Discover Adventure with Cooper’s Discoverer S/T MAXX Tires

One of the hardest parts of planning my elk hunting trip was ensuring that the non-hunting logistics came together without any major issues.  One of my biggest concerns was being able reach the trailhead that I had picked out.  I was able to find some first-hand accounts of the 4×4 mountain road that was supposed to take us up to the trailhead at 10,000′, but the reports on the conditions of that road were mixed.  How horrible would it be to drive a couple-thousand miles, only to find out that our vehicle couldn’t make it the last 7 miles up the mountain?

A couple of weeks before our trip I was contacted by Cooper Tires, asking if I was interested in testing out their Discoverer S/T MAXX Tires.  Here’s a quick look at what we put them through…

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m not sure we could have made this trip without these tires.  Phil and I were already planning on taking a 4WD Suburban, but it’s old tires tires couldn’t have handled everything that Cooper’s Discoverer S/T MAXX tires allowed us to do.  These Cooper tires performed great for the long-distance interstate drive from Missouri to Colorado, they handled well when we ran into an early-season, high-altitude snow storm on Interstate 70, and they saved us on mountain trails on a few occasions.

The Cooper Discoverer S/T MAXX Tires pulling through a water-logged trail

The road to reach our first trailhead had recently seen a day full of rain, followed by a snow storm, which had recently melted and left this 4WD trail a mess.  The S/T MAXX tires made all of the difference as we climbed our way up this sloppy trail to over 10,000′. Then, when we were forced to move to a new hunting location on the other side of the unit, we arrived at the road only to find out that it was closed because of a mudslide.  We decided to venture up the road anyway, and once again the Cooper tires allowed us to hunt this spot when other tires may have just gotten us stuck.

Road Close - Mudslide Ahead

Thousands of miles of interstate, rain, sleet, snow, crossing through creeks, trudging through mud, climbing over rocks, and pulling through rutted-out roads at high elevations – the Cooper Discoverer S/T MAXX tires performed great for us.  If you’re interested in a capable off-road tire, that is also suitable for everyday pavement pounding, then be sure to consider these S/T MAXX for your next set of tires.

Thank you, Cooper Tire, for allowing us to test these tires, and for enabling us to Discover Adventure!

Cooper Tires on the Suburban A Rocky Mountain Trail Road


Gear Review – My Real World Experience with First Lite Merino Wool and Outerwear

Back in August I reviewed the system of clothing that I was going to use for elk and whitetail hunting this fall. And now that I’ve had a chance to use the First Lite system for hunts in three different states, throughout a wide variety of weather conditions, I thought I would follow-up with my findings. I have received numerous questions and emails from readers, so hopefully this will help publicly answer some of the common question that I’ve received.

Please note that this isn’t a detailed review in the sense that I’m not going to be talking about all of the specific details and technical specifications of each piece. For a more detailed, informational overview, please check out this post.

Here’s a quick look at my thoughts and experiences with each piece that I used this year, followed by a more generalized look at how the system has performed as a whole, and finally the answers to some specific reader questions.

Glassing for elk in the Uncompahgre Puffy

The Uncompahgre Puffy

Really, who likes saving the best for last? Let’s put this jacket at the top of my list, because it has become one of my favorite pieces. This jacket is lightweight, incredibly warm, and packs down extremely small. It was perfect for early, 20-degree mornings at 10,000 in Colorado, and it’s done extremely well for cold November sits in the treestand and ground blind.

The fit is stellar, and the range of motion is perfect – it’s cut athletic (not too baggy), without being too restrictive. Honestly, I like this jacket so much I ordered another in the solid color to be my “everyday” winter jacket.

Many have wondered if this jacket is too noise or “swooshy” for bowhunting. I had the same concern. I’ll tell you upfront that the material itself isn’t silent; after all this isn’t wool or cotton. But I haven’t found the “in the field” noise to be a concern. If it’s dead silent out, and extremely cold (as it was when I hunted in single-digit temps yesterday), then there is a slight noise upon the draw motion, but as long as you are aware of moving slow (and you should be anyway), then you should be fine.

Building a fire in First Lite Gear

The Boundary Stormtight Rain Shell

I haven’t worn this jacket a ton, but when I’ve needed it, I’ve really needed it. The Puffy has a DWR coating and sheds water decent, so the Boundary Stormtight has been reserved for the heavier precipitation, or to shed water in warmer temps. I love the generous pit-zip system and breathable fabric of this piece. There are a lot of marketing claims about “waterproof, breathable” membranes, but this seems to be one of the few items that actually lives up to the hype.

