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First Lite's Ford Van Fossan travels to New Zealand's South Island to hunt tahr, chamois, and red Stag for the next two weeks. You can follow the adventure on our campfire blog and on instagram with the hashtag #expeditionNZ.
First, the trip was just an idea. It was born after I watched an episode of MeatEater in which Steve hunts tahr and chamois in a painfully picturesque glacial valley in Southern Alps.
Then the idea became possibility. After I talked with a few Kiwis at the 2015 SHOT show, it no longer seemed so outlandish. I heard tales of rugged terrain, vast expanses of public land and plentiful exotic critters.
Finally, the possibility of a trip transformed into an obsession. Scott and Kenton, First Lite’s fearless leaders, traveled to the country to visit Merino sheep ranches (and hunt). They brought back some pretty pictures, a couple good stories and what was apparently and exemplary shoulder mount of a creature that looked like the product of a pronghorn, a mountain goat and a weird night in Jackpot, Nevada.
No tags, no licenses. Just get yourself down there and you can hunt like you drew one of North America’s best mountain units.
It was settled.
Good. Now to plan it. International DIY mountain hunts are not known for the logistical simplicity but at least it wasn’t hard to find a willing buddy.
It would have been easier to hire an outfitter for the hunt. It would have been easier but that’s not what we are doing. First, we don’t have the cash. As young guys not far out of school, we aren’t exactly rolling in the dough required to contract a PH. Fortunately, we aren’t much interested in doing so anyway.
I’ve never been on a guided hunt; it's not that I am against the concept. I’d just generally rather shoot a spike on my own than a six by six that someone whom I’ll soon be tipping put me on. However, I also fully realize that it is not always possible to hunt on a strange land without guidance. As far as I know, Tanzania will not be a destination for DIY hunters anytime soon.
But herein lies much of the appeal of New Zealand as a destination. There were several tales on rokslide and others blogs across the Internet of plucky folks heading down to the country and pulling off totally unguided mountain hunts. It seems that maybe, with a bit of beta, we might be able to get after some neat critters in absolute trophy high country.
Fortunately, we haven’t been flying blind on logistics. As I mentioned, Scott and Kenton had hunted down there the previous springs and had some contacts on a sheep station in the center of the South Island. In addition to answering my constant stream of logistical question emails, they very kindly have offered to put us up for a few days and point us towards a few places where we might find some game.
Slowly a plan emerged: fly into Queenstown. Stock up on supplies, see the city and spend our first night there. Then, drive up to our new friends ranch. Check the rifles, head into the mountains and find some tahr and chamois. Come out with heavy packs, regroup and maybe take a shower. Next go look up some red stags, ideally some that are hot on hinds (females) and “roaring” away. Repeat the heavy pack-shower scenario and call it a trip. Along the way we hope to see some gorgeous country, meet some interesting folks and learn about a culture of hunting a bit different from our own.
Physical preparation was another consideration in planning this expedition. I’ve never quite been a #Mtnstrong type guy but hunting the Southern Alps would not be a roll-out-of-bed-and-go type experience. In March, pounding the hills for game is a memory several months in the past. It seemed a bit of intentional training was in order for a hunt in rugged country during the peak of the North American offseason.
Luckily, I live in a mountain town. The Bald Mountain Ski Area rises 3,400 vertical feet from the valley floor a rifle shot from my front door. Climbing the ski mountain after the lifts shut down is one of my favorite after work activities in the winter. The snow cats groom the runs at night and so generally after getting to the top you get to ski freshly courdoroyed runs as a reward for the hike.
Using climbing skins on touring skis, I tried to get to the top (or as high as my schedule would allow) at least twice a week. As the trip got closer, I began to snowshoe up in my hunting boots with a weighted pack that also held my ski boots and downhill skis to better simulate the impact and motion of warm season hiking.
