Recent “Best Of” Hunting Videos
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A smattering of videos I’ve come across in the past months.

Elk101.com’s new release “Wyoming”

A couple elk hunts from Got Hunts

A high country mountain goat hunt in SW Colorado

A Sitka black-tail hunt on Raspberry Island, AK

Alaska caribou fly-in hunt

Enjoy!

Cross Cut Mapping Technique
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The importance of studying maps and planning elk hunting routes that maximize your strengths cannot be understated. As I look at the ever growing archive of Google Earth files and saved Caltopo maps, I’ve tried to amalgamate most of our mapped routes into one single categorical label.

My elk hunting buddies and I are reasonably fit, willing to pack an elk out from almost anywhere, consider a hunt’s enjoyment nearly ruined if we encounter other hunters on the mountain, and seek to maximize the utility of our lightweight approach by bivy hunting along 3-5 day loops. We also try to minimize trail miles, and hopefully, target spots that get better as hunting pressure on the surrounding landscape intensifies.

I’ve come up with the term “cross cut mapping”. Now I’m neither a carpenter, nor the son of a carpenter, but my dad was never afraid to tackle anything around the house growing up, so by default, I’m a competent wood worker. A rip cut is when you cut with the grain of the wood. For instance, you take a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood and turn it into 2, 2 x 8 sheets of plywood. A cross cut is when you take a 2 x 6 x 8 piece of lumber and cut it in half to create 2 4 foot pieces of 2 x 6. Simple, and most of you know this.

To describe cross cut mapping, let all access points, trailheads, parking lots, dead end forest service roads, and trails represent the grain of the landscape. To hunt with the grain of the landscape is to batter the ground in the same manner that it’s meant to be walked. Along trails, from primary access points, following the natural seams and contours of the landscape.

A couple years ago, we got a hair-brained idea to consider the Maroon Bells Wilderness area for our next DIY elk hunting adventure. Now, we’ve since tossed that notion aside, but I’ll use some mapping examples to illustrate what I’m talking about. In fact, feel free to go hunt these exact loops and tell me what you see. They’ve got the PAG stamp of approval (inside joke there).

If you’re hunting with the grain of the landscape, you’d just stay on the dashed trail leading up East Creek drainage. There is nothing wrong with that, you might kill an elk, it’ll be easier packing since you’re near the trail, and navigational worries are kept to a minimum, but it doesn’t maximize our skill set and approach to elk hunting. Now look at the red trail we digitized in. See how it initially uses trail to gain elevation but quickly deviates to a side hilling approach to probe likely benches and attacks some really steep terrain to access some hanging basins that are perched way above main trails in the area.

You can click on the map photos to view at full resolution.

Another example of the same thing. Most hunters are going to work the trail up towards American Lake, loop up towards Hayden Peak, and be back to the trailhead by dark. The red trail is great 2-3 day loop hike that hunts through a perfect combination of steep dark timber, open high country, and hanging basins inaccessible from the main trails below. It smartly uses an established trial to gain most of the initial elevation and then spurs off side hill.

I think the cross cut analogy should be making sense by now. At some point, you might have to deviate from the well traveled path in order to find unpressured elk in hard-hunted areas such as OTC Colorado. Hunting against the grain isn’t for everyone, and it can definitely put you in some uncomfortable situations if you’re not careful. In fact, we very nearly over-extended our abilities to pack out an elk in our 2014 hunt, so we’re still learning. That said, hopefully this cross cut mapping mindset will help you see something a little different the next time you look at a topographical map of your hunting area. It’s worked for us and we’ll be putting it to the test again this fall with some new elk hunting spots in Colorado.

Does “Size Matter” OR Is “Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder”?
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Alright, clear your brain waves of whatever it is you thought I was going to write about in this blog post…this is about pronghorn hunting. More specifically, how to construct the proper mindset for going in to a pronghorn hunt when you (A) are not an expert at field judging antelope, and (B) are not too obsessed with shooting a pronghorn of at least a certain size.

First off, if you are good at field judging antelope and have lots of experience doing it, then I respect your skills and hope you find that buck of your dreams…you know, the one that will net 80 3/8″ after drying instead of coming up just short at a paltry 79 7/8″. Respect, but does size really matter?

