The answer to successful big-game hunting is simple. It’s the execution that can try your soul. Here’s what it takes…
by the HuntDaily staff, photography by Seacat Creative
For many in our ranks, the reason we hunt…the fire that ignites our veins with the shortening of the days and the cooling of the nights…has little to do with stuffing enough meat in the freezer or hanging bone in the den. Those are part of the reward, but they’re not the reason we commit our time and money, even our bodies, to the pursuit. We feed off the more primordial challenges of the hunt, the elations and the miseries, the sacrifices and the scores, the mysteries we discover and the memories we make. And somewhere, deep down inside each of us, we also feel the need to validate ourselves, to justify the claim—”I am a hunter.”
Such validation often takes us to extremes—physically, mentally, and in miles logged in the wilderness. Success, whether measured in tags punched or personal goals achieved, demands a commitment to going beyond the norms, to think creatively, and to call upon our years of experience and our problem-solving skills.
The final ingredient that we must add to this apex moment is gear. Not just any gear, but the right gear. Ask any experienced wilderness hunter what is the most important component to a successful backcountry hunt besides physical preparation and mental resolve, and the answer will be “the best gear for the job.”
Mark Seacat of Bozeman, Montana, knows this lesson well. His job as a marketing professional and videographer in the outdoor industry keeps him in the wild country throughout the year—often in pursuit of big-game and angling adventures in the most remote areas of North America. Backcountry skills and a dedicated mindset are among the tools he takes to the field, but equally vital is quality gear he can rely on to see him through the roughest terrain and weather conditions.
Interestingly, it is those austere conditions that Mark actively seeks when it’s time to hunt mature elk. We’re not talking about lowland ranch bulls but true mountain monarchs—those six- to eight-year-old bulls that sneak out of the thick high country only when forced to by winter’s onset. Mark, you see, is a storm-chaser, and for his particular flavor of elk hunting, he relies on the rock-solid refuge of Hilleberg‘s Saitaris Black Label tent.
“We use this tent every year on a particular late-season elk hunt, where we’re specifically chasing storms,” says Mark.
That’s right. Where most drive-by hunters would be packing it out of the hills, Mark is heading into them. But stay with us. There is a method to this seeming madness.
“The colder the temperatures and the greater the snow accumulation, the more active the bulls are and the further bulls are pushed into the open, making them both more visible and more accessible,” Mark explains. “This hunt takes place in late October until the end of November at elevations from 8,000-9,500 feet. We’re deliberately timing the weather to be in position at a vantage when the storms break—not starting the two-day hike into the backcountry.”
While Mark’s strategy may seem unconventional to most, it makes perfect sense. The proof is borne out in the success he and his hunting partners have enjoyed over the years. Hunting under these conditions is one-part grit and one-part gear.
“The more violent the storm and the lower the temps the better,” Mark continues, “but also the more and higher quality gear we need. This is where Black Label tents are a necessity, and the Saitaris has been the go-to shelter for this type of hunting the last few seasons. We can pitch it in wind-exposed and heavy snowfall areas without worry and wait out the worst of storms in comfort.”
The Saitaris Mark prefers for extreme hunts such as these late-season elk forays is one of several Black Label tents manufactured by Hilleberg. The Black Label tents represent the expedition-quality shelters that Hilleberg designed to withstand the harshest climates anywhere in the world, including arctic conditions, where protection against heavy snows and high winds are critical.
If you have ever bivouaced in the Rockies, say, above 7,000 or 8,000 feet under “normal” fall conditions, you already appreciate the need for a robust shelter. Like all Hilleberg tents, Black Label models feature an outer tent (Hilleberg tents are comprised of an outer tent from which is suspended the inner tent, allowing for simultaneous pitching) that is made of a rugged Kerlon 1800 fabric with a 40-pound tear strength. The poles are a beefy 10mm, and all are the same length, so there’s never any confusion in setting up the tent. You can read more about Hilleberg’s Black Label tent construction here.
“We use the Saitaris to sleep two, three, and even four people, if necessary,” says Mark, “with tons of extra internal tent and vestibule space for late-season gear and the option to cook in the vestibule.”
With an 86-inch width, the Saitaris’ inner tent is designed to sleep up to four people and provides 46 inches of headroom, which is ample space for putting on your base layers before heading outside. The large vestibule has plenty of room to stow your pack, boots, and weapon. All of that room is important not only for comfort and equipment storage, but also for your state of mind.
“Since late-season hunting offers roughly 14 hours of darkness, a spacious, beyond bombproof tent is absolutely essential to make this hunt possible. There isn’t enough time to hike in and out in a single day, but overnighting isn’t for the faint of heart unless the best of gear is utilized. The Black Label Saitaris not only makes late-season backpack elk hunting possible, it makes it relatively comfortable.”
So, maybe Mark Seacat’s secret for hunting big, mature bull elk isn’t a strategy for everyone. His experience does, however, provide further proof for the axiom “you find big elk where hunters aren’t.” That includes pursuing elk in the high and thick stuff before the snow pushes them down, or hunting well off the roads and trailheads in conditions that make most hunters stay home and relive past hunts over cups of coffee. In either case, a rock-solid, high-quality shelter that will perform under the harshest conditions and will last through years of hard use is key to you getting out there and making that dream a reality.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you would like more information on the Black Label tents offered by Hilleberg, as well as their other backcountry shelter solutions, we recommend that you sign up to receive their free Hilleberg the Tentmaker Handbook. In it, you’ll find detailed material and testing specifications, model usage charts, how to choose the right tent for you, the history of Hilleberg tents, and valuable tips on tent camping from the experts who’ve “been there.”
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