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.

GIVEAWAY!

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…

Gear Review: The LOWA Tibet GTX – Are They the Ultimate Elk Hunting Boot?

Selecting footwear is one of the most important gear decisions that an outdoor enthusiast can make. I am approaching this review from the perspective of bowhunting elk in mountainous terrain, but my history with backpacking and trail running have always demanded that I pay careful attention to how I protect and care for my feet.

The LOWA Tibet GTX

When it came time to prepare for my elk hunts, I knew that I needed to critically analyze what type of footwear I was going to use. Part of me wanted to go with trail-running shoes – and as a trail runner, I had plenty of options to choose from and experience to lean on – but I knew that carrying a week’s worth of gear on my back, and potentially packing out an entire elk in the steep, unforgiving terrain of the Colorado wilderness would require more support.

I considered, analyzed, and tried a lot of boots, but kept coming back to the LOWA Tibet. LOWA was established in 1923, in Jetzendorf, Germany, and the Tibet is still handcrafted in Germany to this day. LOWA describes the Tibet as, “Ideal for carrying heavy (50+ lbs.) loads, over long distances in rugged terrain and extreme weather conditions.” Yeah, I would say that sounds like elk hunting!

My Experience

In this review I want to detail the materials, construction, and design features of the LOWA Tibet boots. I’ll also cover a few practical ways that they have impressed me over the past year, and a couple of things to look out for if you’re considering the LOWA Tibets. But first, I want you to know that this review has been a long-time coming. I didn’t get these boots last week, or last month, and walk around the neighborhood to “test” them out.

I have worn the LOWA Tibets on trips in 4 states, through temperature ranges of 20-90 degrees, from sea level to 11,000′ in elevation, and have carried over 80lb loads with these boots. They have been on my feet for extended, week-long trips, and for long 12+ mile day-hikes that climbed several thousand feet of elevation. They have seen dry and dusty conditions, as well as rain, sleet, and snow. Suffice to say, I’ve tested them thoroughly.

Dirty, Muddy, Wet LOWA Tibets

Materials & Construction

The LOWA Tibets feature and high-grade nubuck leather upper, with a patented, seamless GORE-TEX liner. The outsole is Vibram Masai. Inside the boot is a full-length, full-width 5mm nylon stabilizing shank for support and rigidity in the toughest terrain.

I mention each of those materials and construction features specifically, because they are the exact features that have made a difference, for me, in how this boot performs in real world use. The leather has been incredibly durable through a variety of conditions and terrains, and combined with the seamless, waterproof GORE-TEX liner, the Tibet has kept me dry all of the time. It doesn’t matter if I’m hiking through wet brush, crossing creeks, or enduring an hours-long downpour – my foot have always been dry in the Tibets.

I’ve had some breathability and overheating issues with other GORE-TEX boots in the past, but the Tibet actually does quite well in warmer temperatures. They claim to have a Climate Control system with micro-perforations to let air in the boot, while releasing moisture out of the boot. I can’t say that I know how they achieve this, but the Tibet does keep me cooler than other full-leather, waterproof-lined boots that I’ve worn in the past.

Finally, the shank and outsole have been proven to be huge assets in my hiking and hunting. The LOWA is a stout, solid, and sure-footed platform that excels in off-trail terrain. A lot of boots – and even shoes – will perform on a trail; but covering miles and miles off-trail in the mountains, under the load of a heavy pack, will stress your footwear and your feet. The ridigity of these boots is an enormous asset when climbing up and down, or side-hilling across steep ridges.

The LOWA Tibet GTX

Design

It’s critical for a boot to have great source materials and piece them together with solid construction, but the seemingly-small design details matter, too. There are numberous design details that LOWA got right with the Tibet, such as the high-walled rubber rand, but two design features really stand out for me – the lacing and the tongue.

The tonue itself is made of a thick, yet not-too-thick padding. There’s always a balance between providing comfort and protection without creating bulk, and LOWA nailed it. Moreoever, the shape of the tongue fits the foot with anatomically correct contours. A small detail that provides all-day comfort.

On the front of the tongue is a unique stud that integrates into the lacing system. This integration keeps the tongue secured in place, and centered where it should be on your foot. Again, a small detail that has noticeable benefits.

In the video below I discuss one of my favorite features of the LOWA Tibet – the lacing system. Lacing is such an over-looked aspect of boots, but it makes such an enormous difference in allowing the boot to fit to your unique foot, keep that foot locked in place to prevent blisters, and provide comfort for long days of hiking.

On the Ground

We’ve have looked at materials, construction, and design features, but what really matters is how these boots perform on the ground. I’ve touched on some of my experiences already, but let me reiterate the practical, functional, tangible benefits of these boots.

