Chasing mule deer in the high country of the west can be one of the best hunting experiences of your life. The breathtaking views from mountain peaks are hard to explain. There is nothing quite like hiking up to a glassing knob before day break to find bachelor groups of bucks as they feed to their bedding areas. Some may argue there are few better places to chase big bucks.
But like most things, something worth having doesn’t come easy.
Residing above timberline, high country mule deer generally live in elevations of 10,000+ ft. This equates to a very physically and often mentally challenging hunt. Hunting at higher elevations comes at a cost. One of the first things you will notice is the effect of limited oxygen at altitude has on your body. Most commonly, you will be short of breath and more easily fatigued.
Training, acclimating, and having high quality lightweight gear will help you be more effective at altitude. With technological advancements, brands like Stone Glacier and Swarovski are always pushing the limits to bring consumers the best gear they can offer without sacrificing quality. The correlation of light weight gear lacking durability and reliability is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Following are our top picks for high performing lightweight gear:
Swarovski NL Pure 12×42
Let’s face it, optics are heavy, but something we cannot leave without when glassing is the name of the game. Much of the time spent on the mountain hunting mule deer is spent behind the glass. Having quality binoculars and spotting scopes can often be the difference in locating hard to find game. But as mentioned, quality glass often comes at a major cost in weight. Swarovski solved this problem with their offering of the NL Pure 12×42. The NL Pure 12×42 comes in at 29.5 oz which is average of most 10×42 high end binoculars. Not only do you get more magnification, but also a better field of view than many 10×42 binoculars.
Stone Glacier Terminus
New for 2022 and 2023, Stone Glacier released the Terminus 7000 and 8700 packs. The Terminus line was designed with the alpine hunter in mind. They achieved a very lightweight system by sewing the pack directly to the frame system, simplifying and streamlining the design, and by using lightweight but strong fabrics.
The Terminus packs utilize the same carbon stays used in their frames. This means they still maintain a load rating of 150+ lbs. The proprietary SG Ultra fabric combined with X-pac fabrics keep the pack very light weight and nearly waterproof (seams are not sealed). When compared to packs of similar size, the Terminus is a major contender especially when weight is a deciding factor.
Achieving success while hunting mule deer in the high country involves a combination of skill, preparation, and the right gear. Beyond optics and backpacks, clothing and footwear choices are equally crucial for a successful high elevation hunt. The extreme conditions of the alpine environment can change rapidly, demanding versatile and lightweight clothing that provides warmth and protection without adding unnecessary weight.
Merino wool base layers have gained popularity among hunters for their ability to regulate body temperature, manage moisture, and resist odor. Brands like First Lite and Icebreaker offer lightweight merino wool options that excel in these aspects, allowing hunters to stay comfortable during long treks and extended glassing sessions. Additionally, advancements in synthetic insulation technologies have led to the creation of ultralight and packable insulated jackets that can keep hunters warm without compromising mobility.
Footwear is another critical consideration for high elevation hunts. The rugged and uneven terrain demands sturdy and supportive boots, but weight remains a concern. Brands like La Sportiva and Salomon have developed lightweight hiking boots with specialized features like advanced traction and waterproofing, ensuring that hunters can cover ground efficiently while keeping their feet protected.
In conclusion, the pursuit of mule deer in the high country is a challenging and rewarding endeavor that requires careful planning, physical preparation, and the right gear. Technological advancements in gear design and materials have paved the way for high performing and lightweight equipment that enables hunters to navigate the demanding alpine environment more effectively. From innovative optics to streamlined backpacks and advanced clothing options, today’s hunters have a wealth of options to choose from, enhancing their chances of a successful and memorable high elevation hunt.