I define backcountry as rugged, wild, and roadless mountains. The one thing I love about the backcountry is its brutal honesty. If you aren't physically and mentally tough, it will break you. The backcountry that first tested me and I think made me who I am today is Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness. That backcountry demands humble respect. Respect for your abilities and limitations. Respect for Mother Nature. And lastly, respect for fellow hunters.
In regard to respecting fellow backcountry hunters, I think guys who hunt the wilderness, especially those of us that do it solo, share a special brotherhood because we understand the unique challenges of the lonely rugged mountains. I think it's because of this bond I was recently contacted by seasoned backcountry bowhunter Jeremy Johnson from La Pine, Oregon. Here is a portion of the e-mail I received from Jeremy that gives insight on surviving backcountry thieves.
I know you've heard my story secondhand from a packer, Barry Cox, we both use in the Eagle Cap. I am the guy who had my gear ripped off opening day deep in the wilderness. You mentioned to Barry that you thought sharing my experience was something that really needed to be done as there were some important lessons to talk about as backcountry hunters. I've drawn a lot of inspiration from you over the years, so following your lead I would like to do my part in giving back.
Considering that where I was hunting this past season is your old stompin' grounds (which I was not aware of until Barry dropped me off), I can't think of a more fitting person to share my story. You could probably give insight that no one else could. I didn't kill one of the bigger animals, or the most difficult that I have killed, but I surely won't forget it. I'm not looking to get anything out of this. — Jeremy Johnson
Here is Jeremy's story from elk season in the Eagle Cap€¦in his words.
"It was a warm morning as packer Barry Cox from Del Sol Wilderness Adventures and I made our way up the trail the day before the season opened. The scenery almost made me feel guilty and unworthy of having the privilege to hunt these mountains for the next 10 days.
"As we arrived at the place I was to be dropped off, Barry and I watched a five and a six-point bull elk feeding on the opposite hillside. That's promising, I thought to myself. After a good practice session with my bow, I loaded my pack with food and supplies for the next five days. The weather forecast for the next 10 days called for sunny weather. Perfect, I thought. I can pack ultra-light and really cover some ground.
"After throwing a tarp over my gear, I made a cache in a tree up the ridge for my food so hungry bears wouldn't mess with my stuff.
"I had prepared myself physically for this hunt and my shooting was up to par. It was a new area to me, and while I felt as ready as I could be, I had no clue what I was in for. And so my adventure begins.
Opening morning started with a bang as I glassed up two rams and a spike bull elk with some cows. About that time the weather started getting ugly. I grew up hunting the Oregon Coast so I was used to dealing with inclement weather and wasn't too worried. I figured if it didn't clear up by the end of the day I'd just hike back to where I'd stashed my stuff, get my raingear, tent and dry clothes, and get back to it.
"Unfortunately, the weather went from bad to worse. Soaked to the bone and chilled by the high winds and sideways snow, I arrived back at my stuff at 9 p.m. Something didn't seem right, and when I flipped back the tarp, all I found was my target and the hat I'd worn the day before.
"What kind of man steals a guy's gear, 10 miles from the nearest road, in a snowstorm? I thought to myself. Being soaking wet, can I survive a night with 30-40 mph winds?
"It's times like these I remember something my late Grandpa, a man of tremendous faith, said after watching his furniture store burn to the ground.
"All things work together for the good of them that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28
"These words have got me through many bad times in my life, and I was going to rely on them once again to get me through this situation. I decided right then and there that I was not only going to kill a bull in the high country, I was going to do it severely handicapped with only my bow, bivy rig, and one soaking wet set of clothes!
"Wet, cold and sleep deprived, the days to follow were a constant juggling act between hunting and survival. Spending the night under the trees in a bivy sack wasn't sleeping; it was waiting for daylight.
"Late Friday afternoon, a full week into my surviving-on-the-bare-minimum adventure, I peered over some rimrock to find four bulls bedded 125 yards directly below me. Playing the wind, my plan was to circle below them and move in quickly for the shot. Twenty minutes later I was in the timber right where I wanted to be. I let out a few cow calls and moved into bow range. The biggest bull — a 5x6 — stood up out of his bed and I made a perfect shot on the quartering-away bull. He made it about 100 yards before going head over heels down the rocky hillside."
Jeremy's amazing story of perseverance and commitment to success in the face of great adversity is impressive. Most guys would've headed for the trailhead. But as extraordinary as the arrowing of his wilderness bull is, the actions of the backcountry thieves are equally as troubling.
I was motivated to share Jeremy's story because upon first hearing of it, I was disappointed. As backcountry hunters, we can and must do better. These thieves not only violated an unspoken hunter's creed when they stole Jeremy's gear, but the outcome could have been a lot worse. Hypothermia has killed many in the mountains, and the backcountry bandits could have stolen a man's life. We must police ourselves when hunting the wilderness, because there is no one else back there to do it for us. I feel like we all lost a little bit of trust in our fellow backcountry hunters and we all need to do what we can to make it right.
The backcountry is a majestic, special place that's worthy of honorable behavior. No mountain hunter deserves to suffer such a cowardly act. They deserve what I call — backcountry respect.
Jeremy filed a police report with Mark Knapp of the Oregon State Police. His stolen gear included a Hoyt Bow, Leica binoculars, Badlands pack, tent, raingear, Jet-Boil stove, a pair of Lathrop & Sons boots, Under Armour clothing, and a handgun. If you know someone who suddenly came into possession of these items or have any information about this case, please contact Officer Knapp at (541) 426-3049 (office), (541) 263-1023 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org.