Campfire

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.

  • 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.

  • Sambar: Bowhunting in Australia's Victorian Backcountry

    glassing valley 2_600_451

    I knew my first Sambar hunt into the Victorian High Country wasn’t going to be easy. Big mountains, hot days, cold nights, long walks and all while trying to get it done with a bow and arrow, it would take it's toll on anybody. It was to be a 5 day pack hunt into some remote backcountry. The weather in Victoria can be very unpredictable which makes it hard when packing as you need absolutely everything from wet weather gear to puffers or you could be just down to light weights everyday and still too hot.

    imgn0167_2_600_451

    We all headed off, Jared (the local) Alfred, Aaron and myself. There was no warm ups; it was all straight up from the car, 400 meters up over 8 kilometres to our spike camp. Reaching the top of the mountain it all seemed worth it with the view we had all worked hard for. Down in Victoria they have cabins scattered throughout the national parks for anyone and everyone to stay at as they wish. They are not much but on a cold winter's night in the snow they would be a warm welcome. We pushed on knowing we needed to set up camp and we also wanted to get out to a certain bluff point to be able to glass the surrounding valleys for deer before dark.

    imgn0177_thm   copy_600_451

    The last 500m before where we were to set up camp was all down hill. It led down onto a beautiful plateau on the top of the mountain. We could see a good wallow up in front with plenty of tracks around which was a good sign for the area. As we were about to move off from the wallow one of the boys spotted a nice young stag up ahead. We all dropped down into the grass and pulled out the cameras. The other boys I was hunting with were all using rifles but told me that given the situation, I may as well have a go with my bow.

    img_0530_600_580

    Sounds easy right? Wrong! Sambar deer, introduced from Asia, are arguably the hardest deer to hunt in Australia. Indeed, I know of a lot of people that have tried for many years to get a Sambar with little luck. One thing that makes hunting Sambar so hard is they make no noise during their rut period, so its like hunting other deer out of their rutting season.

    img_0134_600_451

    I left the group and dropped back and circled around to get the wind right before making my way in. Walking in amongst the snow gums was like walking on cornflakes, every step made a huge crunch sound at which point the young stag would look up in my direction to see what was making the noise.

    sambar before shot_600_542

    The Sambar are very cunning, he knew something was up but my camo blended well in amongst the foliage. Every now and then he would take a few steps and even hide behind a tree to see if I would make a move so he could catch me out. At this stage I had closed into about 65 yards, I made it in another 5 or so to a small tree and just sat and waited to see if he would make the mistake and come within bow range, there was no point on me pushing it as the ground was so loud under foot. I kept ranging him...60...50...45.

    img_6900_600_451

    This was it, if he gets to 40 I'm taking the shot, I drew back and held steady on him but there was that much dead timber in the way I couldn't get a clear shot so I let down. Fortunately, he kept coming in even closer. One shot with the range finder at 35 yards was it, he was still closing in so as soon as he cleared the trees I drew quietly, settled and released. The shot was good and the young stag jumped and bounced about 20 yards away and looked back to see what had happen. He heard something but couldn't work out what had happened and seconds later I had my first ever Sambar stag and ultimately a freezer full of venison.

    First Lite Pro Staffer Chase Lorensen lives in Queensland and hunts across Australia and New Zealand.

     

  • Layering for Quackers (and Just About Everything Else) with First Lite's Own Casey Hawkes

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Duck guide and First Lite VP of Sales, Ross Copperman in a marsh in North Dakota.

    With the 2015-2016 Idaho hunting season coming to an end in what I can only describe as an “abrupt halt” at the end of this month, I am left with the same directionless feeling every year as to how I am going to utilize my remaining winter weekends. Do I go heave streamers for voracious winter rainbows? Do I finally materialize my “Nerd-ic” skiing aspirations?  Predator management? The options are infinite.

    While my post-hunting season activities vary greatly, my First Lite layering kit remains the same.  From early August to the end of January, whether I am chasing wapiti with the stick-n-string or quacker-blasting with my scatter gun, there are 5 pieces of First Lite clothing that are with me year round: The Red Desert Boxer Shorts, Kanab Lightweight Pants, Llano Long Sleeve Crew, Chama Hoody and the Uncompahgre Puffy Jacket. These are the pieces I utilize the most in both the front country and the backcountry.

