Ep 38 – Avoiding Disaster in the Backcountry: A Recap of My Idaho Elk Hunt with Clayton Marxer, the Adventure Cowboy



Summary

Living Country in the City hops on the line with Clayton Marxer, the Adventure Cowboy to recap my Idaho Elk Hunt, examine some of the decisions I made and lessons I learned and discuss the realities of e-scouting vs boots on the ground, always having a backup plan, prep and training and gear selection.

Help support Living Country in the City by visiting livingcountryinthecity.com/amazon to do your Amazon shopping or by visiting livingcountryinthecity.com/blackovis when purchasing hunting gear.

Websites Mentioned

Episode Partner

Transcription

Clayton:

I honestly didn’t expect the call that said you were hurt.

I’ll be fine. Nothing’s gonna happen.

They shouldn’t feel too sorry for you or think it was some huge deal because really, you did me a favor.

Google Earth is an amazing tool, but it does not do justice to the real thing. The real thing is so much more rugged and nasty.

I think that’s probably the most important piece of equipment that you had on this hunt.

For these new hunters, they hear that and they’re more focused on getting away from people than they are getting to where actual elk live.

On X Maps, as awesome of a tool as it is, shows a trail, does not mean there’s really a trail.

I think you learned a lot about yourself on this hunt. And I think a lot of people, both experienced hunters and all of your followers that you’ve inspired, are gonna get an invaluable amount of information.

Hi, this is Clayton Marxer, the Adventure Cowboy, and you’re listening to Living Country in the City. I’m actually riding out of the mountains with Sam right now.

Living Country in the City:

Y’all ready for your dose of flyover state spirit, straight from the concrete jungle, well put down your latte and put on your boots. It’s time for Living Country in the City.

Hey y’all, welcome to episode 38 of Living Country in the City. Now if y’all are listening to this episode the week it comes out, I am likely sitting on my couch like a potato, completely killing my Netflix queue because I should be just out of surgery for both knees. Now for all y’all that didn’t see my post, turns out that among some other issues, I have meniscus tears in both knees, and rather than really draw out the process I’m just getting both knees worked on at once so hopefully I can get into rehab right away and be back into fighting shape for some late season hunts. So, I can definitely use y’all’s prayers, good thoughts, well wishes, encouragement, whatever y’all wanna send my way.

Now if you haven’t figured it out by now, I injured both my knees on my Idaho elk hunt. The best I can tell is that excessive wait coupled with several hours of twisting and dropping down hard and climbing all over that dead fall and all that deep snow and muck is really what caused those initial tears and then of course the 15 or 20 miles over the next two days made the tears a lot worse and just inflamed both knees to the point where they couldn’t bear much weight. Suffice to say my elk hunt was definitely adventure, if not the adventure that I was really hoping for. And so, I just wanted to use this podcast to give y’all a breakdown of my trip, talk a little bit about my prep and decisions I made from before I even left all the way to getting picked up and packed out. I really just wanted to do this in hopes that y’all may learn from what I did and what happened and hopefully be able to avoid some of the issues that I ran into on my hunt. I’m hoping there are some titbits throughout this episode that y’all can apply to yourselves and your hunts, whether you’ve been doing this for decades or days.

Now, I couldn’t think of anyone better to this episode with than the man himself who came out from Montana in no small effort to pick up this half frozen, gimpy hunter several miles in the Idaho backcountry. Clayton Marxer, the Adventure Cowboy, he’s an experienced outdoorsman who’s been in a saddle since he was a toddler. I can’t say thank you enough to him for coming out and saving my butt. It’s great to have him on the show. Clayton, thank you so much for joining me today.

Clayton:

Anytime. Well, I told a couple people on your message board they shouldn’t feel too sorry for you, or for me, for thinking it was some huge deal that I came and rescued you because really you did me a favor. Because you gave me the opportunity to go back into country that I absolutely love, riding horses that I love. And I took a day off work to do it so, you did me a solid there.

Living Country in the City:

Well that kind of takes us into a little bit of what we want to talk about today. But before we get into that, I definitely would like you to kind of introduce yourself, maybe talk a little bit about what you do in the Adventure Cowboy and what that is for you.

Clayton:

I was born and raised on a very large ranch in southwest Montana. When my dad retired, I ended up leaving too. When we did, the ranch was about 375 acres. When I was a little boy, we didn’t have a babysitter. The closest neighbor was 10 miles away. Since I was six weeks old, I’ve been in a saddle. Since I was two years old, I was in a saddle by myself. My background is really ingrained with ranching and Western culture. Several years ago, I was guiding hunters and one of my hunters got under my skin a little bit about the fact that I wasn’t really sharing my story at all. He said, you’re a social guy and you’ve got an amazing background and awesome story, but you don’t ever tell it. Shame on you. After he said that, it really struck a chord with me, and made me think about some things. I didn’t really know where to start. I got a camera, and I started taking some videos and pictures. I didn’t know what to do with the videos. And so, I found this thing called YouTube. And the Adventure Cowboy was simply the name when I made my account. After about 15 tries of putting my own name in there, and them saying ‘Declined, here’s some other ideas’, the Adventure Cowboys was one of their ideas and I kind of liked it. That’s kind of how that whole thing started.

Living Country in the City:

Well, we can thank YouTube then, for the new moniker, I guess. So, what does the entire Adventure Cowboy encompass? What can we expect if I go to your TouTube channel?

Clayton:

Lately, this summer, there’s not much that you should expect. I haven’t been getting as many videos on. I’ve got tons of footage. I’ve got hours upon hours upon hours of footage captured but I haven’t been getting enough editing time to finish them and get them posted. But, there’s over 100 videos on there right now, it ranges from anything to do with backcountry camping, hunting, lots of gun videos. I’m sponsored by Cimarron Firearms, a sponsored shooter for them. There’s some family videos on there, some high country tips and tricks, and I shot a few of those in the country that you were in. A pretty good variety of things. When I made it, the temptation was to – I shouldn’t say temptation – the fad at the time was to have a YouTube channel that was very themed. So if you had a gun YouTube channel, that’s all you did, you just did gun videos. I didn’t really want to be pigeon-holed into anything. I’m a creative person so all I really wanted to do was share my story. Even if it was to nobody else other than my kids when they get older. If I was in the past or something. I wanted them to have something to watch and remember me by. Really my videos, well, some of them are themed, but the whole channel mirrors a bit of my life. The Adventure Cowboy is really just about me trying to share a story and share a love that I have for the American West and ranching and horses.

