After using the feathered Friends Swallow UL 20 for over 2 months this fall, I have really come to love it’s ...Read More
These 9 items fall into that category for me that get put off and often forgot about. You could purchase this entire list for $70, and yet it could have more impact on your hunts this fall than almost any other gear if the situation arises. I have found all of these items incredibly useful in the past, and I hope that you find this list helpful as we head into the fall hunting seasons.Read More
Last week, I went on a spur of the moment trip with a good friend. Monday night we decided to take a trip to Idaho to do some bear hunting before the season closed at the end of June. Tuesday morning rolled around and we started making our way east. We had no real plans to speak, or any specific areas in mind, but after some debate and a couple phone calls we hired a pilot and got dropped off in some of Idaho's most remote wilderness via airplane.We spent 5 days backpacking, hunting, picking mushrooms, and enjoying a wilderness that is of a scale so large its hard to wrap your mind around at times. The bear hunting was slow, in fact we only saw one bear which Joe was able to take. Below are some photos from one of the most unique trips I've experienced to date.
Over the last few years, it has seemed like floorless shelters have been the hot new thing. However, my absolute favorite of floorless shelters is nothing new at all. The tarp has been around for a very long time, and for good reason. Very few things can compete with a tarp on an all around scale that involves, weight, livable space, and versatility. So, I thought I would sit down for a moment and write some of my thoughts as to why the tarp is my ultimate 3 season shelter for backpacking and hunting.WEIGHT VS. SPACEA tarp packs an incredible punch when it comes to this first category. I mainly use two tarps currently, one being a Kifaru Sheep Tarp (roughly 9'x5') and a Hilleberg Tarp 10 (roughly 10'x12'). The Kifaru is under 1lb, and the Hilleberg is well under 1.5lbs after I switched guylines from what it originally came with. Its nearly impossible to find a good tent that weighs less than 2lbs, and when you do, the amount of space is miniscule compared to what either of these tarps can provide. I often pitch either of these tarps 5 or 6 feet off the ground so that I can walk in and out of my shelter, which is a luxury that's impossible with just about any backpacking tent. A 10x12 tarp, at less that 1.5lbs, is more than a comfortable amount of space for two people plus gear.VERSATILITYAnother major advantage that I find to tarps, is that they can be pitched in about as many ways as you can imagine. This is especially helpful in hunting situations where you find yourself far from anything resembling a suitable campsite many times. A tarp can be pitched over a deer bed for example giving enough extra space for gear, and just enough of a flat spot for one person to sleep in. A tarp also serves a good sun shade in the middle of the day, or a quick pop up shelter to hunker under in a thunderstorm.It seems that even though I use a basic a-frame pitch most of the time, I never pitch a tarp the same any two days on a trip. Being creative to make use of a combination of trees, rocks, stakes, and whatever else you find is the real freedom that a tarp comes with. Almost any situation that I seem to find myself in, I can come up with a way to set up shelter for good or bad weather.SIMPLICITYNot much could be more basic than a flat piece of fabric for a shelter, and the fact that there are no poles to break, no zippers to fail, and no space requirements to deal with really lets me adapt to wherever I find myself at the end of the day. A simple shelter makes for fast setup and takedown, and just one less thing to worry about while backpacking.MY TARP SETUPThese are a couple things that I have found useful while tarp camping over the years and they have helped me become more efficient at doing so.The first thing I will mention is having good guyline. The best that I have been able to find is 1.2mm Dyneema from ZPacks.com that is called zline. It has virtually no stretch to it, it will hold several hundred lbs, and it weighs .55oz for 50'. Its incredible cordage, and I would say that its the best utility cord/rope that I could imagine finding. For example on my Hilleberg tarp, I over half a pound by switching the guyline, and I think this guyline performs better than what was on it originally to boot.My next tip would be in how you tie on your guyline. Learn how to tie a friction hitch, and tie one to attach the tarp on every guyline. Having the friction hitch on the top end of the guyline will allow you to adjust tension without having to re-tie or adjust you stakes or tie-down points. This makes things much faster and simpler in the field, and can save several minutes every time you set up your tarp. These knots will take the job of a line runner or tensioner, but without adding a piece of plastic to the guyline to get tangled in your stuff sack, or just add weight to your overall setup.Finally, I try to carry a few good, strong tent stakes and couple extra 10' sections of cord. The tent stakes are obvious as to usage, but I will say that I prefer a good strong DAC aluminum v-peg. For me, these have been the strongest and I rarely end one even when kicking them into the ground. Several companies sell them, but I am still using a set that came with a Hilleberg tent because I really love the yellow color which seems to really help me keep from losing them. The extra guyline I also keep in the bag that stores my tent stakes, and I use it anytime I want to add some length to a ridgeline, or maybe reinforce the stability of a pole holding up an end of the tarp. Having a couple pieces already cut to 10' or so and with your stakes makes life a lot easier when you find that you need to reach a little farther to tie off.
