Thursday, December 31, 2009
I am working on a system to both keep me motivated to write here regularly as well as provide inspiration on topics relevant to this blog.
Along with this I am working on a mission statement of sorts for this blog. I feel my last year plus has been a bit too scattered for my liking in terms of subjects and focus on what my little piece of cyber space is, so stay tuned for the mission statement.
And as far as focus for my outdoor endeavors this year, my focus is going to be elk hunting during the rut with my longbow, so if this is interesting to you, this will be the main thrust of my writing this coming year, so check back frequently. That's not to say I won't be pursuing other outdoor activites though, and I'll be writing about them as well.
Until then, have a happy, safe New Year celebration! Take a few minutes and think about your goals and focus for the upcoming year
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I have also been thinking a lot about my little piece of cyberspace here, working up a mission statement of sorts as well as a series of articles that I think are more central to my initial idea of back country bowhunting.
So stay tuned as I prepare to make 2010 my year for back country solo bow hunting!
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Very nice knife. Just the right size for my small hands, screaming sharp... I have yet to put this knife through some good field work, but so far I am really pleased with this knife. I was a little disappointed by the factory sheath because it only had the scout sized fire steel loop.... that means less fires, right? Well, I may be a snob, but I prefer the army sized firesteel loop, but lucky for me I happened to have a JRE sheath that the knife dropped right into like it was made for it.
Anyway, When I get out next I plan to use this knife a lot and do a report similar to the little creek review I mentioned a couple posts ago, so stay tuned.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Backpack Hunting in the Rocky Mountains
By Phillip Watts
You don't have to be a burly Jim Bridger to find solitude, scenery and backcountry elk-hunting success.
As a youngster living in Virginia, I was captivated by stories about backpack hunting in the Rocky Mountains. It seemed to me there could be no greater adventure than setting out on foot in roadless country in pursuit of elk. But I doubted I would ever go on such a hunt myself–backpacking for elk required the mountain-man skills of Jim Bridger and the stamina of a mountain goat. Or so I thought.
Since then, I've learned that backpack hunting for elk is not only manageable but can be quite comfortable with some know-how and careful planning. I started backpack hunting on the downhill side of 40, after a serious knee injury resulting in arthritis and two knee surgeries. If I can do it, I'm betting you can, too.
Advantages of Backpacking
I like to hunt in places with plenty of solitude and scenery, and backpacking is the best way to enjoy both. There are also practical advantages, including an increased chance of elk hunting success. As Jim Zumbo observes in his book, Elk Hunting, "Elk shun human traffic areas where hunting pressure is heavy, such as near roads and trailheads." My own experience bears this out. Leave these areas behind and you'll see more elk.
My hunting partner Rob Young and I have hunted in southwest Colorado for the past few years. We hunted from a roadside camp the first year, hiking into the woods a mile or so each day, seeing a few elk. Last year, we backpacked a few miles into the same area, saw dozens of elk and few other hunters, and each tagged an elk. Some nights we had so many bugling bulls around us it was difficult to sleep. Meanwhile, the hunters camped back at the trailhead saw few elk. Hunting away from high-traffic areas made all the difference.
Setting up camp in the backcountry also allows you to hunt the most productive parts of the day: the first and last few minutes of daylight. By setting up near your hunting location, you won't be hiking back and forth when you should be hunting.
While many think backpacking means sleeping on the cold ground and eating dehydrated food with all the appeal of cardboard, it doesn't have to be that way. Rob and I live by the credo that anyone can be miserable on a backpacking trip, but it takes a real woodsman to camp in comfort and style. We take pride in making our elk camps as comfortable as possible.
Of course, there are also disadvantages to backpacking–if you're successful, you'll have a few hundred pounds of meat, as well as your camp, to pack out on your back. But with good planning and good partners, packing out your meat can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the hunt.
Selecting a Hunting Area
One of the most important steps in planning any hunt is selecting a good location. For backpack hunting you'll need to find areas where vehicles are banned to fully realize the benefits of foot travel. The majority of these are designated wilderness areas in our national forests. To locate these areas, log onto the Wilderness Information Network at www.wilderness.net. Click on the "search with map" icon for a map of the U.S., click on your chosen state and click on any wilderness area for a description and links to the managing agency. Contact the managing agency for information and USGS map coverage.
You don't have to hunt in designated wilderness areas to find solitude and good hunting, though. Most of my favorite hunting areas aren't designated wilderness, they're just large swaths of national forest without roads. Many of these roadless areas receive less hunting pressure than nearby, more well-known wilderness areas, which tend to draw hunters from all over the country. Roadless areas can easily be found by studying topographic maps. But don't forget to follow up by hiking the areas you intend to hunt before the season. Many topographic maps haven't been updated in 10 years or so and won't show recently built roads and other changes.
It goes without saying that the area selected should be in prime elk habitat with good foraging, shelter and water. Try to find a locale with several prime feeding/bedding/watering areas within easy walking distance. You'll need to carefully consider your own physical limitations and how far you are willing to pack out an elk. On past hunts we've found that hiking two to four miles from the trailhead is far enough to leave most other hunters behind, yet close enough to the trailhead to make packing meat manageable. This distance also makes trips back to your vehicle for extra food and supplies easy. And if you're hunting in an area used by outfitters with horses, staying within a few miles of the trailhead helps you avoid the areas they hunt, since they generally pack in farther.
Next, look for a good trail system. This is essential for packing heavy loads and for getting around your hunting area in the dark. Packing heavy loads through thick forests or on steep slopes off-trail is manageable for short distances, but over long distances it's miserable and raises the likelihood of injury. Remember, any elk you kill downhill from ridgetop trails will have to be hauled back up. The best trails are level to gently sloping, trend downhill to the trailhead and are downhill of areas you plan to hunt. Fortunately, these are not uncommon; many good hunting areas have well-established trails down low along streams.