Most weekends, I supplemented this scheme with backcountry ski tours, another favorite winter pastime. This allowed me to put in a bit more vertical to prepare for the climbing, climbing and, more likely than not, more climbing that will be involved in the hunt. Finally, I rounded out my training for the Southern Alps with five-mile runs.
I have been fortunate to be able to do all of these activities at relatively high elevation. Our town sits at 5800 feet and is surrounded by mountains up to 12,000 feet tall. All things considered I was feeling physically prepared for the hunt. Would it still kick my ass? Definitely, but hopefully less so than if I hadn’t done anything at all.
In addition to physical training I knew I also needed to get in some time at the range. I had decided against the bow early with the argument that I have the distinct pleasure of chasing Idaho’s mountain critters with arrows for a month or two each fall. Up till now this experience has been extremely rewarding but entirely devoid of harvested animal protein. If we were going to fly all the way down to New Zealand I figure it might be nice to bring the artillery and maximize our chances, especially in light of the whole hunting-species-I’d-never-seen-before-in-a-country-I’d-never-stepped-foot-in-without-a-guide, thing.
I’ll admit it freely; my rifle almost always takes a back seat to the Charger. But with the impending boomstick hunt, the Tikka had emerged sooner than usual in 2016. I shot cardboard once or twice a week, focusing on building confidence at somewhat unsettled shooting conditions of mountain hunting.
This was easier said than done. Deep snows limited the standard drive-out-a-canyon routine for longer distance practice. Ultimately, I resorted to using my touring skis to get out to deserted places to shoot over 100 yards. I told the occasional passerby I was training for a biathlon. The extra effort aside, I was feeling quite confident with my .308.
Gear gathering and preparation was another process. Working for an apparel company, the clothing kit wasn’t too difficult to figure out. It was more or less the same setup I bring along for all my backcountry hunts with a couple of additions from the 2016 line.
|Core Lower Base||Red Desert Boxer|
|Med Lower Base||Allegheny Bottom|
|Pant||Corrugate Guide Pant|
|Core Top||Wilikin Aerowool Crew Top|
|Med Top||Chama Hoody|
|Med Top||Halstead Tech Fleece|
|Insulation||Umcompahgre Puffy Jacket|
|Hard Shell Jacket||Vapor Stormlight Jacket|
|Hard Shell Bottom||Boundary Stormtight Pant|
|Light Headwear||5 Panel Tech Cap|
|Warm Headwear||Cuff Beanie|
|Gaiter||Traverse Boot Gaiters|
|Base Glove||Aerowool Glove Liner|
|Insulating Glove||Talus Fingerless Gloves|
More difficult decisions were made in the equipment department. I viewed this trip as an opportunity/sufficient excuse to upgrade my backcountry setup. I became a regular in our local backcountry gear shop and spent far too much time trolling the likes of rokslide, outdoorgearlab.com and backpacker.com. Ultimately, I bought trekking poles, a new stove, a new pad and new boots. I have also resealed the seams on my aging tent and borrowed a shiny new First Lite Fusion Kifaru pack from the venerable Ryan Callahan.
|Spotting Scope||Vortex Razor|
|Binocular||Olympus Trooper 8x40|
|Tent||MSR Hubba Hubba|
|Bag||EMS Boreal 20°|
|Pad||Big Agnes Q Core|
|GPS||Garmin Rhino 610|
|Headlamp||Black Diamond Revolt|
|Stove||MSR WL International|
|Trekking Poles||Black Diamond Distance Z|
|Rifle||Tikka T3 Lite in .308|
|Pack||Kifaru Mountain Warrior|
Despite some teeth pulling moments, we finally got this expedition sorted out. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be in the Southern Alps in no time. The International Date Line, NZ Customs and 16 hours of flying is all that separatedsus from our long anticipated Kiwi adventure.
Ford Van Fossan is the Consumer Sales and Content Manager at FLHQ. He will not be answering his phone for the next two weeks.
