Alright, at this point, my departure date is getting close enough that I think I can actually smell the sage brush that litters the steep mountains of Idaho. So, with that being said, let’s not waste any time with a lengthy intro. Instead, let’s jump right into my final product list.
EXO MOUNTAIN GEAR K2 5500 BACKPACK
I can’t stress the importance of choosing a quality backpack. And, while I have used a few good ones over the years, they all fail in comparison to the Exo K2 5500. This pack can simply do it all. I’ve tried to find a weakness in its design (maybe someday I might), but so far I haven’t.
The 5500 is a built around the companies K2 Titanium Frame which is vertically rigid, yet will easily move with you laterally. I have actually balanced my 220 pound body on this pack frame last fall to see if it would fail. It did not. The K2 Frame weighs in at 2lbs 12 oz. and is 25” tall.
I added the additional Meat Hauling Shelf to mine and gained an extra 2500 cubic inches. This shelf will actually rest between the frame and the 5500 pack so you can either add extra meat to your overall load or simply use the meat shelf alone to keep your pack innards free of blood and meat.
The K2 Frame also comes with various sized Hip Belts and an adjustable Lumbar Pad Foam that is covered in non-slip fabric to prevent pack shifting. In addition, the belt also has 1.5” of webbing that is great for holster attachments, pouches, etc. You can even micro-adjust the torso length of the pack from 16-21”. The cool thing is, any Exo bag will fit the K2 Frame. So, if I want a smaller pack than my 5500, I can simply add, say, the 3500 or 2000 pack to this frame.
The 5500 pack is the largest in the Exo Mountain Gear lineup and is perfect for big adventures in the backcountry. With just over 7000 cubic inches of carrying volume (side-pockets installed), this pack glides in at 5lbs 6oz. When combined with the frame weight, you are looking at just a touch over 8 lbs.
Now, that might sound heavy but consider this. Sure, you can get a backpack that will be lighter on the scales. In fact, I have some. But the difference between those packs and the Exo Mountain Gear K2 5500 is that this pack will make the same load feel much lighter than those other packs. In my opinion, overall lightweight features mean very little if a pack makes you feel like you’re carrying twice the weight. Know what I mean?
I can honestly say that, after carrying this pack around the Idaho Mountains last September, not once was I eager to take it off. Most of the time I’m counting the minutes until I can shed my load and take a breather. The Exo is that comfortable! And when you are climbing to 12,000 feet comfort is everything.
The 5500 also comes with a removable hood, roll-top closure system, water-bladder sleeve, zippered front access, 14 compression straps to secure just about anything, external stretch pockets, full-length side pockets (can hold rifles, spotting scopes, tent poles, etc.), 7 gear compartments, 20” side-zipper for easy access to main bag, angled-lower side pocket for access while wearing and internal Velcro strips in order to add separate mesh pockets. Lastly, the K2 5500 is made with 500d Cordura and 420d Diamond Ripstop fabric.
In my opinion, this is one of the best packs ever produced for hunting elk (or anything else) deep in the backcountry. I loaded it with enough food for multiple-days and gear and hauled it to upwards of 12,000 feet and not once was I uncomfortable. In short, this pack is the bee’s knees and will likely outlast me. My only complaint is that I haven’t put any blood on it…..yet.
SCHAFFER PERFORMANCE ARCHERY XV ARROW REST
We’ve all shot fall-away arrow rests or at least know someone who does. However, the Schaffer XV is unlike anything you’ve most likely seen. Instead of the arrow support arms falling forward, the support arms on the XV open up from the center out. In other words, it’s like taking your index finger and your thumb, placing them together and then opening them up.
The XV provides absolute containment. This means the arrow cannot move, make noise or fall off of the rest; no matter what position the bow is in. The rest can be activated when the bow is drawn or it can be locked into position prior to the shot. It has been speed tested at 418 fps and tips the scale at a feathery 2.5 oz. It also comes with mounting plates for the perfect custom fit.
I know, I could list a bunch of specs from any other arrow rest and blow your mind. So, what makes this one so good? A few things stick out in my head. I’ve filmed the rest in action myself and watched it open up long before my arrow fletching gets close to the rest and it’s the only rest that DID NOT require any movement when “Walk-Back” Tuning it. That has never, ever happened to me.
