Exo Mountain Gear Packs – What’s New for 2015

The guys at Exo Mountain Gear have made some changes to their packs for 2015.  I have had my hands on a 2015 model for a couple of months now and have been using it for training hikes.  The main concepts and design of the pack and frame are essentially the same as the 2014 model, which I used and reviewed last year.

I get that spending upwards of $500 for a pack is an investment.  And if I am recommending a product like that, I want you guys to be as informed as possible.  So for those of you considering a new pack this year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to run through some of what’s changed for 2015:

Pack Changes

Frame Changes

There is a lot about the packs in general that aren’t mentioned in these videos, so head on over to ExoMountainGear.com to learn more.

When Is The Best Time To Go Archery Elk Hunting (In Colorado)?

I received an email from a reader asking about the best time to bow hunt elk. Specifically, what portion of Colorado’s archery season – basically the month of September – would be best? He writes…

“Muzzleloader loader season in the middle of September, which we are sure we to avoid. Would you go the week before muzzleloader and hunt animals that haven’t been hunted or pressed at all, but are less into the rut (plus better chance for good weather); or would you go the week after muzzleloader and hunt animals that have been hunted but at more into the rut?”

There’s a lot of variables in his question, which is good – because there are truly a lot of variables to consider the portion of archery season to hunt.

First, let me say that elk can be killed at any point during the season, and that there are potential advantages and disadvantages to hunting during the different portions of the season. With that said, my personal preference would be to hunt the later portion of the September. Here’s why…

Definitely Avoid Muzzleloader Season

At least that’s what I would have said a few days into last year’s hunt, when Jerud and I were bowhunting during muzzleloader season and were encountering more of the “orange army” that we had anticipated or desired.

But the truth is, I wouldn’t necessarily rule out muzzleloader season altogether. It’s a generalization (but probably a fair one) to say that the majority of muzzleloaders typically won’t work as hard as dedicated bowhunters that are willing to hike-in a ways. Keep in mind, though, that just because you’re going in deep doesn’t mean you won’t run into muzzleloader hunters that have the assistance of horses, and/or are hunting with a guide or via a guide-provided drop camp. The unit that Jerud and I hunted required quite a few points to draw a muzzleloader tag, which kept some of the “casual” hunters away. But it also meant that many of the hunters that did use those hard-earned points and draw a tag were willing to spend money to have the assistance of a guide (at least to pack them in).

In the end, Jerud and I were willing to out-work the hunters that we encountered, and it paid off.

Looking at the draw requirements of a muzzleloader tag for the unit you are hunting is a very important consideration if you are considering bowhunting during a portion of the muzzleloader season. If it is a unit that gets hit with a lot of muzzleloaders hunters, then it probably is best to avoid that portion of the season. But if there is a limited amount of muzzleloaders, don’t feel like you have to rule-out that week of the season; just be aware that you have to deal with…

Hunting Pressure

In a perfect world, we could all hunt un-pressured uneducated animals. But that’s not reality. In almost every place that you and I have hunted or will hunt, the animals have been pressured in some way. Let’s embrace that reality and use it to our advantage. How do we do that?

Well, I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I think the first and most important step is to think like a hunted animal, and not just a hunter. If most hunters would do blank, then what would the animals do in response. And if most hunters are doing blank, then why in the world would we try those tactics too?

Regardless of the time of year that one chooses to bow hunt elk, there will be pressure from other hunters. So think like those hunters and then do something else.

It’s also worth mentioning that pressure from other, non-hunting, human activity can be a factor. This is especially true earlier in the archery elk season, when there are hikers, backpackers, climbers, campers, and a whole host of people enjoying the long Labor Day weekend in the outdoors — which also happens to be during the beginning of archery elk season!

There is always some form of pressure on the animals and competition from other hunters (and outdoor enthusiasts). Accept that fact and hunt accordingly.

What is “Good” Weather?

