About Backcountry Chronicles

Friends of mine me will tell you that my favorite quotes is “everyday above ground is a good day” and I usually add my bit “and everyday spent outside is a great day”. I always thought the quote was from a Clint Eastwood movie… you know, from one of his Sergio Leone “spaghetti westerns”, but I found it is from Scarface (Harris Yulin’s character). How did I make that mistake?  I was a little disappointed to learn that, but it is still a good quote and a good philosophy for life.

about backcountry chronicles

Banding Prairie Falcon Chicks in Old Raven Nest 1999

I grew up in the South, so I know that the sugar is supposed to go in the iced tea and not in the cornbread. My favorite memories are of hunting and fishing with my Grandfather and camping with my family. When I was young (10-12), my father also went hunting and fishing, but as I got older, especially after I could drive, it was just me and my Grandfather and sometimes one of his friends. One of my brothers had zero interest in hunting and fishing and the other would go only if he thought our Grandfather would not have too many chores for us beforehand. We still laugh at one of his saddest stories. We had to clean out a horse stall and spread the manure around the peach trees before the 12:00 noon dove season opener. And to make it worse, it was his birthday.

I was like most other small town kids and hung out with a small group of good friends that mostly played sports together. When we couldn’t get a game together for what ever reason, I went fishing or hunting or just hung out in the woods, usually by myself. Once in a while, someone else would go fishing with me, but nobody else had a rifle or shotgun, so nobody went hunting with me. Imagine a teenager that would give up a Saturday of  hanging with friends to hang with his Grandfather instead. Damn, I still miss that old man!

I love living in the Inter-mountain West that I have called home since 1992. I love the access to public lands for hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.  I  hunt public lands with publicly available tags and hunt mostly with a muzzleloader since there still seem to be fewer hunters and I seem to be luckier with drawing muzzleloader tags. I usually hunt by myself and still get as far from roads as possible.

Like Forrest Gump, I have worn lots of different shoes. I have taught Biology, Physiology, Anatomy or Ornithology at two Universities and at two Community Colleges. I sold both life insurance and cars and was co-owner of a horse breeding and training facility. I even lived in West Africa for a few years and built fish ponds. But the last 15 years have been spent as a “low level” wildlife biologist for a state wildlife agency here in the Inter-mountain West. I emphasize “low level” biologist because I quickly found out that once you are promoted, they will take you out of the field and turn you into an office jockey. If I wanted that life, I would have gone back to selling life insurance. Nothing wrong with that, just not my purpose in life.

I used to joke that my goal was to be the oldest living field tech in the country, well as long as the knees would hold. I didn’t quite make it, but the knees are still good enough. The Federal budget crisis (2011) trickled down to all the States and specifically to each State Wildlife Agency. My Agency foolishly become too dependent upon Federal money. So there was basically only enough money in the state budget for people to sit in the office.

That began the next phase of my life.  Like my Grandfather told Field and Stream magazine upon his retirement in 1975 as he explained why he canceled his subscription… “I don’t have to read about it anymore”.

100% organic grass/browse fed elk in the freezer - successful elk hunt 2019I am retired now, but still teach people how to fly fish, and plan to continue as long as the knees hold out and I am  above ground.

I proved to myself last year that I can still pack out an elk by myself, but was glad to have help this past year. Maybe it’s time to start hunting with a buddy.

When I try to learn something new, I spend a tremendous amount of time and effort researching and trying to find out all that I can. I have been told that I am somewhat compulsive, but I believe that only people with some level of compulsiveness actually finish any thing.

Anyway, it was suggested to me that I write some of this stuff down, all in one place and maybe some of you can benefit from this and help me along as well.


  1. Spent 4 days fishing with you and did not even know you had a website…need to work on your self-promotion! Hoping you will become compulsive about fly fishing and the next time out, you can teach me something about stream biology.

    • Backcountry Chronicles says

      Thanks Barry. Yes, need to work on the promotion. Thanks for the fly fishing intro. Now that I’ve taken the first step, I will continue the journey.

  2. My son is a new resident of Colorado in the Boulder area and is hoping to hunt deer and elk in 2017. It is somewhat confusing whether he has to apply for a tag or can get one over the counter. Any information on this would be great. Also looking for public hunting areas within several hours of Boulder. Thank.

    • Hi Paul:
      Yes, the hunting regulations are confusing if you are used to hunting in Eastern or Mid-western states.
      You should apply for tags to you start building points to get the opportunity for limited entry hunts. You should also buy general tags each year (over-the-counter = OTC). He will be a resident, but you can also buy tags OTC as a non-resident.

