I received a ton of emails leading up to elk season this year regarding my recommendations for gear – everything from boots and backpacks to bows and broadheads. Now that many of you are winding down your elk hunts, I am getting a ton more emails regarding gear. Most of these emails are coming from frustrations experienced during elk season, and are from hunters looking for recommendations for gear that will work better than what they used this season.
Hunting gear is a delicate subject, so take this information with a grain of salt. I am not trying to shamelessly plug a sponsor by sharing the gear that I use. I use the gear I do for one reason – because it works. If that aligns with – and provides an opportunity for – a sponsor to get exposure through my channels, that is a win-win, but that is not at the center of my gear choices. I find gear that works for my style of hunting, and I use it. There are still plenty of items I buy at full price because they work, and I refuse to compromise quality and reliability in the field simply because a company is willing to pay to advertise.
With very few exceptions, the gear I use has been tried and tested in multiple situations and for several years. I KNOW I can rely on it, and I KNOW it won’t fail or under-perform. That certainly doesn’t mean another piece of gear is inferior, or that the gear I use is the only gear that will work. It simply means my gear has earned my trust after thorough testing, and I’m willing to recommend it to you. With that being said, gear is a very individualistic topic. What works great for me might not be the best choice for you and your style of hunting. However, I can rest easy knowing that if I recommend this gear, I don’t have to worry about it failing on someone or leaving them in a rough predicament.
Much of the gear I use I have used for many years. Some of it I have just recently discovered. There are a couple items that I used for the first time this season. Most of these items are from companies that I have long trusted, but the actual item was new for my arsenal this fall. Here are a few of those “new” gear choices:
Black Eagle Spartan arrows – I’ve shot Black Eagle arrows for a few years now, and they have definitely earned my trust. They are tough and they fly great. For the past 3-4 seasons, I’ve been shooting the Rampage arrows and they have performed flawlessly. However, with a slightly larger diameter (0.276” in the 350-spine), the new Spartan arrows caught my attention last winter, so I began shooting them at 3D tournaments last spring and throughout the summer. I love them. Combined with a 30-grain insert weight and my 100-grain broadheads, I am coming in right at 440-grains with an FOC of just over 15%. These arrows fly straight (.001” straightness) and they hit hard. Definitely a keeper that will be in my quiver again next year.
Prime Rize bow – Many of you know that I went through a major change in my bow choice a couple years ago, and it was a change that I didn’t take lightly. In fact, I set up and shot 4 different bows for nearly a month before I made the choice. In the end, the Prime Alloy I had set up was consistently ending up in my hand day after day, so that is the one I went with. I immediately fell in love with the consistent, smooth performance, and tuning it was way too easy. Last winter, when the new Rize from Prime was unveiled, I decided to give it a try. I can honestly say I have never been more confident in a bow. This bow is an absolute shooter!
EXO 2000 pack – I would like to tell you that I have used and abused EXO packs for the past 3-4 seasons, but the reality is that EXO packs have used and abused me! J And I mean that in a good way…I think. For as long as I can remember, I have been looking for what I consider to be a “crossover” pack – one that will be lightweight and efficient for day hunts, but also allow me to carry punishing loads of gear and meat when I’m successful. The EXO 3500 has been as close to that perfect pack for me for the past 3 seasons. It has allowed me to hunt with a 4-lb pack, and then load it up with half (or more) of an elk when successful. That is why I said it has used and abused me! It makes carrying way too much weight possible. When EXO came out with the EXO 2000 pack this year, I was pumped! I had high expectations that it would finally fit the bill of a true day-hunting “crossover” pack. And it did not disappoint! The pack compresses down so tightly that I never felt like I had more than a daypack on my back. The function and features of the pack are perfectly tuned to my hunting style, and combined with the new K2 titanium frame and waistbelt design, I was able to use it in packing out 5 of our elk this fall and really put it to the test. I really can’t offer any suggestions to EXO on how to improve it….they nailed it!
Vortex Ranger 1500 rangefinder – Another item I upgraded this past off-season was my rangefinder. I had been using the Vortex Ranger 1000 and had no real complaints with it. I could consistently hit objects out to 750-800 yards, which meant it worked great for archery hunting. However, it took two pushes of the button to give me a reading, which really wasn’t a huge deal. But when the new Ranger 1500 came out and boasted single-push readings in conjunction with even more range, I decided to give it a try. It was awesome. The new rangefinder picks up objects incredibly well, and I have hit distances of over 1800 yards with it. And it does all of this with a single push of the button. Not a necessary upgrade, but one I am completely happy with and can definitely see the improvements Vortex made in this new model.
On X Maps GPS chip – While I have used the state GPS chips from On X Maps for several years, I haven’t fully put them to the test in the past. However, on this year’s elk hunt with Randy Newberg in New Mexico, I did. I ordered the card for New Mexico as soon as we found out we drew the tag, and it was a life saver. So much of the unit we were hunting was cut up with private land, and we were continually navigating property boundaries to try and find elk. Most land boundaries weren’t even fenced, let alone marked as private, which meant we had to know where we were at all times. Additionally, camping is not allowed on State land in New Mexico, so it was critical that we knew not only if that land was public or private, but who actually owned the land. The true value of this product really shined in New Mexico.
