Atop North America’s biggest mountains live many of our most prized game animals, but big trophies alone aren’t what make hunting at lofty elevations a lofty achievement. The difficulty of climbing into exceptionally scenic places where few humans ever tread has long been honored in our hunting culture. As is the case in almost any worthwhile endeavor, the reward is commensurate with the struggle.
Good hunting gear is always beneficial, but it takes on even greater importance when pursuing game above the timberline. While going ill-equipped is a big mistake, every step drives home the truth--the less gear the better. Logically mountain hunters prefer lightweight equipment and those who go repeatedly take pains to find the lightest available. Nonetheless, the first priority—as always—is that it’s got to perform.
I asked ATK Federal’s Drew Goodlin to help me sort out the best bets. Last year Drew and I partnered on a Stone sheep hunt in British Columbia, and between us we have done more than 25 hunts for wild sheep, goats, mountain caribou and high-country elk, deer, bears and moose. The following suggestions reflect our current thinking, and obviously our preferences aren’t the same in every case, nor are we saying there aren’t other worthy alternatives.
John—“Drew hit it when he said to balance weight and performance. A few points in that regard: 1) The animals are fairly big, so you don’t need a half-inch shooter and besides, at long range above timber likely you will be able to take your time from a prone position. Frankly, these aren’t hunting’s toughest targets. 2) Except for elk, moose and bears you don’t need big calibers—a .270, .280 or one of today’s hot 6.5 mms will do just fine. 3) You might as well pick an ugly gun to begin with because if you hunt enough it will get beat to hell. My choices: Kimber 8400 Montana in .300 WSM (yes, I could go with a lighter caliber, but this rifle shoots great; and Remington 700 XCR in .300 RUM (overkill 80 percent of the time, but when you want to shoot long…!).
John—Today’s crop of super bullets provide us better ammo than was ever previously available. The Barnes X-Bullet, Trophy Bonded Tip, Swift Scirocco, Nosler Accubond, Hornday GMX and Winchester E-Tip penetrate deeper than we could have imagined, even in standard calibers, while creating knockout wound channels. My favorite is the light-for-caliber Barnes Tipped Triple-Shock, which gives me a 130-gr. screamer for my .300 WSM. The Federal Premium factory load I use has a muzzle velocity of 3550 fps, and shoots 30 percent flatter than my previous 180-gr. load.
John—I want to go light with my optics. A low-profile 3x9 scope that weighs no more than 15 ozs. is ideal so long as it can take a licking. Since you rarely shoot in low light on this kind of hunt, no need for a huge light-gathering objective. The Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x36 and Weaver Grand Slam 3-10x40 are two slim-line scopes that proved rugged and ready for me. Binoculars should run around 25 ozs. or less, so long as they have really great glass for sharp resolution. Among my favorites are the Zeiss Victory FL10x32 and Weaver Super Slam 8.5x45. Keep in mind, the tell-tale glassing in this venue is done with a spotting scope, and the ones I’ve successfully used include the Nikon EDG FieldScope and the Zeiss DiaScope. On guided trips, the client won’t have to carry a bulky spotter unless he opts to do so.
John—Though I’m obsessed with lightweight gear, I found out the hard way what happens when you go too light in the boot department--feet that look like hamburger and ache like a sore throat. Nowadays I rely on Kenetrek Mountain Boots which both comfortable and durable. Mine are virtually no worse for wear after numerous skyline hunts and countless miles on hiking trails. Alternately, I’m a big fan of the Meindl Boots (mine are the low Hiker models) and for years have dreamed of getting a pair of Russell Mountain Boots crafted to really fit my feet.