    While this post is intended to be written as a Waterfowl Layering Guide (and will be), I wanted to make note that the foundation of my kit does not stray too far from the 5 aforementioned pieces.  One of question we get most frequently at FLHQ is which items will be the most effective in the widest range of conditions and environments. The five items above are those pieces.

    I have been very than fortunate in acquiring a “more-than-modest” assortment of FL product (one of the many perks of being employed by First Lite) and as of such have the capability of utilizing hunt-specific items depending on the climate and style of what/where I am hunting.  While I 100% take advantage of this, my layering foundation is seemingly as predictable as the rising sun.

    *Disclaimer* Effective temperature range for a product is subjective to the individual.  Just because I stay warm and comfortable in certain pieces in certain temps does not mean that others will. I run on the warm side of the temperature scale and always seem to be shedding layers to maintain an optimal body temperature.

    This guide is specifically oriented around January jaunts in temps ranging from 0-30 degrees F. As life typically starts from the ground up, my mid-late season kit is listed the same way.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA First Lite Dealer Sales Manager, Chase Millemann, looks on as his Labrador, Parley, brings back another green head in North Dakota.

    Toes Mountain Athlete Cold Weather Socks – The warmest sock in the line.

    Legs Red Desert Boxer Shorts – 170g Merino Wool.  The RD Boxers are the great because they sit just above the knee, don’t stretch out or lose their shape and (in my opinion) act as one of the best seasonally-transitional pieces FL offers.

    Allegheny Full Length Bottom – 230g Merino Wool (base layer)

    Kanab 2.0 Lightweight Pant – 330g woven, rip-stop Merino wool

    North Branch Soft Shell Pants – Cocona/37.5 outer layer pant (~10,000 mm waterproof and breathability rating)

    Trunk – Llano Crew – 170g merino wool

    Chama Hoody – 230g Merino wool

    Cirrus Puffy – 60g synthetic insulaton

    Woodbury Jacket – 120g torso/ 60g arms synthetic fill outer jacket

    FingersShale Hybrid Gloves – Also added to FL’s line in 2015, the combo of 400g Merino and goat skin leather--your hands not only remain highly functional (and warm) when wet but also add a superior element of durability to your feelers.

    Melon (head)Neck Gaiter – 230g Merino wool.  Both face concealment and warmth.  Updated to an overall length of 19’’ for 2016, there is plenty of length to use the NG in a plethora of configurations.

    Brimmed Beanie – 230g Merino wool providing warmth while reducing any unwanted sunlight to my eyes.

    Tailgate Nap_instagram Solid layering allows you to stay in the marsh longer regardless of conditions; maybe even long enough to fill a tailgate.

    You very likely recognized that my kit for January duck hunting did not include the Uncompahgre Puffy Jacket.  This swap is largely because I have been trying out the new Woodbury Jacket (which is awesome).  Lastly, the vast majority of my duck hunting is done over water and waders are an important part of my system.  As I do run warm, I use breathable, boot fit waders. My time duck hunting during the month of January has been spent field hunting ducks (Hence NB pant as outermost leg layer) but my kit is the same when hunting over water, the only difference is adding my waders as my outermost layer for my legs.

    I could very easily continue expressing my (biased) opinion of FL product as a whole but the only real way to come to any conclusion is to use the product in the field.  Doing so will allow you to form your own all-encompassing “head to toe” layering kit. I challenge you to use any of the items mentioned above so this post has more value than just words on paper. If I were a betting man, I would bet that if you use any of items I have discussed above, especially in conjunction with one another, your own firsthand accounts will be similar to my own.

    Casey Hawkes is the First Lite Pro Sales Coordinator and just might be the deadliest ducker at FLHQ, especially in his native habitat, the small water of central Idaho.

    Let it be known that Ross and Chase vehemently disagree with this statement.

  • Whitetails Hunting Tips from the First Lite Pro Staff

    There are 30 Million White-tailed Deer in this country...

    ...but that doesn't mean that killing one of them is a cake walk. To celebrate North America's most popular game animal, here are some tips from the First Lite Pro Staff to help you fill your tag this season.

    IMG_9507_600_400 Its important to have multiple stands to select from in varying conditions. Photo credit: Captured Creative.

    Knock on doors

     For better or worse, the vast majority of whitetails harvested every year are killed on private lands. With today's burgeoning populations of deer many landowners are more than happy to have a few less on their property. It never hurts to ask.

    IMG_6225_600_338 Many landowners are open to having hunters on there property especially if their soybeans or flowerbeds are being nibbled. Photo credit: Captured Creative.

