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The First Lite Campfire is our spot to share with you, our customers, stories about our adventures in the field, information on our pro staff, pictures from our trophy room, the latest news and everything in between. Please check back with us as we build the First Lite community and feel free to drop us a note at campfire@firstlite.com to let us know how we are doing.

  • Idaho Lifetime Series: Goat

    Sunset in Goat Country. Photo Ryan Callaghan Sunset in Goat Country. Photo Ryan Callaghan

    Every once in a while, on a backcountry ski, hike or hunt I had seen them amongst the rocks high above. Way up there, always looking down on m as I struggled higher to experience their world, if only for a matter of hours. No other game animal in the Americas rivals their climbing ability and toughness. Moreover, exotic as these creatures are, they inhabit my home mountain ranges. Indeed, with a powerful telescope and a great sum of patience one might spot one from the office window. And so for me mountain goats came to represent all that is wild, high and hardy in central Idaho. I became fascinated with their lofty lifestyle. I read all I could about them and glassed the cliffs with anticipation on trips through the mountains. And as I am more than anything else a hunter, this esteem evolved into a desire to spend a season watching, studying and experiencing these amazing creatures. Ultimately, killing and consuming this symbol of the rugged peaks seemed like my ultimate sacrament. Despite the fact that my odds of drawing a tag were poor, pursuing a Rocky Mountain Goat became my first hunting priority. So when I opened the Idaho Fish and Game envelope in May, puzzlement quickly turned to astonishment. Inside was a glossy tag; good for the only mountain goat I would ever take in the state. Damned if I hadn’t actually drawn my dream hunt right in my own proverbial backyard. My once in a lifetime opportunity had arrived without delay. Yet it was also a commitment. The pressure to fill a lifetime tag and to do so in the right manner with the right animal was immediate and undeniable. Ungrateful as this sentiment may sound, when you only get one you sure as hell don’t want to mess it up. Logistics and decisions quickly filled my head and the fretting began almost immediately. I imagine a bride feels similarly about her wedding day

    Never expecting to actually draw a goat tag, I had burned most of my vacation time on a DIY hunt in New Zealand. Labor day weekend was the opener and this well timed holiday would likely afford me my longest single chunk of goat hunting. We headed for an area I had scouted extensively over the summer. I had seen loads of goats in these frainages over the course of the summer. The only troubling thing was that few if any of the goats I had seen had appeared to be mature billies.

    GoatsthroughSpotter A nanny, kid and juvenile through the spotter on a summer scouting trip. Photo: Author

    Oreamnos americanus is notoriously difficult to sex, particularly at a distance. Indeed, this is the reason it is not strictly illegal to kill a nanny in most states and provinces. Because of their particular habitat requirements, mountain goats naturally occurs in isolated, small populations. This characteristic means that even modest harvest of reproductive nannies call have negative effects on a goat herd. Despite this dynamic, managers are simply not confident that hunters will be able to reliably sex the animal in the field despite good intentions. Both billys and nannys have thick white coats and thin black horns. The differences between the two are subtle: Billys have a slightly thicker, more evenly curved horn. They also sport in-between-the-legs equipment that give you a pretty decent idea but are impossible to discern at great distance. Most definitively, nannie squat to urinate while males stay standing, leaning forward like a horse. As a result they sometime have stains on the lower part of their rear legs. Finally, Billies also tend to spend more time alone in the summer. Though far from conclusive, this characteristic is often all you have to go on when glassing large-bladdered goats from far across a drainage.

    Tent Sunset on a summer scouting trip. Photo: Author

    However, I brushed the apparent scarcity of mature billies aside and we set out with high hopes, bows in hand. Over the long weekend, my buddy, Josh and I saw several nanny herds, stalked in on a small group of immature goats and chased elk in our spare time. The Rocky Mountain weather was impressively bipolar, going from sun, to rain to inches of snow over the course of our four days in hills. It was a memorable trip, but one distinctly lacking in mature billies. And with my biggest single chunk of time in the woods behind me, I predictably began to worry. Though the season ran until November 11th much of the high country could be snowed in before then; the goats made all but invisible in the snow. Additionally, I had three new hunters to guide through October’s deer season. All told only a handful of weekends remained to notch a tag. Was I overacting to my first unsuccessful outing? Without doubt, but a goat tag will do that to you. I fully realize this sentiment is pathetic. This was quite literally the hunt of a lifetime and yet here I was, fretting away. Try as I might to focus on the experience I couldn’t fully shake off the weight of the tag.

    NannyPeak Creeping around the crags. Photo: Josh Kuntz

    In Meditations on Hunting, Jose Ortega y Gasset famously wrote, “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.” Each year fall, I hunt elk, deer and antelope and the vast majority of these hunts end without blood. Don’t get me wrong, I am not out there bird watching. The goal is to harvest and animal. But if I don’t notch a tag I rarely feel I have wasted my time. Hearing a bull bugle from forty yards, watching two moose spar or catching the fleeting glimpse of a sow and her cubs are all part of the success of a hunt. Indeed, on my best days, I see hunting as a lens with which experience the natural world in a way more intimate than any other I know; one which also occasionally yields a full freezer, sometime puts horns on the wall and always provides stories for the campfire. Viewed this way hunting notably lacks a mandate of success. As the cliché goes, that’s why they call it hunting not killing. But my obsession for mountain goats and the very real possibility that this was the only such tag I would ever hold change this notion. This pursuit was more of a kill mission. As a result, it often felt more a task than an opportunity. I wasn’t just out hunting in the way I chase elk, antelope and deer each fall. This hunt was different. I was out to fill the tag of a lifetime. And so I decided it was time to get aggressive. The bow went into its hard case and the .308 came out of the closet. The following weekend I planned to pack into a wilderness area I had scouted earlier in the summer. I had seen several lone goats there in July and resolved that we would go up there and kill one. Inauspiciously, we did not make the trailhead until about 6:30 in the evening and ended up setting camp at dark barely two miles back. But the morning dawned clear and beautiful and we set about finding goats. My partner, Cal, and I decided to split up; he would head up to the top of the wall of the drainage to gain a view to its the rocky head, a place we had been told held critters. Meanwhile, I would retrace my steps and hike for the high pass where I had seen the three lone goats during the summer.

    Panorama Glassing for goats on the archery hunt. Photo: Josh Kuntz

    Not long into my climb into the high basin under the pass, I spotted my first white blob. It was alone, way the hell up there, casually pawing about the cliffs that ringed the basin. But as soon as I had the spotter focused on the goat, it squatted unmistakably. That wasn’t the end of the world. At about 11,000 feet and far from anything to which the word “reasonable” could be applied. And so I shouldered my pack and continued my climb. Two thousand feet and a couple layers lighter, I reached the top of the pass. Five minutes after that, I saw goats. They we’re below me, a bit down into the basin on the far side. A nanny and kids picked their way through a wide talus field five hundred yards away. A couple hundred yards downhill from them a lone goat stood stock still, not appearing to do much of anything. As the pair moved off across the boulders and ultimately up and out of the drainage, the other goat stayed in place and my interest grew. The horns appeared large and swept back evenly and its rear legs appeared to have a yellow tinge. It didn’t seem concerned with the disappearance of the others and eventually it dropped out of site in a fold in the talus field. Well, here I was. Though I still wanted a closer examination, things were looking good. I quickly emptied my pack of my overnight gear, rocked my rain slicker over the gear pile and moved down toward where I had last seen the goat.  About three hundred yards above its last position, I dropped my pack and pulled off my scope covers. I inched forward and the gully was revealed foot by foot. But something was wrong. The goat was not where it was supposed to be. I crept farther forward. Now I could see the bottom of the dip. No goat. I looked far, up the cliffs and shoots above the boulder field and down below where the whitebarks and fir began. No goat. I began to move more quickly and impatiently. How in the hell had this big white animal given me the slip in an open, treeless boulder field? I stood up tall and began to walk. And then, as it always is, my quarry was right there, looking directly at me.

    Blueskymountains Up on Top. Photo: Ryan Callaghan

    The goat was bedded beneath a bus-sized boulder about 120 yards to my left. It had hidden him from me until I had dropped this far down and then I had walked right out in front of it, far and clear from cover of any sort. I froze and looked on, waiting to see what would come of this intruder. Now what would I do? Though it was close it lay away from me and did not present a clear shot. Should I wait it out and hope the goat lost interest. Then I could try and get the rifle off my shoulder, put the crosshairs on the goat and wait for it to shift or stand up. Or I could just keep walking and try and get the gentle rise in front of me between us. I estimated that I had already walked ten or twenty yards in its view before I spotted the goat. Maybe I could get away with another thirty. If I could get to cover I might also have more time to confirm the goat was a billy. I went for it, striding casually forward and trying for the world to seem like nothing unusual had happened. This tactic will occasionally work with game animals. It very much did not work on this particular critter. The goat sprung to its feet and took off up the boulder field. I dropped to my knees and balancing on my extended bipod I floated the reticle on the fleeing animal. It was not stopping, quickly putting distance between itself and the strange bipedal threat across the open boulder field. As a rule, I do not shoot at unwounded, running animals. Moreover, I had not even had the change to examine the critter up close and was still far from 100% confident it was even a billy. And so I watched the goat scamper off towards the cliffs. With it went my hope for the day and perhaps the hunt.