What’s good weather for human pleasure and good weather for animal activity and hunting success are often two different things. The early portions of archery elk season might offer “good weather” if one is seeking moderate temperatures, comfortably cool nights, and wants to avoid the probability of winter precipitation, but that’s not necessarily great for elk hunting.

The problem with the “good weather” in the early season — and by that I mean the comfort of warmer temperatures — is the fact that it makes keeping meat cool and safe in the backcountry an increasingly difficult proposition. Packing-out an elk is likely going to take longer and be more difficult that you’re imagining, and warm temperatures will only make the challenge that much greater.

Elk Hunting in the Cold of September

On the flip-side, hunting in the later portion of the archery elk season can bring winter precipitation and bitterly cold temperatures in the high-country. Be prepared for that, and think through the logistics (gear, travel, etc.) of dealing with potential storms. In 2013, for example, I hunted the last week of the season and faced snow, sleet, ice, and temperatures down to 20-degrees. If you can handle it, the cooler weather of the later season is better for hunting, than the “good weather” of the early season.

Rutting Activity (It’s Everything)

There is a greater chance of experiencing elk rutting activity in the later portions of the archery elk season, but it is no guarantee. Looking back, again, to my last-week hunt in 2013, we completely missed all visible and vocal signs of the rut; at least where we were, anyway.

“Where we were,” is a key point. There is no universal, state-wide or species-wide, on/off switch for the rut. It could be hot in one area and completely quiet in the next unit over. The last week could be hot for 4 years straight, but then start early on the 5th year.

This all matters a great deal (“it’s everything”) because – to grossly oversimplify elk hunting – you either have to have elk patterned and/or visible so that you can make a move, or you have to be able to call and get a response so that you can get elk to reveal their location.

In the early portions of the archery elk season, the elk (especially bulls) are typically at higher elevations and often have a more predictable travel and behavior pattern. It can be a great time to sneak in and kill a bull IF you have had the time to scout the area beforehand and know where the bulls are hanging out and how they are behaving.

If you’re coming in from out-of-state, though, it can be very difficult to not only get into and hunt that high country, but it can be incredibly tough to locate elk that are likely less vocal.

As an out-of-state hunter myself, I really, REALLY, want to be hunting vocal elk. And the later portions of the season typically give me a better chance for that.

My Conclusion

I want the best chance at active, vocal, and responsive bulls, and the least chance of warm temperatures affecting meat that I harvest, so I choose to hunt later in the season. It’d be great to avoid as much hunting pressure as possible, but I wouldn’t rule out muzzleloader season altogether; in fact, due to work obligations, I’ll be archery hunting during muzzleloader season again this year.

Gear Review – The Exxus Thumb-trigger Release from Scott Archery

I have been using the Exxus from Scott Archery for two years now.  It wasn’t the first thumb-trigger release that I tried – however, it has been, and will likely continue to be the last one that I use.

The Scott Archery Exxus

The benefits of a handheld release are numerous. They provide a more comfortable and consistent anchor point, they can help defeat target panic when used with proper technique, and, for me, they just feel better.

For more information on the benefits of thumb-trigger releases in general, check out this two-part series that I wrote for Bowhunting.com — Part 1 | Part 2.

In the video I point out four attributes/benefits of the Exxus that I love – comfort, consistency, adjustability, durability. Let me expand on those areas, and highlight a few more benefits of the Exxus.

Comfort

Comfort is such a critical factor for all bowhunting equipment. Hunters have this vs. that debates about what gear is “better” all of the time, but what’s truly best is what feels best to the individual and will perform the same time after time. The Exxus is that release for me.

The Exxus in Full-Draw

I love the Exxus’ ergonomic, tapered design, radiused edges, and balanced weight. I have shot with dozens of releases, and handled many more – none feel as good as the Exxus for me.

Consistency

The Exxus can be counted on to feel the same and perform the same from shot-to-shot for thousands of shots. I have used other releases that felt nice and crisp for a while, but eventually started to feel “mushy” on the break.

