03 December 2015

A Piece of History, Pack Idaho / BisonGear

Before there was BisonGear Packs the name of the company was Pack Idaho. As best as I can tell the company has had 2 or 3 owners over the years and at least the one name change. I've been interested in them since I saw the first one in an a Traditional Bowhunter ad back in the 90s, I can't recall the edition but I do recall the image.

I've been using a Lemhi and a Lost River for several years now, mostly as day hunting or bumming or stump shooting packs. I've thoroughly enjoyed them both and think highly of their products in general.

I recently acquired a piece of their history, a very early 'Pack Idaho' First Trip Explorer without the panniers and in I believe Pendleton wool. The original Pack Idaho patch intact! This is a smaller pack compared to the Lost River but also lighter in weight. Offers the same freedom that all lumbar packs offer, no restriction at all when shooting a bow. It holds a days worth of stuff and rides super comfortably.

These packs have numerous attachment points and they are some of the more interesting types that I have seen. You can run webbing through the anywhichway attachment blocks, you can also slip MOLLE type attachment straps through them.

There is enough space in the lower for a puffy, hat and gloves, my HC Canteen and some other assorted sundries

I don't know how old this pack is, I'm guessing it's pushing 20 plus years old. Testament to the quality they have always had. I've read numerous accounts of owners of original Pack Idaho packs sending their packs to BisonGear and them repairing or replacing regardless of age. If you find one buy it, I guarantee you'll like it. If you don't then send me a message, chances are I'll buy it from you!

02 December 2015

Longbow Bunnies!

Of all of my hobbies I think chasing rabbits is one of the top five. I chase rabbits in a number of ways, they're a staple in the Grouch's Kitchen but something about chasing them with a longbow sets that method above the rest.

Having recently put blunts on a new set of bacote footed arrows I was itching to hit the thickets.

We got a pile of fresh snow yesterday, and unlike our usual fluffy fine stuff this was a heavy wet snow. I meandered the backwoods enjoying the quiet serenity of a snow covered landscape. It didn't take long before I cut a slew of hare tracks and trails. I took a post close to the runs and became still, waiting.

The first one was less than 20 paces when he moved, he'd been there the whole time and I hadn't seen him. Such is the case most of the time, be still long enough, be patient, then they move. A couple hops and he was less that 10 yards. The string came back, the briefest of moments at anchor and the arrow sang away. The VPA small game blunt did its business and the bunny expired quickly.

I hitched him up to my BisonGear Lost River pack and headed further into the thickets and snow covered hemlock halls.

I repeated the process and the outcome was the same. Another snowshoe hare quickly dispatched via longbow and blunt tipped arrow. I wondered briefly about how many times this has occurred, how many others had filled their supper pots with hares by way of a bow and arrow.  I find it quite entertaining to imagine my forebears doing as I had done, and wondering the exact same thing.

With enough rabbit for a Hasenpfeffer Stew I headed for the barn. While a short adventure, I felt recharged, the cold air nipped at my nose, my boots slid through the heavy wet snow, the weight of my rabbits pulled on my pack and I felt as if I'd touched some ancient root of the tree of time, had reenacted a dance that had been performed untold thousands of times before. I was my ancestor, if only for a moment.

17 November 2015

Sometimes the Decision is Already Made...

On the opening day of deer season I took my son hunting. He's been hunting before but this would be his first season behind the gun guided by me with the intent of him taking his first deer. One hour into the first day of the season he was breathing slow as he dropped the hammer on the old thuty-thuty and had his first deer on the ground. He was both happy and sad, and excited to say the least. I was proud of him and I was proud to have shared the moment. My first deer was on my own and while it was something it wasn't what it could have been, I didn't have that moment with my dad.

Here's second son after taking, cleaning, and packing his deer up for the trek out.

A week passes and after traveling out of town I came home to my eldest daughter's request to take her hunting. She'd finished her hunter ed and purchased her license. Eldest daughter has pretty much moved out at this point though she still comes by frequent like, and she keeps a room here, for all intents and purposes she's moved on. I had always regretted the fact that she hadn't gone hunting with me that much if at all in our past. Timing was usually wrong or her interests were elsewhere. I was quite surprised and pleasantly so, that she wanted to go.

So second son and I outfitted her and made a plan for Saturday morning. I swung by her place at 0540 that morning and off we went. Our hunting ground was the same as it was for second son, meaning we had to cross the river before dawn. I loaned her my Wiggy Waders, which by the way are worth more than twice their cost. I've used them repeatedly at this point, both in Alaska and locally and they are wearing like iron. For what little they weigh and how little they cost, I'm sold on their utility and at this point their durability. Anyway, she crossed the river in the predawn hour without kerfuffle and up the mountain we went.

Our first sitting spot wasn't that far from where second son took his deer. High ground, an outcropping of sorts between two valleys. Deer like to pass through there and often bed down there  for their midday siesta. We sat patiently with our backs to some trees near the edge of where the mountain dropped off.

It would seem that 0500 starts to the day are not the norm for eldest daughter...

Time passed and we saw no deer. I made the call to wind it up to do some still hunting through the timber and off we went. We covered several miles of timber, and kicked up a couple does here and there but in this particular area it is buck only so kept moving.