    Spotter Looking over the high country. Photo: Josh Kuntz

    But when it hit the cliffs the goat slowed and looked over its shoulder. It appeared to grow confident in the 500 odd yards it had put between us. It picked slowly along the base of the cliffs, seemingly without much concern. Emboldened by its body language, I slunk back to my pack and found a position under an isolated stand of fir to hunker down and watch. Ultimately, the goat pawed about, turned a circle, and lay down. I kept the spotter trained on the white critter hoping it would get up, relieve itself and settle the question without doubt. Though I felt reasonably confident billy, my mind kept running the clip of myself approaching the downed goat only to find utters. Nanny harvest is perhaps the single most detrimental factor in goat population dynamics and I would rather eat my tag then be that guy. On top of this possibility, a lot of open boulder field lay between it and my effective range. And the wind blew up from the drainage below straight up to the goats. With the cliffs at his back this was about the worst possible orientation for approaching him.  As I watched a smaller, immature goat clambered down from the rock chutes above and joined the suspected billy at the base of the cliffs. The minutes turned to hours. I munched a pro bar and mulled the possibilities.

    Setting The crags from Cal's perspective. The goat was bedded at the base of the cliffs. Photo: Ryan Callaghan

    Suddenly, Cal came across on the radio. He had clambered all the way up the ridge that separated the valley we had started from my drainage. He waved down to me, a mile distant and 1500 feet up; a ludicrously small figure perched precariously atop a massive wall of rock. With instruction he was just able to make out the goat. “Yup, looks like a billy to me. Go get him.” Its funny how even casual encouragement can break up indecision. I got serious about the stalk. Though subtle, there was a slight dip between my position and the goat. If I worked my way all down to tree line I might be able to pick up the beginning of the dip and make my way to within a couple hundred yards of the billy. Sure, the wind was completely wrong but this goat had already spooked and there simply was not a path to him perpendicular to the breeze. Go time. Though I tried to keep cover between myself and the goat, I moved decisively. As I made it to the highest trees the rising boulder field hid him from view. Now, it was all faith and memory. I turned towards cliffs and began climbing the seam in the boulders. The going was loud and slow. It seemed impossible not to step on loose rock every tenth step. Each footfall was a decision and several times I was forced to double back and find a new path, my trajectory blocked by loose slate that simply could not be crossed silently. I winced with each rocky creak and was sure the goat was long gone up in the crags. And all the while the wind puffed consistently on my back. I didn’t have a great feeling about this stalk. The gully widened about one hundred yards above before the rise. Above that the goat or more likely its empty bed would come into view. I dropped my pack, removed my scope cover and extended my bipod. This last distance I moved as slowly as I could. Step after step, I saw further down the cliffs. And then he was there, right where he should have been. He was already looking my way as if he had been waiting for me all along. But he remained bedded. I flipped up my rangefinder: 176 yards. Slowly, I positioned the bipod feet in the rocks, expecting him to bolt with each of my movements. But he did not. Then came that brief moment of disconnect that seems always to arise at this point in a hunt; it was actually going to happen. I settled the reticle on his shoulders but it bounced. I closed my eyes. Took some deep breaths. Then the dot was tucked just behind his shoulder and the .308 cracked.

    Horn The horn of a mature, six and a half year old billy. Photo: Author

    “I think he’s dead.” “Yep. You got him.” Callaghan crackled over the radio. The goat had rolled a hundred yards and lay still in the talus. Even so, I put another round in the chamber and for fifteen seconds or so I watched the goat nervously through the scope of the .308. The white mass, now stained red, lay motionless in the rocks. Only then did it truly dawn on me that it was over; the weight lifted, the job done. Slowly, I stood up and after another long glance at the goat, I turned back to grab my pack and notch my tag.

    PackOut The victorious and long pack out. Photo: Ryan Callaghan

    Ford Van Fossan is the consumer sales and content manager at FLHQ. He will never again hunt a goat in Idaho which means its time to start putting in for other states and volunteering with the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance to get his fix. You can read about the kit he used on these hunts on this months staff picks.

  • That Other Sheep

    _01_AMxFirst Lite Blog_hike in The hike in. Photo: Author

    My spit barely had enough energy to leave my mouth. With labored breath, I put one foot in front of the other, steadily gaining ground along the game trail etched into the side of the hill.  It was a chilly late February morning as we started the hike into the backcountry of Southwest New Mexico. I was wearing every bit of clothing I had with me, but once the warmth of the sunrise hit the hillside, I was ready to shed a few layers.  I dropped my pack and crammed my down jacket into the top. We took stock of our surroundings, an amalgamation of bitterbrush, prickly bear and ashe juniper painted the landscape in grey, yellow-green and brown.  No wonder aoudad are so hard to spot out here.

    _04_AMxFirst Lite Blog_rams Rams spotted. Photo: Author

    Barbary sheep, or aoudad as they’re more commonly known, were introduced to the southern high deserts of New Mexico in the 1950s. Native to the northern coast of Africa, these sheep thrive in desolate mountainous terrain where few other animals of their size can. Hiking along the steep, chossy cliffsides gives you an immediate appreciation for how agile and efficient these ungulates are at navigating landscapes us two-legged folk have no business trekking.  Even the most sure-footed humans look like fools trying to get around in these sheep’s backyard.

    _03_AMxFirst Lite Blog_the stalk Glassing up the quarry. Photo: Author

    I look up from the rhythm of my boots as Nate crouches two steps ahead of me. “They’re right in front of us!” he whispers with a look of pure elation. We had spent the better part of an hour staring through our binoculars where eight sheep were grazing. My heart soared as we settled into the cover of scrubby brush, making sure to stay out of sight while still trying to keep an eye on the seemingly unaware group merely 175 yards away.  I couldn’t believe it.

    _02_AMxFirst Lite Blog_glassing Aoudad blend remarkably well into their adopted home. Photo: Author

    We sat and waited as the sheep began to bed in the warming sun. “We might be here for a while,” Nate said. “Who knows how long they’ll be bedded down. It’s better to play it safe and wait for them to make a move than for us to try and get into position and potentially spook them off.”

    We knew we’d most likely never see them again if we did.  Last season, Nate had his first barbary sheep stalk on public lands not too far from where we were that day. That hunt ended in a missed shot under similar circumstances and the weight of that failure weighed on his mind as we watched our group from afar.

    An hour passed and the sheep unexpectedly began working their way up the steep cliffside in front of us. We had to make a move. Nate crept up to close some distance. Each step carefully calculated to make as little commotion as possible, a task easier said than done across crumbling rock littered with dead brush. I hung back, waiting for Nate to get into position and give me the all clear. Once I caught up, I tucked into the hillside just behind him as his cheek lay rested against his gun stock, eye trained on the little brown blob, just over 100 yards away.

    The concussion hit me with a thud. As I pulled my 10x42’s up to my eyes, the group of sheep were laser focused down the hill. Statuesque as if not sure where the shot had come from.

    “Did I miss?! I don’t see anything down!” Nate said.

    A second shot rang out and echoed across the sunny canyon walls and sent the herd into a frenzied brown blur up the hillside, vanishing out of view as if they were never even there.

    As we stood and scanned the hillside, the sinking of uncertainty washed over us. “I’m usually a bit more steady, but I don’t take shots I’m not sure I’ll make,” Nate said. “Did you see anything fall?”

    I was hesitant to answer. Neither of us would like the answer.

    “I didn’t…”

    We waited, replaying the sequence in our head, searching for a clue we’d hope would reassure us. The hillside was still. The wind blew gently through the brush bringing relief from the subtle heat of the midday sun. I walked through the steep, chalky bedding area, desperately hunting for the faintest sign of success, but none came.

    The tag was never mine to fill, but the joy of success or pit of defeat would be shared just the same. Reality took hold and I headed back to our shooting position.

    “He’s here!” I heard Nate’s voice echo. Just like that, a gigantic morale shift clicked into gear.

    “You found him?!” I yelled from a few hundred feet above.

    “Yessir! Come on down!”

