Bowhunting: 10 Ways to Success!

Packing and Gear Tips for “Adventure” Bowhunters

For the most part, bowhunters are dreamers—we’re always using our spare time to devise intricate plans to help us get the drop on our next target. Some don’t stop there, and scrimp, save, and sacrifice to experience a true “dream trip” adventure—likely one they’ve imagined since their youth. Minnesota’s John Schaffer, 45, is one of those big dreamers, but he’s one of the lucky few who are realizing those dreams. And lucky for us all, he’s only too happy to help others realize theirs. Schaffer happens to be one of the most knowledgeable archer-bowhunters in the nation, and he regularly doles out sage advice from behind the counter of his successful archery pro shop, Schaffer Performance Archery, based in Burnsville, Minn.

Schaffer’s impressive resume includes a long stint as an accomplished, professional archer, he’s owned and operated his namesake pro shop for the last 18 years, and, since 1989, has simultaneously manufactured premium archery equipment—gear that includes the well-known and unique Schaffer Opposition arrow rest, and Opposition Air Quick Detach bow sight.

Adventure bowhunter John Schaffer.
Adventure Bowhunter John Schaffer.

Originally, Schaffer designed and built his respected accessories (known for their “bombproof” construction), to withstand the rigorous demands of traveling archers. And Schaffer knows how to build a rugged accessory. As proof, the veteran, adventure-seeking bowhunter is a mere seven animals away from completing a life goal: bow-bagging a North American Super Slam of 29 big game animals. Recently, I sat down with Schaffer to get some packing and gear tips for like-minded “adventure” bowhunters—people who might be making their own “hunt of a lifetime.” Heed Schaffer’s sound advice, and your dreams just might become reality!

Double-Wrap Your Bow
“What I like to do with my hard bow case is gut it, take out all the foam inserts, and put my bow in there, packed inside of a thin, separate soft case,” Schaffer says. “This ‘double casing’ offers the best protection to the bow, but the main reason is that, if I have to jump into a [tiny] float plane, I can pull off that hard shell, and still have my bow protected and ready to go.”

It should be noted that Schaffer, an archery technician par excellence, saves space and weight these days by carrying just one fully-rigged bow, and some key replacement components: 2 sets of limbs, a set of cams, and strings and cables. With these, even miles from nowhere, Schaffer can completely rebuild even a “blown-up” compound, in about an hour (he recommends that the rest of us carry a second, fully rigged and ready backup bow in case of breakdown).

Socks as Travel Bags?
Also inside his hard bow case, Schaffer will cram all the accessories he can (extra sight, bow stabilizer, releases, and more) packed inside his extra socks, which act as cushioning material to prevent damage to his precious bow. “And it also keeps everything from shifting around,” he says.

Make The Most of Carry-Ons
The well-traveled Schaffer has more horror stories than most when it comes to lost or misrouted hunt luggage. To prevent expensive hunt delays, he uses an extra-large carry-on pack (an ancient, full-size mountaineering-style internal frame pack) that allows him to safeguard several important items. On a typical hunt, Schaffer will bring the carry-on, as well as two checked bags: A large duffel bag and the hard bow case detailed above, filled with both bow and gear.

“I have had so many bad experiences with luggage being lost, that now I get on the plane thinking, ‘can I still hunt if the airlines lose my gear duffel?’ That’s my goal, so I get on the plane wearing my hunting boots, and inside my carry-on, I keep a base layer, an insulating layer, rain gear, and hats and gloves, so even if they lose my duffle, I can still hunt. I also carry on a binocular, spotting scope if needed, and rangefinder—anything they will let you take on the plane that is necessary to the hunt.”

Serious Phone Service
“Another critical piece of travel gear is my satellite phone. I take it with me wherever I go. One main reason is, I’m a father and a husband. The phone helps keep my wife sane when I’m on some far-flung trip, and it’s nice to be able to check in on the family, and my business, no matter where I am. A couple of times, I’ve had conversations on top of the mountain that have saved me from delays in production, and things like that. And, of course, the primary reason is safety; when you’re out there, and it’s just you and the guide, something could happen to the guide just as easily as to you. You’ve got to be prepared.”

Schaffer has had his sat phone (by Globalstar) for about 10 years, after purchasing it for about $1,000. He pays a monthly service fee—a minimum plan is about $30 per—that he keeps active year-round due primarily to deactivation/reactivation costs that make the continuous service a virtual wash.

One of the biggest keys to a successful elk bowhunt? Get yourself in top shape months before you leave...and stay there. Start now!
Schaffer says a critical piece of his travel gear is his satellite phone. In case something bad happens in the middle of nowhere, you can call for help.

“On my stone sheep hunt in B.C., I tagged out early, and I was with an assistant guide who didn’t have a phone,” Schaffer remembered. “I called the float plane base and told them they could come pick us up; they were originally going to get us five days later. It’s really a no-brainer to carry a sat phone, and I always bring an extra battery, although I’ve never needed one.”