To hunt where the crowds don't go you should also be comfortable navigating cross-country (bushwhacking) away from roads and trails. If your map & compass skills are rusty, you'll need to brush up on those, and consider getting a portable GPS unit. There are several good books on wilderness navigation you can review [see sidebar] or log onto the US Orienteering Federation's website (www.us.orienteering.org) for excellent tutorials.
In his book, Bugling for Elk, well-known bowhunter Dwight Schuh advises hunters to "always avoid putting your camp where it will disturb the animals" and to "camp so that a ridge or rim separates you from the elk to buffer the sounds and smells of camp." This is good advice. The idea is to select a campsite within easy walking distance of areas you plan to hunt, but not so close as to spook the elk. This distance can vary from a quarter mile to more than a half mile, depending on how obtrusive your camp is.
Pick a campsite that's sunny, dry and level. The ideal spot will be located near but not right next to a trail. This makes it easy to come and go in the dark and allows for privacy. You'll need to be near a spring or stream–ideally a trout stream. Lightly fished backcountry streams can generally support the removal of a few trout here and there, and few meals compare to fresh trout cooked over a campfire.
Equipment Selection–Staying Comfortable
A complete discussion of backpacking equipment would fill a book, and there are several good books on the subject. Backpacking by Harvey Manning and The Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher are old standbys with loads of practical advice. For a rundown on the latest gear, check out Backpacker magazine's annual Gear Guide in each March issue.
Most people think of backpacking as a spartan enterprise. Some backpackers eschew all creature comforts, but it's not necessary. Most hunters need to be well-fed and well-rested to perform their best and enjoy the hunt. A comfortable camp is also a point of pride and tradition for many.
Rob and I have developed a system that works for us. First, we pack in more gear than the average backpacker. I normally arrive at the trailhead a day or two early and separate my gear into two loads, thereby saving wear and tear on my knees. Rob has two good knees, so he arrives a day later and proceeds to load himself up like a backwoods Jed Clampett–picture the largest pack you've ever seen with a small cooler and folding chair lashed to the top. He's only 35, a rock climber, and takes pride in his status as a "burly man" able to carry loads that would make most men crash and burn in the first mile. But such an unpolished talent requires careful cultivation, which is where I come in.
Since I'm the more experienced woodsman, it's my duty to pass on my accumulated wisdom, and believe me, I never miss a chance. I take pity on the poor boy and gently chastise him for being lazy and not making two trips like I do. But I have to tread lightly, since he packs in the ribeyes, pork chops, French bread, cheeses and fresh fruit. He even packs real cream for the coffee. Taking advantage of the youngster, you say? No, I pack in the 18-year-old Scotch (for after-hours only, of course) and cigars. Chalk up the disparity in loads to my advantage in years, gray hair and knowledge of what's really important.
We each bring our own two-man tent, which allows us to spread out our gear and stay out of each other's way. This is especially nice in foul weather. It also allows us to get up early or sleep in after a rough day without disturbing each other. We also pack the most comfortable, compact sleeping pads available, along with small pillows. Remember, comfort is the name of the game, and a good night's sleep will make you a better hunter.
For our kitchen area, we bring a large rip-stop nylon tarp and rig it as an overhead shelter. We can stay dry in foul weather and have a place to lounge and cook away from our tents, which is especially important in bear country. If there's a downed log in camp, we'll roll it under the tarp or rig the tarp over the log so we have a place to sit off the ground. A small foam pad placed on the log makes a comfortable seat. For cooking, we use two or three small backpacking stoves arranged on a flat rock under the tarp, as well as two propane/butane canister lanterns so we can work in the dark. We'll also have a small fire pit located nearby (but not under the tarp) with a small folding grate for grilling over the fire. The grate is important because we like to eat well, and we pride ourselves on our camp food.
Packing in more than one load gives us the luxury of bringing foods not normally found on backpacking trips, but then again, we're not normal backpackers. We'll bring a small cooler packed with fresh meat, vegetables, loaves of bread, whole salamis–you name it, we've packed it. Nothing raises our spirits better after a hard day's hunt than a juicy steak grilled over the campfire. Besides the mental boost, these high-calorie foods help keep us warm at night and energized for the next day's hunt.
Hydration is also key to maintaining your physical well-being on a mountain hunt, and you'll need to have an ample supply of filtered water on-hand. We use bladder-type water bags for storing water, allowing us to filter a few gallons at a time. The heavy-duty nylon-covered bags hold several liters, are almost indestructible, have easy-to-operate valves, and a grommet for hanging from a tree. In cold weather, don't forget to bring these inside the tent at night to keep them from freezing. You'll also need a folding saw with a bone blade for elk and a wood blade for firewood. It's a good idea to lay in a few days supply of dry firewood and filtered water before the hunt so you don't have to perform these time-consuming chores during the hunt. A good campfire is the next best thing to good food in keeping spirits and energy high.
Staying warm is not just a matter of comfort but can be a matter of survival in the mountains during elk season. The earlier in the season you can hunt, the easier this is, with the archery and muzzleloading seasons the best for backpacking. But even during the early seasons you'll need to be prepared for harsh and unpredictable weather, including heavy, wet snow. Don't skimp on your tent; get the best you can afford. Likewise, your sleeping bag is not an item to economize on; select one that will keep you warm down to zero. For clothing, use insulating layers that will keep you warm when wet (synthetics or wool) and waterproof, windproof parka and pants as well. Even if your raingear is too noisy to hunt in, bring it anyway–if the weather turns nasty you'll be glad you did. Last but not least, pay special attention to your boots. Select a pair that have adequate ankle support for the heavy loads you'll be carrying, and make sure they're comfortable and broken in well before the hunt.
