A New Year, A New Sole Adventure

As you might have noticed, it’s been quiet around here this fall.  After wrapping up the account of this year’s elk hunt, there was only one post in November and one more in December (until now).  Two posts in two months is a massive change of pace; for a long time I was averaging two posts per week.

So, why the silence?  I would love to tell you that it’s been because I’ve been working on some amazing project that I’m rolling out for the New Year.  A book, an e-book, a new site, etc.  But that’s not what’s been going on at all.  In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.  Writing and hunting have been on the backburner.

2014 has been an incredible year.  The traffic at Sole Adventure has been better than ever.  I brought on some advertisers to help fund some of my hunting expenses.  I experienced some incredible moments in the field.  I was published in numerous nationally-distributed hunting magazines – including Field & Stream and Petersen’s BOWHUNTING.  Oh, and I have a freezer full of wild game.

Yet, in the midst of the best year ever, I have been tempted to simply walk away from all of this.

Walking Away

My Problem

I tend to be an obsessive, all-or-nothing type of guy.  For the last handful of years, my obsession has been bowhunting elk.  I knew nothing about bowhunting elk, but my obsessive drive took over and I completely immersed myself in the process of learning the what, why, when, where, and how.  Writing became part of the journey – adding fuel to the firestorm, and giving me a unique opportunity to have access to people, resources, gear, and other things that helped in my pursuit.

But now I find myself at a place in life where I can’t afford to dedicate as much time or energy to hunting and writing as I have been able to in the past.  The way that I’ve been operating for the past couple of years simply isn’t sustainable any longer.  So I’ve been fighting my “all or nothing” nature to find a balanced middle-ground.

On top of that, I’ve become a bit jaded with the “industry” and have little interest in continuing to participate in it (with a few rare exceptions).  But that’s another topic for another day.

Let me be clear, my passion for elk hunting has not changed.  I’m counting down the days ‘til September.  Jerud and I are constantly swapping texts about our next elk hunting trip, as well as a Caribou trip a few years down the road!

What’s Next?

Well, I’m not entirely sure.  I know that I’ll be slowing down some – although I won’t be as quiet as I have been the last couple of months.  I know that I won’t be so narrowly focused on publishing articles strictly related to bowhunting elk (though I’m not going to stop writing about that topic entirely).  I will be covering anything that I’m interested in, which will include shooting (archery and firearms), hiking, trail running, backpacking, camping with my kids – of course bowhunting for elk, deer, and other critters – and anything else that sparks some thoughts that I think are worth sharing.

There will continue to be trip reports, do-it-yourself “how to” projects, gear reviews, informational and instructional content, as well as introspective and inspirational ramblings.

Finally, thank you for making this such an enjoyable journey to share.  I love receiving the comments, questions, and hunting stories for all of you – so certainly don’t stop sharing!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

My Christmas Gift to You…. WIN a FoodSaver GameSaver Titanium!

All good hunters strive to abide by a code of Hunter’s Ethics.  Some of the rules included in this code are regulated by the law, but the majority of hunters also have self-imposed regulations that they choose follow.  This code dictates the pursuit of an animal – both before and after a broadhead or bullet has been fired.  In fact, the most critical area of self-regulated hunting ethics is likely what takes place after a shot has been fired.

FoodSaver GameSaver Logo

Part of the reason that I use FoodSaver products is because they ensure that the animal that I respect, and the meat that I worked so hard to acquire and care for in the field, is going to be properly “cared for” in the many months that it rests in my freezer before feeding my family.  That’s a “deep” reason, but let me be honest – the practicality of a FoodSaver is just as important.

I have been using FoodSaver products for years.  I have used at least three different versions of their vacuum sealers to pack and preserve wild game, and all have worked quite well to make the packing process easier and effectively preserve my game meat in a “fresh” state for many, many months. The latest model that I’ve been using is FoodSaver’s GameSaver Titanium, and it is the model that you have a chance to win!  (See below)

FoodSaver with Packaged Meat

FoodSaver vs. Conventional Wrapping

I take pride in processing the meat that I harvest.  It’s a rewarding process, but it is a lot of work.  I used to use a conventional wrapping technique – taking my trimmed cuts of meat and wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap and freezer paper, then sealing the packing with tape.  That works alright, but the process is time consuming and I was never satisfied with how much air I was able to purge out of the wrapped package, as well as how it was sealed.  Those wrapped packages last a while in my freezer, but there was a noticeable decline in the quality of meat as it sat for longer periods of time.