    Scout, Scout, Scout

    Look for natural food sources, trails, scrapes and rubs. Set up cameras if you have access to them. Have several trees ready to go so that when the weather moves in or the rut begins you can take advantage of variable deer movement. Most of the work of harvesting whitetails occurs before the hunter ever climbs into the stand.

    FL_IMG_2571_600_400 Trail cams reveal where and when deer are moving through a given area. Photo credit: Tight Lines and Big Tines.

    Work the military crest

    Deer tend to walk the "military crest" or the top 2/3rd's elevation line in hill country on the leeward (downwind side) of a ridge, and then will often bed on the points of ridges with the wind at their back. This allows the daytime's rising thermals to create a scent zone that allows the deer to smell what is behind them and see what is in front of them. Knowing these lines and bedding spots, intercept them in the morning or evening.

    photo oct 06  7 15 54 am_600_399 (1) Discovering and taking advantage of consistent movement corridors helps put deer on the ground. Photo credit: Tight Line and Big Tines.

    Find him, don't push him

    When it comes to hunting a mature buck, locating deer while also putting very little pressure on the area is key. Get to vantage points and glass bean fields from long distances, let trail cameras sit for 8-10 weeks without checking them, and treat your hunting land as a sanctuary.

    image1 (4)_600_339 Sometimes a vehicle drop off can help in bagging  cagey whitetails. Photo credit: Jon Sutherland.

    The drive-by

    Whitetails are very wary animals. Walking into the stand can alert them just enough to make them hunker down until dark. One technique is to have a buddy drive you in and drop you off, and drive away. The sound of the vehicle cruising away makes any bedded deer within hearing distance feel the danger has left.

    image1 (2)_600_339 Pro Staffer Jon Sutherland with a whacker buck in Kentucky. Photo credit: Jon Sutherland.

    That's all for now. From all of us here at FLHQ, best luck in the deer woods!

  • Hunting the 'Burbs: A Glimpse into the Life of Urban Deer Slayer, Taylor Chamberlin

    I love to hunt. Its constantly on my mind. On any given day, it would probably be easier for me to think back on the times I wasn't thinking about arrowing whitetails than those I spent thinking about gear, strategy and deer movement. There is just one small issue with my this passion. I live here.

    Capitol

    In Northern Virginia. A bustling suburb of Washington D.C. home to McMansions, tiny ¼ acre lots and 2.8 million of my closest friends. In this packed suburban corridor, there most certainly aren’t any agricultural fields, farms or large chunks of ground to hunt. Needless to say – it’s not the perfect place for someone who loves to hunt – or is it? Over the years that urban sprawl has headed outward from Washington, D.C., forests, fields and streams have turned into subdivisions, strip malls, and blacktop roads, creating the perfect habitat for whitetail deer. Add in that there are very few hunters and natural predators left - as well as the fact that virtually every house is surrounded with delicious shrubs and flowers – and it’s easy to see that we’ve created the ultimate buffet for deer. Not surprisingly, the growing herd is significantly damaging both suburban landscaping and what's left of the area's forests. And that’s how I ended up here.

    3Pane More and more homeowners are realizing that the population is way past a healthy balance, and needs to be drastically reduced and that bow hunting  is the most practical and reasonable solution. It’s safe, free, andeffective and most of the deer that I harvest get donated to the Hunters for the Hungry Program - where deer meat is provided free to people in need. What’s not to love?

    I am proud to be part of the solution – a bow hunter who is happy to volunteer to come out to virtually any property and help harvest deer. I have to admit, it’s pretty neat to have homeowners track you down and ask you to come hunt on their property, instead of the other way around! I have hundreds of properties where I’m able to hunt deer with a bow and arrow – and I get to spend over 150 days a year sitting in a tree helping to thin the herd. In a normal year, a typical harvest would be anywhere between 30-50 deer – sometimes more in a good year, and sometimes less.

    Here in Northern Virginia, we have a very liberal deer season. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has a special “Urban Archery Season” as well as a “Northern Virginia Late Antlerless Season.” The combination of all of the various deer seasons run un-interrupted from September through the end of April. Towards the end of April, the State allows landowners who have extensive damage from over browsing on their properties to apply for a permit that allows anextension of the season from May 1st through the end of August – making it a full, year round hunting season.  There are, quite literally, a full 100 degree (or more) temperature swings in my deer season. Sometimes in July and August, it’s 100+ degrees when I climb into the stand – and at times in January and February – the wind chill will be down at -15 or lower.

