Hunting waterfowl out West for the DIY hunter on public, or private ground for that matter, requires carrying heavy loads over long(ish) distances. Not unlike packing a big muley buck off the mountain. Dug in box blinds with propane heaters and cooktops, filled with the smell of eggs and bacon like I hunted in back in western Nebraska are rare at best. Here it’s a full dose of effort, washed with luke warm coffee and nearly drowned in icy January rivers – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Case in point, I have permission to hunt some private ground and it’s a little over a mile to my blind location with 200 vertical feet of river “cliffs” to navigate. So we double that up (in and out) and we are looking at over two miles distance with 400 feet of elevation gain/loss. Now, that may not seem like a lot but do that trip three times a week on average and we are looking at over six miles with 1,200 feet of vertical gain/loss. Add to that 80+ lbs. of gear, walking it in sub-zero temps, and that equals a pretty substantial big game hunt with a successful ending. It didn’t take me long and I was looking for a pack system to adequately handle the heavy loads, day in and day out.
I took a note from my big game hunts and started with my Eberlestock Mainframe pack with Spike Camp duffle attached. It worked well but I found the space filled quickly with decoys and left me little room for other essentials like coffee, food, shell boxes, gloves, hats, extra jacket, etc. Afterall, it’s designed with the big game hunter in mind, not a waterfowler. So, I started digging.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t find much that would fit the bill. I wanted a good suspension system with good padding to handle heavy loads (shoulder lift would be a bonus), decoy protection, room for other essentials and maybe a Mojo or two.
I finally settled on the Banded Decoy backpack. It sports 12 individually slotted decoy compartments (one of which I dedicate to my possibles) with mesh drainage strips; two exterior pouches for Mojo decoys and a gun pocket to secure your shotgun keeping you hands free for the hike.
The suspension system is good with acceptable shoulder lift and a passable waist belt. The back padding is a huge plus. But, if you look at a pack made for carrying the heaviest of loads, they all without exception, have some sort of rigid frame, be it internal or external. This pack performed well enough but without the rigid frame it didn’t perform as well as it could have. Enter my next solution in this evolution, the Bullpac.
One of our writers here at Wingmen, Cory McLaughlin has toyed with using Bullpac’s in different configurations over the years and this is my attempt at joining him.
What is the Bullpac you ask? Well, the Bullpac is a rigid aluminum frame pack designed to haul out elk quarters from the nastiest mountains. The frame itself is constructed of 6063 T52 aircraft grade, square tube aluminum for exceptional strength. The frame is also hydraulically bent thereby eliminating the need for welds in high-stress areas that could crack. There are three horizontal cross-supports that are welded to the frame to increase rigidity. They also offer an option where one of the horizontal supports is made such that it can accept a military Alice pack, adding multi-season versatility, as I know a lot of you hunt big game as well. Lastly, the frame is powder-coated with a high-strength finish to handle years of abuse. Now on to the other features.
All of the fasteners are 304 stainless steel for exceptional corrosion resistance, even in salt-water environments where Cory does some of his hunting in the Pacific flyway. The suspension features a 1”x3” high-density, closed cell foam shoulder pads with sternum strap. Full back pad and waist belt with kidney support are all covered in a super tough 420-denier nylon pack cloth. You can also get a rifle mount that will hold your shotgun secured to the frame. Now, if that’s not a frame designed to haul my duck hunting gear, I don’t know what is.
The rectangular design of the Banded Bag fits the L-shape of the Bullpac’s integrated cargo shelf very well. Bullpac also offers two different height extension racks to accommodate various sized bags. Do a little measuring of the bag you want to attach to the frame before placing your order. To secure everything down, I throw the cinch straps around my bag and off I go!
Depending on the options and size you get, the MSRP varies from $219 to $279 for a fully tricked out frame. Additional accessories are extra. In my opinion a small price to pay for a healthy spine and more energy to get you through the grind of waterfowl season. Check out their full offerings at www.bullpacs.com