The process of packing with FoodSaver is much simpler.  I simply take my trimmed meat and drop it in a FoodSaver vacuum bag, then let the vacuum sealer do all of the work – purging all air from the package and creating a long-lasting, airtight seal.  And when compared to the meat that I used to wrap myself, the meat that I pack with my FoodSaver will easily last twice as long in my freezer

Regardless of which FoodSaver vacuum sealer you use, you will get those great benefits.  Any of their units will help increase your meat-processing efficiency and ensure the quality of meat remains, even when it rests frozen for over a year.  But having used a variety of their units, I do want to highlight a few things about the “granddaddy” of them all…

The Titanium's Controls The Titanium's Built-in Cutter

The GameSaver Titanium

As soon as I opened the Titanium I noticed its build quality.  It’s larger, beefier, and screams durability.  The large operational buttons are rubberized, which makes the unit easy to operate with messy hands, and then easy to clean-up after the job is done.  Thanks to the Titanium’s built-in roll storage/dispenser slot, as well as the cutter in the lid, creating custom-sized freezer bags from FoodSaver rolls has never been easier.

Inside the Titanium, you’ll find a removable, dishwasher-safe drip tray, and the massive 15″ sealing bands.  The Titanium’s sealing capabilities are far better than any other unit I’ve tried.  The Titanium has single- and duel-sealing modes, and can make up to 100 repetitive seals.  When you have a lot of meat that’s ready to be packaged, the “always ready” repetitive sealing of the Titanium is a huge advantage.  And with the ability to seal packages up to 15″ in wide, even the largest roasts of a big game animal (such as an elk) are vacuum packaged and sealed without a problem.

Win A FoodSaver GameSaver Titanium!

Here’s your chance to win your own FoodSaver GameSaver Titanium.  Use the widget below to enter up to 4 times!  As always, your information will never be shared with any third parties.  Let me know if you have any questions.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The FoodSaver GameSaver Titanium

Hunting Like He Used To

I peeked out the window to see the snow, still falling. The warm couch sure felt good, but I convinced myself to get out there. Up to this point I had hunted nearly 40 hours on my local property and had yet to see a single deer. That’s astounding for November; or for any other time for that matter.

With only a few hours left to hunt before light would vanish over the ridge, I decided to keep it simple. I grabbed my Grandpa’s Western Auto lever-action 30-30, a flashlight, and a knife. I wasn’t going to head to my usual spots that I’ve scouted and have treestands carefully placed. No, I would do what Grandpa used to do… Hike into the woods and use only instinct and a basic read of the land to find a spot that looked the deer would travel through, then sit against a tree and wait.

Snowy Woods On The Hike In

I hiked slowly and deliberately, constantly scanning for fresh sign. I didn’t make it too far when I entered an area that looked good. There was a creek bottom below me, the ridge above had a slight saddle on the upper edge. There was a stand of pine to my left, and a thick entanglement of young hardwoods and briars to my right. If a deer moved through here – and it looked like they could – getting a clear shot would be difficult.

Shortly after I sat against a tree, I saw movement from my left. It was a lone doe. Her demeanor didn’t indicate that a buck was in pursuit, and I didn’t see anything else coming, so I pulled my rifle up for the shot. I found her in my scope as she worked her way across the hillside. My sight picture was continuously interrupted as trees jumped between her and I. She turned slightly downhill towards me, standing behind a massive oak. She poked her head out to the right, then disappeared again. After a few seconds she stepped out to the left, somewhat quartering to me.

Knowing that she would either come right towards me or continue on to the right (where the woods grew thicker), I knew that this was my opportunity. I settled the crosshairs and let Grandpa’s gun do what it has done so many times. She took a leap and ran 30 yards before coming to rest.

