How to hunt and survive in the mountains

Thomas Nissen interviews well-known Danish hunter Jens Kjaer Knudsen on how to prepare for a mountain hunt

International hunter and Härkila Pro Team member Jens Kjaer Knudsen knew from a young age that he wanted to challenge himself in hunting. Mountain hunting has therefore always been one of his preferred types of hunt. It still is today, though when hunting in the mountains you are dependent on good physical condition, which is why this kind of hunting is often ‘pushed forward’ to be done at a younger age.

Jens has, by the age of 50, hunted blue sheep and tahr at an altitude above 5,000 metres – on top of the world. He has hunted several mountain ranges: the Andes, New Zealand Alps, Himalayas, High Altai, Rocky Mountains and many more. Mountain hunting has brought him to 40 countries on six different continents. He has taken more than 25 different species in mountains and is still going strong.

The ultimate challenge

Mountain hunting requires good physical condition as well as mental strength

Mountain hunting is a dangerous sport that challenges both physical and mental strength. But what is the greatest challenge involved?

Hunting steep areas itself puts you in a danger zone, where you have to be aware of every step at all times, says Jens. On top of that, in some parts of the world, you will have to hunt in atmospheric conditions with very low oxygen pressure. If you get altitude sickness, this will totally spoil your hunt.

Jens explains that mountain hunting can be done on different levels depending on where in the world it is done. A two-day hunt for Spanish ibex or a short hunt in the Austrian Alps can be challenging enough. Longer hunts such as an ibex hunt in Central Asia, a sheep hunt in North America or a two-week hike in Nepal for tahr and blue sheep can be exhausting.

Whether the hunt runs over several days or a shorter period, it will give hunters and gear a stern test. Wherever you’re going, your body, mind and kit need to be in top condition.

Get high

Get on top of the situation – get as high as possible in early morning

Game species living in mountainous surroundings are known to have incredible eyesight. They also find it very easy to move around on unbelievably step terrain and therefore hard to get into close range at. Normally they will stay high during the day and come down with the darkness to feed in the lower parts and valleys.

The hunt will normally start early in the morning, trying to get high up in the mountain as quickly as possible. From the top, you will take advantage of the fact that the animals might be on their way up after the night. The animals also have a habit of surveying the ground below, why it is better to be above them, out of sight. Finally, the wind normally blows from the valley to the top in the morning and the opposite in the evening, so hunting with this in mind gives you an advantage.

Because of the open environment in the mountains, game will normally be located from a distance. After a thorough study through a spotting scope to see if some trophy animals are around, you can hatch a plan for the stalk.

It is important not to let yourself become visible on the skyline – your quarry will see you from a distance. Stay low, think about cover, and take wind direction into consideration at all times.

Calibre choice

It is good advice to train with your chosen backpack and boots in the month before the hunt

For hunting strong and sometimes quite big animals that may have to be shot a longer range, Jens prefers a flat-shooting calibre with enough down-range energy to drop an animal at a fair distance. He mentions calibres such as .270 Win Mag, .300 Win Mag and his favourite, the 7mm Rem Mag.

“For this kind of hunt, I prefer a semi-hard bullet,” he says. “I want it to be able to penetrate deep enough at a distance, and I want it do so some damages if the bullets placement is not totally on the spot.

“It is important when shooting at a distance that you spend time getting calm, find the perfect rest, and make sure the animal is in a position where it will fall somewhere where it will be possible to get to it. In most situations, you will have plenty of time when you get into shooting range – it is therefore important not to rush the shot.”

Jens advises a trigger weight of 1kg or below. Personally, he goes for 750g. No matter the preferred weight, he says, hunters need to practice with their chosen trigger weight if they want to be confident taking shots in the mountains.

Own your technique

Chamois hunting New Zealand

Because of the possibility of long-range shots, Jens says lots of technique practice is essential. Ninety per cent of all shots taken in mountains are laying down with steady rest like bipod or a backpack, so this must be the standard position when practising.

“To be on top of a mountain hunt, I practise shooting at all distances from 100 to 500 metres,” he says. “It is important to know the drop data at 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500 metres for the bullet you will shoot. To be honest I wouldn’t ever like to shoot beyond 400 metres, but it is good to know the ballistics for that distance and that you are capable of shooting that far, in case a wounded animal should run on.” Of course with the right practice, it is possible to shoot further, but when you really push the distance, the wind will become a huge factor, potentially causing massive bullet drift.

Jens points out that shooting at steep angles up and down will affect ballistics. Before you shoot, get a smartphone app to calculate with, or use a rangefinder with a ballistic calculator. This way, you’ll know the exact distance as well as the adjustment for the angle.

“It is of course possible to get a scope with ballistic turret, but personally, I prefer ballistic crosshair,” says Jens. “With a little experience in how to use it, it will be faster to use in the rare situation when a quick shot has

Jens Kjaer Knudsen has shot 25 different species in mountains, including the ibex pictured here

to be taken. And I won’t have to remember to check the turret before shooting at a given distance. To think it’s dialled to 100 metres when it is actually 300 metres is a catastrophic error.”

Jens recommends a scope with good magnification – he likes to use his at around 15-18x. This allows him to shoot safely at all distances, and the field of view is still enough to get back on target after the first shot. With a higher mag, the smaller field of view might make it difficult to find the target quickly again.

A thin crosshair is easier to use at high magnification, and an illuminated dot can be a plus. On the other hand, the classic scope criteria of light transmission is not as important here, as mountain hunting is almost always done in daylight hours.

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