    _05_AMxFirst Lite Blog_admiration Connection. Photo: Author

    Nate connected on the first shot. The sheep collapsed and careened down the hillside, coming to rest at the edge of a fifty foot drop. It took a little looking in all the wrong places, but the redemption story had come full circle. An even greater sense of admiration for these hooved beasts set in as we combed over the details of its tan coat and rugged features, tailor-made for arid high desert survival.

    _06_AMxFirst Lite Blog_trimming the fat Getting to work. Photo: Author

    We butchered the sheep, carefully collecting as much meat as we could. Backstraps, hams, and what Nate affectionately called the “filet mignons,” two small strips of meat just above the pelvic bone and below the spine. The heart was still in tact and we saved it to round out the menu for the pending fireside dinner. We sat beside the babbling water of the Rio Bonito, the crackle of burning oak rang out and Nate trimmed the fresh meat into bite size pieces, skewered on willow branches. A packet of ramen noodle seasoning served as an improvised dry rub--don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it.

    _07_AMxFirst Lite Blog_pack out Packing out. Photo: Author
    _08_AMxFirst Lite Blog_seasoning Skewered aoudad. Photo: Author
    _09_AMxFirst Lite Blog_fireside Roasted over an open fire. Photo: Author

    That night, I sat beside the glowing fire and watched the sunset put on a show so awe inspiring a photo would do it no justice. The feast was mouthwatering-- tender and full of flavor. This was the experience I was searching for. This was the tag I was looking to fill; a moment of great thankfulness and the sensation of being truly alive. A sensation best experienced in the outdoors.

    _10_AMxFirst Lite Blog_early riser Dawn in the desert. Photo: Author

    Andrew Miller is an outdoor Photographer based out of Denver, Colorado who hunted aoudad in New Mexico in February of 2017. You can check out all his work here.

  • The Suburban Deer Slayer

    This month we check in with First Lite Team Member, Taylor Chamberlin, for another treatise on the finer points of hunting urban whitetails.

    IMG_8823 A typical suburban hunting scene. Photo: Author.

    Suburban deer hunting is fantastic. There are a multitude of properties within a short drive from your own home, an abundance of deer, relatively low hunter pressure, and a season that runs year-round. While all that is fantastic, there are plenty of hurdles that present themselves that make urban hunting a unique experience among itself. Some are funny, some are interesting, and all of them as a whole end up making urban archery the fun experience that it is.

    Overall, the entire process of hunting in an urban environment is different than hunting in a rural area. First off – you HAVE to get dressed in the field, and it’s not because of scent control! Being that there are so many people surrounding you, you don’t want anyone to see you in camouflage that doesn’t have to. The more you can be out of sight, the less issues you will have with anyone who might not agree with what you are doing. While what I’m doing is totally legal, ethical and needed by the deer herd, most anti-hunters will stop at nothing to confront you and ruin your hunt. I’ve had groups of protesters come into an area that I’m hunting banging pots and pans, making as much noise as possible, just to try and scare the deer away. Driving to the property that you are hunting and getting dressed in the field is the only way to do it.

    IMG_7208 Subtlety is key. Photo: Author.

    Along the same lines, it’s important to develop a system of HOW you hunt from the tree. I am fortunate that I have the ability to hunt almost every day of the season, and I make sure that I have enough properties to hunt that allow me to not burn out certain places and keep a rotation of going to different properties. It wouldn’t be possible for me to have a tree stand in every one of the locations that I hunt, because I would have thousands of dollars tied up in stands and steps. Over the years I have tested many different methods of climbing/hunting and have settled on a quick, quiet and safe way to hunt.

    When I initially get a property I will ask the homeowners when/where they are seeing deer and then try to pick a couple different trees to hunt from based on the wind. I will then climb those trees with my portable climbing sticks and saddle (that are always in the back of my truck) and prep the tree by trimming branches and clearing shooting lanes. I’ll mark the tree on my GPS, and make a note of what wind to hunt it from. When the time comes to come back and hunt that property, I’m able to check my notes on each tree and determine what wind is best, then slip in and hunt. I find this to be incredibly fast, quiet, and easy. Most of all, it’s better than a climber because you aren’t limited to what exact tree you can climb. Rather than hunting for a tree, I can hunt from the area that I want, or need to be in. On a property that’s ½ or ¼ of an acre, sometimes there are only one or two trees to choose from, so it’s very important!

    IMG_6883 A good-looking suburban buck. Photo: Author.

    Scouting in an urban area is also very different, and you have to take into account different factors that you wouldn’t even imagine when hunting in a rural area. Pinch points and saddles in urban areas can hide right under your nose, and areas that you might avoid in the country could be a hot spot in the ‘burbs. The first item that I always look for are man-made structures that will help funnel deer. Deer in the suburbs will always tend to walk to a fence, and then walk alongside it until they have the ability to turn off, making areas where something runs a long way total hot spots. Areas like fences, roads, downed trees, etc. are all areas that you might tend to avoid in the country, but can be total hot spots in urban areas. Sometimes even the best spot to hunt from is one that already exists. Deer are used to the structures that they see every day, and if a tree fort or elevated playground is in the right area, it can be a perfect spot to hunt from.

    When hunting in the suburbs, it’s also important to learn the normal movements of the neighborhood. Knowing what day and what time the trash trucks, school busses, mail men, and anyone else come and go are important. The deer know the normal patterns of the neighborhoods, and they will cater their movement to it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that a trash truck will pull out after picking up trash, only to have 8+ deer pile out of their bedding area immediately after it leaves.

    File_003 A yard hunt. Photo: Author.

    Another aspect of scouting that’s completely different than hunting in the country is talking to people. I find that in rural areas, people are very secretive about telling people what they’re seeing and where they are hunting. In the suburbs, the homeowners and people that work in the area are a tremendous resource. I always ask the homeowners when and where they are seeing deer, and ask them to let me know if they start noticing a pattern of when they are seeing them. Most of my harvests are due to homeowner communication. They’re also a fantastic resource to talk to their neighbors for you to introduce you and turn one property of access into two. Over the years, I have also found that mailmen are a phenomenal resource. They know everyone in the neighborhood, and spend all day walking around with their eyes open. They can tell you when and where they are seeing deer, and they can introduce you to the property owner that owns the property where they tend to see deer.

    I think one of the hardest parts of urban hunting is also one of the best parts of it, and that’s dealing with all of the meat. If you’re a year-round hunter and you are dedicated to helping thin the herd out, then you will, without a doubt, need to figure out a way to deal with all of the deer you harvest. Fortunately for me, my state has a program that allows me to donate harvested deer to help feed the homeless and less fortunate. It’s a free service where I can drop off a field dressed deer at any butcher, and they will take care of the rest. I use this service A LOT, and really enjoy knowing that all the meat is going to a good cause. I also enjoy eating the deer myself, and feed my family and friends with the organic bounty. It doesn’t get more organic and grass fed than suburban deer!

    IMG_1542 Its all fun and games until some high school girls happen by the doe you have hanging under the deck. Photo: Author.

    I have designed my own meat processing station in my garage that allows me to be out of sight of the neighbors and people driving down the road. I used to process meat outside of my house under my deck, however, that stopped pretty quickly when my neighbor’s son had a group of high school girls come over to his house. When they parked and walked past my house (while I had a deer hanging on a gambrel about halfway through the quartering process) they started to scream and get upset. I’ve found the garage works much better for everyone!

    Overall, urban hunting isn’t easy. Due to the small size of the properties, lack of abundant browse, and the constant human interaction, deer in the suburbs tend to be nomadic. They’ll often roam over a huge core area, making them very hard to pattern and hunt successfully on a consistent basis. To routinely harvest urban deer, it requires you to spend many hours in a tree and pick your locations wisely, as well as having different systems in place of knowing when the deer are using a property, and being able to get there and hunt them quickly.  But when it’s done right, it’s one of the best ways to hunt. You have an endless supply of hunting properties within a short drive from your house, a year-round season, and plenty of game to harvest. I’d say it’s worth dealing with all the different intricacies without a doubt.

    First Lite Team Member, Taylor Chamberlain, lives in suburban Northern Virginia just south of DC and hunts whitetails roughly 150 days year.

  • An Open Letter: Together We Can Defend Our Public Lands

    First Lite's Co-Founder, Kenton Carruth, has joined with other outdoor industry CEOs in signing this open letter urging President-elect Trump and Congress to keep public lands public. Read on to add your voice and amplify the message. The original letter can be viewed on the Outdoor Industry Association's site.

    D8-05270-600x401 Without America's public lands First Lite wouldn't have a customer much less a place to live out our own passions. Photo: Taylor Kollman, Captured Creative.

    To our elected officials and those who value America’s great outdoors:

    This open letter expresses the view of more than 100 leaders of large and small businesses in the outdoor industry, which contributes more than $650 billion annually to the U.S. economy, generates $80 billion in tax revenue and employs more than 6 million people. Together, we represent a huge range of activities—from hiking to hunting and camping to conservation.