I ain’t that guy, so here’s an approach that brings a good balance to the attitude of “I have to shoot a B&C goat” and “Wow, I wasn’t that concerned about size, but this thing is a peen!” This approach will bring you the best of both worlds – it will push you to shoot the best goat your respective area has to offer, and it’s destined to leave you feeling satisfied and accomplished even if your goat comes in under whatever “inches of horn” threshold you have floating around in your head. Perhaps beauty is actually in the eye of the beholder?

Let’s start with the obvious. There isn’t a tremendous amount of difference between a buck that will squeeze past P&Y minimums and a buck that will sit neatly in the mid 70′s. Look at any “score this pronghorn” thread on any website and you’ll see the range of opinions are almost comical. Once you rule out the sub-13″ers, bucks can start to look the same. Just ask Andrew from his hunt with me in Wyoming in 2007. He was going cross-eyed after we looked at the 150th 64-72″ buck in 2 days of hunting. Back to that hunt in a minute…

Antelope, though remarkably cookie cutter, come in an array of configurations if one looks closely. A 13″ buck with strong prongs, mass, and ivory tips might be worth hanging on the wall, while a 15″er with lesser prongs, smaller mass, and a classic heart shape would also be a trophy. Those are just 2 variants of which the list is LONG. As in, I could take the time and write up 20 different trait combinations that I’d consider a good goat, and that effort would just begin to scratch the surface. That said, most antelope hunters neither have deep enough pockets to purchase top-notch German glass for getting a truly great look at each potential target nor the ability to differentiate the finer points of scoring antelope at ranges of 200, 300, and 400 yards. Good luck differentiating 1 or 2 inches in horn length or between a 4 or 5 inch prong.


Photo by Karen Lawrence Photography

Again, referencing comment above, there are guys who make a science of this and who truly are expert field judgers, but they are in the 1%.

For the rest of us, there is no doubt it’s tough if you’re dead set on counting each and every inch. In fact, it’s unrealistic, so unrealistic that it sets up the entire situation for disappointment. Is it really okay to be disappointed with a 72″ goat when you thought you were pulling the trigger on a 75″ buck? I think not, and if you are mopey after ground checking an under-sized animal, perhaps hunting in a pen where the owners can narc your future trophy and do the whole pre-measure and ring you up at the cash register thing, maybe that’s more your speed.

So here’s the system, the mindset, if you will. Decide on a characteristic or two that really appeal to you, and you can probably find a buck that fits the bill. Now proportionally, your unit might only be capable of serving up a 13″, 5″ mass, 5″ prong buck or it might be a 14.5″ tall, 5.5″ mass, 5.5″ prong, but it’s going to be what you envision as your trophy antelope. In 2007, Andrew got off on a goofy streak, and the mission became simple. Find him a goofy looking buck that doesn’t look like a copy-cat to the scores we’ve already glassed. I wanted a representative buck which was a really general goal, and it led me to shoot a buck with decent length, decent prongs, and decent mass…kind of like shooting a 17″ wide 8 point 3-year old buck in white-tail terms.

So all that to say, as you prepare for an antelope hunt, start coming up with a profile that pinpoints what you’d like to find in an antelope. I’m guessing we’ll all come up with slightly different mental pictures, and that’s great. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

To wrap up, do your best to learn some basic rules about field judging pronghorn. Yes it is a supreme challenge to accurately field judge antelope but there are three rules of thumb that I keep coming back to. (A) – Mass is where the inches are. Antelope get 4 mass measurements and any “how to field judge antelope” will stress this. An antelope with heavy mass is going to score well. (B) Where does the prong start in relationship to the eartip? If the prong comes off the horn lower than the eartip, that buck is probably not longer than 12, maybe 13″ if he’s got good curl at the tip. Once you have length guesstimated, then prongs, curl, shape, width, mass, all the like come into play. (C) Never walk away from an antelope until you have seen him from the front AND side. A 14″ buck that leans forward will look like an 11″ buck from 300 yards away straight-on. Turn that buck sideways and his length will become apparent, and who knows, he might be sporting 7″ prongs to boot! I’m not sure any one of these is more important than another, but if you can assess this 3 point checklist, you’ve got most of the information you need to decide on whether or not to pull the trigger for any given buck.

This is an edited version of an email that I sent to each of my hunting buddies for this fall’s upcoming Wyoming antelope hunt. They have lots of time to think about what brand antelope will get them excited, and I’m looking forward to seeing how those different tastes and preferences play out as October gets closer.

Puffies, Pads, and Pins – Gear Update
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Picked up a heavily discounted puffy jacket that will serve as a back-up to my Stoic Hadron (for which I have nothing but the highest praise!). It isn’t quite the same quality but it’ll ride along on Western hunts and will probably become my go-to treestand layer to avoid putting extra wear and tear on my Stoic.

Also, Klymit ran a tremendous sale of sleeping pads a couple weeks ago. Pete put the sale on my, and a couple others’, radar. By the time the Paypal accounts stopped firing, I’m pretty sure our contingency ate up at least half of their inventory. For the price (I paid $30 for the pictured pad), I have a high quality sleeping pad that is only 1 ounce heavier than my Peak Elite A/C. The Klymit will serve as a back-up pad until my current sleep system needs a repair.

Lastly, I have to give a shout out to Spot Hogg’s customer service. I emailed them about a broken fiber optic leading to my top pin on my archery sight, and they sent great instructions on how I could fix it myself with a lighter and deft touch. It worked like a charm and I don’t have to start shopping for a new sight like I thought I was going to have to.

2016 Outdoor Aspirations
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So with all this talk of planning DIY hunts, you’d be right to assume there are plans brewing for fall 2016. But let’s take the year chronologically. I’m a list guy – love to cross things off a list, and love to stare at things on a calendar in anticipation. Also, if you’ve read the blog for long at all, you know I am stickler for preparation, perhaps crossing the line into overkill. That’s part of who I am and laying out my goals for the outdoors is an enjoyable exercise I do at the end of every year. Here is a running list of what fuels my anticipatory outdoor enthusiasm for 2016.

*Crappie fishing (>60 keepers). Last year, Raelyn was my fishing buddy and we’ll build on that this year. Fun is the #1 goal, but tasty fillets in the freezer is a close #2.

*20 miles of canoe floats. This equates to roughly 4 float trips where smallmouth bass are the principle target. I fell just short of covering 20 new miles of waterways last year, and that will be a goal for this year as well.

*Catfishing. Don’t have specific objectives here other than to just get out and go catfishing as the weather warms into summer. Again, fair chase protein is the name of the game.

*Permission to hunt private property in Ohio. This is almost solely for the purpose of having a place where I can set up a double ladder stand to take Raelyn this next fall. Hunting deer on public land doesn’t lend itself to taking a kindergartner hunting with any reasonable expectation of at least occasionally seeing deer.

*Colorado archery elk. We are continuing the every other year pattern and making our 3rd trip to chase elk in the high country. I’ve been doing some gear shuffling (stay tuned for those updates in future posts) and have started a training regimen to get back in mountain shape. This will be mid-September per usual. Can’t wait to lay my tired head down on some hard rock while shrill bugles serenade me to sleep.

*Wyoming rifle antelope. This is the other big one for 2016. My dad, dad’s hunting buddy, Andrew (college roommate and past partner for Montana bear 2014 and WY combo hunt 2007), another one of my hunting friends, plus myself are planning to cash in our 3 preference points and go hunt speedgoats in October. This will be a blast and unit scouting is in full force for me right now.

*Ohio deer hunting. Let’s just say that I’ve eaten tag soup on mature public land bucks the past 2 seasons…not planning on that becoming a 3-peat.

*NC deer hunting. Getting back “home” for some deer hunting is a fixture in my annual plans, but forgetting about it and forgetting to plan sometimes means it just gets pushed off the calendar. That happened in 2014 and I really missed hunting deer at dad’s place that fall. I’ll probably target the same window that I hunted this year – mid November as the bucks are losing their minds.

Every year presents new and exciting challenges and opportunities, and this year will be no different. There is a certain amount of freedom that comes with planning a DIY hunt for just yourself or a tandem, but I’m feeling a bit of pressure with the Wyoming adventure as I definitely want that hunt to be a lifetime experience for everyone going along. Hunting elk in Colorado will provide a nice balance as I know exactly what to expect, and the only real preparation (other than a few gear tweaks) has been reduced to bulking up to haul meat off the mountain (hopefully) and offsetting inevitable weight loss associated with that much energy expenditure. White-tailed deer hunting will keep me grounded in my Eastern roots, and fishing/hiking trips with Raelyn will certainly provide the light-hearted enjoyment and relaxation that can be savored in the outdoors.

2016 – more “hunts of a lifetime”, plenty of planned protein procurements, and the anticipation will only build from here!

Infolinks 2013