      Colorado has plenty of public land and he won’t have to go far from Boulder. Spend some time and look at harvest reports so you can learn which units have the most deer and elk (and hunters). I have listed the top 20 Colorado Elk units (by harvest numbers and by hunter success) here.

      Consider my DIY Elk Hunting Guide. I wrote it specifically for out of state hunters in mind. Your son will be a resident, but he still needs to learn how to negotiate the hunting rules, find public land and learn about new habitats and terrain of the Southern Rockies.

      I assume you are coming out to hunt with him. What state are you coming from?

      • Thanks for the information. I am from Pennsylvania and have done several DIY hunts in the west. I did a 7 day backpack elk hunt in the San Juans off the train coming out of Durango, but was unsuccessful. The elk never came into the drainage we were hunting. The first couple of years I plan on helping him find some good hunting areas. I’m not really concerned with getting a tag myself. I am retired and have lots of free time to spend in Colorado.

  3. I just purchased your DIY Elk Hunting Guide book, but was wondering if it came in a hard copy. Thanks

  4. Terry Chester says

    Jim and Dan,

    I just want to say I thoroughly enjoy reading Backcountrychronicles.com. I am not able to get out like I used to, 17 years ago I became disabled after emergency surgeries for a small bowel obstruction went wrong. After all that they gave me only about 7 years to live, but that has been almost 17 years ago now. I still love the outdoors and when I feel up to it I will go sit in my deer blind with my bow and watch the deer. Some times I’m lucky and get a shot. Reading the articles here keep me going, Thanks.

    • Terry: That is a heck of a story and thankfully you are still above ground to tell it.
      I appreciate hearing that my articles have meaning to you. I have many stories to tell, but unfortunately there has to be a balance between the stories I want to tell and the things I must write in an attempt to make a living at this.
      I will try to tell many more stories and write more about the things we need to do to conserve the wild places and the wild things we love.
      I say “I” because Jim is my fishing buddy and we fish together and guide people and make the fly fishing videos that we show on Jim’s Youtube channel, but BackcountryChronicles is all me.
      You stay after them and I don’t have to tell you this, but for the benefit of others and as a reminder to myself, don’t let anyone tell you what you can do or how long you have to do it.

  5. This is Paul, I ended up hunting the Colorado 3rd rifle in unit 28 out of a base camp tent. Hunted 5 days and saw lots of fresh elk sign every day, but never saw an elk. My son had a 4th rifle season either sex tag for Colorado unit 28 and we used the same base camp. We were lucky enough to see a decent 6×6 bull and my son was able to make a great shot on it. Thanks for all of the great information you were able to provide. I know unit 28 isn’t known for a high success rate, but it has plenty of space to roam around and get away from the ATVs/utv. I also now have a much better understanding of the land and will hunt there again. Thanks again.

    • Yes, five days is a short time to learn a new place, but now you do have some knowledge of the area and more about what to expect on a hunt.
      None of the OTC hunts have high success, but they give us the opportunity to hunt every year. I am sure you had a great time, have great memories and have stories to tell.
      Impressive your son was able to get a bull on his first try.
      I would love to post a photo of the bull if you have one to share.
      Thanks for letting me know.
      Good luck next year.

      • In my opinion, the best advice I took from you was not to walk past elk to get to elk. I hunted five days in snow and saw lots of fresh elk signs. They were feeding in an old burn area and retreating into dark pines during the day. I just wasn’t comfortable going into the pines after them because the heavy snow on the pines made it very hard to see.

        Several times I thought about hunting a different area, but I knew there were elk in those pines, so I stayed in that area because I didn’t want to walk past elk to get to elk.

        After several days of warmer weather the snow on the pines had fallen off and it was easier to see into them and that is where my son shot his elk (see photo of first time DIY Colorado elk).

        Yes, we were very lucky to get this elk, but I stayed in that area because of your advice. So thanks again.

  6. Stumbled on the web site while looking for info on mule deer and elk; I’m supposing to be hunting the first time in the Breaks of central Montana; at 66 waited until most of me was certified broken or nearly worn out, but I’m going hunting, not shooting so I need to learn everything I can before November. This the most entertaining and informative pond I’ve been in since starting to look last December – keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Mike and Good for you.
      You have already overcome the main obstacles that keep most folks from ever hunting elk or mule deer in the West. You have chosen a state and picked a hunt unit.

      I normally get these comments on the actual posts, so I would know which posts you have already read.

      Most of my elk hunting posts are about helping people decide where to hunt.

      My DIY Elk Hunting guide also helps folks decide where to hunt, but also includes information about where and how to find elk and lots of information about backcountry safety and logistics of packing an elk out when (not if) you get one.