    Our businesses make the lives of everyday Americans, from every corner of the political spectrum, healthier and happier. We do not often unite as an industry in the way we are today but we are compelled to make clear our collective view on a vitally important issue that affects the economic health of our industry, our local communities, and the lives of all Americans.

    It is an American right to roam in our public lands. The people of the United States, today and tomorrow, share equally in the ownership of these majestic places. This powerful idea transcends party lines and sets our country apart from the rest of the world. That is why we strongly oppose any proposal, current or future, that devalues or compromises the integrity of our national public lands.

    Yet as the 115th Congress begins, efforts are underway that threaten to undermine over one hundred years of public investment, stewardship and enjoyment of our national public lands. Stated simply, these efforts would be bad for the American people. They include the potential of national public lands being privatized or given to states who might sell them to the highest bidder. This would unravel courageous efforts by leaders from across the political spectrum up to the present day, including Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

    This is not a red or blue issue. It is an issue that affects our shared freedoms. Public lands should remain in public hands.

    We hold these views both as leaders of the outdoor industry — which creates significant economic value for this country — and as individuals who believe deeply that the next generation should be free to benefit from our national public lands as we and our families do today.

    The undersigned companies are therefore working together to ensure that all Americans maintain their right to our iconic national public lands and that it is not taken away.

    * * *

    Outdoor Industry Association, Amy Roberts, Executive Director
    Adventure 16. John D. Mead, President
    Alpine Shop, Ltd., Russell Hollenbeck, President
    Appalachian Outfitters, Mike & Karen Leffler, Owners
    Ascent Solar Technologies, Victor Lee, President & CEO
    Backbone Media, Penn Newhard, Founder & Managing Partner
    Backcountry, Jonathan Nielsen, CEO
    Backcountry North, Tracy Mayer, Owner
    Backwoods Retail, Inc., Jennifer Mull, Owner & CEO
    Benchmade Knife Company, David Fee, Vice President
    BioLite, Jonathan Cedar, Founder & CEO
    Black Creek Outfitters, Joe & Liz Butler, Owners
    Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., John Walbrecht, President
    Braided River, Helen Cherullo, Executive Director
    Brook Hopper Consulting, Brook Hopper, Founder & CEO
    Brooks Running Company, Jim Weber, CEO
    Campmate, Chris Holt, CEO
    Cascade Designs, David Burroughs, President
    Cedar Ravine, Stephanie Carmi & Christine Stahr, Co-Founders
    CGPR LLC, Chris Ann Goddard, President
    Chaco, Seth Cobb, President
    Champaign Surplus, Dan & Shira Epstein, Owners
    Clif Bar & Company, Kevin Cleary, CEO
    Columbia Sportswear Company, Tim Boyle, President & CEO
    Combat Flip Flops, Matthew Griffin, CEO
    Concept III Textiles, Christopher Parkes, President
    Confluence Watersports, Sue Rechner, President & CEO
    Dakine, Ken Meidell, CEO
    Darn Tough Vermont, Ric Cabot, President & CEO
    Denali, Chris Howe, Owner
    Diamond Brand Outdoors, Will Gay, Owner
    DPS Skis, Stephan Drake, Owner
    Eagle Creek, Roger Spatz, President
    Eastside Sports, Chris Iversen & Todd Vogel, Co-Owners
    eGrips, Chris Klinke, President
    Elevenpine, Jeff Curran, CEO
    Equinox Ltd., Robert Cross, President
    Exxel Outdoors, LLC, Harry Kazazian, CEO
    Far Bank Enterprises, Travis Campbell, President & CEO
    Feral Mountain Co., Jimmy Funkhouser, Owner
    First Lite, Kenton Carruth, Co-Founder and Owner
    Fishpond, John Land Le Coq, Founder & CEO
    Flowfold, James Morin, Owner & COO
    Garmont, Bill Dodge, CEO
    Goal Zero, William Harmon, General Manager
    Good To-Go, David Koorits, Founder
    Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, Rich Hill, President
    Great Outdoor Provision Co., Travis Zarins, Owner
    GU Energy Labs, Brian Vaughan, Founder/CEO
    Hipcamp, Alyssa Ravasio, Founder & CEO
    HippyTree, Andrew Sarnecki, Founder/CEO
    Hydro Flask, Scott Allan, General Manager
    Ibex Outdoor Clothing, Ted Manning, CEO
    IceMule Coolers, James Collie, Founder/CEO
    Idaho Mountain Touring, Chris & Jill Haunold, Owners
    IPA Connect, Andy Marker, President/Founder
    JanSport, Steve Munn, President
    Jax Mercantile Co., Jim Quinlan, President
    Kammok, Haley Robison, CEO
    Keen, Casey Sheahan, CEO
    Klean Kanteen, Jim Osgood, President & CEO
    Kokatat, Steve O’Meara, Founder/CEO
    Kuhl, Kevin Boyle, President
    La Sportiva N.A., Inc., Jonathan Lantz, President
    Light Speed Outdoors, Brian Cox, CEO
    L.L. Bean, Stephen Smith, President & CEO
    Lucy, Laurie Etheridge, President
    Manzanita Outdoor LLC, David Wheeler, Owner
    Massey’s Outfitters, Mike Massey, President
    Merrell, Inc., Jim Zwiers, President
    MiiR, Bryan Papé, Founder & CEO
    MONTANE, Jake Doxat, Managing Director
    Mountain Hardwear, Dennis Randall, CMO
    Mountain Khakis, Ross Saldarini, President
    Mountain Safety Research (MSR), Chris Parkhurst, Vice President
    Mountain Works, Inc., Jim Smith, President
    MTI Adventurewear, Lili Colby, Owner
    My Outdoor Alphabet, Seth Neilson, CEO
    Native Eyewear, John Sanchez, General Manager
    Nau International, Inc., Mark Galbraith, General Manager
    Nemo, Cam Brensinger, CEO
    New Balance, Rob DeMartini, President & CEO
    Nikwax North America, Rick Meade, President
    Oboz Footwear, John Connelly, CEO
    Oru Kayak, Roberto Gutierrez, Founder & CCO
    Orvis, Perk Perkins, CEO
    Osprey Packs, Layne Rigney, President
    Outdoor Research, Dan Nordstrom, CEO
    Outside Brands / Outside Hilton Head, Mike Overton, CEO
    Pack & Paddle, John Williams, President
    Pack Rat Outdoor Center, Scott & Carolyn Crook, Founders
    Packtowl, Doug Jacot, Vice President
    Patagonia, Rose Marcario, President & CEO
    Peak Design, Peter Dering, Founder & CEO
    Petzl America, Nazz Kurth, President
    Piragis Northwoods Company, Steve Piragis, Owner
    Pistil Designs, Todd Douglass, Forrest Jones & Pete Hixson
    Platypus, Doug Jacot, Vice President
    Point6, Peter Duke, CEO
    Portland WoolenMills, Doug Hoschek & Tina Machuca, Owners
    prAna Living, Scott Kerslake, CEO
    Ramsey Outdoor, Stuart and Michael Levine, Owners
    Redington, Travis Campbell, President & CEO
    Red Lantern Journeys, Ambrose Bittner, Founder
    REI Co-op, Jerry Stritzke, President & CEO
    Rio, Travis Campbell, President & CEO
    Rising Tide Associates, David Costello, Principal
    River Sports Outfitters, Ed McAlister, Owner
    Roads Rivers and Trails, Emily White, Co-Founder & Owner
    Rock Creek Outfitters, Dawson Wheeler, Founder
    Roots Rated, Fynn Glover, Founder/CEO
    Royal Robbins, Michael Millenacker, CEO
    Ruffwear, Patrick Kruse, R&D Director & Founder
    Rutabaga Paddlesports, Darren Bush, Owner & CEO
    rygr, Brian Holcombe, Principal
    Sage, Travis Campbell, President & CEO
    Salewa North America, Brian Mecham, General Manager
    Sanitas Sales Group, Keith Reis, President
    SCARPA North America, Kim Miller, CEO
    SealLine, Doug Jacot, Vice President
    Simms, K.C. Walsh, President & CEO
    Skinny Skis, Phil Leeds & Scott O’Brien, Owners
    Soar Communications, Chip Smith, President
    Sorel, Mark Nenow, President
    Stanley PMI, Kelly Kraus, Vice President, Stanley Brand
    Stio, Stephen Sullivan, Founder/ CEO
    Summit Hut, Dana Davis, President & Co-Owner
    Sunday Afternoons, Inc., Sarah Sameh, CEO
    Sunlight Sports, Wes Allen, Owner
    Superfeet Worldwide, John Rauvola, CEO
    Tahoe Mountain Sports, Dave Polivy, Co-Owner
    Tenkara USA, Daniel Galhardo, Founder & CEO
    Terra, PR, Alli Noland, Founder
    The Base Camp, Scott Brown, Owner
    The Mountaineer, Vinny McClelland, President
    The North Face, Scott Baxter, Group President
    The Outbound Collective, Brian Heifferon, Founder & CEO
    The Trail Head, Todd Frank, Owner
    The Toggery, Trek Stephens, President
    Therm-a-Rest Brands, Doug Jacot, Vice President
    Timberland, Jim Pisani, President
    Toad&Co, Gordon Seabury, CEO (& OIA board chair)
    Topo Athletic, Tony Post, Founder & CEO
    Trail Creek Outfitters, Ed Camelli & Brian Havertine, Owners
    Trango, Chris Klinke, President
    Travel Country, Mike Plante, Owner
    Trek Light Gear, Seth Haber, Founder & CEO
    22 Designs, Chris Valiante, Owner
    Ute Mountaineer, Bob Wade & Maile Spung, Owners
    Vans, Doug Palladini, President
    Verde Brand Communications, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, President
    VF Corporation, Steve Rendle, President & CEO
    Weighmyrack, Allison Dennis, Founder & CEO
    Western Spirit Cycling, Ashley Korenblat, CEO
    What’s UP Public Relations, Beth L. Cochran, Founder/Owner
    Wild Things, LLC, Edward M. Schmults, CEO
    Wolverine Worldwide, Inc., Blake Krueger, CEO
    Woolrich, Inc., Nick Brayton, President
    Yakima Products, Ryan Martin, CEO
    Zumiez, Inc., Tom Campion, Founder & Chairman