I didn’t have a bunch of fancy gear. I didn’t worry all that much about the wind. I didn’t think about carefully approaching my pre-scouted, trail-camera-inventoried, prime treestand overlooking the currently “hot” foodplot. I relied on basic tools, basic tactics, and luck was on my side.

Sometimes the simplest hunts are the best ones.

Sharing The Moment With My Son

Gear Review – Last Chance Archery’s EZ Bow Press

A good mechanic can do a few jobs with nothing more than a socket set. But if a socket is the only tool available to him, he won’t be able to fix every problem, install every part, or tune every vehicle to run as it should. Can you imagine an auto shop that has nothing more than sockets? That would be absurd.

Why, then, do we as archers and bowhunters think all we need is a set of hex wrenches to repair, replace parts on, and fine-tune our bows?

Last Chance EZ Bow Press

Do You Need A Bow Press?

If you want to take your knowledge of bows to the next level – to be able to understand how they work, to know what adjustments will correct or increase their performance, and be able to fix any problems that might arise – then you need to consider purchasing a bow press.

A good bow press starts around $400, so they’re not cheap. But, ask yourself how long you are going to shoot bows… The next 5 years? 20 years? 40 years? Now, think about how much it costs you to have your bow tuned at the shop. Moreover, what if you – like me – don’t have a great archery shop near you?

If I want to find someone that knows, understands, and is intimately familiar with the bow platform that I shoot – someone that I fully trust with my bow – I have to drive an hour away. So, take the cost of the service, then add the cost of gas for the round-trip, then consider how much time it takes for me to make it out there, wait for the work to be done, and drive another hour back. That amount of time is hard for me to find. And what if I have a problem during hunting season?

The one-time investment of a bow press starts to make a lot of sense when you consider all of the above. (And with Christmas coming, maybe you can find some extra cash to make the purchase!)

Elite Energy 35 Being Pressed

I hope that introduction gives you some context for what I want to review today – the EZ Bow Press from Last Chance Archery. I’m not one to recommend products for no reason, especially when they cost several-hundred dollars, so I want to let you know where I’m coming from and why a bow press might make sense for you.

Last Spring I started a series on do-it-yourself bow setup, tuning, and repair. And there’s more to come in that series! If you want to be self-sufficient when working on your bows, and dive into some of the tuning and setup topics that we’ll be covering, then you need a bow press. You just can’t get by without one.

The cheapest route is to go with a cable-style press, but they’re slow, tedious, inconvenient, and can be dangerous to yourself and your bow. If you frequent the forums, you’ll also see that there are different plans to build a bow press, but the designs are lacking, and the material costs aren’t all that cheap.

I’ve done the research, and if you want a capable, adaptable, safe and affordable bow press that will literally last you for the rest of your life, I believe that a press from Last Chance Archery is the best investment you can make.

Last Chance Archery - Made In Georgia, USA

Why I Chose Last Chance Archery

Why Last Chance? Well, let me start with a very important reason – Last Chance’s patented design presses the bow with a “natural” force. Anytime you press a bow you are introducing a lot of force, which isn’t necessarily bad IF the bow is built to withstand the force being applied.

Thanks to the secure “fingers” that Last Chance has developed, the force applied to the bow is safely and evenly applied to compress the limbs, flexing the bow as it was designed to flex. Other presses put undue force and stress on the bow’s riser, and/or on the bows limb near the limb pockets, but bow’s are not designed to withstand this force; they might be able to hold up to it for a while, but you’re asking for trouble by introducing stress that isn’t intended.

While we’re talking about them, I should also note that Last Chance’s press fingers are adjustable to accommodate nearly any bow, regardless of the cam design. The fingers are able to be adjusted individually, allowing them to work with different cam widths. Last Chance also offers a shortened finger design that will work with bows that have a cam-mounted, limb-based draw stop (such as my Elite bows).

Last Chance's Limb Finger Adjustments Optional, Draw-Stop Compatible Finger

Since Last Chance uses a simple, effective, limb-tip activated design, there isn’t anything to interfere with your bow. When I have used other bow presses in the past, there have been times that I have had to remove parts and accessories off of my bow to either get the bow into the press, or allow the press to move freely and have enough clearance to fully actuate. I don’t have to remove a thing to fully operate with an EZ Press. It amazes me how simple and clean Last Chance’s design is, especially when compared to other competitor’s presses that are littered with wheels, bars, brackets, and complicated adjustments.