Despite using one of the most “popular” rests on the market, combined with several Mathews Flagship bows, there was always some movement required while performing the Walk-Back tune. Except this time. I like to think that it is due to the precision containment and lightning-fast way in which it lets go of the arrow.
I have been shooting this rest all summer and have never had to readjust it or reapply silencing material to the arms. It is whisper quiet, low profile, great looking (in my opinion) and performs every time. What else do I need to say?
MAVEN B.2 SERIES OPTICS
If the name doesn’t make things clear to you then the first time you gaze through a pair of Maven binoculars will. I’ve recently received this set of bino’s and I must say I see no reason why they will not perform in the high country where “good glass” is a must. Showing up on an elk hunt with good optics allows you to pick apart the terrain and find animals you normally would not see through a weaker set of bino’s.
I’ve compared these to many other brands I’ve used and even a few different brands that my friends use and the Maven optics are obviously brighter in low-light conditions. I also like the feel of the Maven’s and their ease of use when dialing the focus rings and individual eye pieces.
Maven makes clean, simple designs with the very best modern materials and technologies in order to create uncompromising gear; gear that carries “feel” of quality, yet, has the performance to back it up. Do not overlook this company.
SITKA BINO BIVY
A good Bivy system for your binoculars is critical when glassing and chasing elk. You don’t want a system that is bulking, in the way or cumbersome to use. The Bino Bivy System from Sitka is none of those things. It is a highly thought out, easy to use transport system for your glass.
With magnetic closure systems, easy to reach zipper handles, adjustable chest straps, spare storage pockets and a stout overall frame, the Sitka Bino Bivy rides so nicely on your chest you will almost forget it is there. And, just like everything that Sitka produces, this Bino Bivy is made to last.
The Bivy allows easy one-handed access to your optics with a lightweight suspension system, lens cloth, two exterior pockets and two lanyard straps.
Great looking, easy to apply and they do what they are supposed to do…..guide my fixed-blade broadheads with precision. I’ve yet to find anything better.
SONNY FITNESS STAIR CLIMBER
I know hunting fitness is all the craze right now and that is a good, positive thing. We need more of that in the industry. However, if you are planning to chase elk you may be under the wrong impression when it comes to training and what will really help you climb those tough mountains in September.
Honestly, in my opinion, the two most important parts of your body, the ones that need to be in shape, are your legs and your lungs. Period. Everything else is just an added bonus.
So, if you are like me and after work, your family and everything else in between you simply don’t have the time to devote hours every day to getting into “Elk Shape”, a simple stair-climber and a weighted backpack will do the trick. I filled mine with 45lbs and away I went.
Last year I devoted all of my training to my legs and my lungs using this method. And I can say with confidence that I literally ate the Idaho mountains up. And, the best part was I did it by spending 45-60 minutes a day on a stair-climber, in the comfort of my home, with my family still around. No long gym sessions away from the house. I just jumped on this thing while my body was in a “fasted state” and by the time I boarded the plane my legs and lungs were very strong.
It’s great if you have time to devote hours and hours a day to getting into shape for an elk hunt. I think that’s fine. But if you don’t, I promise this will do the trick.
I have NEVER shot my bow with a quiver attached while hunting whitetails or simply practicing. My bow just seemed to perform better without it. Then I tried a TightSpot quiver and my bow has never shot so well.
The thing I love about this quiver, among many things, is the fact that I can attach it and bring it so close to the centerline of my bow that it’s scary. This improves the overall feel of my bow and brings balance to it while also keeping my arrows within easy reach. That is something you want while chasing big-game animals in rugged terrain.
The TightSpot quiver has a ton of cool features that include one-hand detachment, up or down, forward or back and in and out adjustment capabilities, individually adjustable arrow grippers for a custom arrow fit, lightweight, vibration killing carbon construction and rubber dampening strips, acoustic dampening material inside of the broadhead hood (which is nearly unbreakable), tough materials and lastly, a Tailfan Design that allows the arrows enough space as to prevent your arrows fletching from vibrating together during the shot.
This is the sickest quiver I have ever used.
MONT-BELL DOWN HUGGER 800 #1 LONG SLEEPING BAG
When a freak storm hits in the backcountry, like they tend to do, you don’t want to climb into a sleeping system that you compromised based on cost. A sleeping bag is more than just a place to sleep. It could be your lifeline depending on the conditions you face. I chose Monte Bell for my last elk hunt and this year is no different.
