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Mentor. Sensei. I have one, and his name is Patrick Smith. Patrick is one of my closest friends, and since he’s 20 years my senior, he’s also my surrogate father. I was raised by an adoptive father who was the hardest working man I ever met, but he was no hunter or angler, although he allowed me to run all over the mountains close to home as much as I wanted. He’s been gone many years, and I miss him still. At the age of 35, I met my birth father, a man for whom I have the greatest love, respect, and admiration. But he’s no hunter or angler. Patrick and I have known each other for many years, meeting by chance on a twelve-thousand-foot high ridge deep in central Colorado wilderness one summer evening. Since that time we’ve backpacked and skied hundreds of miles of Colorado backcountry. We’ve hunted elk and small game together. We’ve chased brook and cutthroat trout all over the state of Colorado. Patrick taught me much about reloading my own rifle and handgun ammunition. We’ve stayed up all night around tiny campfires, talking until our throats were sore, solving the world’s problems. He has given me more advice, taught me more lessons, and opened my mind to more possibilities than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s my friend and mentor. Thank you, Sensei.
By Grant Alban
If you’re like me (or shhh, my wife), you often have trouble pulling fish out of big rivers. Here in western Montana there is no shortage of great trout water (or so I’m told) – and that certainly seems to be the case…for others. I’m not a novice angler. I do occasionally catch fish when I go out and I have had some good days, but ususally they aren’t so good. I can read water and I understand where fish should be holding, but often times, most times, I don’t catch them. This could be attributable to several factors: not using the right fly, not having a perfect drift, not setting the hook when I do have a strike. Could be one, or all of those, I don’t really know. The truth is, it’s frustrating. In a city like Missoula where I’m surrounded by world class flyfisherman and women, I am thrilled to catch 3 11-inch cutthroats in 8 hours of floating. Sad, I know.
By Sean Clarkson
Now, we are finally getting into the gear that unfortunately too many hunters spend too much time contemplating long before the ones that we already discussed. It’s not that these next few items aren’t important; they are. It’s simply that in order of priority for a successful hunt, they rank behind the ones we discussed because they will be used less, will impact your hunt to a lesser degree, and are probably items that you already have, which will at least suffice for a while. The boots, pack, and shelter and sleeping system aren’t nearly as “sexy” as optics, clothing, firearms, and knives, but they will change your hunt – for better or worse – far more than those four glamor gear categories.
After boots, pack, and a sleeping system, good optics are the next most important thing on your gear list. This includes binoculars, rangefinders, and for rifle hunters a riflescope. To me, binoculars are the most important of all. I’d rather have a great set of binoculars, no rangefinder, and an iron-sighted rifle (or my bow), than no binos and the best rangefinder or scope money could buy. You will spend a lot of time behind your binoculars, scanning ridgelines and openings, dissecting dark timber, and picking apart drainages. Getting the best quality binoculars you can afford will make this time more productive – because you will see more and more clearly – and more enjoyably – because you will have less eye strain and headaches. Hours glassing means miles not hiked, and in the end, if you can find them with your eyes then you can get to them with your feet more efficiently.
Nearly every hunter obsesses about gear, and to some degree gear does make a difference. I’m going to go through what I learned elk hunting on my own as far as the gear that makes the difference and in order of priority. That said, none of this gear matters nearly as much if you don’t get your most important gear (your body and your mind) in shape first through the workouts and homework discussed in the first segment.
Elk hunting is done on your feet. As such, your boots are your most important piece of equipment. Boots that work for elk hunting are not at all like boots made for sitting in a treestand or a duck blind, or even going after upland birds. You need good, strong boots with solid ankle support and a rigid sole. Heavy hiking boots work incredibly well, and I went with a pair from Asolo that are leather uppers, Gore-Tex lined, lightly insulated, and have a rigid sole with good ankle support. These boots are flexible enough to be comfortable for long miles and hours of hiking over rugged, broken terrain but are stiff and strong enough to provide support when carrying heavy loads and when maneuvering over rocks, fallen trees, and other obstacles. Other solid hiking boot manufacturers offer similar boots. Make sure that they are very comfortable on your feet while providing a lot of support and that you wear them long enough and often enough before the trip to break them in.
By BHA Board Member, Sean Clarkson
For many of us who hunt and happen to live in areas where there are currently no elk, the dream of a Rocky Mountain Elk hunt is one that keeps us up at nights and fuels our daydreams. If you spend your time watching some of those “hunting shows” or reading most of the glossy magazines, elk hunts are right up there with exotic cars and fancy yachts; something that “you” will never get to experience because it costs a bunch and takes expertise you don’t have and will have to hire. Baloney!
You can hunt elk without breaking the bank, and you can do it on your own. I’ve done it, as have many others, and am gearing up to do it again. What I’m going to discuss with you in a two-part series is what I learned doing it on my own: what is important in hunting elk, and what you can do to do it yourself, too. My first elk hunt was in the fall of 2011 with a friend from back home. Neither of us had ever hunted elk before, and aside from being in the Denver International Airport, neither of us had ever set foot in Colorado, either. In the end, and for less than $1500 each, we both spent 9 days in the field (plus 2.5 days driving each way), both filled our elk tags, and both had a fantastic trip. If we can do it, so can you. Let’s get started.