  • A Montana Monster

    First Lite received this report recently from our buddy, Josh Kuntz. For context, Josh is a native Montanan, an Idaho BHA Co-Chair and a highly accomplished backcountry hunter.

    Gents,

    The opening weekend of the Montana rifle season this year proved eventful indeed. The week before I hunted near McCall, Idaho and I passed on a few easy shot opportunities on a small muley buck and three trophy class Texas Longhorns. No shit, those crazy-horned bastards were up on top of a mountain hanging out in 3 inches of snow. I'm not going to lie, I thought long and hard about how sweet it would be to have a Euro-mounted longhorn in the living room. But the legal ramifications of killing a rancher's prize cow and picturing my wife filing divorce papers were enough to keep my trigger finger at bay.

    Thursday afternoon I boogied towards Montana and turned up a hot date with a redhead on Adult Friend Finder. The smokin' ginger fed me a few beers at Lolo Peak Brewing, clearly trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me. Thanks again for the beers Ty , your beard has never looked better.

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    Friday morning I bought my Montana deer and elk tags, stuffed down a burrito and met up with my good buddy Tim, who also happens to be the new Hunting Sales Manager of Mystery Ranch Packs. We hauled ass to our favorite trailhead and were pleased to find the trail had no recent footprints or horse tracks. Friday evening we setup a camp a few miles in, then glassed and only managed to spot whitetails, one of which was a promising buck.

    Saturday morning was the opener and our plan of sitting on a central ridge looked genius as we had 50-70 elk and a bull moose running our way about 9 minutes into legal shooting light. The lead cow was apparently a masochist of some sort, as she turned the herd and lead them all straight up into some nasty burned timber well beyond our shooting range. Thankfully I didn't have to admit to Tim that chasing elk uphill through burned deadfall was not at the top of my Christmas list. Instead, it made sense to focus on the 3 whitetail bucks that were on a leisurely stroll directly towards us. One was clearly a shooter and I was in a prime position. The one snafu was that he bedded down about 75 yards into private property, clearly mocking me as I repeatedly ranged him at 200 yards. We decided to bail off the ridge and still hunt through a prime bedding area just below us. Even though we had perfect wind and our ninja skills were primed we blew out a dozen or so whitetails during the first hour of tippy-toeing around. That's when we ran into the first area of the old burn and commenced the laughable task of navigating thousands of downed, burned trees that were hiding in tightly packed, nipple high, new growth pines. Brutal.

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    We decided to make a big move, hiking around some private property and heading into the adjacent Wilderness area, home to the largest mule deer I have ever killed (2012). Much to our dismay, we spied 8 horses tied to trees in the spot we were headed. I began softly speaking to the horses from a short distance and two rotund pumpkin bodies rolled out from behind a log to "greet" us. As suspected, these 2 guys were hunters with an outfitter. Their combined weight was nearly that of my Chevy truck and they informed us they were from West Virginia and there were 4 other hunters and 2 guides "WAY UP OVER THAT HORRIBLE RIDGE". These 2 good ol boys had attempted the Everest-like ascent of said ridge but turned back about 50 yards in because it was too difficult. I peppered these guys with questions and learned that most stereotypes of West Virginia were based on these 2 guys. The fatter and younger fella looked like the lovechild of Chris Farley and Larry the Cable guy and he was completely dumbfounded to learn that we had walked all the way in there and were camping out of our backpacks. Clearly befuddled, he asked, "what in the world do you use to heat your tent?" Every ounce of me wanted to say something about Brokeback Mountain, but he was armed and from West Virginia, so I kept my pretty mouth shut and we moved along.

    Seventeen minutes later we heroically crested the "ridge of death" and found the 6 other guys sitting in a circle in the dead center of a giant treeless meadow. We chatted them up and then dropped off the other side to a basin containing a few lakes and a nice meadow. We set camp again and spread out to cover the meadows for the evening. Tim elected to pass on three small whitetail bucks. I glassed up a very nice bull about 1 mile away and up a distant ridge, about 300 yards from where we had camped in previous years. That night, some sort of polar vortex moved in and the tent had nearly formed ice by the time we finished dinner and crawled in to the quilts.  I have night terrors occasionally and Tim was treated to some high decibel moaning in the middle of the night. The performance reached its zenith when I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night,  bumped my head on the icy tent wall and created a snow shower inside the tent.  This kind of unplanned entertainment in the middle of the night (in grizzly country) is perhaps the reason there is not a huge line of friends asking to go hunting with me.

    Walking

    Anyhow, Sunday morning was colder than a witches titty and we spent the first few hours overlooking an empty meadow. Visions of the big bull from the previous night and my big 5x6 muley from 2012 danced in my head as we made our plan. Around 9:30am we headed into another burned area but luckily it was devoid of new-growth pine and we only had to step over deadfall about 30% of the time. There was very little wind and being quiet was damn tough in the jumble of burned trees but fortunately Tim and I each honed our sneaky skills back in our 20's making silent retreats from the bedrooms of Bozeman's cougar population. Moments after re-shouldering our packs from a quick break I noticed a body materialize about 35 yards to my left. Tim was only a few steps away but was looking the other way, probably recalling a fond Bozeman cougar memory. Without a conscience thought about doing so, I was looking through the scope and with a small turn of the head I saw the antlers I was looking for. The body was obscured by trees but at 35 yards my crosshairs were dead solid on the neck when I pulled the trigger. It was all over in an instant.

    The pack out was 3 miles, the first of which took over an hour to negotiate; some of the worst blowdown and new-growth I have ever had the misfortune of finding. But it was worth it for this great animal.

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    Best and happy hunting,

    Josh

    Josh Kuntz lives in Boise and hunts across Idaho and Montana. He currently serves as a Co-Chair for the Idaho Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

  • The Holiday Wishlist Contest is Back!

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    Our Holiday Wishlist Contest is back! We want to give you the chance to win $1000 in First Lite gear this holiday season. It's easy to do--just login to your First Lite account, create your wishlist and send it to your friends and family. Every time someone receives it, you get an entry into the drawing (no entry limit). Contest closes on December 25th at midnight. Time to get sharing.

    Click here to get started now.

     

  • "Allie's Mule Deer"

    img_7444-1200x901 Allie packs out her first mule deer. Photo: Marta Dozzi

    The deer died immediately, falling on a steep brush covered slope. The impact was so abrupt it caused the head to kick back and fall underneath the body as it collapsed backwards down the hill. My boyfriend Nick and I each grabbed an antler and dragged the deer to the flat bottom of the drainage. Once we reached the bottom we pulled out our knives and got to work. My first cut was at the base of the neck and worked back toward the rump. From there I skinned one half of the deer and began removing each cut of meat. After each cut was removed, I placed the meat into game bags and into our packs. There was this wild unspoken feeling of gratification and fulfillment that lingered as we worked. Our happiness was contagious. I paused for a moment during the process and thought about how incredible it was that I was in the mountains, harvesting the meat off an animal I stalked and killed.

