Thursday, October 29, 2009

Out hunting

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.

A new kind of camo

Good article in my local paper this morning on a great little company's new camo. If you haven't heard of Sitka camo clothing yet, you will soon and I'd recommend you cruise on over to their site and give it a good look.

October 11, 2009 The Spokesman-Review

Digital camo revolutionizing deer hunts

Rich Landers; (509) 459-5508

Sitka Stormfront Jacket with Gore Optifade Concealment and Gore-Tex fabric technology brings digital camouflage concepts to clothing.Courtesy of W.L. Gore and Associates

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


I never would have guessed there were more than three or four of you readers out there. Last week I placed a gadget on this blog that maps out where people are in the world when they stumble on my writings. I was surprised when I had ten hits, and absolutely blown away when by day two I had a hit on all six of the continents (I know there are seven, but Antarctica hardly has a population, so I don't count it... but I am sure I would if I had someone down there reading my blog). So I just wanted to say a big thank you to you for reading what I write, regardless of how you got here, I appreciate it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Elk scouting 2010

Because of school and family commitments I managed to miss just about all of the 2009 archery elk hunts here in Idaho. It was the first year I have not hunted elk since I got out of the Marines, and boy, do I miss it. We are spoiled here to have over the counter tags for elk and I don't have to wait six to ten years like I would in Arizona or New Mexico.

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.


Field Notes
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.

Boundary Waters and Duluth Pack

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

My dear wife

...bought me a new archery target for our anniversary today. How awesome is she? I am going to go shoot, catch you later.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Found 'em!

I managed to find a small supply of these sweet knives over in North Carolina. Bought two and I think I'll be buying at least a couple more before the supply runs dry. I will be keeping at least one stock and unused, but I also want to toss a couple in the glove box, bug out bag, bottom of a couple packs, not to mention a commonly used user and one for a couple modifications.

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.