GEARIN’ UP!: PART 1
It’s August 8, 2005. As I sit here, writing this article, my list of things to do seems endless. In just a few days, I’ll be leaving to begin preparations for my Minnesota fall bear camp. As a business owner in Big Paws Outfitters LLC, a Minnesota based business; I am permitted to guide others on their quest for record book black bears. It’s a job that requires intense management of information and just flat out hard work preparing for the hunters. After sending out an equipment list to all the hunters, my brain begins to short-circuit with the thoughts of putting together my own gear. Once my feet hit the ground after the bear season, my gear needs to be ready to go for whitetails…my real passion. In this first article, you’ll learn about one of two categories of gear. In this two-part article, you’ll need to keep in mind that any of this gear can increase your odds for success. Anything that I can do to boost my chances at success, I do. Even if it’s just a 1% increase in my favor, I’ll do it. That means following all of the equipment guidelines for use. For example, a Scent-Lok suit is no better than a camo pair of jeans and cotton shirt if you wear it from home, to the truck, at the convenience station and to your stand. Yes, that means I change out of my truck no matter what the weather is be it snow, rain, or sleet. A rangefinder set on meters when you sighted in at home on a range measured in yards can not only cause a miss, but worse yet, a wounded animal. The most expensive gear in the world can be rendered useless if used in the wrong manner. So don’t just shop smart, hunt smart.
In my experience, the best thing to do at this time of year is take inventory of all your hunting gear. I break this down into two categories, all right, two piles of equipment. In one pile lies all the gear that gets me into range; in the other pile is the gear that gets the job done.
Allow me to explain further. Growing up as a professional archer, I learned one rule that is probably the most important rule that I have ever learned when it comes to taking mature bucks consistently. LUCK IS WHERE PREPARATION MEETS OPPORTUNITY. At some point during each season, there it least one opportunity that will present itself to you. And in most cases, there are several opportunities. If you are not prepared, you may not be able to capitalize on it when it happens, or worse yet, not even see it when it happens. Being prepared for that moment means being ready physically, mentally, and ensuring that you have all the gear you need and it’s all in proper working order. Although I can’t help you on all three of these in just one article, I’ll do my best to help you on the latter.
In my first pile, I lay out all of the gear that gets me into range. This includes my clothing, stands, optics, calls, and decoys. I’ll break these down into specific items that I use you can find in any Gander store.
The clothing category is the most intense, so I’ll get that out of the way first. I select all my gear according to its performance, comfort, and affordability. Think of your clothing as a system rather than just camouflage. My base layer, which I only leave out during early season hunts, consists of some type of polypropylene. Under Armor is a great base layer, which I use on hunts where I cannot control my scent effectively and is a terrific product for use where perspiration is inevitable. Gander also has a Polar tech Powerdrive quarter zip top and pants as well the GSX Expedition weight wool for extreme cold weather base layers. For whitetails though, I use an anti-microbial poly such as Scent-Lok’s BaseSlayers or Contain clothing. If you use these products, I suggest buying new sets each season. These products are treated with chemically or contain small amounts of carbon. Because they are washed so frequently as base layers, they have the potential of losing the chemical and carbon content over a season’s use.
The next insulating layers after the green suit usually consist of high performance fleeces or down such as the Guide Series Premium Down Jacket and Vest. A wind proof and breathable fabric is almost always a necessity so I usually line the vest with a Gore Windstopper shirt. And Finally, I don an outer shell that is always lined with Scent Lok. Now with the partnership of Gore Tex and Scent-Lok, both companies have released some awesome stuff that will keep you both dry and reduce your body’s odors. The new Robinson Dream Season Suit is also a hot item that I have not used, but is getting rave reviews by fellow pro-bowhunters and can be found on Gander shelves. Gander’s Guide Series also features an outer shell in the TecH2O Insulated fleece jacket that is both waterproof and warm.
