Backcountry Gear Starters

Gear to get you started hunting the backcountry

by Jason Brooks

For the backcountry hunter and hikers there really is no “off season” but instead the “adjustment season”. When the snows are too deep to get safely into the high country then it is time to organize and critique our gear. Veteran backcountry explorers know that mending, cleaning, and evaluating gear is an important part of success. For those that are new to the backcountry game this is the time to research and gain knowledge on what you really need in the high country. Here are a few tips to get a novice started as well as reminder for the experienced backcountry hunter to go thru their gear and purchase any necessities for the coming season.

Tents and tarps should be lightweight shelters to get you out of the weather-Jason Brooks

Shelter

Probably the most important gear is your shelter and it can vary depending on the season you plan to hunt as well as where you prefer to hunt. For hunters that find themselves along the Cascade crest or high elevations then rain and even snow is not uncommon during the early September “High Hunt” in Washington. I’ve spent so many nights in a “bivvy bag” during a rainstorm that I now prefer to put some extra weight into my pack by using a three season, two-person tent. When I am joined by a hunting companion we split the load and I carry a three-person tent and they carry other shared items.

Teepee’s and “hot tents” are becoming very popular in the backcountry these days, as well. These lightweight nylon tarp shelters are easy to pitch and when combined with a titanium stove you can stay warm during the surprise snow storm and dry out after an afternoon rain squall. One drawback is that most models don’t use a floor as this adds a lot of weight.

Campfire cooked trout is a delight in the high country-Jason Brooks

Food

Back in the “good ole’ days” the MRE, or Meal Ready to Eat, perfected in the finest kitchens the U.S. Military could find, at the lowest bid of course, meant we gorged on high calorie, high sodium, food that would live well past our lifetime. They are heavy and produced a lot of garbage with their packaging. Since then freeze dried meals started showing up in our packs and now there are many supplements we can add throughout our day to increase our energy. Check out some of the products by MtnOps. And when it comes to coffee, it’s hard to beat a fresh brewed cup and thanks to some innovative processing and packaging Ascent Packs from Dark Timber Coffee makes it easy to have a morning cup of coffee in the backcountry.

If you like to enjoy your catch or harvest while in the backcountry, it’s hard to beat some campfire trout or coconut oil sautéed grouse. To bring along some spices to flavor your harvest you can package them at home in plastic drinking straws, bend over the ends and secure them with tape or rubber bands. They are lightweight and waterproof. You can use this idea to keep matches dry in your pack too.

Dress in layers of quality clothing to stay warm, dry and safe-Jason Brooks

Clothing

Technology, fashion, and practicality have really helped the hunter who heads to the high country. With new materials like microfiber, nylon, fleece, and Gore-Tex those that head to the backcountry can lighten their load by not having to carry too many extra clothes. The company motto for Sitka Gear really rings true, “Turning clothing into gear”.

Layering is the most important survival “tactic” we can use and it starts at the trailhead. Pack away the outer shell and any cold gear, so not to sweat too much as you hike. Once you stop it’s time to add a layer. The fashion world might seem like an unlikely place for hunters to find clothing but in reality it reminds us that sometimes the natural world provides some of the best clothes. A fur hat on a cold and windy Montana mule deer hunt keeps you warm.

When it comes to your laying system, be practical about it. Instead of buying a heavy winter coat that a hunter would use in a tree stand in Wisconsin, buy a lightweight waterproof shell, a fleece jacket, a wool shirt, and some micro-fiber undershirts. You will stay much warmer and you can lighten up as you hike and adjust for sunny days or a sudden snow storm. Wool is truly your friend in the backcountry and remember “cotton kills”. Stay away from cotton clothing, especially “Long Johns”, t-shirts and jeans. Not only is it heavy but it also cools when wet and it will lead to hypothermia.

A lightweight and compact all-in-one stove, like the Stryker, is a must have-Jason Brooks

Cooking Stoves

The thought of eating a cold lunch always bothered me. Several years ago I started carrying a lightweight stove with me all day. Back then I used the MSR “Pocket Rocket” and then made the move to an “all-in-one” system with the Camp Chef Stryker. When sitting on a ridge it sure is nice to have a hot cup of coffee or some hot oatmeal for lunch. During a rainstorm I often crawl under a tree and have a hot meal. It’s hard to start a fire under such a tree without causing concern of a forest fire, even when it’ snowing and the fire would consist of one tree.

But the all-in-one system allows me to heat water quickly and have a meal with no fire needed. The Stryker has a built in igniter and the butane canister nestles into the cup along with the burner and stand. One major advantage to carrying a lightweight stove during the day is that you can lighten up your lunch weight with dried foods and if you have a water source nearby you don’t even have to carry extra water. More than once I have found myself on the trail back to camp well after dark and stop along the way to eat dinner. When I finally make it back to camp I go to bed without having to stay up late to eat some calories.

