I recently did a video and blog article about a kayak bowhunting adventure on one of my favorite rivers in southern Missouri. I mentioned at the end of that video that I was planning on doing it again soon, and I did. Only this time, the hunt was indeed successful. So, I thought I’d produce another video and blog to share with you more of the details of doing such a trip to hopefully inspire you to do something similar yourself.
As I stated in that previous kayak bowhunting video, you don’t have to head up to Alaska or go way out west to have a quality outdoor adventure. No matter where you live, I’d be willing to bet that there are some wonderful opportunities right in your own back yard. However, you very well may have to do a fair amount of research and planning to find and then carry out such opportunities. What follows is an overview of the planning and execution process for this trip, which again, I hope will give you some ideas for your own adventures.
The general area that I chose for this kayak bowhunting trip was one that I was quite familiar with. I’ve floated this river countless times during the hot summer months and I’ve been fishing it for decades. However, there was one particular area that I always thought would be a great location to bow hunt. So, the first step was to study the land more thoroughly to find out which areas were public land where hunting was allowed, and which areas were private land that did not allow hunting. I initially checked things out by studying a wealth of information that was available about the area at the Missouri Department of Conservation website and I also talked to a local conservation agent to clear up some questions I had.
After getting well informed about what areas along the river I could camp and hunt, and which areas I couldn’t, I then needed to focus more intently on what areas would have the most potential for a successful hunt. Since this was public land, I was looking for spots that didn’t have nearby or easy road access and no ATV trails. I was also looking for areas that had challenging terrain features which would make it very difficult to pack a deer out of, which in turn would most likely keep most hunters out of. I wanted to find an area to hunt that was primarily only accessible by the river. A great scouting tool that helped me zero in on such a location is a program called On X, which you can use as an app on both your desktop or laptop computer, as well as on your phone, even offline in places where you can’t get a signal.
After picking out a few potential spots to investigate further, I then headed out on a scouting mission to see how things looked on the ground, as topographical maps and satellite imagery only help so much and don’t always tell the whole story. So, using my On X app, I did some more in-depth scouting of those areas and marked a few spots as potential treestand locations as well as camping areas.
The next phase of the adventure was to get my gear in order. Now since I was going to be kayaking into my camping and hunting locations, my first priority was to make sure I didn’t overload my vessel. My kayak is a sit-on-top style from Lifetime which is fairly inexpensive. It’s very stable and comfortable to float in, but it only has a 275 pound recommended weight capacity, so I was going to have to keep things as lightweight and minimal as possible, especially if I was to be successful on the hunt and needed to float out my deer.
As I mentioned in the previous video, I’ve weighed in at 240 to 250 pounds most of my adult life, as I’ve been into heavy-duty weightlifting for many years. However, I recently decided to downsize some and train more for functional strength and cardio conditioning. As a result, I lost 35 pounds. I certainly can’t lift as much weight as I used to, but I feel way better, have way more energy and stamina, and now I have a good deal of extra weight capacity for my kayak trips.
As far as terminal gear, I brought along my super lightweight Lone Wolf treestand and climbing sticks and only the bare necessities for backcountry bowhunting. For camping, I had my Eureka Solitare bivy style spike tent, my Klymit Static V sleeping pad which I really love, my Mountain Hardwear mummy-style sleeping bag, a small tarp, and a small camp chair/pad. For food and cooking, I had instant oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, protein/energy bars for lunch, and freeze-dried meals for dinner. I used my MSR Pocket Rocket Stove for heating up water and had one large cup that I used for both eating oatmeal and later drinking coffee. For drinking, I had one large water bottle and a Sawyer water purification system. And finally, I had a layer system of hunting clothes and one extra change of more general-purpose clothing for camping and kayaking in. Besides a few other odds and ends, such as personal care items, biodegradable toilet paper and hand sanitizer, that was about it for my gear for this trip.
On the River
Since this was a solo adventure, I needed to leave my Jeep at my designated take-out point on the river and have someone shuttle me, my kayak, and my gear up to where I would begin my float. Luckily, I have a buddy who lives nearby who helped out with the shuttling and I was able to make arrangements with the landowner to leave my Jeep on his property for my take-out point. But, this may be an issue that you’ll need to address by hiring a local shuttle service or float trip outfitter, teaming up with a buddy and having an extra vehicle, or even hiring an uber driver from the area who has a truck or roof rack to give you and your kayak a ride. You’ll also need to have a legal, secure place to leave your vehicle at your chosen take out point. All this may take a little researching and planning, but it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.
