Monthly Archives: March 2016

  • Conserving Bighorn Sheep in the Northern Rockies

    Kit in ActionSW First Lite Team Member Kit Fischer of the National Wildlife Federation with a newly released bighorn. Photo: Steve Woodruff

    Last year, the National Wildlife Federation (one of the founding First Lite Partners in Conservation) launched a new initiative to protect imperiled bighorn sheep in the West. While bighorn numbers historically were estimated at 2 million nationwide, the population has declined precipitously since the mid-1800s due largely to loss of suitable habitat and disease spread from domestic sheep. Recent estimates place the number of bighorn in this country at 50,000 individuals.

    Ellis_Peak_in_the_Tendoy_Mountains_location_of_disease__imperaled_Bighorn_Sheep_2_of_35_Grid7 Bighorn populations in the Tendoy Mountains of Montana have been ravaged by disease transmitted by range sheep. Photo: Bruce Gordon.

    To combat this decline, in 2015 NWF launched a new initiative focused on maintaining separation between domestic and wild sheep and increasing available habitat. We are working closely with our sportsmen partners, including the Wild Sheep Foundation and state wildlife federation affiliates in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to address challenges and opportunities facing bighorn sheep in the West.

    You Gotta Keep ‘em Separated

    Specifically, we are addressing the risk of contact between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep on public grazing allotments managed by the Forest Service and The Bureau of Land Management. Region 4 of the U.S. Forest Service (ID, WY, UT, and NV) is completing a risk of contact analysis to identify areas where domestic sheep and bighorn sheep occupy the same habitat.

    IMG_1752 A sedated bighorn is examined by wildlife professionals. Photo: Kit Fischer

    As a primary method in addressing spatial separation between bighorns and domestic sheep, NWF has developed grazing agreements with willing sellers to retire grazing allotments in areas where there is a high risk of contact. While NWF’s approach to solving bighorn sheep conflicts is relatively new, NWF’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program has been working to resolve intractable conflicts between large carnivores and livestock on public lands since 2002.

    More Secure Habitat = More Bighorns = More Hunter Opportunity

    Over the past 13 years, NWF’s Wildlife Conflict Resolution program has resolved conflicts between livestock and wildlife (native trout, bighorn sheep, wolves, grizzly bears, sage grouse, elk and mule deer) on over 1 Million acres of public lands in the west.

    IMG_1737 A helicopter carries a sedated sheep away for relocation. Photo: Kit Fisher

    In the past year alone, NWF and our partners developed grazing agreements with sheep producers on nearly 250,000 acres in Wyoming and southern Idaho, securing critical additional habitat and eliminating the risk of contact with domestic sheep. In turn, this will mean larger populations of bighorns and more hunting opportunities for the public. Since the program’s inception, NWF has worked cooperatively with ranchers to eliminate conflict between wildlife and livestock on over 1 Million acres in the west.

    These retirements, which are completely voluntary, have received strong support from livestock producers who typically use the payments to secure grazing in new locations without wildlife conflicts. A market approach to changing grazing patterns can turn opponents into partners and provide a positive solution to chronic conflicts between domestic and bighorn sheep. We believe this grazing retirement approach can provide a new conservation model that reduces litigation, sustains agriculture, and re configures grazing to locations where it is compatible and sustainable.

    Big_Beaver_Poison_Middle_Shineberger_and_Little_Beaver_Creeks_1_of_29_Grid7 Bighorn habitat along Big Beaver and Poison Creeks in Montana. Photo: Bruce Gordon

    While NWF’s bighorn sheep conservation efforts have been effective in increasing habitat and minimizing risk on public lands, there is still plenty of work to be done in restoring bighorns to much of their historical habitat. We look forward to expanding our bighorn conservation efforts in the coming months to Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Washington as new and exciting opportunities for landscape-level restoration become available.

    First Lite Team member Kit Fischer is the Wildlife Conflict Resolution Program Manager for NWF Northern Rockies and Pacific Regional Center.

    One of First Lite's founding partners in conservation, the National Wildlife Federation is one of the country's largest and most venerable conservation organizations. For more information on their work or to support NWF's efforts directly please visit www.nwf.org/wcr.

    And don't forget to round up your next purchase on firstlite.com to benefit NWF or one of our other conservation partners. 