Little comforts like a hot meal on a cold night make it possible to stay in the backcountry for long periods-Jason Brooks

Comforts

You would be surprised how a small item that takes your mind off of things helps you extend your stay in the backcountry. Though these “comfort” items add weight they are as much needed as a good tent or sleeping bag if you plan on a long trip, especially a solo one. I prefer to take a paperback book or the latest issue of my favorite hunting magazine. A hunting buddy of mine carries a small 35mm film canister with some dice. Another carries a deck of cards. You can pass a thunderstorm inside of a tent with these items, or if awakened by something going “bump in the night” they can get you back to sleep. One last item that is my absolute “must have” in my backpack for comfort is a small MP3 player and headphones (ear buds). It is extremely lightweight and last days on a single charge. This past fall while packing out my elk from the Idaho backcountry it took me four trips with heavy loads on my back. The last trip I was skipping along past camp to the meat hanging tree and the guys couldn’t understand where I got my energy from. I was listening to my favorite music and happily hiking along not even feeling the weight of that bull on my back.

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Rifle Review: Kimber Mountain Ascent

by Jason Brooks

Being a backcountry hunter for the past thirty-plus years I have learned that weight is everything. Over the years I have hunted far from the trailhead and in the early years I started with an all-steel Remington Model 141 Gamemaster chambered in 35 Remington and topped with a weaver fixed 4X scope. That rifle package weighed over 10 pounds. Since then I have gone through a few different rifles trying to balance weight with accuracy and ballistics. I’ve never really found a rifle that I liked until I came across the new Kimber Mountain Ascent. The Kimber Mountain Ascent is the lightest bolt action hunting rifle in production today.

Kimber’s Mountain Ascent is a lightweight and extremely accurate rifle for the backcountry-Jason Brooks

My Kimber Mountain Ascent chambered in .280 Ackley Improved with a Vortex Razor HD LH 2-10x40mm scope weighs in at just over 6 pounds. I’ll review the re-emergence of the .280 Ackley Improved cartridge in another blog along with the new Razor HD Lightweight Hunter scope. I’m very impressed with both. So here is the lowdown on the rifle that packs light, shoots straight, and kills efficiently.

The three position Model 70 style safety is easy to use and very reliable-Jason Brooks

I chose the solid moss green stock for my Kimber Mountain Ascent because I just don’t care much for camouflage stocks. The moss green stock is made of reinforced carbon fiber that is extremely lightweight, resists scratching, and has texture so it stays solid in your hand on wet, cold days. If you prefer a camouflage stock Kimber has Gore Optifade “Open Country” and “Subalpine” stock options with soft touch finishes that are warm to the touch and grip easily.

The first thing I noticed about the rifle was the long barrel. Most “mountain rifles” come with either 20 or 22-inch barrels to save weight. In lieu of a short barrel Kimber flutes a very thin 24-inch barrel to give it strength and stability. The longer barrel offers higher velocities since the bullet has a longer path to travel and build pressure. It also increases accuracy as the bullet can stabilize with an extended distance in contact with the rifling. With the longer barrel there’s also less margin of error when it comes to pointing the barrel at your target.

However, this is a hunting rifle, not a range rifle, and after the second subsequent shot the barrel was warm to the touch. Three quick successive shots and the barrel was borderline hot. In a perfect world we make “one shot kills” but when an immediate follow-up shot is needed be aware of barrel heating. When sighting-in at the range adequate time is needed between groups to let the Kimber’s lightweight barrel cool down. I’d recommend practicing with this rifle at the range before taking it afield. It’s so lightweight that it may take you a few range sessions to get a feel for shooting it.

A muzzle break helps tame the recoil of the light rifle-Jason Brooks

The larger-caliber Mountain Ascent’s comes with a threaded barrel and cap as well as a muzzle break. It’s your choice on which to use and they change out easily. I prefer the muzzle break since the rifle is very lightweight. Recoil can be an issue with any lightweight rifle and the muzzle break helps with this as does the with the pre-fitted Pachmeyr Decelerator pad that’s standard with the Kimber. My rifle doesn’t kick enough for me to worry about flinching as long as I used hearing protection, which is a must with a muzzle break. With the muzzle break the .280 Ackley Improved and the rest of the magnum calibers are a dream to shoot with the Mountain Ascent. Lightweight rifles certainly produce more recoil and the muzzle break attenuates that nicely.

A fully adjustable trigger makes for a fine shooting rifle-Jason Brooks

Extremely lightweight rifles are often given a bad reputation for being inaccurate. This can be partly due to a heavy trigger pull and the shooter rocking the rifle or “rolling” their finger on the trigger instead of using a steady pull. Kimber is well aware of this and allows shooters who prefer a light trigger to make this adjustment easily. Each rifle is test fired before leaving the factory and Kimber guarantees sub-MOA accuracy.

