Get Vertical: How to Manage Steep Mountain Hunts

By Zach Lazzari | Photos by Ryan McSparran

We all know the situation. There’s a steep mountain that you just know will lead to a big bull elk or a monster mule deer buck. Getting up and back down that hill without completely burning out your legs is an issue however. 

Personally, I am prone to being overly optimistic and underestimating the severity of most inclines. The habit caught up to me while hunting with a friend this season. I made a hard charge straight up while she patiently read the landscape and proceeded with zig zag patterns that put me a few minutes behind with much more energy wasted. Here is her approach and the one I use more frequently on mountain hunts now as well.

Reading Breaks in the Landscape

Looking up at a steep mountain tends to build anxiety and the desire to conquer it quickly. Take a few steps back before starting and patiently observe the landscape for breaks, tiers and natural fall lines. You can follow these features laterally to locate more gradual inclines. The route is slightly longer but much easier in the end. Visualize the route you will take using these features and follow that pattern to the top, creating your own set of switchbacks as necessary.


Short Goals

Sometimes, the only route is directly uphill and you must battle to the top. Breaking the hill into segments makes it mentally easier to move forward. Pick a tree or object  50-100 yards off and make it your goal. Take a break when you reach the goal and stretch your legs. Set the next goal after a minute or two of rest and get moving. Short goals make long distances more manageable.

Working the Decline

Heading downhill is equally as difficult as the uphill. Your legs are often more worn from hiking all day, putting you at a greater risk of falling or twisting an ankle. Utilize the same switchback approach on the downhill while avoiding scree slopes and areas with unsure footing when possible. Slide on your butt and hold a steady sapling or other handhold when you hit a tough spot. It’s easy to rush down but slow and steady will prevent you from taking a fall.


Stretch Out

Always spend a few minutes stretching after your hike ends. Staying loose shortens your recovery time and will have you going again with less stiffness the following day. Skipping this step is easy when you’re worn out but it makes the next hill easier.

At Lazy J Bar O Outfitters, we hunt steep, rugged and remote country in Montana and Alaska. We offer high-adventure, and high-success hunts for elk, mule deer, and more. Getting remote in some of the best General Units in Montana means that you can draw a tag anytime – no preference points and no waiting on a lottery tag. But you must plan ahead. Call us now at 406-932-5687 or contact us online to book your next hunting adventure.