Hunting seasons are fast approaching and with the right preparation you will be reaping the joys of a successful hunt. When preparing for hunts, it can be easy to overlook one aspect: Your fitness. Physical fitness is just as essential to hunting as practicing shooting. Without fitness, you very well might be going home empty handed. So what are some things you can do right now to get ready got the upcoming hunting seasons? There are two elements of physical fitness that are necessary for hunters: Cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength.
Cardiovascular Training Techniques
When considering how to train for cardiovascular endurance, you have to think about how you hike while you are hunting. Typically, it is a series of pauses followed by short bursts of hiking, then pausing again. It is essential to "practice how you play," or in other words, train the way you hunt. That is where high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) and tabata training come in.
H.I.I.T. is a form of cardio that focuses on sprints and active rest. With interval training, the sprinting portion of the workout is done at a high level of exertion. This should last for about 30 to 60 seconds, based on your fitness level. The active rest portion is done at a slower pace in which you are still moving, but slow enough that your body is able to recover; this period last for about one to two minutes. A typical H.I.I.T. workout should last around 20 minutes, cycling between sprints and active rest. You can do any cardio exercise you prefer; however, you should try to focus on those exercises that will emulate hiking (stair-stepper, jogging on an incline, etc.). H.I.I.T. cardio will train your body to be accustomed to the drastic changes in exertion that take place during a hunt. If you are new to this type of training, start with two minutes of warm-up, followed by eight cycles of 30 seconds of sprinting and 90 seconds of active rest. Finish up with two minutes of cool down. As your fitness level increases, increase the duration of time you are sprinting while decreasing the duration of your active rest.
Now that we have an understanding of H.I.I.T., we need to look at tabata training. Tabata training is a shorter, time efficient form of H.I.I.T. Tabata training is often used with one multi-joint cardio exercise (burpees, high knees, mountain climbers, etc.) and should last between 4 to 10 minutes.
To perform a tabata workout, perform the selected move at absolute full intensity for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds, then go right back to full intensity for another 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and so on until your time is up. You should begin by doing this for four minutes until your body can adapt to the training style at which point you can increase the time each week. In terms of intensity during the workout, you should be exhausted by the end of the workout. The active 20-second intervals should be performed at the fastest possible pace while staying safe and maintaining good form. If you feel like you can keep going when the time is up, you either did not give 100% or you need to increase your time. When performed correctly, this is one of the most effective (and efficient) forms of interval training for losing weight and improving your cardio level.
Ideally, you should be performing an H.I.I.T. or tabata workout three to four times per week. You will see the greatest benefit in these workouts by doing them immediately after a resistance workout. Combining H.I.I.T. and tabata training will prepare you for the cardiovascular demands of hunting, especially when hunting at high elevations.
Strength Training – Muscle Groups
Now that we have discussed cardiovascular endurance and how to train for it, let's move on to muscular strength. Muscular strength is developed through resistance training, often with weights but other times with body weight and isometric techniques. However, building muscular strength is not just a matter of building bigger muscles. It is a process of strengthening the foundation of your body and then building from that foundation. This foundation is made up of the posterior chain and core muscles. The posterior chain is the series of muscles that run along the backside of the lower half of your body. They include all of the major muscles and stabilizer muscles in your lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. These muscles are responsible for giving you a solid base. They involve your core (abdominals, obliques, lower back, etc.) and help to stabilize your body. A strong posterior chain will also help prevent injury and lower back pain. Exercises that will help strengthen your posterior chain are often multi-joint exercises that involve multiple lower body muscles (deadlift, barbell squat, lunges, straight-legged deadlift, etc.).
Your core muscles are those muscles around your midsection that stabilize your body (abdominals, obliques, lower back, etc.). Strengthening these muscles is essential to preventing injury, especially when carrying a pack and hiking through hills. Exercises that use the core's full-range of motion (Russian twists, woodchops, decline sit-ups, etc.) will help strengthen your entire core.
