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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 [email protected] to let us know how we are doing.

  • Public Land Up North – A Boundary Waters Update by Spencer Shaver

    The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is a canoe country Wilderness – over 1,100 lakes here are great habitat for fish and game, full of walleye, lake trout, smallmouth and northern pike. These 1.1 million acres of public lands and waters are where generations of Minnesotans learned to paddle, portage and fish clear, cold water. With over 80 entry points, the Boundary Waters is America’s most visited Wilderness Area attracting more than 150,000 visitors annually.

    GWS_070918_45Sized A view of Fall colors starting to flush in the BWCA from the Border Route Trail.

    Despite its popularity, the BWCA is not without conflict today. While the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978 both granted protections to the Boundary Waters itself, the remainder of the Superior National Forest, which houses 20% of the freshwater in the entire National Forest system, is subject to a forest management plan, including logging and mining operations.

    A quarter mile from the BWCA, along the South Kawishiwi River, lie federally managed copper-nickel mineral prospecting leases. These permits have never been developed, partially because of their proximity to the BWCA. Government agencies and mining companies have gone through a series of steps in the first half of 2018 to continue with the leasing, exploratory efforts and permitting process to build an industrial-scale copper nickel mine on the edge of the Wilderness.

    A 37 inch lunker of a lake trout caught during fishing opener. Released for another lucky angler. A 37 inch lunker of a lake trout caught during fishing opener. Released for another lucky angler.

    This gave hunters, anglers, hikers and paddlers alike pause – copper-nickel mining is responsible for massive stores of polluted water in North America, including Butte, MT, the Gold King Mine in Colorado, and the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia. By its nature, the removal of minerals from sulfide-bearing ore causes acid mine drainage, where mining tailings laced with heavy metals and acidic runoff into nearby ground and surface water.

    The proposed mine sites are especially dangerous because the South Kawishiwi River flows through most of the southern part of the Boundary Waters, briefly out of the Wilderness, then right back into the BWCA. There is no reason to believe a copper-nickel mine here would be any different. The Boundary Waters and Superior National Forest are landscapes covered by interconnected lakes, rivers and streams. If this water were polluted, it would be impossible to contain that pollution.

     The author and National Director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters showing off their lake trout catch during a winter trip into the Boundary Waters. The author and National Director of Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters showing off their lake trout catch during a winter trip into the Boundary Waters.

    The leases along the South Kawishiwi lapsed in 2015, allowing the Forest Service and BLM to consider whether or not to renew the leases. In late 2016, the leases in question were denied by the agencies who cited potential harm to the Boundary Waters in their official denial. This triggered a two-year Environmental Review, and after a public input process where over 125,000 people wrote in, spoke at listening sessions and stood up in defense of the Wilderness, the agencies agreed that the leases should not be renewed.

    Under the current Department of Interior, however, the agencies reversed their decision to deny the leases. While the Forest Service continues its review of the leases under the same two-year directive, Interior asserts it has complete discretion over whether or not to grant these leases. On June 21st, 2018, eight BWCA outfitters, canoe manufacturers and Minnesota businesses sued Interior and the BLM, citing the direct damage to their businesses that the construction of these mines would cause.

    IMG_3266-Quick Preset_1336x1002 Miles Nolte and John Hennessey taking a break while grouse hunting to marvel at the view of Rose Lake.

    Throughout a long and dizzying mineral leasing process, the Boundary Waters have also been the target of political attacks by Minnesota Congressmen Tom Emmer and Rick Nolan. Between the two of them, they have unsuccessfully attempted to defund the Forest Service’s study of the leases, amend the Antiquities Act and immediately grant the mineral leases on the edge of the BWCA. On July 11th, they introduced an amendment that would have forced the Department of Interior to grant those same mineral leases, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing environmental review. Together we are a force, and with the combined opposition from hunters and hikers alike, Congressmen Emmer and Nolan withdrew their anti–BWCA, anti–public land amendment on the house floor last week.

    The ongoing environmental review will end this fall, when the Department of Interior will make a decision on whether or not to continue the leasing process, or issue a mineral withdrawal, like Secretary Ryan Zinke has done in Wyoming and his home state of Montana. Between now and then, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters is working to spread the word across the country – now is the time to stand in defense of the BWCA.

    Public land owners Mark Norquist and John Hennessey after a BWCA grouse hunt. Public land owners Mark Norquist and John Hennessey after a BWCA grouse hunt.

    Take action to defend the Boundary Waters today. The outdoor community is united in defense of America’s most visited Wilderness. Now is the time to speak up in defense of the BWCA to your elected officials. It’s up to us to defend our public lands, waters and sporting heritage.

    Spencer Shaver is the Conservation Policy Director at Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters. For more information contact [email protected]

    Paddling on Gillis Lake at dusk in the BWCA. Paddling on Gillis Lake at dusk in the BWCA.
  • Partnering for Public Lands

    DirtMyth_GWS01879_edit-1200x800 First Lite Co-Founder Kenton Carruth and Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard in Boise, Idaho during the 2018 Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Rendezvous. Photo: Garret Smith

    We are currently losing more hunters and anglers than we are creating. This decline is a huge problem that extends way beyond the bow or rod. Hunters and anglers pay a big part of the conservation debt. Therefore, one of the ways we can perpetuate public lands, access and our sporting heritage is by exposing non-hunters to hunting in the best ways possible. Typically food, a love of the outdoors, and explanations of game management are the most effective avenues to creating a positive impression of hunting.

