Monthly Archives: August 2016

  • 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. 

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