    Some of the properties that I hunt on are as small as a ¼ acre while others are larger 5, 10 or 15 acre parcels – but they all have one thing in common. They’re overrun with deer. From my front door, I have over a thousand tree’s that are prepped and ready for me to hunt from that are within a 15-20 minute drive. All I need to do is get to the property, climb my tree and hunt. Zone This is a pretty standard

    suburban hunting spot, with the property boundaries outlined in red. The area is about an acre, however, there are only two trees that are big enough to climb and hunt from. Luckily, those two trees happen to be within 20 yards of the deer trail that parallels the creek. With the amount of houses surrounding this property, it’s probably pretty hard to believe that this is one of my most productive properties – but it is.

    Though most of the properties only have a few trees that are large enough to climb, their small acreage usually ensures that deer will pass within range. I prep every tree to be ready to climb, put a reflective tack in it, trim shooting lanes, and mark it on my GPS.  I stay in constant contact with all of the various homeowners whose properties I hunt on, and ask them to let me know when and where they are seeing deer. This helps me establish any possible patterns and determine what properties I should be focusing my attention on. I make sure to rotate pressure on all of the properties that I hunt on, but homeowners are the best trail-cam’s anyone can have, and their information is vital to success. It might seem like since there are so many deer around, that suburban hunting would be easy, but it’s far from it. With the overabundance of browse and varying pressures on the deer, they tend to be almost nomadic. They slowly roam from place to place without much rhyme or reason, making them hard to pattern, and homeowners are the best way to figure out where they currently are and what they’re doing. I have found that playing the wind and homeowner communication are two of the biggest factors that lead to consistent deer sightings. The day before a hunt, I’ll look at the upcoming wind and weather forecast and then try to make the most informed decision I can on where to head for my next hunt.

    Over the years that I have been doing this I have developed an efficient system for how to hunt over a thousand trees without needing a thousand treestands by keeping all of my trees ready to climb, marked with a reflective tack, and stored in my GPS. I keep most of my gear in a plastic tub in the back of my truck under my bed cover. I’ll dress in street clothes on my way to my hunting destination and change into my camo at my truck once I’ve parked at the property. I then grab my pack, bow, portable climbing sticks and saddle and head into my location. Once at my tree, I climb up to 20’+, pull up my bow, and settle in; ready to hunt in no more than 15 minutes. Then it’s time to sit back, relax and wait to see if the deer will show up or not. I find that this method allows me to be as mobile and silent as possible without leaving anything in the woods that could rust and require maintenance or a safety issue later down the road.

    Almost daily, I find myself going through the same routine of talking to homeowners, checking the wind, trying to determine what property and stand location to hunt, and heading out to go do it. You’d think that after 7 years of doing this day in and day out, it would get old - but it hasn’t. In fact, I think that I probably enjoy hunting now more than I ever have before. It’s great to have access to a variety of places to hunt so close to my house and to be able to help thin an overpopulated herd that really needs it, as well as knowing people in need.that the meat that I’m donating is helping to feed

    Author

    Isn’t it funny how we always seem to find a way to do what we love to do? Even if you’re a city boy who loves to hunt, stuck in a concrete

    jungle, there’s a way to get out and do what you love to do. When I’m not waking up and climbing a tree well before the sun rises, or doing chores to keep my incredibly understanding and insanely patient-to-put-up-with-me fiancé happy, I’m out shooting ducks and geese over the Potomac River, or taking my GSP partner in crime to shoot pheasant, chukkar, quail or dove – all in the DC Metro area. I guess I’m living in just the right place after all.

    First Lite Pro Staffer Taylor Chamberlin lives and hunts in Northern Virginia. You can follow his suburban adventures at The Urban Sportsman.
  • Elk Tips 2015: Get Rowdy, Rythmic and Triangulate

    1.  First Lite's Ryan Callaghan:  A Perfect Bugle is not a Real Bugle

    Patience Paid off. Helen's first kill.

    No Perfect Bugles, in fact the bulls are often sounding like they haven’t properly warmed up yet. So why are you ripping that bugle like your in the final round of the elk calling championships? This time of year especially after the sun has come up I switch to short and often less than melodious notes. This (in my mind anyway) mimics a bull of any size calling half heartedly as they transition from feed to bed, or a bull in their bed. Think “I’m here but I’m not interested” if you’ve spent much time in the woods you’ve heard this. As you either follow your bull to bed or you manage to get ahead of them (I personally have never outrun an elk) the mood will start to change, and so should your bugle. You’ve stepped into their bedroom, now get them pissed.

