Essays written by Patrick Smith
As a foot soldier in the hunting fields, I’ve been carrying store-bought “hunting packs” for over 40 years. Not liking what was available to purchase, I started making my own. The first problem I had to solve when I began to focus on making my own hunting packs for my own needs was quality – quality of comfort, first of all, and then quality of durability.
Having made my living for a couple of decades in mountaineering packs, I must report the truth: so-called “hunting packs” are just plain crap. Their designers don’t seem to have a clue about comfort – or durability. They hurt. And they fall apart-seams disintegrate and welds disengage – usually at the worst possible time. The creators of these gems seem to think a plethora of pockets and camo will substitute for supple, long-range comfort and durability. Perhaps they don’t think we hunters will step up and pay the fare in hard cash that it takes to produce a world class carrying system.
So I would make my own packs for my own needs. As for durability, I decided to build them using mountaineering grade materials and construction techniques and deal with the quietness/visibility issues separately. It took a while, but the “panels” solution did the trick. They also vastly increased the packs’ utility: a single pack in 3 “color phases.” Very efficient, cost-wise, to the user (me, at that time) too!
The comfort part was pretty straightforward. I already had it – successful mountaineering pack builders must make comfortable packs to survive.
The second problem I focused on was carrying my rifle (handgun, bow). The ancient shoulder sling just doesn’t cut it. Too slow, too insecure, too snagable, too uncomfortable and not usable at all on a modern pack with snugger straps at the top of the shoulders – in this scenario, you have to lash your rifle to the side of the pack. And that is just not kosher at all – too vulnerable and way, way too slow, especially for moseying around in Alaska where the predators include us on the menu. I developed the GunBearer many years ago expressly for Alaskan hunting. My original G.B. must have 10,000 miles on it – toting everything from a featherweight 6mm Rem. to a hefty.375. It’s been all over the world with me and never skipped a beat. It simply has to be the most innovative rifle carrying system ever built.
The second problem I focused on was carrying my rifle (handgun, bow). The ancient shoulder sling just doesn’t cut it. Too slow, too insecure, too snagable, too uncomfortable and not usable at all on a modern pack with snugger straps at the top of the shoulders – in this scenario, you have to lash your rifle to the side of the pack. And that is just not kosher at all – too vulnerable and way, way too slow, especially for moseying around in Alaska where the predators include us on the menu. I developed the GunBearer many years ago expressly for Alaskan hunting. My original G.B. must have 10,000 miles on it – toting everything from a featherweight 6mm Rem. to a hefty.375. It’s been all over the world with me and never skipped a beat. It simply has to be the most innovative rifle carrying system ever built.
Next problem – cold hands. I can’t shoot straight with numb hands. Can’t do well with bulky gloves either – all my rifles have 32 oz. triggers and just don’t do well unless I can finesse that trigger. So the HandWarmer evolved. Add a pouch to the front and, voila’, the perfect stash place for my binocs. It works, problem solved. (Readers should understand that I’m in the field a lot – always with a rifle – shooting rocks, small game, whatever; and I’ve therefore had an enormous amount of time to recognize and work on solutions to these problems).
The next problem: How to carry bulky extremely heavy loads? Well the solution to this turned out to be the solution to another problem – how can I take a chair with me “out there”? I am long past the age where hunkering on the cold, hard ground has no effect on me. The CargoChair solved both problems. I’m never without mine.
Another problem I addressed was the incompatibility of different sizes of packs. Let’s face it, some days we hunt with a daypack and some days we hunt with a full-size pack. I figured I’d better design all my hunting packs – regardless of size – to do the same things: carry my rifle in the GunBearer, allow me to plug in the wonderful CargoChair, the useful HandWarmer, and so forth. So I developed a “systems approach” that lets all these solutions to problems function across all sizes of my packs. All the useful “add-on” pockets I came up with over the years would follow the same philosophy. I had decided to start with packs absolutely clean of external pockets – all the pockets on the inside. But I left myself the option of external pockets by building in unobtrusive “female” attachment points on the waistbelt of all my packs – the “pockets”, and the GunBearer as well, mounted at these locations with equally unobtrusive “male” components. A Systems Approach again. They could be adjusted for lateralness – vitally important I have found – as well as vertically, neither of which is possible with a sewn-on pocket or any other “System” I’ve seen since for that matter. And, they could be moved to the right or left side, or not installed at all. I had total freedom to use my packs for any task, with the external componentry transferable from pack to pack in seconds. I was on a roll. And I saved a lot of duplication. (I think we’re now calling this system the Caddy System. I have found that it works well on the lower sides of our pack bags too, plus I have developed some more useful pockets, so we are putting the female components of the system on the sides of all Kifaru packs – not just the waistbelts – for the ’99 Season. More options are good.)
I discovered another advantage to all these packs, regardless of size, operating the same: “no-brainer” consistency. And that’s important to me as a hunter. For the same reason all my rifles have Remington or Sako actions – they all operate alike. Consistency. It’s important when you’re focusing on other matters.
I think by now you get the idea. My gear represents years and miles of field solutions to field problems. I don’t spend much time in an office and I don’t design at a computer. All of the innovations you see at Kifaru existed on my self-built personal hunting packs long before Kifaru was ever born.
A few more words about comfort. I chose the internal frame format for my hunting packs. The external vs. internal frame debate is over in the Expedition world – won by internals. They simply carry more weight more comfortably, with a lot more stability and greater durability than externals. And with a lot less bulk and clunkiness.
I had to make some adaptations when I started building my own internal frame hunting packs. One was making the internal “frame sheet” on the big packs removable from the pack bag for carrying really huge (and messy) loads. Eventually I figured it all out and it’s been working for years. The other adaptation needs a little explanation. Any readers who’ve examined serious mountaineering packs lately will have noted how bulky their waistbelts and shoulder straps are. Well, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in a stuffed Super Cub and know well what a premium space is – especially if you’re dealing with a clanking external frame pack. (I don’t want my rifle scope in the same county with one of these things, having had some bitter experiences.). I’ve also tried to shoot with my rifles’ buttstock up against a thick shoulder strap (none too fun, is it?)
So I worked hard at reducing the bulk of Kifaru suspension ingredients – focusing on anatomicalness instead of bulk. The result? These thinner, “drapier” (and wider, waistbelt-wise), nimble components are more comfortable than even the bulky mountaineering suspensions out there. These “hunting packs” have turned the tables – they appear to be the world’s most comfortable packs. (What a bonus!) A lot of you seem to think so, judging from the correspondence I get from serious hunters who’ve tried ’em all. Of course, our custom fit approach helps a lot too.
Building hunting backpacks is liberating for me. I am a dedicated backpack hunter – this is sort of like “where I belong” at long last. What’s also liberating is that my hunting customers care about what works, not what looks fancy on a showroom shelf. The mountaineering pack market has gotten a bit showbiz over the years, sad to say. I’m proud of us hunters. When it comes to carrying serious weight, in serious terrain, we take a backseat to nobody. We want what works, not what appeals to the sensibilities of the vegetarians.
So far, Kifaru is doing great! And I’m really pleased! To friends who questioned my sanity at introducing real quality (and cost) to my fellow foot hunters, I say, “a whole bunch of my colleagues are stepping up to the plate!” Frankly, anyone familiar with mountaineering pack prices knows that, with the included hunting features and systems – GunBearer and Panels, etc., – these prices are less than one would pay in stores for world class mountaineering packs, which these certainly are as well.
As for foot hunting – it’s simply the most successful way to hunt (not to mention that it’s the most psychically satisfying.) .
From a ridge top in Central Colorado
When I started developing my biggest hunting pack system, what is now called the Long Hunter, the same multi-functional, versatile thinking was put to work. So perhaps a discussion of the options you have with the Long Hunter whilst afield is in order.
Option 1 – Full pack. Obviously, you would be using the full pack while moving camp. But I’m speaking here of day hunting out of camp, but with the whole pack – bag compressed down (it will compress quite small if you use all six compression straps). The advantage gained by day hunting with the complete pack can be significant. Should you connect with a critter you can immediately begin hauling both quarters (assuming you have a Cargo Chair) and serious quantities of organ and boned meat. Being an internal frame set-up, the compressed pack is quite small and unobtrusive. You give up virtually no stealthiness.
Option 2 – Freighter setup. Slide the internal frame out of the pack bag, attach the bag’s top pocket and the Cargo Chair to the now stand-alone frame and head out. The top pocket provides 1000c.i. of storage for rain gear, tools, first aid stuff, food, etc. In this mode you are always ready for serious quarter-hauling.
Option 3 – Lumbar pack. The Long Hunter’s top pocket converts to a long gun carrying lumbar pack. This is the lightest, freest way to go. If you succeed with your quarry, you simply return to camp for the ingredients to start hauling, either freighter mode or full pack.
Options are great, and the Long Hunter system certainly has plenty. I used all three last season.
I used the complete pack in northern Labrador on a Caribou hunt. Two quarters went onto the Cargo Chair on the back of the pack, and the heart, liver, back straps’ tenderloins and boned-out neck meat went inside the pack bag.
Yes, that was a pretty hefty load – about 140 lbs. A companion toted the other two quarters on his Long Hunter and we carried out this very large Caribou in one trip.
On my first elk hunt last season, I of course packed in beyond the motorized crowd, as I always do, and hunted out of my tipi camp. By the fourth or fifth day, I was getting a little antsy to move camp over the ridge to some new country. But I figured I’d investigate first. So I set myself up with the Lumbar Pack option and scouted over into the next drainage real fast to check things out. As I entered a large meadow over there a young cow raised her head from feeding, allowing me to spot her through the grass atop a slight rise between her and myself. My rifle sprang from the Gun Bearer as I stepped to the right for a clear angle through the grass, found its way to my shoulder, and WHAACK! My freezer was stocked with succulent cow. All I had to do was clean her and ramble back for the rest of my Long Hunter.
My second elk last season was also taken on a reconnoiter from base camp. I decided to check out this favored area on about the fourth day. It was a considerable distance and I almost moved camp. Instead, I decided to take the whole pack and check out the spot ready for business. And, sure enough, elk #2 was bagged by mid-morning with my trusty little .308. I boned the entire elk and loaded up the main bag of my Long Hunter. I was going to try a single haul!
Backing into the harness with the pack sitting on the ground, I tightened everything up and managed (barely) to assume a hands and knee position. But couldn’t stand up! So I literally crawled to a spruce tree where I used its lower branches to gradually get upright. And set off for camp.
I made it about a mile. At the first ridge I struggled maybe 1/3 the way up, and decided I had determined my limits as a meat hauler. Fortunately, the Long Hunter suspension system didn’t hurt me, I simply didn’t have the will power to trek several more miles (with plenty of it uphill) with what I estimate was 180 lbs. So I cached half the load and made two trips from that point back to camp.
In ’97 Craig Boddington had carried 165 lbs. of wild boar that I had shot in an effort to break his Long Hunter (which he didn’t accomplish; in fact, he is still using that Long Hunter). As far as I know his was the previous weight record for meat hauling. Well now we know that a Long Hunter will successfully haul 180 lbs. but that I won’t anymore!
These illustrations from last season cover Options 1 and 2, full pack and converting the Top Pocket into Lumbar Pack mode. But, believe me, I’ve used the Freighter mode plenty as well. I suppose the most photographic
example of this mode is Chad McMurray’s charming picture of a huge propane tank lashed to his frame.
Versatility, it’s a concept that never goes out of style.
From home in Golden, Colorado
May as well start with summer.
Ah, summer. A time of mid-day warmth and mosquitoes in the high country. You’ll probably want to open both nylon doors and close the mosquito netting doors. Don’t worry about pitching the floorless tipi on wet ground. Either the sun’s warmth or the stove’s will soon dry the ground under the tipi. It’s pretty amazing, but it’s true. The I-beam pegs we provide- in 3 lengths- will anchor the tent in even the heaviest winds. (Except in deep tundra and deep sand- in which case you can snag a set of our optional SST pins.)
Stove? In the Summer? Ah, yes again. Mid-afternoon comes the rain. If you’re hanging out at camp, reading let’s say, or maybe writing an essay like this one, and you’re at 11,000 feet, you start up the stove!
Ok, time to talk about “staging”. It’s the term I use to describe flat-enough-places-to-organize-things-on. Your foam pad is one such place. It’s where you sit, lay out your personal items, etc. Now let’s say you’re going to bed- the foam pad staging area is about to be otherwise occupied, by you! I like my pocket notebook and mechanical pencil and a little headlamp to be handy- even in the middle of the night, in case I have a dream-inspired idea that begs to be recorded, else lost forever. And let’s say I’m camped on luscious, cushy, deep grass. Ah, yes! But might I literally “lose”, temporarily, my pencil in that grass? Not to worry, I “stage” that small item on the peg bag I carried in with the tipi. You have four bags with the typical tipi/stove combo: tent stuff sack, peg bag, stove bag, and stovepipe bag. You can use any or all of them to put items on if you’re on bare dirt, deep grass, or snow and are worried about that.
Let’s go back to that same summer afternoon in the high country. You’re not lounging in camp, you’re over a ridge fishing in the next drainage. You start back to camp when the rain, accompanied by hail, begins. You throw on a parka and trudge up and over the ridge, arriving at your tipi soaking wet and in a slashing hailstorm. You don’t stop to take off your boots and dripping parka. Instead, you rapidly unzip the tipi door that’s away from the wind and quickly walk inside, muddy boots and all, grab your firestarter and kindling from beneath the stove and fire it off. You huddle, drippingly, over the stove and put on a pot of coffee. You are literally draining cupsful of moisture off onto… absorbent earth! Not onto a tent floor where it runs beneath your pack, your sleeping bag, your foam pad, your spare shirt! As things warm up, you remove your sodden parka and hang it on the clothesline near the top of the tipi where it is very warm now. It drools, then drips, and soon dries, over the stove area, not over your foam pad “staging area”. You sit down on your bone dry foam pad, remove your wet boots, and hang them on the line too. You sit back and bask in warmth and wait for the coffee. You did not remove your boots outside the tent in slashing rain to avoid muddying, wetting a tent floor. You didn’t remove your drooling parka to avoid the same. You didn’t even bring a towel to “mop up” the inevitable puddles you’d have to deal with if you were in a “baggie” tent with hermetic floor and all the rest.
By living in harmony with the “earth” when you’re “out there”, you’re way ahead of the hassle game. Relax. Walk in and out of your home like a man. You’ll be drier, more comfortable and a whole lot less hassled than chasing moisture all over the place because you think you have to have an artificial floor. Let the earth be your floor. Let it do the work. And “stage” the stuff you really want to be on a flat, dry, smooth surface. You’ll never want to fight with an artificial floor again. We have never had a tipi user come back and ask for a floor.
Autumn. Ah, Autumn! In the high country it’s a mixed bag. Early on you’ll have crisp, sunny days with lots of hairy horseflies. May have to use the bug netting if you’re hanging in camp. May have snow, but not enough “base” to warrant SST pins- just scoop it off and pitch with standard pegs. You will definitely need to use the stove from late afternoon till bedtime and in the morning. In snow conditions the same benefits of absorbent earth as a “floor” apply as above. Usually, there are enough snow pockets around that you can camp anywhere you want, as far as water resources are concerned. Just take the tipi stuff sack and hike over to a patch, fill up the sack with snow and mosey back to camp where you can melt the snow in a pot on the stove, thus supplying all your water needs. Remember, you’ll be burning the stove anyway to stay warm and dry- why not “make water” at the same time? Strain it through a bandana to remove “floaties”. It’s a pretty cool situation- being able to camp wherever you want. A few snow-patches in the area means you’re not tethered to valleys. Camp up on ridges where the view is spectacular! You don’t even have to worry about bad bugs in the water!
Later in the season the ground may freeze. Snow depths are still not usually sufficient to warrant SST pegs- just scoop down to near ground level (remember that a bit of snow can be warmer because of its insulative value as compared to the frozen earth itself.) But, note: now is the time to start toting 40-penny nails, which pound into frozen earth a lot better than our regular tent pegs.
Speaking of 40-penny nails, there are some places in eastern Utah that have a “pan” of rock-hard soil about 2″ beneath the surface that refuses to accept any kind of tent peg. You Utahans probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Take nails, folks! You probably also know about the spots in the same region where the sand is so deep you’ll need our SST pins to pitch a tent. Right? Ok, we have ‘em. That’s among the places where we tested/developed them, in fact.
Winter. Ah, winter! How do I describe the joys of winter camping in our tipis? It’s like thumbing your nose at mother nature! I know that sounds disrespectful, but its so true! When its 10 below and blowing out, yet you’re in shirtsleeves inside- reading… chili simmering on the stove… wet duds drying on the clothesline up top… nobody within a jillion miles… what can I say? If you want to experience real freedom, which to me means responsible, sustainable living “out there”, this is it.
Winter is a time for 40-penny nails and SST pins. Use the nails on windswept spots where there’s not enough snow. I’ve used them in undergrowth- choked Labrador to pitch the tipi right on a frozen lake! (The locals assured me it couldn’t be done- the ice would just shatter and not accept the nail, or so they said. Well, they now have some of my tipis and are regularly doing the same thing!)
And of course in deep snow the SST pins are just phenomenal! The standard “solution” for tents on deep snow has been broad “flukes” or buried paraphernalia as “anchors”, usually somewhat distant from the tent. My experience with them, over many years, was that they broke away- taking a whole block of snow with them- in windy conditions. They were broad, but rather shallow. You’d also trip over the lines constantly when trying to round the tent.
My discovery of “pins”, as a better way, is vivid in memory. My old buddy, Bob Thorngren and I were wandering around on skis south of Rabbit Ears Pass in Northern Colorado. I think we were putting snowshoe rabbits in the pot as provisions. The snow was very deep and it was plenty windy up there. First night out we discovered we’d forgotten the snow flukes! We were perched in a little copse of spruce near timberline on about 5 feet of snow. What to do?
Well, we broke off a few of the lower branches of the nearby spruce trees, stripped the twigs off and slipped them down at an angle through the regular peg loops at the bottom edge of the tent and pitched it, went inside, started the stove, cooked some rabbit and coffee and waited to see how things worked out. The wind blew like blazes. Blizzard howled. The tipi sat like stone- sturdier than ever before with standard, heavy flukes. These thin (1/2″), long (30″ or so) spruce limbs held better than any expensive, heavy, official mountaineering device we’d ever used! Depth, not surface area, was the key. Our SST “pins” are the result, and you can use them where there aren’t any spruce boughs. They are far lighter, far cheaper, and far more effective than any other snow-anchoring system.
Let’s talk about preparing a tipi site on deep snow. First, find a spot you like and then trample it thoroughly with your skis or snowshoes on. We are assuming the snow is finally deep enough that you have to be on skis or snowshoes, here. Sidestepping works well. Then sidestep again going the other way. Pack out an area a bit larger than your tipi’s footprint. If you’re in powder snow country, like the Rockies, now go somewhere- skiing, hunting, whatever- and let the packed-down site “set-up” for an hour. Otherwise, it’ll be too soft to walk on as you pitch your tent.
Incidentally, if you’ve brought along a mountaineering style, lightweight, snow shovel, you can make a very level site just about anywhere in deep snow!
Once you’ve pitched your tipi, lay in a wood supply (you can also do this while waiting for the site to “harden). Use dead, dry limbs. If you have to break some off their trunks try to fetch them from many different trees spread out over an area. This will keep the area more natural-looking.
Put some of the wood just inside one or both tipi doors (the tipi is oval-shaped in part so that you can do this without infringing on living space inside.) Put your kindling supply under the stove, being careful that no pieces actually touch the stove bottom. This is also a good place to dry wet wood.
Fire up the stove, scoop up a pot of snow, and start melting it. Make a pot of coffee. If you have a warming tray you can put the coffeepot on it in order to keep it just the right temperature. The tray is also important for long-term simmered dishes such as chili or rabbit stew.
Lighting. The new lightweight backpacking lanterns work great. I like a lot of light for reading, serious stove-top cooking, or working on design projects, so traditional candle lanterns are not my choice. I’ve also used the little 4 AA fluorescent lights – just be aware that you must run the stove as these don’t work at full brightness unless the tent temperature is close to normal room temperature at home.
Can you really do that? Absolutely. I have pegged out thermometers when taking snow baths inside my 8-man tipi. It was so hot in there I was able to just air-dry in a very short time. The outside temperature was zero degrees and blowing. (Use a lot of dry, small wood to achieve sauna temperatures.)
With a snow floor you can walk in and out with your boots on. You can dump coffee next to the stove, and if you spill anything, it is of no consequence as compared to the disaster of doing so in a floored tent. If you brought a shovel, you can even sculpt your home a bit. For example, you can excavate a foot-room circle around the stove/center pole. This will allow your party to sit on their foam pads with their feet down in this well instead of sitting cross-legged. Or dig a hole for the beer and fresh meat storage. Or fill in the scoop holes you’ve been using for snow melting whilst tipi-bound during a blizzard.
Morning routine. Whoever is designated as stove-starter pokes one arm out of sleeping bag, places a pile of kindling in the stove, puts a bit of firestarter beneath it, grabs the butane lighter and fires off the kindling. All with one arm, mind you. Then the arm goes back in the bag. As the kindling takes hold, the arm comes back out and places the real fire sticks on and around the kindling. Arm goes back inside bag. Oops! Arm goes back outside bag and moves coffeepot off warming tray and onto top of stove at the “sweet spot” for a fast boil. Then arm goes back in the bag for the last time. A few minutes later, the coffee is made, the tipi is at room temperature, everybody can sit up, pull their bags down to waist-level and pour a cup of coffee in bed, so-to-speak. What happens next is up to you. You can have a leisurely breakfast and just hang out. Or you can dress in cozy warmth, putting on warmed-up duds, and head out. Whatever happens next, though, will be done in all-enveloping warmth. It’s a fantastic way to start a winter day in the backcountry!
Spring – Ah, Spring! Like Autumn, Spring in the high country is a bit of a mixed bag. The snow will be getting firmer – easier for tent pitching without having to let the snow “set-up” so long after packing it down. In late Spring you will be able to find snowless spots for pitching right on the ground. Chances are it’ll be pretty soggy; you’ll want to use more of the longer pegs we supply. After a couple of hours of stove burning the ground will dry out inside the tipi. Spring is a time of beautiful warm days and cold nights. It is also a time of major blizzards with prodigious snowfalls. Be prepared. If you didn’t get in on skis or snowshoes you might want to bring a lightweight set of the latter, just in case. Post-holing out, on foot, thru thigh-deep new snow is a recipe for exhaustion and hypothermia. If you can afford the time you’d be better off to stoke up the stove and wait a couple of days ’til things firm up. If late enough in the season, the ticks will be coming out. Take bug dope.
I hope this “essay” has given you a better idea of what our tipis and stoves are about! Again, contact us anytime.
From the Tarryall Range, Colorado
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Here is my old checklist– backpack, boots, extra sox, extra underwear, bandana, rain/snow parka, toiletries (TP, handiwipes, tooth stuff, any routine medication), first aid kit, hat and gloves, fleece, appropriate sleeping bag for the conditions, foam pad(s) for above, spoon, fork, plastic bowl, plastic cup, firestarter with a backup ( trioxane from Army surplus store and butane lighter AND waterproof matches), swiss army knife, small flashlight or headlamp (best by far ) AND extra bulb and batteries, small stuff sack for making a pillow of stuffed parka, water bottles or platypus bladder, sunglasses, tent, hunting specific stuff– knife, small sharpening system, half dozen extra cartridges, binocs, maybe spotting scope, maybe range finder, maybe little cleaning kit, gallon baggies and couple of trash bags for boned meat, saw for horns, extra cordage, license, compass or GPS and extra batteries, map, maybe a good Capstick book. That ought to do it, I think. You might want to check my essay on Getting Further Back on the hunting specific stuff as I have just winged that part here.
This discussion will focus on general principles to ensure toothsome meat, especially small game, collected and prepared in the backcountry.
#1–try for center of mass hits. This will usually place the bullet through the animals thorax (chest), not the gut. Gut shot game leaks intestinal fluids/contents onto some of the meat–tainting it with a bitterness that can only be partially overcome with lots of seasoning. Again, head shots are not nearly so reliable of hitting and you, presumably, really need that dinner pot filled. I very often ramble with no protein foods in my pack at all–just rice, cooking oil and spices–which really places a premium on purposeful small game shooting. And remember that the best shot placement on grouse is1/3 up from the bottom. No, I don’t wing shoot them with a rifle–it is plenty challenging to take one on the ground at 40 yards off hand.
#2–Rabbits–In the West most cottontails reside at low enough altitudes to have fleas. And fleas carry plague. What to do? Take gallon size baggies and a can of insect repellent such as “Off” or equivalent. When you anchor a rabbit spray it with bug dope all over them flop him in the baggie and roll the baggie up until the air is out and zip it shut. About three bunnies will go in a gallon size baggie. Leave rabbit in sealed baggie about 45 minutes and the bug dope will kill all the fleas. Remove rabbit, skin and gut and put in a fresh baggie. You can use the bug-repellent tainted baggie several times.
Jackrabbits: same procedure.
I’ve never encountered fleas on a snow shoe rabbit. I think they live where it’s too high and cold for them. Likewise, never a squirrel. Living mostly off the ground is probably the reason. Rabbits have provided provender for mountain man types since the beginning of time. This flea protection routine is a small price to pay for toothsome cottontail meat.
#3–Tenderness–Small game-on-a-stick over the fire is just plain tough. Relegate the practice to survival situations. Boil small game long enough and it’ll get reasonably tender, but it can take a half day to do it. Rapid frying will produce pretty tough victuals. What to do? Well, here goes: dice that meat on the bone. That is, score the meat with your knife all the way to the bone in a checker board pattern. When finished the critter part should look like a bone with die size chunks of meat on it. This will breakup all the tough little muscle groups. Now you can boil or slow-fry your supper and expect it to be far more tender. Dicing on the bone is quick and perhaps the single best thing you can do to enjoy small game cooking in a camp setting. Pressure cooking is the only method that has a chance of turning out tenderer meat–but when was the last time you backpacked with a pressure cooker?
#4–Oil and Spices–Take a container of cooking oil and use a little to fry your supper. Use a little even if you boil it–game has very little fat and you need it.
Now for my favorite general-purpose cooking spice: Miso soup powder. You’ll find it in little envelopes in Asian markets and even some supermarkets. It weighs virtually nothing and is comprised of powdered soy sauce and all kinds of other good stuff. Sprinkle it liberally on a pot or skillet of small game parts while you’re cooking them. You can even use the broth from cooking over rice later. Another great spice to use in camp cooking is Montreal Steak Seasoning from the Schilling company. Its an all-purpose wonder too and weighs next to nothing in its little plastic shaker bottle. A little Tabasco is always welcome in my camp.
I use these methods and seasonings on all small game: squirrels, rabbits, marmots, grouse. The seasonings work great on big game too. Just remember to let big game meat age for at least a day before preparing. Well, except for heart or maybe young tenderloins or backstrap. Just remember on these latter to cook SLOWLY and never well done.
I hope you’ll get out there and scout and shoot and cook up some small game! Now you know how to do it!
Good afternoon. Thanks for coming. I’ll set the tone for this talk by giving you a subtitle: “Making Meat on Your Own Two Feet”. I’m going to talk mostly about backpacking up and in to where the game is. We’ll talk about how to get meat and horns back out. We’ll discuss “Living”, and living well not “surviving” while we do it, even if you get lost. And about the equipment, the techniques and the preparation to do this well.
Why backpack in? Well, how about because it’s simply the most successful way to take elk. By getting in further than the motorized crowds, you put yourself in the best posssible position for success.
I suppose everybody in this room already knows that. Perhaps some of you already are backpack hunters. Perhaps some of you have tried it and suffered, and gave it up. (That would have been mostly because of inadequate, antiquated equipment, and to some extent technique that was not up to the task either.) And, perhaps some are here to learn how to get started. All of you will gain something of value here. Everyone will see and hear about equipment alternatives that make all the difference in enjoyable, sustained backpack hunting. And, you’ll get a lot of advice on techniques that work too. No matter your age either. You can pack in. There isequipment now that compensates enough to keep you doing it. I’ve been doing this a very long time. If I sound like an advocate for hunting on foot, that’s because I am! And not only because it’s the most successful method. I feel freer unemcumbered by vehicles. I get to camp in absolutely pristine places, not at the busy, muddy end of the road. The possibility of seeing your elk from the tent door is very real. Nightime among the elk is supercharged with the promise of the dawn. As a backpack hunter, I experience the full-time freedom of the hills, just as the elk do.
So, in addition to a much higher quantifiable success rate, in terms of filling your tag, backpack hunting has much in its favor that is not quantifiable. It has elements that are just plain…well, good for the spirit. Packing in to hunt puts a buffer between civilization and wilderness. Packing in let’s you join, not visit, the wilderness and accept its terms. You sever the tether to town. You share the turf with our elk friends. You are in there among them, on much more equal terms. You will be on shared ground, not visiting from the end of the road. And that is exhilirating, energizing. And somehow a lot fairer. A snug, warm modern backpack camp is cleaner, remoter and more appropriate to the ideals of fair chase. Just plain more satisfying all around. And, you can place your camp overlooking exactly where you think elk will be at dawn!
Let me give you a little background on myself. I’ve been what you might call a live-off-the-land wanderer since I was 13 years old. I Founded Mountainsmith, the backpack company, and owned it for about 15 years. Now I’m the president of Kifaru International, specializing in putting before HUNTERS all that I learned adapting my personal Mountainsmith packs. I’m in the field about 150 nights a year, virtually all with a means of collecting my supper from the land. I was a reader from a very early age, and was enthralled by the self-sufficient explorations of men like Daniel Boone—the so-called Long Hunters. Men who lived in the wilderness and provided for themselves with their rifles. On foot. There weren’t any 4-wheelers in those days. I’m still perfecting those arts. And I can assure you that hunting on your own two feet is still the most successful way to do it.
I also taught wilderness survival for about 10 years. So if you have any questions on that subject that we don’t cover in the course of this talk, then just ask away.
I produced two elk for the freezer back in the ’98 season, both in Colorado. One was one of those herd-thinning tags our Division of Wildlife issued. This, despite the warm and dry weather that was partly responsible for the poor success experienced by many other hunters. I say the weather was only partly responsible because I agree with Charlie Meyers of the Denver Post who placed half the blame on laziness—not getting off your pickup seat or 4-wheeler seat and going in afoot to roust out some elk. They were still “up there”. They didn’t “come down” so the motorized crowd could get at ‘em.
I was successful because I went up and in to where the elk were by backpacking in. It’s the most mobile method of all. And the most productive. Still is. Always will be.
Even horse outfitters can do no more than provide a “base camp” that’s hoped to be closer to the game than say a car camp at the end of the road. Better? You bet! They are limited though, by the fact that horses can’t go where a man on foot can go, and by the weight and bulk and complexity of setting up a horse camp. Ed Gordon, a Kifaru customer, tells the story of Elk hunting a couple of seasons ago. No elk within get-to distance from camp. But every morning the spotting scopes revealed a six by seven patriarch on a ridge about three miles distant as the crow flies. This wonderful elk was obviously bedding over there; he was never there any other time of day. Rough country getting over there. Couldn’t move the horse camp. No backpacking gear for a couple of guys to move over there. Too rough to hike it in the early morning darkness. Ed plans to be ready to backpack next time. Plans to be his own MOBILE base camp. I’d suggest to my horse outfit colleages that they take a few packs and lightweight tents so that willing clients can be more mobile.
Backpack hunting gives you the most options and is the most successful hunting method available. If you run into game at the end of the day, you can make camp right there, ready to take care of business next morning. But generally I like to backpack in to where I think the game is and setup a base camp. Then I’ll “day pack” out of base camp, taking enough gear for all day and any contingency. My pack should be capable of carrying a heavy load of meat/horns, etc. back to base camp. Or even back to my vehicle, as day packing can certainly be done staging from a strategically placed truck, especially if you know the area and know where the elk are. May as well make that first trip back a productive one. I recommend a big enough, capable enough daypack to cover all contingencies for a full day in the field, and maybe even a bivouac!
WHAT TO TAKE—either backpacking or day packing. 1) fire starter and small head lamp with extra batteries and replacement bulb (fire and light are essential, especially if you become lost). 2) compass and/or G.P.S. and map. 3) orange survey tape. 4) knife. 5) wire saw. 6) large baggies and a trash bag or two. 7) first-aid stuff. 8) binoculars 9) food and water 10) clothing sufficient for any contingency. 11) couple of little heat packs. 12) a few paper towels. 13) small metal container to melt snow in.
SAFETY- Let a responsible person know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. They should call 911 if you don’t make it by the last chance scenario you agree on.
STAY FOUND – Use a map and compass or G.P.S. As backup I wear a little wrist compass right on my watch and use it constantly. LOOK BACK as you go along. I’m quite serious. Be aware of the landmarks behind you – you’ll need to follow them when you retrace your route to come back out. Imagine what they’ll look like beneath a foot of new snow too. Besides, you just might see an elk back there! Don’t get cold, put on your hat before you shiver.
If you get lost or weathered in or nighted out: find a sheltered spot like the base of a big spruce tree, scoop the snow out and get a nice fire going. Cover the floor of your nest with fluffy boughs and settle in. Dig out your little metal container and brew up some spruce needle tea. The most important things to do are stay put, keep a warm fire going and stay hydrated, and in that order. The worst thing you can do is bolt out of there in a panic. That has killed more hunters than all the other factors in hunting deaths combined. Relax.
Come morning you can work on whatever the problem is. Just know that you can go on like this indefinitely. You won’t die. You have shelter, warmth and water. And if you get hungry enough you even have a rifle with you! Lastly, if you’re there because you’re totally lost, you will be found.
All of the above discussion assumes that you have been daypacking when this “survival” situation commenced. Of course if you’re hunting with your full camp on your back – big pack mode – you just set up camp and wait out whatever it is as if you were at the Hilton. Some hunters, myself included, do this often. You can penetrate the length and breadth of your entire hunting area in absolute confidence.
So. TIP No.1—BACKPACK IN. Or at the very least DAYPACK. Or BOTH.
Do some backpacking in the summer and early fall. Find the game. In a dry year they’ll still be there come hunting season. But scope out where they’ll go if it’s a good snow year. Go there too and find campsites, ambush sites, glassing sites and so forth. Accustom the critters to your safe presence. Find that big bull. Then try to come back and get him come hunting season. Camp there. I mean backpacking in. Rediscover the self-reliance of the untethered world. Get on the same terms with it as the elk. Become better woodsmen and you’ll be better hunters. I guarantee it.
While scouting take your gun or bow and SHOOT. Shoot rocks. Even better, shoot small game. Marmots in summer, then grouse, rabbits and squirrels. Become a hand loader if you aren’t already and load small game loads for your elk rifle and use it! I cannot recommend this enough. You’ll get very good with that piece. You’ll also condition the big game to no-consequences shooting. And your scouting will become more immediately purposeful—and frankly, a lot more fun. A couple of rabbits in the pot on a scouting trip makes you feel really self-reliant. And in fact you really will be. Hunting is hunting. Make squirrels and rabbits worthy game. They’ve fed generations of our ancestors and honed their hunting and shooting skills in the bargain. Scouting and small game collecting at the same time is unbeatable as a tune up for the season. You’ll love it. Backpack in and spend the weekends leading up to big game season scouting and practicing in this manner. See below for an addendum on small game loads for most calibers. Also some field cooking Tips for small game.
Marmots are usually excellent practice for long-range shooting. They taste rather like pork. Shoot rocks too. Then don’t forget to pace off the distance—you’ll want to hone your range estimation skills. I have a range finder now, still ambivalent about that. But, at the very least they make standard calibers more viable than ever, even for long shots. Thus, really lightweight rifles, without muzzle brakes, are to me, at the forefront again. Still have to practice, and still have to know the drops.
Squirrel and rabbit hunting, especialy squirrel, is excellent practice for off-hand shooting – and I’ve taken a lot of elk off hand. If you can learn to hit squirrels you’ll be well prepared. Again, hand load your elk rifle and use it – you’ll never regret it.
Shooting/hunting is a calling. Do it right. Practice and scout at the same time. And backpack in, honing that skill too!
TIP No. 4—ACCURACY
Of course practice is the single biggest contributor to accuracy. But I’d like to suggest some practical technical Tips to go along with the practice.
–Hand dexterity–When the time to shoot arrives at last, you’re in a bit of a pickle if your hands are semi frozen from the cold we usually associate with hunting season here in the West. But you simply can’t shoot well with bulky gloves either. I highly recommend the lightweight polypropylene gloves from Manzella Company. They’re thin enough to provide excellent dexterity on your trigger and also have a thin pattern of rubberized dots splashed across the palm and fingers for reliable grip on your rifle. These gloves used in conjunction with Kifaru’s Hand Warmer pouch will take you well below zero while providing ready to go trigger dexterity. The Hand Warmer is like a muff—your hands actually touch each other inside, unlike individual pockets, thus providing much greater warmth and allowing the use of these highly nimble gloves. You can even toss one of these little heat packs in there and warm both hands, as well as your chest, in brutally cold conditions! The Hand Warmer Pouch will also carry your binoculars in its special pocket on the front.
–Shoot off Pack—you simply can’t always find a tree limb or boulder. Besides, they’re too hard to work right anyway—you need padding. Ergo, use the pack you should be carrying as a shooting rest. In addition to the stuff we talked about above, I like to put really lightweight but sort of bulky stuff in my pack, especially if it’s a day packing ramble. Plump but slightly soft. When shooting off your pack slide the rifle right up to its trigger guard so that it balances on the pack. You don’t want to muscle it at all. You can change the elevation of the rifle according to whether you place it at the narrowest part of the pack or the widest or off the top for the sitting or kneeling positions. If you do have a boulder to shoot off of, you’ll still want to plop your pack down on top of it and shoot off of the softer backpack.
–(Show Rifle Rain Cover) – I’m sure we’ve all shouldered a rifle for an important shot and-to our dismay-found a puck-like disc of snow blocking the front lens on our scope. The barrel was probably half filled with snow too, which doesn’t exactly give me confidence in an accurate shot. Try my Rifle Rain Cover if it’s snowing or you’re wiggling through snow-laden brush and branches. It pulls off in a nanosecond and protects the bore too.
TIP No. 5—COMFORT—You can’t hunt well if you hurt. Don’t be intimidated by backpacking in. Modern internal frame backpacks are worlds better than the hip crushing shoulder crunching external frame packs we all know too well. Internals have won the battle at comfortably carrying heavy weights. They are also quiet, they don’t break at the welds so you don’t have to carry your load out in your arms, they don’t hang up on trees, bushes and rocks. They don’t knock your scope out of alignment, and they are a lot more compact for day hunting. They’ll go anywhere far more unobtrusively. They make far better shooting platforms too, as there’s no encircling ring of hard metal that will bounce you’re shot into the next County if you try to shoot off it. They cost a lot less than a 4-wheeler too. Nobody in the mountaineering world- where heavy loads and good balance are critical carries externals anymore. When you think about it mountaineers have the same requirements we do in terms of heavy loads and good balance.
So internals are what I went with when I decided to build hunting specific packs. There is another factor hunters must consider: quietness. This pack (hold up Long Hunter ) doesn’t squeak or rattle like all externals and even a lot of internals.
The truth of the matter is that the gear backcountry hunters need goes beyond the needs of regular backpackers or even mountaineers. Where we go has worse weather and no trails or established routes. It’s generally steeper, has millions of blow downs to negotiate and there are certainly none of those cute little bridges across the streams. Both we and our gear have to be a cut above. And we have to do it all quietly.
One last thing on packs. Any really comfortably built pack should carry the weight on your hips-not your shoulders. This is far less tiring and far more comfortable. But keep the waistbelt quite tight so it can do its job. The pack stretches a bit as you go along, so periodically tighten the belt a fraction of an inch or so. If it feels like its sliding down a little, hoist it up and hitch it up a skosh.
Just as important as a comfortable pack are comfortable boots. Get the best ones you can find and break them in BEFORE hunting season.
TIP No. 6—STAY WARM and DRY and TRY TO GET SOME EXTERNAL HEAT—This topic is related to Comfort, above, but important enough to warrant separate treatment. You can’t hunt well if you’re cold, wet and exhausted. A backpack camp doesn’t have to be a survival camp. About 10 years ago I invented an ultraliteweight tent system heated by ultralightweight wood burning stoves. I’ve been using them myself and also leading group trips in them ever since. They’re now available to the general public under the Kifaru label. Check them out. Instead of huddling in your clammy sleeping bag each night slowly wearing out, you can get just as warm and dry in these tents as if you were at home. Getting warm and dry and rested each night is a huge factor, both physically as well as psychologically, to success—to having the will and the energy to really push at finding game each day. The tents are Tipi shaped and come in three sizes, soon 4. All allow you to stand inside which greatly enhances your overall physical comfort over the long term. All have a clothes drying cord inside which, in combination with the heating/cooking stove, will allow you to thoroughly dry out your clothing each evening. I’ve found that in cold weather you wear down quickly unless you can expose yourself to an external heat source for a goodly period each day. You can’t eat enough to counteract this deterioration either. These heated tents are just the ticket!
On the issue of clothing select quality synthetic items that keep the snow and wind out. And don’t hesitate to wear it inside your sleeping bag! This will dramatically extend the low range of your bag and you won’t have to carry in such a big, heavy bag either. Just be sure you dry out the garments first!
A lightweight light in the tent will enhance not only your mood but also your efficiency at preparing meals, tending to chores, planning the next day’s hunt and generally keeping you from getting worn down.
A feather weight chair pays back its weight many times over by letting you rest while sitting in camp instead of slowly wearing down because you’re having to hold your body up with no support. (SHOW CARGO CHAIR). Many other portable chairs on the lines of the Crazy Creek design are available. I suppose the greatest advantages of the Cargo Chair are lighter weight, an anatomical back because it utilizes your own backpack for that purpose and of course the fact that you can carry an elk quarter on it when not using it as a chair. Use the Cargo Chair to catch some rest during the day by sitting on it while you glass. It makes a terrific shooting brace too.
Eat well. Drink plenty of fluids. Do both BEFORE you feel hungry or thirsty.
TIP No. 7—GO LIGHT—We tend to take too much stuff when we backpack into the boondocks. Perhaps it’s because we feel just a little bit insecure out there. This is especially true of clothing. A lot of folks carry a complete change of clothing, undoubtedly for the purpose of changing into dry duds should the first set get wet. As long as you can dry the clothes you’re wearing an extra set represents several pounds of overkill. I usually carry only an extra pair of socks.
Take lightweight food. Freeze-dried is certainly light, and it’s getting tastier. You can also visit the dried foods section at the store. If you have a tent and wood stove you can cook Rice-a-Roni the 30 minutes it calls for. You’ll have the stove fired off anyway-getting warm, drying the one set of clothes you have brought in, etc.. And you don’t have to bring a gas stove and fuel at all-saving all that weight. Remember, the fuel, if its wood, is already there.
Use as few pots and utensils as possible and find lightweight ones. Here’s a scenario for 2 guys:
- 1 pot w/lid – lightweight aluminum
- 2 lightweight forks or spoons
- your hunting knives
- 2 plastic cups
- 1 more pot without lid for cowboy coffee
Many times I’ve fried grouse in a pot (and not a “specialized” skillet) then used the same pot for Rice-a-Roni. You can even add the Rice-a-Roni to the grouse and let the grouse bubble along some more right with the rice. Throw in some freeze-dried carrot chips and a little soy sauce and you have a pretty good one-pot meal.
You can find dried beef in the grocery store to substitute for the grouse in the scenario above. Oh yeah, and you’ll need a little cooking oil in a small nalgene bottle. Salt & pepper, etc,
Weigh your gear, including clothing, and put the weight on it with a magic marker. When packing in take only the lightest gear. This goes for clothing too. Layers of light clothing works better than that huge five lb. parka anyway.
Use a lightweight rifle! My Rifles Inc..300 Weatherby weighs 6 lbs. with its Luepold 3×9 Compact scope mounted. It’s a dynamite setup. At 2500 bucks it’s still a bargain. Our website has some essays by me on the subject of Rambling Rifles – lightweight back packing rifles that will still handle all chores. I promised my readers recently that I would check out .358 Winchester as a candidate for Alaska Rambling Rifle. Well this is it. (show rifle). It’s a switchbarrel. The barrel that’s on it now is in .358 Win. Inside my pack is its 7 mm-08 barrel. In the .358 Win configuration it weights a tad less than 5 lbs with the 2X7 Luepold Compact scope mounted. Weight with its 7mm-08 barrel installed is 4 lbs. 10 oz. Accuracy and speed is excellent with both barrels. And, when taken down, the whole set-up fits inside my Spike Camp daypack.
I like this concept so much – I think it’s so useful for backpack hunters – that I’m going to produce these rifles for sale. We should be ready for orders by about mid-summer. They’ll be available in just about any short action caliber.
In any event, a lightweight rifle that you practice enough with to shoot just as well as you shoot a heavy rifle is a great boon to hunting the backcrountry!
On the subject of scopes, I’ve never failed to hit at any distance and in any light with a 2×7 Luepold Compact. This little unit weighs a half-pound less than any so-called normal scope and handles recoil up to .375 H&H just fine. Remember that Jack O’Connor, Elmer Keith, Warren Paige and all the greats from the past used 21/2 and 4x scopes with less optical quality than the little Luepold 2×7 I’m speaking of. The only reason I’m not using a 4x Compact right now is because I shoot a lot of small game up pretty close and the 2x on a 2×7 works better than a fixed 4x. And frankly, my Weatherby with 165 grain bullets really can shoot far enough to warrant 7x or even 9x of magnification. I’ve successfully shot to its full distance potential at 9x. I’m not about to carry a full extra pound or more to get 14x. That’s a varminting scope and completely unjustifiable for big game and backcountry conditions.
Sleeping bag: a mummy bag is the only way to go. Yes you can get used to it. That’s part of the purpose of all those scouting trips. A 15 or 20 degree mummy bag is very lightweight and fine for the first two seasons. Perhaps a 5degree bag for the third season. Clothes (if dry) worn inside extend the range of these bags.
Sleeping pad: weight vs. rest is at issue here. Here’s the very best option I’ve found: an ultralite weight Blufoam closed cell full-length pad beneath an Ultralite shorty pad from Thermarest Co. The closed cell pad backs up and protects the Thermarest. It’s the one you sit on during dinner (unless you’re using a Cargo Chair). Put down the Thermarest only at bedtime.
Pillow: use a small stuff sack with your parka inside. Yes, a pillow is very important in terms of getting rest. But this method is far lighter and less bulky than bringing in a real pillow. It really works too.
Head gear: no need for massive, heavy items. A polypropylene stocking cap and a fleece headband along with a ballcap in a synthetic material such as Supplex plus the hood on your lightweight parka will set you up for anything. Sleep in the stocking cap to conserve energy.
Ammunition: six or seven cartridges are plenty. Twenty comprise an additional pound you’ll have to carry.
TIP No. 8—TRANSPORT– The subject is meat hauling. Where the rubber meets the road. Where the work begins.
If you’re far enough in that you’re looking at days to get your critter out, BONE HIM OUT.
If you’re carrying quarters at least remove the hide and hooves.
A cargo rack on your pack is a great asset. So is a stand-alone pack frame if you’re concerned about messing up the pack bag with some blood. (Show Long Hunter) . For example the frame removes from this pack bag for that purpose.
Don’t forget to take survival and first aid items on your meat-ferrying trips. Also contingency clothing.
TIP No. 9—GET IN SHAPE—Hunting is and should be physical. Your best results as a hunter are achieved if you’re in good enough shape. Good enough shape to walk quietly over that next ridge where the elk are waiting for you.
If you follow my tip of spending the summer and early fall out scouting/backpacking/small game hunting you’ll be on your way toward being in the kind of shape you should be in to hunt most effectively. But you should do something physical during the week too. About four days a week of physical activity is about right. So put on a weighted pack and climb the stairs for 30 minutes. Or go to a park; try to find one with some hills.
Ethical hunting is a way of life. I think it demands a commitment that includes a proper level of physical fitness. And you’ll be more successful in your hunting.
TIP No. 10—BE ALERT—We’ve probably all had the experience of going down to the stream to get water, sans rifle, and up pops an elk. Ergo-take your rifle with you.
On the hike into your happy hunting grounds be especially alert. If your rifle is strapped to your pack your chances of getting an effective shot off in time are just about nil. One option is to simply carry your rifle in your hands. Yep, that’s a real drag on a long hike under a heavy pack when there aren’t supposed to be any elk where you are anyway. But elk have their own rules and I’ve taken them where they weren’t supposed to be on several occasions.
Another option is Kifaru’s Gun Bearer system. (Show Gun Bearer). This is the fastest and also the safest rifle carrying method there is. It also puts the rifle’s weight on my hips instead of on my shoulder thus saving me some energy. Its speed of mounting has enabled me to take elk on several occassions when otherwise I would have been too slow.
One last comment on alertness: have your rifle in hand when you peek out of your tent in the morning.
TIP No. 11—BE UNORTHODOX—I was wild boar hunting in California with Craig Boddington. It was canyon country with thick brush in the bottoms of the canyons. Brush so thick you couldn’t even push your way through it, much less see any hogs in its tangled recesses. And we were having no luck at all finding hogs. So we started throwing rocks down into the brushy bottoms of the ravines. Eventually a big old boar popped up and trotted up the opposite side of a ravine. He was good eating. That trick hasn’t worked for me yet on deer or elk, but I’m still trying when all else fails.
CONCLUSION—Whether you use the latest gear we’ve talked about in this seminar or a tarp, your 20 year old frame pack and your 10 lb. 30-06, I encourage you to get further back in. And on your own feet. Get back to the basics of two feet and some sweat. You’ll be a far better hunter. It’s the pinnacle of hunting, the elite way to do it. And the most successful.
Do you have any questions?
We’ve allowed some time for you to come up and look at all this stuff, so feel free to some on up and handle it.
Thanks for coming, and good huntin
As the founder, chief designer and former owner of Mountainsmith, one of the world’s best known manufacturers of technical backpacks, I spend about 200 days a year camped out testing designs. On almost every one of those trips, I carry a rifle and live off the land as much as the law and luck will allow. I’ve also hunted big game in Africa, Alaska, Canada, and most of the western United States.
For the last twenty years, I’ve carried internal frame packs of my own design on virtually all my hunting expeditions. Experience taught me that, while they were great for mountaineering, climbing and carrying heavy loads long distances, they were far from perfect for hunting. Specifically they
didn’t address the particular problems hunters face:
1. carrying a rifle securely, yet still accessible;
2. toting messy, hard-to secure meat and hides;
3. having a pack that is durable enough to withstand hard usage, yet quiet enough not to scare game, and
4. using your hunting pack for skiing and backpacking, and as a travel bag without attracting unwanted attention.
I looked at a market loaded with poorly designed hunting pack designs made of materials which didn’t really work for hunters. These included frameless rucksacks which put all the weight uncomfortably on your shoulders, bulky, noisy, uncomfortable packs with external aluminum frames which break at the welds and won’t let you carry a rifle easily; packs made of tough and weatherproof (but noisy) nylon or fragile (but quiet) fleece.
Over the years in my own musings, and through countless campfire discussions with a favorite rambling partner, noted outdoor writer Tim Jones, I began to zero in, step by step, on solutions for the problems with hunting packs. We agreed that an internal frame design was the ideal starting point for a perfect hunting pack. Why? Because this design keeps the weight low on your hips and close to your back for better balance , in addition to providing maximum comfort, greater durability, and freedom of movement.
I started adapting serious internal frame technical mountaineering packs to the needs of hunters. I invented the patented new GunBearer System™ which carries any long gun securely and safely while hiking – yet keeps it handy for instant action. By combining fabrics, I’ve created packs that are absolutely silent, yet amazingly tough and weatherproof. As an added bonus the interchangeable, removable camouflage panels let you choose concealment or high visibility, and remove for travelling or other outdoor sports.
With the basic problems solved, I turned my attention to functional accessories. The patented CargoChair not only gives you a comfortable, dry seat for glassing or sitting by the fire, it also lets you carry heavy loads of meat and hides without messing up your pack bag and the gear inside. In addition, I’ve added a wide variety of accessory pouches and gear bags that add volume and utility for carrying weapons, ammo and small game more comfortably and conveniently than ever before.
Take a hard look at Kifaru hunting packs. They’re made in America entirely of American-made materials, they carry an absolute, iron-clad, no questions asked lifetime guarantee. And, best of all, they are built by hunters, for hunters, to give you a complete system to carry your gear and game anywhere in the field under any conditions.
P.S. – we sell only directly to our fellow hunters, so you won’t find this innovative gear in stores!
Over several decades of wandering the backcountry I’ve developed a kit of “possibles”–items that can save my bacon, or just ensure comfort, wherever I roam. The term “possibles” comes from the intrepid Mountain Men of the Rocky Mountain West, who gathered a collection of essentials into a “pouch” of sorts with the same intent, and made sure it was always close at hand. Wherever they were. Mine goes with me everywhere too: the office, on hunts, on hikes, on drives, on Super Cubs in Alaska, or on jetliners enroute to Rome. Over the years I’ve pruned my Possibles ingredients down to only the stuff that gets used, or whose absence would be seriously missed if ever it were seriously needed–whether it gets used a lot or not. New items have gone into the pouch countless times. If they don’t get used over a few dozen outings they come back out. Most don’t make the keeper list. What is currently “in” the pouch is listed below. Let’s take a look.
1) Container (The “pouch” itself): Mine is a 1993 prototype of our current Pull Out bags, but in rip-stop nylon. The extra large size (about 600 cubic inches). I get attached to things that serve me well and this is one of them. Current ultralight versions of our Pull Outs in extra large weigh one ounce. These pouches function a lot better than a simple stuff sack in that they don’t spill any contents when upside down. The point, by the way, of a specific container for your “possibles” is that they are all located in a specific, transferable-from-pack-to-pack, place. Or to any sort of carry bag.
2) Firestarter Kit: These ingredients reside in one of our small Pull Outs, inside the main pouch, above. I use several of these smaller pouches for organizing inside the main pouch. Kit components are:
—Trioxane: you can find this all-purpose firestarter at any Army Surplus Store. It’s a purplish cake-like bar, about 1 1/2 X 3 inches, encased in an olive drab foil wrapper. The average “bar” weighs a little less than an ounce. I carry at least two of the things at all times, replacing used-up bars religiously.
—See-Thru Butane Lighter: The see-thruness lets you guage when to replace.
—Small Metal Match: I mean the old-timey SMALL ones . The “flint” part is only 3/16 X 2 inches. Try to find one like this–the newer ones can be much bigger and heavier. My match, combined with its little metal striker, weighs 1/2 ounce.
Discussion: Depending on the dryness of your kindling, only a fraction of each Trioxane bar is needed to start a fire. (BTW, all firestarting discussion here is applicable to getting a fire going in a tipi stove.) A lima bean size chunk will do the job most times, given good kindling. Put the chunk down where you want the fire to be (I often place it on a piece of bark or a flat piece of splintered stick) and then erect a tipi of kindling above it. Leave some room to insert the lighter and fire off the Trioxane. If it’s too cold for the lighter to ignite, hold it in your bare hands for a minute in order to warm the butane. Lighter kaput? Get the metal match. (When it comes to getting a fire going one must have redundancy.) Scrape some “dust” from the main Trioxane bar onto the top of the starter chunk. The metal match will not ignite a cohesive piece of Trioxane, but it WILL ignite this “dust”. A small pellet of Trioxane will burn a couple of minutes–usually enough to ignite reasonable tinder. The more effort you put into finding or creating good tinder the less Trioxane you’ll use. I’m going to assume readers know about “squaw wood” (lower, small, dry, dead branches) and about splitting wet wood to get at dry centers, which can be broken or sliced into thin strips for tinder. Getting a fire going in any conditions is the most critical element in cold weather survival. If you DON’T have build-anywhere fire making skills I recommend you practice. Next to air, an external heat source is the most important factor in cold environment emergencies. It is next to impossible to carry enough clothing to hole up overnight in safety without a warming fire. I am constantly astonished by the never-ending cases here in Colorado of skiers, hunters and snowmobilers who die or suffer frostbite and hypothermia from an unexpected overnight in the backcountry wherein they had no way, or didn’t know how, to get a fire going. My motto for the truly prepared outdoorsman is “be able to get a fire going underwater if you have to”!
3) Water-Making: Next to warmth in importance is hydration, in the heirarchy of survival “needs”. If you get lost or stuck when water souces are open, which is to say not in winter, try to hole up near water. It is difficult to carry enough water on a day trip to last overnight, should the need arise, and most folks just don’t do it. But staying hydrated is important for overall well being and especially alertness. In winter all the water is transformed into snow. Eating snow is not a great idea–you don’t get much real liquid and it chills your innards. So every fall I insert into the Possibles pouch a small metal can to melt snow in next to my fire should I get stuck and have to bivouac. It’s a little Calumet Baking Powder can. Weighs 1 1/2 ounces with plastic snap-on lid. And it’s just the right size for stuffing my one ounce synthetic balaclava hat inside. Snap the lid back on and I have a tidy little tea-making pot that serves double duty as a container for my huddling-by-the-fire emergency headgear. When I say tea making pot I’m talking about tossing in some pine or spruce needles to flavor the snow-melt. Pretty good. Go ahead and make the brew piping hot. Warming your innards is better than chilling them, as in munching snow. In a way, when snow covers the landscape it’s easier to set up camp anywhere you like–“water” is literally underfoot; all that’s needed is a fire, and a pot full of snow snuggled up beside it.
Discussion: Obviously, this “pot” doesn’t have to ride in your Possibles kit in non-winter. Nor does it need to ride along in your Possibles if you’re backpacking a whole camp and have a regular pot system. Unless you’re hunting out of camp in day-hunt fashion. Then it’s still a good idea; or tote a regular camp pot on your day-jaunts. The lowly old Sierra Cup works fine. Or any smallish, lightweight metal container. Sipping a hot cup of pine needle tea injects homey charm into what could otherwise be a dreary situation.
4) Let there be light: Being able to see what you’re doing in the dark is…well, pretty important. That’s why it’s #4 on our list. Many good lights are available. In fact, with the advent of LED technology the choices are better than ever. Here’s what I have settled on, at least for now, as this technology is advancing rapidly: The Petzl Tikka headlamp (3 ounces), plus the Princeton Tech Blast (1 1/2 ounces). Both weights include batteries. Total weight: 4 1/2 ounces.
Discussion: “Ed” Tyanich (message board regular from Montana) and I have had countless discussions about backcountry lights. Ed writes for Ultra Runner Magazine and has done much research on such matters. So have I. My selection of the above pair of lights centers around distinct functions and weight. The Petzl is a very good all-around headlamp, except that it doesn’t cast its illumination further than about seventeen or eighteen yards. Not enough to avoid getting what I’ll call “cliffed out”. That’s a catch-all term for avoiding bad stuff from a bit further away than right-on-top-of-it. If you’ve ever descended from big-time mountains in the pitch dark you know what I mean. And this is where the little hand held Blast incandescent light comes in–it’ll cast a superb shaft of light to fully fifty yards. It is not an LED like the Tikka, but I only use it in short…well, “blasts”, to check out what’s ahead if I get that “feeling” that I should perhaps be taking another route. Total burn time on a set of two AAA’s for the Blast is only fifty minutes, but used the way I suggest that’s plenty of time. Since both the Tikka and the Blast use AAA batteries (the Tikka three) it’s easy and light to tote five extra batteries in the Possibles pouch and be completely covered for a very long time in the dark. There are now combo LED/long range incandescent headlamps available from several makers. They are pretty good too. The lightest weighs over ten ounces. And that is why I’ve selected the above system for myself. The choice is yours; the main thing I’m stressing here is that your light system should always be with you. Remember, we’re talking about these devices being in that ol’ Possibles. And always have spare batteries, as well as a spare bulb for any incandescent light (LED bulbs last virtually forever).
5) First Aid Kit: Perhaps this should be #4 instead of lights. But I’ve patched myself up too many times with paper towel or toilet paper strips and duct tape or rubber band (and survived quite well, thank you) to be enthralled by the sacred “First Aid kit” concept. Especially the commercial variety. Heck, when I was a kid I would just hold a cut against my jeans and roll on. The bleeding would eventually quit. Matter of fact, I still do that. People managed to survive thousands of years before the invention of Band-Aids and Neosporin. Our bodies have marvelous natural healing powers, and I sometimes am convinced we pamper our immune systems overmuch–they need “excercise” else we become too vulnerable. Aside from the always-with-you toilet paper (at least I hope so) and duct tape (see below) and your bandana (see below) in case of BIG-time contusion, the rest of my medical supplies fit into another small Pull Out. These consist of:
—Finger Nail Clipper: the kind with a little nail file folded up inside.
—Band-Aids: A few, especially one or two of the knuckle and finger tip kind.
—Bug Repellant: Summer only
—Caladryl: In half ounce Nalgene bottle. For bug bites. Summer only.
—Silvadene: In half ounce Nalgene bottle. Good burn treatment.
—Bug Head Net: Summer in Alaska
—Bonine: A great motion sickness preventative, in case you’re bush plane flying.
—Blister Kit: Or substitute Band Aids or duct tape, and wear broken-in boots that fit.
—Any items necessary for your own well being
—Zithromax: A five dose antibiotic system.
—Percocet: Powerful pain killer.
Discussion: The last two items above are prescription dispensed. My Doctor, who knows I’m alone in the middle of nowhere much of the time, re-prescribes them to me as they pass their dating limits. Talk to your doctor. If you’re not a junkie you should be able to get Percocet for emergencies. I’ve had to use it; it’s a wonder at getting you out of otherwise brutal situations. BTW, I consider a nail clipper as medical necessity, not as a “toiletry” item. A mangled nail or cutical in the backcountry is bad news, especially if it involves your trigger finger.
—Collapsable lightweight toothbrush
—Baking soda: In a film can or one ounce Nalgene bottle. Lighter than toothpaste and won’t freeze.
—Toilet paper: I actually use paper towels, about a dozen folded into a baggie.
—Handi-Wipes: Keep these in a ziploc baggie too, to avoid them drying out. Best devices ever invented when it’s a long spell between showers, and good for field dressing when there’s no water or snow around.
—Dental Floss: There is nothing so maddening as stuck meat when none of this stuff is around! And the wonderful toothpick on my Swiss Army Knife doesn’t quite do the job sometimes.
7) GPS and/or Compass: And extra batteries if you’re toting a GPS.
Discussion: I love my GPS. I back it up with a wristwatch-band-mounted compass. Sometimes my 35-year-old Silva Polaris compass (very compact and light) if I’m going to be afield so long I suspect the GPS might run out of juice. If you are a compass man a map of the area is a good idea. While a map is nice, and sometimes needed in the field with a GPS (depending on whether you did the map work before the trip or are doing it on the trip), a GPS will allow you to wander an area cold turkey–and always get back to your starting point–without a map. They are amazing devices.
8) Cheap Drugstore Eyeglasses: I’m profoundly farsighted. The distant vision is quite sharp, I just can’t see anything up close–like my GPS–without “Grandpa” glasses. So I always carry an extra set in a little padded case inside the Possibles, just in case I lose or break the main set. Speaking of breakage, see Duct Tape and Glue below.
9) Meat Baggie: (From this point, dear readers, I’m just pulling stuff out of the Possibles pouch, in no particular hierarchy of importance). Our one ounce Meat Baggie (rolled up tightly and with a rubber band around it) is in the Possibles pouch for a variety of reasons: a) it’s so light it can be; b) I can drop anything from bunnies to grouse to a boned-out mule deer in there; c) I can carry firewood in it; d) I can expand the capacity of my pack by lashing it onto the back; e) I’m in the process of evaluating all it’s possibilities; f) I forgot it was in there.
10) Moss Tent Repair Kit: 1/3 ounce. These stick-on patches are useful for repairing tents, sleeping bags, jackets, Thermarest pads…you get the idea.
11) Two, gallon-size Ziploc Baggies: rolled and rubber banded together. 5/8 ounce. Useful for camp-meat small game (especially bug-dope-sprayed–for fleas–bunnies), left over grub, maps, etc., etc.
12) Space Blanket: The silver, ultralite kind. 2 1/2 ounces. For creating a shelter half. Use smooth pebbles or tufts of grass or small pine cones to create bulges, or nubbins in the material near the edges and tie cordage (see below) onto these for pitching the Space Blanket like a tarp. Front and sides will be open. Build a fire just under the front edge. You can build a longish fire and stretch out for some snatches of sleep, between being awakened by cold and having to build up the fire again. Remember, you don’t have a sleeping bag. The setup is much better than nothing, though you’ll have to re-pitch if the wind changes.
Discussion: I carry this in case of forced bivouac. Actually, the new ParaTarp is a considerable improvement, as it is enclosed on three sides and a fire under the front eave will heat it pretty well, and it’s quite wind and weather proof. But the lighter weight of the Space Blanket makes it a natural for day-tripping out of a backpack camp, wherin it’s lighter to carry on the hike in than the eleven ounce ParaTarp. (See “In-The-Daypack”, below.)
13) Manzella Gloves and Turtle Fur Hat: Both are compact, lightweight and absolutely priceless.
14) Cordage: About fifteen yards. I use the ultralight variety, and it has streaks of light-reflective material woven into it so I can see it by firelight or headlamp. I won’t even try to list all the uses for this stuff. Suffice to say that you’ll never get a Space Blanket shelter pitched without it, or be able to hang a Meat Baggie of boned out elk to drain up out of coyote reach. Etc.
15) Ancient Megamid Stuff Sack: 1/2 ounce. This is my pillow. All I have to do is stuff my jacket inside. I’ve slept quite comfortably thousands of nights with this setup beneath my noggin. I’ve patched or re-sewn it a dozen times. Wind killed the tent it used to contain long ago, but this old friend will be with me ’til it disolves. If only it could talk!
16) Accusite: one ounce. This little gadget allows me to check my scope zero without shooting the rifle. Pretty slick. Accuturn@kiwash.net
17) Signal Mirror: At 3/4 ounce this is NOT one of the heavy glass versions. It’s plastic, has the aiming site and works. I’ve had it so long I can barely make out the maker…something like US Ultimate Survival. 2 X 3 inches.
18) Power Bar: Peanut Butter flavor. Yum.
19) Fog Cloth: 1/2 ounce. Indispensible during hunting season if you want to reliably see through your scope, eyeglasses or binoculars.
20) Biodegradeable Soap: In a half ounce Nalgene bottle. Concentrated.
21) Duct Tape: About a foot or so, wrapped around a Popsicle stick. 1/3 ounce.
22) Rubber Bands: Three of them, 1/4″ X 3″ size. I use ’em all the time. <1/4 ounce.
23) Orange Flagging Tape: A wad, held by rubber band ( there’s a use!). Flag kills, camp, etc., and routes between–especially if you don’t have a GPS.
24) Foam Earplugs: I use them whenever I shoot. Excellent antidote for snoring companions too–last time I did this was in an apartment in Tokyo! Small apartment.
25) Sewing Kit: 1/4 ounce. Made from three inches of hollow aluminum arrow shaft with tape over ends. Various sizes of needles inside, #69 bonded nylon thread wrapped around outside. I’ve used many times (never on my backpacks, mind you!).
26) Safety Pins and Paper Clips: About ten of various sizes. Used for all sorts of things. The paper clips can be folded out to make wire.
27) Pocket Crock Stick Knife Sharpener: 2/3 ounce. Works well enough to get the job done and is lightweight.
28) Super Glue: 2/3 ounce. Especially good for “stitching” serious cuts, as well as fixing inanimate stuff.
29) Heat Pack: 1 1/2 ounce.
30) Wire Saw: one ounce.
OK, that’s what’s in my official Possibles Pouch. BUT it’s not all that I always have with me. Here’s the rest of the story:
On My Person:
—In my left pants pocket: a) Swiss Army Knife. The venerable Tinker model. The one with just enough, but not too much in the way of useful doo-dads. Highly recommended. b) Chap Stick. Both these are items I use frequently, hence they’re in my pocket rather than the Possibles pouch.
—In my shirt pocket: a) My pocket notebook. I’ve been using them for twenty years. All designs start in these notebooks. They are also my journal. I have about a hundred of used-up ones stored away–never can tell when I may need to research some brilliant idea from the past! Never go anywhere without the “current” one. If I buy a T-shirt it has to have a pocket on it or no deal. b) Mechanical pencil. ( Doesn’t freeze, as an ink pen will.) I use this note-taking system so often I learned long ago to just keep it real handy.
—In my rear pants pocket: a) Large bandana; b) Pentax lens cleaning cloth. ( The bandana is often the only absorbent cotton in my possession, as I use synthetic clothing in the outback. “Wiping” a cold runny nose on a synthetic sleeve is more like “smearing”, eh? In addition, the bandana can serve as a medical compression pad. The lens cleaning cloth is fabulous at cleaning my eyeglasses, scope, binoculars and range finder–like nothing I’ve ever used, and does the job when it’s far too cold for liquids of any kind).
In My Day Pack: Besides the Possibles Pouch, these items are always in my old Spike Camp: a) Hand Warmer Pouch; b) Jacket; c) Supplex baseball style cap; d) Kifaru belt pouch (somewhat confusingly called our possibles pouch–but in this case intended for use on the outside of the pack. Never can tell what is going to come along later when we “name” an item. I put this pouch on my left waistbelt on almost all jaunts in the field, taking it off and stuffing it back in the pack when I’m in town); e) ParaTarp; f) 1/2-liter water bottle; g) one of our GPS Pouches on the left shoulder strap–cell phone rides here in town; GPS in the field.
Discussion: My Spike Camp, carrying my Possibles Pouch inside as well as the items just listed, is always with me–hence the joking on our message board of this being my “purse” ( ever known a woman who didn’t always have her purse?). By the way, my Spike Camp is also my briefcase. Not pretty, but it works fine. There is always enough room to stuff some files inside.
With the above ingredients I’m pretty confident of “making do” just about anywhere, anytime. At the risk of being redundant ad naseum, this gear is ALWAYS with me. Maybe it’s not quite the “right stuff” for the Boardroom, but then if I happen to be in such an environment with a bunch of “suits” and the building blows over I’ll be able to set up camp out in the parking lot while those guys are trying to burn their Palm Pilots to stay warm. Anyhow, I’m not likely to be in a Boardroom. BUT, if any of you movers and shakers invite me to one sometime, expect me to show up with the ol’ Spike Camp slung on my shoulder, and all my “possibles” inside. Taking-care-of-business stuff included. Whatever the business.
I’ve been backpacking and backpack hunting for about 45 years.
I owned a wilderness survival school (Colorado School of Outdoor Living) from 1972 to 1980.
I was a Certified Cross Country Ski Guide from 1974 to 1982.
I founded Mountainsmith Inc. in 1979, designing and manufacturing mostly mountaineering backpacks. Sold the company in mid-nineties.
—Founded Kifaru International in 1997, designing, building and selling direct to the customer mountaineering-grade backpacks for hunters, initially, and now backpackable heated tents and microlite rifles as well. Combined, this gear comprises a complete ensemble of get-there, camp-there,hunt-with gear for the backpack hunter.
Q—Kifaru started out making the first internal frame backpacks for hunters. How did that happen?
A—Well, I was among that band of crazy mountaineering pack builders who developed internal frame packs in the first place. We built internal frame packs that just knocked the sox off external frames. AND I was a big time backcountry hunter at the same time. SO I of course developed very specialized internal frame HUNTING packs for my own personal needs. I could do that. I owned a backpack company. Many years I did this. SO when I cranked up Kifaru in ’97 I brought these Internal Frame Hunting Packs that I’d been working on for basically 18 years onto the scene. The hunting pack world was really sort of in the Dark Ages then and so these packs were recognized instantly by those guys who were already toting mountaineering packs on backcountry hunts (which are a real compromise for many reasons). We have a LOT of those guys wearing our packs now. And the rest are coming over fast-we sell a great many packs to serious backcountry hunters. Probably some of your listeners are Kifaru owners. We advocate backcountry hunting, and we think we have some unique tools to help backcountry hunters.
Q—I hear you’re “out there” a lot?
A—My staff pegs me at 150 nights per year in the field. The backcountry is definitely both my inspiration and my laboratory. I’ve figured out how to create designs out there with a big envelope stapler. I trust this technique. I get instant feedback about designs because I’m in the backcountry doing the things the design is for, and testing it right then, in the real world arena it’s intended for, if you see what what I mean here. I really do think this is a better design process than sitting in front of a computer in an office in town. I think it’s a win/win situation. I sure love it. I’m a very fortunate man, Jim.
Q—And you think on-foot backcountry hunting is superior?
A—Well sure it is. The critters aren’t stupid. They’re not gonna be where the motorized crowds are. All it takes is a different kind of effort and the right gear to just head up to where the game is hanging out. I promise that they’re up there. Get off your motorised butt and go join ’em. The big ones are up there. And you’ll feel like Daniel Boone because you will have “made your meat on your own two feet”. It’s the pinaccle of hunting, the best AND the most, well, prestigeous. It’s a feather in the cap when your neighbors realise you toted that meat out on your back. I guess most of all you’ll be pleased with yourself.
Q—And that your backpacks assist in that?
A—Oh I guarantee it. These things are custom built to the individual hunter, using measurements we get from him or her. We sell only direct. The packs make a huge difference. Just get in reasonable shape and go do it. The packs will also tote your rifle, keep your hands warm, provide you with a glassing chair and a whole bunch of what I call “solutions to problems” that I worked on for 18 years while fiddling with the ultimate hunting pack. I’m a hunting junkie, it’s what I do.
Q—What about the tipi tents, do they play a role in this backcountry strategy?
A—A big role. They have wood burning stoves in them. In typical cold weather hunting sceanrios, like to the north of you there, Jim, a warm tent environment every nite makes a huge diference in your staying power in the field. The tent and stove combo are still extremely light weigth, more so than typical backpacking equivalents, and yet will cook your food, dry your clothes and give you shirtless warmth every night during a tough hunt. This will keep you strong the whole trip, and keep your mental well being high too, which is very important.
Q—How long have the tipis been “out there”, and where have they been “tested”, so to speak?
A—I built about 300 of them between 1989 and 1991 under the Mountainsmith label. I quit building them in order to build more backpacks. Feedback is that those originals have been everywhere in the world, every continent, every major mountainerering destination, and are all still going strong. The Kifaru versions resumed in ’97 and are just as tough, if not tougher.
Q—How about the packs?
A—Well, the Mountainsmth brand packs have been everywhere for 22 years. The Kifaru packs have been everywhere since ’97. Heaviest load we’re aware of is180 lbs. of elk. Routine loads we hear of are 120-140 lbs. None have broken. There’s nothing to break with an internal frame. External frames typically break at the welds with these kinds of loads.
Q—Your new “microlite” Rambling Rifle is causing quite a stir. What’s that all about?
A—Well, the difference between them and ordinary rifles is that these are the lightest big game rifles ever built. They weigh 3 ¾ lbs. 4 ½ with a compact scope. They’re about half the weight of the typical big game rifle. Yet their radically shaped stock lets them shoot more like a seven pound rifle. They can easily handle 30-06 class cartridges with out a muzzle brake. So, lightest big game rifle ever, and no muzzle brake. Yeah, they seem to be shaking things up a bit.
Q—And I suppose the rifle is part of your overall backcountry-specific “gear list”, so to speak?
A—Yes, indeed. It’s sort of the third link in our gear line up: the packs get you into the backcountry; the heated tents keep you warm and dry and healthy, and our rifles collect your game. All three categories are state of the art in comfort and light weight, so I figure I’m helping keep old guys in the field and helping young guys move further and faster, I guess you could say.
Q—Is the take-down/switch barrell aspect popular?
A—Yeah, that’s sure part of the stir too. The rifles take down for carrying in your pack. And they have interchangeable bbls.too. So you could shoot a 243, a 308 and a 358 win. on the same action. Makes a pretty impressive all-around battery with the same trigger, stock, scope, etc. Makes you very good shot.
Q—Will you come back and discuss some details on HOW to backpack hunt, aside from the gear, which you certainly seem to have covered?
A—Yeah, I’d like that Jim. Cover other things to take, maybe cover some foods to pack in, sleeping bags, that sort of thing?
The reader who has perused a bit among my other “essays” knows that I am pretty much a solitary hunter/rambler. I do it by myself. Perhaps some probing of the ramifications of this style of wandering would serve the reader- at least insofar as to protect him from serious mishap, and maybe to give a sense of why I love it so.
Make no underestimation of this practice- there are plenty of mishaps that can undo a lone man in the backcountry. So how do you approach going it alone? What can you take with you to mitigate disaster?
Foremost among all factors necessary to going it alone is attitude. Plainly said, you are the decision maker. You, and you alone, determine where you are going, the route you will take, how quickly you need or want to get there, the pace you will travel, where and when you will camp, what you take with you, when you get up in the morning, what you have for breakfast absolutely everything is up to you. And to me, this is the core of solitairiness’ appeal. There is never any “discussion”, any “consultation” about where I’m going, when, or how fast. I just do it. I am not antisocial. I have a short list of wilderness companions who are extraordinarily competent folks I enjoy being with, and among us there is nary any friction. Frankly, two experienced, compatible, men increase overall backcountry camp efficiency by a factor of three, not just two, thoroughly compounding the effectiveness of either man alone. And I have been in the midst of some genuine hunting camps on occasion too, wherein I get along just fine with one and all.
Nevertheless, there is just nothing on God’s good earth to compare with the ultimate freedom of putting yourself, and only yourself, smack in the middle of good country. And your attitude, that you can and should and will do this alone, and do it well- is the very first prerequisite.
Of course, attitude should be underpinned by a solid base of experience, else it be foolhardiness. You will need a foundation of woodcraft with others who back each other up before I can recommend going it alone. The solitary rambler needs to have spent a lot of time sleeping on the ground, needs to know how to build a fire anywhere under any kind of conditions, needs the bone-deep knowledge that most things that go bump in the night are not going to get you (and the knowledge of the rare occasions where one might). He must have experienced every kind of weather. He needs to have winnowed his gear to the point where he has the best there is and he knows how to use it, and use it well, in his sleep.
And before he ever steps off into the wilderness alone, whether for the first time or the thousandth, he must accept complete responsibility for being alert. Every hour, every minute, every second, you, and only you, can determine what you do: Where you place every single foot, where you cross the creek, where you put on your parka, where you erect your tent. Every single one of these things and a million other ones have consequences- bad ones if done incorrectly.
Nobody does it correctly every time. I’ve survived my share of mishaps. Like the time a snowtrench collapsed on me in the middle of the night under 33 inches of new snow. I bailed out of my bag in my near-altogether and managed to get a fire going and steadily improved my situtation the rest of the long night; indeed, the rest of the long blizzard. Maybe being in that trench wasn’t even my “fault”- nature can and will throw surprises at you. What would have been my fault is if I had died (which I surely would have) because I didn’t have a fire starting kit and the experience and the determination and the confidence (remember attitude?) to use it effectively. (See the “Getting Further Back” speech for advice on what to always have with you). A very large percentage of people in such circumstances would have plunged off wild trying to “get out” of there and would surely have gone under instead. We read about them every year. Especially if they’re alone. I had enough solid field experience by the time this scrape came along that running for the “exit” never even entered my mind.
For the facts are the facts when you’re alone in the backcountry. And one fact is that there simply isn’t an “easy” or “quick” exit- no “escape clause”. You can’t turn the game off. You have to go through the gears to get out the same as you did to get in. To hunt really back in, where the hunting is best, all by yourself, you have to accept all the facts, and live them.
And there is nothing in the world as beautiful, as free, as self-revealing, as rewarding as this. You will, quite often, touch the face of God.
No, the subject is not the aging of meat- though that might be a good topic for a future essay. Rather, I’m talking about the aging of us hunters. When I was a young buck I could put up with just about anything- any old sort of gear, any deprivation- in pursuit of my hunting or other outdoor goals. And, usually, still get the goal accomplished.
It gets harder and harder to do that over the years. I consider myself very lucky to have been in a position- as a manufacturer of outdoor gear- to design gear that kept up with my aging process, undeniably keeping me functioning in the field as if the years weren’t slipping by. My packs get more comfortable, more stable, more forgiving of my creakier carcass. The advent of my heated tipis allow me to get thoroughly warm and rested daily- keeping me humping when the less-endowed, equipment-wise, young bucks are wilting.
Equipment for being “out-there” does make a difference, and never more so as we age. I’m in my mid-fifties now and still kicking butt (with some serious help from my gear). Rest assured, fellow foot hunters, that my gear, regular exercise- which, in my case, mostly means simply continuing to hunt whatever is in season, year round, getting out there rock-shooting as often as possible too- and good old-fashioned determination will keep this writer in the field until my offspring eventually put me under it (or scatter my ashes over it.)
I will never “give up” on hunting. To me, it is vital, fundamental, elemental to life, especially in this reality-denying world of cut-off-from-nature, politically correct urban snivelers. Of course, a lot of us are urban or suburbanites. But we hunters aren’t among the effete classes- what Jeff Cooper terms the rabbit people. On the contrary, we know the roots of life, the gene-deep realities that death accompanies, defines, life; that the natural world, the real world, countenances killing-to-live; that the Chase is essential to living fully, connectedly, to all that we are, and to where we came from.
So, never quit because of age. Do whatever it takes to stay afield. Buy my gear. Climb stairs. Get away from your T.V. and your P.C. and stay strong, fit. A whole lot of what it takes is lodged in the grey matter between your ears. Live peaceably. If that’s not possible, strike forcefully at those who would restrict you, demean you, rob you of your heritage.
As a hunter, you are a member of the first profession, a part of the provider-of-life class, and a warrior/participant in the natural world.
Someone among my readers in surely muttering by now on behalf of 4-wheelers for old-folks. And maybe when I’m 85 I’ll have to go that route. Don’t know. They are not all that easy to handle and are cold as hell for old folks as drivers. And, as I’ve maintained all my hunting life, nothing is as effective as hunting afoot, and the further back in the better. So I think a more likely route for me, when I presumably can’t carry 100 lbs. of elk meat in my own pack off the mountain (unlikely as that seems) is that I’ll still be afoot, but with a llama or a burro or somesuch helpmate alongside. These critters can go pretty much where I can, unlike horses (though mules are better, they still can’t go where a man on foot can) and can carry out the prize. So hang in there with me. I’ll design and build whatever gear it takes to keep us productively in the field. Our great-grand kids will continue to enjoy the annual jerky from us and will greatly admire the “old man” for providing it. And we may just be the impetus to preserving hunting until such time as the present artificial world realizes its roots and begins to honor them. Maybe then we can quit. (Nah! We’ll never quit!)
The short answer to your question about which packs and tipis I use is that I use, or have used extensively, all of them. If you’re trying to narrow the field of options with a mind to make selections that fit your own needs, then the best thing I can do is give you what’s going to have to be what amounts to an essay on where I see the various pieces of gear fitting in the best at solving needs. Even though I’m primarily a solo Rambler I have a great deal of experience leading group trips from my days of putting on Dealer Rambles when I owned Mountainsmith. My Company supplied all the packs and especially the tipis and stoves for all the participants on these backcountry trips all over the country. By the way, I don’t recall anyone asking me that question before. Maybe they should have, because I suspect what will come out of this will help some folks zero in on deciding which of the items we build will most fit their needs. So thanks!
I’m not sure how to organize this information, so perhaps I’ll just start in with a stream-of-consciousness verbal ramble. And we’ll commence with the tipis. I’ll do the packs when we finish with the tipis. Let’s do this built around Scenarios:
—Scenario #1- SOLO. Just me (or you…you get the idea). And let’s break this down even further and say that it’s summertime. I’m very likely to be rambling around with a Paratarp and ParaStove in my pack. Especially if I’m moving far and fast. The weather is as mild as it ever gets in the rockies, but I still have a stove just inside the front of the tarp for warmth evening and morning and for cooking. I could use an open fire but I long ago learned the winds in the mountains are unpredictable and also long ago reached my quota of smoke-in-face from an open fire laid out in front of a tarp. This system is astonishingly light for what it gives back to me. And I’m bullet-proof, no matter what the summer weather does.
Move forward to early Autumn. Now every evening/morning cycle is below freezing, and any precipitation is very likely to be snow–maybe even a LOT of snow. The day is shorter and the temp drops sooner in the afternoon and rises later in the morning. And I’m now most apt to be toting a ParaTipi with small stove (tho maybe the little ParaStove–just depends). I know that all-encompassing heat whilst in my tent more than compensates for the weight of carrying the ingredients to make that happen during the walk to get there–wherever there is. I have an abundance of room which, in my case, contributes to my personal ability to rest up for the rigors of the next day. Just as huddling in my sleeping bag is not restful to me, being confined in too small a space, even with the vast improvement a stove gives, is not as restful as toting a small increment of weight whilst on the move in order to have some wiggle room for recouping restfully. I can cut the handle off my toothbrush and all that sort of thing to give myself true camp comfort as provided by the ParaTipi and stove compared to the Tarp/stove. I’m spending more time in camp, after all, because the days are shorter. I can hammer myself during what daylight there is, knowing I’ll rest well in camp. The juice will be back by morning.
Let’s move along to full Autumn/early winter. Hunting season. Truly cold at night and often not exactly warm in the middle of the day either. A full-on blizzard is likely if you’re out there long enough. I’m fully ensconced in the Paratipi with small stove, bullet proof no matter what happens. And there’s this to consider: if the distance I’ve pushed isn’t too great I might even be parked in a 4 man tipi, with small or perhaps even medium stove (the medium if it’s really, really cold when I push off and looks like it’s going to stay that way). At nearly six feet I can stand right next to the center pole–head touching it–and experience the great luxury of pulling on my britches while upright! This scenario assumes I’ve put myself in a base camp mode. And am going to stay there awhile. Remember, Griz, that I’m giving you pretty much all the ways I use our tipis here. You can highlight the ones that the make any sense to you. This one may not! But if I can do it, it’s doable. Get the idea?
Let’s move along to the dead of winter. If I’m afoot, on snowshoes (not likely) or skis (quite likely) I’ll still be using the ParaTipi if I’m moving from day to day, or I can take the 4 man if I’m base camping. But here’s a wrinkle that I really like about winter: if I pull one of our sleds I can bring in any tipi/stove combo that suits my fancy! This is the way I did most of my winter testing of our bigger tents. Just myself in a 12 man tipi. Wow, talk about luxury!
—Scenario #2- TWO MEN. And back to summer, etc. Yes, two men can shelter in a ParaTarp. So, for ultra, ultra lightweight rambling they can’t beat this option. But they need to be really good friends.
As this is a stream-of-consciousness narrative the male-female aspect of “really good friends” just popped into my mind, of course (hey!, I ain’t dead yet!). Ah, the wonderful Duo Rambler option. And the finest part of that whole deal is the attached sleeping bags scenario. Well, that option starts with the 4 man tipi. Just so you know, Griz, old fellow.
Anyway, where was I? OK, the ParaTipi. At this point it really doesn’t matter what time of year it is because the ParaTipi, like all the others above it, is enclosed. I may dispense with the seasonal breakdown; we’ll see as this ramble rolls along. So. Two men in a Para is the issue. And at this point I need to start talking about user background. To folks who are coming to our shelters from a mountaineering background, where their experience has been in typical mountaineering tents, the Para is huge. They love it, wallow in it. But to men whose history is wall tents or Coleman/Cabelas/Eureka truck camping tents it’s a no-go. As a general rule I’ve learned that this latter group should half our stated “occupancy” ratings. Ergo, our two man tipi (the ParaTipi) should be considered a one man, the 4 man a two man and so on. We still use mountaineering ratings, because we have to–it’s the Standard. Just remember this background factor. And while we’re on the subject of experience influencing perception let’s get into the first-time-with-stove-in-a-tent phenomenon. If you’ve never experienced this it will scare the bejeebers out of ya! Especially in a fairly small tent. It takes a while to learn the whole set-up is very safe, even that a cherry-red stove and stovepipe and two feet of flame shooting out the top of the pipe is “normal”. And during that time folks tend to stay waaay far from the stove inside the tipi. A lot further than they eventually realize is quite safe. During this learning curve we find that folks can,prematurely, decide the tent is too small when it really may not be if they were experienced with the whole tipi/stove program. Bear this in mind. You should be able to sleep within six inches (often even less for me) of an operating stove. This, if you’re on the ground. As for your cot program I’m not sure what the safe distance is. Hmmm. This may further indicate an 8 man in your case.
OK, let’s move up to a 4 man tipi for two men. This is a very viable, and popular option. Except for the very cramped standing room (or non-room if you’re much over six feet). Nevertheless, it is a very roomy tent for two men and a ton of gear and you CAN get a lot higher toward “standing” and moving around than you can in a Para. For what it gives back it is remarkably lightweight. For two guys this is a very versatile option, anywhere, anytime, you’re bullet-proof.
We come now to the new 6 man tipi, in this case with two occupants. And we have arrived at true stand-up room for BOTH of our six-footer occupants. Even three, I think. There’s even room to walk around a little. Behind and alongside whichever stove is parked in there, and it can be any of them that we make. Griz, if I remember correctly how far that cot was standing away from the stove when we placed it in there at the Elk Foundation Convention I’d say about a foot. I could walk between it and the stove easily enough, but now I’m not sure what to say about prolonged exposure to the stove of the thing at that distance, AT THAT HEIGHT. I know that a foot is plenty far away from the stove at ground level, but I do not have any experience with a cot at fifteen inches off the floor (or whatever they are). The top of the stove is about 14 inches off the floor. Assuming the thickness of a man laying on his side is at least that, and that I’ve lain even closer than that many times I’d have to conclude you’re probably OK. So there. We’ve rambled along here, taking things into account as I think of them, and it looks like we’ve resolved that one.
I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to head out with a companion and carry this 6 man tipi anywhere. For two it’s still a great weight-to-performance ratio. Considering that stand-up factor, how long you may be in the tent, and so forth I would even be tempted to take it over the 4 man. I can’t believe I just said that, as I’ve spent lots of time in my beloved 4 man. But boy, being able to stand up and actually stretch is mighty appealing.
As for the 8 man tipi with two men it is very doable because I’ve done it several times. And it is wonderful to have all that room for REALLY walking around. Several feet apart from each other! It’s hard to quantify how satisfying that is if you’re tent-bound. Generally, it’s hard to quantify a lot of these options, and I know that. But I need to lay them out for you, as I’ve said. Always there’s the balancing between the space/comfort aspect and the weight you carry to get on location. I can even say that 2 men can make a go of toting a 12 man into the outback. If they are fit enough to hunt elk afoot they are genuinely fit enough to do it. I think I’d only go for this scenario, though, if it were a base camp. Which is fine indeed, because both men can spread out as if in a palace.
—Scenario #3- 3-4 MEN- With the stove inside, I’d say 3 mountaineer types can do well in a 4 man tipi. Two if wall tent veterans.
Three men will thrive in a 6 man tipi, and I do think four will do well due to the configuration I’ve given it. But the mountaineering/wall tent background may rule it down to three for the wall tent fellows. We’ll see as the feedback comes in. Since you, Griz, are trying to decide which tent to go with, let me say here, before I forget, that a whole bunch of our tipi customers own more than one tipi. We even work with quite a few of them on providing different stovepipe lengths for the various tipis they own so that they can use one or two stoves in two or three tents. Perhaps what I’m getting at here is that if you get into these shelters at the point that looks the most “all-around” for your needs you may find yourself back for another one that is more “perfect” for other kinds of trips the whole tipi experience leads you to want to try. It’s very much like the situation you almost certainly enjoy with rifles–you don’t own just one, right? These tents are a lot like that. You may very well get to where you don’t leave home without one. Or the “other” one for a different sort of trip. Anyway, it’s hard to really make a “mistake” with these things.
—Scenario #4- MORE THAN 4 MEN- Five or 6 guys from the mountaineering tent world can do well in an 8 man tipi, probably 4 if wall tenters. Eight or nine fellows in a twelve vs. six, same background breakout.
OK, we’ve covered tents pretty well. My watch tells me I’d better get ready for a Birthday Party we’re giving my Grandson. So let’s do this: I’ll come back later tonight, or perhaps tomorrow, and we’ll get into the packs. See you then!
I’m ready to resume this verbal Ramble on which tipis and packs I use, and how. looking at the intervening posts from last evening when I left off, it appears we’re not finished with tipis/stoves after all. So I’ll continue with them first, then move to packs.
I did indeed short-change the issue of small or Para stove in the Paratipi–I reckon I was pushing along too fast in order to make it to that B-day party. So, dan b, I’ll speak at more length to that. The ParaStove will warm the ParaTipi clear down to about zero. But at that point it takes more management than the small stove; because it is so small feeding/emptying is oftener, etc. And the cooking surface is very small, demanding specialized pots if you’re to use two. Not to worry, several of us here on the Board are doing just fine with pots from Snow Peak and other manufacturers, so it’s very doable. In fact, your scenario of using the ParaStove and ParaTipi most of the time is very viable, and I’d say go for it! I remember using that combo in BC sheep hunting. The temps at night dropped to 15 belowF and I truly did wish for the small stove. Yes, it was still waaay better than no heat at all! Which you very aptly point out.
Still “filling in” on tipis…. Griz, I am astonished you are a one rifle man. You must be the only guy here in that category. Let me hasten to say I think that is laudable–“beware the man with one gun”, and etc. Sorry to hear you’re not backpack hunting anymore! After acquiring a tipi or two and selecting another pack (which we’ll get to next) I’m betting you re-consider that. Speaking to your comments in your post of last evening, I’ll say that I concur with your choices and wish you good fortune with them. You have everything wired! Yes, you can use the med. stove in that ParaTipi, you’ll probably just want to throttle it down a bit and/or ventilate the tent in order to spill heat.
I’m ticking these overnight posts off one-by-one as we continue with tipis as our topic. There will probably be some that I’ll miss whilst doing this! Which, Dan, points to the fact that this narrative, with “interuptions” is going to be difficult to convert to an Official Essay over on the Official Essay section of the website. Yet this “conversational” format developing here is mighty effective at getting to the whole point of answering Griz’s great original question. The information flow is happening wonderfully. So. Any ideas? Maybe Maggie can somehow “link” to this thread over here where we are? If so, where, what and how does she “pick” the most relevant “parts”. Like I said, the mechanics of laying all this out so that the maximum number of puzzled folks can get at it is difficult, eh? But thanks for the observation–you are very correct that it’s useful as all get-out.
Rugerman, I’m happy you’ve picked up enough info reading this ramble between me and these guys to make your selection! It’s working already!
OK, a few more observations about our tipis that occurred to me overnight and then off to talk about packs. Let’s see, oh yes, stovewood. I think NY Jim has spoken to this. One of the reasons I never did get to total occupancies that match our published sizes in last evenings’ talk is because I seem to always have a bunch of stovewood inside the tent. The tents were actually designed to accomodate this effectively; it’s one reason they are ovals instead of round–so you can stack firewood at the doors without impinging on living space. Of course one reason for bringing it inside is to dry it out. Or to keep it dry in case it rains/snows. I’ve also found that I drag whole branches and trunks inside, then reduce them for the stove as I get around to it! Don’t laugh, you’ll love this routine if you ever start doing it! There’s no reason not to do it– the earth is your floor so there’s nothing stopping you there, you can break/saw/chop just enough wood to get things warmed up and supper underway and deal with the rest of the evenings’ wood supply on an as-needed basis. I suppose all of this is why I’ve never toted a tarp to cover an outside wood supply. Maybe it’s some sort of neurosis–gotta have all that kinetic warmth all around me so’s I can see it! Whatever, it takes up room and that’s why I never reach the “full potential” of occupancy in my tipis.
Lastly, I need to say something to convey how important my heated tents are to me in the grand scheme of my Rambles. Here are my Basic Items for any Ramble: Tipi/Stove/Firestarter; firearm; pack; boots; clothing. They are ALL pretty much equal. And if I had to whittle, the firearm and most of the clothes could go.
—PACKS- I think I’ll address the packs by starting at our smallest and moving up by size.
DayStalker- The unvarnished fact is that I very rarely use this one. I routinely carry an extensive array of “possibles” (see Essay) that, along with trip-specific items, is just too much “stuff” for the DayStalker. Actually, not so. But remember that I like some wiggle room. Never can tell–I might be bringing back a trio of grouse! The DayStalker nevertheless has a devoted following among our customers, and is a great pack if it suits your style.
Spike Camp- Except for elk hunting and backpacking my Spike is ALWAYS with me. It has been my knock-around, day hike pack for years and years. Before I invented it I carried a Mountainsmith Bugaboo in the same role. I’ve carried lots and lots of small game, and day-hunted deer and elk in and on that pack. It does it all.
Well, not really all. If I’m packing in to hunt big game it’s been the Long Hunter, in either Standard size or Guide size–depending on length of trip. (And if I had to choose only one size LH it would be the Guide–more wiggle room).
Late Season- If I’m just plain old Rambling, out of Big Game season, and it’s summertime, I really enjoy the Late Season. My ParaTipi/small stove set-up fits it fine. It is wonderfully comfortable, lighter than my Long Hunter, and will hold all the stuff I need. And it comes into it’s own as a hunting pack if I’m day-tripping for big game late in the season. The name for the pack was so obvious I didn’t even attempt to come up with something catchier. It will fly with me, just like my Spike. It will carry very, very comfortably even more “stuff”. Nah, I won’t let it replace my Spike–I’m too attached to the old fellow–but maybe you can see what I’m getting at. The LS is a very useful backpack.
Siwash- The Siwash is probably the most esoteric, most “niche” pack I’ve designed since the old BackBowl and Glade packs from my Mountainsmith days. I will have to stretch to explain it. It’s a little-big pack that is at home wherever things get “technical”–steep, remote, gnarly–and you own the right compact gear to match up with it’s special virtues. Experienced backcountry skiers/ramblers “see” this pretty quick. I think our own Ed T pounced on one right away. These same guys are using the Siwash for their sheep/goat hunting adventures. They have the right gear for it, and are accustomed to using that niche kind of pack in that niche kind of way. I said little-big pack above. The “little” part means that the pack gets used very, very often as a day pack for very long, fast, day-trip outings in questionable (like winter) or downright awful weather, in gnarly country, and one really needs to think about the possibility of bivouac. And carry the requisite gear. In it’s niche, the Siwash is a very versatile pack, and very capable of carrying immense weight comfortably. I wish I had “discovered” it’s suspension system way back when I was scorching the winter high country with a Glade on my back. As said, very versatile.
Long Hunter- But not as versatile as this one. The Long Hunter can do it all–from day-tripping to Expeditioning. If I’m elk hunting, even if just a quick day-trip from the truck, the LH is on my back. (If it’s antelope or deer my Spike or LateSeason will likely get the nod). The LH will assume any variety of configurations for any task. And it will compress to near-nothing and slither with you anyplace you’ll fit. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere and if I were limited to just one Kifaru pack it would be this one. If I could own two they would be the LH and my SpikeCamp (tho that LateSeason is looking very tasty). The LH and the SC were the first Kifaru packs I designed because they were, to me, the most useful in meeting my needs. They’re sort of my .308 and .358 if you catch my metaphor. But, just as I own other rifle calibers, I use and love the other packs when their niche is needful.
I certainly use my packs in their Complete mode–all the “most useful” accessories are always with me. I designed ’em to solve problems for me and the problems haven’t gone away.
Hey! I may be done here! I hope you can dig something out from all this wandering. Again Griz, thanks for asking that question. This Ramble needed to be done methinks. I realize now that Kifaru offers an abundance of options for filling needs. That’s probably not a great business approach–too many Stocking Units to build and keep up with, etc. I don’t care. This is what we do. And I’m the first to benefit from this gear. My customers suffer only from too many choices, I guess. Let’s hope this Ramble will help them decide.
The following is in response to a pregnant paragraph from good pal and customer “Posimag”, as posted on our message board 6-1-00. My response grew so large it warrants putting it here on the Forum instead of on the message board. I’ll break down the questions/points Posimag listed and try to give what insight I can, issue by issue:
- “In the 308 case which of the neck sizes are flatter shooting?”
OK, here are the drop specs from the latest Speer manual. All are based on a 300 yard zero ( see below for a discussion on why ) with the “all around” bullets for the given caliber. The velocities are about what you can expect from a carbine length barrel.
- 243– 100gr. bullet with BC of 400 and muz. vel. of 2850: 100yds.= 4.4″; 200yds.=5.3″; 300yds.= 0; 400yds=–12.5″.
- 260– 140gr .bullet with BC of 490 and muz. vel. of 2700: 100yds.= 4.8″; 200yds.= 5.5″; 300yds.= 0; 400yds= –12.9″.
- 7/08– 140gr. bullet with BC of 434 and muz. vel. of 2700: 100 yds.= 5.0″; 200yds.= 5.8″; 300yds.= 0; 400yds.= –13.7″.
- 308– 165gr. bullet with BC of 410 and muz. vel. of 2700: 100 yds.= 5.0″; 200yds.= 5.9″; 300yds.= 0; 400yds.=–14″.
- 358– 225gr. bullet with BC of 430 and muz. vel. of 2500: 100yds.= 6.0″; 200yds.= 6.9″; 300yds.= 0; 400yds= –16.3″.
You’ll notice that the drops aren’t all that different! By using a 300yd. zero you’ve created a pretty useful window of drops. It’s easy to judge distances when they’re fairly close and you can hold UNDER out to around 250yds. more reliably than holding OVER way out there. These slightly higher than traditional hundred yard site-ins also allow my small game handloads to be right on at 25 yds. (see the Loading Big Game Rifles essay here on the Forum to read about this useful practice). Note too that these drops are from a manual that’s using sea level as the basis. My normal long range shooting spot is at 9500 feet and I get drops some inches less than what’s indicated here.
Let’s talk about that. First, I urge readers to actually shoot their own guns at these yardages rather than rely on published drop tables, even if you know the velocity of your load, etc. And for you guys who are coming out west to hunt from lower elevations I suggest you shoot a round at a target at long range when you get to the elevation you’re going to hunt. If you think you might shoot long it’ll be worth it to see where you’re actually hitting. It’ll be higher than it is at home.
Let me give you an example: I actually site my 308 in at 6 inches at 100yds. rather than the 5 inches given above. It only drops 7 inches at 400 yds! Take out 4 of those inches due to the 1 inch higher site-in at 100 and it still drops 3 inches less than the sea level figures indicate. The little 260 barrel on my Rambling Rifle, also sited in 6 inches high at 100 yds., only drops the 140 Partition 2 inches at 400 yds.!! That’s because of the phenomenal BC of 490 on that javelin-like bullet. ( It was a 2″ group too!) In any event it’s a good idea to actually shoot at long range on location, if you can.
There are additional benefits to a high site-in (beyond the small game compatibility so dear to my personal year-round shooting style). One big one is you shouldn’t have to hold over on long shots. Holding on “fur” is a lot better than holding on “air”. The “brisket depth” (which you should know) is right there under your cross wires, making your reference point vivid. The “yardstick” is much easier to read accurately. Holding on fur instead of air will simply give you better results, especially if you haven’t used a range finder—either because you don’t have time (rare at long range) or because you don’t have one (yet).
So I hold low from about 85 yards out to about 250. That covers anything in between, of course, and since this encompasses the vast majority of shots at game it is second nature to me. For longer shots, the little warning goes off in my head and I start to raise the crosswires accordingly. Yeah, it’s a heretical way to shoot, I know. I remember hunting wild boar out in California with Craig Boddington and Kyler Haman. They had already heard of my weird site-in methods. When we checked our zeros at Kyler’s site-in range we had a choice—pie plate or little 2 inch square metal gong-like thing. Both Craig and I chose the little metal gong of course and both of us dinged it soundly. Kyler asked me how I held to hit it. “Six inches below its middle”, I replied. I remember Kyler and Craig seemed to exchange that certain kind of glance. Next day, as we moseyed out to where we thought the pigs might be, I asked both fellows about the brisket depth of the representable boars in the area. They agreed on 15 inches. Eventually we managed to roust a good size Russian-looking beauty and he trotted across the flank of the hill across from us at about 225 yards. I happened to be in the best shooting position and so sat down, swung the crosshairs of my old 350 Remington Magnum with the bottom of his chest and let fly a 180gr. Barnes. Drilled him dead center right behind the shoulder and we had us a fine black specimen. It all happened as fast as I can tell it. My companions don’t hold any more reservations about the high site-in technique. It works close, it works medium and it especially works out far.
OK, Posimag, above are as good as any (better than most) “drops” for the 308 based cartridges you asked about. Pick your poison. For elk, though, I suggest you start with the 260 or larger and leave the 243 for the deer fields.
- “Is the 308 bore the best for the case or can it do just as good a job in a 284 (7mm) bore but without as much foot pounds of energy?” (I did a little paraphrasing there for clarity, sorry.)
Well, I think that for non-dangerous game the fact that you lose some “foot pounds of energy” by dropping to 7/08 or any other 284 bore caliber as compared to 30 caliber doesn’t mean a whole lot. I refer you to the essay on “Cartridge Power” here on the Forum for a pretty thorough take on the whole topic. As I concluded there, shot placement is far more important than this foot-pounds or pounds-foot or TKO kind of stuff, even though we love to theorize about it. Nevertheless, I like 30 caliber better than 7mm myself ( I don’t blame your friend for abandoning his 7 Mag. in favor of his ‘06—I chose my 308 over the Sevens too). But its not because of foot-pounds. I like the 30 better because the typical bullets are simply bigger—weightier AND bigger in diameter across the front. They make a bigger hole. I also love the 6.5’s. ( and especially the new 260 Rem. with its very low recoil). They stand out not because of diameter but because of outstanding sectional density. They penetrate like crazy! So I sort of “bracket” the sevens and choose 264 cal. and 308 cal. for different but superior virtues. To me, they both outshine the sevens. Give me a 260 Rem., a 308 Win. and a 358 Win. and I’ll hunt happy the rest of my days. I know full well that many, many men are completely happy with 284 bore rifles and get fine results but, hey, we all have preferences and there’s my defense of mine.
I can’t resist a few more words on the foot pounds thing. I thought I’d exhausted myself on the subject when I wrote the Cartridge Power piece but noooooo, I find there’s always room for more within me when it comes to this one. No real evidence exists that foot pounds (or any of the other sorts of formulas) as a reliable scale of killing power is worth more than campfire entertainment. Jack used skinny bullets, Elmer used fat ones, and they both knocked down a whole bunch of game. They could shoot straight is all we need to know. Some say speed matters but equal numbers take big game with slow calibers—and without bloodshot meat! Everybody DOES agree that penetration is important. A bullet with a sectional density of about 250 or above will do it. You can even go below that with a premium bullet; they are all designed for great penetration. I believe the big calibers—338 and up are for dangerous game and far too many hunters who haven’t learned to master their recoil are missing standard game, or wounding it. John Barsness has an excellent article in this month’s issue of Rifle Magazine on this subject entitled Kick and Killing Power. Now, John is a genuine Hunter, not just a spinner of gun mag. articles, so listen up. Here are a few quotes: “A .300 Winchester Magnum kicks twice as hard as the little .308 WCF but only adds 10 percent more velocity, and a .308 loaded with the right 165-grain bullet will take any nondangerous game in the world, even moose and eland…. So as I’ve grown older and bullets grown better, efficient little cartridges seem more attractive. The best are the those with the smallest powder capacity when compared to their bore…. In some circles it isn’t fashionable to shoot such mild cartridges, but anybody who tells you they don’t work has been reading too many comic books, or possibly another magazine.” Talking about modern premium bullets, John also says, “What this means is that we now have such fine bullets, both in handloads and factory loads, that light-kicking calibers will provide all-around big game performance”
Bless his heart, John Barsness tells it like it really is! Let me use my 260 Rem. to illustrate a truism. By the way, I read about this truth in another mag. recently. (Maybe all this verification of my views in the last few days is what’s got me on a roll again.) I can’t find the magazine but will proceed anyway; maybe somebody will email with the details. The article was a review of the new Marlin 450 caliber. The reviewer shot for penetration at various velocities—1700fps, 1925fps and 2300fps. Guess which speed penetrated the LEAST. You got it—2300fps. The MOST? 1925fps. So, to bring my little 260 into the picture, 1925fps is the speed a 140gr. bullet launched from its muzzle at 2700fps. is traveling at 500yds. So let’s examine the truth about killing power by taking up the results of that bullet connecting with the shoulder of an elk right there at 500 big ones. First off, the bullet will NOT open instantly—there won’t be an entry wound the size of the exit wound. Instead, the bullet will enter and then open up. And it will proceed to plow a very, very long swath of destruction through the interior of that unfortunate elk’s clockwork. Most likely the bullet will completely exit. And the elk will go down! No elk/sheep/moose/deer on earth can withstand the lethality of this kind of PENETRATION. There will be no bloodshot meat. The fact that the foot-pounds of “energy” was just a bit over 1000 instead of the 2000 we lately think is the “minimum” for elk will make no difference. It will make no difference that I carried a 41/2 lb. rifle up to this rendezvous. That I didn’t need, or use, a muzzle brake. That I didn’t launch the bullet at 3500fps. (point is; it’s better that I didn’t). That “hydrostatic shock” played no part in this drama. The results are still there—a clean kill.
I’ll try to put what appears to our statistics-soaked imaginations regarding the “power”, or apparent lack of it, of this shot into perspective by inviting you to visualize walking up to that elk and poking him in the shoulder with a 44 Magnum handgun and pulling the trigger. Think he’ll go down? The little 260 has even more of it, theoretical “power” that is, at 500 yards than the 44 Mag. at point blank range. We riflemen ought to think about this when we think about the reality of killing power. Virtually ALL big game rifle calibers have more than enough power for any of the non-dangerous game we hunt. Period. I still wouldn’t choose, Posimag, a 243 for elk and moose—not enough bullet. Gotta draw the line somewhere. For absolute sure, though, all the rest of the 308 based cartridges will do a great job! And you’ll shoot straighter.
How about we look at this “power” thing in this light: if you can fire it from your shoulder how “smashing” can a given cartridges’ “power” really be? We’re launching a projectile that weighs less than an ounce at a critter than weighs hundreds of pounds! Big game isn’t “knocked off its feet”, ever. Instead, its internal nerves, blood pressure and/or air supply is disrupted to the extent that the animal can’t stay on its feet. This can happen very quickly, especially if nerve damage is massive—such as with a hit to the spine. The more penetration you have, which is enhanced by modest velocity, the more disruption you cause. I would be much more secure in launching a slower bullet with high sectional density into the chest of a charging bear than in launching a high velocity number, even with the same sectional density, into him. I want the bullet to penetrate clear back thru the liver, which is a blood-rich organ that, when it has a nice hole in it, brings down the animal just about as fast as a heart shot, in case I miss the heart with the shot. ( In fact, when it comes to bears, I want that blessed bullet to keep on plowing till it exits his rear end, causing as much “owie” as possible all the way!!! But that’s another story.)
OK, one more soap box stand and we’ll move on. This, too, comes from the reading I’ve done in the last few days. Good old Wayne Van Zwoll—another real hunter. In this issue of Bugle he takes on the giant scope craze. It seems Wayne and I agree that a 2×7 compact is the premier scope for any real hunter!! The rest of the monsters are hopeless dross, dragging a walking man down and contributing nothing of real worth in return. Maybe all those guys sporting these behemoths are riding around on putt-putts. I hope so. No! I really would like to see them with an appropriately svelte real hunting set-up. No again! I think I’m happier that they are down there putzing around on their wheeled steeds and leaving the backcountry to me. I can deal with it just fine by myself. Besides, they drive the game my way.
- “What’s the deal on case size/shape relative to bore diameter?” ( Posimag– I did a lot of editing here to get to the heart of your question quickly, sorry again.)
Speaking to your hunch as to why the 7 Mags. you guys were shooting were getting slower-than-published velocities, yes, the 7 mag. could be considered “over bore capacity”. Overbore means the amount of powder the case will hold, relative to the diameter of the bullet it’s designed to launch, is on the high side. The 308 is reputed to be sort of the ideal case—it produces very good velocity with very little powder. It does this in all its various neck sizes too. The 30-06 is not nearly as efficient but is still not thought to be overbore. The seven mag. was originally thought to be overbore, but I gotta tell you that it’s so far down the line now, when you consider the coke-bottle size 30-378, that it’s not even a talked- about issue on the poor old seven anymore. My hunch is your friends just have “slow” sevens. But, I’ve read plainly in the Speer manual that they often don’t get the speeds in their testing facilities that others claim for the round. I’ve never heard anybody claim that the SHAPE of the seven mm case might be the reason for some of them being “slow”. At least not that I can remember. A LOT of talk goes around on case shape, though, and has for a long time. There’s the “sharp shoulder” school, popularized by P.O.Ackley back in the fifties, that claimed that a 40 degree shoulder on a case enhanced its combustion. I’m not sure about that, but it’s certain Ackley had a big impact on wildcat cartridges—they WILL hold more powder, thus higher velocities are achieved; so- and -so “Ackley” wildcat cartridges are common to this day.
Another school says that short fat cases give better combustion, and especially better accuracy. These folks are probably right. All of the Bench Rest cartridges are indeed short, and these cats wouldn’t be shooting these cases if they didn’t work.
All of this is a bit academic for hunting needs. I have a long, skinny cased 375 that shoots up a storm, as far as hunting accuracy is concerned. And I have a short, fat cased 350 Rem. Mag. that also shoots up a storm.
“Overbore” cartridges are all over the shooting scene nowadays. Some shoot very well and very fast—which is why I can’t say your 7 mags are faulty from the design standpoint. Some BARRELS are “slow”, for example, and that may be what’s going on here.
I ought to cover Expansion Ratio in this context. It’s the thing that makes a case Overbore or Just Right. The 338 case, with its 338 diameter bullet installed is NOT overbore; neck that case down and stick a 284 diameter bullet in it and it IS overbore. The gases from all that powder can’t get out of the 284 hole down the barrel, when the round is fired, as well as they can if they had a 338 hole to race down. Things get a bit constricted. And hot—overbore cartridges burn out rifling faster than non-overbore ones. Still, some folks will burn a hatful of extra powder to get a few feet per second more velocity out of a given round and so bigger and bigger cases are being stuck behind bullets. It’s by no means a new thing, it’s just really getting crazy, and frankly almost mainstream at this point. Same thing with ever-bigger scopes. Same with yearly “advances” in camouflage patterns (if you don’t have the competing companies’ latest development every critter in the woods will immediately spot you and sound the alarm!) All this hype is eaten up by the novices, and they buy a lot of the equipment that’s sold. Bigger and faster= better. And so on.
The last thing I can say about expansion ratio is that, given bullets of the same weight, the bigger bore will allow its bullet to be launched at more velocity. Thus I can shoot a 180 grain 358 bullet faster than I can shoot even a 165 in 308 (2850fps vs 2700fps). It doesn’t stay faster, of course, as the 358 round has a lower BC and slows down faster than the 308 slug.
Well, Posimag, we may be done. I think I’ve given my responses to all your queries. Must admit I’ve also enjoyed it— during part of these responses I got to poke my lance at the fallacies we hunters love so much. So thanks for the opportunity to join the fray—again.
From home (really!)
I wonder when the laser-guided bazookas will show up?”—– anonymous
The subject is hunting rifle “power”. We seem insatiable for more and more of it. Remington’s new 300 Ultramag sales are brisk. Lazzeroni cartridges are getting a lot of press. Weatherby finally has legitimized the cavernous 30-378. And so on. A customer phoned me recently and asked for advice on getting a muzzle brake installed on his new 300 Ultramag. Said he just can’t handle the jolt. And his is not a light rifle.
Muzzle brakes are mandatory on the new mega-calibers. What’s that you say? ( Can’t hear like I used to since firing a few unprotected rounds from my own braked .300 Weatherby ). They’re worth it to get the extra power?
Are they? IS the extra power worth it?
Let me tell you a story. It’s about my deer hunting foray with my earliest Thompson Center handgun. It was equipped with one of their lovely 10 inch octagon barrels in .357 Magnum. Beautiful piece—TC has not made such guns since. I had the works—screw-on shotshell extension, 2 ½ power scope and wonderfully sculpted Herrett grip and forend. Nice little hunting rig. I developed a handload for big game consisting of 180gr. Corelockts ahead of … I forget the exact powder, probably H110 or W296. Anyway, I think I was launching these bullets at about 1400 fps. Maybe 1500 ( I remember getting near 1800 fps. with these same bullets in a later .357 Maximum load, so let’s settle on close to 1500 fps. for the .357 Magnum load). Found me a deer eventually, up in the Flattops, 100 yards out. Put the shot right at about the second rib from the rear—it was an angled situation. Deer ran 50 yards and expired. Bullet exited at the first rib on the opposite side. Big hole. Broken rib going in as well as coming out. Very dead deer. End of story.
How many foot pounds of energy do you suppose arrived on target on the ribs of that full grown mule deer? What was the TKO value? I’m not even in the country as I write this so can’t get the figures. (Perhaps an energetic reader would be interested in computing the data and posting it on the site.) My point is this: the numbers aren’t going to be high. In fact, they will look ridiculously low by the standards we have created “by the numbers”. They will look so low that, by the accepted “numbers” of today, what happened couldn’t have happened. That deer should still be cavorting around out there somewhere ( well, it would have to be with a deer-adapted walker by this date ). By the numbers, I suppose the bullet should have shown more respect for our modern scientific…( wishes?) and politely bounced off.
But that cartridge assembly DID kill that deer and did so as cleanly and as mercifully as any I’ve ever used. I am pretty certain it would have done the same thing on an elk. How come then?
Well, a scientific theorist of the heavy, fat bullet school ( Kiethians, pay attention ) would joyfully tote this event up on their ledger. I’ll give you guys the fat bullet part– .35 caliber is that, relatively so. But the heavy part? Come on, by 35 caliber rifle standards a 180gr. bullet is small game grade. “Yes, but this was a pistol”, you say. “Heck, you can’t even get a 225 or 250 grain bullet to work in that little .357 Mag. case.” Well, excuse me. Therefore, by this logic, we must conclude that 180 grain 35 caliber bullets are OK for a pistol, but not for a rifle? It would dutifully bounce off then, right? Two sets of standards—one for rifles and another for pistols?
Hmmmm. The edifice of accepted “scientific” logic regarding firearm power falls apart. It always does. Whether the school of thought be fat/heavy/high sectional density bullets, or high velocity/lightweight bullets or the phase of the moon, it always does. My conclusion is that within very generous boundaries of speed, bullet diameter, sectional density and all that wonderful technical stuff we love to talk about, shot placement remains the holy grail of game shot success. Nothing else matters nearly as much.
I thought you might like to see my 5 Principles For Game Shot Success. So here they are:
SMITH’S FIVE PRINCIPLES FOR GAME SHOT SUCCESS
- Shot placement
- Shot placement
- Shot placement
- Use enough bullet
- Use enough gun
The first three “principles” all relate to hitting where you should. Using a gun that recoils so hard FOR YOU that you flinch when you shoot does not bring home the bacon. Guides mean it when they insist you bring a gun you shoot well versus one with extra “power”. Installing a muzzle brake tends to substitute one kind of flinch for another: kick induced vs. induced by concussion and noise. Whenever I let the hammer down on my Weatherby from prone I have to remember to close my mouth else it fill up with leaves, twigs, dirt or snow from the incredible concussion around the muzzle. And I absolutely will never, ever shoot that thing again without ear protection even if I AM shooting lion and want to hear my guide. We’ll either pantomime or I simply won’t have that rifle.
What to do? Well, for sure learn to shoot whatever you shoot. Practice, practice, practice. I think that a lot of the mania surrounding power-madness is associated with gun nuts like us who don’t get to shoot their guns enough. So we THINK about guns. Uh-oh, then come the theories, the schools of thought, the power trips. If we could arrange our affairs so that we get out in the field and shoot we would do better. And do it with power levels that we can handle better and be thoroughly successful with—methinks MORE successful with. ( It would seem to me that the whole power mania frenzy is an elaborate attempt on our part to make up for poor shooting with power. But it doesn’t work. Read on. )
I seriously advocate learning to handload your big game rifles for small game and getting out there and hunting whatever is in season. It’s the best off-hand practice you can get. When nothing is in season try this: scatter some foot-square white cardboard “targets” at various unknown distances off a trail. It helps if you have a partner—one partner can go ahead of and place the targets, then the “shooter” or “hunter” can proceed. This exercise is based on my experience as a contestant at the Keneyathalon ( Greek for Hunter’s Test ) a few years back at the NRA’s Whittington Center down in New Mexico.
As the “hunter” proceeds along the trail he must spot the targets, shoot them within a prescribed time limit, OR decline the shot. Here’s the way the scoring works: a hit equals one point; failure to spot and identify the target equals MINUS one point; and a miss equals minus one point. It’s easy to wind up with a negative score! The value of games such as this is inestimable to improving one’s field shooting skills. You have to spot the target, set up, maybe range it, shoot in a timely manner ( long range shots should get more time ), all from a variety of field positions. And you have to know when to pass on the shot—all real world skills well worth acquiring. The best part is you can do this field game anytime! You can vary it by carrying a full pack ( which I highly recommend ) such as on a scouting trip. You can even set out your own targets, just do so without starting from the “trail” so you don’t compromise yourself by knowing the approximate distance from the trail to the targets, or where exactly they are.
Another practice option is to simply shoot rocks. Estimate how far they are from your position, or range them, set up and shoot. Then go see where you hit the rock. Pace off the distance if you didn’t range it. If you hit, say, an “elk size” rock in the “guts” you’ll have learned a lot without real world horror. Any time spent shooting in the field as opposed to the bench is the absolute best practice you can give yourself. And a whole lot of fun because it’s anticipatory and practical to the real thing. And don’t forget dry-firing! If it worked for Mr. Bell, the famous African ivory hunter, it’ll work for us. I confess, I like to “shoot” bad guys on the TV screen ( you obviously will want to make VERY sure you have an empty piece here folks ). It’s neat. The bad guys don’t stand around much so you have to acquire a site picture quickly and get the “shot” off. Remembering where the crosshairs were when the pin fell will tell you whether you produced a hit or a miss. ( One thing about me sharing this fun practice—the P.C. police are bound to read these words sooner or later and try to arrest me, so you guys be ready to come and bail me out, OK?)
All of the above practice will make you fine riflemen, I promise you. You’ll learn to shoot straight, learn reams about range estimation, and learn to pass on shots you shouldn’t take. And you CAN learn to shoot cleanly with a very light rifle that doesn’t need a muzzle brake yet still provides plenty of “power” if you place your shot on target. If that is your goal. It is mine.
In my opinion, the “pounder” rifles, as my friend Bill Krenz terms them, are for dangerous game. These are essentially the above 30 caliber rifles Elmer Kieth was so adamant about using for anything bigger than a coyote. To me, they are for those ” I hope this will dissuade him from chewing on me if I don’t outright kill the bugger on the first shot, especially if he charges and I have to shoot him again” situations. But don’t count on it. Better, they are the rifles one hopes will give dangerous game such an extra jolt with the first shot that a charge never occurs in the first place. I KNOW that all other big game succumbs just fine to standard , relatively low recoil calibers. Jack O’Conner proved that by stacking up just as many big game critters as Elmer did using 27, 28, and 30 calibers versus Mr. Kieth’s 33, 35 and 40 caliber favorites. I have immense respect for both men. But it has occurred to me more than once that old Elmer, curmudgeon that he was, so enjoyed jousting with Jack that he stuck way harder to his “guns” than may have otherwise been the case. For sure their debate made for wonderful reading, and sold a lot of magazines and magazine stories for both men. One more thing in Jack’s favor—until pretty recently, when power mania hit, just about everybody EXCEPT Elmer Kieth took all their big game: deer, elk, moose, whatever on this continent with 30 and below calibers.
In any event, there are plenty of instances of Cape Buffalo ( switching the scene to Africa ) being whacked multiple times by everything from 460 Weatherbys to the big Nitros and STILL raising much mayhem for many minutes before going down for keeps. ( Of course there are plenty of similar stories concerning our own great bears as well. ) Nevertheless, I believe Pondoro Taylor when he claims a “stunning” effect on pachyderms with a “close” brain shot attempt from a large caliber rifle, and that that helps the hunter in getting off a second, finishing, shot by temporarily sort of immobilizing the beast. Mr. Taylor has every right to be an authority on this subject by virtue of killing a whole bunch of elephants! “Close” is very instructive. Big animals shot in the wrong place by ANY rifle don’t go down. Taylor actually meant REAL close on his elephants. And as near as I can tell Cape Buffalo were and still are problematic, not having the spongy tissue surrounding the brain that elephants do, which may have helped transmit the “stun” Taylor speaks to. Unfortunately, I have the same suspicion about our big bears.
It’s important, by the way, to recognize that the big guns Taylor developed his TKO ( Taylor’s Knock Out ) formula in response to were not high velocity numbers. He, and many other experienced riflemen including Elmer Kieth, conclude that around 2200 fps. is something of an ideal velocity for penetration, THE factor all of them say is the most important in bringing down dangerous beasts. Go figure. Taylor touts the desirability of modest velocity yet uses velocity as an integral factor in computing his own TKO formula—as velocity goes up so does the relative “power” according to his formula. Same thing with Kieth’s Pounds-Foot formula, even though Elmer too sides completely and repeatedly on modest velocity for better penetration.
Which gets us, dear reader, back once again to my starting point regarding all such formulas: they break down. We are forced to fall back on common sense and experience. Shot placement still rules. You all know by now I think a .308 Win. will clobber any game anywhere short of the big bears, cats, rhino, Cape Buffalo and elephants ( notwithstanding that Karamojo Bell would clobber ALL of them with my .308, but Mr. Bell was well-nigh supernatural as a rifleman ). For the dangerous critters heavier fatter bullets just make sense because they create bigger wound channels. And moderate velocities are best for penetration.
A few more words about Elmer Kieth. One man creating all this hoopla about heavy, fat bullets for EVERYTHING not just the big and dangerous stuff. When it comes to dangerous game I am in the Kieth camp. But I don’t believe elk and such are as tough as big bears and they sure don’t rip you asunder so you can count me in the O’Conner “camp” too! But I would like to remind once again about the second half of Mr. Kieth’s advice: modest velocity for better penetration. What we see today are so-called Kiethians clamoring for large bore, big bullets but also clamoring for launch speeds in the stratosphere! And, they’re perhaps missing another Kiethism, also repeatedly stated by the man—NO shoulder launched firearm will “stop” a charge from a dangerous large animal unless spine or brain are hit, killing the critter outright on the spot.
So. Yes, I’m a Kiethian when it comes to dangerous game. Completely so. That is, I believe in big bullets, but launched at modest speeds, which will not only do a better job of penetrating but will also, and even more importantly, allow me to shoot straighter in the first place! Very good idea don’t you think? And, you know me, I want to carry a lot lighter rifle. For non-dangerous game and long range I’m an O’Conner man. Makes sense to me.
Let’s talk about Jeff Cooper. Can’t talk about all these other “authorities” without talking about Mr. Cooper. Jeff has espoused his Scout Rifle concept for as long as I can remember, a concept very dear to my heart because it’s almost the same concept as my own Rambling Rifle concept, with a few ( forgivable ) “errors” on Jeff’s part ( this is a joke Jeff, don’t come gunning for me). Mr. Cooper uses two rifle calibers on everything– .308 Win. and .350 Rem. Mag. See why I like this man so much? And I do mean everything: Jeff even takes Cape Buffalo ( down in South Africa where they don’t insist on the .375 minimum bore rule ) with Fireplug, his beloved .350 RM in Scout Rifle configuration. And why not? As I pointed out in Rambling Rifle II the 358 bore is so very close to the legendary 375 that it simply has to be very nearly the same in effectiveness. And so it is. Jeff clobbers lion at will with this potent rifle too. We are kindred spirits: we believe in short action, lightweight handy rifles that have the power to produce just like the big honkers. Thirty caliber has proved itself for a century, beginning with the great 30-40 Krag and continuing with the fabulous 30-06 and also the equally fabulous .308. Along in the 20’s came the wonderful 35 Whelen, giving us a “pounder” for dangerous game, followed by the 350 Rem. Mag. and the equally wonderful little 358 Win. Even though the 358 bores never caught on with the masses, they, combined with the terrific standard 30’s, will do whatever needs to be done in North America. Let me make one more point about the 358/375 phenomenon. It’s this: Peter Capstick ( there, I managed to get him in here too ) opines that there is something about the diameter of the 375 that is sort of “balanced”; that it is big enough to create the right sort of very effective wound channel, yet not so big as to be impeded in penetrating ability as it displaces tissue. Interesting theory, isn’t it? The 358 bore is very close to that magic diameter and must participate in this magic nearly completely. And consider this: my 358 Win. with 250gr. bullets is pretty much a ringer for the 375 H&H with its legendary 270gr. bullets in terms of sectional density. With 275 gr. bullets my 358 is a ringer for the 300 grainers in the H&H. At this point my 358 hasn’t quite the range as the 375 but its penetration value is even greater by virtue of being a little slower! I could close the gap in speed somewhat if it had a 24 inch barrel instead of the 20 ½ incher I’ve installed. But that isn’t either necessary or even desirable from the perspective of being a dangerous game slayer of first rank.
I think I missed a theory debate: the one about “clear thru for blood trail” vs. “dump all the energy inside”. Doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to me—I somehow always manage to find my downed animal. Using premium controlled expansion bullets will usually ensure complete penetration, and I suppose I come down on the side of the clear-thru crowd because I always do use controlled expansion bullets. But even these bullets don’t cut it if you’re an ultra-high velocity nut. For example, I swatted a sable in Zimbabwe at about 80 yards with an X-bullet ( which I really like ) from my 300 Weatherby and failed to get complete penetration. In fact it didn’t put him down for the count; I had to go find him and administer a finishing shot. All the petals on the first bullet were stripped off, leaving a very short little stub of remaining projectile. It was one of those point- of- shoulder shots. Same bullet/rifle on an equally sized elk here in Colorado, but at long, long range, hit the point of the shoulder and went clear through. No, African animals are NOT tougher than other animals, this just shows that high velocity has serious drawbacks at short range even with the very toughest of modern bullets. Imagine if that close shot had been at a charging bear! For that very reason I load the 220gr. Noslers I carry along in the magazine of my Weatherby when in bear country way down—so I’m ensured of good penetration should I get attacked. These big 30 caliber bullets out of my .308 at 2250 fps. have produced some amazing examples of penetration.
My .358 has more paper “power” than any handgun in the world, and about three times the effective range, getting back to where we began this story. Anyone who has hunted large game with genuine handgun calibers ( as distinct from rifle calibers in certain “handguns” ) understands the extravagance of “power” inherent in the lowly .308 ( or 30-06 or many other “standard” rifle calibers you can name ). Yet these handgunners have taken every category of game on the planet cleanly. So. How much power in a rifle is enough? Think about it. And don’t forget to weigh your thoughts against the ingredients that go into getting your first shot where it needs to go. Well, and I guess the second ( and third? ) shot too
Your pack is the best shooting aid you have. And make no mistake about it-a solid rest is the absolute best contributor to accurate shooting. Given half a chance, I’ll always shoot off my pack, even at sub-100 yard distances. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve thrown myself down into the snow, indented my rifle into just the right spot on my pack and proceeded to make meat!
But not just any sort of pack. An internal frame is clearly indicated-your shot will go astray if you brace off the unyielding frame tubing of an external. Some softness is needed, and a plump internal frame pack is just the ticket to nestle your shooting iron’s forearm into. I routinely fill up my pack with gear, especially clothing but even a pillow when heading out of a hunting morning. A good shooting rest is that important, especially out here in the west where shots can be a mite on the far side. But eastern folk can and do get longish shots too, along lanes and across fields. My experience dictates that one should always be ready to produce an accurately aimed long shot if conditions force it. Nothing this side of a bench rest is as steady and as versatile a shooting rest as a properly plumped internal frame backpack. Use it for low kneeling, sitting and prone shots.
I like to use the dimensions of the pack to match the shooting position I’m faced with. The pack should be upright for a low kneeling or sitting shot; if you can get prone, you have all sorts of profiles on the pack to give you the right elevation for your barrel for such contingencies as foreground obstructions, up or down angles, etc. Kifaru packs are thicker towards the bottom, thinner towards the top when placed on edge. Use this differential to produce exactly the right elevation you need when resting your piece’s forend on the pack. Plop the pack with it’s suspension side down to disclose an even thinner selection of shooting planes, such as for downwardly angled shots.
As far as positioning the firearm-especially a rifle-on the pack, I’ve discovered the following technique to be superior to any other. First,punch a little trough, or divot, into the pack at the plane you want to shoot from…you can even quickly do this by simply pushing the rifle down on the pack to create this cradling effect for its’ forend. ( I know how fast things need to happen in the field and, believe me, all this takes place a lot faster there than it takes me to tell you about it here.) Next, or at the same time, slide your rifle (or handgun) right up to the trigger guard in this little notch you’ve created in your pack.
If you are a rifle shooter the next step may be new to you. Assume you are a right hand shooter (lefties reverse what follows). Your gun’s forend is snug in the trench you’ve made for it in the best spot, thickness-wise, on the pack, and you’ve shoved the rifle clear up the the trigger guard on the pack. DON’T now put your left hand beneath the forend. Instead, while resting on your left elbow (as well as the right of course) arc your left hand back beneath the buttstock and CONTROL THE RIFLE’S ELEVATION WITH IT! The “cradle” you’ve created by resting the rifle’s forend in a depression in the pack will take care of left/right alignment- scrunch your whole body around to get on target. Now you have the buttstock between your thumb and fingers of the left hand. Raise or lower your plane of fire by how much of the stock you are grasping between these hand digits. This is very similar to bechrest shooting wherein one squeezes a sandbag’s “ears” to lower the plane of fire or releases the squeeze to raise it. Practice this, without the sandbag, and you’ll soon discover how precisely you can control your fire.
By now, many readers will have noticed that I’m advocating a totally “free recoil” method for long range shooting-and they are absolutely correct. Free recoil means the rifle is not restrained as to bullet trajectory, height-wise, by the act of gripping the forend. Why? Well, a) because accuracy is dramatically enhanced by using the elevational aid of determining that elevation through the left hand method covered above and b) “grip” pressure on the forend is almost impossible to keep consistent from shot to shot, thus being a poor determinant of accuracy on longer shots.
Okay. What about site-in? I’m unequivocally going to recommend that you site-in for long range, that is, by the free recoil method described above. Do it from prone or a bench and don’t touch that forend! Instead, let it “free recoil” when determining where it’s 3 or 5 shots print on the target. Rest assured that gripping the forend for offhand and sitting shots without the aid of a rest will still be plenty accurate. After all, these are relatively close shots anyhow-at least they should be!
The reason for running the rifle all the way to the trigger guard when resting it on the pack is because this is usually the balance point of the rifle. Intricate elevation adjustments are far more precise and controllable from this position than if the rifle is “back heavy” due to resting the forend further back. And, there is another very good reason: I’ve literally blown the “stuffing” out of my “rest” on occasion by positioning the muzzle too far back on said rest-and have a few examples of destroyed sleeping bags, pillows and backpacks to witness this phenomenon. (I’ll confess that these disasters probably have something to do with a long history of shooting Remington model 600 rifles, which feature 18 ½ barrels-I have a gaggle of these ahead-of-their-time rifles and have loved them since their inception in the 60’s).
So. Your pack is the finest field rest available to you. Use it! If you site-in accordingly and just flat plan on using it whenever you can or have to, you’ll get better results in the field. I guarantee it.
President , Kifaru International
Discussion: the usual condition of starting well below the following Big Game and Dangerous Game loads should be observed; some of them are a mite hot.
My approach is to make my rifles into tools that feed me and protect me, wherever I roam. I use three parameters to do this: Small Game loads, Big Game loads, and Dangerous Game loads. Since I’m usually carrying a largish pack, I try to set up my Big Game loads to reach out, as I’m
reluctant to leave the pack and stalk- I might not be able to readily find it later. Besides, I can use it for prone shooting and actually wind up shooting better this way than from closer but without the stability of the pack! To minimize range estimation error I sight in pretty high at one-hundred yards. I’ve found it much easier to estimate accurately at the shorter ranges and hold low, than to estimate the longer ranges and hold high.
Therefore, my Big Game loads, depending on the cartridge, range from four-inches to six-inches high at one-hundred yards, and drop out four-inches to fifteen-inches at 400 yards, except the 7-30 Waters which is only a 300 yard gun at best. The .300 Weatherby (sighted four high at one-hundred with a 165 partition) prints only twelve inches low at 500 yards; not that I would knowingly ever take a shot like that, but I suppose this margin for error is one reason I admire this fine cartridge so.
The Small Game and Dangerous Game loads key off the Big Game load, and I never move the scope setting. The objective is to find your best Big Game load, then experiment on the Small Game and Dangerous Game loads until they print well at appropriate ranges for this purpose. This means, usually, a bit of experimentation to find the right bullet that prints usefully and accurately in relation to the Big Game loads’ setting.
All Small Game loads print within one-inch of dead on at twenty-five yards, high or low. Horizontal prints are rejected. I like them to be very close to dead on at 150 yards, and I know where they print at fifty, seventy-five, one-hundred, and 125 yards, as well. Small Game velocities range between about 1500 and 1700 FPS. The intent is to initiate bullet upset, so that supper is anchored, yet the exit wound is a bit less than that occasioned by most .22 hollow points. Big grouse are tough acts. I’ve learned to shoot about 1/3 way up, where the vitals are, otherwise a
goodly number of these tough customers will manage to get airborne, even though mortally hit, and you’ll lose them. If you want to reliably anchor a large grouse with a center of mass hit, then increase the small game powder charge by three or four grains and accept some largish holes in the carcass.
You’ll shoot far more Small Game loads than your Big Game or
Dangerous Game loads if you do as Thomas Jefferson suggests, and “make your gun your constant companion on all your walks.” You’ll also get really good with your rifle. The basis of this concept should be apparent- a slower moving, relatively inexpensive frangible bullet with just enough velocity to initiate upset that arrives on target close enough to dead on at small game ranges, in relation to Big Game and Dangerous Game loads which are primary, to be deadly at collecting meat for the pot. Small Game loads should use slow pistol powders and a magnum primer. H-110 and W-296 work quite well, but I’ve had such great results with IMR-4227 that I stick with it, and buy it in bulk. I’ve learned to use regular jacketed bullets, not cast or full jackets, which often whistle through the target and allow it to reach its hole or otherwise get far enough away before expiring to avoid your bag, no matter the velocity. Lastly, shoot for the thorax, not chancy head shots- remember you need that meat because you aren’t going home to fried chicken- you are at home. That’s the way to play this scenario.
Dangerous Game loads are insurance. You should always be able to protect yourself, in other words. Three or four of these in your cartridge pouch give you peace of mind. Sometimes I ramble with a little custom 7-30 Waters (sixteen-inch custom Thompson Center as point of departure). Or perhaps a four-pound, four-ounce (with two-by-seven Leupold mini scope) milled and lathed model 600 Remington in six-millimeter Remington. I do it because they are wonderful pack rifles: light and compact. If I get mixed up with a bear or lion while rambling around, I’d sure rather have either of these than just my Swiss army knife or throwing rocks. So you’ll find Dangerous game loads for even “pip-squeak” rifles below- they are the best the caliber can deliver and if it’s all you have whilst out there, I’d sure take a few in the pouch. Just don’t think I mean you should start out to hunt bear with them!
|Calibur||Small Game||Big Game||Dangerous Game|
|.243 Rem.||12 1/2 gr. IMR 4227||43 gr. H414||42 gr. R22|
|85 gr. Nosler SB||75 gr. Barnes X||100 gr. Barnes X|
|250 CCI||WLR||215 Fed.|
|.6mm Rem||15.2 gr. IMR 4227||45 gr. R15||47 gr. R22|
|100 gr. Sierra||75 gr. Barnes X||100 gr. Barnes X|
|215 Fed.||215 Fed.||215 Fed.|
|6.5 Rem.||16 1/2 IMR 4227||62 gr. R22||57 gr. R22|
|Magnum||100 gr. Hornady SP||125 gr. Nos. Part.||140 gr. Nos. Part|
|7-30 Waters||15 1/2 gr. IMR 4227||37 gr. W748||35 1/2 gr. W748|
|120 gr. Nosler SB||120 gr. Nosler SB||140 gr. Barnes X|
|7/08||16 1/2 gr. IMR 4227||48 gr. W748||45 gr. R15|
|120 gr. Nosler SB||120 gr. Barnes XBT||150 gr. Nos. Part.|
|250 CCI||WLR||210 Fed.|
|.308 Win.||19 gr. IMR 4227||46 gr. R15||41 gr. R15|
|150 gr. Hornady SP||165 gr. Nos. part.||220 gr. Nos. Part.|
|250 CCI||210 Fed.||9 1/2 Rem.|
|300 Win.||24 gr. IMR 4227||69 1/2 gr. R15||68 gr. R22|
|Magnum||150 gr. Hornady SP||150 gr. Barnes X||220 gr. Nos. Part.|
|.300 Weatherby||18 1/2 gr. IMR 4227||85 1/2 gr. IMR 7828||76 gr. IMR 7828|
|125 gr. Sierra||165 gr. Nos. Part.||220 gr. Nos Part.|
|250 CCI||215 Fed.||215 Fed.|
|.338 Win.||27 gr. IMR 4227||71 gr. W748||75 gr. R22|
|200 gr. Hornady SP||175 gr. Barnes X||250 gr. Barnes X|
|250 CCI||215 Fed.||215 Fed.|
|350 Rem.||25 gr. IMR 4227||66 gr. W748||54 1/2 AA2520|
|Magnum||150 gr. Rem. Core L.||180 gr. Barnes X||250 gr. Barnes X|
|250 CCI||215 Fed.||210 Fed.|
|.375 H&H||28 gr. IMR 4227||80 1/2 gr. R15||70 gr. R15|
|300 gr. Sierra||210 gr. Barnes X||300 gr. Barnes X|
|250 CCI||250 CCI||250 CCI|
Note that the Dangerous Game loads will function just fine as Big Game loads, they just won’t have the range. Of course, you’ll often use them from the start on moose, elk, etc.
Similar size cases and expansion ratios are just about interchangeable, regardless of the “official” caliber designation. Therefore, a 35 Whelan can be extrapolated from the .350 Rem. Mag. data above, of course with the proviso of starting lower and so on, as always. Converting from 6.5 Rem. Mag. to .270 Win. will usually allow a bit more powder to get the same speeds due to the .270’s higher expansion ratio. And so forth. Intelligent extrapolation can be made, in other words.
I’ve never owned a 30-06 (always used a shorter, lighter .308) so there’s a big hole right there in my data. Same thing with the venerable.270–I went with the 6.5 Remington Magnum. For small game loads on these two calibers try these:
—.270–100gr. inexpensive bullet; 19gr. IMR 4227; Magnum primer
—30-06— try the same load as I’ve given above for the .308 but increase the powder charge to 21.5 gr. of IMR 4227
I’ll leave you to your own devices on the Big Game and Dangerous Game loads for these calibers.
Always use a Magnum primer on small game loads. It promotes good ignition regardless of the angle of the rifle, i.e. a downhill shot wherin the light powder charge is down at the case neck and the primer spark has to travel a ways just to get to the powder. The old method was to fill the case with corn meal or kapok or some sort of synthetic fluff after the powder charge went in to keep the powder back against the primer. Since switching to Magnum primers I’ve never had any problems and the loading process is far faster.