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!

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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

Elk Hunting Gear Debrief: What Worked, What Didn’t

“Would you be up for writing a candid gear debrief?  You don’t have to hit every nitty-gritty detail, or cover every item, but maybe share your thoughts the bigger stuff… clothes, pack, boots, broadhead performance, etc.  Think less of a ‘product review’, and more of telling your friend what sucked and what was good.” 

That was the email that I sent to Jerud.  I value his opinion because he’s borderline-OCD (in a good way), is well-researched, and operates from the mindset of a professional engineer.  However, at the same time, he’s just a regular guy who isn’t being offered free gear, so his opinion is 100% free of BS.

Given that 1 is terrible and 10 is perfect, here are Jerud’s scores and thoughts on some of the gear that he used on our elk hunt.  (I also add some commentary from my perspective, at least on the items that I have experience with.)

Oh, and I didn’t add a bunch of pretty pictures to this post – it’s long, and probably not a very “entertaining” read – but for those of you that are looking for legitimate feedback on gear, it should be really valuable.

Backpack: EXO Mountain Gear 3500 – Score 9

The pack is almost a ten. It was the perfect size for our 7-day hunt. I was able to get all my food and supplies in the pack without any issue. Once we set up camp, the pack tightens down to a great daypack size and feel. The only issue I had with the pack was my own fault – I did not have it correctly adjusted, which only became apparent during the pack-out. I received the pack about 2 weeks before the trip and didn’t really have it fine-tuned on the fitment side. That has since been corrected.

One thing is for certain, I have had three different brands and styles of packs, and this is the only one I felt comfortable with the two of us (Mark and I) packing out a whole bull elk in one trip, nearly 6 miles.

I have also been using this pack whitetail hunting back in Illinois. It’s just too handy and versatile to try messing around with any of my others.

Mark’s Thoughts: I’ll definitely have more thoughts to share on the Exo soon.  But, yes, it’s an absolute winner.

Clothes: First Lite

Llano QZ – Score 9

I lived in this shirt for six days and it barely had any odor to it. We reached what Mark called “Full Funk Factor” (F-Cubed) between days 3 and 4; my BO was rough, but I inspected the shirt once I was home and had to hold it to my nose in the armpit area to smell any BO on the shirt.

I only had the shirt off during a warm afternoon break. The remainder of the time it was on, including sleeping. It is super comfortable. The thumbholes on the sleeves are great for putting a second layer over it, or for extra warmth for your hands.

I deduct a point for durability. I haven’t worn it long enough to see how well it will hold up, but have had a few seams stitches pull thread. I have cut the loose threads and have had no issues with the seams.

Chama Hoody – Score 9

The hoody was worn mostly after dark, hiking back to camp, and around camp eating supper. The hood is very comfortable. The Llano and Chama together have been used on whitetail stand hunting and are performing well.

Kanab Pants – Score 8

Like the Llano, I lived in these pants for 6 days. They were incredibly comfortable. I never needed a base layer under them for our elk trip, but I have added a merino base layer for treestand hunting.

I give a 2-point deduction, as the pants are not bomb proof. I had one very small tear in the outer knee panel; I fixed that with an iron-on patch. First Lite will repair the pants, if you want to go that route. To me it was worth sacrificing a little durability for the comfort that they provide.

Uncompahgre Puffy – Score 8

Although I didn’t get to use it much on our elk hunt, except around camp at night, this jacket is great when you do need it; and it packs down small enough that it is out of the way when you don’t need it.

It is extremely warm and blocks wind really well. It also works well as a pillow. I am thinking seriously about getting a tan one for everyday winter use.

I deduct a couple of points for material noise. To keep the “swoosh” sound down, I have to be careful drawing my bow – but that’s mostly a consideration when I’m treestand hunting.

Red Dessert Boxers – Score 10

I wear them every day.  ‘Nuf said.

Mountain Compression Socks – Score 10

Also a 10!  Get a few pairs, you’ll love them. I wear mine all of the time.

Mark’s Thoughts: I have 2.5 years of hunting in my First Lite gear now, and I continue to be impressed.  Merino is a game-changer, especially for backpack hunting.  Here’s my post-season thoughts on First Lite gear from last year, which I still agree with in nearly every single way.

Rain Gear: Core4Element Torrent – Score 7

They are a little better priced than First Lite and other similar companies. They are easy to get on and off, and they perform well. Ventilation is good.

They are, however, bulkier and heavier than the competition. As with everything for backpack-style hunting – if you want to shave weight, you have to shell out more cash.

ASAT Camouflage – Score 10

I had two bulls within 15 yards, both of which had a clear line of sight to me, but neither one noticed me. Additionally, when Mark and I would get separated at 40-50 yard distances, we couldn’t see each other unless one of us moved. The pattern looks old and a completely different, but it absolutely works. I use it for treestand hunting in the Midwest as well.

