A gamble on a non-resident tag leads to a breakthrough for a patient stick-bow hunter.

I was blessed to grow up the son of a hunter in northern California. From a young age, I hunted blacktail deer in the steep, brushy, and heavily timbered forests that blacktail call home. I started archery hunting at 13 and eventually found some success with my compound. By 2017, I was ready for a new challenge. Fred Bear, Larry D Jones, South Cox, and my grandfather were my hunting idols, and they all shot stick bows; I was ready to make the switch. I bought an inexpensive recurve in January of that year and started shooting. I even took some lessons. I quickly discovered that despite shooting a compound for over 15 years, I had a lot to learn.

I relished the new challenge and was excited to shoot every day, something that had long since faded with the compound. I committed to only hunting with the recurve that season, and to practicing every day. To up the ante, I ordered a custom bow from South Cox at Stalker Stick-Bows; the money on the line kept me motivated to become lethal with the stick. I shot tens of thousands of arrows prior to the ‘17 hunting season, and when my first opportunity presented itself, it paid off. One arrow from the recurve zipped through my biggest blacktail to date. 

Pushing Boundaries

Much of my early hunting was based out of a big deer camp. A travel trailer, meat pole, and a full ice chest was home base. We utilized stands, drives, and even the occasional road hunt to find bucks. As I grew older I found myself wanting to push further from roads, and eventually started backpack hunting. Of course, there was a learning curve; blisters, a pack overloaded with things I didn’t need, and plenty of bow hikes were endured before I punched any tags in the backcountry. Despite many failed attempts and lessons learned the hard way, I found that I enjoyed these experiences so much more, and when I finally found success, the culmination of hard work with a buck on my back was incredibly rewarding. 

I hold blacktail deer in high regard, but I’ve always been infatuated with mule deer. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to hunt velvet mule deer in their high country summer range. Hunting mule deer above treeline is the spot-and-stalk hunter’s dream, and the thought that muleys often bed somewhere other than the thickest cover around (as Blacktail often do) has always seemed inviting. In early 2019, I set a plan in motion to head to Colorado to do just that. 

The prospect of finding an out-of-state unit to hunt can be extremely daunting, especially without the opportunity for boots-on-the-ground scouting. Throw in the cost of travel and a non-resident license, and the pressure is on to choose the right spot to get a return on your investment. I decided to use as many resources as possible to find the right spot for my first high country archery muley hunt, knowing that despite my effort, nothing was guaranteed. I pored over maps, called biologists and wildlife officers, and studied records of everything from herd dynamics to rainfall. I finally landed on a unit and sent in my application. When the draw results were posted and I drew the tag, I was both excited and nervous.

Lay of the Land

I devised plans A-E and continued to study maps and digital imagery daily. I wasn’t able to scout the area in person, but by the time I loaded the truck to head to Colorado, I felt like I knew the area pretty well. Originally, I planned for this to be a solo hunt, but when my good friend Jonny offered to tag along to help, I welcomed the idea of having company (and someone to help pack meat). In the meantime, I had work to do. I knew this hunt would be physically demanding, and my cardio needed work.

I upped my shooting regimen. I spent a lot of time shooting off of my roof, much to the dismay of my wife and neighbors, in order to simulate the steep angles I anticipated above the treeline. I tested and tinkered with broadhead and arrow setups, prepared my gear, and loaded and unloaded my pack incessantly. Finally, the day had arrived and it was time to go. Still nervous but mostly excited, we loaded the truck and started the long drive to Colorado.

We arrived at the plan A trailhead late Thursday night after driving straight through, and quickly made camp and got to sleep. I live approximately 600 feet above sea level and expected to climb to as high as 13000 feet on this trip. I knew the altitude would take some getting used to, so it was crucial to take some time to acclimate. I hoped that spending the first night at 10500’ at the trailhead would help, and maybe it did, but not enough.

We woke early Friday morning and started our ascent into the high country. Plan A was to camp in a high saddle that provided views of two basins. We had seven miles and 2500 vertical feet to go. I felt good on the way in and made camp with ample time to start glassing. We met a few other hunters on our way in but seemed to have plan A to ourselves. I spotted a few smaller bucks that evening, but was already worried about finding what I hoped for, and bummed about the competition in the area. It was a rough night of sleep. I was nowhere near acclimated and woke up throughout the night feeling ill and dehydrated despite drinking plenty of water.

When the alarm went off, I forced myself out of the sleeping bag to put on my boots and warm up breakfast and coffee. I managed only three bites and puked. Jonny was still in his tent with a headache. I managed a couple of hours of glassing and even turned up a few decent bucks, but looking through the glass only seemed to make things worse. I crawled back in my tent by 9:00 AM and went to sleep. I woke up feeling stupid; I had worked and waited all year for this and I’m napping? I knew I was not going to quit, but I also knew we needed to drop elevation a bit, so we packed up and backtracked to 11000 ft and made camp 2.

Escaping the Crowd

I glassed that evening and the next morning and quickly decided it was time for plan B. I spotted a few good bucks, but it was obvious the other hunters (who were great guys) were already onto them, so on Sunday we decided to hike back to the truck and drive to another trailhead. This might seem crazy, but I have made the mistake of being married to plan A in the past and paid for it. I set a goal to be willing to move on this trip, so it was time to go.

When we arrived at trailhead B, I hadn’t told Jonny how far camp was. He was already starting to question what he had gotten into so I lied and said “it’s not much further than the last one.” After 10 miles of hiking, I told him we were there. He was relieved, and so was I. We had covered a lot of miles in the last two days and were spent. We set camp and I had an hour to glass before dark. I didn’t see much but had high hopes for the morning. This camp was different; we were lower in elevation, about 11500 ft. and closer to a water source, but further from the basin that I wanted to hunt. In fact, we were directly below it.

In the morning, I climbed what seemed to be straight up out of camp to reach the hanging basin above, and rode a ridgeline to a decent vantage. Jonny’s bum knee kept him in camp for the day, but I didn’t mind the solitude. I settled my tripod and attached my binos, and within seconds I had a good buck spotted. A pretty 4-point with an inline, he was exactly what I had hoped to find, and I watched him feed for what seemed like hours. He had a smaller buck with him, but there didn’t appear to be a lot of other deer to contend with. I sat atop a sheer cliff, surrounded by rockslides and scree; a great spot to glass from, but not a valid approach for a stalk. The buck fed through the willows, up the drainage, and toward the cliff wall to my left. He was about 200 yards out and soon the topography blocked my view of him.

I moved up the ridge hoping to get another angle. I saw him again briefly, but the rock outcropping below me obscured my view. I waited, expecting to see him come out further to my left, but after half an hour he hadn’t. I knew there was nowhere he could go that I couldn’t see him, so I assumed he had bedded under the rocks. By now it was late morning, and the thermals were blowing uphill in my favor, but there was nothing but steep scree slides and cliffs between us. There was no way I could get to him undetected, or safely for that matter.

Espionage

I studied the map and found a way into the drainage further up the ridge; a small saddle that would allow me to get close, and a finger ridge that would at least put me within view of his suspected bed. I dropped in and found the finger ridge, sure to stay off the backside and out of sight, and worked my way down to its point. Boots off, I carefully crept on my stomach and peered over the rise, freezing immediately when I saw antler tips. I was still above him, but now a small wide open drainage lay between us, and he was still 70 yards away. Too far for the stick bow, but perhaps he would get up and feed my way?