The next thing that won me over with Last Chance is their construction. “Solid.” That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of the Last Chance EZ Press. The materials, the machining, the adjustments, the welds, the finish – it’s all solid. I have zero doubts that my press will last a lifetime, and then be handed down to someone else. And in the rare instance that a problem does arise, I know that the people at Last Chance stand behind their products.

Finally, I love that Last Chance offers a variety of presses that each have the same level of quality and essential function, but allow for the user to decide how many “extras” they want to add. Most of you will likely choose the EZ Green Press, which was designed for the individual consumer. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the Power Press Deluxe, which replace the manual crank with a motor that will quickly expand and contract the press.

Bow Scale Adjustment Wheel Locking Adjustment Arm Standing the Bow Vertical in the Press

I have the EZ Press Deluxe, which includes an upgrade wheel-style activator and the ability to turn the bow from horizontal to vertical. I also made my press semi-portable by utilizing Last Chance’s optional floor stand.  There are plenty of other accessories, too… Wall mount, hitch mounts, tool trays, 2nd-axis adapters… The list goes on.

Not every bowhunter needs a bow press.  But if you’re a life-long archer or bowhunter, I think it is an incredibly wise investment to make.  Having a bow press will allow you to install peep sights, adjust and straighten peep sights (the correct way!), fine-tune your draw length by adjusting the harness system, change draw-length modules in the bow’s cams, time cam rotation, set cam synchronization, change strings and/or cables, adjust specifications brace height and axle-to-axle length, and a TON more…

If you’re interested in a bow press that’s affordable, functional, and durable, I wholeheartedly recommend that you consider Last Chance Archery.

Last Chance Archery

“Initiation” (2014 Elk Hunt, Part VII)

iˌniSHēˈāSHən: the action of admitting someone into a secret or obscure society or group, typically with a ritual

“This is a big animal…and such a little knife,” I thought to myself.

The celebration is over. The tag is notched. It is time to begin the daunting task of getting this elk processed, packed, and cooled. The truck is somewhere on the other side of this mountain, about 5 miles away. Who knows when we’ll make it back there?

Before I fetch my knife from its sheath, I stop and tell Jerud we should pray. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, and also well-aware of the hours and hours of work that’s ahead of us. I also know my history with knives, so asking for safety seems more than necessary.

Jerud makes the first cut

After the “Amen”, Jerud and I worked side-by-side, each with a Havalon in hand. It takes more than 3.5 hours to break-down his bull via the “gutless method”. Many of my friends and fellow hunters that I respect have sung the praises of the Havalon, but I remained a skeptic. However, now that I’ve put one to the test – breaking down an entire bull with nothing but the small scalpel blade – I’m a believer.

The meat is all in bags, and it’s nearing dark, so Jerud and I search for a good spot to stash it for the night. The trees around are thick, and we know that hanging will be difficult, so we find a couple of downed trees and use branches to lay across the deadfall – creating a platform that will allow the meat to cool from all sides. We also tie Jerud’s emergency blanket to surrounding trees, creating a awning over the meat that will provide additional shade and shelter from the rain that is forecasted.

The meat is deboned

The nearly 4-mile hike back to camp is unbelievably gorgeous. At least while the sun is up, that is. The last half of the hike is made in the dark, giving Jerud and I plenty of opportunities to replay the day’s events over and over.

Morning comes quick. We pack up all of our gear and make the climb back to the truck. Up, up, up… It’s tiring. I am really glad that we’re not packing the elk out this way.

Back at the truck, we empty our packs of everything but water and snacks. The plan is to take an established hiking trail that loops around the backside of the mountain and puts us just above where we have the meat stored. We know it’s going to be at least 4.5 mile to get there, but the good news is that we gain elevation with empty packs to get to the meat, and will have a mostly downhill return trip back to the truck.

Jerud hiks into the sun This is elk country The trail around the mountain

We leave the truck and are not even two miles into the hike, and we’re gassed. Six days of hard hunting and hiking have caught up with us. Maybe the best approach might be to do as little mileage as possible. Our initial plan was to pack the elk out in two trips, but I don’t think we have that many miles in our legs. Can we get it all out in one trip? I don’t know, but we’re going to find out!