Other exercises for upper body muscle groups are also beneficial and everyone has their own flavor for how to train their upper body. Just always remember to use proper form, value functional fitness over bodybuilding, and do the exercises that are going to help you to succeed in the field.
Strength Training Techniques
When it comes to repetitions and sets, lower weight, higher rep sets are always better for the hunter. A one-rep max with 5 minutes of rest is not going to help you on the backside of a mountain, but three grueling sets of 20 reps with only 60 seconds rest between sets will. Sets in the 12-20 rep range will not only help to build muscular strength, they will also increase muscular endurance as well.
Rest between sets is another factor. 2-3 minute rest is primarily used for powerlifting. For our purposes as hunters, the less rest, the better (Remember, practice how you play…). You need a bare minimum of 30 seconds rest between sets to give your muscles time to recover, but 90 seconds should be the maximum amount of rest.
Advanced techniques for resistance training can be great tools for building muscular strength and endurance. Isometric training is a great tool, especially with bodyweight exercises. To perform an isometric rep, raise or lower (depending on the exercise) your body or the weight to the contracted portion of the movement (when your muscles are completely engaged) and hold it for 8-10 seconds. Then slowly return to the rest position. Continue this for 10-15 reps and do 2-3 sets. This is a great tool for promoting blood flow, muscle recruitment, and improving muscle endurance.
One last thing about strength training: Do you remember tabata? It is great for weight lifting as well. To perform a tabata resistance workout, choose a weight for a given exercise that you could do 15-20 times (start on machines until you get the hang of it. Using free weights right away with tabata techniques could result in injury when fatigue sets in). Start the timer and do as many reps as you can with proper form during the working portion, then rest during the rest period. When you reach the point where you can't do full reps anymore, do partial reps. Just make sure you are working until the time is up (I like to use an interval timer app to help me keep track; when I hear the beep, it's time to go again).
Deadlift – 3 sets of 12 reps (90 seconds rest between sets)
Leg press (tabata) – 4 minutes
Wall Squat (isometric) – 3 sets of 1 minute
Dumbbell lunges – 3 sets of 15 (60 seconds rest between sets)
Russian Twist – 3 sets of 30 reps
Reverse crunch – 3 sets of 30 reps
Cardio: 20 minutes on Stairmaster (H.I.I.T.) or 6 minute burpees (tabata)
These are some techniques that you can use to prepare in the next few weeks for the hunts you have coming up this season. Even though you might not have a lot of time left, these techniques will help you make the most of the time that you do have. It is all about preparation; taking the time to prepare now can pay big dividends down the line. Don't let fitness be the reason you came home empty handed. Get in shape, get out there, and get that tag filled!
Stefan Wilson is a First Lite Pro Staffer and the founder of Hunting Fit, a site dedicated to holistic preparation for big game hunting. You can read more of Stefan's articles on fitness, nutrition and strategy at the link above.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be an in depth or definitive discussion of which rifle caliber is most versatile for Western game. I also fully realize that, for many, this topic is about as controversial as universal healthcare, legalized marijuana or Canis lupis. Understanding this reality, I want to emphasize that I do not mean to claim that my conclusions are absolutely correct. This essay merely chronicles one novice’s attempt to find the most versatile rifle for the West.
I work for a hunting apparel brand and yet, until very recently, had never owned, or even shot a high caliber rifle. Growing up in southeastern Maryland, I used the same Fab Arm Gold Lion 12 gauge for doves, ducks and deer. In my pancake flat county it was illegal to hunt whitetails with a rifle. Some of the more serious deer hunters did have shotguns with rifled barrels and scopes but most folks just seemed to use their goose guns.
Then I moved to Idaho, which, to say the least, is not so flat. After bow season, I borrowed a rifle from a coworker and set about figuring out just how the thing worked. It was more than a bit different than firing a pumpkin ball out of a twelve gauge. Even, though the bang was a hell of a lot louder than my Fab Arm, I was quickly setting up decent groups at distances that seemed absurd in comparison to those at which I was comfortable slinging an arrow or deer slug.