The smaller buck was bedded beside him. It was still early and perhaps they would feed again or change beds. Either way, I was stuck and decided my best play was to wait it out. Hours passed. My Nalgene was running low on water, and I was exposed to the August sun, which turned to clouds, then to rain, and then back to sun again. My merino shirt was soaked and I went from sweating to shivering, but the buck didn’t move.

I stayed in the same position for over six hours. Finally, the bucks started to stir. It was afternoon now, and I knew they would be getting up soon. I wiggled my toes to try and wake them up, arrow knocked, anticipating an opportunity. Then my heart sank as the bucks got up and fed directly away from me, down the basin toward where I had seen them at first light. Long out of water, I was parched and tired from exposure and began my long hike back to camp. A storm was rolling in and I didn’t want to get caught up in it on a knife ridge at 12000 ft.

I got back to camp right at dark, and the rain was starting to fall. I was worried that the storm may ruin my chances the next day, and I only had two more full days to hunt. I told Jonny about the day's events and my concern about the storm. I even considered packing up and heading home early; a cheeseburger sounded damn good, the storm was going to screw up the deer anyway. It took a lot of self talk to put the thought of quitting to rest, but I managed and made the hellish climb the next morning.

I was sore and tired but surprisingly energized by the thought of getting another opportunity at the buck. I realized that my doubt and notions of quitting were directly related to my insecurity. What if you can’t get close enough? Can you even kill a deer with this stick? Why go through all this again? I told that guy to shut up and just kept hiking, and within minutes of daylight, I spotted my buck again, still with his little buddy.

The bucks were following the same path from the day prior. It didn’t take long for me to determine that they were heading for the same bed. This time, I had the benefit of knowing exactly where they were going. While watching the day before, I had hours to study the terrain and their behavior. The bucks were bedded below an eight-foot cliff with a commanding view of everything below. Above was a 30-yard patch of green grass, which seemed to be the only green grass on the mountainside. Above that was an extremely steep scree slide. Living on the scree were tons of pikas.

Valuable Intel

I watched them scurry across the scree, sending pebbles and rocks tumbling down below, so much so that the bucks seemed used to it. Numerous times I watched small slides of rocks trickle near the bucks, and they never showed much care. If I could keep the noise to a minimum, they might not suspect anything. I knew that he would stay there all day as this wasn’t just his “morning bed.” But most importantly, I planned a manageable approach that would put me above him without raising alarm.

I waited for the bucks to walk out of sight below my glassing point and disappear directly under the patch of green grass. When they didn’t emerge on the left side, I knew they had bedded, but wanted to give them some more time to settle. “Don’t rush it.” I decided to eat some food from my pack and give it a half-hour or so as it would likely be a while before I got another chance to eat. I planned on ditching my pack for the final approach. Once I decided the time was right, I located the chute the day before. My plan was to drop 200 vertical feet down the scree chute, then carefully sidehill to reach the green grass above their bed. I knew I would make more noise than a pika, and wanted to do it as far from the bucks as possible.

I kept my boots and pack on for this part, and tried my best to keep my feet while descending the avalanche chute of tumbling rock, but stressfully found myself sliding quite a bit. I managed to avoid causing big slides and hadn’t seen any deer blowing out of the basin. After reaching my landmark for the right elevation, I walked sidehill toward the grass, carefully placing each step and praying for the scree to hold. After what seemed like hours, I reached the top of the strip of grass and sat down. I quietly took off my pack and boots and nocked an arrow. The wind was blowing steadily in my face, and I had 30 yards of steep grassy slope left to navigate.

Getting Personal

Because the slope was so steep and my socks were slick on the grass, I decided to sit down with my bow in my lap and inch myself downhill with both hands on the ground. This is what Larry D would call the “4 point stalk,” with 4 points of contact with the ground. The sun was at my back, and I was careful not to cast my shadow where the bucks could see it. When I neared the edge, I crawled on my hands and knees to peer over the edge.

A mere eight feet straight down off the ledge, the 4-point with the inline was bedded, his head to my left. His legs were stretched out in front of him and his vitals exposed. I crept back, addressed the string, and inched forward, keeping an eye on my shadow. Crouched down, I could see the buck’s legs below me, my shadow close to the edge, but still out of his sight. “Pick a spot,” I thought to myself, trying to calm my nerves. I drew and leaned forward, exposing the rest of the buck, settled, and let an arrow go. “Thump.” My arrow stuck in the dirt between the buck’s legs. I shot high! He was only eight feet away and straight down, and I failed to compensate enough for the angle! I didn’t have time to think, only to react.

The buck was quickly on his feet and moving. I nocked a second arrow and drew. He was quartering away, still under 20 yards, but not stopping. I instinctively took aim and released the second arrow. I watched in what seemed like slow motion as the arrow sunk behind his last rib and buried to the feathers. He ran out below me and crashed into a sea of willows. I marked the location and watched intently. Seeing no movement, I backtracked to my pack, and when I reached it, he was up again.

I scrambled to get my binoculars and followed him as he stumbled through the willows. I knew the hit was vital and was determined not to lose him in the thick brush. He finally stopped and tipped over. I could only see the tip of an antler on the ground in a small window through the willows and decided to wait before approaching. I got out my tripod and spotting scope, fixing it on his location. Worried that I may bump him before he expired, I forced myself to wait another half hour, intently watching that antler tip through the spotter. It didn’t move.

Success at Last

I donned my pack and boots and made the descent into the basin, keeping a close eye on my markers for his location, but when I got down there I was more than confused. Finally, I was able to line up my markers from where I saw him last in relation to where I was sitting, and there he was, dead in a small hole in the willows. I thanked the lord, took some photos, quartered the buck, and loaded it into my pack. It was heavy, but I was determined to make it to camp in one trip. It was all downhill after all.

I arrived at camp just before dark, a grin on my face from ear to ear, and the look on Jonny’s face when he saw the velvet antlers on my back was priceless. The big storm I had worried about was rolling in but we didn’t care. I sat by the fire with Jonny and caped out my buck in my rain gear, detailing to him the day’s events. I had accomplished a long-time dream of taking a mule deer buck with my stick bow in the high country, and a little rain only added to the experience.

I deboned the meat, hung it in bags under a makeshift lean-to to keep it out of the rain, and went to sleep. In the morning Jonny graciously carried half the meat. Once we reached the highway, we were flagged down by two hunters we met at plan A. They noticed antlers in the bed of the truck, and we pulled over to share stories. I was beaming with pride as I told them how it all unfolded. Jonny and I made it to town in time for that hard-earned cheeseburger.

Hunting has taught me to seek and embrace challenges. Whether that challenge is a more primitive weapon, a tougher style of hunting, or taking the risk to invest in an out-of-state hunt, I have learned that the effort put forth only makes the whole experience more rewarding, and I can’t wait for the next adventure.

Luke Griffiths, CO 2019

A trophy ram in a near-impossible location

The hunt started on a weekend in the middle of August 2020. My wife and I loaded up three horses and started for the headwaters of the Green River in the Wyoming Wind River mountain range. The trailhead is ​an hour’s drive in on ​a bumpy road that injects itself into the Bridger-Teton national forest. I ​am​ familiar with the general area because when I was a kid, my family ran livestock on four summer allotments, two of which were wilderness units. I have had my fair share of 8-12-horse pack trains and horse blow-ups and experienced some of the unforgiveness the elements and terrain can have on someone caught unprepared.

Knowing I was in for an adventure, my wife Becky and I headed up the trail with two saddle horses and one pack horse to establish a base camp 12 miles in. It took most of one day to get to base camp and we decided to make a weekend out of it by spending the night at 10,000 ft. We hauled in about 25 days’ worth of preserved food, with base camp acting as a staging point for my spike camp. After our weekend in the mountains, my wife and I headed home, setting the stage for what was going to be a hunt of a lifetime.

