If you hunt or spend any amount of time in the mountains chasing wapiti a gear and/or equipment failure is inevitable. I know some of you will find a few of my gear failures humorous and many of you will probably be able to relate to a couple of them.
My hope is that you will see my gear failures as “Educational” and better prepare yourself and your equipment for the months to come. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is this: “Use your gear and/or equipment prior to hunting season as much as you can. Find the flaws and fix them!”
Many years ago on a hunt in NE Oregon I was hunting alone. Waiting for my hunting partner Bob to show back up to camp (after he finished work for the week), I decided to go for an evening hunt. The weather at the time was slightly rainy, temps in the 50’s, with a very slight northern wind blowing. They were the perfect conditions to hunt a specific bench we had been waiting to hunt until the wind was good. I took off from the pickup on my mountain bike and made quick time riding the 4 miles to the bench.
As I dropped off onto the furthest southern edge of the bench I could hear a bull screaming. As I began cutting the distance rapidly it began to rain like nothing I have ever seen. I decided to take cover under a thick spruce tree and get my rain pants on as I was already wearing my raincoat. As the downpour turned to a drizzle the bull started getting very vocal, screaming every 30-40 seconds. Unfortunately, after a really close encounter, I wasn’t able to seal the deal.
With darkness coming I decided to get back to camp. On the walk out I could feel something slapping the heel of my right foot. My boots were soaked from walking through so much vegetation I just figured it was my soaked foot slipping in my boots. Within a hundred yards the entire soul of my right boot had fallen off. Now I am not talking just about the tread. The entire soul/foot bed had fallen off. Luckily I had a roll of black tape in my bag and found one more use for it. By the time I reached my bike the left heal of my left boot had delaminated also.
Not having an extra pair of boots at camp forced me to drive 105 miles round trip to the nearest boot store. I learned a very valuable lesson: 1) Always have at least one extra pair of high quality boots at camp. 2) Buy high quality boots! 3) Wear your boots in various conditions prior to season.
I fixed my boot dilemma by purchasing two pairs of Lowa Tibets. Since the above issue I always have two pairs broken in and ready to go no matter were I am hunting. One of the pairs stays at the trailhead or camp and the other pair is on my feet.
In the late 90’s I decided to do a 10 day solo pack-in trip for elk to a wilderness area in Central OR. I had prepared very well physically and the pack in was no problem. I had also strategically decided on my spike camp location due to water. Water was approx 1/8 mile from camp at a spring or ¾ of a mile and 1800 vertical feet straight down to a stream in the bottom of the canyon below.
Prior to hunting season I purchased a top of the line water filtration pump. My fiancée (now my wife) and I had used it with great success on numerous day hikes that summer and much enjoyed having clean tasting water instead of iodine water. Prior to leaving home I removed all of the iodine tabs from my pack in an attempt to shave weight wherever possible.
Two days into my hunt a herd of cattle had gotten into the spring and turned it into non-drinkable, or should I say, non-filterable, water. After digging out the spring a bit I decided it would be best to filter the spring water vs. hiking into the dark timber abyss at the bottom of the canyon, only to hike straight back uphill after filling up. As I pumped water through the filter it was coming out clean (or so I thought). I filled my water bladder, my Nalgen bottle, and was on my way. I drank the water in my Nalgen bottle that night at camp. The next morning as I descended to the canyon floor to hunt a small basin I stopped at the creek to refill my Nalgen bottle. As I attempted to filter water my pump quit working. I broke the filter down to find that it was so clogged with dirt and mud that it was useless. I filled the bottle directly from the stream and went to grab my iodine tabs when I remembered they weren’t in my pack.
Willing to take the chance of Girardeau, I hunted 3 days drinking water straight from the stream when it happened. I developed debilitating stomach cramps and diarrhea. I knew what it was and what caused it. I had to cut my hunt short just as the bulls were entering the peak of the rut due to a STUPID risk.
To this day I always have at least one bottle of Iodine tabs in my pack. My bigger packs actually have two bottles. I still use a water filter; however I replace the filter just prior to opening day. The junky taste of Iodine is now covered up by Wilderness Athlete Drink Mixes. I personally will never take that risk again.
This one seams like it happened just last year, but it was actually the season of 2005. The 2005 season started off without incident. I elected not to hunt Oregon and focus on my Montana tag that year. My hunting partners and I decided to concentrate on an area in the Missouri Breaks that was known to have some massive bulls. I left Oregon pulling our home away from home with a set time to meet Tim and his wife at their home in Bozeman. Due to my wife and 6 month old daughter’s flight into Bozeman we were not able to leave Bozeman until 6 or 7 pm. After numerous diaper-change stops, a fuel stop, and a fill-the-trailers-with-water stop, we finally made it to the gravel road entering into the area we had decided to concentrate on. We pulled off of the pavement around 11:30 pm with the hopes of reaching our chosen campsite by 1 am.
After convoying on the gravel for what seemed like an eternity I looked down at the trailer break controller and noticed it flashing the letters “SRT”. I woke Toni up from her much needed nap so she could look at the controller’s instructions to see what the heck “SRT” stood for. We both found out what “SRT” stood for before she found it in the instructions. SRT stood for “Short” or in layman’s terms “You have NO trailer breaks”! Trying to stop a 28 foot, double slide, 10,000 lb pull trailer on loose gravel was quite exciting. I hope it NEVER, EVER happens again!
Once I got stopped we were able to see that one of the trailer tires was not only flat, but it had blessed us with wrapping the entire axel in radial wire. The radial wire actually severed the electrical brake wires along with finding its way into the drum. After 3 hours of cutting and unwinding wire, dodging scorpions, getting rained on, feeding a hungry 6 month old, enduring a lightning storm, and getting the tire finally changed we were back on our way. Early that morning we set up camp and hit the bed. When we woke up the next morning another trailer tire had gone flat and I was out of spares!
Luckily our very understanding wives volunteered to drive the 75 miles back to the nearest real town to get a new rim and a couple of spare tires. $500.00 dollars later we had two new tires and a new rim. I now pack a minimum of two (10 ply) spares when I pull “The Beast” on family adventures.
I could go on and on about other gear failures now that I started thinking about them, but I won’t! Many of my gear failures were pre-digital camera and have not made their way through the scanner. Hopefully a few of you will take something away from this article and learn at my expense. Good luck this season! Come on September!!!