Elk have keen noses, so staying clean is important. We find portable showers to be very useful in this respect. This is basically a heavy-duty black plastic bag with a hose and nozzle attached. When filled with water and laid in the sun, the water will warm to well over 100 degrees, and the bag can be hung in a tree for a quick shower. Just washing my hair and face after a few days in the woods makes me feel like a new man. Whole-body showers are nice but take a lot of water. For washing the rest of my body, I use a trick I learned on a recent trip to Iraq–baby wipes. They're compact, easy on your skin, leave you smelling clean and don't require you to strip down, a definite advantage when the wind howls and the campfire beckons.
Packing Out Your Elk
If you've planned properly, packing out your elk can be a highlight of your hunt. You'll be the envy of other hunters you meet on the trail and feel a real sense of accomplishment once you're finished. Assuming you're in good physical condition and have selected a good area for backpacking, the next step is to obtain the equipment needed to process and pack out your elk. A quality pack frame is your most important investment. Select one that has an adjustable, padded hip belt as well as padded shoulder straps. Hip belts transfer the weight from your shoulders down to your hips, allowing you to carry heavy loads comfortably. A sturdy platform at the bottom of the frame keeps the load from sliding, and the pack frame should be adjustable to fit your torso length.
Most pack frames can do double duty hauling both camping gear and meat. For hauling in my camping gear, I use a large zippered duffel bag and lash it to the frame. It holds bulky items very well, and the whole set-up costs around $100.
You'll also want game bags, extra rope and a pulley to hang quarters in a shady spot while you're packing loads out, and a headlamp with an extra bulb and batteries for working in the dark. You'll need secure storage at the trailhead (locked vehicle or camper) with large coolers and ice, preferably long-lasting dry ice or block ice, to keep your elk meat cold while you go back for another load.
Packing meat on your back requires a different approach to cleaning your elk. To minimize weight, you'll want to bone out the neck and ribs at a minimum, and possibly the shoulders and hindquarters as well. All of this is easier and more fun if you have help from your hunting buddies. This will require them to give up some of their hunting time, so it's best to have an agreement worked out ahead of time. Rob and I have an understanding that the successful hunter will have help cleaning, quartering and hanging the elk quarters. These are the tasks where an extra set of hands really makes a difference. The helper also packs out a quarter, leaving the successful hunter with two to four loads to pack.
No matter how old you are or what shape you're in, take your time and don't feel that you have to pack it all out in one day. Haste, coupled with a heavy load, makes missteps and injury more likely. Play it safe. Size loads so they are easily managed, and use a pair of lightweight telescoping trekking poles or old ski poles to help with balance and take some of the weight off your knees and ankles. Don't be in a hurry; bask in your success. Sit down and take a break with a cold beer at your vehicle (always plan ahead) and reflect on how lucky you are to be elk hunting in the mountains, and luckier yet to have all that good meat to take home. Leave a spare tent and sleeping bag in your vehicle so you don't have to hike back into camp if you're tired at the end of the day.
Overcoming the Physical Challenges
You don't have to be an endurance athlete to enjoy backpack hunting, but you can't be a couch potato either. After all, the whole point of backpacking is to enjoy the hunt, and you won't enjoy it if you're tired and sore. You will be physically challenged hauling loads on your back in the mountains, so if you can't participate in at least a minimal exercise program to prepare yourself, it's best to go another route.
Consult a physician before beginning an exercise program or backpacking in the mountains.
Once you're cleared to work out and aware of any personal limitations and risks, develop an exercise program that improves your cardiovascular fitness, leg strength, lower back strength and torso strength. Start the program at least a few months before the hunt and stick to it–you'll be glad you did when you're scrambling uphill at 10,000 feet or, better yet, packing out a load of meat.
For those of you on the downhill side of 40, with creaky joints like me, your best strategy is to take your time. Check with your doctor to see if prescription anti-inflammatories can help. They really help with my arthritic knee. Also, powdered electrolyte drink mixes provide a real energy boost on the trail and are great for hydration and preventing muscle cramps.
Putting it All Together
Once you're ready to go, do a "shakedown" trip to test yourself and your equipment. Hunting season is no time to find out your stove won't boil water, your tent leaks or your trick knee has gotten worse and can't take the strain of a backpack anymore. It happens to the best of us eventually, and you don't want to wait until you're a mile from the trailhead to discover/decide it's time to pack it in.
Backpacking hunting takes planning and effort, but if you value solitude and good hunting it is well worth it. I'm betting that the first time you turn in for the night after having watched a herd from camp, you'll wonder why you didn't try it sooner.
Phillip Watts is a geologist and environmental consultant living in Englewood, Colorado. He is an avid muzzleloader and is very interested in preserving wildlife habitat and the tradition of the hunt for his sons. This article originally appeared in the magazine Bugle.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I did make it out for a evening hunt on Tuesday. It was wonderful ... the first snow locally of the winter blowing sideways so I could no longer glass the opposing canyon hills for deer, then sun and some powerful winds. Typical Idaho fall time backcountry weather, although I wasn't real far off the road. I did see four does about a thousand yards off, and just like usual, one of them busted me before I saw them. Another case of moving to fast and not using the binoculars enough. That far away I could tell they weren't too concerned with me, so I dipped into the bottom of the draw I was headed up and crested the ridge, then began to contour my way to where the deer were last seen. That's when it really began to snow, so I hunkered up and used a big old sage as a windbreak. There's an old saying in Idaho (and elsewhere) that goes something like "if you don't like the weather in Idaho, wait fifteen minutes and it'll change." I have never seen it be so litterally true, as it went from three hundred yard visability to blue skies and sunny in fifteen minutes. The hunt was back on, unfortunately, the deer did not get that message and in typical mule deeg- grey ghost fashion, simply disapeared.
I have done some birdhunting in this partcular little valley in the past and ran across a really old homestead. Here's a couple cell phone pictures, one from the hillside above and one along one of the walls. To me it looks like a home foundation and a root cellar, but there is absolutley no wood left, so either it is REALLY old or the wood was removed years ago for some other project. Cool non the less, and there is also an old mine a ways further up, more fun places to explore in Idaho.
