“If I had to choose one single criteria for choosing a hunting partner in Alaska, I would choose someone with a consistently positive attitude.
If you want to have a great time and increase your odds of success no matter where or what time of year you are hunting, hunting with a partner who can always see the bright side in life is not only enjoyable, but those kinds of folks typically keep going - even when things get tough.
Choosing someone who can maintain a positive attitude and hike a lot is a great recipe for a successful hunt.”
This is advice that I often give for pretty much all of the Alaska how-to content that I put out. I truly believe that it's good advice because at the end of every hunt, your partner’s attitude will always have a significant effect on the hunt -- good or bad.
I don’t know about you, but given the choice, I’d choose a good attitude over a bad one.
New Zealand is a bit different. On average, you will be likely to get into way more treacherous mountain terrain on a hunt in New Zealand than you would in Alaska and the potential for dangerous weather is just as high if not higher.
Safety while mountain hunting in New Zealand is not something to take lightly. If you haven’t read the blog article Safety In The Southern Alps I suggest that you go back and read it -- it's likely the most important blog in the NZ Hunt Planner series.
Remember, DO NOT go to New Zealand solo. Just don’t do it. Not convinced? During June of this year, 2019, three different foreign hunters had accidents in the Southern Alps. One body was found in a river, the other has not been found to my knowledge and the third was rescued by helicopter after a couple of nasty falls in the mountains. All three were hunting solo.
While accidents can happen at any time, even if you do have a capable, experienced partner, the odds are far better of avoiding disaster when you hunt with a reliable partner.
Here are the main characteristics that I would recommend looking for in a hunting partner for your New Zealand hunt:
Below I'll explain each characteristic briefly and then offer some suggestions for how to find a hunting partner if you don't have one who fits the bill.
You have got to be able to trust your hunting partner.
When hunting in the Southern Alps, having a mate along that you can rely on to be cool-headed, decisive and reliable might mean the difference between life and death for you, success or failure for your hunt, or having a great time vs struggling through the experience.
When choosing a hunting partner, make your choice based on your past experience with the person. It's almost like hiring an employee, except hopefully you know your potential hunting partner better than a stranger in an interview.
Ask yourself… Do they show up on time? If they say that they will do something, do they follow through? Do they take unnecessary risks? Can you trust them with a secret or sensitive information? Do they care about others, including you?
Obviously, no one is perfect, but this should give you a pretty good idea about what your thought process should look like when considering a hunting partner.
If you can't trust your future hunting partner 100%, find someone else.
If I had to choose between the importance of dependability and experience level when choosing a hunting partner for NZ, I would probably choose dependability just a notch above experience.
That said, I would never take a newbie to the Southern Alps. It’s just not the place for someone to learn the ropes.
I highly, highly recommend going with a seasoned mountain hunter who has at least a few years of experience backpacking in rugged mountain terrain. I don’t mean day hikes in the mountains or hiking and camping on established trails.
I mean off trail, multi day wilderness hunts. Think crossing creeks, scree and talus slopes, scrambling over boulders and around bluffs and general mountain navigation. I can’t stress this highly enough. Experience counts.
Finding someone who is dependable and has experience in the mountains is such a valuable person to know. If that same person has a consistently positive attitude, then you’ve found yourself THE ideal hunting partner.
Positivity in on the mountain, just like in life, can have the single biggest impact on the quality of the total experience. If you want to hunt safely, have high odds of success and have a great time, choose a partner who can always see the silver lining and doesn’t get discouraged easily.
People who have consistently positive attitudes are rare it seems, which is really a shame, since they are so much fun to be around.
Physical conditioning is definitely important for New Zealand, just like it is for Alaska, but you don’t have to run and lift like Cam Hanes to be a killer on the mountain.
Let's assume you or your hunting partner is about forty-years-old and 30 pounds overweight or less. Here is the quick and dirty of what’s important:
You may or may not agree with these statements, but as a guide in Alaska who takes a dozen big game hunters into the field each year, I’ve drawn some pretty strong conclusions based on my observations.
