What Are You Hunting For? (And why vegan pacifists are hunters, too.)

You might say that you’re hunting for deer, elk, or turkey, but there’s more to it than that. I, probably like you, hunt for reasons beyond the animal that I pursue and intend to kill. I hunt for a connection with nature. I hunt to escape the pace and demands of everyday life. I hunt to challenge myself and find adventure.

No, this isn’t another post about the philosophy of hunting.

The meaning beneath the hunt is a worthwhile topic; it is one that I have considered before, and will certainly continue to do. But not today.

The intent behind today’s question is not to discover what game animal you pursue, or why you do it. Instead, I am asking the question in the sense that you, right now, are searching for, striving for, and working towards something.

You are – we all are – “hunting“.  And in that sense…

“Even the pacifist vegan is a hunter.”

So what is it that you are hunting for?

Are you pursuing money? Fame? Comfort? Fortune? Health? Ease? How about a career? An identity? A future?

I have been asking myself these questions a lot lately. It might sound like the product of a crisis, but these questions have actually come from an awareness that my life counts. An awareness that my responsibilities as a husband, father, son, brother, and friend are sacred duties. An awareness that hunting – as great as it is – isn’t what life is about.

We tend to define ourselves by what we do, and we let others label us accordingly. But certainly we are more than the jobs we employ, the activities we enjoy, and the “profiles” that are a mere decoy of our true self.

Photo by Skip, via Flickr

Who you are is more than (and more important than!) what you do.

I have known these things for a long time, but there is a difference between knowing something in theory and feeling the weight of coming face to face with truth. I know, for example, that an elk is a large animal. But I don’t know it in the same way as someone that has packed an elk out from 5 miles deep in the wilderness.

“Acknowledging truth and experiencing truth aren’t the same thing.”

At this point you’re probably wondering a few things. Where am I going with this? (I’m not entirely sure.) What does this have to do with archery or bowhunting? (It does, kind of.) And have I lost my mind or endured some kind of personal crisis? (No, not at all. Life is awesome.)

The fact is, Sole Adventure started as just that – a “sole” (independent) “adventure” (exploration of unknown territory). It has morphed into something far greater than I could have imagined, but along the way it has become – at least in my mind – very specific in scope. Because of the success within a niche, I have felt limited and restricted with the topics that I can write about. I am obviously removing some bricks from that proverbial wall today.

“Wouldn’t it be a shame if we became great hunters, but failed to become great people?”

The content that you’re used to (which is hopefully the stuff that you enjoy and the reasons that you’re reading this today), isn’t going to stop. But, there may be some more “independent exploration of unknown territory” from here on out. Not everything will be archery/bowhunting all of the time, but I can promise you this – it will continue to be authentic, and hopefully valuable or inspirational in some way.

This isn’t part of plan. I don’t have an agenda. The one thing I do know is that there is more to life than hunting, more to me than hunting, and I have more to say than what I’ve said this far.

Intrigued and somewhat confused? Good. I’m glad we’re in this together. Let’s see what happens.


Gear List Debrief – Critiquing my Backpacking Gear List for Elk Hunting

Gear can make or break a hunt.  Especially when you’re traveling miles away from the nearest road and spending a week in the wilderness.  In today’s post I want to debrief on last year’s elk hunts and analyze my gear list with the distinct advantage of hindsight.

  • What items worked as expected? (Almost everything.)
  • What items am I going to be changing for this year’s elk hunt? (Just a few things.)
  • What should I have brought or wish I would have had with me? (Not much.)
  • And what did I carry, but didn’t really need?  (Nothing really.)

The List

Here is the gear list that I used last year.  (UPDATE!  Here is my gear list for 2014)  My base pack weight was 25lbs, and once I added water, food, and fuel, my pack weighed in at 40lbs.  Gear lists change according to the seasons, hunting strategies, and personal preference.  This list was put together for a weeklong backpack style hunt (establishing our own backcountry base camp, but moving around if necessary) for late September in Colorado, at 9,000-11,000’; it was intended to be lightweight and void of superfluous items, but not ultra-light or ultra-minimal.