When I did finally cross paths with a little four pointer the effectiveness of these weapons became apparent. One second the muley was standing about 160 yards away. The next, he was on his back with his legs splayed in the air. There was no mule kick, no running off into the gloom, no waiting or worrying. In an instant, he was piled up. And to confirm this lethality, my buddy absolutely stoned another deer with the same gun the very next day.
With the season over and the utter awesomeness of these weapons firmly imprinted in my mind, it seemed about time to find one of my own. However, to someone who had moved from the East with little or no concept of calibers, the task was daunting. Fortunately for me, First Lite employees like nothing better than debating the merits of various rifle calibers and slowly I began to get a feel for the long-range universe. My co-workers threw out everything from a .270 to a .300 Win Mag. From there, I began to whittle down the field.
Because I do have vague dreams of someday shooting a Shiras Moose, I edged out the .270 and the .280. Yes, I know you could likely still kill such a critter with these lighter guns if you used a hot enough round, were not taking a long shot and were extremely precise with your placement. However, after surveying both my co-workers and the dark rabbit hole that is rifle forums, I got a sense that a .270 or .280 was less than ideal for the task.
I then scrubbed the .30-06. Though considered by many to be the quintessential versatile round, my co-workers did not bring it up. And so I moved on. Yes, I know this is not a fully logical move. Sue me.
Next up was the .300 Win Mag. With the ability to easily down pretty much any furry critter in North America, it was the most potent of the bunch. The .300 is also an exceptionally flat shooting round and an excellent choice for long-range shots. On the flip side, it is expensive to shoot. Also, depending on who you talk with, the .300 may even be a bit too much gun for a mule deer, the species that I would probably most often pursue with my future rifle.
To learn more about this popular caliber, I went to the range to shoot a co-worker's Tikka. Puny as it sounds, I was simply taken aback by how loud a bang the thing made. I honestly did not see myself enjoying shooting the thing repeatedly. So, fully acknowledging my status as a weeny, I took the .300 off the list.
And so by process of elimination, I seemed to have arrived at the humble .308. To be perfectly honest, I was already biased towards the caliber. The rifle I had borrowed for deer season had been a .308 and I was already comfortable with its handling and performance. Its ammunition is widely available and cheap. True, it is not the flattest shooting caliber under the sun. Yet, as a bow hunter and someone who enjoys the stalk, I frankly did not plan on taking many long distance shots anyhow.
Then, when I thought I had figured it all out, a local gun nerd wandered into the office and suggested the flat-shooting 7mm might be the gun for me. Crap. I hadn’t even heard of that one. My confidence in my tentative choice wavered.
Yet ultimately, I did not stray from the .308. Like the .300, the 7mm would pack more bang and be more expensive to shoot. However, what really sunk this caliber was even less scientific. Like the .30-06, it had simply not been brought up in conversation at the First Lite office. I felt I just didn’t know much about it. And so I stayed the course and settled with finality upon the .308.
Selecting a make seemed a bit easier. Everyone I had talked with recommended Tikka and Savage as brands know for their excellent value. But which one and which model? Did I want a heavier more stable gun or a lighter rifle better for schlepping up the steep slopes of central Idaho?
Eventually, I settled on the Savage 16-116 FCSS, basing this decision on the decidedly un-scientific argument that it was a bit heavier than the comparable Tikka T3 Lite but lighter than the tactical rifles of either brand. Plus, I liked the Savage accu-trigger (despite the vague feeling that I was a complete novice falling for a gimmick). Resolved at last and at least mildly confident in my choice, I went down to Sportsman’s warehouse in Twin Falls to pick up my new gun.
Just about as soon as I walked up to the counter, the wise-looking old guy behind the counter destroyed my newfound resolve. “Buy the Tikka,” he said from behind wire rimmed glasses that definitely meant he knew what he was talking about. “The Savage is not even in the same class.”