My first range session had me wondering how this was possible. After realizing I was moving the rifle as I was firing it I looked up how to adjust the trigger. A couple bedding screws keep the action and free-floating barrel in the stock and two small set-screws on the trigger assembly adjust the weight-of-pull and trigger travel. It took me about five minutes from start to finish to adjust the trigger. Since then I have had sub-MOA accuracy with quality ammo every time I’ve shot the rifle.

Every ounce that can be shaved has been taken off of the rifle-Jason Brooks

The action has just about every ounce shaved off including hollowing the bolt handle and trimming down the action. The rifle will hold four rounds in the internal magazine but I had some difficulty trying to chamber a round when I put all four cartridges in the gun. Instead I would only put three rounds in the rifle and for the most part it chambers and cycles just fine. Again, think of this rifle as a “make the shot count” tool and you will have no problems.

The author with an Idaho backcountry bull he took with the Kimber Mountain Ascent-Jason Brooks

The Kimber Mountain Ascent is an extremely accurate rifle that is easy to carry in the field, so “making the shot count” is not much of a problem. It took me one shot at 310 yards to kill a five-point bull elk in Idaho’s backcountry this past fall and I had no problem carrying the rifle back to camp with a heavy load of meat. With any lightweight backcountry hunting rifle I’m reticent to take shots beyond 400 yards and this rifle is no different.

The Kimber Mountain Ascent fits the criteria as a true mountain hunting rifle and in my opinion is well worth the price. If you’re looking to shave pounds or even ounces off your load on your next backcountry hunting trip this rifle should be at the top of your list.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

How Much Should I Pay for a Scope?

Modern scopes are fog-proof, recoil-proof with brilliant coated lenses, positive adjustments. Enough! (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

By Wayne Van Zwoll

Accuracy follows precise aim. But useless features are a money pit. Maybe you should spend less!

Many of the biggest animals in B&C records fell to rifles with iron sights. Jim Jordan’s whitetail. John Plute’s elk. Zack Elbow’s Quebec-Labrador caribou, Ed Broder’s mule deer. You might say hunters these days have more competition for fewer outstanding animals, that shorter seasons and limited permits reduce the number of chances you’ll get, even at great distance.

Optical sights help you make the most of each shot, and score at long range. But spending more money on a scope doesn’t guarantee you more effective shooting.

This SIG has features now common: illuminated reticle, parallax dial, finger-friendly elevation dial. (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

When I began ogling scopes, Weaver cataloged its K4 at $45. Like Bausch & Lombs, Leupolds, Lymans and Redfields then, K4s were fog-proof, with coated lenses – improvements that made post-1948 scopes much better than earlier versions. I still like the 4x sights of that era.

Now scopes have more features. Variable power is up from 3-times magnification (bottom power to top, as in 3-9x) to 4-, 5- and 6-times ranges. You can order range-compensating reticles, illuminated to various levels of brightness with motion-activated shut-off. A turret dial can focus the target and eliminate parallax error. Trajectory-matched elevation dials let you spin to the distance and hold center. Eyepieces on helical threads refine reticle focus instantly.

Complex even in their basic forms, scopes are now packed with features that substantially hike cost. (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

Prices have ridden that wave of refinements. Top-end scopes now list for $3,000, even $4,000! OK. Side-stepping the most expensive sights from Germany and Austria, you’ll find plenty at $1,500 to $2,500, like Eotech’s 3-18×50 Vudu ($1,799), Leupold’s 3-18×50 VX-6HD ($2,210) and Meopta’s 3-12×50 RD ($2,530). Bump down to around $1,000, and you can get a Nikon Monarch 7 4-16x50SF or a Vortex Razor HD 3-15×42 for $1,100, a Burris Veracity 3-15×50 for $839.

But wait! Hardly anyone pays MSRP prices for scopes! That $1,100 Vortex Razor HD costs just $900 from one on-line source, the Burris Veracity $700. Figure comparable savings on other models. The biggest bargain may be in 3-9x40s, whose useful magnification range makes them exceedingly popular. Every scope maker I can think of lists a 3-9×40, and price competition is fierce. A Burris Fullfield E1 lists for just $329, and sells for as little as $190 – less than a Leupold 4x. And it gets excellent reviews!