    2.  First Lite's Ryan Callaghan:  Get Loud and Rowdy!

    Locate and Rake, or Speak Softly and carry a big stick. Often you will find bachelor groups or lone bulls early in the season. If you are not worried about blowing the elk out of the country and are willing to "take them to bed” I find these bachelor groups are the equivalent of an unsupervised high school team on the practice field, they are more than willing to display their prowess (spar, rake trees, and talk loudly to each other) despite the “game” not being on for a couple of weeks. After you have located your bull or bulls, determined your approach via wind direction and cover. Get in the middle making as much noise as you would if you were a bull. This time of year if you’ve followed a bull to bed there is almost without exception rubs, stinky beds from the previous evenings or wallows all of which are great spots to set up. Position your shooter in a spot with several shooting lanes then get back and make like a bull. Rake a young tree with a stout stick until its in splinters paw the ground with the toe and heel of your boot, I even do some heavy breathing through my grunt tube. Bulls will often come in silent just to check out the commotion so keep your head on a swivel and don’t get too caught up in the act.

    3.  First Lite Pro Staffer Darren Choate:  Triangulate the Ungulate

    Scouting-elk-using-the-triangle-theorem

    Regardless of the date on a calendar, elk move to and from three core resources during their daily routine: 1) bedding areas, 2) feeding areas and 3) water sources. Additionally, elk tend to take a direct route from one resource to another. When connected, these three core resources and direct travel corridors that elk utilize on a daily basis form a triangular shape. Although, use of these resources and travel corridors may change on a daily basis — and throughout the year during normal migrations — these “elk triangles” can be used by hunters as a means to predict elk movement and increase the chances of a successful harvest.

    I was introduced to the concept of elk triangles by a US Forest Service (USFS) wildlife biologist. His ability to identify core resources utilized by a given population of elk was uncanny. As I grew to understand his abilities, I saw the practicality of the theorem as a tool to improve my own scouting techniques. After several years of application, my elk hunting/guiding success rate increased dramatically.  Learn more about the Triangulation Theorem on Darren's blog here!

    4.  First Lite Pro Staffer Kendall Van Dyk:  Get It Done Before the Rut

    Early season archery hunting can be frustrating. You'll likely contend with heat, bugs, sweaty smelly clothes, and I even had a buddy who tried to sit on a rattlesnake a few years back. But remember, later in the year, that herd bull may have 20, 30 or more cows with him. The odds of peeling him off or even getting in on him without getting busted are not in your favor. The pre-rut and early rut may be some of the best odds at a legit herd bull.   As my friend Dave down in Wyoming says, to kill an elk with your bow, 100 things in a row have to go right, the first 99 are easy.

    5.  First Lite Pro Staffer Tim Olsen:  Catch a Rhythm

    Teepee courtesy of Seek Outside Make their home your home.

    Given the choice, I'd rather hunt ten days in a row then spread out ten days through out the season because it's really important to create a rhythm.  Spreading out your hunts over a month or two means you are really hoping you'll happen to be in the right place at the right time--you might hike into your spot and may see elk but will you have enough time to learn the area, pattern the animals to any degree nor make any adjustments?  Now lets say you come back to the same spot four or five days later.  What happened while you were gone?  Are they still there, still behaving the same way?  You don't know.  Find a stretch of days where you can live in your spot and become super familiar with your zone and what the animals are doing and you'll be much more successful.

  • Preseason Fitness with Stefan Wilson of Hunting Fit

    DSC_0014 Dead lifts and other multi-joint exercises strengthen the posterior chain, helping to prevent injury and lower back pain in the woods.

    Hunting seasons are fast approaching and with the right preparation you will be reaping the joys of a successful hunt. When preparing for hunts, it can be easy to overlook one aspect: Your fitness. Physical fitness is just as essential to hunting as practicing shooting. Without fitness, you very well might be going home empty handed. So what are some things you can do right now to get ready got the upcoming hunting seasons? There are two elements of physical fitness that are necessary for hunters: Cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength.

    Cardiovascular Training Techniques

    When considering how to train for cardiovascular endurance, you have to think about how you hike while you are hunting. Typically, it is a series of pauses followed by short bursts of hiking, then pausing again. It is essential to "practice how you play," or in other words, train the way you hunt. That is where high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) and tabata training come in.

