Glocking for Bears: part II

19 Jul

*Look for a version of this story to be published in an upcoming issue of Bear Hunting Magazine!

I always am mesmerized by the pads of a predator and take the time to study them...almost like some sort of Palm Reader would analyze someone's "life line". I can't help but wonder what trails have been trod and how many miles had been laid down in this bear's 15-20 year estimated years.

I always am mesmerized by the pads of a predator and take the time to study them…almost like some sort of Palm Reader would analyze someone’s “life line”. I can’t help but wonder what trails have been trod and how many miles had been laid down in this bear’s 15-20  estimated years. A quick note on field judging bears, based on the size of their pads: measure across the pad and then add one inch to equal what the bear would square. This bear’s pads almost measured six inches across, which jived perfectly…as the bear squared over six feet.

There is a saying that “every dog will have his day” and this most certainly applies to hunting. If you spend enough time in the woods, you are bound to experience an “epic” encounter at some point. A few weeks back, my number was apparently up to be thrown a bone and I was to experience one of these “epic encounters”.
My wife had been very sick and I had been running myself ragged for the previous few weeks with taking care of her and working my day job. The spring bear season had been rolling along, without me being able to get out much at all…and this was weighing heavily on me. There was a brief time period where it seemed like my wife was feeling better and I took the opportunity to get out for one afternoon. Since I had a limited amount of time to spend, I figured that I’d leave my bow at home and be content to meet up with my good buddy Darin, to do some shed hunting and scouting in a new area.

The area seemed promising from the start and we were seeing quite a bit of Deer and Elk sign….with a little bit of bear sign mixed in for good measure. We had just explored a couple of ridges that were connected together and were climbing out of a dark drainage, filled with tall Cedars when I could swear that I caught the rank smell of a bear. The smell was like “wet dog”, mixed with a hint of A1 steak sauce. It immediately brought back memories of a close encounter with a Grizzly that we had several years ago. As we crested the top of the drainage, we found a well used “bear rub-tree” at the edge of the ridge top. It was only another two hundred yards to the highest point of the ridge, where we stopped to catch our breath and take some time to just listen and observe.

The Bear "rub tree" that started everything.

The Bear “rub tree” that started everything.

The ridge top was fairly open, with a sparse cover of trees and patches of thick brush.
We suddenly heard something crashing away in the brush below us. That “something” arced away at first and then swung around and stopped about sixty yards away and parallel with us. Darin said that he thought that he had seen a bear moving through the brush, but wasn’t sure. About that time, another “something” was moving quickly towards us through the brush. Darin could see the bear first, due to a tree that I was standing next to, that blocked my view and seemed to speak only with his eyes as he said: “Bear! There’s a bear…right…THERE!”. I peered around the tree to find a large Black Bear a mere twenty yards away, vigorously sniffing the ground and broadside to me. I quickly drew my Glock 20 from it’s Survival Sheath chest holster and took aim. The first shot took him dead center and just behind the crease of the shoulder. I expected him to run off at the shot, so hesitated for a moment while he just stood there, seemingly stunned. I snapped back to attention when he turned to face us and took aim as our eyes met. Since I was slightly above him in elevation, I had a good view of his back, which led me to aim for the base of the neck. I must have pulled off-center, because my second shot took him through the left rear hindquarter. He then spun and lunged in the direction from whence he had came from…I was able to get in a third shot, which angled into his vitals. At that point, I had to pivot around the tree I had been standing by and got off two more shots before he was swallowed by brush.

I don't remember exactly what I was thinking at this moment...but I do know that I always have a moment of sadness and regret with the death of one of God's creatures.

I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking at this moment…but I do know that I always have a moment of sadness and regret with the death of one of God’s creatures. I always take time to think about the sacrifice the animal has made and do my best to honor them.

It was at that moment, that it begin to rain…and rain HARD. We didn’t waste any time getting over to where the bear was when I shot. There wasn’t any blood, but we had a plain path to follow in the wet grass. Any sign of a trail quickly petered out in the brush and we were left with no trail to follow and quickly diminishing daylight. I used my McKinley HD 10×42′s by Leupold Optics to pick apart the brush on our way down the mountain…because in the shadows, everything looked like a dead bear. We got back to the truck just after dark and made plans to return in the morning. The next day we enlisted the help of my Nephew Ethan to lend a hand in the tracking and headed back to where it all had started. The night’s worth of heavy rain had washed away any blood that there may have been, so we worked over the entire side of the ridge in zigzag fashion, doing our best to cover every inch. After several hours of searching, I was growing a black cloud over my head and was having flashbacks to last season’s lost Elk. We eventually were just working our way down by instinct and ended up taking off in a different direction, which led us to a cut that angled down to a dark Cedar grove, which housed a small pond. I was feeling very dejected when I heard one phrase that turned it all around: “I think I’ve found blood!”. I was a little above Darin and behind a thin screen of brush, so I couldn’t see exactly what he was pointing to…but when I got closer, he suddenly moved to the side with a mischievous grin on his face. And there was my bear!

It wasn't the bow kill that I was looking for, but if I can't get it done with my bow...my Lone Wolf built Glock 20 is a close second, runner up! Two solid hits with 180 gr. Nosler HP's from Doubletap Ammunition did one heck of a job of putting this bear down.

It wasn’t the bow kill that I was looking for, but if I can’t get it done with my bow…my Lone Wolf built Glock 20 is a close second-runner up! Two solid hits with 180 gr. Nosler HP’s from Doubletap Ammunition did one heck of a job of putting this bear down. I feel so blessed to be able to take an older,  mature bear and have it be my first ever bear and first handgun kill! He was estimated to be between 15-20 years old, his front teeth were worn down to the gums, his skull measured 19 1/4 after drying, his weight was around 300# and he squared well over six feet. Truly a magnificent animal.

And just like that, what started off as a soggy shed hunt and scouting excursion…that morphed into a short still-hunt, which then led to a close quarters shot opportunity…and I had my first ever Black Bear! And not only that, but I had my first handgun kill on a big game animal!

I'm working hard and couldn't be happier! I was carrying approximately 120# of hide, skull and choice cuts in my Mystery Ranch Dragon Slayer. This pack really isn't meant for an oddly shaped and heavy load like this...but I made it work and made it back to the truck with little discomfort, other than sore legs.

I’m working hard and couldn’t be happier! I was carrying approximately 120# of hide, skull and choice cuts in my Mystery Ranch Dragon Slayer. This pack really isn’t meant for an oddly shaped and heavy load like this…but I made it work and made it back to the truck with little discomfort, other than sore legs.

I want to take to moment to thank my best friend Darin Staab and my nephew Ethan for all of their help with the tracking and pack out. There’s nothing like sharing an experience like this with people who are close to you…and it sure is nice to have some strong backs and skilled hands when it comes time for the work!

My best friend Darin talking me though a section of blow down. Darin and Ethan have been involved and have helped in pretty much every harvest I've made over the past seven years or so. Friends who you consider family are irreplaceable and worth a hill of gold when the hard work starts.

My best friend Darin talking me though a section of blow down. Darin and Ethan have been involved and have helped in pretty much every harvest that I’ve made over the past seven years or so. Friends who you consider family are irreplaceable and worth a hill of gold when the hard work starts.

 

A note about bear hunting gear:

When it comes to a spring bear hunt, you will encounter a broad range of terrain and conditions. My hunt was no different. Quality boots (Danner Mountain Assault GTX), clothing (Sitka Gear: Ascent Pant, Traverse Zip T, Core short sleeve T (River To Ridgeline version) First Lite: Red Desert merino boxers and Mountain Athlete compression sock ), rain gear (Sitka Gear Stormfront Lite, which is now discontinued. Look at the new Dewpoint for a current equivalent), pack (Mystery Ranch Dragon Slayer. One of their packs that utilizes their NICE frame, like the Crew Cab or Metcalf would have been more suited for the pack out), optics, (Leupold McKinley 10×42), knives (Cold Steel Pendleton Hunter and Hunter Lite) and of course…your weaponry, all play large roles in a hunt’s success.

My Lone Wolf built Glock 20 with Leupold Deltapoint RDS sitting on a pile of Doubletap Ammo.

My Lone Wolf built Glock 20 with Leupold Deltapoint RDS, sitting on a pile of Doubletap Ammo.