For hunting, stick to essentials in mid-priced scopes. Here Wayne used Leupold’s fine 3-9x Vari-X II. (Wayne Van Zwoll)

Before springing for the latest, most sophisticated scopes, think of what you’ll use, also what you can do without. A 30mm tube permits more erector tube movement in the scope, increasing windage and elevation adjustment range. Or, if oversize, yields a slightly sharper, brighter image. But you’ll probably never tap additional W/E range, or detect disparities in images due to erector size. A fast-focus eyepiece is hardly a bonus, because after the reticle is sharp to your eye, you won’t adjust the eyepiece again until age alters your vision! A left-side turret dial serves at high magnification to sharpen the target image. It’s not so useful at 4x. And parallax is a mute issue if you aim through the scope’s center. I’ve occasionally found a lighted reticle useful. But black seldom costs you a shot, even in dim conditions. Broad power ranges leave me cold because all but two of the big game animals I’ve shot could have been handily taken with a 3-9x scope. Arc-matched elevation dials do make a long poke easier. But your .30-06 zeroed with pointed bullets at 200 yards hits at 400 with around 20 inches of holdover – which you should be able to estimate. Ordinarily, marksmanship becomes a limiting factor well before dial changes become necessary.

Heavy, costly, large-diameter scopes require beefy, expensive, tall rings. What will you get in return? (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

Powerful glass with a full suite of features not only imposes higher cost; it adds weight and bulk. The K4 and kin scale about 9 ounces. Many variable scopes weigh double that.

Trajectory-matched elevation dials help you hit quickly at very long range. But not inside 400 yards. (Wayne Van Zwoll)

Some exceed 2 pounds, as the 1-inch tube has given way to the 30mm, and now the 34-mm and, yes, 36mm! Heavy scopes demand stout rings to fight inertia on hard-kicking rifles. Tubes with objectives larger than 42mm require medium or high rings. Big sights high above the bore make a rifle top-heavy and impair handling. Ironically, many of these scopes afford you little free tube, limiting options for ring placement.

I prefer scopes that scale no more than 15 percent of the rifle’s weight. A 7-pound rifle will thus bear, at most, a 16-ounce scope.

You needn’t give up variable power to get a slender, lightweight scope that helps you shoot faster and more accurately than hunters once did with iron sights. Keep useless features to a minimum, and that optic won’t take your last nickel.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Award Winning Gun Writer
Outdoor Line Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Zelus Insoles – Breathing Life into my Hunting Boots

By Rob Endsley

I’ve spent countless time shopping for a new mid-elevation hunting boot and have yet to come up with a more comfortable boot than my Danner Pronghorns. My feet are accustomed to them and I’ve logged hundred’s of miles in these boots with very few blisters. Instead of spending money on a new set of treads I opted to breath a little life into my Danners by swapping out the old insoles with advanced Olympus insoles from Zelus.

Zelus insoles offer impact reduction, superb arch support, and a cushioned yet springy feel from the Smart Cell technology that acts as the foundation of these insoles.

The nice thing about these insoles is that I could trim them to fit into my boots without the risk of bursting an air bladder or damaging the integrity of the insole. With a little trimming around the edges with some scissors they fit perfectly into my Pronghorns.

I tested Zelus insoles over the course of three grueling mule deer hunts this fall in Washington, Nevada, and Montana. All three hunts involved extremely steep terrain, countless miles of hiking, and heavy packouts. I never really kept track but I’m guessing the mileage total of all three hunts at around 50 to 75 miles.

The insoles didn’t suffer any compression issues and they felt much the same on my last day of hunting as they did the first day I used them. On one brutal packout I hauled 120 pounds of meat and equipment for four and a half miles over steep, broken terrain and didn’t even get the hint of a blister. The photo below is what the Smart Cells look like on my Olympus insoles after all this abuse. They look exactly the same as the day I slid them into my boots.

Hunting is my passion and I’ll do just about anything to get a few more years of mountain time out of my legs. I could definitely feel the difference these Zelus insoles made this fall and I’m looking forward to more advancements from this great company based right here in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Here’s a discount code that will get you 25% off your Zelus insoles for this holiday season!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle  

 

Very Few Bucks in Idaho’s Backcountry, Elk Abound

Hunt Report: Idaho!

by Jason Brooks

Spending this past week in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness I found myself in an unusual situation. After putting up the wall tent and unpacking our gear for the week as the Cessna 206 flew away leaving us in solitude I found myself peering through my spotting scope. Normally we see plenty of deer from camp including small bucks and does but looking up and down all of the draws and canyons we were not finding any deer. Then movement caught my eye on a far mountain; elk!

The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the lower 48-Jason Brooks

On our way over to McCall, Idaho I stopped at a gas station in Lewiston that is a IDFG vendor. Reports from last year’s harsh winter indicated that deer numbers were down, with the exception of the Salmon River region where we were going, which had a “normal winter”. I decided to buy a second deer tag in case my trigger finger itched before I found a mature buck but the attendant told me that all of the leftover non-resident tags were sold out. However, there were still elk tags left so I pulled out the $115 difference and bought an elk tag.