    GWS_070918_45Sized Chouinard and First Lite Director of Conservation and PR Ryan Callaghan size up a trout stream in Montana. Photo: Garret Smith

    This past April, at the annual Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Rendezvous, First Lite co-founder Kenton Carruth and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard had the opportunity to sit down and discuss bringing the various branches of outdoor recreation together under one roof in defense of the places we all value. In the Rocky Mountain West, your average hunter is also typically a hiker, biker, skier and/or angler. Though some organized special interests wish for a different reality, rarely do outdoor recreationists fall into neat, categories.  Moreover, whether you’re a kayaker or a pheasant hunter, we head for the woods and mountains for the same reasons.

    DirtMyth_GWS01914_SIZED Chouinard hooks a trout on his tenkara rod as Carruth looks on in Montana. Photo: Garret Smith

    Do Kenton and Yvon agree on every issue? Of course not but they are certainly ready to discuss their differences. More critically, First Lite and Patagonia are committed to ensuring that future generations will have the same public land opportunities we've so enjoyed. With that in mind, we sincerely hope that every member of the outdoor recreation community can take the time to educate each other in the woods for the betterment of our mutual playground. Sometimes all it takes is a little trailhead diplomacy.

    GWS_071018Sized Carruth casts to rising trout in Montana. Photo: Garret Smith

    Ryan Callaghan is the Director of Conservation and PR at FLHQ.

  • The Tough Cuts - Neck Recipes by Ryan Callaghan

    Gadd_Ray_J_O4A1400-1200x800

    The neck has facia layered on top of sinew, on top of ligament and can be a daunting cut to cook. Even when de-boned properly it still looks pretty burly. If you are in an area free of CWD, cut the neck into bone in roasts. Either way, this tough cut is best cooked slow and low.

    One of my go-to meals for hunting season is either a neck BBQ sandwich or neck burrito. I will slow cook a big piece, pull the meat from the bone and mix it with either BBQ sauce or salsa then vacuum seal. When I get home from a long day chasing elk, I'll drop one of these pre-mixed bags into boiling water. While it is heating up, I'll get some tortillas or Hawaiian sweet rolls out, chop some fresh onion and have a killer home-made late night meal with very little effort.

    Gadd_Ray_J_O4A0780-1200x800

    Neck Bone-in or De-boned.

    INGREDIENTS

    - I deer, elk or antelope neck, on or off the bone.

    - Oil for browning

    - Wine, broth or water to cover

    For Burritos

    - 1 tbsp Cumin

    - 1 tbsp Chile pepper

    - 1 tsp. Cayenne pepper

    - 1 tbsp Garlic Salt

    - 1 bottle tomatillo salsa

    - Tortillas

    - Lettuce, rice, cabbage, or whatever else you like in your burritos

    For BBQ

    - Hawaiian Sweet Rolls or Potato Rolls

    - 1 Bottle BBQ Sauce

    For Pasta

    - 2 Cups Chopped Tomatoes

    - 1/2 Cup Fresh Basil

    - 3 Cloves Garlic

    - Olive Oil

    - Salt and Peper to Taste

    Gadd_Ray_J_O4A1555-1200x800

    Brown the neck evenly in a skillet, dutch oven, hot grill or the broiler. Place the neck in a dutch oven or slow cooker and cover it with wine, water or broth. Add spices if desired. If using a dutch oven,  cook the neck in the oven between 225 and 325 for 4-6 hours or however long it takes to become tender.  Leave yourself enough time to check it for desired consistency.  If using a slow cooker, use the low setting and allow the neck to simmer for the full cooking cycle.

    Once tender, pull the neck meat into pieces that look right for sandwiches, burritos or pasta and then add the sauce of your choice. If you like the meat mix to have a  more liquid consistency, add some of the braising broth to the pot. Let this sit for 10 minutes to allow the meat to soak up as much sauce as possible. Build your sandwich, burrito or serve over pasta. This recipe is super easy and way better than hitting the gas station heat lamp during the season.

    Ryan Callaghan is the Director of Conservation and PR at FLHQ. You can follow his adventures here.

  • The Tough Cuts - Shank Recipe by Ryan Callaghan

    Bachelorhood has basically shaped my diet; red meat is plentiful in this kitchen. Once the tenderloin was as good as it could get, and butterflied loin chops were the most coveted, the rest went into the grind pile. Eventually, the drive to deplete a sometimes overstocked freezer and a long-dead appreciation for burger led to a greater understanding and appreciation for the tough cuts.

    The shank is a prime example of this--picture meat buried under layers of silver skin and sinew wrapped around a short baseball bat. The tongue sitting between molars still clinging to their last bit of green cud. The shoulder that at first glance looks like mostly bone with muscle turns into some really odd looking steaks once the muscle comes off. If you must grind, then grind.  But appreciate these cuts because if you leave them in the woods or aim for both shoulders, then you're going to miss out on some really unique and delicious meals.

    Being as I think most people mean well and just don't know any better, I will help you out with some easy recipes over the coming weeks. What these recipes have in common are low cooking temps and time.

    Shank.

