gear and meat to lake and back 4 hours down 5 hours back.
- Day 8, 8.2 km, 3 hours packed out
- A total of 102.6 km
FATIGUE AND FAILURE
Fatigue can also play on your mental health. Being prepared ahead of time, like being in physical shape, eating enough calories, and staying hydrated, is very important. Also, know your limits and stay within those limits. If you are hunting with a partner, you will each have your own limits and stay within those limits of each other. Staying within your limits and your partner’s limits will help alleviate mental fatigue.
Eating a lot of calories each day.
The last part of mental health is failure. Some guys or gals are so focused on having to harvest an animal that it affects the joy of them just being in the mountains. They are worried that people will think they are a lousy hunter. Newsflash, you won’t be successful every time you go out. It took me years to finally harvest my first sheep. I didn’t let it bother me and kept trying, persistence pays off in the long run, and it did. I understand if you paid thousands of dollars for a sheep hunt and are down to the last two days. But staying positive and giving it your all will give you a better chance of success than being negative and giving up.
One step at a time !!
To summarize, for optimal mental health in the backcountry, stay hydrated, eat, and think positive. Embrace and take in all the beauty of the mountains and fresh air. If you encounter some bad weather, it will pass, read a book or watch a movie. If you hear noises outside your tent at night, don’t think the worst, it’s more than likely a small animal or the wind. If it is a bear, stay calm and deal with it. It’s happened to me on more than one occasion. If you miss your loved ones, time goes fast, keep busy and keep hunting, and the next thing you know, you’ll be home. If you are hunting solo and are lonely, talk to yourself and stay busy. If fatigue is getting you down, remember the three R’s, rest, refuel and rehydrate.
I have been hunting in the backcountry for over 35 years, and I have been through and seen everything I have written about more than a few times. It’s a part of hunting in remote areas. I wish you all the best of luck on your hunts, take care and be safe.
HUNTING RESOURCES FROM MDT
- Tips For A Successful Antelope Hunt
- Hunting In Inclement Weather
- Analysis: Long-Range Hunting
- MDT Field Report - Why The Triple Pull CKYE-POD is a Guides Best Friend
- Tips for Cold Weather Shooting
- How To Optimize Your Rifle For Positional Shooting
- The Modern Hunting Vest
- Hunting With The MDT XRS Chassis System
- Hunting Stocks Versus PRS-Style Competition Stocks
- Predator Hunting with a Chassis Rifle
- Maximize Performance with Mental Imagery
- Confidence Kills
- Inside MDT - Fitness For Backcountry Hunting