The LOWA Tibet GTX

Here’s a few of the ways that the LOWA Tibet have impressed me…

  • Support under loads: As a hunter and a backpacker, I often hike with a lot of gear loaded up in my backpack. I started testing the Tibets by climbing some mountains in the Smokies with 60lbs in my backpack, and they did great. The ultimate test came on my Colorado elk hunt, where we spent several days covering mile-after-mile of steep terrain, often without trails, while carrying all of our backpacking and hunting supplies.
  • Waterproof.  No, really…: I’ve worn these boots through creek crossings, hiked through wet brush and undergrowth, and have hiked through rain, sleet, and snow. The LOWA Tibets have always kept me dry. I should also note that I usually treat my boots with additional, aftermarket waterproofing, but to put the Tibets to the test I never treated them with any product. They are waterproof out of the box.
  • Tackling terrain: The LOWA Tibets aren’t acceptable in tough terrain – they are excellent. The Tibets make an excellent climbing platform. Often times, when climbing up steep mountains in Colorado, I would find myself marveling at the rigidity and support of the Tibet. Instead of flexing my ankle and foot to get the entire boot sole on the mountain, I would just plant my toe and step up; it’s like the Tibet is a plank for you to step on. The Tibet also stands out when side-hilling across steep slopes. Many boots “roll” in these conditions, but, once again, the rigidity of the Tibets provide a much more solid platform, even when the ground under your feet isn’t solid.
  • All-day comfort: Frankly, I’ve been amazed that my feet can withstand spending 12-hours hiking through the mountains, with a 40lb load on my back, and still be somewhat pain-free. There’s no doubt that the LOWA Tibets have prevented foot fatigue and soreness on long, high-mileage days. In fact, I recently tested another boot and noticed that my feet were much more fatigued half-way through the day than they were compared to the LOWA Tibets, and by the end of the day my feet were quite sore in the other boot I tested.
LOWA Tibets in the rain

What You Need to Be Aware Of

As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of this boot. But, on the flip side, I always strive to be 100% honest in my reviews and try to note some of the ways that a product can improve. I have critically analyzed the Tibet and there’s honestly only one thing I would change: the stock insole.

The insole that comes with the Tibet isn’t all that bad, but it doesn’t provide the level of comfort or support that I look for. And isn’t that I feel the Tibet’s insole is inferior to other stock insoles of other boots – even other high-end boots –  but is doesn’t match up to many of the fantastic aftermarket, specialized insoles that are available on today. It’s kind of a bummer to pay top-dollar for a boot and turn around and “upgrade” the insole, but that’s pretty much the way it goes, and that isn’t unique to LOWA.

Honestly, if I wasn’t planning on spending so many long days under a heavy pack, then the stock insole would have been perfectly fine. But I tested the Tibets with and without my aftermarket Synergy Footbeds from Lathrop & Sons, and the performance of that insole was worth the upgrade for me.

Besides that, the only word of caution I would give you is make sure that the LOWA Tibets fit your feet. Everyone has different feet, and certain brands just don’t fit certain people as well as others. You can’t expect miracles from these boots if the don’t fit your feet well. But if they do fit your feet, then absolutely put the LOWA Tibet on the top of your list.

When it comes to a hardcore boot that will handle heavy loads and tough terrain, the LOWA Tibet is what you’re after.

Our 2013 Archery Elk Hunt in Kentucky – Part II

Jerud flipped over in his sleeping bag and shook my shoulder with excitement…

“Wake up! Did you hear that? A bugle!”

Apparently Jerud had been sleeping soundly for the last 4 hours, because bugles had been ringing through the night for at least that long. They began somewhere around 2AM, and got closer and closer until now – about 40 minutes before sunrise.

I heard Will unzip his tent, just as I began to unzip my sleeping bag. I’m not sure if it was the sound, or Will’s silhouette cast in the moonlight as he stepped out of his tent, but suddenly thunder erupted – the thunder of at least a dozen elk fleeing down the mountainside.  (Speaking of Will…go read his account of this hunt.)

Those elk, including one of the bugling bulls, were no more than 60 yards from our tents.

Hunting in the Sunrise

That group of elk fled a couple-hundred yards, and the bull resumed bugling. Then another bugle rang off from our left, and yet another from our right. Will and Jerud stepped away from camp to peek down the road, as I scrambled to get my bow and release. Forget breakfast. Forget water. Forget everything else…it was time to go hunt!

I left camp and headed to the right, where Jerud said he could see elk crossing a fence line, about 200 yards away. But the allure of bugles drew me back across camp to left, where there was a more vocal group of elk. I didn’t have a bull tag, but I knew that this bull had cows with him, and I was hoping to sneak in among the herd to tag one of them.