October 11, 2009 The Spokesman-Review
Digital camo revolutionizing deer huntsRich Landers
Camouflage clothing for hunters has been developed much as fishing lures are marketed to anglers: Looking good to the consumer is perhaps more important than what the critter sees.
A new camouflage pattern available in limited markets this fall claims to be the first visual concealment pattern based on scientific research into what animals can and cannot see.
Optifade concealment, targeted to bowhunters, doesn’t look like a photograph of a tree or a marsh. The pattern was developed by W.L. Gore and Associates along with experts who helped design modern digital camouflage for the military.
Gore also received scientific consultation from Jay Neitz, an animal vision expert at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle.
“Having done testing with animals and predicting what they can and can’t see, we’ve gotten so we’re very good about it,” Neitz said.
With a slight twist of their head, deer, elk and other ungulates can see 360 degrees around them. That’s one of their advantages. While they don’t see fine detail as well as humans, ungulates are able to use contrast to pick out larger objects better than humans, he said.
The Optifade digital camouflage keys on these factors by combining:
•A “macro pattern” of large fragmented shapes that break up the symmetry of the human body similar to the way a tiger’s stripes break up the shape of its body as it stalks prey.
•A “micro-pattern” of small fragmented shapes that play off the way ungulates perceive color and space. This helps a hunter fade into the background the way a leopard’s spots help it avoid detection while poised to ambush.
“The idea of these patterns is to disrupt the visual system’s ability to recognize the human form,” Neitz said.
The trend in camouflage patterns for nearly 30 years has relied on mimicking natural surroundings, he said. However, at certain distances these realistic patterns blur into a mass of grey in a deer’s eye. That can signal something’s out of place, he said.
“I’m not here to knock realistic camouflage, but I’d say the detail is really too fine,” he said
Digital camo suggests shapes and colors without actually being shapes and colors. Think of it as visual white noise.
A hunter may be at an advantage looking like a tree trunk when he’s sitting still next to a tree. “But when a tree trunk moves or stops away from a tree, it can look very unnatural to a deer,” Neitz said.
Optifade concealment is designed to help a hunter blend into the flow of space.
Many sportsmen already are familiar with Gore-Tex, the original waterproof-breathable fabrics used from boots and gloves to jackets, fishing waders and hats. Gore-Tex has been incorporated in camouflage clothing from other manufacturers in a variety of patterns for many years, but this is the first time Gore has developed its own camo pattern.
Gore teamed with Sitka, a sportsman’s gear company founded in 2005 by hunters who wanted to incorporate mountaineering technology into hunting gear.
While the first-generation products target archery hunters, the Optifade concealment pattern could be effective even with hunter orange colors, Neitz said.
“Maybe down the line Gore will consider that,” he said.
Neitz was on a team of researchers that found hot pink was the best color for being highly visible to the human eye yet the lowest visibility to the ungulate’s eye.
“But that didn’t go anywhere,” he said.
Some of the Optifade jackets have red logos on the exterior. Deer and elk are not sensitive to deep red colors, Neitz said.
Is the Optifade concealment as effective for hunting predators as it is for ungulates?
“Dogs and other carnivores have similar vision to ungulates,” he said. “Nature didn’t want to give either one too much of an advantage.”
Neitz said he jumped at the chance Gore gave him to work with “the digital camouflage experts who revolutionized concealment for the military.”
“Other camo is effective,” he said, “but I think these (Optifade) camouflages are more effective and better under a wider range of conditions.”
The main test, of course, will be how the patterns look to the hunters who might buy them. In that case, Optifade appears to be a winner.
Gore created a test that put Optifade head-to-head with the leading camouflage manufacturers. Hunters dressed in the products were photographed in different field situations and the photos were rendered dichromatic as an ungulate would see them.
When hunters were asked to sit at a computer and pick out the camouflaged hunters in the pictures, “there was no doubt (Optifade) was a better product – a lot better,” Neitz said.
Camouflage in history
1590: Native North Americans drape themselves with skins of animals when stalking prey.
1830-1850: Tweed recognized in the United Kingdom as the first moisture-resistant, durable fabric popular for sporting activities and visual concealment properties for hunters.
1892-1909: American artist and naturalist Abbot Thayer’s research on protective coloration in nature culminates in publication of “Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom: An Exposition of the Laws of Disguise through Color and Pattern.”
1900-1913: The art world’s abstract “Cubist” movement influences Abbot Thayer and British counterpart John Kerr to develop “dazzle painting” of ships to distort a vessel’s course, speed and range to fool enemy U-boats during World War I.
1915-1918: “Camouflage” born when the French army creates a new unit employing artists to create visual concealment methods. By 1918, the use of military camouflage was common.
1980: Trebark pattern introduced by Jim Crumley as the first hunting-specific mimicry camouflage.
1995: Digital camouflage patterns developed and tested in Canada; adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2001
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
It is never to early to start dreaming and scouting for next year, however. Now, I have my own little honey hole I like to hunt most years, but I really like scouting via maps for new areas as well. It is wise to have a backup area or two because your primary area might be closed for fire or be crowded once you get there. I have had both happen, though thankfully my area didn't actually burn down.
So where to start looking on a map? I have come to really like Google Earth. It is almost cheating in some ways. If you keep in mind that elk need three things and you search for those things, you'll likely find elk. Water, food and security. Water is easy to spot on maps, most lakes, streams and rivers are labeled, but finding those out of the way springs, that's what we are looking for. They are usually not labeled on Google Earth, but look for a bright green spot, sometimes it'll be just a seep that never amounts to a stream, and other times it's the headwaters of something larger. If it is at least a mile from the nearest paved road, it's time to tear down the area and see if we can find some nearby food sources. These will be the open meadows and parks, and they are color keyed differently on different types of maps. Now if we are looking at an area a ways away from a road some of the elk's security has been taken care of, but they also need an area to bed down in. Elk are by nature are gregarious creatures and they will not necessarily bed in the same local day after day, so the best odds are finding several dark timbered north facing benches scattered around.