The ever popular "Bino Harness" seems to have taken the industry by storm over the last couple years, and at this point it seems that everybody is making one. So, with as popular as it is, I thought I would share what I like, and what I carry in it.With so many options, this is obviously a thing of personal preference, and for me, the FHF gear harness has worked out about perfectly. It has just enough space to carry exactly what I want on it, but while still maintaining a low profile on my body. It also needs cleaned in a bad sort of way by now...So for starters, my binoculars obviously go inside the main compartment of the pack. I carry a pair of razor 10x42s with an outdoorsman's stud mounted to them to adapt to my tripod. I have played around with keeping the outdoorsman's adapter post in my bino pack, but honestly I haven't found the need to. Anytime I am using a tripod then I need to be packing my tripod around which involves my backpack. Simply put, I like keeping the post in the hip pocket of my pack where I can get to it easily any time I break out the tripod. A knock against the FHF harness I sometimes hear is that it doesn't have full closure to protect your glass from dirt. I leave the lens covers on my binos all the time so that negates that issue and keeps the eyepiece end free of dirt and dust.Next off I'll mention game calls. You wont see any in the photos basically because it's not elk season right now. One of the things that originally appealed to me about the FHF harness though was the two slotted pockets on the lid for diaphragms. I like these so much that I would wear this harness for calling even if I never needed my binos. They're always at my fingertips, and it allows them to still dry out after I take them out of my mouth. I also always keep an open reed cow call in the mesh side pocket on my ride side, which I tether off with a short piece of cord. I like it on my right so that I can drop it and let it hang if I need to draw my bow in a hurry, and I don't have to worry about it ever coming in contact with my bowstring on that side of my body.In the long vertical pocket in the front I keep my pocket knife which is currently a benchmade bug out. Its a great EDC blade made from S30v, and this is a place where I can always get to it quickly for any time I need it around camp at night or throughout the day.In the left side pocket I keep my flashlight/ headlamp. This one is a zebralight H32 and it runs off of a cr123 battery. I like the cr123 for a couple reasons. Mostly, a single cr123 contains more power than 2 AA batteries, yet it weighs less than one. It also is a more compact battery which allows for a small light. This lamp fits into a great head strap that makes it a phenomenal headlamp. I keep the head strap in my pack for when I want it, but I carry the light on my chest in case I need it in a pinch if it gets dark on a stalk and I have to find my way back to my pack. This lamp puts out up to 480 lumens, yet I can still get 11 hours out of it on medium output which is what I typically hike with, or up to 8 days on the brighter of the two low settings which I use in camp.Next, in the zippered front pocket I keep a spare cr123 battery, and a mini bic lighter. These are pretty self explanatory. I have other means of starting a fire in my pack, but I like having a lighter on me at all times just in case, and this one in my harness is the one I use on a daily basis to light a stove, start a fire, ect.In the flat pocket on the back of the harness I keep my license and tags, a tyto 1.1, and some replacement blades for the tyto. I'm a big fan of scalpel blades for breaking down game, and I've never had an issue with breaking them. They're razor sharp and I can carry the handle and 5 blades for well under 2 ounces (yes I know there are no blades in the container in the picture.) The tyto and blades are flat enough that I can't tell a difference in the feel of the harness against my chest whether they're in it or not. I also like the plastic blade case from havalon so that I have somewhere to put the dull blades, as well as somewhere to put a blade that is still sharp when I am done using the knife.Carrying this stuff on my chest allows me quick access to the things I use frequently, and it's also just enough to get me by and get me back to my pack after a stalk, even if that is in the dark. I will most likely add a rangefinder pouch back onto the right side of the harness for bow season this year, but lately while I had been rifle hunting for bears I preferred to keep it in the hipbelt of my pack since its a little less critical to have at my fingers.I fully subscribe to the theory of having your gear organized and in the same place 100% of the time so that when things happen quickly, you're organized, prepared, and don't need to make any more movement in close than is necessary.
