Memorable hunt taught me how to pack


One of my fondest memories happened over 20 years ago when several friends banded together to hunt caribou on the wild, Alaska tundra.

It was the first opportunity any of had to pack for a week-long, fly-in hunting trip, a drop camp in the wilderness, a test of outdoor skills, and the first time we would be subjected to limits on weight and space.

We each packed with no thought to the carrying capacity of a float plane. In all, I’m sure we boxed and bagged enough grub to feed a village, clothing for our own outdoor fashion show, and personal items numerous enough to restock a small drug store.

Packing plenty

We left nothing to chance. Double this, and extra that. Then, we showed up at the landing near the town of Kenai, six big guys and piles of duffels, boxes, and assorted pieces and parts.

We had even stopped at a grocery for last minutes goodies, a shopping frenzy that added at least another ton to the pile. Our outfitter and pilot eyed our assembled gear, scratched his head, and shook it side-to-side so hard that his ball cap flew off.

“No way fellows, no way,” he growled, adding that the hunt was to be for just six hunters, not 20. He added that if we were determined to haul our pile of stuff (he used another word) to the distant tundra that we could hire an additional airplane just for the excess.

The price tag he threatened us with was a great motivator for what was next. He directed us to a nearby storage shed, demanding that we lay out everything then repack with just the essentials.

“Get serious, guys. Take what you need, not what you want.”

Only necessities

We were cautioned, in no uncertain terms, to reduce our load to less than half of its existing size and weight. We tried not once, but twice, to shave our needs.

That is, we repacked once only to hear further instructions to cut it down again. It seemed that our pilots had either experienced or seen overloaded airplanes fail to take off and it wasn’t going to happen on that day.

Another motivator

In due time we had our gear minimized, our food down to the nutritional needs of a small army, and our comfort items to something between survival and sufficient.

Lessons learned

We learned the hard way, lessons that have served us well in other situations that less is more when it comes to outdoor adventure. We’ve shared some laughs over the years, giggles about that first of many times when packing light and tight would be our motto.

Now we know that one shirt can last several days, even a week if one changes undershirts and if there are two pairs of pants in the duffle, one pair will never see the light of day. But socks? We take plenty, plus a pair.

We also learned that two or more hunters should have made lists and split responsibilities when one item can serve two or more people. It takes planning and cooperation to gear up for a fly-out or pack-in trip.

Today’s outdoor enthusiasts have the luxury of high performance gear and clothing — what a difference when it comes to packing light and tight.


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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.



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