By using strategic seam orientation and the stretch provided by gathered quilting, Mont-Bell offers a bag with unrivaled fit and comfort. The result is a sleeping bag that moves with you as you change positions during the night. This allows the 800 fill goose down to draw closer to your body, thus eliminating drafty dead spaces which lead to cold, sleepless nights on the mountain. Body heat should be kept in your sleeping bag.
The Down Hugger 800 weighs in at 3.2 lbs. and compresses down to nearly nothing. I was really amazed at how small I could make this sleeping bag. That freed up even more room in my Exo pack. The sleeping bag is filled with 800 Fill Power EX Down and is made of 20-denier Ballistic rip-stop nylon and a Standard DWR.
With a T Comfort rating of 23 degrees, a T Limit of 11 degrees, and a T Extreme Limit of -24 degrees, I slept in a Bivy-tent with mine at close to 12,000 feet elevation in mid-September and slept in warm and comfort all night. You will be amazed with this thing.
Steve Flores is the Editor for Appalachian Range Outdoors.
As I write this I am only 5 weeks away from heading west to chase a dream that has eluded me for some time now. But, that’s ok because I am a fool for the chase. I’ve fallen in love with elk hunting for a lot of reasons. One of them is the preparation. So much goes into a successful western big-game hunt. And, I’m not just talking about putting a bull on the ground. Success comes in many forms when your means of survival are riding on your back…literally. So, let’s continue my discussion on elk gear that I’ve used and found to be a great tool for success in the western mountains.
KENETREK MOUNTAIN EXTREME 400 BOOTS
The tagline for these puppies is “Hardcore Mountain Boots for Hardcore Mountain Hunting”. Believe me when I say that isn’t just a marketing phrase. Typically, after a long day of hunting I’m ready to relieve myself of whatever is covering my feet. However, last September I found myself sitting around spike camp at and base camp with my boots on. I honestly forgot they were on my feet.
Kenetrek’s Mountain Extreme Boots are made with a one piece vamp of 2.8 mm top grain leather build on top of a stiff nylon midsole. They also have high traction K-Talon outsoles that grip mud, rock and anything else you might encounter. These boots are waterproof and breathable thanks to the Windtex membrane.
I chose the model with 400 grams of Thinsulate Insulation in order to keep my feet warm on those cool mornings and evenings, yet not burn them up during warm mid-day hikes. The ankle support on the Mountain Extreme is second to none. You have no idea what type of conditions you are going to expose your feet to in the western mountains. Ankle support is absolutely vital to hiking and hunting success. These boots did not let me down.
Also, the lightweight property of this boot will surprise you. They come in at 4.2 lbs. And, frankly the price tag, in my opinion, reflects the quality and long-lasting ability of these boots. I likely will never need another pair. So, if you are looking for a boot that will get you through just about any rugged mountain hunt imaginable, and last a long time….look no further.
SITKA GEAR SUBALPINE ASCENT SERIES
In case you haven’t noticed, Sitka has quietly become a hunting gear juggernaut. I used to think I knew what quality hunting clothing was. Then, I started to ignore all the hype being thrown around and started actually looking at the gear I was using. I quickly discovered I had been missing out on some unbelievable stuff. The difference is simple. Sitka doesn’t make All-Purpose gear. They make Specialized Gear that ultimately improves your outdoor experience.
I remember packing my clothes for last year’s hunt and to be honest I was worried. Why? Well, my entire pack felt so lightweight I had sincere concerns that Mother Nature was going to kick my butt if she felt the urge. I was much more accustomed to heavier clothing. The Mountain Series I was bringing along was very light. However, after 10 days in the Idaho backcountry I had reached the conclusion that this stuff was next-level. Not once did I feel uncomfortable while enduring changing temps, rain, cold, heat, etc. The layering system worked flawlessly.
This year Sitka has introduced the lightest system they have ever created. Their new Ascent Series of clothing is nothing short of the bee’s knees. This lineup is much lighter than the Mountain Series because it was built for warm days when you’ve got to cover a lot of ground quickly in order to reach your bull or mule deer.
I tested the pants and shirt hunting black bear in Canada last month and they both proved to be very, very effective for early-season hunting when temps run on the warm side but can fluctuate and drop in the evenings. This should mimic conditions I will find myself in next month chasing elk.