In the two years that I have been shooting it, the Exxus has yet to feel any different than it did on day one. I’m sure that Scott’s choice of high-quality, 440c stainless steel internals and anti-wear titanium coating play a huge factor in the long-term consistency of the Exxus.

Adjustability

The Exxus’ trigger is fully adjustable for tension (“weight”) and travel. Personally, I like a heavy trigger that doesn’t have any travel; this allows me to use back tension and get a surprise release. But, if a light trigger or some trigger travel meets your preference, the Exxus can do that as well. The Exxus comes with three interchangeable tension springs (light, medium, heavy), and each spring can be micro-adjusted via a set screw.

The Scott Exxus Being Adjusted

The thumb barrel and trigger level arm are both fully adjustable as well. The trigger arm can be moved in and out from the release body, and it can also pivot around a moon-shaped track. The thumb barrel can be rotated or canted to fit you hand exactly where and how you want it to.

Durability

As I’ve mentioned, the Exxus’ internals are made from a high-quality, 440c stainless steel – which is a type of steel that’s known for extreme hardness and offers precision when machined. In addition to the materials, the overall build quality of the Exxus leads to durability. And since it is a Scott Archery product, the Exxus is backed by a lifetime warranty.

In addition to those four categories, let me conclude by mentioning a few other things that make the Exxus a great release.

Scott claims that the Exxus features a “sound dampening technology”. I have no idea what they use to make the Exxus quiet, but whatever it is — it works. The Exxus isn’t as silent as a spring-driven wrist strap release, of course, but it isn’t nearly as loud as many other thumb-trigger releases that I’ve tried.

The Exxus Hooked Securely on a D-Loop

I also love the security that the Exxus provides. The positive-lock, closed-jaw design works great for hunting — allowing me to connect the release to my d-loop and leave it hanging there, ready to use when needed.

The Exxus is built upon the same platform as my favorite series of Scott back-tension releases – the Longhorn. I can use both releases interchangeably without being forced to used a different anchor point at full-draw, or have a significantly different feel in the hand.

Finally, I’ll mention design and engineering. The designers and engineers at Scott build their products with the input of world-class, professional archers that make a living using Scott products. I won’t even pretend to know all of the details of design minute decisions that they make to optimize accuracy and forgiveness, but I do know that I shoot my best with their releases.

Overall

The Exxus is a phenomenal release. If you’re new to the idea of a handheld release, then the price tag might be off-putting, but the quality of the product matches the investment. There are cheaper thumb-trigger releases on the market, but having tried many of them, it is my opinion that none of the competition provides the consistency, adjustability, feel, and long-term performance of the Exxus.

As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Buy Now at S&S Archery

The Exxus from Scott Archery

First Lite, Doing it Right

If you have followed Sole Adventure for a while, you know that I use quite a bit of First Lite gear.  I have published numerous reviews of their hunting clothing, and there will be more reviews to come.  But I don’t want to talk about gear today.

First Lite truly supports what we do, and that’s one of the reasons that I support what they do.  There are many hunting brands are run by hunters, and many companies that give lip-service to supporting the pursuit.  But few companies can rival First Lite’s commitment to the future of hunting by fighting to protect public lands, ensure hunter access, and improve wildlife habitat.

First Lite recently launched a new Partner in Conservation program, which allows customers to support conservation while making any purchase from FirstLite.com.  This program is just one example of how First Lite is continuing to strengthen their longstanding support of conservation.

Thank you, First Lite, for actively supporting our public lands, our access to hunting, and the future of wildlife habitat – and for showing us that principles and profit don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

3 Steps to the Shot – Basic Strategies to Create Shot Opportunities in Elk Hunting

How do you find elk and create shot opportunities?  Great question – because finding elk is one thing, and having a chance to put an arrow in one is another.  Let’s look at some basic strategies for creating shot opportunities while elk hunting…

Hunting Elk in the Timber

First, I’ll have to lay the disclaimer out there: there’s not one answer. There are obviously a myriad of different factors that can affect a strategy for getting into shooting range – from weather and wind, to the location of the elk, to the amount of vocalization, to the time of the year, etc.