Living Country in the City:

Well, that’s great. A lot of those topics are how we got connected. You reached out to, at some point, to my Instagram. I think we were talking about this on our ride out. I think you came across my profile and somehow you hopped on one of my live videos and we started talking about Montana, right?

Clayton:

Yeah, I think how it happened was somehow on Cody Rich’s podcast page, I had stumbled upon your name. Everybody that knows me knows that I have a soft spot for people that live in an urban environment, but they have a deep love of everything country. Even if they can’t live it themselves. They really have an appreciation for it. I have a soft spot for people like that because all I’ve ever known is Western country life. If I have the opportunity to share it a little bit, I want to. I looked up your profile out of curiosity and I followed you. And one day you were doing one of those live stories up by the observatory while you were training for this hunt. I can’t remember what, you said something about hunting in the West. Sometimes people are on there and I can’t help myself, I have to comment something. I said, come out with me in Montana, and you were all about it. That was kind of how we had our first interaction. Then you posted that you were coming to Idaho, just the western side of Idaho, which I know pretty well. The area that you had initially picked, I know a little bit, but your back-up area I know like the back of my hand. After your draw was closed on your initial area, and you ended up with your back-up area, which I’m not gonna name, right now. I just thought, at this point in time, and I’m not trying to be arrogant with this at all, my job was literally to explore all of that country and document it for quite a while. Right now, there’s not probably anybody alive that knows every single drainage of that area of those mountains as well as I do. Just because that’s all I did. I lived up there with my horses: exploring, taking pictures and documentation. So, I knew that no matter where you were in those mountains, I could get to you if you were in a hard spot. So, that’s when I messaged him and said, hey, if you’re going in there, just so you know, I can help if you get in trouble.

Living Country in the City:

And I remember, I’ve said this before, I remember thinking to myself: ‘oh wow, that’s super generous of him’. But shhh, I’ll be fine. Nothing’s gonna happen. I’m not gonna get myself into any stupid situations that are going to necessitate me being evac-ed out. Well, sometimes life throws you some surprises. That kind of brings us to talking about the trip a little bit more. I’ve talked a bit about it already. This was not the trip I expected it to be. This was not really the trip that I wanted it to be, but I have to look at it and have to say that it was an adventure. There was definitely an adventure. There was definitely a lot of lessons that can be learned that will hopefully benefit me in the future, that will benefit experienced hunters and inexperienced hunters, anyone. I think there’s a lot of lessons and reminders that can be pulled out of this for absolutely everyone. Going into it, I had picked a few spots, you had reached out, you kind of gave me some general areas to look into. I did my research and I picked out several different spots and this initial area I picked. You had definitely warned me, there was a lot of dead fall in there and it was definitely a very choked area. Me being from California and the forest I’m used to are very – Let’s just say dead fall, what I’m used to, is not nearly the same as dead fall up in the high country in Idaho.

That coupled with an initial plan and an initial weather forecast for slightly more balmy conditions. Even when the weather forecast changed, it really didn’t forecast initially what had happened. We kind of had that freak snowstorm blow in. So suddenly it turned into climbing over dead fall in knee-deep snow. Once I got out there, I kind of realized that this is where I’m gonna be hunting. I inadvertently committed myself to that location by climbing up and over all that dead fall and up into the hills and with that storm and everything.

Clayton:

The area that you picked to go, when you sent me the location. My first reaction was ‘dang, he’s in for it’. You’ve been training for this and prepared and had a lot of personal advice from a lot of hunters. And I thought ‘he’ll be fine. He’s in good shape. He’s gonna go hike up in there and he’s gonna realized that that is some nasty, nasty country. But maybe he’ll get in there and find a nasty old bull. I had high hopes for ya getting in there. Even if you didn’t see anything, I honestly didn’t expect the call that said you were hurt. I thought you were just gonna get in there and have an awesome time and really experience some really gnarly, intense backcountry.

Living Country in the City:

My hike in became significantly longer than I initially expected too. I’ve done as much research as possible: I checked roads and everything. What I didn’t realize and what my research didn’t turn up was that there was a gate about two miles further back than I thought there would be. Then my pack-in turned from two miles to four miles which didn’t help. My pack weight was pretty heavy and I’ll admit: Going in there was the hardest thing I’d ever done. But that was what my prep was for. I knew it was gonna suck going in, I knew it was gonna be tough. So I powered through and I did that four miles. It took me a significant portion of the day to get down there, that’s for sure. But I made it through and I was proud of myself. And getting in there, I definitely saw elk sign going in. The only problem was that it was all looking a week old or more. I saw plenty of rubs, but they were starting to crust over a little bit. I saw tons of scat and I saw plenty of wallows as I was going in and they were all torn up. But everything just had that air of abandonment, like it wasn’t recently used, which was unfortunate. I do feel that if the timing had been better, and if the weather hadn’t changed, there may have been a chance that, like you said, I’d see a big nasty bull back there. Just from the signs I was seeing, it looked like there was plenty of activity but unfortunately a lot of it was pretty old.

Clayton:

From my experience up there, if you’d had been hunting up there around opening weekend, right around the first week of September, they’re still gonna be bachelored up but my experience has been that that’s when the most bulls are hanging out, still up there. It’s more summer country. But you never know, in that kind of country, where you’re gonna find a big old bull that’s just hiding out. I certainly wasn’t gonna stop you from going in there or discourage you. But one of the things before we get too far into talking about the elk deal, thinking about this podcast the last couple of days, knowing that we were gonna do it. And we talked about this when we came out. There’s gonna be information in this podcast that is good for not only the experienced hunters, but there’s gonna be some really good information for those people that are out there who are in your boat. Who have been wanting to do a backcountry hunt their whole life. And people like Cam Hanes and you and some of these other guys that train really hard that go do this, you inspired a lot of people. So I think with that inspiration comes a little bit of responsibility that you have to talk about lessons learned.

