I've been lurking for a while, and learning a bunch. Like many have said before, I've backpacked and hunted but only separately. I look forward to this challenge and I am beginning preparations for a trip yet to be planned. I have purchased a Nice Frame Crew Cab due to arrive tomorrow. I live on the Texas Coast about an hour south of Houston. This means really flat country.
My first question is this: How often have you scheduled an extended backcountry trip 5-10 days and shown up and not seen any game animals. For example, and elk hunt and just never found any elk? In hindsight what mistakes did you make and what would you have done different?
I want to have realistic expectations for my first trip. I am a reading fanatic and will study maps, kill reports, and talk to locals. In short, I will attempt to be as prepared as a nonresident can be. I'm just worried that being a nonlocal will severely hamper my success (success being just seeing the animals I have a tag to shoot).
I'd never pass a record book animal up, but I'm honest when I tell you I'd consider an elk, bear, antelope or sheep hunt an absolute success if I shot a cow, doe, or ewe.
Part of this depends on if you have local intel to help you know when animals will be where, or if you depend on figuring this out yourself over several seasons. Elk can be all over a drainage one week and not one in site the next.
My first year DIY I had a local helping me and I saw elk the first day, shot one out of the same group the next and saw another larger herd on the way out. The next year, same place same time of year, saw NOTHING. Third year saw 2 cows night before opener, then nothing the whole week and neither did anyone else.
As has been stated earlier, knowing the area well really helps with success. I've been turkey, deer and elk hunting the same wilderness for about 5 years now. During spring turkey it is pretty common to see over 200 elk, 50 or so deer and dozens of turkeys. During the hunting season it is a different story. A lot depends on what hunt you draw. If I pull a second rifle tag for elk, that means that 4 or 5 other hunts (3 archery, 1 muzzleloader, and one rifle) have pushed those elk around and educated even the dumbest spike.
So now I have expanded my hunting area and I travel fast and light. That way if I don't see anything in the first area I can pick up camp and hike 4-5 miles to my second choice, and so on. I always start about 10 miles in from the trailhead and have pre-selected follow up camp sites. Being that far in does not allow me to pack out and head to another trail head.
Since you like back packing anyway, even if you don't see any game you will be able to enjoy the experience of being in the woods.
Mule deer, before the winter migration, seem fairly territorial. Relatively safe to figure that if they're present one week, they'll likely be in the area the next week. "In the area" of course is a fairly ambiguous term. Elk and mule deer tend to live in big country, and take advantage of their ability to traverse it easily.
Have I hiked in to discover the game has moved on? Yes. Should I do more pre-season scouting? Yes...
I do at least two backpack trips a year. I have been skunked several times, and by "skunked" I mean I didn't see even one of what I was after. Since I am trophy hunting on these trips, I don't always harvest something and leave my meat-shopping for closer to the truck . I read everything I can get my hands on, study stats from the various F&G's, and take notes when I hear something of interest from someone. I haven't had much success with talking to locals, but biologists and wardens can get you into the right zip-code typically. I use Gogglearth extensively for e-scouting, but I buy USGS topo's once I think I have narrowed it the destination down. (Googlearth, as good as it is, always makes the vertical look climable and topo maps are a more accurate way to gage the terrain). As was mentioned several times, knowing the area (if you can draw it repeatedly) is huge. I would rather hunt a decent area that I know extremely well than wander blind into a great area.
Anyway, it is a blast. Since you a low-altitude dweller like me and your pack will likely be twice the weight you are used to, get into serious shape if you can. Good luck.