    H.I.I.T. is a form of cardio that focuses on sprints and active rest. With interval training, the sprinting portion of the workout is done at a high level of exertion. This should last for about 30 to 60 seconds, based on your fitness level. The active rest portion is done at a slower pace in which you are still moving, but slow enough that your body is able to recover; this period last for about one to two minutes. A typical H.I.I.T. workout should last around 20 minutes, cycling between sprints and active rest. You can do any cardio exercise you prefer; however, you should try to focus on those exercises that will emulate hiking (stair-stepper, jogging on an incline, etc.). H.I.I.T. cardio will train your body to be accustomed to the drastic changes in exertion that take place during a hunt. If you are new to this type of training, start with two minutes of warm-up, followed by eight cycles of 30 seconds of sprinting and 90 seconds of active rest. Finish up with two minutes of cool down. As your fitness level increases, increase the duration of time you are sprinting while decreasing the duration of your active rest.

    Now that we have an understanding of H.I.I.T., we need to look at tabata training. Tabata training is a shorter, time efficient form of H.I.I.T. Tabata training is often used with one multi-joint cardio exercise (burpees, high knees, mountain climbers, etc.) and should last between 4 to 10 minutes.

    To perform a tabata workout, perform the selected move at absolute full intensity for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds, then go right back to full intensity for another 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and so on until your time is up. You should begin by doing this for four minutes until your body can adapt to the training style at which point you can increase the time each week. In terms of intensity during the workout, you should be exhausted by the end of the workout. The active 20-second intervals should be performed at the fastest possible pace while staying safe and maintaining good form. If you feel like you can keep going when the time is up, you either did not give 100% or you need to increase your time. When performed correctly, this is one of the most effective (and efficient) forms of interval training for losing weight and improving your cardio level.

    Ideally, you should be performing an H.I.I.T. or tabata workout three to four times per week. You will see the greatest benefit in these workouts by doing them immediately after a resistance workout. Combining H.I.I.T. and tabata training will prepare you for the cardiovascular demands of hunting, especially when hunting at high elevations.

    Strength Training – Muscle Groups

    Now that we have discussed cardiovascular endurance and how to train for it, let's move on to muscular strength. Muscular strength is developed through resistance training, often with weights but other times with body weight and isometric techniques. However, building muscular strength is not just a matter of building bigger muscles. It is a process of strengthening the foundation of your body and then building from that foundation. This foundation is made up of the posterior chain and core muscles. The posterior chain is the series of muscles that run along the backside of the lower half of your body. They include all of the major muscles and stabilizer muscles in your lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves. These muscles are responsible for giving you a solid base. They involve your core (abdominals, obliques, lower back, etc.) and help to stabilize your body. A strong posterior chain will also help prevent injury and lower back pain. Exercises that will help strengthen your posterior chain are often multi-joint exercises that involve multiple lower body muscles (deadlift, barbell squat, lunges, straight-legged deadlift, etc.).

    Your core muscles are those muscles around your midsection that stabilize your body (abdominals, obliques, lower back, etc.). Strengthening these muscles is essential to preventing injury, especially when carrying a pack and hiking through hills. Exercises that use the core's full-range of motion (Russian twists, woodchops, decline sit-ups, etc.) will help strengthen your entire core.

    Other exercises for upper body muscle groups are also beneficial and everyone has their own flavor for how to train their upper body. Just always remember to use proper form, value functional fitness over bodybuilding, and do the exercises that are going to help you to succeed in the field.

    DSC_0026 Solid core strength is essential for long hunts in rugged country.

    Strength Training Techniques

    When it comes to repetitions and sets, lower weight, higher rep sets are always better for the hunter. A one-rep max with 5 minutes of rest is not going to help you on the backside of a mountain, but three grueling sets of 20 reps with only 60 seconds rest between sets will. Sets in the 12-20 rep range will not only help to build muscular strength, they will also increase muscular endurance as well.

    Rest between sets is another factor. 2-3 minute rest is primarily used for powerlifting. For our purposes as hunters, the less rest, the better (Remember, practice how you play…). You need a bare minimum of 30 seconds rest between sets to give your muscles time to recover, but 90 seconds should be the maximum amount of rest.