Long Way Up

In anticipation of opening day, my friend Dave Edwards and I headed back up on foot on August 29th to start the 12-mile climb into base camp. We made it there 7-8 hours later with a few burning muscle cramps and our heavy packs in tow, knowing they were going to get heavier with food when we tried to summit the next day. The season didn’t open until the first of September,​ so we decided to glass around camp for one day and let our bodies recover. Using my Swarovski​ spotting scope, I found a small 1/2 curl ram several miles out under a cliff face feeding and bedding. Base camp didn't hold any mature rams and was more of a ewe and lamb area. 

The next day rolled around and we got our gear packed up, ready to climb out of the rock basin. It was challenging trying to navigate through and around rocks the size of trucks! Once we got on top, the land was bleak and splattered with rock parallel; however, that’s when things took a turn. There was some cloud cover that moved in on us and it started to snow big, heavy flakes. I had not scouted the spike camp area, other than on Google Earth and maps. The weather had us blocked in and it was snowing profusely. We couldn’t see 100-150 yards. We needed to cross this vast rock valley to get to the other side, but we didn’t know how or where exactly to cross.

The rocks were getting covered in snow and it was becoming very treacherous navigating the jagged boulder field. We continued to hike and finally came to a small glacier that I thought was safe to travel across. I took a few steps onto it, fell straight on my face, and to the bottom I went with my pack and gun. We then came to a second glacier, and I knew better than to try and cross it. It led straight into a cold mountain​ lake and had a small 5-6’ cliff that a person would​ catch air off of before flying into the lake.

After about five hours of hiking and fighting bloody noses from the altitude, we realized we had gone way too far south. We needed to head east with a slight backtrack north to get to my intended spike camp area. After eight hours of hiking, we arrived at what I thought was my spike camp area but couldn’t really tell because the mountain had us socked in with snow and heavy fog. The next day, we crawled across the desolate, snow-covered rock and glassed off the cliffs into the basins. The first two basins didn’t produce anything other than a vertigo chill.

“Big Curl”

In the third basin, we found a big ram​ in a very nasty cliffed-up chute near the top of the mountain. We watched him for a while as he was moving and hoped he would bed. I named him, “Big Curl” since he had an​ open frame with a giant,​ basketball-sized curl. I had him at 950 yards and felt we could get closer, even though I had shot my gun confidently and accurately to 1,125 yards with a ballistic truing sequence.

We ended up moving to 623 yards and set up for a shot. The ram kept moving around and I finally decided to take him. With Dave as​ my​ spotter in the Swarovski spotting scope, I called for the shot and sent the round. I smoked the giant rock right in front of the ram, dead true but 12-16 inches low. Dave called the correction, and I sent a second round but it went three feet left. The ram climbed a cliff I didn’t know was possible to climb and gave me one more skyline shot, which I missed. Something obviously had ​happened to my gun when I fell in the rocks or on the glacier.

I was pretty bummed-out, as I thought I just blew a giant ram out of the zip code and ruined my chance of killing a once-in-a-lifetime ram. We spent the rest of the week glassing but didn’t see anything else, other than a monster, 180 class, 12 ½-year-old record book winter-killed ram. I marked the location so I could find him again if I was granted permission from the WYGF to remove it. I was pretty excited about the find since they can be rarer than finding a live one.

Backup Plan

Dave advised me to regroup, get my backup elk rifle verified, and come redeem myself. We made the 20+ mile trek back to base camp and then the trailhead over a couple of days. I went home and started getting my backup gun ready.

The second hunt rolled around and I had my backup gun, a .300 Win Mag, shooting out to 600-700 yards pretty comfortably. I had a hard time finding anyone to go back into my spike camp, so I ended up making the second trip solo. I found a mountain-lion-killed deer on the trail, which had me a little concerned since it was within a mile of my base camp. (I noticed on the way out that the grizzlies devoured the carcass!) My night at base camp was pretty restless, as the wind and coyotes kept me awake.

I ventured back up to my spike camp and found Big Curl in the same area but he stayed out of range of my gun’s capability. I wasn’t able to close any distance, as the basin was cliffed-up, except for one steep access chute. The only problem was, the top of the chute had a 30-foot corniced glacier in it. I quickly realized that if I was going to get this ram, I needed a spotter and some rappelling rope; so I pulled off the mountain to return home and prepare again.

I made some phone calls and my longtime friend Kayle Case prepared to go back in with me. I bought some rope and got a loaner 1,000-yard custom-built gun for this third hunt. I ran a ballistic truing sequence on the gun and got comfortable with shooting it to 1,125 yards. Kayle and I headed back up on foot and made the two-day hike into spike camp.

On the second day, we got pounded with a blizzard. It was another big storm that covered the rocks and made it very dangerous to navigate the rugged terrain. The wind blew all night and I wasn’t sure our tents were going to survive. It was drifting snow under the tent flaps and through the mosquito netting. We survived the storm and the next morning, I found Big Curl after an hour of glassing. He was high on the mountain, hiding in a rock cliff and trying to weather the storm, I suppose.

We made a plan, and I moved in for roughly the same 623-yard shot. When I got there, I couldn’t see the ram and told myself I needed to close any distance I could. With flashbacks of a ​missed shot running through my mind, I moved to what was​ roughly​ a 550-yard shot and waited.

Wrangling Nerves

The ram didn’t move​ for several hours, which gave me plenty of time to calculate the scope dope and prepare for the shot. When he finally did get moving, I let him come under a large cliff area in fear he would roll down the rock chute and off a massive 400-foot cliff if shot in the wrong spot. I double-checked my dope, got in the scope, and couldn’t make the shot. I had to control my breathing and settle in for the 2.5 lb pull.

Having shot quite a bit of long-range, I fell into my shooting sequence of preparing myself to minimize interference. I held steady, exhaled, waited for my heart cycle, and eased into the trigger. The sound of the shot shattered the calm silence of the mountain air, and I watched the ram as he fell toward the cliff for balance and dropped. Big Curl was down! I couldn’t believe I killed a giant 170 class, 10 ½-year-old ram in one of the most difficult terrain units in Wyoming on a DIY wilderness hunt.

A lot of answered prayers and hard work went into this hunt! It took us two days to get back to base camp and another day to the trailhead. Kayle and I came in the following day with a string of horses and worked on getting base camp out. The storm had blown in the trail with trees and we had to cut our way in with axes since you couldn’t navigate off the rockslide trails. We were able to get base camp out and even took time to enjoy seeing the Kokanee (landlocked sockeye) salmon spawning in the tributaries, along with the rocky mountain pika.

I walked over 165 miles, rode horses 50 miles, and lost almost 20 lb in 24 days. The experience was a test of will and perseverance and was my hardest hunt to date. It proved to me that you have to fail in order to make corrections for success. I want to thank Dave Edwards, Kayle Case, Val Jones, Andy Boyak (Andy’s Long Range Shooters), and my wife Becky, along with all the people who supported me in this experience for a true hunt of a lifetime.

-Ben Thoman WY 2020

An off-shoot from their traditional hunting packs, the Boulder 30 was designed with your daily lifestyle in mind. The result is an everyday use pack focused on comfort, accessibility, and organization. Let’s face it, you don’t want to have to dig through your pack to find what you need. With well-thought-out pocket placement, considerable organization, and durable fabric, the Boulder 30 can go with you anytime, anywhere.