  • Packs Heavy: Highlights from Expedition NZ by Doug Stuart

    DSC01537_600_451 "USA." The author and First Lite's Ford Van Fossan showing off their patriotism in New Zealand's backcountry.

    Go hunting in New Zealand and you’ll have the trip of a lifetime. You’ll also have far less cash when it’s over. Between the flights, the rental car, the food, the helicopter rides, and the hostels, the costs add up quickly.

    Which begs the question: as a hunter, how do you justify such a trip?

     For the first few days, Ford and I each felt the pressure of this question. One answer was  obvious: shoot something. Yet obviously, there is more to hunting than killing.  Ford mentioned at one point that hunting was really just a way to experience New Zealand’s rugged high country. But I still caught myself mentally rehearsing how I would explain to friends without hunting backgrounds that I didn’t bag anything. I planned to go with the classic it’s-called-hunting-not-shooting line.

    In the end, we wouldn’t need to do any explaining. We were lucky enough to each bag a chamois. And those successes freed us up to realize a simple truth about this country. Whether you’re shooting a chammy or just taking the guns for a walk, New Zealand does not disappoint.

     

    *    *    *

     “Are you the hunters?”

    A friendly-looking man with a mustache, short shorts, and crocs asks us this question as he approaches our car. We’ve just driven two and a half hours to the tiny town of Makarora deep in the Southern Alps of the South Island to meet up with someone named Harvey, a helicopter pilot who will fly us into the backcountry. After driving with nothing more than a handwritten map from a friend and instructions to “ask for Harvey,” we can’t believe our luck -- our how small New Zealand can sometimes feel amidst these millions of acres of wilderness. This guy is our pilot.

    DSC01648_600_451 "The chammy are thick in this valley." Ford and "Helicopter" Harvey Hutton, of Backcountry Helicopters, in the Airbus Squirrel.

    We load the gear into a small, blue helicopter -- the same one First Lite’s founders Scott Robinson and Kenton Carruth used on their trip to NZ -- and we take off toward the nearest mountain top.

    If there had been a soundtrack playing at that moment, it would have been the theme song to Jurassic Park. As we crest the top of the mountain, we come into a gorgeous valley bound by jagged peaks and with a glacial river snaking below. New Zealand has not disappointed.

    P1040850_600_451 "Be here Monday at 10 am." The author stays low as the helicopter lifts off.

    We fly around a few more bends until we land at a public hut where we’ll be staying for the next few days. “Be here Monday at 10 am,” Harvey says in a way that is at once supremely casual and deadly serious. Then he lifts off and flies away. Good thing Ford has a watch.

    Over the next few days, we hunt hard. On the first morning, Ford spots a beautiful 4x4  stag bedded down on a the mountainside. But after a long stalk, we spook him and the stag melts away into the bush. It’s disappointing, especially since we did not connect with a stag on our hunt the previous week despite spotting several hinds and a dandy 5X5. I again think about what I’ll tell my friends back home if I return with nothing.

    P1040858_600_451 "Backcountry Lux." Public huts are scattered throughout New Zealand's remote high county.

    The next day we decide to make for a hanging valley we flew over on the flight in -- the one where the next sequel to Jurassic Park will be filmed. However, to get there will require us to climb up a steep gorge through thick jungle.

    After an hour of hiking up the right side of the river, New Zealand defeats us. The brush is too thick, and we’re forced to turn back. Painfully, we retrace our steps and eventually find a spot on the river that can be crossed. We drop our packs, and I hop over the stream onto a high rock and hoist myself up. Ford hands me the packs and the guns, and then follows.

    We then do some scouting and finally find a path outside the stream -- that leads into large bushes that are almost, but not quite, too thick to pass through. We throw ourselves at the small openings between the bushes and slowly gain ground against the mountain. It feels like we’re football players tackling practice dummies.

    Finally, after another couple hours and a few hotspots, we can see the steep glacial fans Harvey said would hold chammy. We sit down to rest, eat a quick lunch, and start glassing.

    Within minutes, we spot the first alpine chamois either of us has ever laid eyes on. On the very top of the high chute in front of us, we spot three of them. After closer inspection with the spotting scope, we revise that number to five. Then one of us notices that two chutes over, there are 3 chammy grazing quietly. And there’s a buck in the chute in between them.

    P1040947_600_451 "Chammy valley." Harvey was not wrong about the numbers of chamois in this hanging valley.