But in terms of trying to kill a bull in archery season, there are some general principles that you should be aware of. There are “best practices”, common techniques, and other good things to know. And, thankfully, Jerud and I had the opportunity to prove a few of these concepts last season.

What I want to share in this article is a mix of some common recommendations that I have received from veteran elk hunters, along with the experience that Jerud and I had while killing his bull (putting ourselves in the position to kill multiple bulls, actually).

Let me start where the story started. After several long days of hiking in search of elk, Jerud and I made our way into a new area.

First lesson: cover ground until you find elk.

Don’t spend too much time “tip toeing” around or silently stalking when you don’t know if elk are even in the area. If you aren’t actually finding or hearing elk, you need to get aggressive until you do. This isn’t whitetail hunting.

You can’t kill an elk until you find an elk.  Pre-hunt scouting is critical; it can help you determine where to look, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll find elk.  As the oft-repeated phrase goes, “Elk are where they are.”

Second lesson: once elk are located, stop and assess the situation.

Ask yourself questions like… Why are they here? Where might they be going, and why? What are the chances that there are more elk than I am seeing/hearing? What’s the wind doing? What is the best way to approach the area?

There is a “hurry up and wait” aspect to elk hunting. You need to bust your butt to find them, but once you do, you should stop and assess all of the conditions and variables before making a move.

Elk Hunting in the Timber

When Jerud and I sat at the meadow and heard the first bugles, we didn’t rush right after them. We sat for a bit, then cautiously made our way to them until we thought they were staying put for a while. There’s a fine line to balance here – if you’re too patient then you risk letting the elk move away and potentially losing their location – but if you rush right in without a solid plan, then you might blow them off.

If the elk are moving, try to keep up with them while keeping a safe distance. You want to know where they’re at, but you don’t want them to know where you’re at. Ideally, you want the elk to stop so that you can make a strategic move, which brings us to the next lesson…

Third lesson: get close, then call.

You might have seen a show where a guy calls a bull a half-mile across a canyon – and, yes, that can happen in real life – but it isn’t normal.

Think of it like this. You know there’s a bull on a distant ridge; maybe he responded to a locator bugle that you threw out there. But why should he cover ground? If you’re another bull at a “safe distance”, then you’re no threat. If you’re cow calling from a distance, then he has to be incredibly lonely to come a long ways and “get you”. Now, throw in the fact that he might already have some cows with him, and there’s pretty much no chance he’s leaving his position to challenge a distant bull or bring in a distant cow.

But, if you can close the distance and invade his comfort zone, you’ll get him worked up. Whether you’re calling as a bull (a threat) or a cow (a treat), do it from a close proximity and you’re chances of success will skyrocket.

By “close”, I’m recommending within 100-150 yards at the minimum, and ideally within 75 yards for greatest effectiveness. Distance to elk can be hard to judge if you’re new to hearing wild elk vocalization, and/or you’re hunting in thick timber. Use your best judgement.

In addition to distance, consider the elevation. If the winds allow it, you want to be at (or near) the same elevation as the elk. And being above them is better than being below them. Like hunting wild turkey, elk can be more hesitant to approach if they have to move downhill. If they’re allowed to travel on the same elevation, or come up to the sounds, then their ability to escape is much improved. Use this habit to your advantage.

The second bull that came in silent on me while I was calling-in Jerud’s bull came up a slope, which made it incredibly easy for him to turn around and disappear down the mountainside in a split-second.

The other advantage to approaching from the same elevation is that the winds are typically either coming up or down the mountain, and by approaching from the same level as the elk, you’ll almost always be hunting a cross-wind.

Next up, we’ll talk about some specific calling techniques and strategies on how to “seal the deal” once you’re in position.