If I’m being picky – and I am – then I would like to see this piece also be a little bit quieter. The noise is fine when its actually raining (i.e. – when you’re using it for its intended purpose), but if it were a bit quieter then it would also make a great shell to cut the wind when it’s dry out, and I could get more use out of this piece. And being able to use the jacket in a wider variety of conditions would make it a better value.

But, considering it’s purpose, performance, and durability – this really is a great rain jacket.

The North Branch Pants

I didn’t use these pants while elk hunting in Colorado or Kentucky, but I have worn them quite a bit for whitetail hunting, and even on some cold turkey hunting last spring. The North Branch have a soft-shell outer face and are lined with micro fleece. They are, in a word, warm. So warm in fact that I almost immediately find myself venting them when I begin to move.

Thankfully, these pants have one of the best venting systems that I have used. The full-length, ankle-to-ankle zipper system is brilliant. I can put the pants on and off over large boots with ease, and vent them while hiking. The fit is perfect (really), the articulation is brilliant, and the stretch and breathability of the material is a great asset. These pants don’t ride-up or bind when seated, and the suspenders keep them in place all of the time. Oh, and the bib-style top to these pants means that you’re back (and crack) is always covered.

The one negative I’ve found is that they don’t break wind as well as I would like. I’ve used these pants down to the single-digits and have been warm with my base layers, but on cold and really windy days I can feel more of a breeze than I would like.

A wet, but dry pair of the North Branch pants

The Kanab Pants

The Kanab pants. 100% merino; 90% perfect. These pants are pretty incredible. I’ve worn them in 80-degree temps, and paired them with a base layer pant down to 20-degrees. They are the only pants that I wore for a couple weeks of elk hunting, in nearly every condition that you can imagine. They breath, they retain warmth when wet, and they are ridiculously comfortable. Once again, the cut, length, and articulation is superb. (Okay, the butt is kind of baggy, but who’s looking?)

The 10% that’s not perfect? Well, I’m not sure that can be fixed. Because these pants are merino (the main reason that they’re awesome!), they’re also not bomb-proof. Well, at least not always.

First Lite has built these pants out of merino, but integrated a rip-stop style to make the fabric more durable. It worked incredibly well for me – I put them through test of steep, tough, thick elk habitat – and my pants came through without a hitch. But my buddy Phil did manage to tear his, and there have been other guys who’ve done the same. The good news is that First Lite will stand behind them and repair/replace them – no questions asked.  But that bad news is that no one likes to have durability issues with any of their gear.

But as someone who’s had great experience with their durability, I personally can’t complain about much of anything on these pants.

The Allegheny EXP Baselayer Pants

The 100% merino Allegheny EXP is First Lite’s heaviest base layer pant. I paired this layer with my Kanab pants when it was in the 20′s and 30′s on my elk hunt, and I’ve paired them with my North Branch when it’s cold for treestand hunts. I won’t re-hash all of the benefits of merino here – so let me just say that these pants are soft, warm, durable, and fit nice. I would like to see them slightly longer, but I also realize not everyone is 6′ 3″, like I am.

Walking the Willows

The Springer Vest

I didn’t take the Springer on my elk hunt, simply because it seemed like a somewhat redundant item, and the warmth-to-weight ratio isn’t all that great when you’re analyzing every ounce for a backpacking trip. I have, however, used it quite a bit for whitetail hunting and it’s been a great piece to keep my core warm in chilly weather.

The Springer is another merino piece, this time in the thickest variety that First Lite offers. It’s warm, silent, comfortable, and I like having the hand pockets, and high-collar to keep the breeze off my neck. It’s also a great piece to keep your core warm and your pits vented when making active pursuits in cold weather. It’s nice, and I use it quite a bit, but it isn’t among the first few essential pieces of First Lite that I would buy, and for the most “warmth for your buck”, the Puffy is a much better deal.

Frosty Morning in Kentucky

The Chama Hoody

The Chama is First Lite’s mid weight merino top. It comes in a standard crew neck, a quarter-zip, and the version that I have – a quarter-zip with a hood. It’s hard not to lump this piece in with the Llano (below), because they make such an unbelievable combination. The Chama and Llano together got me through at least 90% of my high-country Colorado elk hunt in late September.