Not my video, but a good, solid introduction on finding elk. Fella has a great user name by the way. So check it out and go start scouting and dreaming of next year.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I recently wrote an article for one of my favorite magazines, Traditional Bowhunter. Originally it was going to be published around this time, but due to a snafu on their part, it will not be published, so I thought I'd share it with you.
Journaling and the Traditional Bowhunter
The drizzle was enough to encourage me to stay sheltered under the large Ponderosa pine. It was mid day and lunch had been eaten and the rain hadn’t let up. I didn’t mind, however, and for a reason other than my well traveled tired feet. As I sat tucked up against the trunk and enjoyed being dry I wrote in my journal. I treasure my time in the woods; however, being like most folks with other commitments like family, school or a full time job, it is limited. I have hunted for ways to extend my enjoyment. I am able to return to my outdoor adventures because I keep a journal. The long stretches between hunts, the dog days of summer and the long dark nights of winter are now minor periods in between adventures because I am able to relive my adventures. I have learned, and managed to retain, many lessons because of my journals.
The reasons for keeping a journal are many and rewarding. Beyond being able to recall hunts past, I am able to establish localized, intimate knowledge of the specific animals I hunt. I also extend the journey of the hunt, keeping a log of contacts made, map scouting, tips and tactics I picked up from magazine articles and books, gear lists, and shopping lists. I actively study the animals I hunt in the off season. I read everything book and article on elk, mule deer, turkeys and black bears I can get my hands on. I talk with old timers and long time locals, successful hunters and landowners. I call the area’s game warden and biologists and question them on the local game animals. Despite feeling like I am pestering them, more often than not they are happy to talk with me. My journal and pen are right by side and often I will make notes in my year’s journal.
I manage to extend my hunt but I also enjoy the legacy I am leaving. Just as Fred Bear lives on through his Field Notes, I hope to allow my future generations something they are able to connect with me. It brings me joy to imagine a my son or a grandchild being transported to my hunts, reading my journals under his blanket with a flashlight. Maybe that is wishful thinking on my part since I haven’t been chased up a tree by a snarling grizzly, taken any “trophies” or hunted exotic lands…yet.
Fred Bear’s Field Notes are one famous example of a hunting journal, but they don’t need to be as extensive to be useful to you. Many of the famous traditional bow hunting pioneers kept journals of their time in the woods and with a little digging you can find them in traditional archery vendors, bookstores, or libraries. Gene Wensel, E. Donnall Thomas Jr and David Peterson are some of the more modern legends with published field notes. Wildlife studies obtained from a local university or your state’s fish and game department might also lend some insight into your regional animals. However, I have read reams of reports only to end up wondering what I learned, if anything.
During scouting trips I make careful notes of animals sighted, distinguishing characteristics such as a discolored patch of fur or a drop tine, where they were and at what time of day. I record their demeanor as well as any other factors I might be wise enough to include. Was the trail head log in full? Was the browse or forage plentiful? Do local springs or creeks look drier than in year’s past or are there more potholes of water available? Over time you’ll begin to notice animal movement patterns and how the weather dictates your local animal’s movement patterns. Bedding areas, escape routes and directions, times the animals are active and present. You’ll notice the small things that can impact your hunting in a big way. You may take note of a small spring not labeled on any map or a funnel that’s not obvious. I look forward to the day I take a mature bull elk that I have followed since he was a calf.
In an effort to prevent writer’s block and enable my creative juices to flow, when I start a new journal I skim the previous journal’s notes and transfer anything I might find useful. Tips and lessons picked up but not yet hard wired into my hunting routine, topics to write about or reminders of specific things, such as the draw where the wind always seems to swirl. Contact phone numbers, email addresses and websites. I’ll also jot down the different categories of information that I like to keep track of. Wind direction, weather, cloud cover, moon phase, temperatures, and barometer pressure are all important to game animal movement. Stand or blind locations, GPS coordinates and waypoints, equipment, experiences and thoughts, game sightings, lessons learned. Location hunted, time, what you hunted for, who I was hunting with, sightings of both game and non game animals, shots taken and the thoughts immediately after the shot, harvested animals. Since I rarely make note all of the mentioned categories, I enjoy chronicling the actual stories of the hunts as well. I occasionally make a rubbing of local flora or make a sketch of the lunch break vista or that strange insect. After the hunt I insert photos from the hunt. In the past I have started a new journal every year. I have never filled up a journal, though some years I have come close. I typically keep the front half reserved for elk and mule deer scouting and hunting while using the back half for duck, turkey, coyote and other small game hunts. There are lessons to be learned there as well!
Throughout my years of journal keeping I have tried different types of journals. No two are the same. A simple wire bound-dollar store notebook works well. I have also used nicer hard-bound books, specifically sold as journals, purchased at one of the big book stores. To save weight on my backcountry solo hunts I have ditched the actual journal and kept notes on the back of my maps. There are some spectacular looking leather bound journal covers as well. Another great option are the “write in the rain” series of notebooks, the pages are tear resistant and survive a dunking, to which you can add a zippered cordura cover with pen slots so you will never find yourself somewhere with something to write about and nothing to write with. Take a minute to think about the size of your journal and account for how you will transport it around. I don’t always have it with me, though more and more I find I enjoy spending my mid day hours writing my thoughts and experiences. You might find it more convenient to keep it back at base camp and a larger journal would do just fine. You can also find journals small enough to fit in a cargo pocket and light enough to be hardly noticed.
After this year’s hunts are done and the gear is stored until next spring I plan on doing something I haven’t done before. I am looking forward to recording a fireside chat, recounting my time afield. This should be a fun experiment and going over my notes and memories while still fresh will uncover small gems of knowledge that might otherwise be lost. Again, a Fred Bear idea, and I am far from Fred, but it is fun to think of listening to myself recount my hits and misses when my knees creak too much to enjoy hunting as rugged terrain as I do now.