One of the things that we were just talking about, where you were saying that things were a little bit different than you had e-scouted when you’ve done your homework. That is a huge deal. Those of you who haven’t ever hunted the backcountry. Goole Earth is an amazing tool, but it does not do justice to the real thing. The real thing is so much more rugged and nasty than what you can really grasp from Google Earth. When you’re e-scouting, you need to plan for more time, more elevation, and worse terrain.

Living Country in the City:

Absolutely. I looked at that hike, I thought about ‘okay, this is the elevation that I’m gonna have to deal with’ and ‘okay, the weather’s gonna be a little bit worse than I’m used to’ and all this. And I looked at that and this hike ended up taking all day. It was gnarly. That’s just the only way to describe it. The first two miles had a trail and then the last two miles getting in, I was bushwhacking. At some times, there were some nice game trails I could go down or up. But, for the most part, it was tough. The snow made it hard to see which direction I should be going. I’d be walking and then all of a sudden, I’d be knee-deep in sludge or a little creek that I didn’t see, some grass. You know, you can look on Google Earth and you can see that that’s some pretty dark, thick timber, but you don’t get that full effect. Even where it shows trails and creeks and things that you expect might be a bit easier. These aren’t well-kept roads and stuff like that. Even though horse trails, half of the time, you’re lucky if you can find them not completely blown over.

Clayton:

I can tell ya that particular part of the forest for the last several years, due to budget concerns, the guys that maintain the trails in that country, two guys, they do it pretty much on foot. That’s the wrong choice because they’re not confident around horses, they’re really good at what they do. But two guys on foot cover as much of that country as they can but I can tell you that the drainage that you went into was so bad. It’s one of those trails that they’ve kind of written off because they hire priority trails that they have to get maintained. That brings up a great point. Just because on X Maps, as awesome of a tool as it is, shows a trail, does not mean there’s really a trail.

Living Country in the City:

It was definitely beyond what I had prepared for. I don’t wanna say I necessarily made bad choices going in there. Because I don’t think I did. I definitely think I could have thought things out a little bit more and made some wiser choices. But I wouldn’t call anything I necessarily made a bad choice. I think a lot of it just came down to, as I was going in, things started compounding and by the time it got to a place where okay, this is an issue, it was kind of the point of no return.

I hit that gate and my pack-in was a lot longer than expected. That’s not the end of the world. That’s something that I can power through. The hike in was significantly worse than expected. You don’t find that out until you’re already most of the way in. A freak snowstorm blows in and suddenly there’s several feet of snow on you. Well, that, unfortunately, was not a choice I made.

Clayton:

And you’re always telling yourself, ‘it’s gonna blow over’.

Living Country in the City:

Exactly. And to some extent, as a guy, I’m going in there and I’m thinking to myself, ‘just sack up and work through it’. You’ll be fine, just quit whining. One of the decisions that I made early on that I could prep for is I knew that I did not know what to expect. I knew things could be good, things could be horribly bad, or they could be anywhere in the middle. And so, I wanted to have a back-up plan. I wanted to make sure that I at least had people who knew where I was. Who could get to me if something happened. Because I had my DeLorme inReach, by Garmin now, that allows me to send out a tracking link, shows everyone where I am. It also allows me to contact people back home. An important part of that that I wanted to distinguish as we’re talking is that technology is great. All the technology in the world is great, but it would not have done me any good, if I had just had my mom on the other end of the line.

Clayton:

100%. Who you tell is what’s important. Yes, it’s important to tell your loved ones where you’re going, but you need to have somebody that’s not gonna be up in the hills hunting while you’re hunting. Somebody that you can get a hold of that knows exactly where you’re going and has the ability to get you out if there’s a problem. A lot of people, even myself, I have a big thing about making sure that people know that I’m going out. Because years ago, I didn’t do that. Years ago, I would just go out into the hills and say that ‘yeah, I’m going up into the hills’. And I wouldn’t tell anybody really where. I just figured I’d be fine. And I never really had a bad accident, but a lot of people have. After I started guiding hunters years ago, and I felt that responsibility of someone else’s life in my hands, I started taking a little bit more responsibility about my welfare in the mountain, and other people’s. I started being better about having a back-up plan. I will tell you right now, that is something that a veteran, avid hunter could really improve on. I don’t do this as much as I should. I should have a better plan every time I go into the woods. Because where I’m at is actually more dangerous than the situation you were in, in my opinion. It’s kind of like how they used to say in driver’s ed, accidents happen within five miles of your home. I think most accidents happen to people who feel overconfident. Without even trying to be egotistical, they go into a situation overly confident. If that situation that happened to you, with a blown-out knee, had happened to me on a lot of the places that I go, I’d have been screwed, because I don’t do a good enough job of having a back-up plan.

Living Country in the City:

I think we should finish the story here about what happened. I had this gnarly pack-in, hardest thing I’ve ever done. I finally get to the spot that I wanted to camp. I set up my camp, thought things were great. Next day, I go out and I start hiking and start exploring, and I cover about 10 miles that following day through nasty rain and snow.

Clayton:

And how heavy was your pack?