    Did we mention that New Zealand doesn’t disappoint?

     We plan our attack. At this point, the two groups have more or less merged into the chute on the left. We decide to move up the spine of the hill below the chammy as this will offer us plenty of cover until we get close enough for a shot. After crossing to the base of the hillside, we drop everything we don’t need. The light packs feel good, and more than anything, we’re ready to do this. It’s maybe 3 pm, we have plenty of daylight left, and we’re downwind from the chammy. Perfect.

    We climb quickly in our excitement, doing our best to stay out of sight but also continually checking that the chammy haven’t moved away. Finally, we get within range and chamber a round. We creep closer. Ford is in front of me, and we’re about to get up and move again when suddenly a buck appears on the horizon, looking in our direction.

    We freeze. Ford slowly sets down his gun on its tripod and takes aim. Behind Ford, I don’t move as I don’t want to scare away the bull. Ford pulls the trigger, and -- despite boxes of rounds at the range over the past months -- misses completely.

     All hell breaks loose. It’s like Big Buck Hunter. Chamois in the distance run up and over the top of the mountain. The buck bolts away but a doe comes into view.  She runs down the hill along the ridge line and stops. Ford fires again and finds redemption. She’s down.

    P1040963_600_451 "We did it." The alpine chamois.

    We’ve done it. Though we had already philosophically justified a no-kill hunt to ourselves, I don’t think either of us had truly gotten rid of our fear of failure.  A 168 grain bullet banishes the we’ve-come-all-this-way sentiment in an instant. Though it shouldn’t have mattered, the joy of our accomplishment was undeniable.

    After some less than brief celebrations, some self-congratulatory comments (“and they said we needed a guide”), and more than a few photos for First Lite, we get to work quartering the critter. Then, with heavy packs and both trekking poles finally in hand, we descend the slope to make camp.

    That night, we put aside our packets of dehydrated food and reach instead for fresh meat. We start with the tenderloin and take a minute to spice the meat before cooking it. Being the proud Marylander that he is, Ford has brought Old Bay Seasoning all the way to New Zealand. And it pays off tonight. We rub the meat with salt and pepper, pour some oil in our pan, and sear it over the WhisperLite.

    DSC01577_600_455 "Salt, pepper and Old Bay Season." After days of dehydrating meals, seared chamois was a welcome change.

    The tenderloin is a little gamey but the backstrap is out of this world. We hang the quarters under a rocky overhang next to our tent (No predators in New Zealand) and retire for a hard sleep.

    The next morning, we wake up feeling victorious. And why wouldn’t we? We came to New Zealand on a hunting trip, and we’ve just harvested an animal  successfully. Our trip is validated. But I realize that while our trip is justified, my personal trip is not.

    I live in Washington, D.C. -- no one’s picture of mountain country.  Most of my friends have never fired a gun before, let alone hunted. To many, this trip sounded pretty lavish, and so I felt even more pressure to make good on my reasons for flying all the way to New Zealand. To top it off, I don’t have nearly as much experience hunting as Ford does. Coming back empty-handed would make the whole trip look foolish. Why did I think I could step up into the big leagues so soon?

    So now that Ford’s bagged a chammy, I’m itching to do the same. The next morning we eat neck meat for breakfast and get to glassing   And eventually, we spot chammy in the same chute they were in the day before. However, we don’t have a ton of time left since we’ll need to head back to the hut today -- a 4-5 hour hike out with at least one chammy on our backs. And it’s already about 11:00 am.

    DSC01500_600_451 "The view." New Zealand's scenery never failed to impress.

    Our plan of attack is essentially the same as yesterday’s. We climb the mountain quickly, and I’m already planning just how I’ll hold the chammy in my grip-and-grin photo. We should get the valley in the background, I think.

     Finally, we’re in range of a chammy. Ford sights her in at 177 yards. She’s standing on the spine of a hill, broadside. I couldn’t ask for a better chance. I can practically already taste the meat. I lay my gun on my pack, and prep the shot. I pull the trigger. It’s a clean shot -- into the air above her.

    If you’re ever looking to have a soul-searching moment, spend months training for a costly trip to a country halfway around the world and fail at your main goal. Everything I had been working toward was summarized in that one shot. A search for blood confirms that I’ve missed her completely.