Now as I mentioned, I’ve floated this river many times and knew what to expect as far as any dangerous or challenging areas with strong rapids, underwater trees, rocks, or riverside snags and sweepers that could have possibly capsized my kayak. But if you’re floating a river that you’re unfamiliar with, it’s a very good idea to study maps thoroughly and do a trial run before your hunting or camping trip. If a trial run isn’t an option, then I’m sure I don’t have to tell you to be very, very careful during your float. When you’re heading into a stretch of river that looks questionable, get out and walk or portage your kayak through. Taking chances on such a trip, especially when you’re alone, is a recipe for disaster! As I always say, a cool outdoor adventure is never worth dying over. Safety is priority #1!
Another issue, as far as safety, is to make sure everything is balanced and secured properly on your kayak before heading down the river. In the event of getting capsized, you certainly don’t want all your gear sinking to the bottom or floating away. Also, be sure to waterproof your terminal gear such as your tent, sleeping bag, and clothing. Packing them in a dry bag or a heavy-duty contractor-grade garbage bag is vitally important. Getting your clothes and sleeping gear soaking wet can not only make your adventure rather uncomfortable, it can also be a matter of life and death, as hypothermia can set in very quickly from having wet gear in cold, windy weather conditions.
Camping and Hunting
As far as the camping portion of this adventure, there wasn’t anything too terribly noteworthy about it. It was just a matter of having a fairly comfortable location away from my hunting area with a nice view. The only thing I did in camp was sleep, eat, and get ready to hunt, as I spent the rest of the time in my tree stand. It was quite beautiful out under all the stars at night though, which I could observe through the roof of my tent.
My hunting strategy was to set up my treestand in the area I had picked out and simply stay put, as it was the first week of November and the rut was kicking in. So, on the first day of my adventure, I started my float early in the morning, got to my camping area along the river at around 10:30 AM, quickly set up camp, got into my hunting clothes, and headed to the woods to hang my stand. After getting my treestand hung, I strapped myself in and hunted till nightfall.
I didn’t see any deer that first afternoon and evening, but I knew it was just a matter of time, as I’d seen plenty of deer on my previous trip a couple of weeks earlier and there was lots of fresh sign. Sure enough, the next morning at around 8:30 a young buck was following a good-sized doe through the area which I brought right to my stand with my deer grunt call. I decided to let the buck grow up and get bigger for next year and take the doe instead. A double lung shot at 20 yards put her down very quickly and humanely.
The next big issue that particular day was game meat maintenance. While it was nice and cold in the mornings and at night along those river bottoms, it got very warm in the afternoons that weekend, with highs in the 70’s. As a result, I had to take some extra measures to keep the meat cool, clean, and dry…with extra emphasis on “cool.” As I always do, I quartered the deer and removed all the meat right there on the spot using the Alaska style “gutless method.” I put all the venison in meat bags and then transported it to a little makeshift meat cache to let it all drain, cool down, and air dry for an hour or so while I broke down camp.
To help get the meat significantly cooler before packing it up on my kayak and floating out, I put it all in a heavy-duty 50-gallon contractor bag and submerged it in the ice-cold river water for another hour or so. After that, I carefully packed the meat bags on the back of my kayak, secured and balanced all my gear, and carefully began my float down the river to my takeout location. I’m sure I was probably a little over the recommended weight capacity of my kayak, but it handled the load just fine, which is also something I tested out before this trip to make sure I wouldn’t sink.
As a side note, you could certainly do this kind of a trip in a canoe or pack raft as well, in which you could fit a lot more gear and accommodate much more weight. It’s simply a matter of preference. Either way, the point is to be well prepared and safe.
Thankfully, a little cloud cover and wind rolled in the afternoon that I floated out, which made paddling a little tougher but was great for keeping the meat cool and dry. It was a beautiful float down the rest of the river and I made it to my take out spot just fine. I unpacked all my gear, loaded up the Jeep, and headed home to start processing my deer. All in all, it was a fantastic trip. In fact, I think it was one of the most enjoyable deer hunts that I’ve done here in my original home state, especially on public land, which can sometimes get a little chaotic.
Check out the video below to see more…