Like most things in life, the more time, effort and thought you put into your hunting journal, the more you will get out of it. Invest a large effort to make daily entries and you will harvest large rewards. The rain eventually let up and the journal was repacked in my daypack, safe from the wet foliage in a plastic baggie. I continued to hunt the rugged mountain side just below timberline the rest of the day; ghosting along from tree to tree, doing my best to pay attention to the small things, watching for a flicking ear, the smell of bull elk musk and the faint far off sound of a bugle. The day ended without a single elk sighting, but the day was not a complete loss and thanks to my journal it won’t ever be lost either.
Mike Miller is a lifetime Idaho resident, a recovering Marine and a mostly unsuccessful hunter who enjoys the minutiae of his outdoor adventures. When he isn’t dreaming about his next hunting safari he be found fly fishing local rivers which he also journals. This is his first contribution to TBM.
One of my dream trips would be a week or two in the Boundary Waters/ Quietico National Parks in Northern Minnesota/ Southern Ontario. There is something appealing to me about the quietude of a canoe paddle and the call of the loon, the solitude of the north woods and the crackle of a campfire.
I am always on the lookout for the classic gear of a certain area, and as a gear junkie, I love backpacks. And what trip in the north woods of Minnesota would be complete without a Duluth Pack? I stumbled across a great little video following the creation of a Wilderness Model pack, and to see the video, all the handy work that goes into it, I no longer drop my jaw at the price of the simple little canvas backpacks and portage bags that Duluth sells. Furthermore, I have much more confidence in the construction, they look absolutely bomb proof. So sit back and relax for a few minutes, it is an interesting tour.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Not really sure I know what it is that makes me like this particular model so much... might be it was my first knife I bought for "bushcraft" might be the OD green reminds me of my time in the Marines, or the handle fits my hand as well as anything. Maybe its the return on investment in Mora knives is so high, it just makes a fella fell good. I'll tell you though, not much of a fan of the sheath, pretty funky, but it is secure, safe and durable, so I can't ask much more than that.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This is a longshot as I am sure my readership pool is very small, but I am trying to get my hands on a specific model mora that is not made anymore. I'd like one or preferably two plastic OD green handled carbon steel blade knives. Top dollar paid, or we can work out a trade.
Thanks for reading!
From Ben's Backwoods online catologue, I am looking for the bottom knife:
I emailed both Ragweed forge and Bens backwoods and neither has them in stock at all. Ragweed forge emailed me back with this:
Thank you for the message and inquiry.
I'm sorry, the OD Craftsman has been discontinued. I have none.
Actually the Craftsman line itself has been discontinued. I'm selling
off old stock.
I have quite a bit on hand, but when it's gone that will be the end of it.
So get them while you can!
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Alone in the Wild
First up is Ed Wardle, a British (?) guy who was alone in the Yukon for a good bit. His goal was three months, but he did not make it that long for some unspecified reason. It is a National Geographic show set to be aired here shortly, and it is worth a watch, but not as nicely filmed as Survivorman, and Ed doesn't have much to say that is very educational, nor is there much in the way of great scenery. C+ to B-, worth watching on a quiet fall afternoon when you can't get out.
Check out a great article written by Roger Phillips of the Idaho Statesman. "The finer points of elk hunting." While you are at it, check out Corey Jacobsen's elk 101 website.
I am in love with Both Gene Ingram's and Charles May's knives over on the blademakers website. They are similar in design, and just look downright handy!
The Gene Ingram #30 with a firesteel and a cocobollo handle looks just about right for anything I can throw at it in the woods.
The Charles May Skifa looks like a top notch bush knife with everything that Mors Kochanski recommends for a all around knife.
Paired with an axe, I am sure I could stay comfortable in the woods for some time, but I am not sure I want to put myself out there like Ed Wardle, Les Stroud or Bear Grills just yet.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Last weekend my good friend Todd and I went on a backpacking trip. Not just any backpacking trip, but a memorable overnighter to one of my favorite places in the universe, Imogene Lake, deep in the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho. Over the years I have visited this particular piece of Heaven on Earth several times, and it's exposed granite and gin clear waters have a hold on me like few other places do. We were planning on a two night trip, but unexpected work delays and a constant rain caused us to rethink our plan and we left our basecamp early on the morning of August eighth. There are two trailheads to choose from, and we choose to drive a bit more and hike a bit less. We started off with gusto and hiked the seven or eight miles in in a little more than two hours, and by the time we arrived at out deserted destination a steady rain was falling. Imogene lake has numerous islands and one large pennensula connected to the shore by a swampy area, fortified into a nice pathway over the years by hikers. We quickly set up camp and began to explore the island. Due to the fragile and slow to decompose nature of 8500 feet backcountry exposed granite the Forest Service installed a pit-style toilet on the island... perhaps the best view of any porceline throne anywhere in the world... We fished some in the drizzle, gathered a meager supply of firewood and enjoyed the solitude of the wilderness and the company of a good friend.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I thought I'd give the cool little Nying knife I bought at a garage sale last Saturday a closer look. I knew exactly what it was as soon as I spotted it from across the garage, and I knew I wanted it as well. I have had one of these stout little knives in my hands before and immediately knew it was a knife I'd like to own, though I didn't buy it that day.
The Helle knife factory in Norway turns out some fantastic knives. The style isn't particularly American, but I have long held the theory that the best knife for a given region is the ones the locals carry, not the one that is best advertised in the hook and bullet magazines. This might be a machette in the jungle, or a small blade without a hand guard, much like the majority of the Helle knives are. This is a fantastic example of a small Scandinavian knife, and while I won't give you a disertation on the variations of Scandinavian knives with respect to the local regions, I have yet to handle a Scandinavian knife that didn't seem "right."