    Advanced techniques for resistance training can be great tools for building muscular strength and endurance. Isometric training is a great tool, especially with bodyweight exercises. To perform an isometric rep, raise or lower (depending on the exercise) your body or the weight to the contracted portion of the movement (when your muscles are completely engaged) and hold it for 8-10 seconds. Then slowly return to the rest position. Continue this for 10-15 reps and do 2-3 sets. This is a great tool for promoting blood flow, muscle recruitment, and improving muscle endurance.

    One last thing about strength training: Do you remember tabata? It is great for weight lifting as well. To perform a tabata resistance workout, choose a weight for a given exercise that you could do 15-20 times (start on machines until you get the hang of it. Using free weights right away with tabata techniques could result in injury when fatigue sets in). Start the timer and do as many reps as you can with proper form during the working portion, then rest during the rest period. When you reach the point where you can't do full reps anymore, do partial reps. Just make sure you are working until the time is up (I like to use an interval timer app to help me keep track; when I hear the beep, it's time to go again).

    Sample Workout

    Deadlift – 3 sets of 12 reps (90 seconds rest between sets)

    Leg press (tabata) – 4 minutes

    Wall Squat (isometric) – 3 sets of 1 minute

    Dumbbell lunges – 3 sets of 15 (60 seconds rest between sets)

    Russian Twist – 3 sets of 30 reps

    Reverse crunch – 3 sets of 30 reps

    Cardio: 20 minutes on Stairmaster (H.I.I.T.) or 6 minute burpees (tabata)

    These are some techniques that you can use to prepare in the next few weeks for the hunts you have coming up this season. Even though you might not have a lot of time left, these techniques will help you make the most of the time that you do have. It is all about preparation; taking the time to prepare now can pay big dividends down the line. Don't let fitness be the reason you came home empty handed. Get in shape, get out there, and get that tag filled!

    Stefan Wilson is a First Lite Pro Staffer and the founder of Hunting Fit, a site dedicated to holistic preparation for big game hunting. You can read more of Stefan's articles on fitness, nutrition and strategy at the link above.

     

  • Help Wanted: The Ultimate Sales Internship

    Patience Paid off. Helen's first kill. Be prepared to pack out everyone's elk while answering emails and manning the phones and feeding the office fish.

    Are you looking for invaluable sales and business experience within one of the fastest growing brands in the hunting landscape?  First Lite Performance Hunting Apparel is currently looking for a Sales Intern for the Fall of 2015. This is a terrific opportunity to develop and hone your business skills in a fast-paced retail environment while getting a comprehensive perspective on the operation of an independent outdoor gear company.  The position is located in Ketchum, Idaho and will require an average of 40 hours a week.  The start date is TBD and the position will likely terminate sometime in mid December.

    The ideal candidate will be a confident, organized, well-spoken individual with extensive outdoor and hunting experience who is looking to gain sales experience in the industry. Customer service or outdoor retail experience is preferred. Knowledge of social media marketing, outdoor writing and photography is a plus.   Strong writing and communication skills are required as well as a work-hard/play-hard mentality. Most of all we value honesty and integrity, a strong work ethic and an authentic passion for life in the back country, blind and tree stand.

    While you would get to enjoy one of the best all around hunting landscapes in the lower 48 and work along side a fun-loving, passionate crew, please know that this position is no walk in the park and our interns have historically been very strong contributors to the brand.

    Pay is hourly.  If you think you have what it takes, please send a cover letter and a resume to [email protected] with "Internship" in the subject line, telling us why you're the ideal candidate and why you would thrive at First Lite.  No calls or drop-ins, please.   Deadline for application submission is August 25th and the position will start as soon as possible.

     

  • Early Season Scouting High Country Mule Deer

    Chasing_Ridgelines_1st_Scouting_Trip_2

    If you have luck like me, you probably aren’t expecting to draw a limited quota tag for a big buck unit.  Luckily, there are plenty of over the counter options in the west that yield trophy mule deer bucks every year if you are willing to put in the work.  The earlier you figure out where you are going to hunt and start putting in the work, the better off you will be when hunting season rolls around.

    There are a lot of variables that determine when you should start scouting for that buck of a lifetime, such as when you’ll be hunting and what kind of terrain you will be hunting, (desert v. alpine).  There is a lot of work that can be done before summer fully arrives to identify an area to hunt and get out on the ground to scout the country.

    If you are itching to get a head start on your hunting season, here are a few early season mule deer hunting and scouting tips you can use to increase your odds of having opportunities on quality bucks in the mountains.

