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Article 2: Base camp hunting versus fly camp (spike camp) hunting
I have always been a big fan of fly camping (spike camping) when mountain hunting. Fly camping allows the hunter to camp up with the animals, saving a lot of dead walking, in turn (going back to one of last issues key words) expanding your ‘optimum hunting time.’ However over the last few years I have changed tactics somewhat and tended to hunt more from a base camp with a day pack.
Should I hunt from a base camp or fly camp?
This depends on a whole raft of factors, the major determining factor being where your ‘target area’ (another key word from last issue) is located. If you think that fly camping will expand ‘optimum hunting time’ in your ‘target area’ then yes, you should fly camp, but lets look at what else needs to be considered before making this decision,
Pro’s and con’s of fly camping:
If you’re going to fly camp, you are going to have to carry a load on your back, there is no way around this, are you physically up to it? Usually at bare minimum you will need to carry your pack, sleeping gear, tent or fly, food, cooker etc, rain gear and some spare clothing, over and above all of your normal hunting gear. This all has to go on your back and can make for slow, tough going especially in steep terrain. Bear in mind you are also planning on carrying some meat (or all meat as a regulatory requirement depending on which country you are hunting in) and trophy all the way out. The main reason I have gone somewhat away from fly camping, especially when hunting with clients is that I end up having to move too much gear around on my back and so do the clients. Most people can move around in the mountains okay, throw a heavy pack on their backs and it really limits what some people can do.
Fly camping usually means sleeping rough, poor sleep does not give the body time to replenish itself and you can end up in a downward spiral loosing energy. This may not matter for one or two nights, but an extended stay in a fly camp sleeping poorly, often cold and with minimum food does not help you climb around in the mountains, or truly concentrate when you’re glassing. Have you got the right gear which will aid in giving you rest at night? Rather than spending all night cold, sitting up watching every minute go by willing on the dawn, that’s not much fun. Every mountain hunter has to do it once in a while but it’s not something you want to make a habit of.
Fly camping is great in fine weather but check the forecast. A fine weather camp one night can quickly change to a bad camp the next night in storm conditions; know your ‘exit points’ to the safety of lower ground. In the mountains I apply the saying ‘go with what you know,’ to a lot of situations, in the case of an ‘exit point’ go back the same way you came up or a route that you know beyond all doubt will get you down, your life may depend on it.
My favourite time when hunting in the mountains is ‘optimum hunting time’ in the evenings. The animals are moving and the challenge is can you stay out with them until dark or those last 10 minutes of light when often so much happens? Fly camping will allow you to do this; especially in steep terrain, when coming down off your ‘exit point’ in the dark may not be a safe option. Fly camping expands your ‘optimum hunting time.’
It may be a long walk or climb to get to where you want to camp, but once you are there you are camped in your ‘target area’ and when it comes to mountain hunting you do not have the big climb up and the long walk down each day.
Interesting Hunt scenario:
Believe it or not I once shot a bull tahr at 2.37 am in the morning from out of my bivvy bag. I had made a long climb that afternoon from the floor of the river valley, up through the beech forest slopes, into the entangling alpine scrub and finally out through the other side onto the rock and snow covered tops. I was on my own and cutting things fine to find a campsite before dark, the surrounding terrain was steep, very ugly in fact and I was fast running out of options before dark. I reached a small moss and lichen covered bench slightly longer than myself, about one and half times as wide as my body and reasonably flat, this is me I thought, off with the pack and out with the sleeping bag and bivvy bag. My bivvy bag had eyelets to secure it to the ground, with a rock I hammered in every pin I could find into the topside; one roll over in the night and I would find myself back on the floor of the valley very very quickly.
Above was a small over hanging rock and on the ground, layer upon layer of tahr dung, fortunately things don’t smell much at below zero degrees and my air mat saved my sleeping bag from changing colour. So I went to sleep in a tahr’s bed. Later that night I faintly heard a whistle (nasal snort), then a second whistle and finally the third whistle woke me up and I was 100% sure there was a tahr very close. I sat up and chambered a round in the .270 and looked across 30m to a small snow chute that was reflecting what little of the moon there was, everything else was totally dark. Half a minute later a big hairy mass started to walk across the snow chute. I could definitely make out a bull tahr, so I fired from the sitting position, a huge flash of light erupted from the barrel, I didn’t hear the bullet connect and there was little more I could do until morning, literally pinned down in my sleeping bag. Daylight revealed a mature bull tahr, at that stage only the second one I had ever shot.
Exit point: A route that you know will get you down safely off the mountain.
Target area: A promising area you want to hunt or an actual area where you have identified your target animal.
Optimum time: Morning period and evening period where animals are most visible and active.