The Llano QZ

The Llano is a “t-shirt” weight merino top. It’s the base layer that I’m always (and I mean always) wearing when I hunt. (I’ve gone 6-7 days without taking the Llano off even once.) It’s great as a stand-alone top when the temps are in the 60-80′s, and when combined with the Chama it’ll take you much lower. It’s comfortable next to skin, dries fast, and doesn’t get “funky”.

Don’t know where to start with First Lite gear? Get the Llano and Chama, and then thank me later.  These two pieces are absolutely essential in my opinion.

Waiting on an Elk

The Red Desert Boxers

I had my doubts about merino boxers, but the Red Desert boxers proved to be amazing. My biggest concern was that they would stretch or lose shape over the course of several days, but that wasn’t an issue at all. They were comfortable, they kept me dry and feeling “fresh”, and they did an unbelievable job and keeping the “funk” to a minimum – even when I wore the same pair for 3 days straight. These are going to be a year-round item for me. I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about these boxers (except make them cheaper…or even free!) - but really, the fit, cut, length, and performance is superb.

The Merino Neck Gaiter

Of all the First Lite accessories, this is my favorite! The neck gaiter is perfect for chilly mornings, and also breathes well when worn for concealment in warmer temperatures. It isn’t warm enough to replace a heavy-duty facemask when the temps fall well below freezing, but it is great for “cool” days. The gaiter is always around my neck when I’m hunting from the ground because how easy it is to pull up over my face for concealment when the moment of truth arrives. Negatives?…I haven’t found one for this piece.

The Mernio Beanie

The merino beanie is built great, but the cut of the cap just doesn’t fit my head well. I have a Shrek-sized dome though, and often have a hard time with hats and beanies, so there’s not necessarily a bad cut on this cap. It appears the brimmed beanie might be “deeper”, so maybe I should have given that one a try.

First Lite's Lightweight Merino Glove

The Lightweight Merino Gloves

These Lightweight gloves were perfect for elk hunting in September and October. They are warm enough to keep the chill away, and light enough that you can have full dexterity and feeling in your hands and fingers. They are also light enough to provide good concealment in warmer weather, without making your hands overheat. I got a few pin-holes in them, but that’s to be expected when you repeatedly use them to grab and clear briars, thorns, and thistles. The small holes didn’t run or spread, so I still expect to get a few more years out of these gloves. They are ideal for early and mid-season bowhunting.

The Mountain Athlete Compression Sock

I love these socks. It’s weird to get all geeked-out about socks, but these made me do it. They have good cushion on the bottom of the boot, and a lighter, more breathable merino on the top of the foot. The compression panel in the calf of the sock is placed in just the right spot and works by promoting blood flow throughout the leg and keeping your muscles in place to decrease fatigue. After testing and comparing on long hikes with and without these socks, I think the compression benefits do work as claimed. (For more information on the benefits of compression do some searching, and look specifically at the use of compression in endurance athletics like distance running.)

I have two pairs of these socks and changed them every day on my week-long elk hunt. They always kept my feet dry, my legs feeling fresh, and most importantly – they paired perfect with a silk liner sock to keep me blister free. If you have big feet – like size 13 or above – these may not be large enough for you. I’m a size 12 and they fit great, but there’s not a ton more room for larger feet.

Calling on a Bull

The First Lite System for Active Hunting

First Lite is ideal for active, Western hunting. There’s nothing better than merino for this type of hunting; and after trying a lot of merino, I would say that there isn’t a merino better than First Lite. The Kanab, Llano, and Chama will get you through the vast majority of conditions that you’ll face while elk our mule deer hunting in the September bowhunting seasons. You’ll need rain gear, of course, as well as some additional insulation for the cold nights and mornings – and I feel that the Uncompahgre and Boundary Stormtight are great additions for that.

I would love to see First Lite come up with a rain pant, and even more so a gaiter that’s made out of a material similar to the Boundary Stormtight. Gaiters were the one thing I really wish I would have had for my elk hunts this year.

The First Lite System for Stationary, Cold Weather Hunting

Can the First Lite system work for hunting from a treestand or blind in the late season? I’ve gotten that question a lot, and it’s one that I’ve waited to fully answer until now.

