Having been on a couple of backpack hunts that turned into survival ordeals instead of pleasant outings to reminisce about, I feel somewhat qualified to speak with a little authority on this backpack hunting subject. A few items carried along can literally mean the difference between life and death when situations turn critical on a hunt.
Archery hunting season in Colorado is a beautiful time of the year to be out in the back country...usually. I was on a backpack hunt with 2 buddies once that did not quite turn out the way we planned. The area we had planned to backpack hunt was a very remote wilderness area that was an 8 mile trek into where we were to start hunting. The weather being balmy in the days leading up to the hunt lulled us all into a false sense of security, I think.
We decided that on this backpack hunt the only shelter we would need was a tarp for a lean-to and bivy sacks for our sleeping bags. This would have been fine I think had the weather not turned for the worse on the first night. We had a light drizzle as we were rolling into our bags, and we were all thinking that this would be great for the hunting the next day. We needed a change in weather to get the elk bugling. I had brought my own 8x8 tarp since I did not have a gor-tex bivy sack like my pals did, and I just laid it on the ground and put my sleeping bag on it then rolled it over me. I was pretty snug at first, then the rain got harder, then it turned to snow, by the time there was even a hint of pink sunrise I was soaked to the core and in the first stages of hypothermia. I was cursing the fact that we did not bring along a backpack tent.
I knew I would have to get up and get a fire going quick or I was in trouble. Luckily, I had brought some large black garbage bags and had put one of these over my backpack the night before to keep things dry. I quickly jumped up, stripped naked, and pulled on my extra wool long johns and jumped into my rain suit. I then went about getting a fire started with the wet soggy wood at hand. This is where my boy scout training paid off. I was able to gather enough dry kindling and by using a SVEA gas stove as fire starter, it wasn't long before I had a life saving fire going. My 2 buddies were immediately up and warming themselves, seems their bivy sacks didn't quite cut it either and they were both soaked.
Let this be lesson #1....when on a backpack hunt carry a tent that you can bet your life on, cause you may have to. It was a long miserable hike out that day, backpacking out almost twice the weight because everything we had backpacked in was soaked, (my 2 lb goose down bag was at least 20 lbs).
Backpack hunting is a wonderful way to get your self away from the crowds and into better concentrations of game and is completely safe, if you follow a few simple guidelines and plan ahead. My main reason for backpack hunting started when I was on my first sheep hunt. It takes more or less a whole day to get to where the sheep are in this area. If I started walking in the morning I may be able to hunt the last few minutes of daylight with a long walk out in the dark as my reward, and if you spot something a long ways off there is no time for a stalk.
One of the first things I recommend doing in preparing for a backpack hunt is to pick your area and study it well in advance. What I like to do when backpack elk hunting is pick a hunting spot where you can cover the convergence of several drainages, so you can hunt one drainage each day. With your backpack camp on your back this type of hunting is easily done. Get topo maps and use Google Earth as a resource. Learn to use a GPS and make lots of notes and waypoints on the way in so there is no chance of getting lost while hunting.
I also recommend having a hunting partner on a backpack hunt. Two heads are better than one many times, although it can definitely be done alone. Two guys sharing the load of the backpack gear makes it easier to carry the stuff needed to stay comfortable on a hunt and it also eases the workload when backpacking out game, not to mention someone to swap hunting stories with around the fire at night. Had we planned a little better on the backpack hunt I described above we would have had more than enough room for a tent as we had all brought stuff that was duplicated.