Friday 24 August 2018

Summer is Almost Over: Scouting, Preparing for Fall, and Elk Calls

7:30pm free-handed through binos
Summer is ending quickly and hunting season will soon be here.  Life has a funny way of getting in the way when it comes to things like scouting and preparing for the hunting season.  At the beginning of summer I always have these grand plans to scout every other weekend and really get out there.  This year, like last year, has allowed me few weekends to prepare for the fall.  I really only managed to get out there for one and a half good days of scouting this off-season.  Once, earlier in the spring and again just this last weekend where I managed to spot a moose just at dusk.

My list to prepare for the upcoming season is long and there is little time before I head north on September 16th to try to find an elk with my father in law. Between now and then I have to:

1) Get the range at least twice more.  Once just to practice shooting skills and a second time to put a half dozen fouling shots through my rifle and confirm the zero after a final cleaning.  The first 3 shots after I clean the rifle have a very different point of impact than once it has been fouled.

2) Prepare 5-6 meals ahead of time for the trip.  We usually prepare and freeze meals before trips so that after a long day of hunting there is an easy dinner that just needs to be heated up waiting for you at camp.

3) Learn to ride a Honda 90 dirt bike.  We're considering taking a Honda 90 dirt bike with us to help get us deeper, faster, to help scout this new area we are going to.  The only trick is, I have never ridden a dirt bike before.  We're likely heading up to some trails this weekend.

4) Gear prep and packing.  There is always a lot of gear to go through and decide whether or not it will make the cut and come along or stay at home.  With the trailer, its easy to bring too much gear.  I'm going to try to keep it as light as possible this year, keeping gear to a minimum to help make setting up camp as quick and easy as possible.

5) Practice elk calling.  I've been practicing with a variety of Primos calling products.  In order, from easiest to hardest for me.

Primos Hoochie Mama Cow Elk Call

 Without a doubt, the Hoochie Mama is the easiest call.  You can adjust the length by twisting the black tip in and out to get longer notes or shorter notes.  It is simply a matter of putting your thumb over the hole in the grey bellows and squeezing.  It gives a convincing elk chirp which sounds exactly like the elk communication I heard in the Squamish River valley last winter.  Easy to use.  I hope its effective.
Primos Super Pack Elk Call Bugle

I bought this call in a pack with a DVD on elk calling, the Hoochie Mama, and a Top Pin diaphragm. After watching the DVD it is now really easy to use this call to make a convincing bull elk bugle.  The hardest part is to get to the highest register of pitch with this call, but overall, very easy to use.
Primos Money Maker Diaphragm Call
It took me several days of practice just to be able to make a noise with a diaphragm.  It really felt like I was going to gag for the first long while.  This takes tons of practice to sound good so I decided to keep the diaphragm in my car so I can practice while I am commuting.  It is easier to make bull bugles than convincing cow chirps.  The cow chirps start off well but I can't seem to be consistent about ending them on a low note.  The Hoochie Mama call is what I am trying to copy with this Diaphragm, I would say that I am 70% there.

Primos Long Range Imaka Da BullCrazy Elk Call
I have no idea how to make this one sound right.  It really seems to make a good sound at first, but then when I try to end the chirp, I just can't figure out what I am doing wrong.  I have tried gently sliding the call and tapering off my breath.  It is the hardest of all.  I am no where close to getting a good sound out of this one yet. Any suggestions are appreciated.

Lots to keep busy with until the season opens!

Monday 6 August 2018

First Hunting Trip and Gear List Part 1: Looking After Yourself

It's August and many of us are scouting, going through our gear, sighting in rifles, and getting mountain ready for the upcoming fall season.  One of the things I am trying to arrange this year is to recruit some new hunters to come with me for a weekend outing in between my bigger trips.  From the people I have spoken to who are interested in coming with me, one of the biggest barriers is the overwhelming complexity and cost of being prepared for a day of hunting.

BC has this very interesting licence option called an "Initiation Licence" where a person 18 or older can get a one time licence to go hunting with a mentor, where that person doesn't need their PAL or CORE, but will need to be under the constant and direct supervision of the supervising hunter and shooting on their tags.  The initiation licence is a great way for someone to try out hunting without having to go through the whole process.

So here's the scenario.  You've been invited to go with a well established hunter or hunting group and you need to prepare yourself.  You don't need all the skills or gear that make a hunter, but you need the mandatory basics to look after yourself for the day.  The goal is to be comfortable, not be a burden, and start learning to hunt.  For those who already have the shooting skills, you may get an opportunity to take a shot if you have the initiation license.  Here we go!



Before we get to the gear list there is one mandatory skill every new initiation licence hunter needs to master.  No, it's not shooting.  The most important skill, that failing to acquire would spell certain doom, is being able to shit in the woods.  There are no toilets out there.  We are not going to town just to poo.  It's going to be a long day, so you need to be prepared for this. 

The biggest trick to squatting is not pulling your pants down all the way.  If you have them bunched up at your knees then it will lessen the risk of getting yourself.  Your "business" is going to land somewhere from between your ankles to a foot or so back from that.  If you have your pants bunched around your ankles, guess what...
In the above diagram, the top and middle options work, from first hand experience.  The bottom one, is probably going to be a horrendous mess, but hey, whatever works for you.  My only opinion is that if you need a log that will be when you can't find one.  I suggest getting comfortable with the first two.


The reason I say pooping in the woods is the only mandatory skill is because you can still come along and hike with me if your shooting skills aren't at the point where you would be the person taking the shot.  It is unlikely we'll be successful anyways, so most of what we are going to do is just spend time in the woods looking for animals.

Silence and Motionlessness

While it may seem obvious to most, it isn't obvious to everyone.  When we're walking in the woods looking for animals, the more noise we make the more likely animals will hear us and flee.  When we see an animal, remain silent and motionless.  Animals will notice motion and sound easily and if alarmed by it they will surely take off.


Overall, the principle is that you need to be prepared for a cold, rainy, fall day of hiking in the mountains.

Hiking boots

For your first trip this may be your biggest investment unless you already have a pair.  Keep in mind, we are unlikely to be on well established trails and the weather is likely to be wet and cold.  Bad footwear, wet and cold feet, and the blisters that result, will ruin the day.  That said, for my first hunting trip I picked myself up a pair of inexpensive boots because I really didn't know if I would like hunting.  They served me well for a few years before I replaced them with a far nicer pair.  That's all you need.  Any hiking boots that are comfortable and hopefully broken in will do.  If you are buying some, then ankle support and waterproof are critical features.  You can get yourself an entry level pair of adequate boots from Cabela's for under $80.  Just make sure they fit your foot well without your heel lifting as you walk.  Make sure you get some good quality wool socks as well.

Cabela's Iron Ridge. These are the first boots I bought, $160, on sale for $127.  I still use them as my alternate boots.  More than good enough for your first boot.

Cabela's Denali Boot by Meindl.  Regular $399, on sale for $319.  These are my current boot.  They are fantastic.  More than you need when starting, but if you have deep pockets they are worth the price.  The all around rubber bumper will prolong the life significantly.

Rain Jacket and Rain Pants

You definitely don't need to run out and buy camo.  Deer are colourblind, so the colour isn't even that important.  If you see a deer, silence and motionlessness is far more important than what you are wearing.

You'll need to bring a rain jacket, because the weather can turn really quickly in the mountains.  If you have rain paints as well that would be a huge plus to bring along.  When you are choosing what to bring, put it on and walk around while wearing it.  If it makes a swooshing sound as you swing your arms or as your legs pass each other, that's less than ideal.  Animals can hear that and won't stick around.  Depending on the time of year your rain jacket and pants may live in your backpack for most of the day, and if that is likely to be the case then you can get away with some loud clothing.   If you have a choice, choose the quieter option.

For my first trip, I went to Canadian Tire and bought a jacket and pants for less than $100 each.  They were fine for my first two week long whitetail trip.  Since that trip I upgraded to GORE-TEX gear.  Where I really notice that inexpensive clothing lets you down is in the knee mobility.  Even the Cabela's MT050 gear I have now has poor leg mobility.  Whatever I get next, knee and leg mobility will be my primary focus to make hiking easier.

Anyways, if you feel like getting quiet hunting clothing, Cabela's has some really inexpensive gear on sale.  HA! It must seem like I have a deal with Cabela's.  I don't! Honestly, they are just crazy good for getting you the basic gear on a budget.

Cabela's Rain Suede. Regular $75.  On sale for $60.
Cabela's Rain Suede. Regular $60.  On sale for $48.

Layers of  Non-Cotton Clothing

Cotton kills.  Fact.  When cotton gets wet, from rain or sweat, it stays wet and sucks heat from your body.  If you want to get hypothermia then cotton is very effective.

Any non-cotton clothing will work for hunting.  Check the labels.  Good things to consider for using on your first hunting trip is any ski clothing you have, those ugly turtlenecks at home on the ski slopes of the 90s are great, cycling clothing, sports wear, workout or running cloths, yoga wear, and as funny as it sounds a lot of polo shirts you may have gotten for free at a conference are non-cotton. Anyways, pile up all your non-cotton clothing and choose the most muted earth tones you have and gather up enough layers to keep you warm even when it is below freezing.

Once you have chosen your layers, run them through the washer without any laundry detergent.  The goal is to remove any scents and UV brighteners which are normally in laundry detergent.   Avoid putting them in the dryer with a dryer cloth for the same reason.  You can buy scent free detergents and dryer sheets from hunting stores or online if you are so inclined.


For rain or sun, you are going to want to have a hat with you.  This can be a baseball hat, brimmed hat, or toque.  It is really your choice, but trust me, you don't want to forget a hat.  If you have one that works well in the rain, keeps your head dry, and doesn't inhibit your hearing or vision, that's a winner.  If you are going to wear something bright orange, the best thing for it to be is your hat.
$12 hat from Cabela's


You'll need a pack that is large enough to hold all the clothing you are bringing with you, plus some other essentials.  If it gets warm, or if while you are hiking you begin to sweat, you will need to remove excess layers and store them in your pack.  It needs to be large enough to allow you to remove excess layers.

In your pack, you should have enough water for you for the day, a lunch, snacks, a lighter, toilet paper, and wet wipes.  I also highly recommend moleskin in case you get blisters and also a one of the many pre-made survival kits which can be purchased from any outdoor stores.  Being able to make fire is very important to safety int he woods.  I suggest buying a pack of lighters and shoving one in ever pocket of your pack.  Over time they'll go missing and when you want one they are always hard to find in your pack.  Having several lighters in there in various places means you are more likely to find one if you need it.

$70 at Cabela's.  Similar packs available at Canadian Tire for $70.

Head Lamp

You are most likely to see game at dawn or dusk.  As a consequence, there will be a lot of time spent hiking in the dark.  Most modern head lamps are pretty good.  Avoid the dollar store ones because they are too poor quality.  I have a Petzl and it is pretty good.  You can get this Tikkina for $25.

Available for $25 at


Everyone should have a basic knife.  There are lots available and they are all fine.  I really like the Leatherman Wave II because it gives me a lot of utility in a small package for survival situations.  Honestly, if you want a multi-tool, don't bother with the knockoffs. From what I have seen they are all crap.  Leatherman or nothing.

$125 at
The one other recommendation I have is to avoid knives that are camo or completely black just in case you drop it.  If you drop it you are far more likely to be able to find it again if it is silver or brightly coloured.  For a first knife, I recommend a fixed blade with no serrations.  They last forever, won't accidentally fold on you if the latch fails, and they are easy to sharpen.

A simple $40 on fixed blade Buck BuckLite Max knife is more than enough.

Compass and Map

A compass is the last piece of essential gear.  I am not going to explain all the nuances and skills required to fully use a compass here.  For beginners in the back country, here is the easiest way to be safe.  When you start hiking in a new area, use a map or the GPS on your phone to identify a geographic feature which crosses the whole area where you will be.  For example often there is a creek or road which crosses the area you are in.  When you set out for day from where you parked your vehicle, you know that the road runs, for example, north-south.  That day you have decided to hike a ridge that is on the west side of the road.  Therefore, you know that no matter what happens, as long as you head east, you will encounter the road eventually and be able to get back to your vehicle.  That day, in this example, east is your safe direction.

On the compass shown below, you would turn the yellow ring until the E for east is at the top, where there is a white line, near the hinge.  That is your direction of travel.  The red arrow for north would now be pointing left.  To travel east, hold the compass in front of you so that you can see the black line in the mirror line up with the middle of the compass.  Think about it like you are looking at the compass and its mirror as if it is a makeup mirror and you want to see your own face.  Now, while you can still see your face in the mirror, start turning your whole body around until the red needle lines up with the red arrow.   When the red needle lines up with the red arrow then you are facing east.  As long as you have the red needle in line with the red arrow and the direction you want to go is in front of you then you are going in the right direction.  It is important to practice compass navigation with the experienced hunter you are going with.  If you ever need to use your compass always trust it.  Compasses never show the wrong direction.  People get seriously lost when they stop trusting their compasses.

I hope this list helps give new hunters an insight into how to help make sure you have the basic gear to go out hunting with an established group or experienced hunter.  If you show up this well prepared for your first trip I am sure they will be truly impressed.  For my friends who I am trying to encourage to come hunting with me, if you can keep yourself warm, dry, and happy for the day, then you'll get invited again.  If there is one item you need, it would be adequate boots.

Well, that summarizes what you'll need for the first day to look after yourself.

In Part 2, we'll go over all the stuff you would need if you were going to hunt on your own, as part of a larger group that has the camping essentials, assuming you have your PAL and CORE at that point.