    INGREDIENTS

    • 1lg White onion
    • 6-8 Cloves of garlic
    • 2-3 Medium-sized carrots
    • 2 Celery ribs
    • Olive Oil, 2- tbsp to coat + 2-3tbsp in reserve
    • Flour, I have found whole wheat flour works great for dishes like this but use whatever you have on hand. About 1/4 cup will be plenty to dust the shank
    • The Fat.  Again I prefer side-pork or some sort of uncured pig. I keep a package of side-pork or pork belly in the freezer and hack off an inch or two from the end for this purpose. Using something a bit more pricey like Pancetta adds a little flavor and it's nice to add back on top of your finished dish.
    • 1 Cup red wine
    • 2 Bay leaves
    • *other common herbs for this dish include but are not limited to rosemary, thyme.

     

    You can leave this in the shape of the aforementioned baseball bat or cut through the bone into slightly prettier disks.

    Coat in olive oil, salt, pepper and a light dusting of flour. Let the meat sit as you brown the uncured bacon or pancetta. Remove the crispy bits and replace with the shank, brown on all sides and remove from pan. (This should be done on medium-high heat. If you find yourself running low on the pig fat, you can add a bit of olive oil just bump the heat down a bit, so it does not burn.)

    In the same pan throw in diced onion, garlic, celery, and carrot. Next, when your vegetables start to stick in the pan, it's time to dump in a cup of red wine and stir until the bottom of the pan looks easy to clean.

    Dump this whole mess into a crock pot or dutch oven and add the bay leaves. Place the shank on top and add water until the meat is mostly covered, then put the lid on top. Place on low heat if you are heading to work, or high if you are knocking this out over the lunch hour.

    When you get home, give the meat a flip. If there is too much water for your liking you can remove the lid and turn up the heat while you make the risotto, mashed potatoes, or polenta as a vessel for your shank meat. When you serve this, you can tell your friends you made Osso Bucco. The fancy name will improve the taste for your non-culinary friends.

  • Jess Pryles Shares her Stuffed Venison Backstrap Recipe

    JessPryles_courtesy of Murdoch Books (2)

    Our friend Jess Pryles is a professional Hardcore Carnivore, cook, and author specializing in Texas BBQ and bourbon. She shared her recipe for Pecan and Cranberry Stuffed Venison Backstrap with us to help add some spice to our weekday meal planning for all that game meat in the freezer. Give it a try and let us know on Instagram how yours turns out. Check out more of her amazing recipes at jesspryles.com/recipes

    Pecan and Cranberry Stuffed Venison Backstrap
    SERVES 6–8
    Photograph from Hardcore Carnivore by Jess Pryles, photo © Mark Roper, courtesy of Murdoch Books. Photograph from Hardcore Carnivore by Jess Pryles, photo © Mark Roper, courtesy of Murdoch Books.
    There’s some technical skill needed to butterfly meat and prepare it for stuffing (see page 36 for a step-by-step guide), but you’ll get better each time you try. Once all your elements are prepared, this dish comes together very quickly—it’s ready in just 15 minutes.
    INGREDIENTS
    2¾ oz (¾ cup/75 g) pecans
    2¾ oz (½ cup/75 g) dried cranberries
    5 thyme sprigs
    2 French shallots, diced
    3 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
    ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
    ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
    2¼ oz (60 g) butter, melted
    1 whole venison backstrap (about 2 lb/1 kg)
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    METHOD
    Toast the pecans in a skillet without any oil until fragrant, stirring regularly to avoid burning. Roughly chop the nuts and put in a bowl.
    Chop the cranberries and add to the bowl, then strip the thyme sprigs and add the leaves to the bowl, discarding the woody stems. Add the shallots, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, pepper and ½ teaspoon salt. Stir to combine the ingredients. Add the melted butter and stir again until everything is well mixed.
    Butterfly the backstrap so it’s flat and even. Form the pecan and cranberry stuffing mixture in a log lengthwise down the middle. Pull the backstrap back together to form a cylinder around the stuffing, and secure with butcher’s twine. Season the outside well with salt.
    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof skillet over high heat until nearly smoking.
    Add the stuffed backstrap and sear for about 2 minutes on each side, until browned all over.  Place the skillet in the oven and cook for a further 4–6 minutes for perfect rare, or up to 10 minutes for
    something closer to medium. It’s important not to overcook the backstrap or it will become tough.
    Remove the venison from the skillet, cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest for 8–10 minutes before slicing into 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick portions.
    Master the Meat
    If you’re having trouble getting the hang of trussing, you can buy food-safe elasticized bands, which you simply slip around the stuffed loin at different intervals to hold in place.
    ---------------
    Reprinted with permission from Hardcore Carnivore by Jess Pryles, Agate Surrey, 2018.

     

  • Recipe Winner: West African Rabbit and Peanut Stew with Spicy Fried Plantains

    StewRecipe

    Celiac Disease sucks. If you’ve never heard of it, imagine a really intense version of a gluten allergy. It’s nearly impossible to go out to eat, and ethnic restaurants are out of the question.

    As a result, we’ve developed a tradition in my house. On Sunday nights, the doors are open to friends and I try out new recipes, often some kind of ethnic cuisine. From the first time I heard about this peanut stew, a fixture in Ghana, I knew I had to try my hand at it.
    After a little research and a few test runs, I settled on this version of the dish, adapted from a recipe at seriouseats.com. I replaced the traditional chicken with  desert cottontail, tweaked the process a bit, and added charred jalapeno and chili oil. The addition of this regional take on plantains, adds a great crunch and sweetness to accompany the earthiness of the stew.