All The Way Round

At the center of the easy-access concept, the first design feature that this bag was built around, was a full horseshoe zipper with dual sliders. This alone allows for complete access to both sides of the bag without having to open it all the way up. This leaves you with a plethora of organizational options.

Stay Organized

With everything you keep with you seemingly getting smaller, it’s easy to wind up with dozens of loose items that end up being a nightmare to keep track of. The Boulder brings a solution to the madness. They integrated mesh and solid internal pockets for easy storage of those hard-to-find items that are probably floating around the bottom of a duffel or filling your pants pockets right now.

Multi-purpose Built

While their other packs are designed specifically for your hunting, and training needs, you probably spend more time checking game cameras, running around town, working, and doing a host of other tasks that don’t require a large-framed pack. The Boulder was built to tag along on all your chores, keeping your necessities close and accessible.

Not only can the Boulder securely hold your laptop, but for those chores that require a bit more time away from the truck, it can also carry a water bladder at the same time. The integrated low-profile bladder pouch has two independent padded sleeves to keep them separate and safe.

Turn Up The Volume

When it comes to an outdoorsman’s lifestyle, capacity is something that can’t be skimped on. You need your pack to hold what you need for the day no matter the situation. That’s why the Boulder offers 30 liters (1830 cu in) of storage space while maintaining a low profile to fit neatly behind a truck seat or under a desk.
As with all of their products, the Boulder is made with pride right here in the USA. For questions or to place an order, visit Outdoorsmans.com or call us at 1-800-291-8065.

It may strike you as odd that I am writing an article about gardening in a hunting magazine. The fact that I enjoy gardening is not a surprise to those who follow me on social media; I have posted more pictures of carrots than I have of bull elk. I find that gardening provides time for reflection and a sense of accomplishment much like hunting, as well as a year-round connection to my food.

There are many reasons why we hunt, but pride in the quality of game meat is one of the most important. I love to garden for the same reasons. Planting a seed, watching it sprout, tending it to maturity, and then harvesting it for the table is incredibly fulfilling. Last year, in one of my best hunting seasons ever, I tagged or helped tag eight big game animals but I harvested 16 different varieties of vegetables from my garden! I am half-joking since harvesting some carrots is not the same as tagging a six-point bull, but it is pretty dang cool to serve them on the same plate.

Don’t Just Survive…Thrive

The similarities don’t stop there. Just like the nutrient density of store-bought meat doesn’t even compare to wild game, the quality of store-bought vegetables is not even close to those grown in a garden. One of the biggest reasons is that vitamins begin to degrade immediately upon harvest. For example, studies have shown that 40-80% of vitamin C is lost within three days of harvesting broccoli. This combined with mineral-depleted soils means the quality you can expect from the grocery store will be marginal at best. 

So why not just eat more vegetables to make up the difference? Here is the problem: the brain sends signals that it is time to eat when its nutritional needs are not being met. A big plate of food may fill your stomach, but before long the brain figures out that a full belly is not delivering necessary nutrients, so out goes the signal to eat again. Granted, this is a very simplified version of the real biofeedback mechanism, but if you consume foods with a higher nutritional density, you can more easily resist the temptation to overeat.

Getting Started

If you are new to gardening or have moved to a different climate from your last garden, I highly recommend you check your local USDA cooperative extension service’s website. This government agency was founded over 100 years ago to improve the quality of food production in the US. From the onset of the Great Depression and into WWII the extension service branched out to assist home gardeners. Every county in every state has its own set of growing conditions and soil types. Your county extension service will have specific advice as to which fruits and vegetables will thrive in your area and what time of year you should plant them.

My mom always had a backyard garden. We grew tomatoes and various other vegetables that I never ate, but I learned to enjoy the process. When my wife and I bought our house 23 years ago, I designed the backyard with a small garden area about 12’x16’.  About six years ago, after the kids moved out and the last dog died, I decided I was tired of watering and tending inedible greens. I tore out all the grass and brought water up from each pre-existing sprinkler head. I then found a pile of old lumber on Craigslist from a restaurant that had been torn down in the ’70s and with my son Mark’s help, built a planter box next to each of the water pipes.

Granted, my garden might be a little extreme, but it took me 50 years to get there. With only a few pots or a small ground garden, you can grow a significant amount of food. I always have at least one planter box that I call the “salad box”, in which I grow lettuce, radishes, kale, and carrots. This one box will grow enough for a full dinner salad each night for 6-8 weeks. Tomatoes grow extremely well in pots, and with caster wheels, they are easy to move into the sun or out of the hail if necessary.

Raised garden beds, while not necessary, make everything about gardening a little bit easier. Planting, thinning, and controlling weeds are all less work when you don’t have to get down on your hands and knees. You can fashion your own, as I did, or there are dozens of online options. Many local 4-H clubs are building planter boxes as fundraisers as well. A few minutes on a Google search will deliver dozens of solutions.

If you live in the desert southwest or like to tend to take weeklong vacations during the growing season, I highly recommend you look into an automated watering system. Drip systems are an up-front cost but they last for many years if you take care of them in the off-season. The big-box stores like Home Depot have everything you will need, but if you find a business that specializes in irrigation supplies, you may be able to get to know a salesperson with more expertise which will save you much time and money.

Fertilizers and Pest Control

The word “organic” has been so abused that we tend to ignore its meaning. In reference to gardening, “natural” is a more descriptive term for what I am trying to do. I don’t use, and definitely don’t recommend the use of commercial weed killers and pesticides. I know there are studies after studies verifying these products as safe, but there are multiple more natural solutions that are guaranteed safe. For weeds, I pull them. Even with my large garden, 10 minutes a day or an hour a week is all it takes to keep the garden weed-free. My wife is in charge of insect control and she takes no prisoners. Between Google and Amazon, she identifies the culprit and stages executions that are dangerous only to the pest.

Composting is an excellent way to maintain the quality of your soils. Only a small percentage of a plant is actually consumable, but the rest of the plant has absorbed valuable minerals from your soil. By composting these parts, and careful fertilization you will be able to maintain fertile soils year after year. My philosophy is “if it grows in my garden, it stays in my garden.”

What Not To Do

Don’t be afraid to plant too many seeds when you start. The seed packaging will have some good recommendations but until you gain some experience, you may not get the best results.

If you do have very successful germination, be prepared to thin the new sprouts aggressively. If vegetables are allowed to mature in a crowded environment, they will fight for nutrients and sunlight, resulting in stunted edibles. It is also difficult to monitor watering levels and insect activity in a crowded garden. I am preaching to myself on this topic as I struggle to pull perfectly viable plants, but it needs to be done.

Get The Family Involved

Gardening is a good life lesson. You have to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, pull the weeds, irrigate and harvest before anything reaches the table. This level of commitment and acceptance of delayed gratification is a valuable lesson for adults but is monumental for children. If you want to see a child’s face light up, let him/her pick a watermelon and cut it for them on the spot. I truly believe this is an invaluable step to understanding where our food comes from, with the natural next step being harvesting an animal.

Resources:

Cooperative Extension Service: include your county and search for it online. They will have pages of information specific to your area.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: The typical seed rack at your local hardware store will have only a few options for each plant. Baker Creek specializes in varieties that do not have enough demand for the major seed companies to produce. For example, they offer 21 varieties of radishes, 29 varieties of carrots, and 37 varieties of lettuce. 

PlanetNatural.com: This website has some great tips for sustainable gardening practices as well as useful gear.