The sight of the elk put me at ease but I was concerned about the lack of deer. The next morning, I was up at 4:00 AM and headed out by headlamp to climb the eight miles where I last saw the elk bedding down on a ridgeline the evening before. As the sun came up I realized that I hiked up an adjacent ridge and in this country that meant I was a long-ways off. After confirming with my GPS I kicked it into gear and closed the 5-mile detour only to find the elk had migrated over to another mountain several miles away.

An abandoned Fire Lookout high on top of an Idaho mountain-Jason Brooks

Taking lunch at an old fire lookout and then a nap while I waited for an evening hunt the
weather began to change. Temperatures dropped and a cold front was moving in. After my rest I radioed back to camp and told my dad that I would be in late. He replied by letting me know he found another herd of elk; this time the group included at least five legal bulls.

On my way down the ridge I found six shed deer antlers and once in the bottom of the draw it became obvious why I wasn’t seeing very many deer.

The protected draws and gullies where full of bones, deer skeletons fully intact including their rib cages which meant there were so many dead deer predators and scavengers didn’t even try for the easy meals. Last winter’s deep freeze caused severe winterkill on the deer. I have been hunting this same area since 1991 and the only time I have seen this many starved deer was after the severe winter of 1996.

A doe that starved to death during last winter wasn’t even eaten by scavengers as there were so many deer that were winter killed-Jason Brooks

Unlike the mule deer, the elk of the region fared much better, mostly due to their rut being in September allowing them to put back on fat reserves before the winter began. Once again I found myself up a few hours before daylight. This time I was joined by an old friend, Russ McClellan, who had an elk tag as well. We hiked three miles in the dark and stopped at a vantage point that allowed us to glass the open face of a mountain as the sun came up. Elk were everywhere!

Russ glassing the open hillside where the elk bedded on a bench-Jason Brooks

Making a stalk up the far ridge to conceal ourselves we only got up about a 1,000 feet into our 3,000-foot climb when we spotted another herd of elk making their way up a creek drainage. Knowing the big herd was heading for the timber and would bed down we quickly dropped our elevation gain and headed up the creek drainage. Finally catching up to the herd two miles later we discovered two small, sub-legal bulls. The hike and climb back to our first stalk was miserable.

Russ McClellan admires his bull he took in Idaho last week-Jason Brooks

The stalk took us nearly five hours but soon we cut over to the ridge above the elk. Everywhere we looked there were elk. Sentry cows kept guard but we stayed concealed on the backside of the ridge.  Closing the distance to 300 yards I used a lone sage on the ridgeline to keep the cows from seeing me. A big, mature bull fed into a small opening and then laid down with a snag between me and him. I didn’t risk the shot but instead found a 5-point bull in some small fir trees. Finding the bull in my Vortex scope the Kimber Mountain Ascent in .280 Ackley Improved barked once and the bull ran fifty yards before tipping over. Russ was ready when a 4×5 bull stood up at my shot and he connected with his Weatherby Vanguard in .308. A good bullet design is a must when hunting elk and the Hornady ELD-X penetrates and holds up against tough animals like elk. I prefer to handload the 7mm bullet but Hornady also makes commercial rounds, even for the .280 Ackley Improved.

The Authors Kimber Mountain Ascent topped with a Vortex HD LH 2-10x40mm, a lightweight rifle and scope combo-Jason Brooks

We spent the evening boning out elk and made it to camp just before 11:00 PM. Early the next morning we set out to continue packing meat which took us three days to get all of the elk back into camp. The storms continued with rain during the day and snow at night until Saturday, the day we were set to fly-out. Broken clouds and the drone of an airplane woke us and we broke camp. By the time we flew out that afternoon I tallied up the animals I spotted. Over 200 elk with nine bulls but just over 100 deer and ten bucks spotted. Normally I see between 15 and 20 bucks a day. That night in McCall I looked at the weather forecast, more snow. If this ends up being another bad winter, then the deer will take a major toll. Let’s hope at least the elk continue to thrive. Unlike last year we didn’t hear or see any signs of wolves.

The bull that fell to the author’s Kimber Mountain Ascent in .280 Ackley Improved-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Tips for Better Accuracy

by Jason Brooks

If you have been hunting for a few years or more then I am sure you have missed a time or two. We all would like to think that under pressure and when it counts that we will make the shot. And when we do miss oftentimes we start guessing at why the shot went awry. Here are a few quick tips to help with accuracy that you can use before hunting season starts so when you are offered that opportunity to fill the tag you don’t miss.