    I love this recipe because the ingredients are easy to find and it’s incredibly versatile. Traditional recipes include everything from vegetarian options to goat and tripe. With a few tweaks, you can make it with just about any game meat. I can’t wait to try it again with venison, or maybe some smoked wild turkey.

    West African Rabbit and Peanut Stew with Spicy Fried Plantains

    Servings: 4-6

    Ingredients

    Stew

    • 2 pounds cottontail rabbit, cut into serving size pieces

    • 2 medium yellow onions, halved and roots trimmed off, divided

    • 2 cups game or chicken stock, divided

    • 5 medium cloves garlic, divided

    • 1 ounce fresh ginger (about a 1-inch knob) peeled, divided

    • 2 teaspoons tomato paste

    • 4 tablespoons olive oil

    • 1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded

    • 2 bay leaves

    • 1 cup creamy peanut butter

    • 1 can (28oz) peeled plum tomatoes

    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

    • Thai or Chinese Chili Oil

    Kelewele (Fried Plantains)

    • 4-6 plantains peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes

    • 1-2 tsp Cayenne pepper

    • ½ tsp peeled grated fresh gingerroot

    • 1 tsp salt

    • 2 tbs water

    • High smoke point oil (preferably peanut oil) to fry.

     

    Directions

    Stew

    1. Generously salt the rabbit pieces and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.

    2. In a blender, purée 2 onion halves, 1/2 cup chicken stock, 3 garlic cloves, 1/2 ounce ginger, and the tomato paste.

    3. Heat olive oil on medium-high heat in a large pot or Dutch oven. Pat dry the rabbit pieces and brown in pot. Do this in batches and set browned pieces aside.

    4. While the rabbit browns, roast jalapeno pepper either directly over a gas burner or underneath your oven’s broiler. Remove the pepper from the heat when charred and blistered all over. Set Aside.

    5. After browning the rabbit is complete, drain any remaining oil from the Dutch oven. Return the rabbit to the Dutch oven along with the puree, the remaining onion halves, remaining ½ ounce ginger, remaining 2 garlic cloves, jalapeno and bay leaves. Toss to coat.

    6. Bring Dutch oven to a simmer over medium heat, using a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom. Cover and reduce heat to low, cooking until the onion halves are soft and translucent, about 20 minutes.

    7. Remove the chunks of onion, ginger, garlic cloves, and jalapeno and transfer to the blender. Add peanut butter, canned tomatoes and their juices, and remaining 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, and purée until smooth. Pass the blended mix through a fine-mesh strainer into the Dutch oven, stirring to incorporate.

    8. Raise heat to medium and bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until rabbit is tender, oils have surfaced, and mixture has thickened and reduced by about one-third, 90 minutes to 2 hours.

    9. Remove and discard bay leaves, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot with Kelewele, white rice and chili oil.

    Kelewele

    1. Grate and mix ginger root, pepper, and salt in water.

    2. Toss plantain and spice mixture together in a bowl.

    3. Using a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil (it needs to be deep enough to allow plantains to float) to 350 degrees.

    4. Fry plantains in batches to avoid dropping the oil temperature, turning once, until golden brown on both sides.

    5. Drain plantains on paper towels and keep in warmed oven until all the plantains are fried.

     

    Jeff Quigley lives and hunts in Carlsbad, California.

  • Dreams, Dad and Deer

    It had been almost 20 years since I'd gone mule deer hunting with a rifle. But with several archery bulls in the last several seasons I decided to switch gears  and give it a try in October of 2015. Switching gears into looking for deer proved to be super fun. I roamed new parts of regional public lands, places that I'd never seen or necessarily even knew were public. That alone became addicting and within a handful of days in the field I'd had so much fun I declared the effort a success. The best buck I had yet taken followed not long after.

    IMG_0556 The author with his 2015 buck. Photo: Author.

    Along with fishing, many of my fondest childhood memories took place in the sagebrush deserts of SE Oregon deer hunting with my dad. Mule deer bucks were an icon of my imagination, and the quarry of my first years as a big game tag holder. Lady luck never smiled upon my father and I though, and short of one forked-horn buck from the majestic Steens Mountain our dreams of gripping 4x4 racks remained only that. In 2013 I lost my father as a result of a freak cycling accident. Our relationship had broken down over the 5 or so years leading up to that, and now when I reach for some of my best memories with him, they take me back to deer hunting in the 1980's. My dad had outrageous enthusiasm for many things. He would light up like crazy at the most modest-sized fish or game animal. Unfortunately he never harvested anything that could be considered even close to trophy class and neither had I. When I look back now at these photos, I can only imagine the excitement he would express if he could see me with a buck like that. His voice rings in my imagination, and I can hear him saying "What a buck-WOW I'm so proud of you son!"

    IMG_1777 The author's dad with a forky from Steens Mountain in Oregon. Photo: Author.

    As described in my post from last Fall, 2016 brought me incredible success and the continuation of my newfound streak. Armed with knowledge gained in last year's deer hunt and confidence that only a blood stained backpack can bring, I eagerly anticipated 2016's general rifle season. Following a ten day bout with the worst cold I can recall, I made my plans for my first deer hunt of the season. I've often stated that because of my love for adventure, tagging out on the first day of any season would suck. With that echoing in my mind I contemplated strategies as I admired a handsome buck bedded far below me. He was 490 yards away and on a random plot of private land. But I speculated if I stayed put, he would eventually get up and migrate uphill into better cover once the morning sun eventually blazed down on him. As I'd hoped, the buck did just that and wove his way through the sage up the steep terrain of crags, bitter brush and willows.