Every season has an ending, and every new season brings new opportunities. Although we all hate it when hunting season comes to a close, we need to look at the “off-season” as an opportunity for personal growth and development, as well as finding ways to boost our performance in the backcountry. Yes, the off-season can be a time of rest and refocus, but it is also crucial to maintain your health and fitness because it is far easier to stay in shape rather than climb the high mountain to getting back into shape. We want to find ways to work out that are not only enjoyable but effective in achieving your hunting/outdoor goals. This will help you avoid injury and stoke your fire instead of burning yourself out and losing motivation. Here are some tips and tools that I find fun and effective to add to your off-season training regimen.

Gain Laser Focus 

Like I discussed in my prior article, Your Off-Season Personal Body Assessment, it’s important to identify and be aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a “Wilderness Athlete.” We want to develop a game plan to attack and improve those weaknesses, build strength, aid in recovery, and rest current injuries during the off-season. If you do too much of anything too often, you put yourself at risk for “burnout,” so train smarter, not harder. Let’s be real, training for hunting is training for a hobby that we love and enjoy. It’s not our full-time job, and our careers don’t rely on training six days per week like other professional athletes. So, planning 3-4 quality workouts per week with purpose will be plenty to keep the body in shape. I like to refer to training in a professional aspect mainly for the mental side of things. The more mentally focused and driven we are toward our goals, the higher our chance of success.

Athletes are constantly working and developing their skills and craft. During the off-season, it’s okay to slow down and go back to the basics. A primary goal for off-season improvement should be to build stronger, better, more efficient foundations and routines. Slowing down can help you focus on the little things that you may have not been executing well and, in turn, build them into bigger, better, more productive things. Addressing muscle imbalances is also key. We all have dominant sides, dominant arms, legs, etc. We need to work to make our weaker sides equivalent to our strong sides to avoid future injuries and create a healthy, strong balance in the body.

Typically, in the off-season, your training regimen should decrease in frequency and duration but still maintain the intensity. Recovery and strength building are key goals in the off-season, so take a little off of the overall duration of your workouts and put a little more time into extra recovery methods like foam rolling, mobility, stretching, icing, heating, etc. Short bouts of high-intensity training will maintain and improve your fitness levels and maintain your competitive edge. I truly believe that a proper dynamic warm-up followed by foundational training and high-intensity training and then capped with an effective cooldown/recovery method is the most effective structure for your workouts in the long term. Training smarter, not harder.

Mix It Up

Whether you’re a long-time lifter like me or new to the game of fitness and exercise, it’s important to constantly find new ways to be active and train your body. Not only to keep the body guessing and avoid plateaus, but also mentally – to avoid becoming bored, uninterested, and unmotivated to work out. Switching up your routines allows you to stay interested longer, makes your fitness fun, allows for your injured areas to rest, and lets you shift your focus to areas of your body that need improvement.

Mixing up your training may include adding/subtracting weight, adding/subtracting reps and sets, switching up the order in which you train, changing the time of day you work out, incorporating new pieces of equipment, and adding new variables to your training like training barefoot, training in the sand, training in water, etc. You can try something different like yoga, CrossFit, jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, spin class, or many other fitness activities. You will be surprised how different activities affect different muscle groups and how beneficial a good change can be! Here are some mix-ups I enjoy incorporating into my training that are directly correlated to improving my backcountry performance.

Atlas Trainer

In my opinion, the Atlas Trainer by Outdoorsmans is hands down one of the best training tools that are directly applicable to hunting. We all know that in Western Hunting, we carry weighted packs on our backs the majority of the time, and the Atlas Trainer allows us to put heavy, balanced weight on our frames in a safe, effective manner. Whether it’s just going on a long hike and throwing it on my back to do push-ups, pull-ups, farmer carries, or squats, this piece of equipment kicks my ass and prepares my body to do work with added weight. Save your hips, knees, and lower back by using this frame instead of throwing rocks and sandbags in your hunting pack. You don’t want to wear out your expensive hunting pack by training with boulders bouncing and rattling around in there. It’s worth the money to buy the Atlas Trainer – trust me!

Sand Training 

One of my favorite ways to work out is to make the short trip up the Sierra Nevada mountains and train on the sandy beaches of Lake Tahoe. Sand provides a different type of resistance that challenges your muscles. The unstable and constantly-moving sand beneath your feet engages your small stabilizer muscles, incorporates more muscle fiber recruitment, helps improve your balance and joint stability, and reduces the risk of injury. The unforgiving terrain of the West constantly leaves us battling uneven surfaces, unsure footing, and vast elevation changes.

Training in the sand, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to mimic the western hunting environment and help build stronger, more stable feet, ankles, and knees. The enhanced muscle fiber recruitment will also make your body work twice as hard, use more oxygen and therefore train your aerobic system, improving your cardio levels. I believe that sand training is a great tool for improving speed and agility, specifically preaching the importance and drive of the “forward lean” in athletes. This forward lean can be important to hunters as well, always pushing forward and onward up the mountain. I realize that everyone reading this article might not have access to a beach, but maybe you do have a sand volleyball court or play area in your town. 

Finally, there are a few other bonuses that accompany training at Lake Tahoe that I just have to share – foremost, the elevation. The beach that my buddy Dave Beronio and I like to train at sits at 6,400 feet above sea level. This fits the “practice like you play” method that I believe in – training in environments that mimic “the game,” or in our case, hunting on the mountain. The second bonus is the dreaded but rewarding cold water plunge into the lake immediately after training. Lake Tahoe is equivalent to a giant ice bath for the majority of the year. When we took these photos, the outside temperature was about 35 degrees, and the water temperature was roughly 41 degrees. By plunging into the ice-cold water briefly after the workout, you get a total-body cleanse for your muscles, promoting enhanced blood flow and reducing inflammation. Your body becomes so cold for that short period that you feel hot and tingly, but once you return to the beach, you feel refreshed and surprisingly good!

Training Barefoot

It seems like common sense to always be training in athletic gym shoes or hiking boots, but now and again, take those babies off and train barefoot or in just your socks. Shoes provide support, cushion, and stability that make our feet lazy and accustomed to the luxury. Going barefoot often is not only more primal, but it can help improve your balance, your posture, and the efficiency of your movement, and build stronger, more stable, flexible feet and ankles. Dr. Emily Splichal says, "When you stimulate the nerves of the foot, you get a better understanding of what you're standing on and how you're stepping, and it starts to shape your overall movement.” The big toe’s primary function is to propel forward movement and in most shoes, it is limited in its range of motion and ability to properly dig in and gain strength like you could barefoot. Strong feet mean a strong foundation for your body!

Steve Holiner says, "Your brain registers strength and stability through the feet, as a point of safety and optimal connection to the world around you, so when you remove that connection, the brain thinks it lacks stability[...]” By engaging more small muscles in the feet during lifts, you then recruit more engagement from your glutes, hips and core muscles, thus strengthening them more as well. In western hunting we are constantly on our feet, so why don’t we pay more attention to them? We spend hundreds of dollars on the best boots and training shoes etc, but why not spend a little more time and effort to build up our feet and ankles naturally during our training?

Final Thoughts

“That which you pay attention to improves.” This one of my favorite quotes from Mark Paulsen (“Coach P.”), the founder of Wilderness Athlete. The off-season is a perfect time to pay attention to our weaknesses and work daily to improve them. It will take a solid, written game plan and laser focus but it can be done for anyone willing to put in the time and effort to make a positive change for themselves. Hopefully, some of these different tips can help backcountry hunters to try something new, overcome plateaus, eliminate excuses, and “go further, stronger.” P.S. it doesn’t hurt to find a tough training partner to help push you, hold you accountable, motivate you, and help you feel a sense of accomplishment together. Thank you to Dave “Hollywood” Beronio for always kicking my butt and moving me forward. Stay Wild, and get after it!