    It’s noon now. We’re running out of time. Even if I had gotten the doe, we’d be rushing to quarter her, get back to camp, pack up our tent and gear, and then make the 4-5 hour back to our hut before nightfall. We hike back down to the valley floor and talk about what to do. The sensible thing would be to pack out now and have a leisurely walk back. But Ford, I think, senses how bummed I am, and we agree to see if we can find another chammy and give ourselves -- or rather me -- one more chance.

    Once again, New Zealand delivers. We find three chammy up high in a chute on the other side of the valley. They’re feeding almost up against where the grass ends and the rock of the mountain face begins.

    So we get going. We move up quickly until we’re about 300 yards below them. Then we start to creep up. But we failed to realize from the valley floor that there are folds in the hillside. So we keep peeking above a fold expecting to see the chammy, and see nothing.

    Finally, we’re about to hit the end of the chute. We’re starting to think that maybe the chammy moved on while we were hiking up. We crawl up over this last bend when Ford becomes motionless. He’s spotted the bedded chammy about 60 yards away, and it’s looking right at us. We hold our positions for several minutes. Then I  hand Ford my pack, and he rests it on the ground in front him. Slowly, I pull up beside him and rest the gun on the pack. I take a moment to zoom out my scope and get the doe in my crosshairs.

    I pull the trigger. As I move the scope away from my face, my heart sinks. I see a chammy moving on the left. She’s running quickly over to another doe, and then they both effortlessly hop over the mountainside. There’s no way we can follow them.

    I’m crushed. In the same day,  I’ve somehow missed two good chances to bag a chammy, the last one at 60 yards. We get up without talking and go look for blood. All the while, I begin to think about how I should probably just give up hunting -- or at least stick to the white tail deer of the east coast for the foreseeable future.

    But as we walk up, we realize that we glassed three chammy from the valley floor but only saw two get up and leave. Sure enough, we then see the chammy. She’s down! It’s a clean shot through the boiler room. Celebrations ensue.

    DSC01609_600_451 "The winning team." The author, his chammy and Ford pose for the self timer.

    So we pack out happy and heavy, each with a chammy on his back. Our excitement is momentarily diminished over the next few hours by one of the most gruelling hikes that either of us has ever experienced. In an attempt to find a better route back to the hut, we take a chance and keep to the left of the river going down to the valley floor. It’s a big mistake, and we pay for it. The terrain is thick with trees, brush, and steep drop offs. For the last 200 yards, we slide down the forest floor with our packs above us, letting gravity pull us down.

    Finally, we stumble out onto the valley floor. It’s about 7 pm, and although it’s starting to get cool, we are sweating too much to care. We hoist our packs back on, resume our internal celebrations, and head back to the hut. We collapse into bed, and in the morning, Harvey comes to get us in his helicopter. It’s been a good hunt.

    DSC01638_600_451 "Ticket home." Doug and the chammy quarters wait for the Squirrel.

    Now, we’re back home, each with a whole chammy in the freezer, waiting to be eaten. We already know we’ll be back to New Zealand sometime soon. But for now, we’re savoring the meat and the experience, and the truth that New Zealand does not disappoint.

    Doug Stuart is an old high school buddy of First Lite's Ford Van Fossan. He lives in Washington D.C. but is currently plotting his return to the Mountain West.

  • How to Blow Your Tax Refund

    Houses of the holy Houses of the holy

    Tax season is always a bit of a crap shoot for me—I always aim for no surprises and in turn am actually willing to pay a good accountant to insure that I get there.   Recent years past have resulted in everything from owing nothing to small state checks, so I assumed 2015 would be no different.  But thanks to a second job with a low income and a high expense column, I actually netted a little over a thousand dollars in 2015—something that set off a chain of gear-laden daydreams.

    Like any passionate outdoors person, unexpected income of this variety is immediately filed into the “gear budget” column.  I mean, I didn’t really expect it and it’s sort of a gift from the heavens, right?  And because it’s not often that this line item gets unexpected infusions of cash, I feel justified in shopping for new bows, rifles, optics, mountain bikes, fly rods, tents….really important stuff.   After about a week of carefully considering my options for this divine windfall, I brought it to the committee, otherwise known as the First Lite sales team.  I had whittled it down to a mountain bike or bow, the only question was what type that I could afford.  I don’t know if you’ve been in the mountain bike marketplace lately but they seem to have confused their pricing with used cars and college educations, so it’s not easy finding a bike for under $2K.   And a fully set up bow is no picnic, either.  The Committee suggested several different bikes and we landed on one that would cover my bases while meeting my budgetary constraints so I was set to lean that way.