The coolest part of the system, I think, is the new SubAlpine pattern that Sitka just released this year. It is designed for engagement ranges of 50 yards or less, on the ground, in vegetated terrain; kind of sounds like elk hunting doesn’t it? Take one look at the color pallet of the Optifade SubAlpine and I think you will agree that this stuff will make you a ghost in the timber. I can’t wait to test it on early-season “Mountain” bucks. However, there is just one color missing…..RED. I hope to change that very soon.
Next time I’m going to tell you, among other things, about the best arrow rest I’ve ever used. You’ve probably never seen it or heard its name mentioned much. But, trust me when I say you are missing out. This thing is legit. Oh yeah, and I think I will share which sleeping bag I use and the unbelievable features it has. Until then, God Bless and “Pick A Spot”. Writer’s Note: I would like to thank my hunting partner Marcus Flesher for his priceless guidance in helping me choose most of the elk gear I have written about.
It’s hot. I mean really hot. Summertime in Appalachia typically has a few guarantees and a couple of those are heat and humidity. There are any number of activities that people can do to beat the summer heat, but few are as fun as watching a bass absolutely destroy a top-water lure.
Every year there are a number of people that quit fishing when the hot, humid days of summer begin due to slow biting response. Don’t put away those rods just yet though; there is still a lot of great fishing to be had. In fact, when the temperature rises can be some of the most action packed fishing of the year.
The top-water bait is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable and exciting forms of fishing that we do. As with any style of fishing, there are all kinds of different things that can make an outing successful or not. Focusing your time during low-light hours such as daybreak, nightfall, and throughout the night will greatly put the odds in your favor. In addition, top-water, summertime bass fishing often comes down to simply what kind of lure you have tied on.
One question I see bouncing around every year during summer is, “How do you know what kind of top-water lure to throw?” That’s a loaded question, so I’ll start with the basics.
The majority of top-water lures made fall into one of three general categories: poppers, walkers, and blade/prop style baits. They come in a myriad of colors and sizes as well as various design styles within each category. For the most part, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of each in your arsenal. Once on the water, it is really just a process of elimination to find out what type, size, and color the bass want.
Blade and prop style baits, such as buzz baits and torpedo style lures, create a lot of noise. Whether you work them slow or fast, making significant water disturbance and causing a scene are the end results. The two main colors I’ve found to be the most productive are white and black. Sometimes the bass can be picky and want a larger or smaller style, but a good “middle of the road” size will cover you in almost all situations.
That same general size principle goes for all top-water style baits. For the most part, and from my experience, throwing these types of baits is either really successful or not much. If you throw a blade or prop lure for 15-20 minutes without any interest at all, it’s time to switch.
Popper style lures are typically elongated in shape and have an opened “cup” on the face of the lure. This “cup” is what makes the popper, well, a popper. I like to work this lure with short twitches and 1-10 second pauses in between. The forward splash of water made by the popper creates an injured baitfish imitation that drives fish crazy. Two specific examples of when I’ll tie on a popper are when fish seem to like the splash of a buzz-bait or prop style lure but keep missing the bait, or when they are inspecting and turning away from the same lures.
This is a good strategy since often times fish want the action of a buzz or prop style lure but will not commit to chasing it down and striking it. The ability to start and stop a popper gives the bass the best of both worlds since the lure creates a significant splash, but also has a subtle stop. Some days however, fish just simply like a little more subtleness to a lures action. This is where walking baits come into play.
I consider walking baits to be the most versatile of all the top-water lures, and my personal favorites. You can work them as slow or fast as you like, as loud or quiet as you like, and they cast a mile! They come in more colors and sizes imaginable as well as with different shaped bodies, rattles, hook options, and well…you get the picture. Generally, these lures are “cigar” shaped. They are simply designed lures which are elongated in nature and have a cone shape to each end. Due to that design, they really don’t make a huge commotion unless you are really working them hard. I like to work them with short twitches of the rod creating that classic side to side motion, or what is referred to as “walking the dog”, stopping just 0.5-5 seconds in between twitches.
Unless I see a lot of bass active feeding on the surface, I usually always start out with this style bait. Once I figure out if the fish want a loud or subtle retrieve, I usually then decide whether or not to switch to a different style lure. For both poppers and walking baits, I generally prefer natural colors such as black, white, silver, green, or multi-colored baitfish specific patterns.