Living Country in the City:

That first day, on the hike in, I’m embarrassed to admit, but it was around 85 lbs. That was another thing. Coming in, I was super rushed. I was sick, so I didn’t have much time to plan beforehand. I was running late, and instead of stepping back and just taking some time to finish my planning, I rushed in. I saw the weather was changing so I just threw some additional stuff in my pack. I ended up accidentally leaving some stuff in that was supposed to stay in the car. I did that four-mile choked up hike in with a good 85 plus lbs on my back. The next day, fortunately, I had almost everything unloaded. I was probably under 30 lbs. Covering that 10 miles, I was going up- and downhill, finding glancing spots. I covered quite a bit of ground that first day. Probably the last half a mile, quarter mile, my left knee just started screaming at me. I don’t particularly remember. You know, I fell plenty of times going through that dead fall and snow. Face-first, right in the snow more times than I could count. I can’t say on the hike in or any time that day that there was a specific time when my knee slammed into something. All I know is that last half or quarter mile on my way back to the tent that second day in, my left knee was just excruciating. I could just barely walk. I thought okay, just a little bit of overuse, not that big of a deal. Take some ibuprofen, I’ll give it some rest, I’ll see how it is tomorrow. The next day I get up and there’s one more area I wanted to check out and see. I wasn’t really seeing any recent elk sign, I wasn’t hearing any bugles, nothing like that. I hike up to that location. My knee is a little sore but it’s doing well. I’m thinking to myself, okay, it was kind of a fluke yesterday, just a little sore from yesterday, but it’s not screaming at me like before. The left knee just completely gave out, it just collapsed underneath me. I had to get back to the tent, so on my way back, I’m treating it quite gingerly but I’m still climbing through some thick stuff on the way back. I think just because of how much I was favoring that left knee, I ended up blowing out my right knee as well.

On the way down the hill, I’ve got two knees just screaming at me. They’re giving out every 10 steps as I’m going through the brush. I finally make it back to my tent, at which point I’m thinking to myself, ‘well, crap’. I send out an SOS to the team saying ‘hey, I’ve completely blown out my knees’. Fortunately I got some good tips for wrapping my knees with Leukotape. I sat, I rested, I iced down my knees, I took ibuprofen to work on the swelling. I just kind of rested for that night. The next morning, I tried walking around a little bit and it was just not gonna happen. I thought okay, you had offered, via message, to come and pack me out with the horses.

Clayton:

Well, you sent me that message about the knee. And as soon as you told me that you blew a knee out I knew things weren’t good. Because to get back, you had to go uphill through one of the worst downfall patches in Eastern Idaho. A pretty considerable distance. Before you got to the top. And then from the top, you had to drop thousands of feet down to your jeep. I knew things were pretty bad and that’s when I said, ‘hey, you want me to come get you with the horses?’ Your response, no BS, was ‘well, as much as I’d like to meet you, I don’t want to meet you in an emergency situation’. Well, okay. Hopefully he got it figured out then.

Living Country in the City:

I just didn’t think it was that bad. I thought to myself, well, I guess I should start packing up my stuff and see if I can get out. I packed up most of my camp and I threw on the pack to test it, walked maybe 50 yards and realized that’s not gonna happen. I definitely had to swallow some guy pride. I also had some encouragement from other friends in the group who basically – I believe the phrase was ‘a bruised ego heals a lot quicker than a busted knee’. I was already a little bit prepared to call you. If I added you to that group message. I had a group message going on on Facebook with everyone. So y’all could talk and work things out. With the DeLorme , I can send group texts but it’s not like a group chat. You guys can’t really respond with everyone knowing what’s going on so I created that group Facebook message so if something did happen there could be a little bit more planning than everyone working as individuals.

Clayton:

That was before you went in, because there’s no cell signal whatsoever in that hole you were in.

Living Country in the City:

Yeah, absolutely. That also served to keep my poor mother from having a heart attack. I think y’all are getting Christmas gifts this year from my mom. Especially you, are her new favorite people. Admittedly too, that DeLorme, especially with super cloudy cover, that thing doesn’t always immediately go through. At times it will go through quick and I’d respond almost immediately. Other times, it could take half an hour to an hour for a message to come and sync up and go through. It was good, I think, for her to have that. It’s always nice for your loved ones to have some reassurance that you’re not going to die in the backwoods.

Clayton:

I was gonna talk about this later, but this is as good of a time as any. Of all of the gear that you took into the backcountry, on your first backcountry hunt, I would say quite confidently, that inReach device was by far the most valuable. If you hadn’t had it, think what would have happened.

Living Country in the City:

Honestly, if I had not had that, I would still probably be packing my way out. I thought long and hard about that.

Clayton:

It’s not real easy country. In fact, even on the trail, when we finally got out to the main trail – And I told you this as we were going out, I know it feels like we’re going down the crick and we’re just gonna come out round a main road, but we have to climb a long ways out of this hole just to get to a road. And then we’re an hour from the truck. Then we’re an hour from town.

Living Country in the City:

That hike out, I think that ended up being a mile and a half to two miles. With how my knees were and how my pack was, that took me pretty much half the day.

Clayton:

That’s assuming that your knees didn’t get worse, assuming that you didn’t run out of food or have any hypothermia issues. Because one thing we haven’t really mentioned too much is that the whole time you’re going through all of this: It’s snowing out here. And I’m not talking like, fluffy white powdery snow. This is wet, nasty, make everything slick and nasty muddy. And the bogs. Fact is, it would cover the crick, so you wouldn’t even know they were there. It was nasty weather. The morning I started riding, which is not long after daylight, it was a white-out. I knew where I was going, so I was pretty confident, but I didn’t have more than 100 yards visibility at a max the whole way in. It was the same way on the way out, until we got back to town, we couldn’t see any mountains or anything.

Living Country in the City:

I think I made a comment, even, the world just ended like 100 yards right past the trail. Everyone listening at this point is probably seeing the picture that you took of me with the snow in my beard completely frozen over. That was not a staged or funny shot or anything. That was literally just from the snow.

Clayton:

I rode up alongside of him and I had my camera out. He wasn’t even looking at me and I said “Hey, Sam.” When he looked over at me, I snapped a picture because I wanted a candid shot of his snow beard and his misery. But he was still about half smiling.

Living Country in the City:

I’m still not convinced that was a smile. I think that was more of a grimace. Any smile, though, was just the sheer fact of knowing that I was not going to die under a pile of snow drift or something.

Clayton:

You were a long ways back in there. And the people that you had talked to, that you ran into, they’re outfitters. The only outfitters in that area. It was bad enough that they pulled out. They pulled their camp out, they pulled everything out. And I believe when you told them you had a friend coming up on horseback they kind of gave you a weird look.