Mark’s Thoughts: I got tired of cow-calling to find Jerud when he was only 30 yards away from me.  I felt like an idiot for not seeing him, but really – ASAT is deceiving.  I had that bull at 7 yards, facing directly at me, but looking right through me.  I’ve also fooled plenty of whitetail while ground-hunting in the Midwest.  ASAT lives up to the name: All-Season, All-Terrain

Bow: Elite Energy 35 – Score 10

I love this bow! I shoot year-round, which allows me to comfortably pull and hold 70 lbs. I would recommend lighter limbs if you don’t practice on a regular basis. With that opinion out of the way, all of the hype on this bow is real. It draws really smooth and holds extremely easy. The bow has a big valley, so it doesn’t want to jump forward with the first sign of creep. I had one occasion on our elk hunt where I was on my knees and had to hold full-draw for a little over a minute, and then had to completely reposition while maintaining draw. A second occasion, which lead to me shooting my bull, I held full-draw for a little over 2 minutes. I will admit that adrenaline helped in both situations, but the bow just holds so easy.

I also didn’t use a stabilizer at all, which is also a testament of how well the bow is balanced.  I was shooting better without a stabilizer during all of my pre-season prep (including shooting out to 100-yards), so I opted to save weight and leave it off for hunting.

Mark’s Thoughts:  Most of you know that I am a huge fan of Elite Archery bows.  They market “shootability”, and Jerud’s stories prove why that trait of their bows is so important.  Not only does their smoothness, balance, and ease of holding make them a pleasure to shoot in the off-season, but those trails truly factor into success during hunting season.  There’s been so many times when the easy draw and easy hold has saved me, much like it enabled Jerud to hold for over two minutes before killing his bull.

Sight: Black Gold Ascent – Score 9

I deduct a point for price, but there’s not much else to complain about. This sight is tough and provides a lot of flexibility. I have mine set to cover 0-45 yard shots without adjusting. It is then capable of adjusting to any range out to 100 yards.  The pins are clear under all lighting conditions. The dial moves the head up and down smoothly. The lock into home position is rock solid.

Mark’s Thoughts: It’s a few years old now, but here’s my review of the Ascent.

Broadheads: Slick Trick Viper Trick 125’s – Score 10

I have used these broadheads for a few years and have no interest in changing. I’m on my third different brand of bow shooting these heads.  I take my time to properly setup and tune each bow at the very beginning, and find that broadhead tuning with these heads is basically unnecessary.

Prior to this latest elk hunt, I shot the Viper Tricks at 100 yards with the same accuracy as my field points. Every animal I’ve shot has been a complete pass-through, and a short trailing job. Granted, a pass-through and quick kill does not rest solely on the head; correct arrow setup and shot placement are just as big of factors.

Arrows: Victory Armor Piercing (VAP) – Score 8

I deduct a point from these because of the high price. Other than that, if you are a number cruncher when it comes to building your arrows, these work out well. My total arrow weight with 125 grain head and a 50 grain insert/outsert was 425 grains. Not a super-heavy arrow, but the setup got a good front-of-center (FOC) of 18%, which helps accuracy and penetration. When compared to my previous arrow setups (486 grains and 510 grains), the VAPs out-performed and out-penetrated at all ranges; the performance of skinny shafts seems legit.

My shot on the elk traveled through the rib cage, the rear leg, and stuck in a log. Judging by the look of the blades, it missed hitting any bones.

I did have a problem with inserts bending on my first set, but Victory has changed the material formulation of the new inserts, they are performing much better thus far.

Boots: 2013 Danner Pronghorn 400 gram Thinsulate – Score 6

I give the boots a score of 6 for backpack hunting. If I were doing a drop camp, guided hunt, or using horses and not hauling heavy loads, they would easily score 8-9. I also had Lathrop and Son’s Synergy insoles, which improved their performance – more on those in a bit.

The boots performed well for the majority of the hunt. The break-in process wasn’t bad, and they quickly become as comfortable a pair of sneakers. The temperature range was 35-70 degrees our trip, but I never noticed my feet getting too hot.

I had only one minor spot above my left ankle where the boot flexed, and began to create a “hot spot”. I applied treatment, which created more of an issue than helped, so I removed it and had no problems the rest of the hunt. The soles gripped well, and despite the steep, sloppy terrain that was covered in deadfall, I never had to worry too much about foot placement.

But the boots started to fail when we packed the elk out. The leather and structure of the boot is not stiff enough for the combination of rough terrain and heavy loads; they were pretty stretched out by the time we had the elk to the truck. I did not get any blisters, but was right on the verge with my feet slipping inside the stretched boots.

I am retiring them from mountain hunting, but should get many more years of Midwest hunting use from them. I will be heading to Lathrop and Son’s to get fitted with my next pair of mountain hunting boots.

Mark’s Thoughts: I don’t have Danner’s Pronghorns, but I do have their Ridgemaster boots – which are basically a Pronghorn design that’s manufactured in the US – and I would agree with everything Jerud said here.  They are great boots in terms of comfort, and they are up to handling side-hilling and off-trail hiking in rough terrain.  But, I can’t imagine packing out an elk 5+ miles in them.  My Lowa Tibets were incredible the whole trip (again), and proved to be invalubable on the pack-out.

Insoles: Lathrop and Son’s Synergy Footbeds – Score 10

Put simply, they’re a 10. Go get yourself a set!