I don’t think that I’ve entered the woods without my Lone Wolf Distributors built Glock 20, at any point within the past five years. The 10mm round is perfectly suited for backwoods defense and is plenty medicine for Black Bear hunting. The Glock 20 platform lends to some very easy and quick shooting when the situation calls for it. In the case of my Glock 20; it’s been built with a Lone Wolf long slide and 6″ barrel. I can easily make 100 yard open sight hits on a 12″ steel plate…repeatedly.  I’ve been using the Hackathorn sights by Ameriglo for the past three years and LOVE them! The orange Pro Glo front sight stood out like a beacon on my bear’s black hide.  And I want to mention that I’ve been playing around with Chuck Coffman’s “Recoil Rebound” guiderod setup and it seems to work great as well. I was on target the entire time and do not remember ever having to battle any recoil that the 180 Nosler HP Doubletap loads dealt out. I definitely will never hesitate on any game, in any situation with this setup! I want to make a quick comment on dry fire practice. I often carry out dry fire practice while I’m at work (while on the phone with customers) or while watching TV. With the cost of 10mm ammo being like it is and the amount of actual “free time” I have…dry fire practice has played a huge part with keeping me “in tune” and I know  it’s what enabled me to make quality shots on my bear when the pressure was on.

 

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Darin and I teamed up and used a Pendleton Hunter and Pendleton Hunter Lite from Cold Steel Knives to skin out my bear.

Darin and I teamed up and used a Pendleton Hunter and Pendleton Hunter Lite from Cold Steel Knives to skin out my bear.

Bear loads: while I probably would have rather had a 200 grain load at my disposal, the 180 grain Nosler HP load from Doubletap Ammunition really did the trick with my bear. All three hits produced nice .40 cal entry holes and no exit wounds to speak of. Not to be overly descriptive or graphic, but when we peeled the hide back, it was like he had been beaten with baseball bats on both sides of his rib cage. And that’s exactly the type of performance that you want; along with enough penetration to reach the vitals, you want all of the energy to be dumped inside the body cavity. Solid loads will often just pass through and while they will break heavy bone and eventually prove deadly, the death process will typically take longer.

A Lion Will Do

9 Jul

Originally published on the Sitka Gear Insight blog: https://www.sitkagear.com/insight/a-lion-will-do

 

This past hunting season was pretty rough. Just to put it bluntly. At one point during the opening weekend of the September Elk season…I wanted to call it quits. I took the first shot opportunity that I had on a spike bull and ended up with a high-single lung hit. It gave me a blood trail that a blind man could follow and then ended in a bed of frothy, pink blood…but no bull. After two days of searching with everything that I had, I came up empty…and that’s how I felt. I went through the motions for almost a week before I finally started to get it together. The month of September came and went and I moved on to focus my efforts on filling my deer tag.

Looking on in disbelief at a blood-filled bed at the end of a heavy blood trail...but no elk to be found.

Looking on in disbelief at a blood-filled bed at the end of a heavy blood trail…but no elk to be found.

I managed to catch that mutant virus that was being passed around and therefore missed almost the entire month of October. The virus came back to haunt me quite a bit through the month of November, but I did what I could to grind it out. December arrived and I had visions of last minute success in the snow…but it just wasn’t meant to be.

Crossing an ice cold stream in an effort to evade the crowds, during the November deer season

Crossing an ice cold stream in an effort to evade the crowds, during the November deer season

Not ever one to let life get me down for long, I looked forward to the start of the Mountain Lion season and hoped that I’d get a chance to get out. All it took was heading out one morning with my best friend and nephew with perfect tracking conditions…and everything fell into place. While we were out poking around, we got a phone call from an old friend who just happened to own a few hounds that love hunting cats. He said that he “had a hot track” and the dogs were already on it…did we want to meet him and join in? There was no hesitation, just a “when and where?”

Before long, we pulled up along side of his rig and the beautiful sound of hounds on a hot track reached our ears. This was only the second time that I had been fortunate enough to take part in a hunt of this sort, the first time being uneventful…so I really had no idea how it would play out. Learning that I was the only one holding a Lion tag added a new element to the excitement that was welling inside of me.

One of the hounds impatient to take up the trail

One of the hounds impatient to take up the trail

This would turn out to be one of the most unforgettable and physically demanding hunts of my life. It became apparent as the hours ticked by, that we had a very wise and sly cat on our hands. The cat refused to tree and took the dogs on a chase that lasted from early morning until a couple hours before dark. He finally treed around 2:30 and we were locked in and had quite a climb ahead of us. The razorback ridge face jutted up some 1300′ ft. almost straight up from the logging road that we ended up parking our trucks on. It gave you a crook in your neck just look up towards the crest. We took only the necessities and headed up the snow-covered slope. After an hour of “one step forward-two steps back”, I wearily climbed up over the edge of the ridge and stood upon even ground. I finally could hear the dogs again, and before long, we were within reach.

Looking at the steep ridge face that we were to climb up and over to reach the treed Mountain Lion

Looking at the steep ridge face that we were to climb up and over to reach the treed Mountain Lion

With both quads in full cramp, I got my first up close and personal look at a Mountain Lion. He was much larger than I had anticipated and was very intimidating as he glared down through the branches at us. It looked to be a very challenging shot and with muscle cramps and exhaustion taking over, I thought I’d have to use my pistol. My partners quickly convinced me otherwise, and that we had a very special cat on our hands and I HAD to use my bow.

Picking a spot through a wicker basket of branches.

Picking a spot through a wicker basket of branches.

Before long I had a shot window picked out and took several minutes to study the small hole in the moss covered-wicker basket that would give me the only path to his vitals. Despite the adrenalin that was surging though my body, I felt calm. The cat was getting nervous and it was time to finish what we had started hours and miles earlier. I set my feet, said a quick prayer and then drew my recurve. Before I knew it, the string was slipping through my fingers. I knew that it was all over as the arrow made impact. I only noticed subconsciously as he crashed to the ground, made a lunge down the mountain and then disappeared into a spray of snow. It seemed an entire season’s angst released its hold at that very instant. There was still a lot of work ahead and the trip off the mountain was to be dark and treacherous…but I floated down on cloud nine.

I was in complete awe of this magnificent creature.

I was in complete awe of this magnificent creature.

When I said that this was one of the “most unforgettable hunts”, I should mention that not only is this my very first Mountain Lion, but it is also my very first big game kill with a traditional bow. This is an achievement that has been a long time coming and something that at times, felt insurmountable.

Every part of this beautiful animal intrigues me. These large paws helped carry the 150# Tom over deep snow and take down one deer per week on average.

Every part of this beautiful animal intrigues me. These large paws helped carry the 150# Tom over deep snow and take down one deer per week on average.

What would have happened if I had thrown in the towel, back in September and called it quits? I guess I will never know…and that is fine by me.

Wolverine defeats Mountain Lion. My 65# @ 27" Wolverine FXT by Stalker Stickbows combined with a Grizzly Stik Momentum EFOC 330 shaft, tipped with a 150 grain Silver Flame XL broadhead worked together to yield almost an instant death.

Wolverine defeats Mountain Lion. My 65# @ 27″ Wolverine FXT by Stalker Stickbows combined with a Grizzly Stik Momentum EFOC 330 shaft, tipped with a 150 grain Silver Flame XL broadhead worked together to yield almost an instant death.

The 1.5" cutting diameter of the 150 gr. Silver Flame XL broadhead delivers wicked results on anything it is directed towards.

The 1.5″ cutting diameter of the 150 gr. Silver Flame XL broadhead delivers wicked results on anything it is directed towards.

The Mountain Got It’s Own Ways

26 Sep
I made camp where my legs gave out on me. It just happened to be on a narrow saddle that was the only way over the mountain and onto the nearby ridge system.

I made camp where my legs gave out on me. It just happened to be on a narrow saddle that was the only way over the mountain and onto the nearby ridge system.

For some reason Will Greer’s line to Robert Redford in “Jeremiah Johnson” springs to mind, when I think of this past opening weekend’s bivy hunt. “You can’t cheat the mountain Pilgrim. Mountain’s got it’s own ways”. It seems just spot-on appropriate.