    IMG_0785 Allie was all smiles after a successful shot. Photo: Marta Dozzi

    I could not physically pick up my pack and throw it over my shoulders, so I rustled the pack onto a bit of a hill then sat, worked my arms into the straps and stood up from a squatting position. My first few steps were like a new born calf, wobbly and weak, but as I walked I found wild satisfaction in that heavy pack. I went into the woods with nothing, and came out with something. The weight in that pack signified even more than meat in the freezer, it meant I accomplished what I set out for.

    img_7411-1200x1200 Allie and her hunting partner, Marta, break down the buck. Photo: Nick Berger

    We butchered the meat in the garage of First Lite’s HQ complete with music and beer. We cut, trimmed, packaged and labeled my entire deer while smiling and laughing along the way. Each package was labeled with my name, the date, and the cut of meat. I love knowing exactly how that meat was handled from start to finish.

    img_7412-1200x1200 Trophy backstrap. Photo: Nick Berger

    As a hunter, I’ve formed an intimate connection to my food and knowing where it comes from. I adore the part of the hunt that takes place after the kill because to me, the dressing, quartering, and butchering process is the most fulfilling part of hunting. I felt that connection grow stronger through this experience. It is the story I love to share and the memories I value the most.

    That feelings satisfaction comes back every time I reach into the freezer and pull out a roast labeled “Allie’s Mule Deer”.

    img_7401-1200x1200 Allie's first grip and grin. Photo: Marta Dozzi

    Pittsburgh transplantAllie D'Andrea, is the social media manager at FLHQ. She was stoked to shoot her first mule deer last Fall. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @outdoors_allie.

  • "The Alternative Lifestyle Bulls" and other Tales from the Idaho Elk Rut

    Trying to get away from the crowd, I've shifted my elk hunting locations several times in past 4 years. The area I spent 2014 and 2015 had a lot of bulls and very little hunting pressure. Sounds great right? However it also possessed another very strange characteristic. Up until the last week of the season the bulls in that area were 100% uninterested in any vocalization or rutting behavior. Main obvious reason- there were no cows! It was very strange to spend days of September amongst bull elk and not hear a single bugle. Quite honestly it was very disappointing as strategizing and calling is the entire reason I love to archery hunt elk. Non-vocal elk are typically a result of intensehunting pressure, and I'd finally discovered an area with little to no hunters, so it made no sense at all!

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    So I decided for 2016 I needed to change locations once again. I decided to move to an entirely new region as I also very much enjoy exploring Idaho. Many hours of pouring over maps, Google Earth and property ownership info, along with a couple actual scouting trips led me to a new area that held a large population of summer range bulls.. The lack of well traveled roads into the area and established camp sites led me to believe this area was also overlooked by most hunters. So my hope was that come August 30th, the elk would still be there and hunters like myself would not.

    My longtime friend Brian from Bend joined me for the first few days of the season. We were stoked to find no other hunters, and the bulls I'd seen during the month of August were still in the area. We explored this new range with many, many close encounters and near shot opportunities at various sized bulls. We heard a few bugles and saw at least one cow, good early season indicators for a return to "normal" elk hunting. Many times we had bulls come in to our calling setups, but without any bugling or response of their own. At one point I was able to stalk to within bow range of 4 mature 6x6 bulls. But the wind shifted as I was just about to have a clear shot at the nearest. Our opening week was encouraging, filled with lots of close encounters.

    The following week I made another trip back and again found no other hunters and plenty of bulls. I had several close calls before shifting wind occurred, and was even able to pass up two opportunities at small bulls. Still however, not much for bugling activity or interest in calls. This was very curious given these bulls were completely un-harassed or pressured by hunters. One would expect them to be very responsive to calling.

    Third week of the season was another solo trip for me. Perched high atop a ridge, the early glow of sunrise revealed a group of 8 bulls in a meadow below me. A few minutes later I spotted another group of 7. All bulls, not a single cow. "What the hell is going on?!" I wondered. "Where are all the cows?!" This new area was turning into a bazaar repeat of my previous location. Later that morning however a few of the bulls did begin a volley of bugles as they dispersed to their various bedding areas. I pursued with several close encounters before eventually hooking into a legit calling exchange with one particular bull. Everything was perfect as he responded instantly to my calls and branch-rubbing racket. When he reached about 60 yards of me I was able to see he was a very large mature bull- the kind of bull I've always dreamed of.  At about 50 yards he paused and began rubbing a pine within the lodgepole thicket. I quickly took this opportunity to advance into shooting range and safer down-wind angle. With an easy 40 yard shot before me I waited for him to look away or block his vision so I could draw my bow. My guts twisted as I saw his nose begin to bob in the air and I new the deal was blown. The archers nemesis (the wind) had pulled yet another physics-defying stunt and somehow piped-in to tip the bull off. He whirled and trotted away, ducking and twisting his huge rack gracefully between the trees. My level of frustration at that moment can not be explained with words!

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    To that point in the season I'd had many opportunities, maneuvering within bow range of 16 different bulls. 14 of the times the wind had swirled and blown the opportunities in the final moments. Two times the wind held for the 2 smallest bulls I'd encountered, which I'd passed up. The box score of 2-14 was grinding and made any optimism or hope feel nothing short of naive. The wind in this place seemed to be particularly defying. Every direction I'd head it would shift and blow my scent far in front of me. So I'd turn the other way and rearrange a different strategy. Same result. It felt simply impossible to do anything with any hope of success. No prevailing wind or compass heading was dependable, no time honored logic of rising or falling thermals could be trusted. It was like shaking a box with a rubber ball inside, constant rebound and zero predictability.

    That was the second to lowest point of the day. After making my way to the area I'd planned my evening hunt the wind continued to shift from N,S,E & W. My confidence was low as I entered a panel of timber where I was certain I'd encounter elk. I covered up in full camo and knocked an arrow as I crept through the areas I expected to find bulls. I questioned the intelligence of pursuing elk with such shifty wind, but I had to do something with my precious hunting time! I wasn't but 60 yards into my planned loop before I spotted exactly what I was hoping to find. Ahead of me a single, medium sized bull fed through the patchwork of old growth timber and fresh Christmas-sized trees. It was the ideal scenario for a stalk. With the bull alone there would be less sets of eyes to keep track of, and the act of feeding kept the bull distracted along with constant chewing sound to reduce what noise he may notice from my approach. I moved swiftly and silently when each tree blocked his view. I knew it was only a matter of time before the wind would eventually shift in his direction, so I stepped with urgency when I could. In a matter of minutes I'd closed the gap and reached a point where I could see the bull would eventually walk through. I'd have a clear and broadside 35 yard shot, if the bull made it there before the wind tipped him off.

    With my feet set, backpack and all my gear still on, an arrow knocked and focused as I could be, time crawled as the bull's pace seemed to slow. It felt like forever as I waited for him to reach the shooting lane. My heart pounded in my chest and I tried to control my breathing to keep composure in check. (I still get incredibly overwhelmed when I'm close to any shooting opportunity.) The wind began to blow and I could feel it twist around and eventually blow against my back. I cringed in anticipation of the tell-tale body language of an elk sensing danger on the wind. But somehow his head never stopped rocking along the grassy forest floor. Finally the bull approached the bullseye zone and I drew my bow as he stepped into it. The motion immediately caught his attention as he raised his head to look right at me and halted in his tracks. It was too late though, as he was now right where I needed him and presenting an ideal shot. I released my arrow and watched with great relief as it disappeared into the side of the bull within an inch or so of where I was aiming. I dropped to my knees then rocked backward as I unbuckled my heavy pack and released a great sigh of relief.

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    I've had some harrowing experiences tracking and recovering bulls over the years. And because of that I've gained a wealth of tracking skills when blood trails dry up for one reason or another. The placement of this shot however left me with little concern as I approached the trail following a standard 30 minute waiting period. The blood trail was strong and flowing from both sides of the bull, confirming my arrow had passed completely through the elk. But I had not heard him crash to the ground in the initial moments after the hit, something that seemed a bit curious. An hour or so later the blood had trickled to a few drops every 10 yards and we'd covered over two hundred yards in total. It was getting late, the western sky was turning orange and alpenglow light tinted the spectacular view below me. "Why were these tracks still going- how could this bull have stayed on his feet this far after a shot that was so ideally executed?" I slumped to the ground and tossed my pack aside as I confronted the situation at hand. At this late hour and with the trail still unresolved, it was decision time: either leave the trail overnight to avoid pushing the bull further, or stay on the trail a little longer in hopes he was not far. My heart ached as I swallowed the bitter pill of considering that I was on the doorstep of loosing this bull. After a deliberate self-contained debate, I declared to myself that the hit was ideal, a passthrough of both lungs. I had to keep confidence that the bull was indeed down and must be close. Looking ahead, a thick stand of dark timber draped over the steep sidehill we were traversing. "I'll follow through that stand then pull the plug till tomorrow." I concluded. Within a few yards of entering those trees, I spotted antler tips, motionless and horizontal on the ground!