One of the two places I know of to buy a Helle knife in the USA is over at the Ragweed Forge website (the other is Dryad Bows). According to Rangar, "The Nying is a short stubby knife designed for fishermen. The handle is generously proportioned to give a good grip even when your hands are cold or covered in fish slime. The 2 3/4" blade is laminated stainless steel. The attractive leather sheath has a distinctive cutout. It is fitted with a keeper strap, which engages a stud on the pommel, and a suspension thong. (Blade is 2 3/4", length overall is 6 3/8".)
This knife received the prestigious Norsk Designråd Award for design excellence."
As you can see, the size is small, but no smaller than a typical Swiss Army blade, and, I think, more useful, and most defiantely more stout. Besides being easier to grip with "cold or slimy hands", the thick birch handle also is less fatiguing for long periods of knife work. The weight is essentially non noticable. I look forward to carrying this knife with me this summer and next fall and really putting it to some work.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I went garage sale shopping with my wife today. I rarely find anything more than a paperback book that I "have" to have, but today I found a few things... as soon as I saw the knife from across the garage I knew what it was, and I new I "had" to have it. At $10 it was a steal, and then I noticed the books as well, and I added four good books to my library for $2.25. I am a big fan of Helle knives, and this little traditional Scandinavian knife is a gem. It's the Nying model, and it fits your hand (at least my slightly small hands) like the proverbial glove. I can't wait to sharpen it up to razor and put it to good use. It looks like it hasn't been used much at all, and the guy I bought it from said his buddy bought it while he was in Norway.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
I finished a project that I have been meaning to do for quite some time.... and axe sheath for my "bush" axe which I bought at a yard sale three or four years ago. I didn't want anything fancy, just a basic blade cover. Despite the scrap leather it turned out pretty nice, although I am not 100% sold on the closure mechanism I made, it'll do nicely for now. I used a scrap of ebony and made the button... and of course had to put an elk stamp on it as well.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
My lovely wife and son came with me last night to christen the new ship at a local city park pond. It was fun, and by golly, it floats just fine! Spent about 15 minutes on the water. She'll behave quite a bit better with oars or a kayak paddle I think, but other than that and the runners on the bottom helping with straight line tracking, I am pleased! Very stable, I should be able to fly fish and bowfish out of her no problem.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Well, we'll just say it is done for now. Sealed, calked, ready for the water. Eventually I will add oars (and oar locks of course), and possibly a front seat or bench. But it'll be on the water this coming weekend for the carp shoot, and I am pumped! It will be a while before I start another project this big.... but all in all I enjoyed it and am pleased with how it turned out. And you can't spend this much time and effort building a boat and go out and buy a paddle or oars, so I made a paddle as well.
And as a side note, please go and check out americanbushman's firesteel contest. If you like my creations, I'd appreciate your vote.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I have been out fishing for bluegills a handful of times since school let out for break. Pound for pound, bluegill are my favorite fish I have ever caught, and I live them because they provide plenty of action and they'll take most anything you throw at them.
I learned to fly fish (and fish in general since I haven't done much of any other kind of fishing) on bluegill, my older brother and I would ride our dirt bikes down to a local pond on those calm, cloudless nights of my childhood and catch a stringer full of fish each. We'd ride home and my dad would fillet them up, my mom would cook up a gourmet meal and we'd use the carcasses for tomato plant fertilizer.
We have had some of those bluebird days and with the weather heating up, now is the prime time to get out on a float tube and catch some slabs.
My dad and I did just that and "found" a new lake that, although I am a lifelong Boise resident, I had no idea existed. Quinn's pond apparently used to be a lumberyard pond of some sort and it's deep, cool water and almost complete lack of other fishermen called us in for a relaxing afternoon of casting.
We caught quite a bunch and my dad fixed up a bluegill ceviche that was great! Here is the recipe he used. If you haven't had a ceviche before, you have to give this one a try. It is fabulous! Ours turned out a bit too lemony and not hot enough, but feel free to adjust the recipe to your taste. Also, a more crunchy-chunky type of ceviche is a little more traditional, but it would take away from the delicate flavors of the bluegill.
1 lb deboned fish fillets
1/2 medium white or red onion finely chopped
1 cup of pure lemon juice
1 diced large tomato
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of powdered sugar
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper
(Use these measurements as a general guidline.)
Place whole deboned fillets in a deep glass baking dish placeing them as flat as possible. Add the lemon juice, onion,salt,and sugar in the dish. Be sure that the lemon juice completely covers the fillets. Place the dish in the refrigerator for about 2 hrs. After 2 hrs, put the jalapeno, cilantro, and tomatoes into the dish and stir lightly ensureing to moisten all of the ingredients. After 1 hour your fillets will be fully cooked with the lemon juice. Stir the ingredients into a nice medley and enjoy with your favorite cracker or dipping chips.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Last weekend was the Jim Brackenberry Memorial Western States Traditional Rendezvous (WSTR) hosted by the Idaho traditional Bowhunters and held at Magic Mountain Ski Area near Twin Falls Idaho.
It was a blast. I had so much fun meeting new folks, wishing I had deep pockets to buy some (more) gear.... lots of goodies from several vendors.
There were three 3D courses set up and available to shoot at all times of the day "until your arms falls off." Two of these courses were set up to shoot on a nice walk downhill after a breathtaking trip up the chairlift.
I made some good shots and missed the target completely, but I enjoyed every minute of the experience. This was my first event like this, but it won't be my last.
There was a "water torture" shoot that I really enjoyed. Played head to head, the object was to shoot your jug of water thus emptying it, before your opponent empties his. Speed counts, but so does accuracy, and the trick is complete pass throughs at the lower 1/3rd of the jug. Yardage was about 10, and the action was quick and lively. I surprised myself and made it into the second round and almost past that as well!
I also shot my first "smoker" round, which was a blast! Only one arrow was allowed, and those not shooting wood arrows were playing just for fun. However, the winner that was shooting woodies got half the pot or a really cool "war" arrow that someone donated (1000 grains, 100# spine, this thing was a LOG!). Ten targets placed in very tough, brushy areas broke more than a few arrows. I was shooting carbons, but managed to shoot all ten targets, including the steel plate potato and sheriff which demolished my arrow. Lots of laughs on this course, you can bet I'll be playing this again!