The First Lite system isn’t perfect for this (and I haven’t found anything that is), but it does a great job. For example, I hunted yesterday with temps in the low-teens and wind chills down into the single digits. I sat down in my spot 5:30 in the morning, and didn’t move until I left 6 hours later, at 11:30. I was wearing the Allegheny EXP and North Branch on the bottom, and the Llano, Chama, and Uncompahgre up top. The only thing that got cold was my nose and toes – neither of which was the fault of First Lite gear.

However, the day before I hunted in slightly warmer (temps in the mid-20′s), but windier conditions. I was colder that day, but it also could have been because I was sitting on the ground. I have noticed that the North Branch pants, while very warm, do not break wind as well as they maybe could. I’m guessing that’s a trade-off of having a breathable, stretchable pant that moves with you. If you do a lot of cold (20s and below), stationary hunting, then layering an insulation layer under the North Branch might be the ticket.

Other Reader Questions

The previous two points addressed a lot of reader questions, but I did have a couple of other recurring questions that I wanted to address…

How is the fit? I would say that the fit is pretty true across the board, but check First Lite’s sizing chart. For example, a Large pant is for 34-36″ waist, and that probably runs closer to the larger 36″ side. You also don’t need to “size up” to get layers to work together; I have a Large in everything, and I can literally have 5 tops on and everything fits together. I would make note that the Llano may run slightly small for some, and I found the Springer vest to maybe run a tad large. Besides that, everything is very true, and the Shooter’s Cut is provides a somewhat athletic, but non-restrictive fit throughout the line.

Where is First Lite gear made? Everything is designed up in Idaho, but the items are produced overseas. I didn’t look at every tag, but I did note that several of my merino pieces where made in China, and some of my outerwear was made in Thailand. Overseas product is the norm these days, even among the highest end of hunting apparel.

Why is it so expensive? A lot can go into answering that question, but I’ll touch on a few things that I do know. 1) Yes, it is expensive, but its no more expensive than the average of high quality, performance hunting gear. 2) When you look specifically at their merino pieces, you need to compare that to merino across the board. Merino just isn’t a cheap material, no matter where you look (hunting segment or not). And when you do find “cheap” merino pay attention to the quality of the product AND of the merino material itself. Look into the “micron” of that merino and do some reading about the material itself – it’s pretty interesting, actually. Remember that merino is a 100% natural fiber, so it’s not like a company can just “cook up” some more source material to work with 3) This isn’t unique to First Lite, but I will say that quality hunting apparel is more expensive because hunting is still a small niche in the big picture. Could First Lite (and other brands) drive costs down if they were selling in much larger quantities?…You bet. But the hunting segment is still very small compared to the larger outdoors and general apparel markets.

The First Lite Kanab Pants

What Else?

As always, please leave a comment if you have any other questions, and I would be happy to give you my opinion.

A Holiday Gift Guide (And GIVEAWAY!) for Hunters and Outdoorsmen

Are you shopping for a hunter or outdoorsman in your life? Or are you the outdoorsman that’s wondering what you can put on your Christmas wishlist, to share with friends and family? Either way, I’ve got some great ideas for you.  Here is something for everyone and every budget…

Gifts Around $25 or Less!

The Total Deer Hunter Manual

Books from Field & Stream

Field & Stream is one of the most respected authorities on the outdoors. I’ve had a chance to dig into a couple of their new books from Weldon Owen publishers, and I have been genuinely impressed with the the topics, illustrations, and overall quality of the content.

The Total Deer Hunter Manual : 301 Hunting Skills You Need is a perfect gift for any deer hunter – from the seasoned expert to the first-time hunting rookie.  The skills are broken down in a format that is easy to consume, and even the advanced topics are clearly understood thanks to the supplemental graphics.

The Total Outdoorsman Manual : 374 Skills You Need is a comprehensive resource for hunters, fisherman, hikers, campers, backpackers – anyone that loves the outdoors.  Having this book at your finger tips is like having access to life-long masters of the woods.  You’ll learn about everything from knots, to survival tips, navigation, and more.

Both books are packed with full-color illustrations that make the tips, tricks, and information come to life. The content is easy to digest, practical, and genuinely helpful for outdoors adventures.  If you could take years upon years of the best information from Field & Stream magazine and pack in into a single package, these books would be the result.