For the most part, once you figure out the type of action they want you can start consistently catching fish. From there, you can experiment with colors and sizes to figure out the “hot” lure of the day. Also, most bodies of water have a certain size and color the fish seem to always prefer. Remember what really works well today because on your next trip out they just might be keyed in on the same exact thing. So next time you look at the forecast and see those hot and humid days stacking the odds against you, grab your top- water box, your favorite fishing rod, and go take advantage of the hand that you are dealt. You never know, it just might be the best day of fishing you have ever had.
Editor, Appalachian Range Outdoors
Lately, I’ve been bombarded with questions regarding my gear and why I choose to employ certain items….and that’s a good thing! I love discussing anything related to bowhunting and all of the neat gear that is associated with it. So, I thought it would be cool to share, over the next several weeks, exactly what I will be bringing with me into the Idaho backcountry in September.
Let’s get started with one of the hottest topics in bowhunting….broadheads. Over the last several weeks I’ve received more questions about which broadhead I’m shooting and why. So, here is the lowdown on what is on the business end of my arrow and which arrow that is.
G5 STRIKER BROADHEADS
I look for several things in a broadhead but probably at the top of the list is accuracy. I don’t mean 20-30 yard accuracy. Most broadheads will shoot fairly well at such close ranges. I’m talking about long-range missile type accuracy. It’s been my experience that after 50 yards, a broadhead will begin to show its true colors.
In other words, the longer the distance, the more critical things become and a well-made, spin-tested broadhead will fly just as good at 80 yards as it will at 30. So, I stretch the distance as much as possible to see how closely my fixed-blade heads fly in comparison to my field points.
After a few weeks of testing, the G5 Striker has shown to fly like a dart out of my Mathews Halon 32. It is whisper quiet in flight and lands pretty much in the same area as my field points. The solid-steel construction of the G5 was also a big selling point for me. I love the idea of having no aluminum parts in my broadhead.
Lastly, broadheads need to be as sharp as possible. Unlike a bullet that hits with a ton of kinetic energy and kills with Static Shock (in addition to tissue damage), a broadhead only kills by one method….major hemorrhaging (blood lose). So, whatever it comes into contact with must be sliced like up like a Christmas ham.
The G5 Striker is scary sharp. The kind of sharp that can send you to the ER for some needle and thread if you are not extra careful. And, after repeatedly shooting mine into foam, they seem to be keeping their edge very well. That tells me that the quality of the blade is good. But, of course, I will be replacing the blades with fresh, scalpel sharp ones prior to heading into the timber.
VICTORY VAP ELITE 350 ARROWS
I’ve shot a lot of different arrows over the years and the reason I am sold on Victory arrows comes down to one thing. No Fliers. What I mean is that I’ve never come across a Victory arrow that did not shoot EXACTLY like the rest of the arrows in my quiver. No matter what other brand I’ve shot there always seemed to be one or two “fliers” in the dozen. An arrow that for whatever reason, just didn’t fly like the rest of his comrades. This always led to me numbering my arrows in order to keep track of the ones that flew the best.
After shooting dozens and dozens of Victory arrows I have yet to find the need to number them in order to identify the best shooters. I honestly just launch my VAP Elite’s without a care in the world because I know they will all perform identically to one another.
Sure, there are a bunch of technical reasons why I think Victory arrows are top-shelf but I don’t want to sound like an infomercial. You can research the technical side of things if you wish. But, if you’re anything like me, you want to know how things perform in the “real world”.
In my opinion, consistently landing arrow after arrow from 80 yards out, with a fixed blade head leading the way, is a good enough test for me. I’m sold on what these arrows can do. I won’t try to sell you on them. If you give them a try they will simply sell themselves.
I hope I’ve answered some of the questions you have regarding my broadhead/arrow combination. If not, feel free to ask me directly or visit the Appalachian Range FB page and post up some questions. There are lots of seasoned hunters there who can shed more light on the subject. And, it never hurts to get different points of view. That is what makes bowhunting so cool. Like I said, this is just the start of the discussion regarding my gear. In the coming weeks I’m going to dive deeper into the things I use and why. Things like clothing, boots, optics, and (my favorite) backpacks. Eventually, this discussion about elk gear will turn into “Mountain” bucks and what I and my partners use and why. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Until then, God Bless and pick a spot!
Editor, Appalachian Range