    That night I sat on my couch, watching the Oregon ducks systematically destroy their Utah Pac 12 counterparts in the Conference Championships, confident in my decision.  I began opening my mail from the week prior, tossing the usual credit card offers, carefully perusing the latest catalog from Victoria Secret (on behalf of my wife, I assure you) and of course paying bills.   Then I happened upon a letter from my friends at Backcountry Hunters and Anglers informing me that my annual membership was set to expire.  I retrieved my wallet and logged into www.backcountryhunters.org and clicked through to the membership page, set to renew my pledge for somewhere in the neighborhood of $35.  For the uninformed, BCA is an organization out of Montana that is 100% devoted to protecting the general public's access to hunting and fishing, largely by protecting public land itself.

    Benji Spotter Pretty sure this is worth a once-in-a-lifetime payment of $1500.

     

     

    It was then that it hit me:  I could buy a new mountain bike, new rifle, new bow, new boots or even accessories for my upcoming llama-assisted big game hunt this fall, or I could blow the whole thing on a lifetime membership to BHA—something I’d always wanted to do but never felt I could quite justify.

    My brain went into high gear, weighing the decision, but it took all of about 2 minutes for me fire off the email to Land Tawney, Executive Director and Caitlin Twohig, Outreach and Marketing Manager informing them that I was ready to go big.

    It’s 2016.  I’m 39 years old with an 8 month old daughter.  I live in a small town in the middle of the Idaho Rockies and obviously work for a hunting company and also guide bird hunting on the side.  In my free time, I’m either hunting, fishing, hiking or otherwise enjoying the millions of acres of public land Idaho has to offer.  While my daughter is only 8 months old, I spend every day waiting for the point where I can watch her explore the same hills and rivers that I do, fostering that appreciation and wonderment of the wilderness and its inhabitants that I have largely allowed to shape my life.   In our house, getting outside is our equivalent to going to church—it’s how we leave everything behind, pause and pay respect to everything truly bigger than us, even if it’s a single Hungarian Partridge or 10” rainbow trout.  Our access to the wilderness is more important than anything else—it’s why I worked hard to stay in this small town for 16 years and why my wife is willing to commute to her job in the Bay Area each and every week, all the while calling Idaho home.

    And it’s 2016—one of the most pivotal years in regard to the general public’s access to wilderness in our great nation’s history.  Utah has been systematically selling off public land under the guise of a balance sheet while using tax payer money to build a federal lawsuit against the US Government for access to more.   Oregon, my home state and where I was first introduced by my parents to the wonders of the outdoors, is also under fire as private interests do their best to lobby their way to an auction block.  And even Idaho—a state known for its heritage in protecting public land with a hyper protective eye towards privatization--is trying to sneak a few land transfer bills through their state government, telling their constituents “we can manage it better than the feds” even though the state can’t adequately pay for education nor seem to get itself out of poverty via heavy tax incentives.   It doesn’t take Magnum PI or his mustache to tell you it’s a shell game—our state legislatures have no intention of managing anything other than a sale to their cronies.

    GonzalesCO Colorado wilderness worth protecting.

     

    So why should I spend $1500 on a lifetime membership?  I'll get  a Kimber 1911 for starters, thanks to Kimber's continuing partnership with BHA (there are other sweet gifts to choose from).  But really it's because that’s my land, my daughter’s land, my wife’s land, and your land and we don’t want to sell it, plain and simple.  I’ve been fortunate in that my career allows me to hunt all over this country and I’m well aware that being able to get off work at First Lite, drive less than a mile and set foot in millions of acres of wilderness is not even close to the norm.  Unfortunately, in many states, setting foot in the woods of any sort for the average American is becoming more and more difficult.

    So imagine a world where only those citizens with access to private land—via either economic means or personal connections like the very representatives pushing for it—would be able to pass their heritage on to their children.  Sound pretty bleak to you?  I wonder what those same representatives would say if we tried to sell their church to our buddies, then kicked them out?  Well it’s already a reality in many parts of the country and if many of our elected “representatives” have their way, it will become the norm.  Fighting that very real possibility is worth $1500 to me, without question.  And the Kimber is nice, too!