A quality scope with good mounts on your hunting rifle is a must for accurate shooting-Jason Brooks

1. Use Quality Optics

More than once hunters have fallen victim to using a cut-rate scope thinking that it will work since the rifle is only used a few times a year. Either a heavy rain, freezing storm, or a slip that lands you on your rifle, the bargain-basement scopes always fail. Not only are low-quality scopes prone to breaking due to lack of quality controls when made but the low-cost scopes often lack clarity, precision adjustments, or ease of use. There are several scopes on the market that offer exceptional quality and provide better accuracy. Currently I have a Vortex Razor HD LH on my Kimber Mountain Ascent. This is precision scope built for hunting, and is built with tight quality controls. The scope is one of the most important components to shooting. A good scope, such as my Vortex, is clear, multi-coated to keep the rain from fogging up on the outside as well as the inside of the glass, has micro-adjustments of ¼ inch that are easy tuned by turrets, and most of all it stays true under drops, jarring, and extreme difference in temperatures.

Custom Grade and Premium Ammunition is  more accurate than generic and inexpensive ammo-Jason Brooks

2.  Ammunition makes a difference

Ammunition is one of the other areas where hunters need to understand that the better they buy the more accurate it will be. The reason why some ammo cost more than others is because of the manufacturing of these rounds. From precision length cases, primers, exact measurement of powders and quality bullets. All of the components can make a difference in how the ammunition performs. Most companies that offer high-end precision ammo have their own blends of powder and all of them have done extensive testing. A well-built bullet is designed to fly farther, flatter and hit with more energy than a cheap, mass produced one. All of this leads to much better accuracy. If you have ever hit an animal with a “perfect shot” using cheap ammo and somehow the animal got away, it was more than likely due to a bad bullet design that didn’t transfer energy or failed to create a wound channel that was fatal. Several ammunition manufactures even make custom ammunition tailored for your rifle. Nosler makes a commercial round that is extremely accurate in their Trophy Grade as well as a precise round in their Custom Grade.

Sight-in your rifle in the same conditions that you hunt in-Jason Brooks

3. Sight-in your rifle under hunting conditions

Range time is the most important part of accurate shooting. Before shooting from various hunting positions the rifle must be sighted in. In early Spring I like to take my rifle out and re-check that it is ready to go for the fall. There is a big difference in sighting in your rifle and shooting your rifle. I have yet to find a perfect bench-rest in the high country while elk hunting. Yet, I always spend a few sessions shooting from a good rest, such as a Caldwell Lead-Sled, on a table with a chair. The reason is that I need to make sure my rifle is accurate before I simulate a hunting scenario. I also don’t go to my local gun range to do this as the range near my home is around 500 feet above sea-level, with a covered bench that often heats up in the summertime. I prefer to go to a spot on public land that is at 5,000 feet as I tend to do most of my hunting around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I want my conditions to be as close to my hunting altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature as I can. This way when I sight in my rifle I know it is accurate under the same conditions that I will be hunting under.

As hunting season nears my rifle is accurate with good optics, quality controlled ammunition and sighted in for the elevations and temperatures I will be hunting. I am confident that I can make the shot. Well, at least I am confident my rifle is accurate enough to make the shot. A big mature muley buck for some reason always magically evades my bullet. Maybe it’s some supernatural force knowing my rifle shoots straight, as it can’t be my fault…

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Scout Now for Fall’s Hunts!

by Jason Brooks

With special permit draws being announced hunting season is starting to feel a little bit closer. If you drew your “dream tag” or struck out once again now is the time to start your scouting. If you attended my seminar last April then you heard me talk about other resources to help with your scouting, if you missed the seminar then keep reading as I highlight some of the details. A record snowpack means that you might not be able to put “boots on the ground” to find your big buck or bull this fall for a few more weeks or even a month but you can start your scouting right now!

Finding bucks in the summertime helps find them again in the Fall-Jason Brooks

Start with your state’s Fish and Game website and their hunt planning tools. For Washington it is the “Go Hunt” feature at the WDFW Hunting Tab. On this planner you can find public lands, private lands that allows access, integrated maps with satellite photos, roads, unit boundaries and harvest data.

WDFW Go Hunt allows you to find maps of your unit as well as harvest data-Jason Brooks

Once you have your unit figured out then it is time to start thinking about other places for information. Websites such as Hunting WashingtonEastman’s Hunting , Muley Madness, and other sites offer articles and even forums where hunters give up information. You can also contact members and ask them directly about their experiences, especially for the hard-to-draw tags.

The SNOTEL website lets you know how much snow is still in the high country-Jason Brooks

As you start to narrow down your areas search maps and topography websites such as “Google Earth”. You can also find other maps and data about your area from government websites such as the SNOTEL site that gives you up-to-date snow depth information. This will let you know when you can actually head to your unit and do some physical scouting of the ridges, mountains, draws, and drainages you want to hunt.

Google Earth shows you topography as well as other features such as lakes, open slopes, and ridges-Jason Brooks

Other websites that provide information are ones that non-hunters frequent and provide trail reports for such as Washington Trails AssociationWilderness.net and wildland fire data at National Interagency Fire Center.

