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The irreplaceable pack

If you do any kind of big game hunting, whether it be fullbored expeditions into wildernesscountry, or simple day trips outside of town, you need some sort of pack.

My first serious pack was an external frame Camp Trails, made in Arizona, and bought in the Marine Corps PX in 1971 for the princely sum of $32. I carried that pack on many trips from Arizona to North Dakota to Wyoming, British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska. I finally wore it out in the early 1980s and bought an external frame Kelty, a good pack that I have carried everywhere. It hangs on a nail in my garage. At this time, I used a Jansport as a day pack. In spite of the beating it took, I still use it to hobble into the library when returning books and checking out others.

In the early 1990s I bought a prototype internal frame Big Horn pack designed by Dana Gleason of Mystery Ranch packs in Bozeman. It has many pockets and straps and I used it extensively, mostly as a day pack or weekender. It isn’t designed for carrying heavy loads, but in 1996 I packed all my gear plus half of my last Rocky Mountain bighorn ram from 11,800 feet elevation down to the trailhead. My partner packed the other half of the sheep carcass. This was in Wyoming.

Today, Mystery Ranch makes some of the best packs in the business and even has military contracts. If I were still young and tough instead of old and feeble, I’d buy a couple Mystery Ranch packs.

In 2000 I came upon a booth at the big sheep convention in Reno that made and sold packs under the brand “Crooked Horn.” They were from California, and the stunning young lady at the booth sold me one of their fanny packs for half price. I have found it indispensable as a daypack. It will carry two water bottles, flashlight, first aid kit, sharpening steel, lunch, cold weather cap, cold weather gloves, rubber gloves, a rag, plastic bags (for heart and livers) and some emergency rations—all strapped neatly on the top of one’s hips. As with all my packs, I have used it innumerable times as a rifle rest, including my last desert bighorn sheep taken five years ago in the Monte Cristo Mountains of Nevada. I unsnapped the pack, placed it on a suitable sized boulder, tossed my leather gloves onto the sharp stones at my feet, knelt on them, and clobbered a 10-1/2-yearold ram at 125 yards.

One final pointeven when hunting a mile or two from the pickup in fair weather, I never ventured anywhere without a wool mackinaw. It is easy to get caught in a squall, a quick-developing snow storm, and if you don’t have adequate clothing, you can get into trouble in short order. (I just told an old Marine pal from Arkansas that I have been snowed on in Montana in every month of the year except July. He couldn’t believe it, but it is true.)

I also never went anywhere without a compass tied to a button hole in a shirt pocket so I wouldn’t lose it, and a simple Firestarter kit with candle, shavings and a lighter and waterproof match container full of stick matches. If I hunted in unfamiliar country I always had a set of topo maps with me too. I also often carried a fleece pullover in my pack and/ or an L. L. Bean down vest that one could stuff into a nylon bag that came with the vest, and was half the size of a football. I still have both in my hunting clothes closet.

In typical fall weather I wore a western felt hat and unlined leather gloves, but I always had the cold weather gear along with me. As a native of North Dakota, I never forgot what it’s like to get cold.

Contact Bernie Kuntz at b.kuntz@