    Do Your Homework

    The best scouting starts at home.  Numbers and data are your friend if you can put just a little bit of effort in sifting through them.  Most western states publish annual harvest statistics on every unit.  There is a lot of information about size of bucks harvested, number of bucks harvested, number of hunters, etc.  There are a lot of ways to dissect the data, but I like to look at trends over the past several years for a unit.  You can learn a lot about mule deer populations and dynamics with a little bit of data analysis.

    For extra credit, you can dig even deeper into the data by researching the game population reports that most fish and wildlife management agencies put out by species for particular units, zones or portions of the state.  Buck and doe ratios, habitat quality and other limiting factors for mule populations are often published and publicly available.  State game biologists can also be a good resource if you can find one willing to share his or her knowledge with you.

    Embrace Technology

    I can’t remember my work life before the internet and email.  I’m also not sure how I ever hunted before Google Earth.  It’s not a secret tool like it once was, but it saves me untold hours of time in the field.  Aerial photography technology is a must for every hunter today, in my opinion.  Microsoft Bing also has a great aerial photo mapping software nearly identical to Google Earth, and I often use both because one will usually have a crisper image resolution for a given area than the other.

    Pick a Small Number of Places

    You’ve picked out an area, done your research and now you are wandering aimlessly on Google Earth trying to figure out where to hunt.  Your goal should be to find a handful of places that you can get out on the ground and scout.  There are many clues you can search for, but when it comes to hunting high country mule deer, one of the primary things you should look for is habitat security.  Big bucks live a mostly solitary life and don’t like to be bothered.  This usually this means getting as far away from roads and people as possible.  This is a great excuse to get into the backcountry.

    Second, look for good habitat.  This will always have to be verified on the ground, but bucks need water and food, and they have preferences for the kind of food they want.  Green, protein rich grasses and shrubs will be preferred over less nutritious and nutrient poor food.

    Scout Like You Hunt

    Finally, the fun part of this whole process: getting out in the field.  If you are going to take the time and energy to go scouting, it is worth doing it right.  I will start heading out in late June or early July depending on the snow levels.  By mid-July at the latest, you can be fairly certain that the big bucks have moved into their high country summer range, and they will stay there until weather pushes them down. The first thing I look for when I’m out on the ground is habitat.  In the early season in particular, I’m not as concerned with seeing animals as I am looking at habitat to make sure all of the key features of good habitat are present to hold big bucks. The habitat quality is as important an indicator of what is lurking around as is seeing that monster buck.  Look for the food, water sources and habitat types that bucks hang out in.  Cirque Basins with multiple escape routes, flat benches with wide views, rim rock and protein rich grasses and shrubs are all important indicators of whether or not an area will hold big game.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, you also want to look for deer.  It’s hard to find big bucks during hunting season, and it isn’t any easier during the summer.  In order to see quality bucks, you need to treat scouting like a hunting trip.  In the summer, most big game animals are only active early and late in the day and will spend most of the day in the shade.  Glassing first and last light is a must, as is being smart about not staying too long or pushing deer out by being careless about how visible you are and how much noise you make.

    Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see big bucks everywhere.  Unless you drew the tag of a lifetime, it is unlikely you will see huge bucks around every corner when you are hunting.  Scouting is no different, and particularly if you are scouting early in the summer, you are mainly looking at habitat and getting to know the country.  If all the signs of good habitat are there, don’t give up too early on an area.

    The last item I look for on scouting trips are places to bivvy.  Since I’m usually hunting in the backcountry at higher elevations, I also use my scouting time to look for bivvy spots.  We need water too, and if you don’t camp near a water source, it takes time away from hunting and adds logistic complexity.  Finding a camping spot before you head out with a heavy pack and a rifle saves a lot of time.  Find a spot to camp that is close to where you will be hunting, but preferably hidden so every deer can't see you camp from a mile away.

    Homework, Scout, Repeat

    After getting out on the ground, if I find an area that I like, I will make plans to go back and spend more time looking for deer.  If all the places I’m scouting turn out to not look good, it’s back to the drawing board and the cycle starts all over.

    Note on the author:

    Bradley Brooks and Jason Kauffmann are on an incredible quest to push themselves and find both the bucks of their dreams and some solitude in the high country of Idaho. We at First Lite have partnered with them to at least make their high country experience a little more comfortable. For more information search #chasingridgelines and give them a follow here Chasing Ridgelines.

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