You have got a chance to win these books!  I’ve been given the opportunity to share these books with three of my readers.  Enter the contest using the widget below, and I’ll randomly select three of you to receive both books for free.  You have until the end of the day on Wednesday, December 4th, to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Platypus Water Bottles

Platypus Water Bottles

There when you need them, and out of the way when you don’t – collapsable water bottles/bladders from Platypus are the perfect portable hydration solution for any outdoor adventure. And not only are they convenient, lightweight, and space-saving, they are also incredibly durable.  One of my Platypus bladders is 7-years-old; it has been smashed, folded, kicked, and survived 20-foot falls while full…and it’s still going strong.

Adventure Medical Kits / Survive Outdoors Longer

Adventure Medical Kits (AMK) / Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL)

Regardless what type of outdoor adventure you might enjoy, AMK/SOL has something for you. AMK First Aid Kits range from ultralight and ultra compact pouches that hold only the essentials, to expedition-level kits that a medical professional could use in almost any situation. In addition to first aid kits, AMK offers foot-care products to prevent or soothe blisters, and bug protection products.  SOL products include multi- and survival-tools, fire kits, signaling devices, and emergency shelters.

Safety and survival is always a priority for outdoors pursuits, but often these products are an inconvenient part of our gear kits. AMK and SOL reduce the burden by providing products that are useful, practical, and easy to carry and use.  The AMK Ultralight .7 First Aid Kit is always in my pack, right alongside the SOL Emergency Bivy.

Gifts Around $50 or Less!

GSI Halulite MicroDualist

GSI Outdoors

GSI Outdoors offers anything you could ever want to store, prepare, cook, and consume food in the outdoors. Whether you are car camping with the family or going on an ultralight mountain expedition – they have products that will suit your adventure. My favorite kit is the Halulite Microdualist kit, which is an ideal two-person backpacking solution. It’s amazing that the Microdualist can fit two utensils, two insulated mugs, two bowls, and a small backpacking stove in it’s lightweight pot. Oh, and the stuff sack doubles as a wash basin. Brilliant!

Real Avid Bowsmith

Tools from Real Avid

Bowhunter? Shotgunner? Target shooter? Turkey hunter? Tool lover? Regardless of what you do, Real Avid has a tool to help you. As a bowhunter, two of my favorites are the Bowsmith and the Bow Toolio. I have also used their Revelation and Viscera 3-IN-1 knives; both of which are outstanding!  Check out the whole Real Avid lineup, and I’m sure you’ll find something just for you.

Gifts Around $100 or Less!

Hunting GPS Maps

Hunting GPS Maps

Hunting GPS Maps are absolutely essential for hunting, but I’ve also found them useful for hiking, backpacking, and camping.  Basically, if you enjoy exploring the outdoors in any way, you’ll love these maps. Hunting GPS Maps show public land boundaries, private land boundaries, trails, land owner information, public land types (Forest Service vs. Wilderness vs. BLM, etc.), and more. Hunting GPS Maps can be used on your handheld GPS, through Google Earth on your computer, and even on your smartphone. These resources have been invaluable for planning out-of-state hunts and keeping me informed in the field.

Otterbox Preserver

Otterbox Preserver

I’ve dropped my iPhone out of treestands, submerged it in puddles of mud (by accident), and stepped on it after not realizing I had dropped it while unloading my hunting gear at 2am. My iPhone should have been smashed, broken, or fried a long time ago; but it’s still going strong, thanks to a waterproof, shockproof, dirt- and dust-proof case. I used the LifeProof case for quite a while, and recently began using the Otterbox Preserver. Both cases are great, but I’m enjoying the enhanced sound quality, screen clarity, and overall “feel” of the Otterbox.  I’m 100% convinced that this case has already saved me money by protecting my phone from…me.

The Best of the Best

Scott Archery Longhorn Hunter

Scott Archery Longhorn

Alright, this one is very specific to archers and bowhunters, but it’s one that I can ensure will be a great gift for anyone that shoots a bow.  Many bowhunters have never tried a “back tension” or hinge-style release, but it likely to be the best thing they could ever do for their shooting.  Scott Archery has two great models in the Longhorn series – The Longhorn Hex and The Longhorn Hunter.  These releases are ideal for training, practice, and can even be used for hunting.  For more information about how I use these releases, and what it has done for my shooting, check out this post: Defeating Target Panic – How to Shoot a Hinge or “Back Tension” Release.