Line by Line

I was going to summarize the good and bad of my list, but I think it might be most helpful to go line-by-line and walkthrough last year’s list.  I will conclude by discussing what I will be adding/changing for this year.

Pack – Tenzing CF-13 – This pack treated me very well on last year’s hunt.  It was just big enough to carry a week’s worth of gear and I loved how easily it converted into a streamlined day pack after we had camp setup and our gear unloaded.  I also ended up hunting with all of my gear and camp on my back on a couple of occasions, and it was always comfortably “out of sight, out of mind” in those situations.  I didn’t have any problems with it at all, but I have since given it to a friend to use and he had a stitching failure that should have never happened. My verdict – it is a very good, functional design, but quality could be better, and the price isn’t justified.  I’ll be using something else this year.  (More on that below.)

Water Bladder & Filter – Platypus Gravityworks – I love this thing! Water filtration pumps and water treatment approaches both have their disadvantages, and while Platypus’s gravity system isn’t perfect, it is the best thing for my needs.  I loved that all I had to do was dump the dirty bag in the water source, hang it up, and let gravity do all of the filtration work without my assistance.  It isn’t the fastest system in the world, but for its reliability and hands-free approach, I’ll take it.  I also loved that you don’t have to filter water at the source; we often carried dirty water back and hung the bladder in camp, using “on demand” filtered water when needed.  I used Platypus’ drinking tube kit with the “clean” bag as my in-pack hydration system, which also worked well.  It can be hard to fully fill the dirty bag from shallow water sources, which is my only real gripe.

Shelter – Mountainsmith Mountain Shelter LT – I have a full review of this shelter.  Long story short, it is a great option if you are going lightweight on a budget.  It isn’t a palace for two men, but it is very usable.  This year I will be testing and reviewing the Sierra Designs Lightning 2 tent.

Sleeping Bag – Sierra Designs Zissou 12 – This is a standout item for me.  I fell in love with it on my CO elk hunt and have used it numerous times since.  It is extremely comfortable, has a realistic temperature rating (I have used it in the upper-teens), and the DriDown technology works as advertised.  I won’t be changing this item out for a loooong time.

Sleeping Pad – Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core – This isn’t the lightest sleeping pad on the market, but it is one of the most comfortable.  I’m a big guy, so I am always hesitant to try the ultralight inflatables, but the Q-Core has won my trust.  Carrying 28oz for a good night’s rest is worth it for me.

Stove/Pot/Cup/Windscreen – I put this kit together years ago and it has been flawless.  The stove is a Primus Micron, which nests inside the Ti pot/cup (REI brand) along with a fuel canister.  It works.  This year I’ll be trying a Jetboil and seeing if they are all that they’re cracked up to be.  In general though, I like the small canister-style backpacking stoves, which are a great tool for my approach to food on these trips.

Clothing – First Lite – I have already published quite a bit of information on the First List system that I used last year.  Everything worked great and I’ll be using the same kit this year, and will be adding their new Boundary Stormtight Pant as well.  Here are some more of my thoughts, reviews, and videos pre-trip and post-trip.  One interesting note: having tried all of their high-end stuff (which is great), I find it really funny that one of the things I get most excited about to this day is their Mountain Athlete Compression Sock.  They’re just socks!  But, man, they are amazing.

Hygiene – The boring stuff.  Toothpaste and toothbrush are obviously essential.  I carried baby wipes and some toilet paper, but the baby wipes are the ticket.  I had a backpacking towel, but never really used it – it would get more use if we had warmer weather.  That’s about it!  I didn’t carry antiperspirant, and never desired it.  (Thanks to merino wool and baby wipes!)

Map/Compass/GPS – I printed a custom topo from MyTopo.com.  It was nice to have a large printed map to look over, but I never relied on it for true navigation.  The compass never left my pack, but is an essential backup to have.  However, my GPS and Hunting GPS Maps were relied on heavily.  Hunting GPS Maps, now called “onXmaps”, are essential.  Period.  End of story.  Get them.