    Ross Copperman is a sales guy at First Lite HQ in Ketchum, Idaho.  You can reach him at [email protected]

  • Expedition NZ

    IMG_1697_600_400 A red stag skull in the high country of the Southern Alps. Photo Credit: Josh Kinser

    First Lite's Ford Van Fossan travels to New Zealand's South Island to hunt tahr, chamois, and red Stag for the next two weeks. You can follow the adventure on our campfire blog and on instagram with the hashtag #expeditionNZ.

    The Stoke

    First, the trip was just an idea. It was born after I watched an episode of MeatEater in which Steve hunts tahr and chamois in a painfully picturesque glacial valley in Southern Alps.

    Then the idea became possibility. After I talked with a few Kiwis at the 2015 SHOT show, it no longer seemed so outlandish. I heard tales of rugged terrain, vast expanses of public land and plentiful exotic critters.

    Finally, the possibility of a trip transformed into an obsession. Scott and Kenton, First Lite’s fearless leaders, traveled to the country to visit Merino sheep ranches (and hunt). They brought back some pretty pictures, a couple good stories and what was apparently and exemplary shoulder mount of a creature that looked like the product of a pronghorn, a mountain goat and a weird night in Jackpot, Nevada.

    No tags, no licenses. Just get yourself down there and you can hunt like you drew one of North America’s best mountain units.

    It was settled.

    NZTripMap The itinerary: Hailey, Idaho to Queenstown, New Zealand. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

    The Plan

    Good. Now to plan it. International DIY mountain hunts are not known for the logistical simplicity but at least it wasn’t hard to find a willing buddy.

    It would have been easier to hire an outfitter for the hunt. It would have been easier but that’s not what we are doing. First, we don’t have the cash. As young guys not far out of school, we aren’t exactly rolling in the dough required to contract a PH. Fortunately, we aren’t much interested in doing so anyway.

    I’ve never been on a guided hunt; it's not that I am against the concept. I’d just generally rather shoot a spike on my own than a six by six that someone whom I’ll soon be tipping put me on. However, I also fully realize that it is not always possible to hunt on a strange land without guidance. As far as I know, Tanzania will not be a destination for DIY hunters anytime soon.

    But herein lies much of the appeal of New Zealand as a destination. There were several tales on rokslide and others blogs across the Internet of plucky folks heading down to the country and pulling off totally unguided mountain hunts. It seems that maybe, with a bit of beta, we might be able to get after some neat critters in absolute trophy high country.

    Fortunately, we haven’t been flying blind on logistics. As I mentioned, Scott and Kenton had hunted down there the previous springs and had some contacts on a sheep station in the center of the South Island. In addition to answering my constant stream of logistical question emails, they very kindly have offered to put us up for a few days and point us towards a few places where we might find some game.

    Slowly a plan emerged: fly into Queenstown. Stock up on supplies, see the city and spend our first night there. Then, drive up to our new friends ranch. Check the rifles, head into the mountains and find some tahr and chamois. Come out with heavy packs, regroup and maybe take a shower. Next go look up some red stags, ideally some that are hot on hinds (females) and “roaring” away. Repeat the heavy pack-shower scenario and call it a trip. Along the way we hope to see some gorgeous country, meet some interesting folks and learn about a culture of hunting a bit different from our own.

    ski The author at the summit of Vienna Peak in the Sawtooth Range. Backcountry tours provided vertical (and powder skiing). Photo Credit: Avery Shawler.

    The Training

    Physical preparation was another consideration in planning this expedition. I’ve never quite been a #Mtnstrong type guy but hunting the Southern Alps would not be a roll-out-of-bed-and-go type experience. In March, pounding the hills for game is a memory several months in the past. It seemed a bit of intentional training was in order for a hunt in rugged country during the peak of the North American offseason.

    Luckily, I live in a mountain town. The Bald Mountain Ski Area rises 3,400 vertical feet from the valley floor a rifle shot from my front door. Climbing the ski mountain after the lifts shut down is one of my favorite after work activities in the winter. The snow cats groom the runs at night and so generally after getting to the top you get to ski freshly courdoroyed runs as a reward for the hike.

    Using climbing skins on touring skis, I tried to get to the top (or as high as my schedule would allow) at least twice a week. As the trip got closer, I began to snowshoe up in my hunting boots with a weighted pack that also held my ski boots and downhill skis to better simulate the impact and motion of warm season hiking.