Mark’s Thoughts: Jerud’s not lying here.  I have tried numerous insoles (as has Jerud), including the often-recommended Super Feet (in a variety of their models), and the Synergy from Lathrop are better in every way.

Elk Calls: No score; they’re value is immeasurable.

Get a variety of reed calls, as well as some diaphragms, and be able to use them correctly. Each bull that we encountered had one specific call that he would get him fired-up. Between Mark and I, there were six different reed calls, as well as mixing in 2-3 diaphragms each, and used them all.

Mark’s Thoughts: Once again, I just want to echo what Jerud said.  I was surprised how a bull would fail to respond to a couple of particular calls, but would immediately respond and get worked-up if we used a different call.  The bull that I called-in and Jerud shot would only respond if I was calling on my Duel Open Reed Cow Call.

Sleeping Bag: Kelty Cosmic Down 20 – Score 8

This is a great value. It weighs 2 pounds, 11 ounces and packs down pretty small. I was more than comfortable at night on this trip, which tended to be in the 30’s. Last year it dipped down into the 20s, and was still comfortable. It’s a mummy-shaped design, but has a little more wiggle room than some other mummy-style bags. I’m a side sleeper and have no problems sleeping on my side with bent legs. Given that it is a non-treated down, being susceptible to water is its only real down fall, but I have had good luck using the water-resistant treatment from NikWax.

Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes Insulated Air Core – Score 8

There are sleeping pads that weight less than this one, but you’ll pay more, and you might sacrifice some comfort, too. To me, this one was worth the little extra weight and slightly larger-than-Nalgene-bottle pack size for the comfortable night’s sleep.

Mark’s Thoughts: Exactly.  There are lighter and smaller pads, but I don’t sleep as well when I use them.  This is almost a “luxury item” for me.

Knife: Havalon Piranta – Score 9

I deduct a point for the ease (and safety concerns) of blade changing. I carried a small multi-tool so that I had a small set of pliers to safely change the blades. You’ll definitely want something other than your bloody hands for grip while swapping blades out.

I did manage to break a blade while processing our elk, but I was skinning the head and applied some side torque.  These blades aren’t meant for prying; if you use the knife in the correct manner, it performs flawlessly.

Mark and I each had a Havalon, and between the both of us we used a six blades to completely de-bone the elk (using the gutless method) and skin-out the skull.  Now that we know what we’re doing, and how to better use the knife, the job will probably only take four blades.

Mark’s Thoughts: I’ve been hearing great things about Havalon knives for a couple of years now, but I was always a skeptic.  Jerud gave me one before this trip, and now that I have had a chance to break down an entire elk with one, I’m a total believer.  Go buy one.

Game Bags: Caribou Gear Carnivore II – Score 10

They entire set packs-down smaller than a single cotton game bag. I was able to fit my sheathed Havalon and hunting license/tag in the supplied carry pouch with the game bags. They washed up rather easily; I hand washed them to remove the big chunks and then tossed them in the washing machine.  (Don’t tell my wife.)

Solar Charger: Levin 5000mah – Score 10

The big surprise from this trip was this little gem. For less than $30 on Amazon, it recharges itself with about two hours of full sunlight. We recharged a camera twice and my phone’s 3200mah battery once during the trip. It performed so well that I’m considering moving to a few other items that are rechargeable via USB (including headlamp and flashlight).

Mark’s Thoughts: I’m sold.  I can’t believe how useful this little guy was.  And for the price?  No-brainer.  I’m getting one.

GPS: Garmin eTrex 20 – Score 8

It has a small screen and limited features, but it’s reasonably priced and did everything I needed it to do. Pairing it with the Colorado chip from onXmaps, which gave us good topo maps and land boundaries/ownership in the field, made it invaluable.

Headlamp: Princeton Tec Fuel – Score 5

It works and it isn’t hard on batteries, but it’s nothing spectacular.  Meh.

Satellite Communication: Delorme InReach (aka “Mom”) – Score 7

The InReach provides two-way text messaging when Bluetooth linked to your phone. The messaging does require a fairly clear line-of-site, so it can be a bit of pain at times. The tracking functionality worked well, and seemed to be less demanding in terms of needing a clear path to the satellites. It eats regular batteries pretty quickly, but lithium performs very well.

Family members at home enjoyed logging onto the map to see where we were, and where we had traveled. Delorme has updated the subscription service and you can now get a monthly plan, so there’s no need to pay for a whole year of service for just one trip. The rate is also cheaper than what I had to pay last year.

We affectionately named the InReach, “Mom”, as both of our mothers logged a lot of time on the computer tracking us and worrying when the unit was turned off.

Binos: Vanguard Endeavour ED – Score 7

They’re a good pair of glass for a reasonable price. I don’t think they will hold up to a lot of abuse, but so far they are doing well.

Rangefinder: Remington 500 (Made by Wild Game?) – Score 7

It’s a budget-priced rangefinder with angle compensation out to 90 yards. I have had it for 4 years now, and it still works. No, it doesn’t have a great warranty or long-range capability, but I paid $95 for it and it still works.  Not bad.