Living Country in the City:

Oh yeah. They were probably shocked to see me, because, like when we met, dude covered head to toe in snow. I had my rain gear on, but covered head to toe with snow, with an obviously enormous pack on.

Clayton:

And an obvious limp.

Living Country in the City:

Oh, yeah. I’m just struggling through and they stopped and they kind of came out to me. We talked for a minute. They had full loads on their pack. On their horses already. They were kind of looking back and forth at each other, going okay, do we give this poor guy a ride? Or do we at least take his pack for him. But they had been packing out all their different satellite camps so their packhorses and their saddles were just completely loaded up already. They were really nice guys, they showed me exactly where the hose trail was. At the time for some reason it wasn’t showing up on my GPS. So, I had just been following the cricks down. It was really stand up of them to point that out. It was just nice to see another human being for the first time in a few days. It kind of gives you a little bit of reassurance that life still exists outside of this weird backcountry bubble that you’re in.

Clayton:

That was like, Day 4 of you back in there, right?

Living Country in the City:

Yeah, that would have been Day 4. I think you came in on Day 5. Seems like a lot longer.

Clayton:

When you’re not getting in the elk or game, to have an active quarry to chase, time goes really, really slow. And as I was riding in there, that fifth morning to come get you out, I kept thinking to myself, ‘I wonder what he’s doing right now?’

Living Country in the City:

The whole time I’d been worried about power. Because unfortunately, my Dark Energy charger just kind of crapped out on me. Finally, when it got to the point when I knew you were on your way in, I wasn’t gonna need to message you or anything, I’m just gonna go crazy. I’m like, screw it. I opened up Candy Crush on my phone. I just need something to distract me for the next hour. I had opened it up, I’d played one game and suddenly I heard, “The cavalry had arrived!” I could not have opened the zipper of that dang tent fast enough, that’s for sure.

Clayton:

I don’t know if I told you that I was recording, but on the road up, I had the camera on. So, I’ve got all of that initial meet-up on camera, because I had my GoPro. It was pretty funny. I was just watching it before I came up here to Missoula the other day. You were ‘I am so glad to see you!’

Living Country in the City:

I was just so excited to see you. I remember I couldn’t even explain it. I could not even form the words correctly to describe it. It was just one of those things where the relief was fantastic. It was very bitter sweet, too, though. That was the moment also really where I realized I’m hurt. It’s not like we’re going out to a new spot. This is the end of my season. This is the end to my elk season. There was definitely, on the ride out, a few moments where I’d kind of catch myself getting a bit melancholy about that. It’s not about getting the animal, and that’s not at all what it was for me. I definitely wanted to have an adventure and I did have an adventure. I was kind of looking forward to that hunt experience. That elk calling and hearing them bugle at night. That whole experience. I’ll admit it was definitely a bummer not being able to get that. I definitely think that my sheer joy of not having to spend the next three days packing out an 85 lbs pack by myself outweighed whatever melancholy moments that I had.

Clayton:

Thinking about your pack-out too, to go out the way you came in would have been dang near impossible, given your knees. Even without a pack on. To go out the way we did would have made the most sense. But your jeep was on the complete opposite side of the mountain range. That was the part of this rescue thing and I wanna give credit where credit’s due. I went and got you, but the amount of time it would have taken to drive you all the way around the mountains to get your jeep would have meant a really long trailer ride for my horses, and not getting back until the following day to my home. I had called Jeremiah Balliet, who’s a wildfire firefighter out of Leadore, Idaho, that I used to work with, a good buddy of mine. I need to give some credit to him, because as soon as I said ‘hey, I need your help to get this guy back over to his jeep’, he just texted back and said ‘whatever you need, you just let me know’.

Living Country in the City:

This was not a quick hour and a half jaunt around the mountain or anything. This was probably a good four plus hour trip by the time we got back to the main road after picking up my jeep. I also can’t thank him enough for being willing to take me out there in his poor truck. By the time we got back, it was covered, tires to top, in mud and sleet and frozen-over grime. He is also a hero of this story for getting me back to the jeep. That was the other thing, too. That ride out was probably one of the most beautiful horseback rides I have ever been on in my life. If everything’s gonna go to, and pardon my French, if everything’s gonna go to ****, your elk season’s gonna end the way mine ended, at least there’s that little bit of joy. Getting to ride through that country was probably one of the most beautiful, amazing sights I have ever seen.

Clayton:

If only you could have seen it when you could actually see some distance. Maybe we’ll have to go back in the summer some time when you can actually see the mountains. Because you’re right, it was gorgeous. But it wasn’t anything compared to when there’s not snow falling everywhere.

Living Country in the City:

On that note, let’s take a quick moment to hear a word from one of my partners.

Partner:

Hey y’all, if you’re like me, a new elk hunter really trying to up your game and get into backcountry big game hunting. Or if you’re an experienced hunter trying to fill tags more consistently, you really need to check out Elk101.com’s University of Elk Hunting online course. If you’re looking for a central resource to really take you all the way from start to finish when it comes to big game hunting, this is it. Corey Jacobsen is a world champion elk caller and one of the definitive experts when it comes to elk hunting. And in this online course, he shares over 30 years of his elk hunting experience, strategies, and tips. All of this is broken down into easy to digest modules and packed full of great video content as well. This will provide you with all of the resources you need to be a confident elk hunter, regardless of your past experience. What’s even better is you can get $10 off the University of Elk Hunting online course by visiting my partner’s page at livingcityinthecountry.com/partners.

Clayton:

Regarding your hunt, earlier on you talked about some bad decisions, or you didn’t feel comfortable saying that you made bad decisions. I’ll tell you right now, you didn’t make any bad decisions. Pre-trip, before you even came out here, what were some things that were real successes and what were some things that you could have done better?

Living Country in the City:

I’m supposed to put other people on the spot like this. You’re not supposed to put me. I rushed things. I was so excited to get out to this hunt and I put so much pressure on it. Because it’s my first time. Because I made so much of what I’m doing public, I put a lot of pressure on myself for this. I think I rushed things. Because I got sick several days before I was supposed to leave. I got a really bad head cold. I was miserable. I had to take some time to heal and get better. But that also removed a lot of time I was gonna spend adjusting my pack weight and figuring out different things. However much prep this last year I’ve done, within that last week I rushed it, and it was definitely something I shouldn’t have done. Going into it, something that really worked out. I mean, there was a lot of planning that I did that did work out.