We finally make it to the meat, which our GPS tells us was a 5.8 mile hike from the truck. We’re at 10.7k, the truck is at 9.7k, and we have to pass over 11.2k between here and there. We load up our packs with the entire elk – all of the meat, and the skull and antlers.

It’s a struggle just to get in our packs and then stand up. This should be interesting.

Jerud's pack loaded

To get back to the established trail that brought us in, we have to climb nearly 400’. Do we take the most direct, steepest route back to the trail? Or do we skirt around the worst ascent and add mileage to our day? We opt for the straight route, and don’t even make it halfway before I realize that might have been a dumb idea. But what are we going to do now? We have to press-on.

The final climb to make it up to the trail is ridiculous. Completely stupid. Not at all a safe thing to do when weighted-down as we are. I realize how close I am to losing my balance, falling-backwards, and rolling uncontrollably down the mountainside. I’m not planning on repeating a climb like this under this much weight ever again. (But you know what happens to the “best laid plans”…)

Jerud feels the weight Jerud hikes up to the saddle

Thankfully we safely climb out of there and reach the saddle that will lead us to the trail.

We still have over 5 miles to go, but I know that the worst terrain is behind us. From here we just need to gradually climb a few hundred more feet of elevation, and then it’s literally all downhill. But, just as I’m thinking this, I hear Jerud somberly say my name. “Mark…”  I turn to see Jerud behind me…

He says no more with words, but his face says all that needs to be said – he’s hurting.

I do my best to convince him that we can do this.  That slowly, but surely, we’ll make it. But he’s not so sure. We talk about stashing some of the meat and coming back later. Deep down, I know that isn’t going to be any easier.

Jerud tells me his hip flexors are what’s bugging him the most. We take a look at his pack and determine that his torose length needs to be shortened further. I also insist that I take more of his meat, at least until he can recover a bit. With those changes made, some of the hip issues are relieved, and we continue on.

As the hike continues I suck the last drop of water out of my bottle. I knew I was low when we were packing up the meat, but stopping and searching for more seemed like a bad idea – we had to get loaded up and moving back towards the truck. Now that my bottle is dry, I’m wondering how long I can make it. I’m praying again – this time that we’ll either cross a stream, or cross by some hikers that have water to spare.

My pack

A mile or so later, my prayer is answered. Although neither of us remembers crossing it on the way in, a stream crosses the trail at about the 2.5 mile mark. I sit on a log in the stream, unwilling to get out from under the weight of my pack, afraid that I wouldn’t be able get back under its load after feeling relief. Jerud’s more than ready to get out of his pack, so he filters water for the both of us. Cold, clean water from a mountain stream always tastes good, but right now it’s never tasted better – and probably never will.

Best water ever! What a sight!

The next 1.5 miles of the hike was uneventful. We would, as we have been, hiking a couple of hundred yards, then stop to rest – often slouching over our trekking poles. Hike a few hundred yards, then pause. And so on…

The last mile was a steep descent, and I was losing hope and energy faster than we were losing elevation. I hit rock-bottom. I kept telling myself to keep going, that the truck was just around the corner, but it wasn’t. Every step hurt. If I could have quit, I would have, but I didn’t have a choice. Jerud was right there to keep me going. I pulled him through his low moment at the beginning, and he was doing the same for me at the end.

We should have turned our headlamps on for the last half-mile, but that would have meant stopping and digging into our packs – something that neither of us wanted to do. So we carefully placed each foot as our eyes naturally adjusted to our dark surroundings.

We stumbled back to the track. Unbuckled our packs and let the weight fall to the ground. I can’t express what it felt like to be free from the burden of 130 pounds.

The 11.6-mile roundtrip from truck to meat, and back, took us nearly 10 hours.  And with that, our initiation into the brotherhood of elk hunters is complete.

The packs back at the truck

You’re reading Part 7 of my 2014 Colorado Elk hunt.
Check out the rest of the story:  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Jerud hikes down My smile is fake Hard to beat this view