Faced with yet another decision, I stammered about this and that, trying to buy time to make a the logical choice based on all the tidbits of gun knowledge I had attempted to jam into my brain over the last couple months. What about the weight? And the trigger? And the barrel length? I just wasn’t sure. And so, ultimately, I gave up and relinquished the decision to the expert across the counter.
“I’ll take it.”
Ford Van Fossan is the customer sales and pro staff coordinator at FLHQ and originally hails from Eastern Maryland.
Want to know more about nick visit him on the team page.
Recently we were notified that the board at Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), had voted to award First Lite the 1st ever Larry Fischer award. To fill everyone in, BHA is a conservation group that advocates for responsible practices on public land amongst many other things. Larry Fischer was a co founder of Traditional Bowhunter Magazine. 1st ever award, because Larry passed away last year after a long battle with cancer.
The natural person in our company to accept the honor on behalf of First Lite is our founder Kenton Carruth. Kenton and Larry had established a connection over the years, in fact we would on occasion, hear Kenton almost whispering into the phone, in a conspiratorial type of way that would only relate to that of keeping an extra lady on the side. The person on the other end was Larry and the topic was always traditional archery, arrow weights, broad-heads, and shooting styles. We compared schedules, Long story short I, Ryan Callaghan would have to accept the honor on behalf of Kenton and First Lite. I felt seriously that this was almost an inappropriate thing to do.
- The day of, Blake Fischer, son of Larry informs me (via giant bear hug complete with swinging me around like you would a small child) That he is going to introduce his fathers award. If you do not know Blake, he is now a Fish and Game Commissioner representing the SW Region, a public servant, call and torment him over an issue of your choice, please.
- Meridian, ID 83642 (208) 867-2703 firstname.lastname@example.org
Feeling better with Blake making the intro, I dug Kenton' words out of my pocket.
"I first met Larry via the telephone in about 2008 when inquiring about advertising in Traditional Bowhunter magazine. About an hour and a half later he had a new advertiser and I had a new friend, albeit a new friend that made me feel pain fully inadequate for shooting a bow with wheels on it. From then on I would talk to Larry regularly and see him a few times a year at shows. Not so gradually Larry wore me down until last year I made the switch to a traditional bow, I practiced and practiced all through winter, spring, and fall eagerly anticipating hunting season. Once the season was over, for the first time in a long time…I didn’t kill a damn thing. What Larry had neglected to tell me was, that the beauty of the trad-bow is that you get to hunt so much more. Then it all started making sense to me, the reason all these trad-bow guys are so good at hunting is because they get to hunt so much more. While some guys tag out in a week or a day, trad-bow guys get the entire season to hone their craft, from the first day to the last, Learning hard fought lessons of misery , disgust and self loathing until the season ends. Then like any reasonable glutton for punishment, you sell all your compound gear, while eagerly awaiting the next season and convince yourself how great next season is going to be and, with a little bit of luck you will be wearing a path to the taxidermist. Seriously though, Larry was a larger than life individual who was deeply committed to bowhunting the outdoors and accessibility to public lands. It is a huge honor to be given an award in his name, and First lite will do the best we can to help maintain his legacy. Thanks Larry" - Kenton Carruth, Founder.
Larry Fischer was among many other things a big man, he started a successful irrigation business, a magazine, and reared up some kids. Talk to most folks and they would say Larry did not mess around, he got things done. Larry also hosted a semi-invite only 3-D shoot every tuesday. During this shoot as the stories go, Larry would impart some wisdom, joke and generally mentor those around him. Kenton nor I, ever made the time to go to one of these shoots. Insert the stereotypical carpe diem of your choice when reading a story involving death.
We truly believe First Lite will set an example for other businesses to carry on Larry's legacy. We may have taken our opportunity to shoot with a traditional bowhunting legend for granted, but we will not make the same mistake with our commitment to public lands and wildlife. After all, we have the Larry Fischer award as a reminder that outdoor businesses have a commitment to the outdoors.