Clayton:

You did your homework, I will give you that. That was what I was gonna tell you. From the outside looking in, from the success that you did right. Homework. You did a lot of preparation. Whether your own e-scouting, you did a lot of research that way. But you also listened to a lot of different podcasts, some really experienced backcountry hunters, getting advice from other hunters that, not necessarily like me, but some of your associate friends that are also into backcountry hunting, some personal experience from them. You did a good job at that. I don’t know anybody that does that much homework, getting into their first hunt. I commend you for that. That was good.

Living Country in the City:

I think I’ve gone through every possible resource I could.

Clayton:

Before we go on, as far as before the trip, physical conditioning. What worked out good for you, and what didn’t make that much of a difference?

Living Country in the City:

The hiking with a pack, there’s nothing that can replace that. You can do all the squats and dead lifts and running in the world, but nothing is gonna replace hiking with a pack. The other stuff is important. I’m not saying don’t do the other stuff. But the hikes I did, I wish I had done longer. I think that may have also revealed sooner or helped me mitigate the issue I had with my knees. I think probably would have revealed it sooner. Rather than doing these mile and a half, two mile hikes. If I had taken it up to four or five miles, I think that would have been super beneficial. I wish there was something I could have done about elevation. That was brutal, with the physical conditioning.

Clayton:

Because you live at sea level, and you were hunting at 9000 feet.

Living Country in the City:

I’m lucky on my hikes. When I got some serious elevation, I get up to almost 1000 feet, maybe. I live at sea level, and everyone says and everyone warned me and I knew to expect it. But there’s just nothing you can do about it. The elevation is absolutely brutal. There were times when I felt like I was completely suffocating and I had to tell myself you’re not dying, you’re not suffocating, don’t panic. I almost wanted to freak out a little bit. It was that bad. You need to get that conditioning up. Yeah, you’re not going to be doing a ton of dead lifts in the backcountry except for flipping your pack up, but doing that in a controlled situation makes it a lot easier to do it with your pack when you need to get it on a stump to help you put it on when it’s super loaded up. That stuff definitely helped, but hiking with a pack was definitely the number one thing that helped me with what I needed to do. I would definitely do that more.

Clayton:

When you were hiking with a pack, were you hiking with the same weight that you hunted with? And were you hiking with the same clothing, boots and all that you hunted with?

Living Country in the City:

I would be about 50-50 in the same boots. My big hikes I do in my heavy boots, my morning hikes, I’d do in my lighter boots. That is a good point. I would hike with the same weight. I didn’t do too many with that full weight, I was kind of working up to it. I did hike with a weighted pack, in boots. And definitely in the longer hikes, I wore the heavier boots. Even the style of your boots, if you wear a boot with less flex to it and more weight, that’s gonna change absolutely everything.

Clayton:

Right. Speaking of boots, you loved yours, right?

Living Country in the City:

Oh, yeah. I cannot say enough about my Crispi Hunters. They were just rock solid. I had my ankle supported. There was about a million times where I stepped through something going over that dead fall. I got my foot caught between two logs and I started to fall or twist or trip. There was about a million times where if I wasn’t wearing those boots, my ankle would have just snapped, without a doubt. There was a million times I kicked something or would’ve gashed open my shins, would’ve broken an ankle, smashed a toe. But those boots were just bullet-proof the entire time. I can’t say enough about them. By the time I got back to the truck, everything on my body hurt, except for my feet. Absolutely everything, my arms, my shoulders, my head, my legs. But my feet felt absolutely fantastic. I can’t say enough about those Crispi Hunter GTX boots.

Clayton:

You did a lot of hiking. To do that much hiking over that much terrain, especially those angles with that much weight and not have blisters, says quite a little bit about your boots. I don’t have Crispi boots. But after seeing and hearing your response to those boots, having used them on your hunt, I definitely am a lot more interested in them.

Living Country in the City:

I’ve done a podcast with Crispi before. If anyone wants to know, I’m not sponsored by Crispi. I have a good relationship with them. I’ve talked to them at events, but I’m just a huge fan of the boots. They are quality. They’re definitely pricy, but they’re a 10-, 20-year boot. You send them back and they repair them and they’re good for another 10 years.

Clayton:

That’s good. What about general gear? What about your electronics and your charging devices?

Living Country in the City:

The Goal Zero solar charger was fantastic. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to use that too much. I brought in two Dark Energy chargers with me. The first one was bulletproof. It worked great, I can’t say enough about it. And the second one. In those freezing temps, I pulled it out of the pack and I had charged all of them fully beforehand but when I pulled that one out of the pack, it hadn’t been touched since I charged it, and it was drained. It was drained by half way. I went to charge my phone for about five minutes and it was drained fully. It was supposed to be rated for the cold. I don’t know if it wasn’t functioning, or if they’re not fully adapted for quite as cold as it was. It may just be this specific one was malfunctioning. I’m talking with Dark Energy’s customer support about it right now and we’ll see. If I hadn’t needed to pull out early, that could’ve become a lot bigger of an issue. When you go in expecting to be able to rely on those electronics. I using that to recharge my DeLorme inReach, my GPS, my phone which I had onX Maps on, makes texting with the DeLorme a lot easier. One thing will say, that DeLorme, if you keep the settings right, if you’re not on it constantly, you keep the screen kind of dim, you loosen up the tracking points a little bit. The battery life on that thing. I probably could’ve actually didn’t need to charge it whatsoever. That was my most important piece, so I always kept it charged. That thing used so little battery power, I was blown away.

Clayton:

I think that is probably the best, most important piece of equipment that you had on this hunt.

Living Country in the City:

Without a doubt.