Bears! – I used 50’ of 3mm accessory cord, and my Sea to Summit compression bag (used to pack my sleeping bag) as our system to hang food and trash away from camp.  I didn’t carry bear spray, but both of the guys that I was with were locked and loaded.  If bears are around, then have some protection.

Safety Miscellaneous – I never needed my lighter, fire starters, or emergency shelter, but I wouldn’t leave home without them.  The “just in case” category is where a lot of guys get into trouble – either by preparing for the apocalypse and weighing-down their packs, or by going into the wilderness without preparations for what could happen.  Only you can decide what items you need, but make sure to use some common sense.

First Aid Kit – Adventure Medical Kit, Ultralight .7 – This is a great starting place for a First Aid Kit.  I removed some of the duplication, and also added some of my own items.  The size and waterproof packaging are great.  We had to use it for a couple of minor injuries.

“Kill Kit” – I didn’t get to use this, but I am really happy with the package that I put together.  Here is a video that goes over everything: A Lightweight DIY “Kill Kit” for Backpack Elk Hunting

Electronics – Headlamp, SPOT Connect, camera, GPS (already covered) and extra batteries for all.  I kept everything in a very small waterproof sack, which not only kept everything organized, but provided protection.  The headlamp and camera are obviously essential.  The SPOT Connect worked as advertised, but keep in mind that it is a “one way” (only outbound) communicator.  It was cheap insurance and peace of mind to check in with the family.  My hunting partner for this year has a DeLorme inReach, which is a two-way communicator.  The backcountry communications market is changing each year and I still think that there are worthwhile improvements to be made.  There isn’t one “perfect”, affordable solution yet.

What’s Changing for 2014?

What Works For You?

I am really happy with how the overall gear strategy came together, and for the most part how each individual item performed.  Feel free to use this information as inspiration, but ultimately what works for you can only be discovered by trial and error.  Take smaller backpacking trips to test your gear and discover what is really necessary.

Want to lighten your load?  Play baseball!  Each time you take something on a trip and it doesn’t get used, that item gets a “strike.”  Three strikes and it’s out of your pack.  This strategy works really well, but obviously doesn’t apply to all safety and emergency supplies.

Questions?  Fire away…


Hunting Elk in Kentucky – My Experience and My Advice

Drawing a Kentucky elk tag is like winning the lottery.  The cost of entry is incredibly low ($10 in this case), but so are your odds of getting drawn.  There is no preference point system, so your chances of “winning” are as good as anyone else; somebody has to get lucky, and that somebody could be you.  I was one of those lucky few in 2013, when I drew an archery cow elk tag on my 3rd year of applying.

Hunting Elk in Kentucky

Anyone can put their name in for 2 of 4 opportunities – bull firearms, bull archery, cow firearms, and cow archery.  The cow archery tag is the easiest to draw at roughly 1-in-63 odds, and the bull firearms is the toughest to draw at 1-in-742.  (Those odds are from years past, and are sure to change each year.)

In 2014 there were 69,191 applications and 1010 tags awarded – only 101 (10%) of which were awarded to non-resident hunters.

My Experience & My Advice

I couldn’t believe it when I drew a KY elk tag last year.  I had already planned and committed to a CO elk hunt, so the KY hunt was a bonus.  Unfortunately, two hunts meant that I had less time and money to devote to the KY opportunity.

My plan was to take an initial 3-4 day trip to KY, and then follow-up with another late-season hunt if necessary.  That second trip never happened, so I only had 3-4 days to hunt in KY.  You can read stories from that trip HERE and HERE.

The 2014 draw results just came out and I have already had several guys contact me for advice.  I am sharing this post as a recap of the lessons that I learned from my hunt.  This advice is coming from and is in many ways focused on a non-resident perspective, but much of it applies to Kentucky residents that have a tag as well.  For general elk hunting advice, tips, and tactics that aren’t necessarily specific to Kentucky, please visit my elk hunting page.