- Coach Hoelzen

Hunters are gear people. If western hunters made a list of the specific gear in their pack over the last 20 years, the list would be endless. The item that I believe would show up on everyone’s list would be a Nalgene bottle. The ability to carry water in a lightweight, reliable container is essential and Nalgene has been at the forefront of this industry from the very beginning. 

In 1949 chemist Emanuel Goldberg developed the first plastic jars that were nonreactive. From there he went on to found the Nalge Company.

In the ’60s a group of Nalge labware scientists began backpacking in the Adirondack Mountains. They didn’t have dehydrated foods so in order to cut the weight of carrying glass jars and cans they started using laboratory bottles. 

By the ’70s the “pack it in/pack it out” trend was catching on, as was a strong subculture of backpacking. The Nalge bottles were catching on with this crowd. When the company president noticed his son packing Nalge bottles for Boy Scout adventures, he figured it was time to start Nalgene Outdoors. 

Hunters quickly replaced their heavy, leak-prone canteens and bota bags (who remembers those?) with Nalgene bottles. Today the many bladder systems available are a convenient way to carry large amounts of water, but you can’t beat the wide mouth Nalgene for mixing your favorite hydration products.

Your Nalgene bottle isn’t just important for hunting. An alarming 2.5 million plastic water bottles are trashed every hour in the U.S.! Over 90% of the 30 million tons end up in landfills or incinerators. Besides, at $2 for a bottle of water, a $10 Nalgene looks like a dang smart deal. 

While there are literally hundreds of competitive, durable water bottles on the market, Nalgene was there first. For 75 years they have been delivering 100% U.S. made products for all sportsmen.

Hunting in a Digital Age

Social media has changed the way we operate, and hunters are not immune to that change. It allows us to communicate with broader audiences, to share our passions, and to self-publish whatever we see fit… and it may be the single thing that leads to the demise of hunting.

This might seem like a strange article coming from me. A good portion of what I do is shared for the world to see via social media. By sharing what I love, hunting, I have amassed a large following and made somewhat of a career out of sharing these experiences. I started sharing my hunts through videos on YouTube many years ago. I always loved watching hunting videos, I could not get enough, but I always felt that there were no videos that represented me or the way I liked to hunt. In a world of whitetails, big bucks, high-priced ranch hunts, and food plots (not that there's anything wrong with those things), hunting as I knew it was nowhere to be found. I only knew public lands, hard hikes, often tough odds, and the occasional big buck that normally took months of hard work to connect with.

I combined my love of filming and the way I knew hunting and started sharing my hunts on various platforms. Over the years, those platforms changed. From DVDs and pictures on the local sporting goods store wall to emails and YouTube to television to Facebook to Instagram. In the trenches of all this, I have seen two things attributed to social media. I have seen hunting gain ground, and I have seen losses for hunting that will never be regained. It is those losses that scare me and make me fearful that if left unchecked, social media will lead to the end of the one thing I love the most; hunting.

In an age of controversy, social media is at the root of the majority of it. Never in the history of the world has anyone been able to self-publish whatever they want to whoever they want. With the click of a button, you can make private things public for anyone to see. Before social media, hunters had to share their experiences via the local sporting shop brag board; a printed photo tacked onto a corkboard. Stories were shared in magazines you had to subscribe to or purchase. Videos had to be ordered or purchased via DVD. In other words, you had to actively seek content, and it was very difficult for the non-hunter to intersect this unintentionally.

Things have changed, and it seems like with the changes there has not been a major reevaluation. Those same things can now be seen by anyone. Without that reevaluation, I guarantee social media will be the death of what we love.

For most of our lives, Aldo Leopold had it exactly right. As hunters, we were to live by standards held in high esteem and self-policed because there was no one policing those actions. Today, there are onlookers with the use of social media. Anyone can jump in and see portions of a hunt, many of whom may not understand hunting, yet there is no policing. We are not talking about laws but more the way the hunter is representing hunting within the laws and how that is shared with the rest of the world through social media. Standing behind the words, “IT IS LEGAL.” means you truly don’t understand the fight and how it will all end.

Hunting is not a right, it is a privilege.

Many hunters misinterpret the fact that hunting is not a right but a privilege that we have. Although it may be traditional and considered commonplace in America, there is nothing that guarantees this for the hunter across the board. The fact that something is legal does not make it an inalienable right. Take the right to free speech for example. This can’t be infringed. There is not a single ballot initiative on the planet that can take that away from you. Hunting is not guaranteed those same protections.

 Although hunting is on the correct side of science, may be how you choose to feed yourself, and has been around since the forming of this country… IT IS NOT GUARANTEED! This is why hunters and anti-hunters clash. The objective for anti-hunters is to stop hunting altogether, but are hunters and anti-hunters really fighting each other, or are we fighting for something else? The real question is: where is the battle?

The Decision-Makers

For as many hunters as there are in the US, there are more non-hunters. Now, the term non-hunter is not the same as anti-hunter; it just refers to people that do not hunt. This is the majority. This is the general public and these are the decision-makers. These are the minds that need to either understand hunting and accept others doing it or the minds that the Anti-hunters influence to be against it.

Many hunters have it wrong. They think that the fight is with the anti-hunters—that screaming and beating their chest directly toward the “antis” is how they win. That is not even in the correct arena. The real fight is for the understanding from the middle. The fight is for the majority; that has always been the goal. The true hunters and hunting organizations that defend this know that better than anything. The middle is where the battle is, but in recent times many hunters seem to have forgotten this. In a generation where anyone can self-publish on social media or broadcast images and videos to the public, they forget that this can be one of the single most influential platforms, and it is where the anti-hunters have chosen to attack while fewer hunters have chosen to educate and promote.

The Choir

Hunters understand each other. We are the choir; we know the background of hunting and know its importance in conservation. We know that we feed ourselves from natural meat and that we respect the animals we kill. Within our circle of hunters, we don’t have to show these things to each other. They are taken for granted because to us, these facts are the obvious foundation of hunting.

Within that circle of hunters, things can be different. The undertones to why we hunt don’t have to be addressed. We know that we are right, but what happens when we step to a larger platform and these stories are available to the general public, the decision-makers? These are the people who, with the facts, would probably support hunting. It makes logical and rational sense. These people may not know the facts, so we must ask: Is what we put out showing this, or is it playing into the hands of the anti-hunters? Is it going to further acceptance of hunting, or is it going to hurt? If you call yourself a hunter but willingly hurt the cause, are you a real hunter? Our allies are scientific support through the model of conservation, monetary contribution to habitat and wildlife, and sustainable natural food. These are also our defense when confronted by anti-hunters. Again, is what you are posting portraying this? Or is it playing directly into the hands of the anti-hunters?

If you are a hunter that plays to the stereotypes that can be easily used by anti-hunters to elicit an emotional response by the non-hunting public, then whose side are you on? If you provide the weapon that hurts hunting as a whole, who stands to benefit? Maybe you are promoting yourself inside the hunting community, but damaging hunting as a whole with the decision-makers. These are things that I constantly consider myself.

When Hunters Act Like Anti-Hunters

The anti-hunting stance is purely emotion-based. It attempts to paint the hunter as the bad guy and tug on heartstrings. It ignores statistics, science, and even the fact that the majority of the country uses animal products in some way—from leather to dairy to meat to drugs that have been tested on animals. They are on a losing side, but if they can find things that align with their incorrect view of hunters, then they can use that to influence the same people we struggle to educate.