    IMG_6954 The buck makes his way through the thick sage. Photo: Author.

    Still far out of range, I watched the buck disappear into a fold of terrain. He was now off the private land and onto  public ground. An hour later he had not emerged so I opted for a stalk that would deliver me to a close range vantage into the hidden gully. As I approached the crest above the buck, I slowed to a creep with my rifle mid-shoulder. The day was calm as a candle flame without a breath of wind, and I could hear each pebble crunch under my footsteps. A short distance below me I heard a light rustling and knew that had to be the buck. I peered through the tops of brush and spotted antler tips tilting back and fourth. The slightest squeak of my rifle sling jolted the buck's attention and the rack spun to my direction. He was 70 or 80 yards away, and I'd spotted him first. Yet he had me pegged even though he directly couldn't see me. I was only inches below his field of view, and if it weren't for his antlers I'd never know he was there. The standoff began as his vigilant stare seemed to penetrate the partial sagebrush curtain that concealed me. I was mid-stride and straddling a large bush. A few minutes into the stillness contest I could swear he was going to hear the muscles in my legs and ass quivering and cramping.

    The slightest movement would certainly tip him off and he'd be able to vanish down the steep ravine with one jump. I'd intentionally delayed this stalk until direct October sunshine would have the day's warming thermals sliding uphill. I was sure glad of that as the bucks rack finally began to rotate and wobble again, indicating that he'd returned to feeding from the golden delicious colored willow in front of him. It was clear that in these conditions the buck could hear the slightest sound and even a careful slow motion step was going to draw his attention back to me. My feet may just have well been planted in cement. If I was going to have a shot at this buck I'd have to find a way to make it happen from the current scenario, and I couldn't hold my awkward stance much longer. At half a sloth's pace, I raised my rifle into shooting position, eventually bringing the glass of scope to my eye. I was able to see his head and neck, but the old growth sage blocked his body. The ground threatened to crunch at even the slightest shifting of weight from one foot to another. I kept trying to find my crosshairs a clear line of sight to the mass of the buck's body. I extended painfully high on tippy toes and leaned as far to one side as I could. Craning my neck and torso I found the shot. For a second I contemplated a checklist; nothing behind the buck to worry about hitting; yes. I had my tag in my pocket and was sure I was in the right unit; yes. This is a beautiful buck and although I wished the experience of deer hunting could take me exploring longer, I can't accept the potential of a buck like this as a haunting memory of hindsight regret. So I let the lead fly.

    At 70 or so yards and no time seem to pass between pulling the trigger and the bullets impact. The shot was  too close to hear the definitive thump of a hit. The buck simply vanished from view. As I approached the spot where he was standing I expected to find him on the ground. But he wasn't there. Close examination revealed not a drop of blood. Scanning steeply downhill in the direction he'd fled I could see tell-tale tracks hauling ass down the draw with enormous gaps between each stride. The narrative in my head had taken a sharp turn, dumbfounded I reconstructed the events and contemplated how I possibly could have missed. I recalled a time when I was 13 or 14 and a fantastic non-typical buck with extra points appeared at a similar close range like this. Crystal clear I remember setting my sights squarely on that magnificent buck. The close range shot felt perfect. One jump and he too vanished out of sight. Hours later my dad and I left with shoulders slumped and my head hung in disappointment and disbelief. Somehow I'd missed the buck completely. I felt so embarrassed and incompetent. It was a common feeling my old man and I knew, a sour pill we each had to swallow every fall during a decade or more of hunting together. But as with my archery bull the month before, I shook these thoughts out of my head and reassured myself that the shot was solid. I strapped my pack back on, chambered another round and set my gaze to the line of tracks unraveling away from me. When I reached the farthest visible track a splash of red practically leapt from the sage. "I knew it!!!!" I proclaimed to myself. A short distance later the trail revealed all the signs of a buck hit hard and whirling out of control down the mountain. I could plainly see where the buck had died mid-air, lost his legs and fell into a tumble. The tracks told the story as clearly as if I'd witnessed it in real time. I paused and took a knee on the slope knowing my dandy buck was expired somewhere right below me. For so many years I'd dreamt of savoring a moment like this, and I soaked it all in. Seconds later I spotted him, at peace and waiting there to be claimed.

    IMG_1713lr The author's mature mule deer buck. Photo: Author.

    Very similar and slightly larger than my buck last year, this harvest represented tremendous fulfillment for me. Still far short of true trophy class by technical definition, I gazed in awe at this buck which is a prize trophy to me.  Flat-out beside myself with joy and pride I reconnected with my dad, imagining the things he would be saying and the beaming smile that would be on his face had he been there with me. Sweat dripped steadily from my hat as I worked to field dress, de-bone and strap the buck to my overloaded pack. I was overcome with happiness and gratitude.

    IMG_0519-(1) A trophy. Photo: Author.

    Now at my desk a year later I cherish this memory and look forward to the opportunity to take kids of my own deer hunting one day, with the recognition that these are the greatest days of our lives. Stop and soak your moments in. I think you'll be glad you did.

    buckPack The author packs out his 2016 Idaho rifle buck. Photo: Author.

    First Lite Ambassador, Bryan Huskey, is a photographer and filmmaker in Boise, Idaho. You can check out his work here. He is also the founder of Keep 'em Wet Fishing, a non-profit organization that advocates and educates about best practice release methods for fisherman who are not keeping their catch.

  • Double your Donation!

    PublicLandBlogPost First Lite Pro and Secondary Markets Manager, Casey Hawkes  surveys his public lands in central Idaho. Photo: Jed Conklin

    This Saturday, September 30th is National Public Lands Day: a day for hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, backcountry skiers, EVERY outdoor recreationist to come together to celebrate our public lands. On National Public Lands Day, we will be matching ALL donations made to our Round Up For Conservation program to help preserve our public lands.  To donate, simply add a dollar amount to the Round Up for Conservation section on the shopping cart page before you click proceed to checkout. Complete your purchase and that's it, we'll match your donation dollar for dollar. You can choose to give to Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnerships, the National Wildlife Federation or Pheasants Forever or spit your contribution between these four hardworking groups. Double your donation this coming Saturday to protect our wildlife, access and hunting heritage! Check out our social media feed and post your own #PublicLandsDay video to show your support now through Saturday!

    Shop the site now!

  • The Wilderness Area You've Never Heard Of

    CalBlog1 Public land hunter Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico with First Lite's Ryan Callaghan. Photo: Mia Hermann.

    On Saturday July 29th, I found myself standing on the fringe of a road junction outside Las Vegas, New Mexico. Despite an early meeting time, the temps were rising and you could tell the day was going to be a cooker. To my back stood a severely weathered grave yard and to my front a seemingly endless mesa covered in juniper and piñon. From what I could gather, I was likely standing in one of the biggest social scenes this particular part of the country had ever seen. Our group included members of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, New Mexico Game and Fish, and the Bureau of Land Management. It also included commissioners of San Miguel County, the New Mexico Bowhunters Association, Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, and a few cowboys to wrangle horses for the main event. I watched as three shiny suburbans and a few state police cars pulled up, escorting in the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

    Secretary Zinke came to this corner of New Mexico to fulfill a promise to Senator Heinrich and the people of New Mexico. That promise included taking a tour of the Sabinoso Wilderness, some 16,000 acres of prime game habitat, to determine if an addition to the Wilderness would be possible. Never heard of the Sabinoso? Truthfully, neither had I until I received a phone call a week prior to this meeting. Don't feel bad; there is a good reason you are unaware. You cannot legally access the Sabinoso Wilderness, as the entire area has been landlocked by private ground. By virtue of being a Wilderness area, the Sabinoso must be managed by the Department of the Interior as a resource for the "use and enjoyment of the American people”, yet you and I are barred from entry. However, there is a silver lining: the Wilderness Land Trust, an organization that acquires and transfers private land to public ownership, currently holds 4,000 acres of land called the Rimrock Rose Ranch that could provide legal access to the Sabinoso. The Trust will donate this land to the people of the United States; all that is required is the signature of Secretary Zinke on the final agreement.

    CalBlog2 A diversity of conservation groups including Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Bowhunters Association and the Conservation Lands Foundation have rallied behind New Mexico Senators Heinrich and Udall in their efforts to open the Sabinoso Wilderness to public access. Photo Credit: Mia Hermann.

    Why does this matter from a hunting perspective? Why the hell was I there? Turkey, elk, mule deer, black bear, and Barbary sheep can be found in the Sabinoso Wilderness. It is a place that can push you to your limits and will make the great hunting gear you own necessary. The canyons are prime nesting areas for raptors like the peregrine falcon and the intermittent stream is home to catfish, panfish and the largest concentration of amphibians in Northern New Mexico. Along these streams, you will find sandy deposits perfect for pitching a tent.

    My brief time in the Sabinoso left me with the all too familiar pangs of opportunity lost and fear of missing out. How do I get back to properly explore? How do I apply for tags? The truth is, those thoughts are fanciful. They are just day dreams unless we can get access, and access now lays in the hands of Secretary Zinke.

    Please use one or both of the links below to urge Secretary Zinke to do his job and manage the Sabinoso Wilderness for the "use and enjoyment of the American people”.

    - Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

    http://www.backcountryhunters.org/sabinosowilderness

    - New Mexico Wildlife Federation

    http://nmwildlife.org/news/tell-secretary-zinke-new-mexico-sportsmen-women-want-sabinoso-access/

     

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    Ryan Callaghan is a BHA life member and the Director of Conservation and Public Relations at FLHQ.

  • No Probllama Part One: A Pack Llama Primer

    GraniteLlama "Granite" the pack llama will make your pack out much more pleasant. Photo: Author

    Note from First Lite:  We will be featuring a Facebook Live discussion with Beau Baty from Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas as well as First Lite's Ryan Callaghan and the author, Ross Copperman, on Thursday, July 20th at 1pm MDT.  Tune in to First Lite's Facebook page at facebook.com/firstlite to learn more or ask questions. We'll also be posting the conversation to YouTube shortly after.

    My interest in utilizing pack llamas for backcountry hunting first stemmed from the most worthless piece of stock in the history of the world, Janet Reno.  Janet Reno was my own llama, a miserable beast so named for her uncanny resemblance to the now deceased Attorney General.  A long story short, I acquired her from a stranger at a feed store for the price of one case of Keystone Light  several years ago, when I was in the side business of raising sheep.

    It should be noted that I was looking for a means to protect my real investment, several ewes and lambs that were under constant threat from coyotes.  I read about guardian llamas—solo llamas introduced into a flock of sheep that would naturally protect their wooly counterparts from predators.  As it turned out, Janet was useless. She would actually ignore the sheep all day and watched indifferently as coyotes killed three lambs in one month.  Janet is no longer employed, but her size, stealth, subsistence entirely on natural fauna and rock solid footing did cause me to be intrigued by the idea of utilizing trained llamas for backcountry forays.

    First Lite is based in the heart of the Rocky Mountains of central Idaho.  I’ve never had an out-of-towner that didn’t describe big game hunting here as tortuous, soul-crushingly difficult or just plain impossible.  I recently took a friend hunting who was a division one football player in college and he said that our hunting was way worse than anything he ever saw in his football days.  Our neighboring peaks are generally around 9k to 11k in height--not the tallest by any means--but there is basically little-to-no terrain here that isn’t downright steep, as in lose your footing and roll 100 yards downhill steep.  Couple this with the fact that we are surrounded by millions of acres of public wilderness and you can imagine pack stock in this state is a very nice thing to have.

    Personally, I don’t have time for horses or mules and I doubt I could keep one healthy and fit.  With a young daughter at home and a wife who commutes to and from the city every week, maintaining horses or mules was a non-starter.  Llamas, on the other hand, are heralded by all for their ability to essentially take care of themselves—a hoof trimming here and there but no need for shoes and some brushing are all that is needed on a regular basis.  Basically, their natural ability to stay comfortable in nearly any weather without hay nor even daily access to water made them an obvious candidate for the climate here and my specific time constraints.   Having owned one, I knew they were very well suited for a relatively low maintenance lifestyle.  What I wasn't so sure about was whether they were all worthless, uncooperative jerks like Janet or if they could potentially be useful.

    Enter Beau and Kirsten Baty, a couple out of Idaho Falls that I was introduced to after speaking to about 20 different llama enthusiasts I found via the internet.  When I described my needs, several of these folks told me that I had to speak with Beau Baty at Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas, so I gave him a call.  Turned out the Beau is not only a pack llama guru, but also a fourth generation outfitter, freakish backcountry hunter and most importantly, an all-around good guy.

    LlamaCampBryan Arriving at camp eight miles back and feeling fresh as a daisy. Thanks llamas. Photo: Author

    Beau and I talked for quite a while after I told him I was looking to buy some pack llamas.  To Beau’s credit, he strongly suggested I use a few for a season before committing to purchasing them.  As it turns out, a truly well-trained and genetically suited llama (more on this from Beau later) costs about as much as a pack mule or the like, so doing your homework and research is critical.  The $100 llamas you see on craigslist or maybe acquire in the parking lot of a feed store for a case of beer are about as genetically suited for packing as a ten year old Shitzu is for retrieving geese (We have a Shitzu—it’s a fruitless endeavor, trust me).  Anyhow, Beau was very good at giving me the pros and cons of owning and using llamas in the backcountry and I immediately appreciated his honest, no B.S. approach to giving me the skinny.  Ultimately we decided I’d rent some for a hunt or two that coming fall so that I could decide if they were for me.  I couldn’t wait—the idea of some sure footed, cooperative, mild-mannered version of Janet Reno that actually carried my gear and had a positive contribution to my life in general was very intriguing indeed. But first, a word from the man, himself.

    Q&A WITH BEAU BATY OF WILDERNESS RIDGE TRAIL LLAMAS

    First Lite: What do you think the biggest advantage of hunting with llamas over traditional pack animals is?

    WRTL:  Simplicity is the biggest advantage. Llamas need care like any other animals but they are just simple. You can saddle a llama in 20 seconds, they forage on much less than other pack stock, they have a split toe and are more surefooted than other pack stock, they are quite and stealthy, they can pack more weight in proportion to their body weight than any other pack animals, they have day in and day out endurance that most traditional pack stock does not possess. If you want to go somewhere and you know you can hike there, you can get llamas there. Deadfall, rivers, rock ledges, scree fields, etc. If you can do it, they can do it. There are always exceptions but for the most part this holds true. Llamas have been helping man as beast of burden for 6000+ years in extremely tough conditions. There is nothing new about them; civilizations have flourished due to the capabilities and use of llamas.

    FL: What's the biggest disadvantage?

    WRTL:That is a tough question. I think the biggest disadvantage to llamas is that if you want to buy them, use them, or rent some there is very limited availability.

    LlamasOrange Easy to saddle and pack, llamas are a great backcountry beast of burden. Photo: Author.

    FL:   Like most hunters, I've always hunted on foot with backpacks.  How will hunting with llamas change how I hunt, for better and worse?

     WRTL:  Llamas allow you to carry less weight on your back. On your first day of a backpacking trip if you are going into a tough place to access you have spent a lot of energy getting to your spot. With llamas you can carry less, conserve your energy and move at a faster pace. When you get to your hunting area you are ready to go vs. being whipped from your hike in. If time is a problem for you then llamas are the ticket. For example if you have to be back to work on Monday morning and its Sunday afternoon you can hunt hard and try to tag out because you know you can pack out your game + your camp in one trip back to the trail head/truck. If you don’t have llamas and are in this same situation you might think twice about hunting to the last minute in case you might not make it back to work/home in time. With that same token being able to pack out your elk/deer/moose and camp out in one trip can be a huge benefit and relief for the backpack hunter. If you hunt in areas where you can hunt deer and elk and have the chance to harvest both in one trip llamas allow you to feasible pack out your game where as otherwise you might not have been able to harvest both species. Essentially llamas help you stay in the backcountry longer both in duration and seasonally they help you hunt harder by conserving energy because you are packing less in and out and you can eat better meals with less sodium, more calories and better cleaner proteins. Additionally they allow you to go farther into the backcountry on foot to areas where you normally wouldn't consider accessing due to the limited logistics backpack hunters face.

    FL:  What kind of terrain/topography are llamas best suited for?  What kind is most difficult (i.e. down timber, snow, etc.)

    WRTL: I have hunted/trekked with llamas in the spring with deep crusty snow and high flowing rivers, summer in the high alpine basins and granite peaks of the Wind Rivers, during the fall in the Cloud Lake burn that was full of terrible deadfall, and in the Frank Church during late November and December which in my opinion is some of the toughest country we have in the lower 48. We have tested them in lots of different terrain and they have excelled in all of these areas. A strong, athletic, well-bred and conditioned llama is unmatched in the backcountry. The toughest conditions for them are icy rocks, icy ledges and icy trails. When the deadfall gets impassable for you on two feet it usually is the same scenario for them.

    FL:  How often does it go off the rails?  Many of my friends were expecting some minor disasters like unruly llamas or escapees and were shocked to hear we didn't have a single minor hickup in two whole trips. How often do problems really happen and what are they?

    WRTL: Problems can always happen and you should try to understand what they are and how to mitigate them. As a rule of thumb if your llamas are in great shape and your saddle is on tight and panniers are balanced you should have a great trip. Understanding your llamas and their capabilities takes some time and narrows the margin for train wrecks. Train wrecks that we have ran into is the llamas saddling falling off on steep slopes, young llamas not knowing their roll and going left around a tree instead of right like the rest of the llamas in front of them or a llama jumping a creek vs. walking through it. Before we started packing with classics or Ccara llamas we had a very hard time getting our llamas in shape and the process was a pain. Llamas not built or bred for packing, which is most of the llamas you see, lay down on you and struggle to get into shape.

    FL:  Do you see llama hunting entering the mainstream over the next several years? 

      WRTL: I see more people getting into knowing where there food comes from and hunting. I also see folks in their 40’s and 50’s looking for a way to continue their passion of hunting the backcountry and hauling out their game more efficiently. In that regard I see llamas becoming more widespread and more of a tool despite not commonly being used now. Using llamas to haul payloads in and out of high elevations is not a new concept. The Inca culture perfected this over 6,000 years. We have just found a need for it since the 80’s and due to social media and more people exploring the backcountry, pack llamas are finding their way back to their roots as the choice beast of burden for humans.

    sunny.llama.camp-(1) Self-reliant llamas require little care in the backcountry. Photo: Author.

    FL:  If someone wants to rent some llamas or book a trip with you, when should they contact you (how early are you booked out) and what do they need to know?

    WRTL: I advise contacting us as soon as they can. Our season continues to book earlier and earlier each year. Once in a while we have a cancellation and can fit someone in during the season but this does not happen very often. As the draws come out we fill up in a matter of days. For the summer months we are booked by the end of February. For the fall months we are usually booked by May 1st.

    FL:  You recently purchased Jackson Hole Outfitters--are you planning on incorporating the llamas into this outfit?  How does someone book a guided llama hunting trip with you?

    WRTL: We will start operating in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park staring the summer of 2017. This new permit is allowing us to continue our dream and help people explore the wild areas of the Rocky Mountains. To book a trip they can go to the website or call/email us directly. We also operate in The Wind Rivers in Wyoming, the Wyoming Range and Gros Ventre Range. This area of Wyoming is one of a kind and is an amazing place to explore in the fall and summer months.

    FL: Other than hunting, what other uses do pack llamas have for outdoorsmen/women? 

    WRTL:

    Shed hunting:

    I have gone on big shed horn hunting expeditions with them. For example we will take a week to ten days off work and head to Arizona/Nevada/Utah and use the llamas to hunt for sheds. The llamas carry our gear as we usually have a mobile camp and are always on the move. We load up the llamas in the morning with our camp and water then walk around all day looking for sheds. When we have about the llamas loaded with sheds we head back to the trailer and off load the antlers and then go back out.

    Petrified wood:

    Back in the day when we had more time on our hands we would use them to pack out petrified wood we would go and hunt for.

    Trail Clearing:

    Each spring we clear trails in our outfitting areas as part of our permit and we also donate our time to help clear trail in the wilderness areas we like to visit. The llamas can carry your saws, axes, tools and camp. The llamas love getting out in the spring and eating the short grass coming through thawing ground.

    Shuttle equipment:

    Llamas have been used on many long races to shuttle water and equipment to certain stops along the path.

    Fishing:

    We have explored many lakes in the backcountry each summer that are remote and usually see little traffic. Areas like this really make for a fun family adventure when you are able to camp in luxury with friends or family not used to the back country.

    Camping:

    My wife and I love to explore new trails, peaks, streams and high country lakes. Taking the llamas helps us stay longer and make loops vs in and out of the same trail-head.

    STAY TUNED FOR PART 2.

    Ross Copperman is the VP of Sales at FLHQ. He will be hunting deer and elk with pack llamas this Fall.

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