I quietly crept along as the sun broke over the horizon and lit the frost-covered ground. The bull would bugle every few minutes, and each time I would make note of his direction and follow accordingly. After 15 minutes of this back-and-forth, I realized I knew right where he was heading – an isolated, high-top mountain tucked in the corner of the property. I was hoping he would stay on top of the mountain, and not drop off the other side, onto the restricted mining land.

Glassing the far mountainside

I stopped following the bugles and went with my gut – heading directly to the mountain, hoping to cut the herd off. After a 15-minute hike I rounded the last corner and lookup up to the mountain, only to see the bull at the top of the mountain, pushing a couple of cows up into the timber. I can’t believe they beat me there! It’s amazing how fast these animals can move.

I made a plan to circle below the mountain and flank the herd from the left side, so that the wind would be in my face for an approach. I worked my way down and around, occasionally hearing the bull bugle from the top; this mountain was a throne and the bull was declaring his kingship.

Finally, I arrived at the top and slowly crept my way through the patchy mix of brushy meadows, dense hardwoods, and unbelievably choked, 12′ tall thickets. I used my diaphragm call to make some cow chatter as I snuck closer and closer to the herd. I was now within 60 yards, assuming the elk were on the other side of the thicket, as they sounded to be.

A giant elk rub

After a few minutes I heard movement. Leaves were rustling, sticks were breaking, and as the sound grew louder I knelt at the ready. I was just about to draw my bow when a set of antlers broke through the brush.

A beautiful, bugling bull stepped out into the opening. He stood at 43 yards, unaware that I was lurking in the shadows, fully prepared to send a broadhead through his chest cavity. There was only one problem… I didn’t have a tag!

The monarch moved through and circled back to his herd. A cow never showed. I sat there in disbelief. A bull in bow-range, completely unaware of my presence, and providing a perfect broadside shot. This was something I’ve dreamt about for years. Something I’ve worked hard for. An experience that I’ve committed myself to pursuing. Yet, for my Kentucky elk hunt I only had a cow tag. Why couldn’t this have happened when I was on my Colorado elk hunt?

My blood flowed with a chilly mix of excitement and disappointment. This was my chance; yet it wasn’t. Hunting can be cruel.

I continued to hunt that mountain for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. It was still early in the trip, so I didn’t want to push that herd too hard, hoping that they would remain here for tomorrow morning’s hunt.

Dropping down a steep, thick ridge

Will and I took a quick mid-day break at camp and then set out for what turned out to be an uneventful evening hunt. Well, uneventful in terms of elk, but if you count the run-ins with had with locals driving around in the hunting area, then there were definitely some stories to be shared. Let’s just say that it was a frustrating, but funny experience, and that some stereotypes were proven to be true.

The next day Will and I headed back up to the bull’s throne – the mountain that provided the encounter – but this time the elk where off the far side of the mountain, on restricted land. You could hear the bull bulging from his safe zone, as if to taunt us.

Will and I decided to go for broke and get aggressive. We ended up covering over 12 miles that day. Up this mountainside, over the ridge top, and down the slope. We repeated that process again and again, but didn’t have much to show for it. At the end of the night we setup in an isolated meadow to try and catch something moving during the last hour of light. The only thing that showed up for the party was this buck. He stepped out in front of us at about 6 yards and tried his best to figure us out, but couldn’t.

A whitetail buck at 6 yards

On the final day we returned again to the bull’s throne, but this time we didn’t hear any bugles. I had high hopes that there elk were there though, so just before we crested the climb and approached the open mountain top I stopped to ready my bow and pull up my face mask. We approached, once again, from the left side, putting the wind in our face. I took the final few steps of the climb and suddenly felt a chilly breeze hit the back of my neck, and just as it did I heard another thunderous retreat of numerous elk. They were right on top, no more than 30 yards away, just where I expected them to be. If I could have made a few more steps then I would have had a clear path to see them, and been well within bow-range, but the wind had outed us.

We made note of the direction that the herd fled and then dropped down the opposite side of the mountain, circled our way around, and approached them from the other side. Long story short, we busted them again. Getting into bow-range in this terrain is tough, especially when you are trying to fool a dozen noses, and a couple-dozen ears and eyes.

I was headed home with empty coolers. Again. But the story isn’t over. I might be able to get back to hunt Kentucky again this year, and I’m already planning another elk hunting trip out West for next September. Either way, I’ll be back. But first I have to go kill a whitetail. After all, it’s November now.

Sunrise through the clouds Looking over elk country The Minox MD50 spotting scope Climbing in the Kentucky hardwoods Signs of Fall