Before you head to your unit make sure to check the local forest service website if you are hunting the national forest. This will list road conditions and closures, trail conditions, planned projects such as construction or prescribed burns, and other information including ATV use.

National Interagency Fire Center provides up-to-date fire maps and information-Jason Brooks

Now that you know if your hunting the yearly “deer camp” or are heading to a new unit and a dream hunt it is time to start scouting. Between weekend trips keep up to date with various websites and maps. Learn the area and talk to those that are familiar with the unit such as biologist, guides, and other hunters. Just remember to share information as well when asked.

Kyle Hurst knows scouting pays off and helped him harvest this mule deer during a general season-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer 

Hunters Convene at Sportco for Spring Seminars

Close to a hundred avid hunters gathered at Sportco Sporting Goods in Fife, Washington yesterday for a day of spring hunting seminars sponsored by Sportco and the Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Julie Cyr from Sitka Gear (hey…that rhymes) was on hand all day and even took a ride in Ryan Lampers new EXO Mountain Gear 5500 pack. She’s a spark plug for sure and spends every waking second of her free time hunting and fishing.  

Travis Smith led off the day with an outstanding turkey seminar and followed it up with some personal calling instruction afterwards. Travis is a pro-staffer for Zink calls and Avian X decoys and he’s a wealth of info when it comes to turkey and waterfowl hunting in Washington.

Jason Brooks is a regular guest on the Outdoor Line and has a column in Northwest Sportsman Magazine. He’s an encyclopedia of mule deer hunting intel and gave an info-packed seminar on hunting mule deer in Washington state. He also brought in his new Kimber Mountain Ascent rifle chambered in .280 Ackley Improved with the new Vortex Razor HD Lightweight Hunter scope. The whole package weighs in at just 6 pounds. Wow!

Ryan Lampers, a.k.a. Sthealthy Hunter, and his hunting partner Joe Pyburn shared their experiences hunting mule deer and elk in the Washington backcountry. These guys showcased their philosophy, gear, and the training that’s necessary to take trophy game here in Washington. They are living proof that it can be done!

Lampers and Pyburn talking about their extended stays in the backcountry and the preparation it takes to tag out in Washington on a trophy animal every year.

There were great giveaways from Vortex optics, Avian X calls, Shotlock, and Phelps Game Calls. Here’s Brian with his new set of Vortex 10 x 42 binoculars that he won at the raffle. I can’t thank Vortex enough for all their help with this seminar. They are fantastic to work with and manufacturer exceptional products!

Jason Phelps from Phelps Game Calls wrapped it all up with an exceptional seminar on elk calling. Here’s a brief snippet of just one of the many sounds that Jason demonstrated to bring in that trophy bull elk next fall.

Phelps raffled off some of his elk calls at the end of his seminar. We were excited to see this young man so pumped about hunting and there were several other kids in the crowd, as well. Big thanks to the proud parents that brought their kids to the event yesterday!

Carl will be putting this Phelps bugle tube to work next fall.

…and another Phelps bugle tube heading for the elk woods next fall.

This gentleman can now lock up his home-defense pistol in this Shot Lock that he won at the raffle.

This lucky hunter brought home a brand new Avian X turkey decoy that he won at the raffle. Big thanks to Avian X for the great dekes and swag they sent for the seminars. The detail on these turkey decoys is incredible!

Jason Brook’s new Kimber Mountain Ascent and Vortex Razor HD Lightweight Hunter combo was on display after his seminar. You wouldn’t believe how light this setup is.

I even took a little time to get measured up for a bow at Sportco’s bow shop. Looks like I’ll need a bow set up for a 31 inch draw length.

Once again, a huge thanks to everyone that attended the hunting seminars at Sportco yesterday and we should have news of some more fun hunting events coming soon. Best of luck to you all on the turkey opener on April 15th and in the woods next fall!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Making Lightweight Hunting Rifles Behave

By Wayne Van Zwoll

If your bullets wander about the target, and game inexplicably runs off, maybe you lack ounces.

The lure of the lightweight: comfort on the trail, speed for the shot. Note hand well ahead on for end. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

The lighter your burden, the more you enjoy walking, climbing, hunting. Many early bolt-action hunting rifles weighed over 8 pounds. In the 1950s Winchester introduced its Featherweight Model 70 at 6 ¾ pounds. Now 6-pound rifles are common. Kimber’s walnut-stocked 84M weighs 5 ¾ pounds and its Montana 5 ¼ pounds. The Adirondack and Mountain Ascent scale just 4 ¾ pounds. Yes, these last three wear carbon-fiber stocks.