In June of 2017 I got word that I had finally drawn an Oregon antelope tag on my 13th year of applying. Anyone who has spent much time around Oregon's tag draw system knows that antelope tags are not abundant by any stretch of the imagination. Originally I had expected to draw a tag in 2017, but after a rough winter during late 2016 and early 2017, the tag quota for several units was cut in half. Luckily I was still able to pull a tag for the Owyhee canyon lands and desert.Rifle antelope hunts in SE Oregon aren't overly difficult, and the success rates are very high on average. So, in other words, this hunt isn't a harrowing story of perseverance or endurance, but rather a good time hunting with a friend for a couple days in some of the historic country of Southeastern Oregon.A couple days before the opener, myself and Remington Clark loaded up some gear and headed out for what would be about a 10 hour drive from one corner of the state to the other. The 400 mile drive put us into my unit at about 2 am, when we rolled out a couple of bivy sacks and sleeping bags and called it a night. The next morning the sun rose to reveal the vast expanse of prairie and sagebrush for miles and miles. I had never hunted in anything close to this type of terrain, and for me, the distances were incredibly deceiving. Things that looked two miles away would often take us 5-6 miles of walking to reach and much more time than we would anticipate.[wpvideo YBM53pte ]Friday was our first day on the ground, and we spent it driving, hiking and glassing to get a general feel for the area before the season opened on Saturday morning. We found a few antelope, but no bucks really to speak of. The real surprise however was the sheer number of coyotes that were in this country. To see 20 a day in the Owyhee seemed like nothing special, and more of the norm for a day of driving and glassing.Friday night we set up an actual camp on top of one of the higher hills we could find, which gave us a good vantage of a 6x8mile chunk of flat plateau below us. When Saturday morning came, we woke up and within about 30 minutes we spotted a buck from camp. He was by himself, and he fed up through a chute in some rimrock and onto the flat above it about 5 miles in front of us.We drove about 3 miles closer to him, and then hiked for the remaining 2 miles to close the distance. When we got where we had last seen the buck, I was able to still hunt and spot the buck bedded in some sage brush. I belly crawled in to 110 yards, and then proceeded to shoot over his back and watch him run off.[wpvideo byhPS20t ]The rest of the afternoon we drove, hiked and shot a coyotes. Still I didn't feel like we were seeing the numbers of antelope that we should have been seeing, so we decided to take a drive and move about 20 miles east in the unit. This turned out to be a good decision as we immediately started seeing a lot more game.Around 4 pm we got out of the truck again to take a little hike to a high point to glass some taller sage brush country that was much more featured with topography. Immediately we spotted a buck with about 25 does 1800 yards in front of us. The stalk pursued as we weaved our way through draws and dry creek beds to a point where we get in front of the herd. After about 45 minutes, we were in position as the antelope fed by us from left to right at a couple hundred yards. I was able to wait a couple minutes until the buck cleared the surrounding animals and gave me a good, broadside shot.Remington went and got my pack which was about a mile and a half behind us back in the truck while I quartered the antelope and prepared the cape. I loaded it in my pack and within 2 hours of the shot, we had the meat submerged in ice. I bring this up as a point because I have heard negative things about the taste of antelope meat, but from my one experience it may be the best game meat I have ever had in my freezer.
To start off, I'm going to stay away from the word ultralight. I've spent enough time around and with the backpacking crowd to know that ultralight base weights would be under 10lbs. While for hunting this list is pretty lightweight, its not as light as it could possibly be, but rather its as lightweight as I need it while still being functional and durable for my use.Secondly, this is just for informational purposes. I'm not trying to convince anyone to go out and buy stuff on this list. I honestly don't care what gear someone uses, but for those who always have questions as to how I hunt with a certain weight of pack, maybe this will answer some of that.I have set up my gear over the past 10-15 years so that I am more easily able to hunt with everything I need on my back for the full duration of the day. I find that for me, this gives me more freedom to hunt effectively, and to use the entire time of the day more wisely as I don't have a need to return to base camp for lunch, or to sleep at night. My goal for this has always been sub 30lbs with a week of food, and with a spotting scope and tripod. Also, I own a lot of other gear than what is on this list, and it gets substituted in when appropriate based on temperatures and weather forecast. I wrote this list up as what I tend to use most often in the shoulder seasons of Spring and early Fall.When temperatures drop significantly, or when the weather turns bad things like a bigger shelter or raingear are something I often add in my pack. Game calls would be another thing that comes along when appropriate. However, this list should give a general idea of what type of gear I have found useful over time. I have paid for all of this myself as of now, although I did get a few things at a discounted prices through friends or contacts that I know. That being said, I'm not taking a check to support any of the companies listed, and I want to make that known upfront.Over time, I have researched every single item on this list from the smallest of things to the biggest, and have usually tried 3-10 of one item in the field before I have found the one most suited to my use. This list wasn't thrown together. Rather it was researched for thousands of hours and field tested for hundreds of days.If anyone has questions about a product and my experience with it, or as to why I chose it over something else, please don't hesitate to comment below or email me.
For several years now, and maybe even long enough that I don't remember a different way of thinking, hunting bears in the spring has been one of my favorite times of the year. Something about the snowmelt, the green-up, the sunshine, and the rain make April and May one of my favorites times of the year outside.2018 started off fast for me in terms of bear sightings. My very first day out was on Wednesday of the opening week, and within 30 minutes I spotted a great bear in a spot that I just had no way to get at during that day. Another hour later I bumped into a small blonde bear at about 40 yards. This all happened within a couple hours in a unit that I had never hunted before, so I was feeling pretty good about things. I hunted the next evening as well and spotted another couple bears of average size, and at long distance.[wpvideo uPxnhw3a ]By Friday afternoon I decided I was going to hike into the spot where I had seen the bigger bear from on my first day afield. I loaded up my pack and made my way 9 miles over roads that were covered in 2-3' of snow so that I could spend the night on the edge of a melted off south facing slope. The hike in was fairly straight forward. A decent amount of the snow pack was frozen making life a lot easier, and after a few hours I reached my intended spot. Within a few hours that evening I turned up 5 bears, and had a couple walk by within 100 yards of me, but I just couldn't seem to relocate the big boar.[wpvideo d0HUWaz1 ]After finding a spring on the sideslope, and locating a bench in the timber that was semi-flat, or at least flatter than everything around it, I rolled out my sleeping bag and tarp and called it a night. The next morning was fairly slow, and I then proceeded to hike back to the truck as I had some work I needed to do on Sunday. Unfortunately during my short 24 hour trip, the snow pack had softened significantly though, and I spent the majority of the 9 miles back sinking in snow to between my knees and my waist. The hike was painstaking, but eventually I made it with soaked feet, sun blinded eyes, and tired legs.After my long snow walk, I decided I would wait a week or so to open up some more country before really hitting things hard again. By this point the big bear had moved off the open slope and up into pocket meadows buried in thick timber. I had found some sign of this on my overnighter but I just wasn't able to bump into the bear in person.Fast forward a week and I again spent a few days hiking and glassing. I would spend any evening I could working finger ridges up and down to glass effectively what was beside and below me, and then returning to the main ridge to repeat the process. I saw bears every night, but most all of them were