Packing Light is Right
“For hunt clothing, in general, I pack light. And a lot of guys pack way too much. I went on a hunt once where I packed all my gear in just my bow case and one carry-on pack. I didn’t even bring a duffel, and even then, I came home with clothes I never wore. My advice, if you’re on a real adventure hunt, is that you need very few clothes. I pack a base layer, an intermediate layer, and one more insulator for a top, and then you have your rain gear. That’s really all you need. I take a backup base layer, and a few extra socks, and that’s it. I remind guys all the time, if you’re not wearing it, you’re carrying it. You’ve likely heard it a million times, that less and is more, and that’s absolutely true when it comes to [hunt] clothing.”

Bring Enough Ammo
“I bring lots of arrows, and I try to store them separately. So if something bad happens—say a horse rolls over on one container—I can continue my hunt. I’ll usually store them in two different bundles; I’ll have a dozen in my soft bow case, and I have another dozen outside of that in a separate case. There will be times I will leave a dozen in my hard case, and maybe have six with my bow, and some in my soft case, so I will have options. I’m always amazed at guys who spend thousands on a hunt yet skimp on arrows. They take up virtually no space. And I also tell guys there’s no point in bringing arrows if you don’t have enough broadheads along to match them. I should also mention that I never travel with arrows with broadheads attached. I don’t even assemble my broadheads until I get to my destination. I’ve heard lots of horror stories about guys carrying broadhead-tipped arrows in their cases, having them cut up everything including bow strings and cables.”

The Right Rain Gear
“Buy the best you can get your hands on, because when it doesn’t work you’re not going to care about the $100 you saved. During a brown bear hunt in Alaska, I saw the sun for about three hours in 19 days of hunting. It rained every day; it was like being in a toilet. During that hunt I went 15 days without even seeing a bear, then took one that measured 9 feet, 3 inches on the last day. Good rain gear made that hunt possible.”

Snacks Can Save The Day
“I always like to keep enough food with me so I can make it through a couple of lean days. It seems like I’m always packing Salted Nut Rolls, I like to cram a bunch of those in my pack. Yes, guides should have food with them, and many do, but I’ve been on plenty of hunts where all of a sudden you’re into game and end up spending an unplanned 24 hours on the mountain—with all the food back at camp. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s no fun when you don’t have any energy.”

Arrows, arrows, arrows. Make sure you take plenty of them on your next adventure hunt.
Arrows, arrows, arrows. Make sure you take plenty of them on your next adventure bowhunt.

Critical Papers/Numbers
Schaffer has learned to keep several things on his person at all times, including his passport, and a piece of paper containing all critical contact numbers for his outfitter, float plane service and more. Paired with his sat phone, he can quickly troubleshoot most travel foibles, even common weather-related delays that might force him to be re-routed home, possibly leaving gear behind at a float plane base or base camp that can be shipped home later.

“I like to have every possible line of communication with me for my guide, the outfitter’s office phone, cell phone, and e-mail—anything I might have. I need to ensure I can make contact if, say, my plane gets delayed, or I’m having trouble meeting up at a predetermined rendezvous point, so the outfitter doesn’t think you flaked out on him. A lot of guys think you can just Google this info, but you can’t rely on that. And if you get re-routed home and your passport is back in camp, you won’t be leaving any time soon.”

Positive Attitude Rules All
One thing never to forget, Schaffer warns, is a positive attitude. Adventure bowhunting is typically an expensive investment, but few things about it, including the weather and game animal movement, are guaranteed. Go in with an open mind.

“I tell guys who are on the fence to go and expect that it’s not going to be perfect, but to deal with it, and realize the whole reason you’re going is to get out of your daily grind and do something adventurous. If you don’t, you’ll likely be kicking yourself later. Even experiencing all the problems, in the end, they all add to what will be an incredible, memory-making experience.”

Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Archery Gear to take on your next adventure!



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2 Responses to “Bowhunting: 10 Ways to Success!”

  1. Avatar

    Thomas kelley

    Great common sense information!

  2. Avatar

    Jonathan Baker

    Tips for a Successful Bow Hunt
    Experts in bowhunting, such as John Schaffer from Minnesota, happily share their advice to ensuring a successful hunt when travelling with bow hunting gear, and that very much includes preparation for it.
    • When travelling, take extra care of all the accessories, and keep them safe packed through extra socks. These would include detachable accessories, like an extra sight and releases.
    • Take benefit from carry-ons especially for more sensitive items, that you would not want to entrust anyone else to handle, even if they are labeled to be Handled With Care.
    • Ensure that your communication methods are secure, in preparation for your distance hunting. As one would prepare their emergency contacts and security of signal during a hunt, the same kind of diligence should be there for all types of hunts, and most especially when you are travelling far.
    • Having enough arrows, and some extra will always be beneficial to you. Consider the extra arrows to be part of the back-up plan should it be needed.
    With these tips, just a few more general tips to share – be safe, and have fun with hunting!