Clayton:

I’ve used a spot device before, but I didn’t realize Garmin had a device like that. That’s pretty cool to see you using that and also experiencing the communication that we did through that thing. I was surprised how quick the responses were. There’s a little bit of lag a couple times, but for the most part it was almost like texting on a phone with how fast that thing would get to the satellite and then back down.

Living Country in the City:

Without a doubt, if we had to pick a champion piece of gear for this trip, it was that DeLorme inReach. They’re building them into some of the GPS’s so they’re a little more unified, one less piece of gear you have to carry. But I liked having it separate. That way I could use my GPS and not worry about draining it. It was nice having it as a separate piece of equipment for sure.

Clayton:

Awesome. Based on this whole experience, if there’s somebody out there that’s in your shoes in the next couple years, wants to go on their first backcountry hunt, and they wanna do it solo and on their own, is there any important advice you wanna give them? There’s a lot of things you could tell ‘em, but if there’s just a couple things what would those be?

Living Country in the City:

First and foremost is have a back-up plan and then have a back-up plan for your back-up plan. However passionate we are about hunting, however much we love the backcountry, all of that, none of it is worth your life. That’s what’s most important. First and foremost, getting back to your loved ones safe and whole. Planning for that, first and foremost. Don’t go in being afraid. But, plan for the worst, plan for the best and plan for everything in between. I like to think that I did that. Not specifically for what exactly happened, but I had an option for something in between. Just, in general, give yourself options. Don’t ever lock yourself in. That’s something that applies from when you’re doing your planning all the way to your trip. Always have options. Don’t commit so wholly one spot or wholly one elevation or time or whatever it may be that you can’t flip a script. How much things could have changed, if I left an option. Once I got in there, before I even set up my tent. Nope, this place is awful. There’s no chance there’s elk here, I’m going to a lower elevation or whatever it was. I could have given myself better options, by carrying a lighter pack, by whatever it is. That, I would also say is a thing. The discomfort you will feel by not bringing something is a lot less than the discomfort you will feel by packing it in. I would have rather gone without a lot of those creature comforts than having to have packed them in. And also, I wouldn’t have had to rely on a lot of those creature comforts if I hadn’t packed them in, because I could have gotten myself out a lot easier. Those would be my three biggest learnings that I think I’d share. Always have a back-up plan, don’t lock yourself in, give yourself options, and you don’t need as much crap as you think you do. Even if you end up using it, you’ll survive without it.

Clayton:

I have quite a bit of stuff on my pack. That comes from guiding. I used to have to carry enough that I could care for other people, not just myself. You get in that habit. But one of the things that all those years of guiding really did for me is that you figure out what worked. I could eliminate a whole bunch of things if I just have one thing that worked. And it might not even be camouflage, it might not even be sportsman-related, but it works. That information can only really be gleaned by getting out in the woods and trying it all out.

Living Country in the City:

Yep. That’s what I’ve realized. The next hunt I go on will be regardless of what Nature throws at me and what situation throws at me. It will be hand over fist better. In the way of my preparation and everything. Nothing can substitute for time in the field. If I have to pull one positive thing out of this whole experience. There’s a lot of things I can pull. If I can really parry down to one of the most positive things of this whole experience is that I got probably hunts worth of learning from one single trip out that it’s crazy. The crap I went through, it taught me more stuff that I would have probably had to learn over the course of countless hunts otherwise. It was all packed into one trip. That’s not saying that, obviously, I don’t have tons more to learn. But I think that I definitely, this will make me a stronger and wiser hunter for the future.

Clayton:

I completely agree. From the outside looking in, Sam, just listening to the words that you’ve said, not only tonight, but in all that time that we spent getting you out of the backcountry. It seemed pretty obvious to me that this hunt was gonna be, in the future, one of your favorite hunts looking back. We’ve talked about that a little bit, but I think you learn a lot about yourself and what your limits are and what your capabilities are. When you go into some backcountry by yourself. And you get put into some really rough situations, just from Mother Nature. We came out, we were talking about the backcountry and how no amount of e-scouting can prepare you for the reality of when things go south because the backcountry is beautiful and it’s gorgeous, it’s awe-inspiring. But at the same time, if you don’t respect it for what it is, she can be a mean bitch. Being able to prepare for that is a big thing. I think that you learned a lot about yourself on this hunt and I think a lot of people, both experienced hunters and all of your followers that you’ve inspired, are gonna get an invaluable amount of information form what you’ve gone through. That is due to your honesty and your humility and not being too proud to admit where you screwed up. Thing you could have done better. Just your willingness to tell the story for what it was, not for what you want people to think what it was. I commend you for that. You did a great job.

Living Country in the City:

Thank you. As we’re kind of winding down here. I’m gonna flip it now on you. From your perspective, if you had any advice for someone wanting to go into the backcountry for their first hunt, whether it’s a solo hunt or not. Somebody wanting to get into backcountry hunting, what would be the best piece of advice you could give that person?

Clayton:

To be completely honest, it does depend on the person. In fact, on my website, I have an article – I started writing a five-part series and then I kind of had a lightning strike that fried my computer. And then I lost some articles that I had written. But I have two articles that I’ve written and they’re posted on my website. It’s about planning your first backcountry hunt. I recommended that the first time you go into the backcountry, if you’ve never done it before, that you go with an outfitter. Just because they take care of a lot of the logistics, they are your back-up plan. They’ve got the food. And you can just concentrate on learning the hunt itself. Learning the game. It just takes some of the pressure off. If you’re hardcore and you’re fit and you’re just one of those people who want to do it yourself, I wholeheartedly recommend that. From my experience, both my own and guiding for a long time. This is not me being critical of you, but for your first one. When we listen to all these podcasts and read all these articles, you hear all these guys talking about how you gotta be willing to hike in a couple miles past all these people. It seems like there’s becoming a little bit more of a focus for these new hunters. They hear that and they’re more focused on getting away from people than they are getting to where actual elk live. If there’s a known area where the elk are, there’s gonna be people. You’re just gonna have to deal with that. My advice would be if you’re new to backcountry hunting and you wanna do it. Do your homework, just like Sam did. Do a thorough job. Get some gear, listen to podcasts or whatever to figure out the best gear to get. And then buy it and then try it out. As you’re planning where you’re gonna go, don’t necessarily pick the nastiest, gnarliest piece of country. Find some country that looks really good, look really elky, something that you can physically attain. If something happens, you can get out of. Let’s say you’re a hunter from California, like Sam. And you’re hunting in a different state and you don’t really have somebody right there, you don’t have first-hand knowledge of the ground, I recommend getting to know somebody. And in this day and age in social media, you can find somebody anywhere. Get to know somebody from that area that you can have as a back-up plan. In my case, I reached out to Sam, because he was going out to some of my favorite country in the world. Like I said earlier, I have a soft spot for people that are like Sam and have that appreciation for the country even though that’s not where they’re from. I reached out to him, because I wanted to make myself available if something happened. But if you don’t have that situation, you need to be finding somebody that lives in that area that can help you out. Maybe not necessarily with the hunt, but can get you out in a jam. There’s really not more advice I can give that would be better than just, if you’re inspired to do it, go do it. If you keep saying some day, some day’s never gonna happen. If it’s a dream, then make a plan. I used to say this a lot to young people. I used to be a drill instructor for an at-risk youth program. I worked with teenagers a lot that were in trouble. I used to tell them, a goal that’s not written down is just a wish. Wishes only come true for people who take that wish and turn it into a goal. They write it down. Then they make a plan to make it happen. If your dream is to go on a backcountry hunt, make a plan and then go do it. Don’t say some day, just make a plan and do it.

Living Country in the City:

I’ll say one thing to the whole regard of getting back further in. If I had to choose two hunts. However much I did learn from this hunt and however much adventure in this story it is, if I had to pick from two hunts. The one I did, not seeing any elk, not hearing any bugles, and struggling the whole time. Or being in country that’s a little overcrowded by hunters but hearing elk, possibly seeing them, maybe they’re getting blown out, whatever it is. I’ll take the excitement any day over getting stuck in a spot. That was kind of one thing I realized. Like I said, I think this experience that I’ve had is invaluable. But it doesn’t mean I still wouldn’t have rather seen a bunch of elk. Kind of something for people to chew on for when they’re thinking of where to go in and how far they wanna push in.

Clayton:

Sam, I will tell you something, though. This isn’t just me. I’m sure I can speak for a lot of veteran hunters that are listening to this podcast. When you do go out the next time and you get into elk and you stick one, everybody that follows you is gonna know that you earned that. It’s gonna mean so much more to you than somebody who goes into one of those areas, like I talked about where there’s elk but there’s people and just gets lucky. It’ll happen for you. And when it does, everybody’s gonna respect how you did it. Because you definitely earned your stripes. So don’t get down on it, don’t be discouraged because you didn’t get into elk.

Living Country in the City:

I have my moments, but I’m definitely looking forward to next season. Hopefully with someone else with me at elk camp. Laughing about how crazy this year was and listening to bugles that we’ll be chasing the next morning.

Clayton:

So next year, let’s planning on us hunting together instead of me coming to rescue you.

Living Country in the City:

I like the sound of that. I definitely like the sound of that. If folks wanted to find you online, Clayton. Follow along with all the Adventure Cowboy stuff, where can they check you out?

Clayton:

On a normal social media. @TheAdventureCowboy on Instagram. The Adventure Cowboy on Facebook. Also on YouTube, the Adventure Cowboy. I have a website as well called adventurecowboy.com. On there, there’s a collection of videos, a couple of my articles. That one’s kind of a work-in-progress. There’s a site there and it’s got some content, if you’re interested. Most of what I’ve been doing over the last couple of years has been involving social media, because it’s a way for me to let my creative juices flow and be able to tell a story. Make somebody smile and hopefully inspire them.

Living Country in the City:

That’s awesome. I will make sure to have links to those, all on the show notes page which will be livingcountryinthecity.com/38 for episode 38.

Any final parting thoughts?

Clayton:

I was so glad that you called me to come get you and it was an enjoyable trip for me. Riding in, up in those white-out snow. In the country, it’s kind of hard to explain. People are listening to this and I say country that I love. I can’t even explain how much I love the mountain country. That drainage in particular has a lot of special memories for me. I was going through a part of my life when my job was to explore that country, I was going through a divorce. That summer when I was I that particular drainage was a rough summer for me personally. I was kind of in a moment in my life when I was trying to figure myself back out, and I kind of lost myself for several years. Lost what was important to me and what my goals were and what it was that made me happy. The defining moments when I started figuring stuff out and started moving forward with my life centered around my time in that mountain range, all by myself, alone with my horses, is exploring the high country. For me to go back in there to get you, and revisit that country, now in a better place when I’m remarried and incredibly happy, probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Getting you out was a big deal but there was a great boost for me to get back in there. I’m glad you called me, from a selfish standpoint, that’s why.

Living Country in the City:

I’m glad. That makes me feel a lot better about calling. Because I never – I think I told you, the moment you came out, I have a lot of trouble asking for help just because I hate putting people out, more than anything. I’m glad it was an enjoyable trip for you and you got to see the country. I definitely have to say the fog and snow kind of – We didn’t get to see much of it. But it kind of gives it that eerie, just quiet. Silence is everything. It’s just absolutely gorgeous out there. I can’t say thank you enough for coming in to get me.

Clayton:

No problem. I’ll have the video that I got of that day when I came in and got you. I don’t have a ton of it, but I’ll get it all edited and put it on the Adventure Cowboy YouTube channel so people can see it.

Living Country in the City:

Sounds good. Well, thank you so much for hopping on the line with me today. It was good having you on.

Clayton:

Anytime.

Living Country in the City:

Alright, y’all. That’ll do for episode 38 of Living Country in the City. Go check out Clayton’s videos and social pages. You can find all those on our show notes page at livingcountryinthecity.com/38. Thank y’all for following along and all y’all’s words of encouragement leading up to and really after this trip. I really appreciate y’all and until next time, keep it country, y’all.

All contents copyright. © 2015 Living Country in the City
None of the contents of this site may be reproduced without the express permission of the author.
Living Country in the City is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.