Now let’s talk about stands. Most of you probably already have your own stands. They’ve worked for years so there’s no need for a new one right? Maybe. Until recent years, most stands were made of steel and used chains or fabric straps. Today, several models are offered in lightweight aluminum with obvious advantages over steel such as rust and physical weight. However, straps are still made of fabric materials and need to be checked each year for wear. Animals such as squirrels and raccoons are notorious for chewing on the straps. If you’re not checking those straps each year, you’re taking your life into your own hands. If you need to get a new stand, the three categories are portable, climbers, and ladders. I can honestly say I know a whole lot about nothing when it comes to ladders, so I’ll move right to climbers. Again, I hardly use these because in nearly every situation I can hang a portable faster than using a climber. But when I do use a climber, there is only one I could recommend, the Lone Wolf. This stand is solid and lightweight. Not only that, it’s very quiet and quick to attach to the tree in the cold late seasons. But when it comes to portables, I’m full of info. I still have yet to find the perfect stand but there are several that I have modified to meet my style of run and gun bowhunting. The most important thing I’m looking for is portability as the name suggests. The stand needs to be ultra light, less than 10 lbs., quiet, and quick to hang. Again, Lone Wolf leads the pack. Most guys like large platforms and the Lone Wolf has plenty of room. But for my uses, I trim the outer edges of the stand down to fit in tighter spots. I also, just like all my other gear, hockey tape the platform, seat, stem, and anything else metallic for the ultimate in silence. Gander also has the Gorilla Ultra Light Expedition that features a comfortable net seat that won’t get your pants wet and a generous sized platform. The NonTypical Patriot is also a stand that would work well and is very economical. As a side note, the Patriot has a very positive lock in system when mounted to the tree. A safety feature I like a lot.
The optics category is probably the shortest, but may be the most important in finding your game, especially if you spend much time in the west. Optics are priced simply in relation to their ability to perform. It is one of the few categories where you really get what you pay for. At the top end is the Swarovski EL series and the Leica Duovids. I’ve been hunting with Swarovski’s for the past few years and am always thankful I have them in low light situations when others are struggling to see with less expensive brands. But if your budget can’t afford the two big names, Nikon’s and Bushnell both make excellent mid-priced optics.
In the call market there seem to be an infinite number of manufacturers. However, there are no simple answers here. What works for some hunters, may not work for others. Unfortunately this is a trial and error product. I don’t seem to have much luck at all with a grunt and zero luck with a can. Others swear by the can and the grunt. The HS TrueTalker is one of the most widely used calls on the market and many report tremendous results with it. The most recent I’ve tried is the Illusion Extinguisher. This call was given to me by the guys at Gander to try out and although I have not had the opportunity to try this on wild deer, the deer in my father-in-laws pens have shown interest in the vocalizations I’ve made so far. This is unusual for this time of year. It also sounds great from a distance. The one mistake I see everyone make when purchasing a call is to blow on it and make a determination to buy based on the sound they hear. Ever hear yourself on tape and noticed the voice you hear doesn’t sound like your own? The best bet is to have someone else blow the call a few isles away. If it sounds natural give it a try in the timber. Same thing with rattling antlers, from a distance, they sound totally different than when you’re the operator. I wouldn’t be caught dead without my antlers. Ultimately, the real judge is the deer themselves. Only trial and error will determine what works best for you.
And, last but not least…the decoy. My gut feeling is that not many hunters experiment with these. But I can tell you this is one tool you don’t want to be without no matter where you live. One of the most effective decoys I have ever seen is the Blue Ridge found in the Gander Mountain Archery Department. It is a very small decoy which gives the illusion that it is farther away than it actually is, big bucks fall for this every time. I have also used targets as decoys, last year I used one of the Glendale bucks with great success! One tip I can pass on is to cut the tine length down on one side of the rack. When hunting mature bucks, it has been my experience that they will nearly always attack the decoy from the weak side of his antlers. Position the buck decoy so the real buck approaches between you and the decoy. The weak side of the decoy’s rack should be closest to you. If he gets into this position, you can get away with just about any movement needed to take him.
In the next article, I’ll discuss everything it takes to get the job done including preseason practice items. Until then, brush the dust off the Tupperware containers and start the inventory process…the season will be here before we know it!