I began scouting the higher elevations just as soon as the snow receded enough to give me access and quickly found an area that held plenty of promise and had me excited. Towards the end of July, I began climbing higher and higher up the mountain and was surprised to find plenty of Elk, Mule Deer and Bear sign. The sight of a small Elk herd lolling in an Alpine bowl one afternoon, had my hopes high and fantasies of chasing bugling bulls above the tree line brimmed in my heart.

A small herd of Elk, spread out through the Alpine Spruce.

A small herd of Elk, spread out through the Alpine Spruce.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this herd of nine Elk and would have no qualms notching my tag with this perfectly legal two point bull.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this herd of nine Elk and would have no qualms notching my tag with this perfectly legal two point bull.

I had the full intention of a deeper scouting mission before the season started, but other obligations always seemed to derail my plans. The last time I climbed the 2,000 ft. to peer over into the bowl, Green was the predominate color and there was plenty of water that coursed down the mountain. I would soon learn what a huge difference one month can make!

Everything was so green on my last trip up the mountain. What a stark contrast only one month would come to make.

Everything was so green on my last trip up the mountain. What a stark contrast only one month would come to make.

The Saturday of opening weekend had me rounding the last bend of the road an hour after sunup. As the sun’s rays wrapped over the top of the mountain, it seemed to illuminate above the tree-line like it was on fire. The bright fall colors were a shocking contrast to the bright green carpet that had covered the mountain face, just four weeks prior. I made my way to where I’d park my truck and geared up with anticipation of my first high mountain bivy hunt in three years.

From the base of the mountain; the fall colors added a very fiery appearance that seemed to creep up wards.

From the base of the mountain; the fall colors added a very fiery appearance that seemed to creep upwards.

On this hunt I was testing out a new pack, the “Alpine Ruck” from Sitka Gear. Breaking my usual practice of giving gear several trial runs before they ever make it officially into the field…the new pack got the trial-by-fire treatment. The pack only weighs three pounds…but I managed to load it up with close to fifty pounds of gear, food and water! One day I’ll get the ultralight thing pegged. But until then I’ll just have to keep my legs and lungs in shape, as I let the mountain be my treadmill. Since I live at 2,400 ft. in elevation, it always seems to take me several hours to acclimate to anything over 4,500 ft. or so. This morning my body didn’t seem to mind as much and the feet of elevation seemed to fall behind me, just a little easier than they had on my previous scouting trip.

Besides the fiery, fall colors being in contrast to the deep greens of the month prior, the lack of fresh animal sign and dried up springs seemed to make something buzz, deep within my subconscious. I hoped that the one fresh pile of Elk doo that I found, as I started up the scant game trail that skirted a rock slide, was not made by the only animal on the mountain. It didn’t take very long to see my one and only animal of the trip…and to have my only shot opportunity flitter away like the heat waves that danced on the slabs of granite.  As I was picking my way through the Huckleberry brush, a violent movement and clattering occurred only a few yards in front of me, just below the false summit. I surged forward into an opening within the group of trees, hoping to get a glimpse of the animal that had made the ruckus. A fork-horn Mule Deer trotted into the open, forty or so yards in front of me. He stared in my direction for a moment; but before I could even get an arrow on the string, he slipped down into a rock slide and all I could see was his head, as he turned to stare me down.

Just moments prior to my only shot opportunity of the trip; I paused for a breather on my way up the mountain and took a few "selfies".

Just moments prior to my only shot opportunity of the trip; I paused for a breather on my way up the mountain and took a few “selfies”.

Apparently the science behind GORE’s Optifade Open Country is solid…because I watched him staring intently in my general direction; like he was desperately trying to find whatever the heck had jumped him out of his bed. I thought that I had the possibility of getting above him and that I might get another crack at him…but of course the buck had different plans. One thing about being in the high country that you learn in short order: you don’t do anything very quickly. So my attempt of moving up and along the rock slide, was anything but quick. By the time I had gained seventy more yards up the steep vert, the buck had stolen my plan and had already slipped at least that far further up then me. As I navigated a few boulders and looked up to take a bearing, my efforts were rewarded by the sight of the buck bolting directly away from me and down the mountain. If I knew then, what I knew later…I would have pursued the buck down the mountain for a second chance. Instead, I stubbornly continued upwards.

Once I arrived at a spot that I had glassed the herd of Elk the month before, I shed my pack, drank some water and dug out a chocolate Honey-Stinger waffle. Once my tanks were topped off; out came the glass and I had high hopes of spotting something stalkable. I glassed without success for about 45 minutes before I decided to press on. I had plans of gaining the very top of the C-shaped ridge and walking the top onto the adjoining ridge. Once again…I was thwarted. Unless I had rock climbing gear; I would have to circumvent the steep rock crags and try to find a traversable way over the top. I made my way diagonally across the steep mountain face, all the while continuing to gain elevation. The terrain reminded me of the high-mountain tundra that I experienced while in the Brooks Range last year and taxed my quads just the same.

After another mile and a half, I spotted a notch in the cliff face that turned out to be a well used saddle. Being the only way over the mountain top, it was a small wonder that a well beaten trail appeared and headed over the ridge. I found the tracks of Elk, Deer and the scat of Wolves among some patches of bare dirt, that marked the first flat spots that I had seen since I had left my truck. About there was where my legs, who had previously felt perfectly fine, with so signs of fatigue….suddenly displayed the tell-tale signs that they were about to cramp up. I wasn’t aware of how much that I had sweated; which was buckets. The 90 degree temps and thin air had taken quite a toll. I slowly made my way over to a nice, little rock bench and quickly unslung my pack. When I stooped to bring the hose of my hydration bladder closer to my mouth…my legs suddenly cramped and I had no choice but to hit the deck and try to relax. I laid there in agony for at least a minute before the reality set in, that this is where I’d probably be spending the night. Once the cramps subsided, I unrolled my sleeping pad in the shade of a boulder and dozed off and on for the next two hours.

A low wall of granite doubled as a gear closet, kitchen and fireplace.

A low wall of granite doubled as a gear closet, kitchen and fireplace.

On awakening; I promptly looked at my watch and saw that it was after 4:00…”yep, this is home for the night, I guess…”, I thought to myself. Just in case; I arose and tested out my legs to see if there was any way that I’d be able to press on to my intended destination. They felt a lot better; but I could tell that they wouldn’t take much abuse at all. I decided to go ahead and pitch my tent and then survey my surroundings. There was plenty of terrain to glass, along the connecting ridges and slopes below me. I spent some time behind the Vortex Viper HD (20-60×80) spotting scope, but didn’t turn up anything but lonely mountainsides. It was so hot and dry; I surmised that everything was spending the majority of the time lower down, in the timber.

Between my binos and spotting scope; I spent several hours with my eyes peeled as I tried to make the best of my situation. This wasn't the ridge system I had originally intended to hunt; but here was a lot of country in my momentary backyard.

Between my binos and spotting scope; I spent several hours with my eyes peeled as I tried to make the best of my situation. This wasn’t the ridge system I had originally intended to hunt; but there was a lot of country within my temporary backyard.

As the sun continued it’s Westward arc, I began to settle in and prepare for the night. I found plenty of dry firewood nearby and soon had built a decent stockpile and as well, had built a nice “fireplace” against a perfect bench of granite. I broke out the camera and shot quite a few photos as the sun went down. It was so quiet and peaceful up on top of the mountain; all that could be heard was the wind and the unceasing buzz of bees. Much to my delight and later on, my saving-grace; the slopes where thick with ripe Huckleberries, from mountain base to mountain top. I continued my hours-long feast of the delectable, purple berries; like some camo-clad Bear. Soon my hands were stained purple, as well as the knees of my Timberline pants. One from constantly shoving huckleberries into my mouth and the other from busting through the thick berry patches on my way up the mountain. Life was good!

From where I camped; I had a perfect view of where I should have been; up and over that next ridge and into the bowl below.

From where I camped; I had a perfect view of where I should have been; up and over that next ridge and into the bowl below.

It wasn’t long before I had a pleasant, little fire going and was enjoying a spectacular sunset from 8,000 ft. and just shy of a mountain summit. These are the moments that we yearn for and the kind of fuel that has moved adventurers to risk life and limb and forsake their possessions and family ties to experience. Aldo Leopold, in his ” Sand County Almanac”, penned such words as “Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”  Any language that I know, would not do this moment and this landscape justice. I was content to just soak it all in, like the best TV program that never aired. My eyes were glued to the scene that cascaded away from me and my ears ate up the silence that enveloped it all. No amount of money can buy this kind of contentment, just as no words can describe it…you just have to experience the high country for yourself.

Using the last bit of light to glass the clearings below

Soaking it all in

In situations like these, it really doesn’t take much more than a wind break and a fire to feel perfectly at home. Before I knew it, the sun had set and the stars started to make their appearances. I made dinner out of a protein shake and soon was settled into my sleeping bag and being soothed to sleep by the lonesome singing of the wind against my tent.

I sat by the fire for quite awhile; waiting for it to die down before heading off to bed. Every time I see the stars and constellations from a high vantage point I'm always taken aback by how close and clear they appear.

I sat by the fire for quite a while; waiting for it to die down before heading off to bed. Every time I see the stars and constellations from a high vantage point I’m always taken aback by how close and clear they appear.

Morning came very quickly and with a rude awakening. Once I got up and started moving around, I discovered that out of the almost two gallons of water that I had packed up the mountain…I only had 16 ozs. left. There was a small “puddle” of water in the bowl below me; some 400 feet down. This had me perplexed. The heat had taken it’s toll on me and I wasn’t sure how much my legs had recuperated. Do I make the drop down and get more water? Or do I continue up the ridge face, drop down into the bowl that had been my original destination and get water from the lake? It’s interesting how our resolve can easily falter when we are exhausted while dealing with extreme environments, as well as those little unknown factors and details regarding the situation. If we are to succeed in more than just surviving and carrying out the mission, some pre-visualization before hand, as well as some pre-made and definite plans are necessary. But where would the adventure be in that?!

The ridge across from my camp at sunset.

The ridge across from my camp at sunset.

Being as tapped as I already was, I kept pondering over what I would do if I actually managed to get an animal down. I was several miles in and several thousand feet in elevation gain and loss from the truck. With the heat being as intense as it was, a carcass would definitely not keep for very long…and who in their right mind would agree to come and help me with a pack out? I made up my mind that I would at least make it to the top of the next ridge, the ridge that stood between me and my original goal and see what it was like. I made a quick feast of all nearby Huckleberries, ate a half of Almond butter, bacon, honey sandwich and drank my last 16 ounces of water. Afterwards, I shouldered my pack and headed along the route that I had previously scouted.

I guess that I’m getting ahead of myself and should mention that just prior to making the decision to press on, I had climbed up the last few hundred vertical feet, to the summit of the mountain. This would give me a better view and aide in scouting a route through a nearby boulder field. All that I was packing was my bow…you know; just in case. There was a pretty sketchy line that I had chosen, that ran around a narrow crack in the granite. I had to do a twisting transition to a very narrow rock ledge and then make  two, large climbing steps up onto a higher ledge to gain the summit. Well, when I made the transition, I had to make a large, almost leaping lunge, over a 50 foot drop off, to gain the narrow ledge. When I lunged and twisted my body to reverse directions…two things happened; the first thing was that I neglected to shift my bow to the other hand, to leave my near hand free to grab ahold of the granite face…and the second thing was that somehow my belt knife was sticking horizontally away from my body and jammed into the granite, which bounced me backwards. All that I could do was toss my bow onto the ledge and fling my body back to where I had come from, while twisting my body in mid-air.

I landed on all fours on the correct side of the drop-off and dang-near passed out from the adrenalin rush. Expletives rushed out of my mouth as I sank into a heap. Getting mangled on top of some mountain and not making it back to my wife is never an option.  I always go to great lengths to keep the risk to a minimum…and in one brief instant, I almost royally screwed that up. After I regained my composure I rearranged the knife on my belt and then made the scramble without a mishap. A very close call.

Making my way down one ridge, across a boulder field and then another 1,000 ft up another ridge...well; almost!

Making my way down one ridge, across a boulder field and then another 1,000 ft climb up another ridge…well; almost!

I made it across the narrow boulder field and started the climb up the next ridge face and realized that it was quite a bit more of a climb that I had thought. I must have made it about a quarter of the way up when my legs started to tell on me a bit. That was it, plan B was in full effect. The mountain had made the decision for me and all that was left, was to execute to the best of my ability. Plan “B” involved dropping down a two hundred foot cliff face, into a bowl that eventually led back down the mountain and to my truck. This meant that I would be going home a day sooner, but if I managed to get something down along the way…the pack out was a whole lot more sane. Navigating the descent down the cliff was a little hair-raising, but nothing worth writing about. Soon I was standing at the bottom of a shallow boulder field and into the same alpine bowl that I had spotted an Elk herd feeding in, just the month prior.

The notch in the ridge was the vertical face that I used to drop down into the bowl below. Nothing too crazy...but a little hair raising during a few moments.

The notch in the ridge was the vertical face that I used to drop down into the bowl below. Nothing too crazy…but a little hair-raising during a few moments.

The terrain was on the higher side of difficult and with my urgent need to find water hanging over my head…it really made any actual hunting almost impossible. I had been gorging non-stop on Huckleberries all morning and it was the only thing keeping me going. Any time my thirst would reach a maddening level, I’d start shoving Huckleberries into my mouth. I truly believe that these little, beautifully-purple berries, saved my bacon. I haven’t bothered to look up their nutrient profile, but I know that they have to be chock full of vitamins and minerals…and most importantly, they were deliciously moist to my dry palate. And for the simple reason that I had no water,  besides eating one Honey Stinger Waffle,  I was afraid to eat any of the food that I had brought. When my stomach rumbled with hunger, more Huckleberries were shoved into the ol’ pie-hole.

After making the descent down the short cliff face and traversing half of the boulder field below; I took a moment to check out where I had just came from and to plot a course through the remainder of the boulder field.

After making the descent down the short cliff face and traversing half of the boulder field below; I took a moment to check out where I had just came from and to plot a course through the remainder of the boulder field.

I had been following a dry creek bed for about a quarter of a mile, a creek bed that had been rushing with cool and crystal clear water only thirty days prior. I finally stumbled upon a little seep that was almost hidden among the Huckleberry brush. I couldn’t unsnap the buckles from my pack quickly enough, to dig out my Platypus Kleen Stream filtration system. My parched throat would have screamed at me to hurry up, if it could have. Within a few seemingly endless minutes, after cleaning out some debris and enlarging the seep with a combination of my boot heel and a stick…I had thirty two ounces of the best tasting water I can ever recall drinking. I stood there and drank until the hydration bladder was dry. After I finished my main course of water, I made use of the surrounding Huckleberry bushes and had desert. I laughed at myself having made such a quick change of attitude and pondered over how something as simple as a drink of water could completely change a persons outlook on life. Things were really starting to look up and once again, my mind turned to hunting. There HAD to be a nice Mule Deer buck or Black Bear, taking refuge in the only green spot for miles.

The Alpine Ruck; loaded to the brim with my backcountry essentials and my Stalker Stickbows Wolverine FXT taking a breather. I had managed to hook the end of my tent's stuff sack on something and completely rip it off. A gallon Zip Loc baggie made for an impromptu fix.

The Alpine Ruck; loaded to the brim with my backcountry essentials and my Stalker Stickbows Wolverine FXT taking a breather. I had managed to hook the end of my tent’s stuff sack on something and completely tear it off. A gallon Zip Loc baggie made for an impromptu fix.

Since the dried up creek bed flowed along the path of least resistance, I continued to follow it along, just knowing that there had to be a good seep that would attract animals. About thirty minutes later, I was rewarded with a little bowl of green that housed the largest wet spot for miles. I found a spot in the shade of a Spruce tree that made for the perfect vantage point. The wind was right, so I sat down on a log and spent the next couple of hours glassing the nearby area. The wind was blowing in my face and I kept catching blasts of the pungent smell of Elk. I had previously smelled the lighter and less pungent aroma of Mule Deer. This led me to finally conclude that before I had even broke camp, these animals had already been through the bowl and had made for deep cover, before the sun’s rays could get too intense. I still had high hopes though and remained on alert and ready to slap an arrow to my bowstring. Before I headed out, I decided to take some time and gather some purple goodness for my loved ones back home.

This is where I had found a good vantage point, to overlook the small waterhole...hoping that something would come in for a drink. The time I spent in vigil at the waterhole, provided me with some much needed time in the shade.

This is where I had found a good vantage point, to overlook the small waterhole…hoping that something would come in for a drink. The time I spent in vigil at the waterhole, provided me with some much needed time in the shade.

One I had a sandwich bag full of Huckleberries, I pressed on. I still had quite a bit of gnarly terrain to cross before it got too dark…Lord knows that was one place that I did not want to be trying to crawl out of in the dark. About this time was when my willpower was really put to the test. I had to drop down into a boulder flow and up onto the shoulder of the mountain, that skirted the boulder field. At some point, while hopping from boulder to boulder, it dawned on me that I was having to stop more frequently to rest. I really had come to my bodies limitations and sapped all of my energy stores. From that point on, it was complete mental toughness and tenacity that kept me going. I found scrub Raspberry bushes growing among the boulders and resorted to eating what barely passed as Raspberries, to take my mind off of my exhaustion. The Raspberries weren’t near as satisfying as the Huckleberries that I had been eating, but they kept my mind busy and held some moisture in their small, stubby and deformed, red bodies.

I had snapped this photo about thirty days prior, while on a scouting trip to the area. This shows part of the boulder flow that I had to traverse to get up on the shoulder of the mountain, to get back down. I'm not sure if it was the easiest route that I could have taken...but it definitely was the shortest and more importantly; it was a route that I knew.

I had snapped this photo about thirty days prior, while on a scouting trip. This shows part of the boulder flow that I had to traverse to get up on the shoulder of the mountain, to get back down to the base and where my truck was parked. I’m not sure if it was the easiest route that I could have taken…but it definitely was the shortest and more importantly; it was a route that I knew.

Once I made it across the boulder flow and had climbed up onto the shoulder of the mountain…I almost could have cried, I was so happy! I still had a long ways to go, but it was all downhill and basically “level ground”, compared to what I had just traveled through. On the trek down the mountain face I hit that numb-level of exhaustion and almost plowed downwards, like some kind of camo-wrapped bulldozer. Apparently I had slipped out of hunting mode and back into survival mode, because I seemed to have no regard to patches of brush, logs, or boulders…I plowed over and though them all. I was really starting to think how much of a complete moron I truly was, I had passed up two opportunities to replenish my water stores, but passed because I didn’t want to haul the “extra weight”. Dumb…dumb…DUMB. That thirty two ounces that I had sucked down were long sweated out of my body and lodged somewhere between my Sitka Merino Zip-T and my pack’s suspension. Every time that I would bow my head, cups of sweat would pour out from behind my hat band.

Before I knew it, I was navigating the edges of the boulder flow again, almost to flat ground. I felt re-energized once my boots hit the flat ground of the old, Forest Service trail and that last quarter of mile to my truck seemed to disappear behind me like vapor. Upon catching sight of my truck, a wave of exhaustion crashed through my body. I’ve experienced this before, it’s almost like your brain’s reserve of adrenalin and will-power that it uses while in survival mode, automatically shut down once your sub-conscious confirms that the journey is over and any “danger” has passed. All I could think about was shedding my pack and jumping into the ice-cold, spring fed pool that was nearby. I soon was stripped down to my skivvies and I waded in, not even taking the time to remove my socks! I don’t think that I had ever experienced anything more re-vitalizing or more refreshing, than that blessed little pond.

After a time, I drug myself out of the pond and hobbled on stiff legs over to my truck and stretched out in the bed to dry out and take a nap. I couldn’t help but let a chuckle escape, when I compared this trip, to my last solo, bivy hunt that took place some three years prior. While the two trips were completely different in experience, two things stood out as one and the same. Both times I had misjudged some crucial piece of the puzzle and in both cases I ended up coming home a day early. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a solo bivyist….or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. Maybe it’s just as simple as ol’ Bearclaw Chris Lapp said; the mountain got it’s own ways…and there’s no way to cheat it. Either way… can you blame me for trying?

Looking back down the mountain from below where I had made camp. I have an affinity for the steep and deep; can you blame me?

Looking back down the mountain from below where I had made camp. I have an affinity for the steep and deep; can you blame me?

*About the Sitka Gear Alpine Ruck pack: to be perfectly honest…I was a little skeptical when I first pulled this pack from it’s packaging. I really have had no solid, prior experience with an “ultralight” pack before and didn’t really have high hopes. But once again, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of a new piece of gear on this “hunt”. The 2800 ci was adequate enough space to fit three days worth of gear. The design and lay out of the pockets are genius. In fact, for a three pound pack,  I couldn’t believe all of the pockets and features that it has. I won’t go too in depth at this time, but I will say that I enjoyed how it handled my sub-fifty pound load on this very challenging hunt.

I wanted to mention that besides testing out a new pack, I also was testing out one new piece of crucial gear. I used the Mountain Athlete Compression Sock, by First Lite for the very first time on this hunt. I always thought that compression socks were just hype and what Basketball-player types wore as a fashion statement. Well…I have been dead wrong! I absolutely could not believe what a difference in lower leg fatigue that something as simple as a pair of socks could make. I am completely sold on these new compression socks, they are legit.

The Alpine Ruck pack, overlooking one of my most favorite, North Idaho lakes, from 8,000 ft.

The Alpine Ruck pack, overlooking one of my most favorite, North Idaho lakes, from 8,000 ft.

This may look like jumbled yard sale; but what you are looking at are key pieces of crucial gear: My Lone Wolf built Glock 20 longslide and chest holster by Survival Sheath Solutions, Vortex Viper HD 10x42 binos, Kelvin Lite jacket by Sitka Gear (the little silver ball on the right), Platypus Kleen Stream gravity filtration system. Any of these pieces are well worth the space and eight in your pack.

This may look like jumbled yard sale, but what you are looking at are key pieces of crucial gear: My Lone Wolf built Glock 20 longslide and chest holster by Survival Sheath Solutions, Vortex Viper HD 10×42 binos, Kelvin Lite jacket by Sitka Gear (the little silver ball on the right), Platypus Kleen Stream gravity filtration system. Any of these pieces are well worth the space and eight in your pack.

Laying it all on the line

13 Sep
A moment of complete exhaustion, during the last physical trial of the Train To Hunt Challenge: Pack on burpees.

A moment of complete exhaustion, during the last physical trial of the Train To Hunt Challenge: Pack on burpees.

Every year I look forward to new adventures and new challenges; but I often find myself living inside my comfort zone. Nothing irks me more than living vicariously through other’s achievements or feeling inspired by what someone else has overcome; only to sit idly by…wistfully.

According to Newton’s first law of motion; it’s the natural tendency of objects to resist changes in their state of motion. And when overcoming the inertia of our routine seems too difficult, or impossible; what do we do? We have to mix it up, we have to push forward…and push hard.

I started off this year with my heart and mind committed that I would make this season better than the last and in doing so; I would need to mix it up and step outside of my comfort zone a bit. I needed a goal that deviated from the same old “scout more, shoot my more bow more, train more” gibberish that everyone mutters at the start of each year. To do this I had to think bigger and commit to something that would be difficult…and why not announce it to everyone, while also reaching out for sponsors, for some added  accountability?

As soon as I heard of this “premier adventure race for bowhunters” called the Train To Hunt Challenge, AKA the”Search For The Fittest Bowhunter In The West”…I immediatly made up my mind that I was in. It was announced late last year and with snow still covering the ground; I went into training mode full-bore. Since I had been hunting more and more with my Recurve and had every intention of starting the season with it in hand…I had to ask myself; why wouldn’t I compete with anything other than what I would be using in the mountains? This would put me at a disadvantage; as far as being competitive goes…but this was more of a competition with myself, more than anything else. The course had been set and no alterations would be made…at least that’s what I thought.

One of many training sessions. This was just after the snow melted; I trained rain or shine and as many days a week that my schedule would allow. This day it was pouring down rain. My wife had to snap a pic; thinking that I was crazy as she watched me shoot an arrow, sprint to the target and back and shoot again, all while it rained cats and dogs. You only get out of things what you put into it...and it was my intention to "go big".

One of many training sessions. This was just after the snow melted; I trained rain or shine and as many days a week that my schedule would allow. This day it was pouring down rain. My wife had to snap a pic; thinking that I was crazy as she watched me shoot an arrow, sprint to the target and back to shoot again, all while it rained cats and dogs. You only get out of things what you put into it…and it was my intention to “go big”.

With every workout; I felt my strength and endurance growing and with that, my confidence in my stickbow shooting grew as well. A moment dawned upon me; could I possibly do this? Could I possibly stand a chance of going beyond just competing…when the dust settled, could I actually be standing tall as the victor? At that point is when things went horribly off course.

One of the many logs that I had to clear by hand this day. By the time that I got to the log that would end up knocking the "eff" out me; I was pretty exhausted and obviously was not thinking clearly. Hopefully I learned my lesson and will always assume that any downed tree is under tension!

One of the many logs that I had to clear by hand this day. By the time that I got to the log that would end up knocking the “eff” out me; I was pretty exhausted and obviously was not thinking clearly. Hopefully I learned my lesson and will always assume that any downed tree is under tension!

The first setback came in the form of a concussion sustained from having an ax handle and my own fist being driven into my face. This happened while clearing a road into an area where my hunting partner had drawn a spring bear tag. I was very fortunate that I walked away with only a concussion, a broken tooth and a slightly mangled right hand. But this would set my training back an entire month and I was almost devastated.

Even though I couldn’t exercise much beyond a short, light walk during the time my brain was healing from my concussion; it was only a couple of weeks before my hand healed enough to allow me to shoot my bow again. I was ecstatic about this and began to shoot my bow daily from that point on.

A view from a rainy day in the spring bear stand. My nephew was to arrow a nice, 300# bear from a different location this afternoon. I had the pleasure of dragging his bear out for him. His expression when he first caught a glimpse of what he had shot; was well worth the effort...even if it was supposed to have been MY bear!

A view from a rainy day in the spring bear stand. My nephew was to arrow a nice, 300# bear from a different location this afternoon. I had the pleasure of dragging his bear out for him. His expression when he first caught a glimpse of what he had shot; was well worth the effort…even if it was supposed to have been MY bear!

Before long I was back into the swing of things and almost to the fitness level as I was before my accident…and then the second set back occurred. After spending a week with my wife on the island of Kauai; I returned and promptly tore my hamstring…only three weeks before the competition. It almost seemed that I just wasn’t supposed to reach my goals this year and that I just wasn’t supposed to be competing in any “bowhunter specific adventure race”. I wanted to scream out loud my frustration; but still was determined to be at the competition and do what I could. A week later found me in a treestand and waiting on a bear that never showed it’s self; but I had the privilege of packing out my Nephew’s first Black Bear instead. Somehow my hamstring kept it’s self together, as I lugged the 6′ 3″, 300 lb bear out of the woods. My nephew’s grin and enthusiasm matched the size of the bear that he had pin-wheeled…and that was more than enough for me.

I had so much anxious energy before the competition; I had a very hard time dealing with it. If I would have had to wait much longer for my heat...I might have blew a gasket!

I had so much anxious energy before the competition; I had a very hard time dealing with it. If I would have had to wait much longer for my heat…I might have blew a gasket!

The morning of the competition had my hamstring feeling a little tender and the butterflies in my stomach had me feeling very anxious. I gave it everything that I had and ended up finishing dead last in my division. Even though the competitive side in me wasn’t happy with my performance that day; deep down a warm feeling of satisfaction welled within me. Sometimes just being able to stay the course and finish; means more than the end result.

Crossing the finish line and completing a goal that pushed me past my comfort zone and made me reach deep within myself to complete.

Crossing the finish line and completing a goal that pushed me past my comfort zone and made me reach deep within myself to complete.

A quick note to thank some key people who provided some crucial help that enabled me to compete in this event.

I want to first thank Tim Endsley, of Bad Medicine Archery for his endless generosity. Without him, I truly would not have been able to even enter the competition!

I would like to thank the folks from Alaska Bowhunting Supply and Grizzly Stik arrows; for providing me with the absolute, hands-down, best arrow shafts that I’ve ever had the privilege to shoot. Grizzly Stiks “fly like darts and hit like a Mack truck!”

Also; I would like to thank South cox, of Stalker Stickbows for building the finest, custom recurve that I’ve ever laid hands to. My Wolverine FXT definitely delivers the goods!

Last but not least; a huge thanks to my best friend and hunting partner Darin, for running with me and documenting the event. I can’t wait to put all of his footage together!

Writing my competitor number on each of my arrows. A big thanks to Tim Endsley of Bad Medicine Archery for sponsoring me for this event!

Writing my competitor number on each of my arrows. A big thanks to Tim Endsley of Bad Medicine Archery for sponsoring me for this event!

My Grizzly Stik Momentum EFOC's, dressed up with some blingin' custom arrow wraps from Bad Medicine Archery.

My Grizzly Stik Momentum EFOC’s, dressed up with some blingin’ custom arrow wraps from Bad Medicine Archery.

This must have been pee #60 before I competed in my heat. I didn't have any caffeine that morning...so it must have been nerves.

This must have been pee #60 before I competed in my heat. I didn’t have any caffeine that morning…so it must have been nerves.

Warming up with some dips.

Warming up with some dips.

Event jersey

The first physical challenge: over your pack burpees.

The first physical challenge: over your pack burpees.

The one and only target that I missed during the comp; would basically put the nail in the coffin of my placing. If you missed a target; you had to do double of that physical challenge. This was the worst possible target that I could have missed; because Backpack Getups were the only physical challenge that I struggled with.

The one and only target that I missed during the comp; would basically put the nail in the coffin of my placing. If you missed a target; you had to do double of that physical challenge. This was the worst possible target that I could have missed; because Backpack Getups were the only physical challenge that I struggled with.

More backpack-getup agony

More backpack-getup agony

100 yard "shuttle run", with a 70# sandbag. One of the easier challenges.

100 yard “shuttle run”, with a 70# sandbag. One of the easier challenges.

Catching my breath and getting ready to thump a target.

Catching my breath and getting ready to thump a target.

Just after loosing the second to last arrow of the competition.

Just after loosing the second to last arrow of the competition.

Catching my breath during the last physical challenge: pack on burpees.

Catching my breath during the last physical challenge: pack on burpees.

Heading to the last target. I remember this target vividly; it was an Elk and I was pretty gassed. I remember letting the arrow fly...wondering if I had even picked a spot...and then being relieved to see that I had scored a neck hit.

Heading to the last target. I remember this target vividly; it was an Elk and I was pretty gassed. I remember letting the arrow fly…wondering if I had even picked a spot…and then being relieved to see that I had scored a neck hit.

Since I wanted to finish strong and not re-injure my hamstring ; I chose to walk at times. This was right before the last target.

Since I wanted to finish strong and not re-injure my hamstring ; I chose to walk at times. This was right before the last target.

Taking aim on the last target and then it was a 400+ Meter sprint to the finish.

Taking aim on the last target and then it was a 400+ Meter sprint to the finish.

This was immediately after I crossed the finish line. A lot of things were going through my head at this moment. One of which was being glad that my hamstring held up; but the competitor within me was grumbling over my finish time of 36:00.

This was immediately after I crossed the finish line. A lot of things were going through my head at this moment. One of which was being glad that my hamstring held up; but the competitor within me was grumbling over my finish time of 36:00.

Sweaty, dirty and thirsty.

Sweaty, dirty and thirsty.

Even though I didn't finish as competitively as I had originally hoped; I felt deeply satisfied to have finished what I had started.

Even though I didn’t finish as competitively as I had originally hoped; I felt deeply satisfied to have finished what I had started.

I'm very proud to be a member of the Bad Medicine Archery Pro Staff. Live your brand! #noregrets

I’m very proud to be a member of the Bad Medicine Archery Pro Staff. Live your brand! #noregrets

Not the placing I had hoped for! Since I was the very first person to compete with a Traditional bow; I was showed a certain amount of respect...even though I placed dead last. To me; it was just competing with the gear that I would be using when it really mattered. And of course I thought that besides the limitations of my injury; I could have at least made a better showing with my shooting. But I guess that never being satisfied is the only we can continue to improve ourselves.

Not the placing I had hoped for! Since I was the very first person to compete with a Traditional bow; I was showed a certain amount of respect…even though I placed dead last. To me; it was just competing with the gear that I would be using when it really mattered. And of course I thought that besides the limitations of my injury; I could have at least made a better showing with my shooting. But I guess that never being satisfied is the only way we can continue to improve ourselves.

Warming up before the 3D shoot; which was the second day of the competition.

Warming up before the 3D shoot; which was the second day of the competition.

I had the privilege of shooting with a few of the top placers in this competition. Not only were the outstanding athletes; but they were a great bunch of people as well. Thanks guys; I had a great time!

I had the privilege of shooting with a few of the top placers in this competition. Not only were they outstanding athletes; but they were a great bunch of people as well. Thanks guys; I had a great time!

Bearing down

If you look closely; you can see my orange fletching streaking towards the target.

If you look closely; you can see my orange fletching streaking towards the target.

Pick a spot

The Pecking Order

11 Jul
This has got to be the most bling-bling, deadly setup that I've ever shot: Wolverine FXT built by South Cox of Stalker Stickbows, GrizzlyStik Momentum EFOC's from Alaska Bowhunting Supply and the classy-sick and twisted custom arrow wraps by MR. Tim Endsley from Bad Medicine Archery. Now it's just shoot, shoot, train, shoot and train until September gets here!

This has got to be the most bling-bling, deadly setup that I’ve ever shot: Wolverine FXT built by South Cox of Stalker Stickbows, GrizzlyStik Momentum EFOC’s from Alaska Bowhunting Supply and the classy-sick and twisted custom arrow wraps by MR. Tim Endsley from Bad Medicine Archery. Now it’s just shoot, shoot, train, shoot and train until September gets here!

It’s just a prudent practice to establish a “pecking order” any time you get a new set of arrows. Regardless of how high-tech or high-speed a certain arrow shaft is; there will always be slight variances that will account for accuracy. Sometimes it’s just a matter of how they are fletched, how the inserts are installed, or a number of other variables that can dictate how consistent a particular shaft will fly. Well…leave it to me to always do things backwards or in the incorrect sequence…I’ve had these arrow shafts for at least two months, carried them in the spring Bear woods, have competed with them in the Train To Hunt Challenge… and I am now just getting around to doing this!
One of the better groupings of the night. The proof is in the pudding with these GrizzlyStik Momentum EFOC shafts! Every time that I was able to get a shot off with perfect focus and form...they flew right were they were supposed to!  I've been sold on Alaska Bowhunting Supply products for several years....but dangit if I've never seen this kind of performance! I just love these shafts and can't say enough good things about them.

One of the better groupings of the night. The proof is in the pudding with these GrizzlyStik Momentum EFOC shafts! Every time that I was able to get a shot off with perfect focus and form…they flew right were they were supposed to!
I’ve been sold on Alaska Bowhunting Supply products for several years….but dangit if I’ve never seen this kind of performance! I just love these shafts and can’t say enough good things about them.

Tonight I shot groups from 15 yards and focused as hard as possible on correct form and a proper release. I just wanted to give these bad boys every chance in the world to prove what they were capable of. If I thought that I had a bad release (which is easy to do while shooting with fingers and with Trad equipment), I just pulled that particular arrow and shot again. Every time I would hit my mark (or close to it), I would give that arrow shaft a dot with a marker and write the shaft’s assigned number next to the hole it made in the cardboard. If a shaft acquired four dots; it was “promoted” and pulled out of the rotation. The theory is that if a shaft earns four dots (hits the mark consistently four times), it earns it’s self a first string position in my quiver and is tipped with a broadhead. But the truth of the matter, is that basically every one of these shafts qualified.
Earning dots.

Earning dots.

My final verdict…was that gosh darn if every single one of these shafts didn’t fly true…as long as I did my part! I’m so excited to be shooting these Momentum EFOC’s this season; I’ve just never shot an arrow shaft quite like them.
So there you have it; figure out which particular arrow shaft works with your setup, assign a pecking order and keep punching targets until September rolls around. At that point if you’ve done your part; you can be rest assured that when Mr. Big (or Misses Backstraps  ) steps out in front of your arrow…you won’t be going home empty handed!
I wonder who these arrows belong to? Oh...yeah, that's right!

I wonder who these arrows belong to? Oh…yeah, that’s right!

Gear review: Uncompahgre Puffy by First Lite

3 Jun
My hunting partner, Darin modeling the new Uncompahgre Puffy, by First Lite. In this picture; you can get a very good idea of the well thought out details that went into the designing of this piece.

My hunting partner, Darin modeling the new Uncompahgre Puffy, by First Lite (in Dry Earth color. It also comes in ASAT and Realtree camo). In this picture; you get a good idea of the well thought out features built into this piece. If the “Devil’s in the details”, than you can tell that the Uncompahgre Puffy was designed by a hunter; because it contains details that only a hunter would think of.

Even though I am pretty biased about what brand of gear system that I use; I never balk at the chance to test out new gear. And if my company of choice does not produce a certain piece of gear to fit my needs…I am forced to look towards other companies. One such company that I have used in the past and wouldn’t hesitate to use any piece of their gear system…is First Lite.

I love to support local companies (local to me is anything made in either WA, OR, ID or MT) and with First Lite being based out of Idaho…well, that’s even better. Kenton Carruth, the founder of First Lite is a down to earth, all around great guy who I am in contact with, from time to time. So during a phone conversation earlier this spring, when he presented me with an opportunity to test out some soon to be released gear, I jumped at the chance.

First Lite is launching three new pieces of outerwear this year; one of them being a “puffy”. A puffy is an interesting piece of gear, as it seems to be an “in between” piece…it’s mainly used as insulation and is efficient at trapping ones body heat by literally filling it’s self with warm air. But at the same time a puffy is often used as an outer piece, when the wind picks up, or during a light rain spritzing, when a full-on outer shell is not warranted.

I received my test piece back in March, while we still had a bit of snow on the ground and some chilly temperatures here in North Idaho. I began wearing the Puffy while on a few light hikes and dog walking outings during sub-fifty degree temps. I tried to carefully note at what point that I began to feel over warm during activity at these lower, mid-range temperatures and gauge it’s breathability. I quickly found that if it was 40 degrees or lower; you can get away with a little bit of activity without over heating. It wasn’t until during an April Turkey hunt, that I remembered that a Puffy was in fact an insulation piece…and not really intended for any activity beyond a light walk. With that being said; once you do start to sweat, there is a good amount of vapor transmission that takes place and you are not left feeling “clammy” once you slow down and cool off.

First Lite made use of a very interesting material that’s branded as Cocona, in their three new offerings this year. Since I own a Marmot Zip-T that utilizes Cocona material; I was already a bit familiar with the stuff.

If you are into the whole “reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra; then Cocona should be right up your alley. Cocona: “trademarked name for a lightweight, breathable fiber derived from coconut-husk waste discarded by the food-service industry. b: Reduced to charcoal, combined with recycled polyester, and spun to maximize its surface area for warmth retention and moisture wicking. c: Said to resist odors better than traditional polyester fill.” All that I know is that the material seems to work very well at transferring moisture away from the skin and does a good job of retaining it’s warmth while wet. It would seem that Merino Wool and Cocona are a perfect match for each other in this aspect and a natural choice for a company like First Lite, who utilizes Merino Wool in virtually their entire lineup.

Both hand warmer pockets, located vertically on each side of the zipper are set a little higher than your average jacket. The pockets being set higher up like this; make it more convenient to access anything kept in these pockets while wearing a pack.

Both hand warmer pockets, located vertically on each side of the zipper are set a little higher than on your average jacket. The pockets being set higher up like this; make it more convenient to access anything kept in these pockets while wearing a pack. Notice the smaller zippered pocket located on upper, left chest (right side of the picture). This pocket features a double zipper; which enables you to basically pull the jacket inside out through this pocket, creating a stuff sack that zips closed. An important detail that makes this Puffy more packable and stowable.

The Puffy is treated with a DWR finish; which adds to the usefulness of this piece and might be the one detail that leads you to toss it into your pack over another insulation piece. I made use of a March rain/hailstorm (the temperature was in the mid forties) to test how well it performed at water repellency and was very pleased with the results. Here’s what I immediately jotted down, once I came back inside after the storm had passed:

“The first real chance that I had to test the water repellency of this garment was tonight, with a massive downpour that lasted around 30 min. The first ten minutes or so it was hailing very hard, hard enough that it really stung when it hit. The hail turned to a steady drizzle and at this point the Puffy was doing just fine. There was a decent stream coming off of a corner, of the roof of my house; which I couldn’t resist stepping underneath to accelerate the conditions of the testing. It was within three minutes or so of standing underneath the runoff (something like a pitcher of water being poured) that I started to feel seepage in the arm-pit areas of the jacket. I soon realized that his was somewhat unfair to the testing and really not akin to what you might actually undergo while being out and about; so I stepped away from the runoff.

It didn’t take much of just walking around and moving naturally, before I no longer noticed the moisture that had managed to seep into the underarm area (*the Cocona layer hard at work to move the moisture outwards, while retaining body heat). I continued to walk around naturally in the steady drizzle until the storm finally passed. At the 27 minute mark the Puffy was hanging in there pretty strong.”

So am I suggesting that the Puffy could potentially replace a piece of your rain gear? NO. What I am saying; is that with the high level of water repellency built into this jacket, it’s just one more gold star next to it’s name. In the event that you were using a soft-shell outer layer and got stuck out in a nasty storm; if you chose to use the Uncompahgre Puffy in your kit…you would have a lot less to worry about and could focus on the task at hand. This is something that I personally look for in my own gear; because staying comfortable in the elements, while being miles from your truck…will make or break your hunt. Not only will it keep you out in the field longer; but it could potentially save your life in an extreme situation.

Not the best picture in the world...but I had to dang near coerce my wife to step outside and snap this picture! You can clearly see the water buildup on my shoulders and running down the thighs of my pants...the rain and hail were coming down in buckets. For not really being an outer piece and definitely not even close to a raingear piece...I was very impressed with how the Puffy's DWR treatment held up. This would definitely add value and return for your investment in this piece.

Not the best picture in the world…but I had to dang near bribe and coerce my wife to step outside and snap this picture! You can clearly see the water buildup on my shoulders and running down the thighs of my pants…the rain and hail were coming down in buckets. For not really being an outer piece and definitely not even close to a raingear piece…I was very impressed with how the Puffy’s DWR treatment held up. This would definitely add value and return for your investment in this piece.

Being mainly a bowhunter; I really pay attention to how a garment is cut, especially in the sleeves and chest area. First Lite describes the Puffy as having a “shooter’s cut” and this is very apparent while shooting my bow: I had no string-clearance issues whatsoever (even while wearing the hood). I would also say that it definitely has more of an overall athletic cut as well; which would keep with the mountaineering cues that most modern hunting apparel companies have been pulling from. The built-in stretch panels and overall articulation lends to a full-range of motion; which again is very conducive while drawing a bow or when shouldering a rifle, for that matter. *For reference purposes; the sample I tested was a size Large. I’m 5’6″ and 240#, while Darin is 6′ and 225#…as you can see from the pictures; it fit us both like a glove.

How would the Uncompahgre Puffy compare to other insulation pieces from other companies? I tried to quantify this in a closed-group gear testing forum that I am a part of and it really created a stir! The reason being…I don’t think that any existing “hunting gear” company has a piece that is in quite the same category. It’s almost in a category of it’s own, really. The pieces that came to mind while I was trying to make comparisons, were: the Super Down by KUIU (10 ounces. 850+ Toray Quixdown. DWR), the Spindrift jacket by KUIU (13.5 ounces. Primaloft. DWR) the Kelvin Down Hoody by Sitka Gear (27.2 ounces. 800 fill down), the Kelvin Jacket by Sitka Gear (28 ounces. Primaloft One), the Kelvin Lite jacket by Sitka Gear (13.6 ounces. Primaloft Sport), or maybe The Kratos jacket by Kryptek (19.5 ounces. Primaloft). But as you can see; with the Uncompahgre Puffy weighing in at 19.1 ounces (size Large), and having a DWR treatment like some of the before mentioned insulation pieces and costing around $225 ($200 for “Dry Earth” version)…it still seems “apples to oranges” when laying out all of the specifics. I’ll let someone else quantify and draw the comparisons on this one.

So, do I think that the Uncompahgre Puffy by First Lite is a solid piece of gear and a good value? I’d have to say “yes” on both counts. This is definitely a piece that I wouldn’t hesitate to toss in my pack and rely on to protect me from the elements. While not trying to outright destroy it during testing; I used it just like I do any of my gear throughout the course of my mountain sojourns and it seemed to hold up just fine. First Lite is awesome to deal with as a company and has a good warranty program if you ever did have any issues or breakdown during use. With the price being in the $200 range; that puts it right in the middle of any other insulating jacket that you might consider. With my budget; $200 is very much an investment and I have to weigh things out and re-hash before committing to a purchase; but I think that this piece holds a lot of value in it’s construction and details. I give it two thumbs up.

A backside view of the Puffy illustrates the use of more hardy materials in high wear areas; i.e. the Merino Wool panel across the upper back. You can also appreciate the athletic cut; which lends to easy layering when using an outer layer. It also cuts out useless bulk, which keeps the weight down.

A backside view of the Puffy illustrates the use of more hardy materials in high wear areas; i.e. the Merino Wool panel across the upper back and lower arms. You can also appreciate the athletic cut; which lends to easy layering when using an outer layer. It also cuts out useless bulk, which helps to keep the weight down.

Side view details

The "Shooter's Cut" sleeves with their minmallistic, low bulk make shooting a bow less troublesome. The thin and stretchy cuff make it easy to slip a glove over and keep a good seal to keep cold air out.

The “Shooter’s Cut” sleeves with their minimalistic, low bulk make shooting a bow troublefree. The thin and stretchy cuff make it easy to slip a glove over and keep a good seal to keep cold air out.

A very useful feature: the upper chest pocket converts into it's own stuff sack. The Uncompahgre Puffy compresses into it's own stuff sack that's roughly the size of a small football.

A very useful feature: the upper chest pocket converts into it’s own stuff sack. The Uncompahgre Puffy compresses into it’s own stuff sack that’s roughly the size of a small football.

Fittest Bowhunter In The West Challenge

23 Mar

Kryptek-Train To Hunt Challenge

I don’t know what it is about a “challenge”…but it’s really hard for me to stifle the urge to charge into battle whenever one presents it’s self. I guess it’s the same thing that drives me to push harder, just so I can see over the next ridge…even if it has nothing to do with my current game plan or if it completely distracts me from the task at hand. Maybe it comes from being “the fat kid” most of my life…the constant urge to prove myself…even if it’s only proving something to myself; I seem to gravitate towards things that I know I might fail at. But at the risk of being cliché; what doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger.

I’ve been intrigued by the new “Adventure Race” craze that seems to be gaining popularity. I won’t lie and say that visions of Spartan Race glory or Tough Mudder bragging rights haven’t danced inside my head on occasion…because they have. But when I first started seeing online fliers and mentionings of the “Fittest Bowhunter In The West” challenge…well my ears perked up like a Jacket Russell locked onto a Rabbit! So far there are five events being held in five different cities across the West and I have committed to attending at least one of them.

It’s a two-day event that’s comprised of the race on day one and a 40-target 3D shoot on day two. The “race” portion of the event is pure genius and something the discipline of bow hunting has been needing. Regardless if you are a hard-charging type or just a passionate bowhunter looking to challenge himself (or herself) pre-season; this is just what the doctor ordered! But make no mistake; day one is no “run of the mill” 3D shoot or just a “race”…it will definitely take a little bit of prior preparation  if you plan to make a decent showing of yourself (think: running + physical challenges/obstacles + shooting your bow)…and the $100 entry fee marks the event as anything but casual.

Event map

The main sponsor is the Krptek Outdoor Group http://www.kryptek.com/ and the prizes are TBA…but I’m thinking that there are some huge winnings at stake! But regardless of the prize or where you might place; it’s all about the challenge and pushing yourself harder, stepping outside of your comfort zone and striving to be more prepared come hunting season. And it sounds like a great time will be had in the process.

So if you happen to be competing alongside of me at one of the events and see me slowing down or missing targets…just holler that there is food at the finish line, or that for every 10-ring scored, they’re handing out doughnuts. Thanks in advance and I’ll make sure to return the favor in some fashion.

Check out the event and course details here: http://traintohunt.com/challenges/#.UU0uhdzn_cs

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