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    Another twist to this new area was the presence of wolves. Nights prior I'd heard their haunting sounds with the falling of dusk. At first, just one would initiate a solemn sequence of notes. Then, from quite a distance away more would join in. It seemed they spent the days apart, then at night would call out to initiate the evenings activities- whatever wolves do at night. I tried to keep this though at bay as I swiftly worked to take my bull apart, into well-practiced pieces small enough to pack one at a time. The rear quarter and rump went first. The backstrap from the hip to the back of the neck came off next. It was while I worked to remove the front shoulder and brisket I that I reached the point my headlamp was needed. As I stood up to stretch my back and relax my shoulders it started. Below me the chilling should of wolves lofted into the sunset. I promptly concluded that I'm no mountain man, and packed what meat I had ready to go into my backpack. Then I covered the bull with my coat, vest and bow. I drained a piss in 4 spots around the bull, marking the site as human property for any marauding critters to avoid overnight.

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    The next morning I arrived early to find some disruption. To my great surprise the coats had been thrashed, bloodied and pulled from the bull. My bow was on the ground and covered in bloody paw prints. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Over decades of past experience bears, coyotes etc had never touched meat left overnight in this fashion. I guess wolves are bolder however, and I counted myself very lucky that I'd already removed and bagged the accessible prime meat, and all the wolves did was gnaw into the areas I'd already made my cuts. Not more than a few steaks were lost. The next few hours I enjoyed the experience of field dressing the remainder of the bull. Something I've done may times before but this was the first time as a solo venture. It was a beautiful morning to be on a mountain top in Idaho, and I savored the solitude of the moment while basking in the satisfaction of success. It was awesome!

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    Feeling a tad ashamed that I hadn't stayed overnight to defend my harvest, I considered another challenge to make this experience as fulfilling as possible. I decided that if I wasn't brave, I'd strive to be tough! I doubled the loads I'd normally carry in each trip, figuring I could pack the bull just under 2 miles to the truck in 2 trips. (IMGrr8,9) The loads strained my body to it's max. But it felt great and since I'd worked very hard leading up to and during the season to be as fit as possible, my body handled it well. I'd stop each half mile and sit for a few minutes, then recover and amble on. By 1:00 I was back at my truck with the entire bull loaded and ready for the drive back to Boise.

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    For the final few days of the season I once again teamed up with Brian as he set out to fill his Idaho tag for the second year in a row. Idaho did not seem to happy to have him back! We were met with 3 days of intense wind, rain and fog. To make matters worse, the peculiar situation of these "alternative lifestyle" bulls persisted. Still- not a cow could be found, and the many bulls in the area showed only marginal interest in any calling. They did however give us just enough engagement that we were able to locate bulls on occasion, and bring a few in to calls. So between that and the simple density of bulls in the area we enjoyed a few very active days when the weather allowed. Brian had shot opportunities at a handful of respectable sized bulls, but for one various reason or another we just never found the perfect scenario for another harvest.

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    Throughout the season between Brian and I, we figured we were within bow range of bulls on average about 2.5 times per day. Pretty incredible and due in part I'm sure to the strange all-bull and no breeding behavior. Overall it felt like a mixed bag- blessing in the lack of ever-vigilant cows that so often disrupt anything the bowhunter is trying to accomplish in typical bow season elk calling and hunting, but also a curse to spend yet another September in country thick with bull elk and not be able to enjoy the frenzied chaos of hunting elk in the rutt. I'm not sure what next season will hold, if I'll give this area one more year or yet again move on to explore more of Idaho in my search for elk hunting nirvana.

    First Lite Pro Staffer, Bryan Huskey, is a photographer and filmmaker in Boise, Idaho. You can check out his work here.

  • The Dirtbag's Guide to Hunting New Zealand: Planning an Unguided Trip to the South Island

    P1050068-600x451 The Tasman Glacier in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park.

    New Zealand is an incredible hunting destination: spectacular mountain scenery, endless public land and a pantheon of exotic species to hunt all without tags, licenses, trophy fees or the necessity of hiring a guide. If you can get down there and have the gear and experience to strike out in the backcountry you can go on the DIY hunt of a lifetime. With careful planning, the whole endeavor can be pulled off for a couple thousand dollars, a lump of cash to be sure but far less than one would pay for nearly any other international hunt and many in North America. Beyond being one of the few places one can hunt without an outfitter, New Zealand is also one of the few foreign destinations where you can bring home game meat. All in all, hunting the country represents a unique and fantastic opportunity for reasonably priced, self-driven, adventure. That said, pulling off this sort of trip without the help of an outfitter requires substantial planning. Below we try and comprehensively lay out the the logistics of hunting in New Zealand based on our own trip so that others might enjoy this spectacular opportunity.

    OVERVIEW

     Planning

    -Buying tickets
    -Apply for NZ visitor’s firearm license
    -Check varying airline regulations, both domestic and international
    -Notify airline of intention to bring firearm if necessary
    -Fill our US Customs form 4457 for firearm
    -Find a place to hunt
    -Clean backcountry gear beforehand for NZ customs’ biosecurity checks

    In New Zealand 

    -Rent a car
    -Pick up NZ visitor’s firearm permit at airport from NZPD before customs
    -Pick up Department of Conservation (DOC) public land hunting permit
    -Stock up on (readily available) supplies
    -Find an official “homekill” butcher with vacuum sealer

    Getting Home

     -Bring butcher’s receipt
    -Obtain Certificate to Export (trophies and meat) from DOC central office
    -Prepare trophies and package meat professionally
    -Fill out US Fish and Wildlife Service Form 13-77, “Importing Fish and Wildlife” online
    -Call USFWS at airport to which you will be arriving to notify them
    -Clean gear

    P1050125-600x451 Laundry and logistics between hunts.

    Planning Your Trip

    When To Go

    The first question to ask when planning a DIY hunt to New Zealand is the simplest: when should we go? You can hunt almost any big game animal at any time of year. We chose to go in March before the weather got too chilly and before the “roar.”

    The roar is the red stag rut and seemed to be one of the more popular times to hunt in New Zealand. It’s perhaps roughly equivalent to general rifle deer season in the United States. The roar generally begins around the middle of March. Around then, the government actually cordons off some portions of popular public land as “roar blocks.” Though we didn’t really get the specifics of how these work, these blocks appear to limit access to reduce the number of hunters in certain areas. We chose to skip it altogether, though, and go before the 21st.

    The second question of a DIY trip to New Zealand is more complicated: what kind of weather do I want to deal with? The first half of March in the Southern Alps seemed roughly analogous to September at higher elevations in the mountain west. The nights were cool -- one morning we woke up to frost -- and the afternoons warm (60s or 70s F). These conditions obviously vary with elevation and location on the island.

    Airport-3 Airfare was more than half of the total cost of the trip but the experience was well worth the long flight.

    Buy Tickets

    Airline tickets to New Zealand aren’t cheap and accounted for more than half the trip’s total costs. We booked our tickets well in advance, though we’ve also heard buying close to departure can work since airlines are then desperate to sell the tickets. Ultimately, we used domestic carriers and airline points to get to Los Angles and then rechecked our gear there on to New Zealand Air. Some travel sites suggested flying to Australia but we decided against it. We had read that traveling through Australia can be difficult with firearms, so we chose an itinerary that went from the US to NZ directly. We also saw somewhere that it is illegal to fly with guns and change airlines internationally (e.g. in Sydney)  so we limited ourselves to trips with a single carrier. We flew with Air New Zealand (an awesome airline) from LA to Auckland and then on to Queenstown.

    Apply for Visitors Firearm License

    This process is really quite simple. You head over to the NZPD website and find they section pertaining to visitors and firearms. You can then apply online and will get a confirmation from officer who will meet you upon your arrival in New Zealand. Basically, you grab bags and then head over to the NZPD kiosk and phone the officer who issues you a permit. At this point you will need to prove you can legally carry a firearm in your home country. This is a little nebulous in the United States where we don’t have an explicit license to have a weapon. One of us brought an old Maryland hunting license, a current Idaho license and a hunter safety card while the other brought a Washington DC gun registration card and a hunter safety card. That said, the officers didn’t seem very concerned with the specifics of these documents. Additionally, there is a fee, which as of March 2016 was $25 NZ. This must be payed in cash. Check Varying Airline Regulations Read the fine print. Different airlines have different requirements when it comes to checking a firearm.

    That’s especially true for international versus domestic flights. For example, United Airlines allowed us to fly with up to 11 pounds of ammunition, and we could keep it  in our hard-case alongside the gun. Air New Zealand, however, demanded that the ammunition be in a separate bag and in its original packaging.

