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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.

  • 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 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.

    rr10-600x338

    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.

    rr14-600x396

    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. 

  • #DirtbagDedicated Photo Contest

    dirtbagpost

    Signs you might be a dirtbag

    - You believe, dental floss is primarily for A) backup serving of peeps and D loops B) high tensile, mint flavored thread for clothing and gear repair and C) dental hygiene.

    - The fish you eat come either straight from a river or from a can (and you never waste that oil).

    - You've fully changed your clothing in so many parking lots at so many times you just don't notice those stares anymore.

    - The signs at Laundromats are either because of you, or directly reference you.

    - Signs that read "No Dogs" pretty much mean you're not welcome.

    - You once broke down an animal using just a broad-head.

    - You know all the day stay limits at local campsites by heart.

    - You haven't actually washed your hunting clothes this season.

    - When pressed about this fact you respond "What? There merino."

    - In your mind, hot sauce + cheese + tortilla + any protein = a taco.

    - You've used money earmarked for you student loan on taxidermy and/or a wall tent.

    - You've slept in your Tacoma bed more often than on your actual mattress.

    - You don't have an actual mattress. And lets be honest, you don't have a Tacoma either.

    If you answered yes to more than half of these questions you may be eligible to enter out Dirtbag Dedicated photo contest and win a brand new First Lite kit. Just tag the photo that best encompasses your "hunt-now, worry-about-everything-else-later" lifestyle with #DirtbagDedicated.

  • The "Duck'n'Roll" and Other Archery Tactics from the Antelope Arena

    IMG_4005-3414x2276-600x400 The wily speed goat: Photo: Jordon Riley

    Matt, there’s some in a decent spot”

    We pass a buck and a handful of does grazing in the tall grass about 150 yards from the road. We continue to a turnaround a couple hundred yards ahead and make a U-turn.

    “You know the plan: slow down, I’ll jump out, you keep going.”

    We approach the pronghorn again, this time with the critters on the driver side. Matt quickly slows the truck to a crawl as we draw up to the group and I carefully hop out the passenger door. As the vehicle accelerates away, I dodge around the rear of the truck and throw myself in the roadside ditch. Hopefully, the pronghorn didn’t particularly notice me as the truck rolled past and I settle in to let them forget if they did; all in all a well executed “duck-n-roll.” Time to start crawling.

    _04A1123-2-600x376 Glassing from an elevated spot is a common way to locate antelope. Photo: Kenton Carruth

    *   *   *

    This ploy is only one of many wonky, unconventional and occasionally successful tactics employed in the pursuit of antelope with stick and string. Welcome to high country speed goat archery season. This valley is not stereotypical pronghorn range; a major river runs down its length, fed by numerous creeks flowing out of the surrounding, timbered, snow-capped, mountains. It’s not even entirely open; stands of lodgepole pine creep down from the surrounding ranges.

    _04A0384-600x400 Decoys are used to agitate rutting bucks. Photo: Kenton Carruth

    The pronghorn congregate in the abandoned pastures and broad sage flats of the valley floor; an area referred to as the “antelope arena.” Though there are tons of animals, the unit is largely closed to firearms. The outcome is a unique hunt with scores of opportunities and few harvests. It is not unusual to get in five stalks in a day. The usual strategy might be described as “drive, spot and stalk.” Essentially, one cruises the valley’s roads or glasses from one of the higher hills or the roof of a truck, looking for pronghorn within some reasonable distance of some reasonable piece of cover. Then the game is on.

    _04A0453-600x355 Crawling is an important part of spot and stalk pronghorn hunting. Photo: Kenton Carruth

    What constitutes “reasonable” in this context is very much up to interpretation. Some attempt a two hundred yard crawl through six inches of grass (the question of how one actually rises and gets off a shot is always left to the future). Others lurk in the willows along the river waiting for rare instance when the goats show signs of thirst and head towards river (the issue of where exactly they will water along miles of creek is also typically left off for later). Still more quest for the elusive “timberlope,” pronghorn that, seemingly against their better instincts, habitually loiter around the broken patches of lodgepole.

    Other methods of attack include but are far from limited to, decoys, calls, pronghorn costumes, ground blinds, pop-up blinds, layout blinds, tree stands, flagging, two-man cow suits and general lurking. Many are uncomfortable, some are humiliating and most are hopeless. All are entertaining.

    *   *   *

    _04A0829-600x400 Antelope dirtbag. Photo: Kenton Carruth

    Its August 18th at 5:30 am and I’m all the way in my sleeping bag in back of my 2003 Yukon. Freezing temps are more than possible in every month of the year in this high country. I’m awake before the predawn alarm will tell me to get up. I roll over and unpack my pillow pulling my puffy and mid layer out of my stuff sack and put them on, trying to stay in my bag the whole while.

    After sitting as long as possible in the bag, I pull the bandaid, yanking my legs out of the bag and shoving them into my nylon guide pants. Then I open the door and hop out of the truck. Hungry already after a gourmet dinner of cold canned black beans and gas station tortillas, I munch a pop tart and I organize the day in my mind. Then I grab my bow and daypack and walk down the dirt road out into the dark.

    As soon I turn off the track into an open field of short grass. I make for the center. Soon a square shape begins to materialize in front of me. Upon, reaching the blind I snuggle into a tired sleeping bag to wait for dawn and antelope.

    unspecified-27-600x400 A blind at sunset. Photo: Adam Majors

    *   *   *

    According to conventional wisdom the blind is the best strategy to for arrowing a speed goat. But its also the coldest, (then later) the hottest (and always) the most boring way to kill a pronghorn. As an ex-easterner I have little trouble waiting for critter, but most of my friends and co-workers would sooner stick themselves with a broadhead than sit still for a couple hours.

    And I can hardly blame them. Almost constantly being in the presence of these awesome animals and making tons of exciting (if unfruitful) stalks is damn fun. And seeing as their behavior changes little as the day goes on, you can pretty much hunt from dawn to dark. All things considered, it makes for a pretty good way to spend a weekend even if actually killing an antelope often seems utterly impossible.

    Ford Van Fossan is the Retail Sales and Content Manager at FLHQ. He will be spending a lot of time stalking speed goats, eating canned dinners and sleeping in his Yukon this month.

  • The Backcountry

    2016-04-23 005-600x429 Getting away from it all is not always easy. Photo:  Author.

    Born and raised in northern Michigan, my opportunities to hunt the West growing up amounted to a few rifle hunts near my uncle's cabin in Montana.  Although the trips were eye-opening, the regimented course of daily events largely followed the same pattern I experienced hunting whitetail in my native state.  Up early, hit the woods, search for game, then back under a roof at night for a good meal and hot shower.  Rinse, repeat.  The same process engrained in many a young hunter.

    Fast forward a decade, or two, I found myself a permanent resident of the left coast.  About the time I settled in to my new life as an Oregonian, thoughts of chasing elk, blacktail, and bear had crept in.  One afternoon I found myself staring at large green rectangles on a map and flipping through the pages of a bowhunting magazine. Prominently, displayed on the cover was a successful hunter, pack bulging with antler and flesh from a trophy bull. In that moment, I struggled to connect the dots.

    A path from my couch to the top of the mountain was unclear.  Unsure of myself, or where to begin, I saw a few more seasons slip past before I started the climb.  I now know I was not alone, as more recent conversations with both hunter and non-hunter alike regarding my passion for the backcountry are met with questioning looks and lost stares.  I believe all possess a desire to connect with the wilderness, yet the false need for convenience and familiarity often overpowers.

    As I eventually discovered, there is no secret.  Make a conscious decision to get out and experience whatever the mountain has to offer, tackling your fears and questions head on.  Be warned, the path will present adventure and challenge guaranteed to invoke a full spectrum of human emotion.  Joy. Pain. Solitude.  Enlightenment.  Each extremely rewarding in its own right, and lending to an addiction for the experiences that can only be discovered where few care to tread.  Unfortunately, I cannot help tackle the individual mental barriers associated with making this choice, but I can share some resources I found helpful in my journey.

    2016-07-09 026-600x429 Backcountry food supplement. Photo: Author.

    Ask, and you shall receive.

    Regrettably, interactions with hunters outside my circle of family and friends were largely adversarial growing up.  A relationship bred from too many people, too little land.  It was not uncommon to spend half the day hunting, and the other patrolling a property line.  As a result, I was hesitant to seek help from others when an interest in western hunting piqued.  I am pleased, and proud, to report my concerns eroded with each conversation, tip, and question answered from the hunters who were well-versed in the practice of mountain hunting.  As they well knew, and I have come to understand, educating others is the best way to protect our hunting heritage, and ultimately is the foundation of conservation.  There is strength in numbers, and through welcoming others into the family we will preserve the opportunities backcountry hunters are passionate about and live for.  Whether novice or expert, do not be afraid to ask for advice from veterans who live and breathe the lifestyle.

    If you are fortunate enough to live "out west," the local watering hole may be a great place to strike up a conversation, but there are other resources full of useful information readily accessible to all.  Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is a great place to start.  BHA is an organization of sportsmen committed to protecting public lands, public access, and the wildlife within through education and promoting ethical use.  BHA is also a great way to connect with hunters of a shared interest.  With chapters across the country, from New York to Oregon, there are regular opportunities to meet & greet in your neck of the woods.  I encourage anyone interested in learning more about backcountry hunting to seek them out, and start making those worthy connections

    2016-04-23 015-600x429 Dogs can sometimes (but not always) make great companions in the backcountry. Photo: Author.

    Do your homework.

    An invaluable resource I was fortunate to discover early in my quest for knowledge was the Rokslide community (www.rokslide.com). Particularly the forums were, and continue to be, the best location on the web to review and share all aspects of western DIY style hunting.  There is virtually no limit to the amount information at your fingertips, increasing daily, available via the dedicated contributors who frequent this digital “camp fire” style venue.  As a source supported and frequented by many of the top companies and hunters in the industry, it is simply the premier backcountry resource for up-to-date gear information, hunting tactics, or debates regarding the existence of Bigfoot.

    I would also be remiss if I did not mention the top result returned when I first searched the term "backcountry bowhunting" several years ago, and in fact remains true to this day.  Backcountry Bowhunting: A Guide to the Wild Side by Cameron Hanes.  One of the first publications of its kind, tailored to a specific audience of hunters interested in learning how to hunt, scout, and mentally prepare for the challenge of backcountry bowhunting.  In large part this book is responsible for my first solo hunting trips, and continues to be a great read for anyone starting the journey.

    While on the topic of literature, the works of Steve Rinella come highly recommended.  Although I fumbled through many of my first attempts at hunting unfamiliar game, boning meat, and preparing wild meat, you will have better luck after reading The Complete Guide to Hunting, Butchering, and Cooking Wild Game: Volume 1: Big Game.  It is a valuable tool I have referred to many times since release.  If only it had been available when I began, a few of my early blunders could have been avoided.  The remainder of Rinella's collection caters to the soul, offering insight into the history and circumstances that make-up the modern hunter.   Take one along on your next trip to pass the time in camp, and you will not be disappointed.

    It makes no difference where you reside; resources are at your disposal waiting to bridge the gap between uncertainty and confidence.  It is up to you to seek them out.

    2016-07-10 038-600x429 Getting deeper than the competition can yield impressive critters. Photo: Author.

    Gear Up.

    I hold great admiration for the pioneers who pushed the boundaries of this country toward the Pacific.  In fact, my growing interest in backcountry hunting led to a thirst for knowledge surrounding the legendary hunters and trappers that opened up the west.  Colter, Bridger, and Beckwourth to name a few.   The feats performed by the men of this era, despite resources of the time, are nothing short of amazing.  I would be lying if I did not admit romanticizing about being born a century earlier; where not only was it possible make a living off hunting and trapping, but those skills were a necessary part every American’s life.  Of course, reality sinks in upon recalling the average life expectancy during this tumultuous time was a mere 37 years, and much lower for those enduring the mountain.  Yet, I still believe there is great value in remembering the lessons of a more primitive world as we reap the rewards that culminated as a product of its success and failure.  Technology.

    In truth, we are living in an amazing time for the aspiring backcountry hunter.  Just in my lifetime, the explosion of hunt specific equipment is unprecedented, as improvements in everything from navigation to clothing have opened up new opportunities for anyone seeking

    to explore those hard to reach locales and return home safely.   In a relatively short period of time, the progression of my personal gear rivals the antler growth of a trophy bull.  Each season adding, or upgrading, key pieces that mark lessons learned along the way.  Some may shun the idea of these new tools available to our trade, and while I would agree that no amount of gear can guarantee a fruitful harvest, the right equipment is essential for those who measure success based on miles traveled and time spent in wonderful places.

    I advise you invest wisely, as often times the items carried on your back are the only resources available once your hunt extends beyond a day’s reach of the closest road or trailhead.  A pack comfortable handling a heavy load, supportive boots, warm sleep systems, and clothing that lends versatility to any foreseen environment.  I believe that gear should never hold you back, and you get what you pay for.  Although there is some value in learning the hard way, the right equipment is worth its weight in venison backstrap.  If I had better words, I would use them here, however, First Lite’s vision “Go Farther, Stay Longer” sums it up perfectly.  Utilize the tools at your disposal to push personal limits, and unfold the mysteries of your wilderness.

    2016-07-09 041-600x429 (1) Though it requires planning and experience, time in the backcountry is irreplaceable. Photo: Author.

    In closing, I hope this inspires and helps.  As difficult as it once was, I am now comfortable admitting the obstacles that prevented me from engaging in a pursuit I can no longer live without.  Do not fall prey to those same mistakes.  I do not know it all and, in fact, take comfort that I never will.  For the same challenge and anxiety once holding me back, is now the motivation to discover what is upon the next ridge, at the bottom of an adjacent draw, or simply beyond the next two pines in my path.

    Pro Staffer Chad Harvey lives in Oregon and hunts across the Northwest. 

  • Why 3D Archery Helps Prepare the Modern Day Bow Hunter

    Micah 3D shooting is an awesome way to prepare for hunting season. Photo: Author.

    For me, as well a large majority of the archery community, 3D shooting is a way to stay “tuned” up for hunting season. It is also a way to get together with friends who I may only see during archery tournament season or in the field: Where did you hunt, who did you go with, did you draw anything, do you have max points, and how far was the shot. These are all just samples of what I’ve heard while standing in line registering for an archery event, so I know I am not the only one with hunting on my mind all the time.  It also marks another season in the year of the sportsman. I know in time, I will be deep in the high mountain timber chasing deer and then on top of steep ridge lines waiting for that first bugle from a bull elk to cut the morning silence. Either way, 3D archery has its place in the preparation for hunting season.  It just depends on how you look at it!

    So, with the above information, we should look into why 3D archery is important in preparation for hunting and why should everyone that is capable of doing it, challenge themselves before chasing after living breathing targets.

    First and probably foremost, like any activity from hitting a baseball to typing this document, the human body recognizes and responds to repetition very well. So well in fact that from senses alone, I can make words, sentences, and phrases out of a large variety of buttons on this keypad even without looking at it.  This same repetition applies to 3D archery as well. For example, if I were to try and go straight into the field and hunt without target practicing first, I could probably hit my target. But, there is a very high likelihood that I would hit my target in a spot that I was definitely not aiming for. This comes from the disconnect that my mind, muscles, and eyesight are all trying to figure out at the same time. With practice, all of these motions and senses come together. They do this so well that after repeatedly drawing my bow back, I can come to the same anchor point, look through my peep the same, get the pressure on my release the same, and hopefully execute the shot the same. 3D archery allows for all of this repetition plus other invaluable features which later result in hunting attributes that people in general possess without even thinking about it.

    shoot The author takes aim at the Western Classic in Redding, CA. Photo: Author.

    Secondly, in most circumstances 3D archery lets you aim at life size animals. So, not only are you aiming at a spot on the animal, you also have the animal silhouetted in the background of your sight picture. This causes two things to happen. One, you are forced to aim at a small spot on a larger animal background, and two, your mind is constantly telling you to aim at that spot but there is a bear you are aiming at, or an elk, or a raccoon etc. Even though the painted spot may not be in the position you would actually try to put your arrow into an animal for a quick clean kill, you are still aiming at an animal that resembles the real thing. So in the field with practice on 3D targets, you will subconsciously feel more comfortable drawing back on the animal you are hunting if you have had experience drawing back on it before.  This experience is what will set the stage to allow for everything else to fall into place.

    Third, 3D archery is usually competitive in nature and most humans when competing try to do their best. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very friendly sport that is great for exercise and just plain good for your soul. But, there are awards offered at these events, some people compete to take a cash prize home with them, and even friendly shooting usually turns to some mild form of competition. More importantly, this competition equates to success in the field. Sure, if you are lucky enough to find an animal to shoot at, you have to draw your bow back, aim, and release the arrow.  The difference between eating tasty elk back straps or consuming cold “tag soup” for the remainder of the year can come down to the most minute detail of your shot sequence. 3D archery forces you to constantly practice these intricacies which in turn you will take with you into the field when hunting.

    Everything from your stance, the way your bow is gripped, controlling your breathing, and visualizing your shot on the target are just a few of those small things that can push you just outside of the spot, or just outside of the vital kill zone on an animal. As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, some people find 3D archery puts pressure on that shot sequence. Not only are your peers or competitors watching you, some of these events can be drawn out over the course of the whole day or weekend. This constant process of trying to do your best wears on both your mind and body. Throw in a bit of extreme weather be it hot or cold and now try to perform your best! 3D archery and bow hunting both demand that you pay great attention to every detail if you strive to be successful.

    Lastly, 3D archery forces you to shoot at close ranges and sometimes out to extreme distances as well. During local tournaments which I shoot in northern California, I have shot at a target from as close as 2 yards all the way out to 113 yards.  Your gear should be set up to enable you to shoot anywhere in between those ranges. Obviously different shooting styles apply.  With today’s bows, most top end compounds can easily scream arrows out to 100 yards. Most traditional shooters would not shoot this far or even attempt it at an animal. Shooting at these targets also plays with your sight picture. Sometimes there is too much light coming into your peep making your sight or pins harder to acquire.

    Blacktail Skills honed at 3D shoots can translate into success and helped take this mature high country blacktail. Photo: Author.

    Shooting at 3D events also forces you to hold in the wind much like hunting situations. The most important thing that I find amazing is my ability to pay attention to my bubble while 3D shooting. Most courses are not at all flat. Some have extreme up hills while others may have extreme side hills. Paying attention to your bubble while out on the 3D course will allow you to quickly “feel” a side hill in a real life hunting situation. Your pin(s) may be a touch high or low and at most yardages if you do everything else correctly you still have a chance at filling your tag. If your bubble is even a little out, especially the further the shot is, the trajectory of the arrow away from the intended target only compounds and that animal you worked so hard for, has left only dust, tracks and if you’re lucky, a sampling of fur or hair behind.

    So with that being said, grab your bow, round up some friends, and hit up your local archery club to find out when the next 3D archery tournament in your area will be held. Not only will you have a great time, but your skills will be “honed” as well. The next time you are in a hunting situation, your mind and body will be forced to get into that repetition mode without you knowing and hopefully you will be rewarded on the back end.

    ….Good luck, shoot straight, and happy hunting!

    Micah Brown is a longtime First Lite Pro Staffer from California. He shoots competitively in the offseason and chases backcountry blacktails and Idaho elk in the Fall. 

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