I’ve shared the mountain with Crossfit champs, Ironman competitors (triathletes) and gym-addicted muscle-heads. The average guy who puts in time on the hill with a heavy pack and won’t give up no matter what beats them all, every day.
The great thing about physical conditioning is that anyone can change it at any time. It's hard to suddenly become dependable, experienced or consistently positive, but jump on the workout bandwagon six weeks before your hunt and you can get into good shape pretty quickly.
NOTE: Here is my recommendation for getting in shape before your hunt: Find the biggest, steepest hill as close to your house as possible. Six weeks before your hunt, start hiking that hill twice a week with a 30 pound pack. You should be hiking steadily for at least one hour, and no trails! You have to get on the sidehill -- that is critical. At the same time start jogging one mile every day. Add 5 pounds to your pack every week so the week before you leave, you should be hiking with 60 pounds. Three weeks before your hunt start hiking that hill three times a week.
If you have the time, do yoga or core exercises three times per week. Drink at least a half gallon of water a day, every day. Eat good food. That’s pretty much it. This is a simplistic version, but if you actually do it and stick with it, this will get you into pretty dang good shape before your hunt and its far more than most people do.
I find that It really helps to find someone to do the hikes with to keep you motivated on the hill. I found it really effective to hike with a wife, girlfriend or kiddo who is not wearing a pack to keep you pushing hard to catch up. If you want to bump up the intensity, start working out 8 weeks before your hunt so that you are hiking with 80 pounds by the last week and bump up your jogging to 3 miles a day for the last 2-3 weeks before your hunt. Also, find a ditch or steep bank and do 15 minutes a day of sidehilling with your heavy pack. Just make sure and go back and forth so you work out both sides of your feet.
Tips On Finding A Hunting Partner
Some of you might already have a hunting partner in mind that checks all the boxes. If that’s you, congrats! Be grateful, because I get feedback all the time that finding a good partner is often one of the most difficult things that most hunters face.
In fact, not having a good hunting buddy that you can trust or one that wants to do the kind of hunts that you do, may be the number one reason why you haven't planned this hunt sooner.
Hang in there and don't get discouraged! I used to be that guy. I know how frustrating and lonely it can feel to want to go hunting, but not be able to find someone who wants to go with you.
The best advice that I can give you is to plan your own hunt. Flesh out all of the details and make all of the decisions based on what you want. Do it with the optimistic confidence that a good hunting partner will come to you.
Then, once the hunt planning has started, put yourself out there. Join forums and talk about how your hunt planning is coming. Hang out at the local archery shop or the shooting range and meet other hunters. Put up posts on social media about your upcoming hunt.
If you take action, move forward with confidence and are not afraid to put yourself out into the world, you will attract interest from like-minded folks. It might seem kinda weird but it just happens...over and over again.
NOTE: make absolutely sure that you REALLY know your new hunting partner before you go to New Zealand. You might get along great at the range or online, but you need to get into the woods, in real wilderness scenarios before you will know if you will get along with your new partner and if he or she proves to be trustworthy.
Remember, the fastest and most sure way to ruin a hunting trip is to be stuck with someone who is not dependable or who is miserable to spend time with.
Just a word of encouragement...in the pic below Trevor and I are packing a black bear from our first hunting trip together. A few years ago, I met Trevor once through a mutual friend, but we hadn't spent much time together. I knew that he was into hunting and filming, but that's about all that I knew about him.
While I was packing for a solo trip into the Idaho wilderness for spring black bear, I put up a quick Instagram post of my gear. Trevor hit me up immediately and asked to go along. I knew it would be a strenuous backcountry trip, but I rolled the dice and invited him along. This was definitely a risk on my part, but it worked out well.
We really hit it off in the wilderness and had a great trip together. Trevor and I still keep in touch on a regular basis and I'm proud to call him a friend. Check him out on IG @trevorjbennettmedia
The moral of the story? Don't wait to plan your hunts because you don't have a hunting partner. Plan your hunts, tell the world about your plans and hunting partners will show up eventually. Maybe not right away, but eventually is far better than never.