How to Set Up a Drop Camp for Deer Hunting

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Have You Ever Done a Deer Hunt This Way?

What does your deer hunting drop camp look like? (Ed Anderson photo)

You don’t need to choose a drop camp to be successful for deer. You decide to take advantage of a drop camp for a few other simple reasons. Largely, drop camps are chosen to escape general foot traffic on public hunting ground. Even the most adventurous hunter subconsciously has a practical limit when it comes to hunting on foot. Considering how far you are willing to hike with the weight of meat, hide and antlers plus the entirety of your camp is a limiting factor. Secondly, the desire for a deeper and enriching adventure is paired with the increased miles between you and the truck. To the intrinsically driven hunter, it allows us to soothe the festering itch of wanderlust which gouges our conscious after a year of looking at screens while locked up in an office.

One of the reasons to hire an outfitter for hunting deer is to focus on particular behavioral elements and reach the isolated pockets they are engaging in said activity. In other words, are you packing in to hunt them in the high country on the summer feeding grounds? Are you focusing on reaching distant migration corridors as the rut begins and the weather turns cooler? Drop camps for deer are usually to pursue mule deer in the mountains or blacktails in rough areas of Alaska. Whitetails are not out of the question, as parts of remote rivers in Idaho, such as the Salmon River, provide hidden whitetail opportunities.

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While most drop camps often correlate with horses and mules, don’t forget there are opportunities to hire jet boats to run you along stretches of river or planes to utilize remote airstrips and waterways. Once you have established the “why,” it is time to search for the right outfitter. The more information you have the better decision you can make before picking an outfitter to drop you off in the backcountry.

Seek biologists and other hunters from the area to ask questions to uncover essential data. What is the hunter success rate? How many animals can you expect to see each day? What has the status of the population been throughout the past four years? Mule deer in particular are historically sensitive to brutal mountain winters if deep snows eliminate the ability to reach food on wintering grounds. For deep mountain hunts, it is also important to ask whether or not the previous winters were damaging to the populations. After you gather information from hunters and biologists, then move to interview outfitters.

When it comes to interviewing an outfitter, ask about the previous years and hunter successes. If they have particular campsites they bring hunters to each year, ask, how often during the season they are rotating their drop camp hunters. Inquire where their fully guided paying clients will be hunting if they offer both services. Be aware that guides — in the interest of their high-paying customers — might place their drop-camp hunters in areas well away from their guided clientele. They will not make as much money from servicing you as they might from a fully guided trip. The last thing you’d want is to go into a drop camp where you are placed in an area that seems desolate, though. Hunting is hunting, and success is never an absolute. Yet, understanding how an outfitter works with drop-camp hunters ought to weigh heavily on your decisions.

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One negative element of hunting deer on a drop-camp hunt is the inability to move areas should deer be void of the area. Once you are there, you are there for the duration or until the outfitter can move you. Packing for an extended drop-camp is critical and should be taken with care. Some outfitters offer fully stocked camps with shelter heat, food, water, and bedding. If this style of hunting is not something you plan on embarking on each year, the additional survival gear, food, and water systems are likely not expenses you want to incur if they can be provided.

Have the right gear on a drop-camp hunt is essential. (Jason Reid photo)

Imagine your gear going in on horseback. Outfitters will have a gear poundage limit per person in order to saddle their mules and horses properly. Regardless if you are riding horses in or are flying a cub plane into the bush, weight and space should be at the forefront of your packing efforts. Your gear must be chosen as a system which cohesively works together to be as effective and efficient as possible.

Your shelter choices are fairly straightforward if tents are not provided by the outfitter. Wall tents, pup tents, multi-person tents, hammocks and tipi shelters are your choices for a backcountry motel. Hunting from canvas wall tents is a storied part of any backcountry deer-hunting experience, especially since they provide ample space and durable material to keep you and your gear dry and comfortable. Not to mention they look stoic in any photos from the trip. Tipi-style tents coupled with collapsible wood stoves have become incredibly popular in recent years. Companies such as Seek Outside build durable options which also provide the ability to use a collapsible wood stove. Even on a late-season winter hunt, this style shelter is lightweight and small enough to travel efficiently. Plus, it can provide critical shelter and warmth during cold hunts. The materials these tents are made from dry much faster than canvas should ominous weather move through your area.

The importance of clean water on an extended camping hunt goes without saying. One should always carry a direct water purification system in their pack — such as those available from REI or LifeStraws for in-field use. Even the tried and true iodine tablets are a fantastic solution since they take up minimal weight in your pack. For basecamp itself, having a gravity-driven purification system that cleanses multiple gallons at a time certainly increases efficiency. The Platypus is a perfect example, not only for filling your hydration bladder but also for having additional water for cooking and cleaning. It’s also great for storing water should it be a limited commodity in the backcountry.

While we romanticize the mountains, the fact is there are inherent dangers which make communications and navigation as necessary as the gun or bow you choose. Having a dual-use tool is much more attainable in the current product market. The Garmin Rhino or the In-Reach not only gives you the ability to read topographic lines but also allows you to communicate with others. Plus, the In-reach will enable you to make calls for help should a life-threatening injury occur. One slip of the knife, getting thrown from a horse, or internal injuries such as a heart attack or appendix eruption create far more grave problems than if you are hunting a few hundred yards from the truck. Global Rescue is a membership organization providing in-field rescue and medical attention. For those frequenting the backcountry more than a week per year ought to consider having the service.

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Food eats away at your weight constraints quickly. But consider, a long mountain hunt for deer is much like participating in an endurance race. Put simply, proteins, sugars, and starches that fuel our bodies are the fuel that drives us. Freeze-dried meals, trail mix, and power bars are generally the cuisine which comes to mind. An unspoken tip for mountain hunters, if extra space allows, is to supplement the diet with additional tortilla shells to add to the carbohydrate intake. Fresh fruit like apples can generally stay firm throughout the hunt and provide much-needed natural sugars. To avoid a bear conflict, plan to keep all food in dry bags and raise them into a tree.

Deciding if a drop camp is right for your hunt is an important part of the trip-planning process. (Russell Graves photo)

Picking the right clothing, boots and packs is crucial. When hunting deer from a drop camp, the most important thing to consider with apparel is to not underestimate the elements. Even if you are on a late-summer bowhunt, always plan for the clothing to endure precipitation, wind and dropping temperatures.  Nothing wakes you up like an overnight change in seasons. Typically, a good layering system will compress neatly and take up less space when packing. Investing in a good clothing system can save your hunt.

You don’t need to invest in a drop camp for hunting deer. It takes a certain level of grit and desire for adventure to want to pursue deer in this fashion. But it opens up a new world of hunting opportunity which may not have been logistically possible or smart to explore with leg power alone. Planning a drop camp takes some time to arrange correctly. Do your research, plan, execute and enjoy hunting deer differently this season.

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