In the end, I didn’t fill my Kentucky cow tag.  I had a perfect shot opportunity at a 5×5 bull, which was bitter and amazing at the same time.  I know that if I could have had more time, then I could have found success, which leads me to the first lesson that I learned about hunting elk in Kentucky…

Kentucky Elk Country

Lesson #1 – Commit to the hunt.  Devoting such little time to the KY hunt was a huge mistake on my part.   If you are lucky enough to draw a KY elk tag, then treat it as the special opportunity that it truly is – especially if you draw a bull tag.  I would have dropped everything to devote more time and money if I drew one of the coveted, and truly “once in a lifetime” bull elk tags.

Lesson #2 – Get help.  Consider hiring an outfitter…unless you draw a bull tag – in that case, don’t consider it – DO IT!  A KY bull tag is a rare opportunity with massive potential.  Unless you have several weeks of time to scout and hunt on your own, hire an outfitter!  I am “do-it-yourself” hunter to the core, but I would make a rare exception for a KY bull elk tag.

Lesson #3 – Tread lightly. My Kentucky hunt came a month after I had been chasing elk in the Rocky Mountains of CO.  Although I was hunting the same animal in both places, the differences in hunting were stark.  The terrain that I hunted in KY was thick, dry, and incredibly noisy.  You can get away with some noise when hunting elk – after all, they are noisy animals themselves –but you still have to tread lightly.  On numerous occasions I was within 40-100 yards of elk, but the terrain was so thick that I couldn’t see them, and the approach was so noisy that they were on full alert and knew that something was approaching.  If possible, try to pattern elk movement and setup for an ambush.  Stalking will be difficult in most cases.

The Thick Terrain of Kentucky Elk Habitat

Lesson #4 – Hunt bulls.  Even if you have a cow tag, hunt bulls.  If you hunt in September, October, and even into November, you’ll find cows with, or near, bulls.  The biggest advantage to hunting bulls is that you can use their vocalizations to your advantage.  On our second night in KY there were bulls sounding off from 2am, until 9 or 10am.  If you can find vocal bulls, then anticipate where they are going and aggressively try to flank the herd.

Lesson #5 – Act like you’re being hunted.  This is especially true if you are hunting public land.  To find the elk, you’re going to need to think like an elk, and that means you need to get in the mindset that human activity and interaction need to be avoided.  We thought we found some secluded spots, and in some ways we did, but I was still surprised where a local would turn up on a 4-wheeler.  We encountered guys that were out squirrel hunting, out driving around for the heck of it, and one that seemed to be out for the single purpose of ruining our hunt.

Lesson #6 – Pick pockets.  These elk are very smart and have adapted to the human pressure that we just talked about.  You might be hunting a vast expanse of land, but you’re not going to see elk randomly scattered throughout.  Pick little pockets that you think elk can find security in, and hunt those areas.  We covered well over a dozen miles on our hunt, and 90% of the elk activity ended up being in one little pocket area that was tucked away in a corner between private and public land, and guarded by some serious terrain features.  Trails and roads?  Avoid them like the plague.  Nasty climbs or descents that you don’t want to make?  That’s what you need to focus on the most.

Hunting a Secluded

Lesson #7 – Do your homework.  Kentucky’s Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources has done an excellent job producing resources that will help elk hunters.  Be sure to spend a lot of time on their Elk Hunting Homepage, and take advantage of the maps and articles provided.

Lesson #8 – Make a plan, or three.  If you’re going on a do-it-yourself hunt, then you better be ready to adapt.  Have at least three different areas picked out to hunt, and spend 2-4 days hunting each area.  If I didn’t find elk, and/or encounter much human activity in that time, move on.  This goes back to time – you have to devote time to this hunt, and you have to spend time preparing for it.

Lesson #9 – Go bull, or stay home.  I had a great time in Kentucky, and wish that I would have devoted more time to the hunt.  All of that aside, my personal strategy going forward is going to be to only apply for the two bull tags.  Part of the reason for this is that Kentucky has increased the cost of their elk permits, and I don’t feel that $540 for a cow tag ($400 tag + $140 license) is a worthwhile investment.  I can understand pursuing that opportunity if you live in the east and truly cannot get out west to hunt elk, but if you are going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to hunt elk, I would either do it out West (where the experience is much more majestic, regardless of the end result of the hunt), or I would try to get lucky on an extremely rare, but high quality KY bull tag.