Weights bump up for longer actions and barrels. But Kimbers aren’t skeletonized or stubby. They look good and balance well. In my experience, they shoot well too, if shot properly. But any rifle becomes less manageable as you pare ounces. That’s because mass reduces the bounce of your pulse and twitching muscles as you aim, the nudge of your hand and shoulder and trigger finger as you fire. Trigger resistance compounds the problem. The heavier the trigger, the more muscle you must tap, and the more movement you’ll see in the sight. Recently I fired a 6-pound rifle whose trigger broke at 6 ½ pounds. The muscle required to loose a shot was sure to move the rifle off target first! Such imbalance is woefully common in handguns.

Stiff triggers handicap lightweight rifles. Adjust so break weight is a small percentage of rifle weight. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

I’m not in the camp that insists lightweight rifles require special shooting technique. Still, from the bench some rifles perform best when left to recoil freely, while others excel with hand pressure on the forend or even down on the scope. These “preferences” seem to depend as much on bedding as on rifle weight or barrel diameter. By the way, barrel stiffness, has greater effect on group size than does its mass. A short, relatively slim barrel can be stiffer than a long heavy one. A Remington XP-100 pistol was one of the most inherently accurate guns I’ve yet fired. Very little flex in its .17 barrel!

Of course, accuracy is most closely tied to the quality of the bore.

At the bench with a lightweight rifle, I make sure the front rest contacts the forend adequately. On a hard rest, a slim, rounded forend has essentially single-point contact. I prefer a soft rest that better limits bounce. A bit of side support helps steady the rifle. Often I pull the front of the forend down into the rest while aiming. I also use a toe rest. My trigger hand grasps the rifle firmly, tugging it into my shoulder and against my cheek. Without firm support front, rear and center, a lightweight rifle will almost surely move as you press the trigger. To deliver tight groups, all rifles must be held the same way each shot, no matter your shooting style. A lightweight rifle is more sensitive to slight changes in technique.

On the bench or prone, use a toe bag. Or as here, grasp the toe to steady it. Note supporting cheek pad. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

Do lightweight barrels heat faster? Well, their reaction to heat is often quicker and more evident than that of heavier barrels. A given bullet at a given speed imposes on a given bore a measure of friction. Thick barrel walls act as heat sinks, and their stiffness resists the bending and lengthening that can change the impact points of subsequent bullets. Still, the value of a lightweight hunting rifle has little to do with the size of warm-barrel groups.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Journalist, Gun Writer
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

Shed Hunting 101

As the snow melts it’s time to go find some sheds-Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

With deer and elk dropping their antlers and the snow level climbing above 5,000 feet it’s time to go shed hunting. This long and harsh winter is finally coming to an end and before green-up occurs the matted-down vegetation found in the woods right now makes it easier to find the prized bone. Here are a few tips as well as some reminders on shed hunting here in Washington.

My Hungarian Vizsla “Lucy” helps me find sheds-Jason Brooks

Use your dog! One way to increase your antler cache is to train your dog to look for sheds. Play fetch or force break retrieving using an antler and heavily reward your dog when they find it and bring it back. It won’t take long and they’ll be out searching for sheds and bringing them back to you in trade for a small treat. You will note my Hungarian Vizsla Lucy is wearing her hunting vest by Browning. This helps me keep tabs on her as she races across the hillsides. If we stumble across some deer or elk I can easily see her and call her back, leaving the animals alone.

When you find one shed look around for the other side nearby-Jason Brooks

When you find one shed, look for the other. The bases loosen and they fall off, which often happens simultaneously. If you find one shed search around and you might pick up a match set.

Leave winter kill skulls and antlers in the field-Jason Brooks

Leave winter kill animals alone. In Washington you can only collect naturally shed antlers so if you come across a winter kill leave it for the coyotes and other animals.

Leave deer and elk alone so they can recover from the long winter-Jason Brooks

If you find a group of deer or herd of elk then back out and come back another day. You might be out stretching your legs and getting a good workout in while hiking the hills but the animals are still enduring the harsh winter. Their fat reserves are gone and until the grasses and brush start to green up they don’t have much of a food source. It’s best to leave animals alone, even if you see a nice buck and hope to follow him until the antlers drop. Mark the spot on your GPS and come back next week.

Finding sheds is a great way to get afield in the springtime-Jason Brooks

Remember that shed hunting is a business for some and it can be very competitive. If you find an open slope and are lucky enough to find a shed or two then remember the spot for next year and keep it to yourself. Popular places near known wintering grounds can be very competitive. Only shed hunt on public lands or where you have permission and check the WDFW website regarding WDFW lands as most of them are closed until later in the spring to allow wintering animals a place to rest.

I love shed hunting because it’s a chance to work with my dog, get some excersice, and spend some quality time outside with my kids. After the winter we’ve had here in Washington it’s about time all of us get outside anyway. It’s been a long one!

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line-Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography