Packing gear for hunting trip for Himalayan Snowcock is more like big game than bird hunting.
Calling the chase for the Himalayan Snowcock a ‘hunt’ is a little misleading if you compare it to the pursuit of the other upland birds we have in North America. As its name would imply, this majestic bird is native to the Himalayan region of south-central Asia. The terrain it calls home in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains is equally inhospitable.
Sure, it’s possible to hunt this bird in a day with minimal gear. But to really give yourself a chance at finding this elusive bird, you’ll have to commit to spending multiple days in the wilderness, traversing the rugged terrain where they live and carrying a lot of weight in the process. This is where the pursuit of the Himalayan Snowcock goes from being simply a hunt to more of a high altitude expedition – not dissimilar from what you would encounter while mountaineering.
You’ll need to have high fitness levels and the right equipment for your adventure to increase your chances of success. You can also expect the weather to vary from high heat to snow, adding even a little more to the Snowcock’s deserved reputation as the Holy Grail of upland birds. Here, I will break down the gear needed to get yourself into the rugged backcountry for a multi-day Snowcock hunt.
Leave the Coleman car camping tent at home. This is essentially a backpacking trip and you’ll need to treat it as one with the shelter you choose. A tent can take up a lot of room in your pack and add up to a significant percentage of the weight you carry. You’ll need to choose a quality, lightweight backpacking tent or shelter system. Try and keep your entire shelter under 4 pounds if possible. If you’re sharing with a teammate, you should also share the weight on the way up.
Lightweight fabrics such as Cuben Fiber are the major trend in the industry at the moment. They will help you drop even more weight from your pack, with some tarp shelters weighing in at just over half a pound! For the lightest in the industry check out Hyperlight Mountain Gear or the new Cuben Fiber range of tents from Big Agnes.
You’ll want a pack made for the backcountry and one that’s engineered to carry the weight of the gear required for this trip. Many of the hunting companies out there have packs made for adventures like this, some even capable of packing out hundreds of pounds of big game meat. Although they can be expensive and sometimes heavy, these packs are made to take a beating and you will know your money will be well spent.
An alternative to a hunting-specific pack would be a pack from a reputable hiking/backpacking company such as Osprey. They make some of the best packs in the business, come with a lifetime warranty and are a purchase you’ll have for many years to come.
Make no mistake about it: this will be the most painful and uncomfortable upland trip you’ve ever had. If you don’t wear the right boots, it will quickly turn into a sufferfest. If you choose to save money on any gear for the trip, do not do it on your boot purchase!
Before you decide on boots for your trip, keep in mind that the footwear you use while walking a pheasant field will feel completely different traversing scree while carrying a heavy pack. I know mine did! The Snowcock doesn’t live anywhere near established trails and you’ll be side-hilling scree and climbing rocks for the majority of your adventure, much of it with a pack pushing past 50 pounds. The terrain is unforgiving, and negotiating it is essentially a combination of mountaineering and hunting.
Choosing a boot targeted for these activities is a must, especially one with a full rand surrounding the boots to help them survive the beating you will dish them. A lightweight mountaineering boot or a backcountry hunting boot is the ticket here, but whatever you do, make sure you get fitted properly by a knowledgeable shop. You can have the best boot on the market, but if it’s not fitted properly it won’t matter. The top performing boot from our group was the Mountain Hunter from Lathrop and Sons.
The water situation in the Rubies can vary from season to season, and you’ll need to filter water while on the move to avoid carrying the extra weight. We encountered crystal clear alpine lakes, seeps and springs coming from the mountain, ponds full of little red bugs, and dirty creeks full of deer poop – we drank it all!
With so many water filtration devices on the market these days, it can be confusing choosing between them all. But when all four of us showed up on the trip with the same system, it spoke volumes about the genius behind our filter of choice: the Sawyer Squeeze filter. This is an inexpensive, lightweight, easy to use and incredibly effective filtration system. It comes with plastic bags to fill with water; you then attach the device to the bags and simply squeeze out the clean water. But wait, it gets better! The bags can be a pain to fill and you can make your life easier with the Alaskan Terry hack of using Smart Water bottles instead of the supplied bags (they are much easier to fill). I personally brought up two Smart Water bottles, one for dirty water and one for clean water. This way I could fill one and leave the other filled with the filter attached and ready to go.
Camp stoves and fuel can get very heavy, so choose wisely here. Any light backpacking stove will do the trick, but we used the Campchef Stryker 200 as the main stove for the group and carried a small backup, just in case. The 1.3 liter capacity was enough for 2 meals and coffee and the quick boiling time meant we spent more time eating than watching our water boil (2 minutes for 0.5 liter). They also use a slightly different ‘heat ring technology’ which increases efficiency by 30 percent; this meant that one 8 ounce can of fuel was enough for the whole team during our trip.
We all survived off dehydrated meals during our adventure and got to try a variety of brands and flavors. Comforts in the mountains are few and far between, so make sure you know you like the meal before you head up! The Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai was the overwhelming favorite of the group on this trip.
While hunting you sometimes end up miles away from camp and it’s important to carry lots of snacks to keep you going. The high altitude can also give you a dry mouth, so carrying candy can make you a little more comfortable up there. Using a performance sweet snack such as Clif Bloks can help as they contain carbs and sometimes caffeine. Beef jerky is another tried and true performance food. My personal favorites are the offerings from Field Trip Snacks, perfectly seasoned and moist – some of the best jerky I’ve ever had!
Bird Hunting Vest
The Himalayan Snowcock is incredibly easy to spook and the hunt is definitely more of a big game pursuit than your stereotypical day in the uplands. It would’ve been nice to have a practical way to carry ammo, water and snacks. But having to carry a bird vest on top of the rest of your gear adds unnecessary weight, and if your vest has blaze orange, it will also make it easier for the birds to see you. I opted for a small daypack and an ammo belt and was able to move freely in the mountains, carry all the gear I needed for the day and remain concealed. Like everything in this gear list, this is purely a personal preference and a decision you’ll have to make after weighing your backpack.
Optics are rarely used in the upland world but in this pursuit it is a vital tool for success. Unless the birds expose themselves through flight or calling, they are incredibly hard to locate, even with binoculars. I’d hate to have to do it with the naked eye! The birds are incredibly easy to flush and if you reveal yourself, you could miss your only opportunity. Every time we came up on the crest of another ridge we would stop and glass with the hope of seeing them before they saw us. To give you an idea of how easy these birds are to spook, we flushed a large group from well over a quarter of a mile away while up on a ridgeline. Look carefully and move slowly!
We had a lot of conversations about bringing our dogs on the hunt. But after spending a few days up there scouting, it confirmed our conclusions that this isn’t the best place to bring man’s best friend. And it wouldn’t even be advantageous! Remember, this is more of a big game hunt, so moving quietly and stalking the birds is the preferred method of pursuit. They are so easy to spook that I’d be amazed if they ever held for a point.
You must also keep in mind your dog’s safety. This terrain is unforgiving. Making sure you stay safe on top of a thousand foot cliff was hard enough. It would be very distracting keeping an eye on your dog at the same time. While there are no briars or cacti, our multi-day trip gallivanting across scree fields was very hard on us– just think what it’d do to your dog’s pads! If you’re going for a fast and light one day trip from the car, I believe it’s possible to bring your dog with you; however, I don’t think of it as an advantage. Only you can make that call.
Matt Hardinge is a 3rd generation upland hunter who learnt his trade in the driven shoots of England. He now chases all upland and waterfowl species in the Western United States with his German Wirehaired pointer, Cederberg. He's an avid conservationist and takes pride in introducing new people to the sport.