    While United Airlines let us fly with the bolt in the gun, Air New Zealand made us take it out. Be sure to check the firearm requirements of every airline that you fly, and keep in mind that different airline officials will enforce these rules to different degrees.

    As a side note, many outdoors stores in New Zealand do carry common brands like Federal and Winchester, so consider leaving your ammo at home if you use a common round.

    If you do fly AIr New Zealand, be sure to call them to let them know you plan to travel with a firearm. Even though the NZ Police will already have your application for a visitor’s firearm license, the airline still needs to call ahead to the airport in New Zealand to get approval for your gun.

    Additionally, be sure to tell Air New Zealand that you’ll be taking your gun into the country and out. That may sound obvious, but the official we spoke with didn’t assume that and the airline needs to make preparations both ways. Have your booking reference number for both flights when you call them.

    Do this at least two weeks before you take off, as it takes them a few days to complete this transaction. Be sure to follow up 4-5 days after your first phone call to confirm it went through.

    Traveling Internationally with a Firearm

    Just because you brought your gun out of the United States, don’t assume U.S. Customs will let you back in with it. They need proof that you didn’t just buy that guy while you were abroad.

    To do so, fill out U.S. Customs Form 4457, which essentially assures customs that you left the United States with your rifle. We were repeatedly told this form could be filled out online. However, the instruction were far from clear and we read at times that the system was not yet up and running.

    In the end, we discovered that Form 4457 could be filled out at the airport and ended up doing this at the Los Angeles Airport. Though we heard the process could take two to three hours, it took about ten minutes.

    Clean Gear

    New Zealand has an incredibly unique set of native ecosystems and an economy largely based in agriculture and tourism. As a result, the island nation is understandably concerned about invasive species entering its borders. Customs’ biosecurity will inspect and clean anything they think might harbor exotic hitchhikers. To shorten your time in customs, clean all your gear of dirt, seeds and anything else that might transport invasives before you travel to New Zealand.

    ONCE YOU’RE IN NEW ZEALAND

    Find a Place to Hunt

    This element of the trip was somewhat daunting. Luckily, we had contacts in the country that pointed us toward places to go. They also linked us up with a helicopter pilot who flew us into the backcountry.

    DSC01667-600x451 Though not exactly dirt baggy, helicopters are relatively inexpensive in New Zealand and pilots may be able to put you in a spot that holds game, an important plus when hunting a foreign place without a guide.

    A helicopter is a great way for the overseas hunter to find a place to hunt. The pilot chose the valley he dropped us in based on a couple stags he had seen flying over several days before. Chartering a whirlybird, therefore, seem to provide that little bit of local knowledge on where game might be without actually hiring a guide.

    As an aside, we do want to mention the distinction between helicopter access and helicopter hunting. Many outfitters do use them to locate an animal and then put clients down not far off to shoot them. This is not what we were interested in. We still put in plenty of miles and vertical, spiking out and hunting drainages away from our put-in spot. However, we did have the distinct advantage of starting out right in country we wanted to hunt.

    Another option for finding specific hunting location might include asking around at DOC offices in the region you want to hunt. DOC employees were consistently helpful and one might even let you in on a spot, or put you in contact with someone.

    Rent a Car

    New Zealand’s South Island is a relatively small and sparsely populated place. Cars are by far the easiest way to get around and are not super expensive to rent if you can figure out how to drive on the wrong side of the road. We rented a 4 door Hundai sudan, which fit all our gear comfortable and got us everywhere we needed to go. As a note if you do plan on driving to trailheads you may want to consider renting 4WD vehicle. As in the US, some access roads are less than well maintained. 

    P1050085-600x451 Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand through the side window of the trusty Hyundai. Rental cars are by far the easiest way to get around the South Island.

    GETTING HOME

    Bringing Meat Home - Documentation

    If you want to bring your meat home, get ready for some paperwork. In a nutshell, you’ll want to get as much documentation as possible to prove to officials from both New Zealand and the United States that you killed your meat legally and butchered it safely.

    To satisfy these requirements, we used three things:

    1) a butcher’s receipt

    2) a New Zealand Department of Conservation certificate to export meat and trophies

    3) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Form 3-177

    We don’t claim that this list is exhaustive -- there may be more or fewer items that can help you successfully bring meat back. But after hours of combing the websites of various U.S. and New Zealand government agencies, we found these items worked.

    Most importantly, though, be sure to call the US FIsh and Wildlife Office at the airport you’re flying into. The agency needs to have an official ready to inspect your baggage when you fly in. This will save you time.

    1) Butchers Receipt  

    Here’s what not to do: wrap poorly cut meat in newspaper and write “chamois” on the outside.

    Essentially, you’re trying to get the U.S. government to believe you when you say “I legally killed an Alpine Chamois in the backcountry of New Zealand and not a white rhino in Zimbabwe.” The best way to do that is through a trustworthy messenger: a butcher.

    First, you’ll need to find one. Not all butchers can legally process game -- or what the Kiwis call “homekill” -- so you’ll have to ask around. Once you find one, tell them what kind of meat you want and that you plan to bring this meat back to the United States. You’ll want them to vacuum seal the meat and, if possible, label each pieces of meat with the price, weight, and kind of meat. These labels make the finished product look very official. Most importantly, be sure to keep the final receipt from the butcher of the whole order.

    The butcher we spoke with let us keep the meat in his freezer until the day we left for the States. We then swung by his shop, grabbed the meat, placed it into small coolers that we then stuffed inside our checked luggage.

    P1050022-600x451 We got something. Actually, a couple somethings. The ability to hunt without a guide, tags or a license for awesome critters in spectacular country makes New Zealand  a unique hunting destination.

    2) New Zealand Department of Conservation certificate to export

    Several New Zealand officials told us that this form wasn’t necessary to get meat out of New Zealand but was necessary to get it into the United States. Confusingly, some U.S. officials we spoke with said the exact opposite: that the form was necessary for leaving NZ but not entering the United States.

    In any event, we got the certificate to be on the safe side. It bears the official seal of the New Zealand Department of Conservation, thereby confirming again the origin and kind of our meat to U.S. officials.

    You’ll need to email cites@doc.govt.nz to request the form. Check out this site for more information.

    The paperwork can take a few days to process, and you then have to go to the DOC office in Christchurch to pick it up. However, you can pay an extra $40 NZ for the certificate to be delivered to wherever you are. This was immensely helpful for us as Christchurch would have been a full day’s trip.

    IMG_3289-600x451 Being able to bring home game is another unique part of hunting in New Zealand. Though ultimately our meat was never inspected closely upon our return to the U.S., getting game professionally butchered, vaccum sealed and labelled seemed like a good strategy.

    3) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Form 3-177, “Importing Fish and Wildlife”

    How to complete this form was perhaps the hardest lesson learned from our trip.

     You want to fill out 3-177 online before you arrive in the States. By filling out this form online ahead of time, U.S. Fish and Wildlife can green light your meat and trophies without even having to look at them. You can then submit your “supporting documentation” -- aka proof that this meat was purchased legally -- online late.

    The USFW recognizes that a chamois, for example, is not an endangered animal listed by CITES -- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species -- and therefore doesn’t need to be inspected.

    NZcamp Campgrounds and hostels are all over the place in tourist towns like Queenstown and Wanaka and are generally inexpensive.

    We failed to fill out this form online, however, and instead completed the form on paper. Since we weren’t yet in the system, the USFS office at LAX flagged us in the Customs’ system. We then had to go to a separate staging area and take out the trophies and meat for inspection. An USFW officer said that  if we had done this online, we wouldn’t have been flagged.

    A final note: we flew into Los Angeles on a Saturday, and it turns out that the USFW does not work on the weekends. So we had to pay a $150 overtime fee for the USFW official to inspect our meat and trophies. Had we flown in on a Friday, the process would have been free.

    A Note on Skulls

    Be sure to also clean your skulls professionally. We boiled and bleached them ourselves in New Zealand (on a grill) but grease smudges unerved the US Custom and USFW officials at Los Angeles Airport. They then made us send them to a USFW-approved taxidermist, who charged us $250 a head. Given this additional cost and difficulty of pulling together a proper boiling setup, we’ll probably consider simply having a Kiwi taxidermist do skulls and send them back to the US.

    DSC01521-600x451 Doug looks out over the high country of the Southern Alps.

    CONCLUSION

    Hunting in New Zealand is the trip of a lifetime. The Kiwis were amazingly kind, the landscape was jaw-dropping, and the hunts were unforgettable. This country is truly a hunter’s paradise.

    Doug Stuart and Ford Van Fossan are old high school buddies that hunted on the South Island for two weeks in March. Doug is a freelance writer. Ford is the Consumer Sales and Content Manager at FLHQ . Both are planning on returning to New Zealand as soon as possible. 

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