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

Understanding Arrow Spine – What Arrow Do You Need For Your Bow?

The spine, or “stiffness”, of an arrow is a simple concept to understand, yet its importance if often overlooked.  To understand what arrows you should be shooting out of your bow, you need to understand what arrow spine is, how it is calculated, and why finding the “right arrow” – or at least the best one – takes some forethought.  I have included a universal arrow spine selection chart at the bottom of this article, but don’t skip reading the “why” behind the “what”.  Read on…

Arrow Spine Is Rated According To It's

Arrow spine is evaluated by “deflection”, which is a measurement of the shaft’s propensity to bending when force is applied.  Spine ratings are determined by taking an arrow shaft at a length of 28”, supporting it at both ends, and hanging a 1.94lb. weight at the center.  The amount of flex that is induced on the arrow shaft by the force of the weight is then measured and gives us our “static” spine rating.  For example, if an arrow bends one-half of an inch at the center, then the shaft has a static spine deflection of .500”.   Because this numerical deflection is a representation of a physical measurement – that is the arrows resistance towards a static force – a stiffer shaft will have a lower deflection number (less bend), and a weaker shaft will have a higher deflection number (more bend).

The most common deflections for hunting arrows are from 500 on the “weaker” end, to 300 on the stiffer end, with increments in between.  (It is worth noting that some manufacturers use their own numerical systems, so be sure to check and see how the manufacturer’s classifications compare to the actual shaft deflection rating.)

Why Spine Matters

Throughout a shot cycle, an immense amount of energy in placed into the bow at full draw.  This energy is then transferred into the arrow upon release.  This rapid transfer of dynamic force causes the arrow to flex and oscillate.  If too much flex occurs in the shaft, then the arrow will have a hard time recovering and flying straight.  Conversely, if the arrow doesn’t flex enough, then it could fail to properly clear the bow and won’t be as forgiving as it flies down range.

The most accurate arrow will be the one with the proper balance of flex and forgiveness as it leaves the bow, and necessary stiffness to recover and stabilize as it begins to head downrange.

Variables of Dynamic Spine

How an arrow shaft responds to this rapid transfer of dynamic force is referred to as the shaft’s “dynamic” spine.  Unlike the simple formula for measuring static spine, which we discussed above, there is a myriad of factors that affect the dynamic spine of an arrow shaft.

Arrow Energy Upon Release

Static spine is an important first step in selecting an arrow shaft, but selecting the proper arrow involves looking at a myriad of factors to make sure that the arrow is properly spined for the dynamic force of the exact bow that it will be used with.  The most critical variables to consider are: draw weight, draw length, shaft length, bow design, and point weight.  Let’s take a brief look at each of these variables.

Draw weight and draw length – When we realize that dynamic spine is the response of the arrow shaft to dynamic force, it is easy to see why draw length and draw weight are critical factors to consider when selected a properly spined arrow.  Put simply, the greater the draw weight and the longer the draw length, the more energy is built up in the bow at full draw, and transferred into the arrow shaft upon release.  The greater the amount of energy transferred into the arrow, the stronger the arrow needs to be.  Draw weight and draw length are essential factors to consider, but don’t stop with these two numbers, as many simple arrow selection charts do.

Arrow length – To standardize the ratings, the deflection of a static spine is measured with a 28” shaft; but obviously not everyone shoots arrows at that length.  If an arrow shaft is cut to a shorter length, then the static spine is actually increased.  Conversely, an arrow shaft longer than 28” will have a weaker deflection than what is published.  Think of taking two pieces of the same type of string and tying them to posts at different lengths.  The string that spans a shorter distance will be able to hold more tension (have more resistance to outside forces) than the string that spans a further distance.

Bow design – Not all bows are created equal.  You could take two bows that have identical draw weight and draw length settings, but don’t yield nearly the energy upon release.  There are several factors to consider when talking about how bow design may affect dynamic spine, but what it really boils down to is efficiency and aggressiveness.  Both bows may peak with a 70lb draw weight, but the “power stroke” of the two bows upon release may be significantly different.  The main design features that should be considered are cam style, brace height, and to some extent let-off.  The more aggressive the cam, and the shorter the brace height, the more dynamic force will be transferred into the arrow shaft, so a stiffer spine will be needed.