Tenzing 2220

Tenzing 2220

The Tenzing 2220 is a a great all-around pack for hunting, hiking, or even just as an everyday bag for around town.  It is offered in Loden Green, Realtree Xtra, and Realtree Max-1.  The 2220 excels, of course, as a hunting pack – which can carry your rifle or bow, and plenty of your other gear.  I love the lightweight suspension, formed back panel and organizational elements inside the front pocket.  In the main compartment there’s a water bladder compartment and plenty of room for extra clothes, food, and other necessities.    On the outside of the pack you have mesh side pockets, daisy chain loops, and smart compression and lashing straps.  I have been using the 2220 for all-day hunts in the deer woods, and it’s been excellent.

Don’t forget to enter the contest at the top of this page!

An Empty Freezer & A Full Heart

I had such high hopes for this hunting season. At this point in time I expected to have over 200lbs of elk meat in my freezer, and maybe some whitetail venison, too. But all that’s in my freezer right now is one venison roast from last year’s deer. That’s pathetic.

But you know what? I’m not that bummed. Did I want my elk hunts to turn out differently? Of course! Did I think that I would come home empty-handed? Of course not! But I didn’t “deserve” success just because I prepared well and hunted hard.

That’s the thing about hunting – you can do everything “right” and still not get what you’re after. On the other hand, sometimes you stumble into luck, even though you messed up somehow.

A lot of hunters that take hunting way too seriously. We don’t just hunt, we are hunters. Hunting is not our hobby, it’s our identity. We ascribe to sayings like, “Born to hunt” or “Bowhunt or die”. But think about it – that’s just stupid. You are far more than the bucks and bulls that you have, or haven’t, killed. Far more!

I get what an all-consuming passion hunting can be. (As evidenced by all of the time, thought, and effort that I put into writing about hunting.) I get that hunters are a different breed. But in the end, you have to remember that hunting is still an add-on to life.

Sunrise in the Woods

In the last couple of weeks I have hunted over 40 hours for whitetail, and I’ve seen one deer. One. In November! On my last hunt I spent over 12 hours in the treestand, suffering through below-freezing temperatures, and shaking in 25mph winds. I didn’t even see a deer. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best mood when I called my wife to let her know I was on the way home.

But as soon as I hung up, I realized there’s nothing to complain about. I got to spend all day in the woods. I got to watch the sun rise from the east, circle to the south, and fall into the west. I got to spend time in the peace and quiet of nature. I got to read, and think, and pray. I got to drive home safely, open the door, and be greeted by my wife and kids. I got to sit in the comfort of a house that has electricity, and heat, and love. I got to eat warm potato and bacon soup that my wife made for me, from food that she bought at a store, with money that I earned at an amazing job.

This fall I’ve gotten to travel east and west, to visit and hunt amazing places. I’ve climbed mountains, slept under the stars, and lived without the distractions of everyday life. I didn’t kill an elk, but I left a piece of my soul in the wild, and brought home the essence of the wild in my heart.

I could complain about what could have been, but that would just be a waste of time.

My freezer may be empty, but my life is incredibly full.

“Rules of the Rut” – Hunting Pinch Points

The following article, by Mark Kenyon, is a sample chapter from the new “Rules of the Rut” eBook by Wired to Hunt. In this book Mark joins a group of whitetail experts (Andy May, Chase Burns, Chris Eberhart, Craig Dougherty, Dan Infalt, Don Higgins, Jeff Sturgis, and Todd Pringnitz) to share their favorite and most effective ways to hunt the rut.  I’ve been reading my copy of this book on my phone, while on the treestand, and it’s proven to be more than worth the $1.99 you’ll pay for it.

Visit Wired to Hunt to purchase your copy of “Rules of the Rut”

Hunting Pinch Points During the Rut

It’s the classic rut hunting scenario.

A frosty cold morning is punctuated suddenly by the rustling of leaves quickly getting louder and coming your way. The first thing you see emerge from brush is a plume of steam erupting from the snout of a thick faced whitetail. The thick and tall tines of a mature whitetail rack emerge next, and your heart immediately goes into overdrive.

With cut crop fields on either side of you 40 yards away, you know that this behemoth will have to come your way. The ambush has been laid, and he’s walking right into it. 60 yards. 50 yards. 40 yards. He continues to close the distance, until finally, at 30 yards he pauses with his nose in the air. Instincts take over, your bow is drawn, you touch the release, and the arrow erupts forward.