Crispi Valdrez boots – I hate boots. And I love boots. I hate trying to find the right boot for me. I have weird feet that are extremely hard to fit with a quality pair of boots, and believe me, I’ve tried a bunch of them. Several years ago, I finally found a boot that fit my foot AND kept my feet comfortable and dry. That boot was the Zamberlan Vioz 996. Unfortunately, I wore that pair of boots out, and was in need of a new pair of boots this year. I was pretty certain I would just get another pair of the Vioz boots, but I decided to try on a couple new pairs, just to see. I’ll admit, I’d seen Crispi boots at shows for a few years, but I had never taken the time to actually put a pair on my feet. At the Hunt Expo in SLC last February, I decided to try them on. They were super comfortable and light, but I walked out of the show without a new pair of boots. Later in the year, I was doing a seminar at another event, and Crispi was there. I tried on the boots once again, and once again was impressed with the comfort and fit. That time, I didn’t leave without a pair. I ended up getting the Crispi Valdrez and wore them throughout elk season. They performed GREAT! My feet were not wet one time all season, and the boots fit me incredibly well. I didn’t have a lot of time to break the boots in before season, but they never gave me any troubles, and after 170 miles in rugged country, they are well-broken in now!
Yeti coolers – I have a shed filled with cheap coolers. And for the most part, they have worked fine and served their purpose over the years….as long as I didn’t need to keep things cool for an extended period of time. This season, I was excited to take a new Yeti cooler with me on our first hunt for two reasons. First, I wouldn’t have access to ice throughout the trip, and second, we were hunting grizzly country and Yeti coolers are “bear resistant”. I will just say this….I have never seen ice stay “unmelted” in a cooler for so long! It was impressive to say the least. Oh, and no bears got into my cooler either. If you need to keep food or meat cool for extended times, Yeti coolers have earned my vote for sure.
Crossover Stabilizer – Let me just start off by saying that I am not a “target” archer. All of my practice and participation in archery tournaments is done with one purpose in mind – to be a better elk bowhunter. I don’t shoot for score, and I am not a great “spot” shooter. But I do shoot my bow a lot. I know exactly where my limitations are and I know how tightly my arrows group at every distance from 20-100 yards. With that being said, I know that stabilizers play a role in stabilizing the bow, and I’ve always shot with the standard 10-12” hunting stabilizers. I see target shooters with their 36” stabilizers, and I always laugh and think to myself, Why shoot with something you aren’t going to be able to hunt with? Then, I found an intriguing stabilizer that caught my attention.
The Crossover Stabilizer is made by Crossroad Archery and is extendable (think the legs of a tripod) – mine goes from 12” to 33”. That means I can carry it around and hunt with it at the standard 12” length, but I also have the ability to extend it if desired/needed. I can’t tell you how awesome it was to extend it out to 33” and shoot in my backyard the first time. My groups were tighter than they have ever been, and the thing I noticed most was that I wasn’t able to make quick, “jerky” movements when I was locked in on the target. In other words, having the stabilizer extended way out in front of the bow dampened my bad habits. The combination of my Prime Rize with this new stabilizer gave me more confidence in my shooting abilities than I have ever had before. I also found that with the stabilizer extended out to around 18”, it made my bow even easier to carry around, so I actually hunted with it at that length all season long. I would have to say that this new stabilizer was the one item of gear that I was most impressed with this season!
Outside of the new products I added to my hunting arsenal this fall, there were a few of the trusted items of gear that continued to shine for me, and have earned a permanent place on my elk hunting checklist. These items include:
MTN OPS Enduro – essential in replenishing lost nutrients and keeping me hydrated while putting over 170 miles on my feet in rough country in September.
G5 Striker broadheads – I was blessed with two great bulls in September, and combined, they ran less than 100 yards after the shot. Tough, accurate, and sharp.
Sitka Gear – Stay tuned for more info…all I can say for now is, WOW!
Tightspot Quiver – I love everything about my Tightspot Quiver. I’ve shot several quivers over the years, and the minute I locked my first Tightspot into place, I was hooked. It does everything a quiver should do – sits close to the bow to minimize torque, adjusts to find the perfect balance, doesn’t rattle at the shot, etc.
Spot Hogg sight – These things are bulletproof. Once I get my pins set, I NEVER have to worry about anything moving or breaking. In fact, I sometimes forget about how awesome these sights are, simply because I never have to even think about them once I get them dialed in. And that is a good thing!
There are definitely many more pieces of gear that I use from hunt to hunt, but these are the ones that stood out to me this season.
Feel free to hit me up anytime with any questions on gear. And I’d love to hear your comments….what gear impressed you this season? Or what gear failed to meet your expectations this fall? Feel free to comment below…