Point weight – It is common knowledge to recognize that changing the weight of a broadhead or field point will result in vertical point of impact changes down range, but what is often overlooked is that changes in point weight often have a very noticeable effect on the horizontal plane as well.  Increasing point weight decreases the arrow shaft’s dynamic spine, so often times a shaft with a stronger static spine is required as one increases the weight of their broadhead.  This phenomenon isn’t unique to broadheads and field points; rather it has to do with adding weight to either end of the arrow shaft, so to a lesser degree other weight changes, such as heavy lighted nocks or arrow wraps on the end of a shaft, will also affect dynamic spine.

A properly tuned bow is important, but the “secret” to getting fixed-blade broadheads and field points to fly together is having properly spined arrows.

Arrows With Broadheads & Field Points

Selecting a Properly Spined Arrow

Broadhead-tipped arrows are more sensitive to proper spine than arrows with field tips, so for the bowhunter, getting a properly spined hunting arrow is a must.  As you can clearly see, there are several things to consider when looking at arrow spine and selection charts from the various arrow shaft manufacturers.  If the charts have you in between two arrow spines, it is often recommended to go with the stiffer option.  But remember that you can increase or decrease dynamic spine by changing your arrow length, adjusting your bow’s draw weight, or adding/removing weight from the ends of your arrow.

We will talk more about finding the right arrow for your setup in a soon-coming article

A Universal Arrow Spine Selection Chart

Universal Arrow Spine Selection Chart

Bow Setup & Tuning – How to Tie Serving, Peep Sights, and Drop-Away Rests

In this article you will learn the technique of tying serving wraps.  This tying technique is essential for securing peep sights, installing cable-driven drop-away arrow rests, and repairing or replacing the center-serving on your bow string.  If you combine this tying technique with the one that we learned in our last post – How to Tie a D-Loop – you’ll be a bow installation and repair ninja.  That’s a fact.

The Starting Technique

Step 1 – Begin by laying a “tail” of serving material over the bowstring.  The end of the tail should originate from the direction that you will be wrapping towards (in our case, the right), and run back to the start of the wrap location (the left).

Serving Technique - Step 1

Step 2 – Start the serving wrap by making at least 5 tight wraps over the tail.

Serving Technique - Step 2

Step 3 – After the minimum of 5 wraps over the tail, bring the tail up and continue wrapping the serving without overlapping the rest of the tail.

Serving Technique - Step 3

Step 4 – Make a minimum of another 5 wraps; now the tail should be exposed with at least 5 tight wraps on either side of it, holding it securely in place.  Pull on the tail to snug everything into place.  Continue wrapping as needed.

Serving Technique - Step 4

The Finishing Technique

Step 1 – Create a loop with the serving material by coming across the back side of the bow string.

Serving Technique - Step 5

Step 2 – Begin wrapping the serving material through the loop, back towards the start of your main serving wrap.

Serving Technique - Step 6

Step 3 – After a minimum of 5 wraps, bring the end of your serving material back towards the very beginning of your wrap.  Take the loop that you created in Step 1 of the Finish Technique and wrap it back over the end tail, being sure wrap in the same direction that you started in the very beginning.  (This is difficult to explain but easy to see and comprehend in the video above.)

Serving Technique - Step 7

Step 4 – You should end up with a loop at the end.  Pull the tail end of the serving material through the wraps, which will get rid of this loop.

Serving Technique - Step 8 Serving Technique - Step 9

Step 5 – Continue pulling the end of the serving material, snugging everything into place.  Trim the tails of serving material to 1/4″.  Fuzz the ends of this material, melt with a lighter, and smash the melted stub into the serving wraps – sealing everything into place.

Serving Technique - Step 10

That’s it!  You now have a tight serving wrap on your bowstring.  In the next post we will learn how to apply this tying technique when installing and securing a peep sight.