      I too am past my prime, but still believe (right or wrong) that I can pack an elk out by myself. My wife has been with me the last two elk I killed, so I haven’t been tested in a couple of years since she was there to help me.

      One was a calf we pulled out on a sled in the snow, but the other was a full grown cow that was ½ mile from the road. From the time it hit the ground until it was in the back of the truck was 6 hours.

      My advice is get in as good as shape as possible. I don’t know your elevation where you live, and the Missouri Breaks areas (11 separate units in “Missouri Rivers Breaks” from region 4, 6 and 7) are much lower elevation than most elk areas, but you may still be hunting at elevations higher than you are accustomed.

      It takes two weeks to acclimate and your hunt will be over by then, so work on your cardio so you can hunt and not sit around camp.

      There is no substitute for having local knowledge about an area. If you don’t have that knowledge the only thing you can do is scout by looking at all the maps you can find and also use Google Earth.

      Here is a recent Montana publication about elk in the Missouri Breaks that might help (click here).

      Good Luck on your hunt and let me hear how it went.

  7. Hi Dan
    I live in Arizona and am an avid elk hunter. I was finally able to retire from work and decided to get as much hunting in as possible while my aging body can handle it.
    I purchased your DIY Elk Hunting Guide and read it a few times. Great book! It armed me with knowledge that enabled me to expand my hunting grounds beyond Arizona borders. I ended up doing an OTC archery hunt in Idaho. I did not harvest a bull but had a great experience that I wont forget, including traveling to and from Idaho via Utah and Montana.
    This year I am planning to apply for a muzzleloader tag in Colorado. I’ve never owned or hunted with a muzzleloader so I got your Muzzleloader Guide. Again, great book packed with essential and understandable information.
    I am currently trying to decide which muzzleloader to buy. My first inclination was to purchase the Thompson Center Encore you discuss in your book and use the results of your research and experimentation as a starting basis for my own shooting. Now I am considering buying something that can be used in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Will you please provide your opinion on weapons advertised as “Northwest Legal”? Especially on any performance degradation associated with ignition systems.


    • Thanks Ralph. It’s always nice to hear my efforts are helpful and yes, elk hunting is not only for the the young, the rich and those with horses…

      I think originally, those Northwest states were trying to keep the muzzle loader seasons primitive, but they do allow modern rifles, but not modern bullets, scopes or pelletized powder. What many do not realize, is that some rifles in the late 1800s had scopes and some bullets were 2 – 3 times longer than the diameter (all of which would be illegal in Oregon today).

      Are you thinking about a primitive flint-lock type rifle or a modern compliant rifle?

      “Everyone” makes a “North-west” version; CVA Wolf & Optima, Traditions Vortek, TC Northwest Explorer to name the most common new models.

      Most of my experience is with the Modern In-lines like the TC Encore (which I used to harvest a cow elk last season), but my TC would not be legal in all north-west states.

      It seems to me the rules in Idaho, Oregon and Washington are a bit arbitrary, with Oregon being the most restrictive with rules such as center-fire primer ignition is not legal, but the muzzleloader can use percussion caps, but must have an open ignition.

      You will have to watch the regs closely, because each of the North-west states have slightly different rules and things will change. It makes no sense to me that non-lead bullets are illegal and it looks like Oregon made that change for 2019 and earlier allowed fiber optic sights.

      Washington now allows 209 primers, so I believe it is only Oregon that requires open ignition now.

      Probably the best thing to do is to find someone at a local shooting range that has the specific muzzle loader you want to check out. This may not be easy. I rarely see other muzzleloaders at the range, and even the range staff seem amused when they watch me shoot. Perhaps you can find a guns store that has a range and they will have test models.

      Also, ask for input at some of the muzzleloader forums:

      And look at the muzzleloader section of Shooter’s Forum

      There are many others and a quick search will show you other forums and possible used north-west compliant muzzleloaders for sale.

      The main thing after you select a rifle, is to find the right bullet/powder combination that gun wants to spit out. Your choices will be limited without pellets and sabots, but you should find something you are comfortable hunting with.

      Thanks again and good luck on your future hunts.

  8. Hi: Backcountry Chronicles produced a nice report on state-by-state public hunting land availability. I’m going to incorporate it in a Big 10 Power Ranking of the best deer hunting states in the conference (I’m from Minnesota… an outdoors writer for the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis). I’m just wondering how to credit Backcountry Chronicles. Is it an online magazine? Is it affiliated with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers? Is there an individual person who deserves credit for all the research? Thanks. The public land piece is just one dataset in our ranking… which is still in the works.

Comments, Opinions, Questions?