This scene plays out year after year all across the country during the whitetail rut, and all because of the power of pinch points.

If you can truly understand the power of pinch points, and hunt them strategically, it could be you living out this story in a season to come soon!

Why Pinch Points?

So, why are pinch points all that important?

During the rut, a buck’s primary focus is finding a doe that’s ready to breed. Unfortunately for said buck, most does he comes upon are usually not going to be receptive to his reproductive efforts. Because of that fact, bucks need to cover a lot of ground during in the rut in order to find a doe that’s ready to rock.

Given this fact of life, as a hunter during the rut, a great tactic is to find areas that these bucks will often travel through while searching for these does. What’s even better, especially for a bowhunter, is to find a spot that these bucks will travel through that is relatively small and will bring deer surely within shooting range.

If you’re looking for this kind of spot, you’ll often find it come in the form of pinch points or funnels.

So why do pinch points work well for funneling buck movement during the rut? It’s simple really – bucks love cover. When traveling during the daylight, bucks almost always want to remain in cover and hidden from humans and other potential dangers. To do this, they often travel in thick vegetation, corn fields, cattails, etc. Sometimes though, this kind of cover is sparse, and when you can find sparse strips of cover that connect two areas that bucks want to visit, you’ve found yourself a pinch point.

Pinch points can also be created by obstructions such as rivers, roads, railroad tracks and the like. Again, the key here is that some type of natural or man-made feature forces the majority of movement into  small area.

During the rut, as bucks cruise for does, they inevitably will need to travel through a number of pinch points as they visit various doe hot spots. Spend enough time near one of these funnels, and you’ll eventually see some horns. That is assuming you hunt it right though…

How To Properly Hunt Pinch Points

So once you’ve found yourself some pinch points, how can you best hunt them?

The first thing you must consider when hunting a funnel is stand location, and the first factor effecting stand location should be wind direction. At all costs, try to ensure that your stand is downwind of the majority of trails moving through the funnel. You also definitely don’t want to sit in a funnel when the wind is blowing your scent up or down the travel corridor. Outside of wind considerations, if the funnel is not too large, you’d also like to be able to shoot to the majority of the funnel as well. Keep that in mind when choosing pinch points and how you then want to position your stand.

Secondly, when it comes to hunting a funnel you need to keep in mind that this is an area that bucks will be traveling through, not hanging out around. That means bucks will be on the move, and quite possibly moving quickly. With that said, you need to ensure that you have enough shooting lanes and large enough lanes cut to ensure that you can get adequate shot opportunities at a buck quickly moving through.

Speaking of quickly moving deer, I personally am not an advocate for shooting walking deer. I know sometimes it just happens and some people feel comfortable doing it, but I personally would prefer a still animal. That said, when I’m hunting a funnel, I plan on stopping a buck (hopefully in a shooting lane) before firing. I do this by making a soft mouth grunt or bleat, which will ideally result in the buck pausing for a few moments.

While this presents a still shot, it does also offer a little risk. By making a noise you’ve instantly put that buck on alert, and there may be a greater chance of that buck now “jumping the string” when you release an arrow. Given that possibility, when stopping a buck for a shot, I’ll assume that he’ll jump the string to some degree. To compensate for that I aim at the lower 1/3 of the kill zone. This way if the buck does jump the string, I’ll hopefully still hit high in the kill zone, and if he doesn’t jump I’ll still be in the vitals.

The last consideration to keep in mind when hunting funnels during the rut is that these types of travel corridors are prime spots for mid-day action. Bucks typically cruise from bedding area to bedding area in the late morning or early afternoon, and therefore end up doing a lot of their “funnel travel” during this time. That said, if you’re hunting this kind of spot, I’d highly recommend you plan on hunting all day. If you can’t stomach a full day hunt, you’ll be missing a lot of opportunities.

Find The Pinch Points, Hunt Them Right

This year when planning your rut hunting excursions do yourself a favor and make sure to stake out a few locations within pinch points. Hunting these areas are the bread and butter of many hunters’ rut strategies, and for good reason. It just plain works.

So take a look at some maps, find the pinch points and funnels, and hunt them right.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have one of those frosty cold mornings, when the silence is punctuated suddenly by the rustling of leaves quickly getting louder and coming your way…