young bears, with the occasional average 200lb type bear. I repeated this for a few evenings over the next week, and kept buying my time. I really had no rush as the bear season in Oregon is 6 weeks, and I had only used about half of it thus far.That brings us to Friday, May 11. I drove as far as I could until I hit the snowline once again, and then I put my pack on and headed out with enough gear for two nights. I kept my pack light, at around 18-20 lbs so that I could move freely for the next couple days and not worry about being bogged down. I hiked over a mile or so of snow, and then the road continued downhill and eventually cleared up which made walking easy. After about 4 miles, I finally peeled off on a ridgeline and headed cross country for another 1.5-2 miles to reach a spot I had found on a map. To me it looked like the perfect vantage to pick apart the surrounding canyon which had the feeling of an amphitheater.I reached my intended spot at around 2:00 in the afternoon, and I sat down to glass and eat a snack. After grabbing some food I popped up my tripod and binoculars and started to settle in for the next 6 or 7 hours before dark. Within 10 minutes I spotted my first bear of the day.I watched closely as I ate. The bear was slow and methodical as he walked, which is something I look for in determining the age of a bear. An old bear has a very different demeanor than a young bear. I decided I though this bear was old. Another 15 minutes went by and he came all the way out of the brush into the open and I could see it was clearly a boar. His front legs were thick, and his chest was large. For the remainder of the next hour I watched this bear feed across 3 draws and into a tightly tucked draw where he fed for about 30 minutes before moving into the brush and out of sight.This is happening about a mile in front of me, and across a canyon between myself and the bear that spans a elevation loss of about 2500 feet. I was debating on whether this bear would stay still or not for a play, and then he made up my mind for me. After being in the brush for 30 minutes, I saw him briefly come back out of the tree line and then go right back in. It seemed now was as good of a time as ever to try to make my first play of the season, on my 10th day of hunting.With the wind direction I decided I would have to go around the top of the canyon even though the distance was much longer. It turned the approach into roughly a 3 mile move for me. I quickly packed up my things and went on my way. An hour of hiking at a good pace put me above the bear, and to the south of him on a north facing slope that was adjacent to where I had last seen him feeding.I spent the next hour slowly working and still hunting my way down, keeping watch of both the area below me where the bear could be bedded up in the timber, and the area across from me where he had been feeding. A large majority of the time, the south facing slope was obscured from view as I couldn't see out of the thick conifers I was picking my way through. (As a side note, I know a lot of people hate to still hunt like this, but I find it very effective and enjoyable once I've spotted an animal in the immediate area.) At about the one hour mark, I picked up a movement of the bears head as he was feeding through a brushy patch of alder.I sat down and pulled out my rangefinder and read the distance. It came back with 140 yards, and a downhill angle of 39 degrees. Did I mention this country is steep? 39 degrees was an angle across the draw and at least 100 yards or more up from the creek bottom. The slope I was standing on was approaching 50 degrees, with several cliffs ranging from 5-30 feet in height. I took my pack off, placed it between my feet, and rested my rifle on the top of the pack frame. It took him a good 5-10 minutes before I could see a small window in the alders to shoot through, but eventually the shot presented as a quartering to angle. The bullet entered between his neck and shoulder and never exited. Within 5-10 seconds the bear had expired, and I could see where he now laid.After about 30 minutes of navigating cliffs, and improvising a small rappelling system with some vine maple to get down the last cliff I made my way over to the downed bear. I spent a good portion of the remaining daylight skinning the hide, and boning the meat, and then proceeded to pack one load up hill to the road I had walked in on. By the time I got to the top and set up camp it was dark. I ate a meal, pitched my tarp and went to bed.The next morning I was back up at 5:30 when I returned to grab the rest of the bear and move that load to the top of the canyon as well. I packed up my camp once I got the second load out, and stashed the bear in the snow with the plans of driving 3 hours around to get my truck to the other side of the 1 mile snowdrift I could not drive across. Luckily for me, I got some help from two guys in a Jeep that is much more snow capable than my dodge 2500, and they were able to move me and my bear the rest of the distance back to my pickup, for which I gladly gave a set of 6 point elk antlers I had found a couple weeks before.