    Most weekends, I supplemented this scheme with backcountry ski tours, another favorite winter pastime. This allowed me to put in a bit more vertical to prepare for the climbing, climbing and, more likely than not, more climbing that will be involved in the hunt. Finally, I rounded out my training for the Southern Alps with five-mile runs.

    I have been fortunate to be able to do all of these activities at relatively high elevation. Our town sits at 5800 feet and is surrounded by mountains up to 12,000 feet tall. All things considered I was feeling physically prepared for the hunt. Would it still kick my ass? Definitely, but hopefully less so than if I hadn’t done anything at all.

    pack Warm weather in February allowed for a few training laps on dirt. Photo Credit: Author.

    The Boomstick

    In addition to physical training I knew I also needed to get in some time at the range. I had decided against the bow early with the argument that I have the distinct pleasure of chasing Idaho’s mountain critters with arrows for a month or two each fall. Up till now this experience has been extremely rewarding but entirely devoid of harvested animal protein. If we were going to fly all the way down to New Zealand I figure it might be nice to bring the artillery and maximize our chances, especially in light of the whole hunting-species-I’d-never-seen-before-in-a-country-I’d-never-stepped-foot-in-without-a-guide, thing.

    I’ll admit it freely; my rifle almost always takes a back seat to the Charger. But with the impending boomstick hunt, the Tikka had emerged sooner than usual in 2016. I shot cardboard once or twice a week, focusing on building confidence at somewhat unsettled shooting conditions of mountain hunting.

    This was easier said than done. Deep snows limited the standard drive-out-a-canyon routine for longer distance practice. Ultimately, I resorted to using my touring skis to get out to deserted places to shoot over 100 yards. I told the occasional passerby I was training for a biathlon. The extra effort aside, I was feeling quite confident with my .308.

    Gear The gear. Photo Credit: Author

    The Swag

    Gear gathering and preparation was another process. Working for an apparel company, the clothing kit wasn’t too difficult to figure out. It was more or less the same setup I bring along for all my backcountry hunts with a couple of additions from the 2016 line.

    Apparel
    Core Lower Base Red Desert Boxer
    Med Lower Base Allegheny Bottom
    Pant Corrugate Guide Pant
    Core Top Wilikin Aerowool Crew Top
    Med Top Chama Hoody
    Med Top Halstead Tech Fleece
    Insulation Umcompahgre Puffy Jacket
    Hard Shell Jacket Vapor Stormlight Jacket
    Hard Shell Bottom Boundary Stormtight Pant
    Light Headwear 5 Panel Tech Cap
    Warm Headwear Cuff Beanie
    Concealment Neck Gaiter
    Gaiter Traverse Boot Gaiters
    Base Glove Aerowool Glove Liner
    Insulating Glove Talus Fingerless Gloves

     

    More difficult decisions were made in the equipment department. I viewed this trip as an opportunity/sufficient excuse to upgrade my backcountry setup. I became a regular in our local backcountry gear shop and spent far too much time trolling the likes of rokslide, outdoorgearlab.com and backpacker.com. Ultimately, I bought trekking poles, a new stove, a new pad and new boots. I have also resealed the seams on my aging tent and borrowed a shiny new First Lite Fusion Kifaru pack from the venerable Ryan Callahan.

    Gear
    Spotting Scope Vortex Razor
    Binocular Olympus Trooper 8x40
    Tent MSR Hubba Hubba
    Bag EMS Boreal 20°
    Pad Big Agnes Q Core
    GPS Garmin Rhino 610
    Headlamp Black Diamond Revolt
    Stove MSR WL International
    Knife Havalon Piranta
    Trekking Poles Black Diamond Distance Z
    Scope Vortex Viper
    Rifle Tikka T3 Lite in .308
    Rangefinder Vortex Ranger
    Pack Kifaru Mountain Warrior
    Boots Salomon Quest

     

    The Trip

    Despite some teeth pulling moments, we finally got this expedition sorted out. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be in the Southern Alps in no time. The International Date Line, NZ Customs and 16 hours of flying is all that separatedsus from our long anticipated Kiwi adventure.

    Ford Van Fossan is the Consumer Sales and Content Manager at FLHQ. He will not be answering his phone for the next two weeks.

4 Item(s)