Although the chances of any of the vendors chancing by here and reading this, I do want to thank the ones I can think of off the top of my head for showing up and for the conversation! I enjoyed meeting all of you!
-Whispering Wind Arrows
-Knives By Victor
-And there were several more that I just can't think of off the top of my head, but thank you for coming, the event wouldn't have been as successful without you there!
Wow, so much packed into such a short amount of time. I took 70 or so photographs, so be sure to check out the slide show below!
Thanks for reading!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
In the next few days I'll be posting about the:
-Western States Traditional Rendezvous
-Centaur longbow review
-Bluegill fishing, along with a fantastic recipe
-Bowfishing for carp
So I hope you tune in, I plan to get it all done before school starts back up next week.
Thanks for reading!
Monday, May 11, 2009
My Dad and I went on an impromptu fishing trip to the nearby Swan Falls dam area on the Snake River in search of a new fishing area. Although it was only one hour fifteen minutes away, neither of us had been there before and what a day to explore! Hardly a cloud in the sky, nice and warm at 70*, and a nice breeze every once in a while.
We got skunked though, due in large part because of the high water and not having any knowledge of where to go. The reservoir is a long, skinny and (relatively) not very deep body of water. We choose to fish the slack water just downstream from the dam. The banks are mostly choked with brush so back casting was mostly non existant and the channel became very deep very quickly so our options were limited. We decided to call it a day with no bluegill, no bass, no trout, and no carp in our creels. We figure the river portion would be much more fishable in August and plan to be back.
The drive in to the area took us through farmland, high desert (populated by a huge population of whistle pigs/ gophers), and all of the sudden the desert floor opens up into this massive gaping slash. The road down into the floor of the canyon hugs the wall and is, simply put, spectacular.
We saw loads of hawks, a vulture, this bluebelly skink lizard, a couple carp jumping, rabbits, marmots, whistle pigs, ravens, and redwing blackbirds.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
I also "found" a couple schools with interesting classes. Scouting, bowmaking, flintknapping, traditional living and others are found at Practical Primitive. Slightly more geared to the military is onPoint Tactical, but they still have several courses that look like a hoot!
Next week is finals week, then I have three weeks off. I have several posts in the planning stage, as well as some fun adventures outdoors, but I most likely won't be getting anythiing posted until then (so have no fear, rumors of my death will be very premature).
Thanks for reading.
Friday, May 1, 2009
After I use my camelback (or other hydration bladder) I clean it out and throw in a couple plastic practice golf balls. They effectively spread the plastic apart and allow it to dry properly. I picked up the golf balls from the dollar store and happened to have them before I saw the tip.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The only downsides were a little more weight and not having a stable base to set it on. I solved the instability by placing three fist sized rocks on the ground and using those as a tripod of sorts.
If memory serves me right it was between 10 and 12 inches in diameter.
I ended up giving it away to a friendly backpacker I met in Joshua Tree National Park.
I have done some searching, but I can't seem to find something similar enough to justify giving it a try.
Anyone know where I can find one? It must have a long handle, not two short ones.
Friday, April 17, 2009
I haven't had a whole lot of time to work on the "carp-e diem" bowfishing-flyfishing boat this last month, but it is coming along slowly and surely.
Several times I have had to solve problems simply because the plans I have are pretty simple, in many cases just the flat measurements.
The gunnels and chines were made of laminated slats of the 1/4 plywood instead of hardwood. That has taken quite a bit more time than if I had made them from hardwood, simply because I have to custom make each part four times.
Quite obviously I am still lacking one critical aspect of any good ship. The floor of the boat, a "deck" in proper sailor speak.
Once I get the deck installed in the next week or so all I will have left is the seat and the "knees" in the corners.
I am still debating on what finish I am going to use. I am leaning on chalking all the joints and an epoxy lacquer deck finish. I don't anticipate having the boat in the water for any longer than a day at a time, so I shouldn't need to go overboard on the finish.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
I am sure that like a lot of you I have always been intrigued by the whole "survival knife" concept. Ever since the original Rambo movie the hollow handle survival knife hasn't been hard to find. Unfortunately, in a "survival" situation, these knives would not last. I remember pretty vividly the summer festival when my parents finally gave in to my wants and let me purchase one of those made in China-plastic handle-with the saw back survival knives. With the compass on the top, loaded with three matches, some fishing line, hooks, sinkers and the saw inside the handle, it had the sharpener on the front of the pleather sheath. I went for the black instead of the camo...
I also remember in sharp detail the day I was cutting with it and it broke. Two pretty much worthless pieces. A blade with nothing to hold onto and a handle with no reason to be held.
But the concept has stayed with me. I am a four inch blade kind of guy, but a while back I bought a Cold Steel Bushman knife, well over my usual limit for blades I am interested in. But, at about $20, the price is nice. I bought it on that big auction site, sight unseen. I had only seen pictures of one side of the knife and I thought the handle could be sealed, but it ends up, it is just rolled. This isn't really a biggie, since I can still stuff gear inside the handle. I also had a Spec-Ops "navigator" sheath. It has a large pocket on the front... just right for some more "survival" gear.
Priorities during a survival situation are shelter, warmth, water and way down on the list is food. I think my kit covers all the bases.
Rope, snare wire, lighter, matches and a small ferro rod-magnesium stick combo, tinfoil (usefull for cooking, heat reflection, boiling water), a smaller knife for small work, a whistle, compass and flashlight combo (although I do not think a flashlight is "survival gear"), a small fishing kit, a feew safety pins, some rubber bands, a chunk of fire lighting wood-wax, and a ziplock bag for carrying water.
It all weighs about one pound.
Do I carry it into the woods with me? No. But it is an interesting concept, and one I enjoyed putting together just for a nastalgic ride.