Let’s face it; anti-hunters are not going to change the mind of hunters and probably vice-versa, but where they can change minds is with the non-hunting public. To be honest, in recent times, they have been winning this on many fronts with the help of a small majority of hunters who have forgotten where the battle is fought and won.

To top it off, anti-hunters have done a good job of spurring infighting within the hunting community. They have created miniature emotional and irrational responses for hunters to jump on bandwagons against each other. Should hunters always stick together no matter what, or are there certain things in the hunting community that don’t portray hunting and our cause correctly?

Legal Hunting

Yes, we hunt legally! As a whole, we are against those who break the rules. It violates everything we stand for. As hunters, we have decided as a whole that laws are not enough. On top of laws, we have self-governing codes that we live by. This is a code of ethics. Many organizations that stand for hunters’ rights also hold their own code of ethics. Why? Our code of ethics is a way to self-police and make sure that the decision-makers see hunting in the best light, the way hunting should be seen. We regulate ourselves because there are some things that laws don’t cover. As hunters, we know that it is the non-hunters who make decisions and we know that with the facts, hunting is the logical decision. We also know that an anti-hunter’s only attack is an emotional one and that we set rules within our community to NOT give them leverage.

Code of Ethics

Every hunter has their own code, but many of the truths are universal. The main code is that we show respect to the animals and land we are hunting! This covers a multitude of things from how we take pictures and videos to how we transport the animals home or to the butcher after the kill. It covers the way we talk about the animals and even how we utilize the animals. This is all above and beyond the law.

Just as an example, here is a sample of Safari Clubs Ethics code for its members:

The SCI Bylaws require all members to live by the SCI Hunter’s Code of Ethics, which is printed in the annual SCI Directory:

• To conduct myself in the field so as to make a positive contribution to wildlife and ecosystems.

• To improve my skills as a woodsman and marksman to ensure humane harvesting of wildlife.

• To comply with all game laws, in the spirit of fair chase, and to influence my companions accordingly.

• To accept my responsibility to provide all possible assistance to game law enforcement officers.

• To waste no opportunity to teach young people the full meaning of this code of ethics.

• To reflect in word and behavior only credit upon the fraternity of sportsmen, and to demonstrate abiding respect for game, habitat, and property where I am privileged to hunt.

This is just one of the many codes of ethics as an example, but it points to the issue that it is our responsibility to show, in both our words and behavior, things that boost sportsmen. This is open to interpretation and sounds broad, but gives us a place to examine facets of what hunters put out to the public. In recent years, our code of ethics has been influenced, and what is right has been altered through the wide availability of hunting content on social media.

The Bandwagon

Social media can be one of the greatest tools or the greatest detractors for hunting in general. It allows hunters to share with each other as well as the broader community. The dark side of it is that it also allows anti-hunters to use things in a negative light that may not tell the whole story. It also creates massive infighting and emotional knee-jerk reactions within the hunting community. It is not “all or nothing” in this game. We can’t just look at hunting vs anti-hunting in the context of the battle between two groups. It has to be looked at as a whole and how the actions of a few hurt hunting overall. Does this support the greater good? Does this paint a picture of what hunting is to me? Does this convey the defense of hunting without the context, or does this play into the other side? If you are going to make something available to the public, you need to ask these questions.

This is in no way saying you should not make things public or stand up for hunting. It is just asking what are you are saying about hunting and whether the logical defense is portrayed. Hunters need to stand up for each other but they also need to police one another. They can’t be afraid to tell a fellow hunter that something may not be helping hunting, and hunters who care about the longevity of the sport can’t be afraid to listen. It all comes back to the idea that hunting is not a right. There are people who, with the facts, will side with hunters and keep the privilege going, but without the right knowledge, will fall into an emotional trap and take it away.

We Are All Ambassadors for Hunting

I have focused my hunting career on showcasing the facts behind hunting in order to gain more support—support needed to keep something so important to me alive—to sustain my way of life as a hunter. I feel that through my experience, I have been able to make positive contributions to the hunting cause, not only within the hunting community but in the non-hunting decision-maker community as well. Not everyone needs to hunt, but people do need to know what hunters stand for and be presented with the facts.

I stand for hunting and fighting for hunters. In this technological age when anyone can interface with the public, the ethics and standards need to change. Our fight with anti-hunters is for support from the majority of non-hunters. If we lose that, then we lose. On top of the law of the land, we need to stick to our ethics that all true hunters know. We need to analyze our actions and put them through the litmus test of whether they stand in support of hunting or unintentionally tear it down. Does our logical defense for hunting stand or have we provided emotional ammunition that plays to the other side’s characterization of hunters? It saddens me when fellow hunters are the ones who selfishly cause setbacks for all the real hunters working tirelessly to promote hunting—what it really is—to the decision-making public.

Elevating the Conversation

The real contest between hunters and anti-hunters is in the space for the decision-making public. As hunters, we have science and facts on our side. We have a massive amount of money in conservation. We also have a growing population who is concerned about the quality of food they put into their bodies and where this food comes from. Instead of mob-mentality attacks within the hunting community, we need to reassess the things we do and whether or not they are good for hunting as a whole. It is not a single group, individual, or company that is responsible to stand up to anti-hunters; it is the hunting community. This is done by promoting that which sheds a positive light on hunting, introduces the facts, and demonstrates through the greater ethics of the hunter. The fight is not what we do in our little circle of hunters, but how well we can show and gain support from the larger group of decision-makers. This is where the focus lies.

How your actions affect hunting and whether your defense of hunting can easily be seen and justified with what you show the public makes you for or against the anti-hunters. If you believe differently, then you have been tricked and the anti-hunters may have already beaten you. I stand for hunting, and no single person—whether they call themselves a hunter or not—should be allowed to represent us as a whole in a negative light that plays into the plan of the anti-hunter.

The conversation needs to be elevated. It needs to be reassessed when the focus is on whether this person or that person stood up to anti-hunters. That is not even the right fight. The real fight is how the hunter’s message is being portrayed to the decision-makers and how much this portrayal is hurting hunting in general. We need to band together and all represent hunting positively, not just to fellow hunters but to the non-hunter who holds the power of whether hunting will continue or not.

There are numerous quotes that attest to a cluttered kitchen being a sign of happiness. I could not disagree more! The number of appliances and tools at our disposal these days is astronomical. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it; especially when I open the utensil drawer and see an almost tool-box-looking assortment of knives and cutlery that look like they’ve been thrown in a blender and left for dead.

I have long been an admirer of Benchmade, and I think that for many, there’s been a looming desire for them to release a culinary line of knives. I was given the Station Knife as a birthday gift this past fall and can honestly say that it’s as impressive as it claims to be.

I was immediately taken aback by the girth of the blade and understood right away that I probably wouldn’t have the need for my other chef’s knife or cleaver for a while, if ever. At its widest, the blade is just short of 2 ½” wide, making it a helpful scoop to lug veggies or meat content from your cutting board across the kitchen into your pan or stove pot.

The Benchmade Station Knife is great for scooping up your cuts.

The knife sits at 11” long with a 6” blade and a 5" handle. This allows for complete control of your cuts, whether you’re dicing up a jalapeno or removing the backbone of a whole chicken. The blade has a beveled spine which reduces thumb or finger abrasion. For longer evenings in the kitchen, this is a wonderful touch that I can’t say my other knives have.

The custom handle option I went with was the G10 Ivory (a plastic laminate) which not only is beautifully textured but was designed strategically to offer a reliable grip when your hands become greasy from ingredients. One of my favorite features about the knife is the actual blade design which ends in a fine point. I often cook with whole cuts of meat like pork shoulders and whole chickens, so being able to reach those small nooks of bone is crucial to breaking down these cuts effectively without my hand cramping up within the first 30 seconds.

I have put this knife through the wringer while forcing it to be a home butcher and have then been able to shift to cubing piles of potatoes and chopping fragile vegetables for a salad with absolute finesse.

Benchmade offers multiple blade options, including their highest quality 440C stainless steel, or you can upgrade further to the CPM-154 which includes added Molybendum to prevent chipping. There are several handle options as well that include the G10 laminate mentioned above, a resin-infused paper material called Richlite, or the coveted black carbon fiber which is nothing short of stunning. Benchmade then seals the deal with their "Yours for Life" promise, guaranteeing infinite resharpening, oiling, and even adjusting your knife free of charge. All of these features make the Station Knife your kitchen’s best investment.

Organize and clean your gear to make next season easier.

The drive home from any hunting trip can go one of two ways; either we are on a proverbial cloud riding high in the sky of success having filled our tags, or we feel a little defeated with nothing to look forward to except tag soup. Regardless of the outcome, when hunting season is over, and we hit that button to open our garage door, our gear has been through the worst of it all.

We are hurting for a shower, our clothes are dirty and possibly torn, our boots covered in mud and may have a broken lace or two, the batteries are low in our headlamp, and with any luck, our backpacks are soaked in blood and our knives are dull. We are tired and 1,000 horses couldn’t drag us away from a hot shower, the last thing we want to think about is the hours of clean up that lie ahead of us.

After we sleep off the hunting hang-over, it’s time to get geared up for the off-season. This is the time to take inventory as to what you used, what you broke, what needs to be replaced, what you need to buy, and even what you need to throw away.

It All Starts With A List

A structured list is important to staying organized, both before and after your hunt. Introduce a routine and establish a categorized checklist system. Personally, all of the packing that I do for any hunting trip begins with a very detailed four-page “master list.”

This master list is categorized by the following sections:

Clothing, Footwear, Sleeping, Hunting Equipment, Rifle/Shooting Equipment, Cooking & Food, Miscellaneous, Personal Items, and Optional Equipment.

This list allows a visual opportunity to confirm what specific items are needed from each category and what can be left behind in a checkmark process that helps to ensure preparedness. After the hunt, this master list is also valuable for you to add any gear or items that you wish to consider packing in the future.

Additionally, create a new, separate list that we will call the “to-do list.” The to-do list is the place to keep track of what you may need to purchase, replace, or repair following the hunt. This working list will help you to prioritize items that you may want to purchase and will help you to plan your wants and needs based on your finances.

Gear Bomb!

Here comes the gear bomb! Start by laying all of your dirty gear on the floor. This is your opportunity to sort through and take an overview of your gear. If you have gear that you want to retire, place that gear in a separate pile and allow your family and friends first dibs! If items are broken beyond repair, discard that item and add those items to the to-do list so that you don’t forget to replace them. 

Clothing

Typically, clothing takes up the most space, making it a great place to start. As you prepare your clothes for the wash, make note of any needed sewing repairs, and plan to have the repairs completed as soon as possible. Treat your rain gear and clothing that has a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating with a clothing tech wash like Granger’s that re-treats the DWR. Also, note if you felt that you were missing any articles of clothing that would have made your hunt more enjoyable as you may want to purchase these items or add that item to your master list for future packing consideration.

Backpack

Next, empty the contents of your backpack. If your pack has gotten dirty, you will want to launder it to prevent any foul smells or degradation of the fabric. A laundry sink or bathtub is a great way to submerge and wash your pack and frame if they cannot be separated. Typically, I submerge my pack in warm water and Dead Down Wind liquid soap. If necessary, use a handheld brush to agitate the fabric and scrub out any stains. If your pack is super messy, change the water as necessary until it is soaking in clean, soapy water. I usually soak my packs overnight in soapy water, followed by a good rinsing, and then let them hang dry.

Boots

If the soles of your boots are muddy or dirty, spray them off with a garden hose. Do not place them by a wood stove or fireplace to dry if they contain a Gore-Tex or similar membrane as the intense heat can damage the waterproofing liner, potentially causing them to leak. Instead, let them air dry naturally or place them on a boot dryer. After your boots are dry, remove and inspect your laces and replace them if necessary. To condition and waterproof your boots, apply a liberal coat of waterproofing boot wax, allowing it to naturally absorb into the leather. Next, you can re-lace your boots and they are ready to store.

Tent

Your tent is your home away from home that protects you from the elements which means it may need to be dried out, washed, or repaired. Pitch your tent allowing it the opportunity to properly dry out. Use this time to inspect it for broken or damaged zippers, poles, or missing tent stakes. If needed, consider washing your tent in a performance product like Nikwax Tech Wash which cleans and waterproofs. You can quickly and easily repair any small holes on your tent with Tenacious Tape and liquid sealer. Larger holes or tears may require a formal patch kit.

Optics

For the most part, binoculars are designed to be waterproof making cleaning them up after hunting season super easy. Simply unscrew your binocular eyecups and place both your binoculars and eyecups in warm soapy water while using a soft cloth to wash them thoroughly. If desired, after you have allowed them to air dry, you can use an anti-fog treatment/cleaning wipe on the lenses.

Knives

Most knives are made to last a lifetime, however, when it comes to cleaning them up submerging your knife in water or using harsh detergents can accelerate metal corrosion. Cleaning your knife is easy using a residue-free spray cleaner or gentle detergent. Double-check that all debris has been removed, particularly from any moving or locking parts. And, at least twice a year, place a small amount of oil on any pivot points and on the blade to ensure proper function and remove any small amounts of rust.

Miscellaneous Items

This is when it’s time to get down and dirty with emergency gear. This is typically the small stuff that you often wished you either had or thanked God that you had it handy. Verify your inventory level of items like zip-ties in a couple of lengths, tenacious tape for repairs, duct tape, electrical tape, athletic tape for blister prevention, nylon straps, extra backpack buckles, matches, and fire-starter. Inspect the integrity of collapsible water bladders and the condition of your water filter, replace them if necessary. Items like headlamps should be stored without batteries to increase their life and prevent battery corrosion.

Inspect & Care For Your Weapon

Maintaining all of the components of your firearm and accessories requires minimal work and will extend the life of your firearm significantly. Begin with inspecting the torque of your front and rear action screws, scope rings, and bases using a torque wrench set to factory recommendations. Note any cracks in your stock and/or repair any loose sling mounting points. Also, ensure that there is no dirt or debris in the barrel channel, keeping it free-floated from the stock of the rifle.

Remove dirt from your riflescope body tube with a soft cloth. Remove the dust from lenses with an optic brush or lens pen followed by cleaning wipes. If necessary, return your turret to zero.

Ensure that the bore of your rifle is free of debris with a cleaning rod and dry patch or use a patch with a cleaning product of your choice. Do your product research as some are designed to remove copper and carbon while some products remove carbon only.

The chamber area can be cleaned with a cotton bore mop. Clean the bolt and bolt face and coat the bolt with a small amount of rust-resistant bolt grease for smooth operation.

If desired, wrap electrical tape around the buttstock of your rifle a few times. It can later be peeled off and placed over your barrel while afield.

Conclusion

Taking the time to introduce a routine and to establish a categorized checklist system in conjunction with properly caring for your gear is the best safeguard against equipment malfunctions while afield. If nothing else, gearing up for the off-season will ensure that you are organized and will make your next hunting season a lot easier.

Chris Denham finds redemption within the thickets of western Montana while pursuing the elusive whitetail that call these mountains home.
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