Not long after noon we took up  another sitting spot, this time with daughter and second son looking to our fore and I kept an eye behind us. Not long into the sit we had does moving through our area. They passed peacefully on and we continued our vigil.

Nearing 230 I spied a buck moving funny like in the dense brush, gave the psst psst to daughter who moved to the rear of her tree and got ready. I went back to watching the buck. He was obviously hurt, he was putting no weight on his left front leg at all but was moving at a fair clip on the same path and direction as the doe had taken thirty minutes before.

Daughter had the rifle to her shoulder and was trying to pace with the buck who was moving surprisingly quickly through the dense under brush. He passed in front of her and beyond, she lowered her rifle, it was clear she wasn't comfortably taking the shot. I'd been watching her and him,, I felt both proud and frustrated, she was making a mature decision, had kept her composure, yet I wanted badly for her to take her first deer. Still, I wasn't going to let a clearly injured animal suffer any longer. I shouldered my rifle and fired, it was a quick matter, the decision wasn't even consciously made, the buck dropped instantly.

She wasn't put off and was still excited, I've known people twice her age with less than half her composure and patience. 

When we walked up to the deer it was very obvious as to why he'd been limping. Someone had taken a very marginal shot, at a very steep quartering away if not straight away angle and had put a bullet through the muscle of the shoulder from rear to front. The wound had stopped bleeding sometime ago but was extremely swollen and it was clear it was going bad, infection was setting in. In the image below the entry point is on the right. The forward part of the shoulder was blown out. My bullet had entered behind the shoulder smack through both lungs, he died instantly.

Seeing what I was up against I sent son and daughter back to their posts watching the trail about a hundred yards away and set about cleaning the buck.

It took me about an hour to clean and butcher him, I prefer to completely de-bone in the field regardless of animal type and pack them out. When I got to his injured shoulder it was clear that it wasn't salvageable. It was infected deep into the muscle tissue, it's unlikely in my mind that he'd have lived another week but that week would have been sheer agony. More than once I had some choice words for whomever had shot the animal from such a bad position, the deer must have been facing nearly directly away from that person, there was no humane shot position available and it never should have been taken.

Work complete and the meat in the game bags I loaded them into the Kifaru Meat Bag inside my pack and mounted it up for the walk out.

We hiked out and talked of the day, of the hunt and things in general. I admit to being quite happy to have two of my children in the field with me. And happier still that eldest daughter has a passion to hunt and the temperament to do it ethically.

29 September 2015

Gear Used on the Brooks Range Caribou Hunt

I've gotten a few requests to itemize the gear used on that trip so here it is. I didn't go into food as I did that pretrip. Most of the gear I took was used but I did indicate the items that did not see use.

Kifaru Duplex Frame/High Camp 7000 Bag – Used
HPG Original Kit Bag - used

Shelter: Base Camp
Kifaru Megatarp
Bear Paw Wilderness 1.5 Net Tent
MSR Ground Hog Stakes - Used

Shelter: Spike Camp
$20 Bandit fold over
Titanium Goat Kestrel Bivy w/stuff sack – Not Used
SOL reflective bivy - not used
Tyvek Ground Sheet - Used
MSR Ground Hog Stakes - Used
3mm Reflective Cordage - Various Lengths – Used

Sleep System
Sea to Summit e-vent compression dry bag - Used
Kifaru 0 degree side zip – Used
Therm-a-rest Neoair Xtherm Large - Used
Therm-a-rest Z Pad - Used
Small Sea to Summit e-vent stuffed with clothing as a pillow

Vortex Talon HD 8x42 Binoculars - Used
Vortex Ranger 1000 Rangefinder – Used

Outdoor Research Ultralight Drysack - 5L - Used
Delorme PN-30 GPS w/ 2 AA batteries - Used
Samsung Note 3 w/ 2 spare batteries - Used
Sony A5100 w/18-55mm, a 55-200mm, and a 16F28 f/2.8 WA,3 xtra batteries- Used
Sony RX100 3 xtra batteries- used
9000mAh battery pack - used

Tikka T3 7mm Rem Mag, Vortex Viper HS2.5-10x44 - Used
Rifle Sling - Used
Rifle Scabbard - Used

162 gr. Hornady SST .284 (7mm Rem Mag) (30 Rounds) – Used (2 Rounds)

Tops Cuma Tak Ri 3.5 - Used (removed the antler skull plates on both caribou)
MP Knives Original Otzi
Opinel filet knife
SAK Huntsman
Pacemaker Expedition Poles – Used

Kill Kit
T.A.G. Bags - Used
Sea to summit large eVent compression dry bags - Used
Havalon Piranta-Edge Knife - Used
Kifaru Meat Baggie - Used
25 ft. Orange 550 cord – Used
Latex Gloves – Used
Tyvek sheet 5x7 - used

Kifaru Ultralight Medium Pullout - Used
Petzl Tikka XP Headlamp - Used
Petzl E+Lite Headlamp – Used
fire steel - used
Exotac Matchcap XL w/Matches - not used
Sea to Summit Head Net - Used
Alpin Compass – Used
Blistex - Used
One Wipe Charlies - Used
Warrior Wipes - Used
Tums - Used
Shemagh - used
Toothbrush - Used
Toothpaste - Used

First Lite Red Desert Boxers (2) - Used
First Lite Chama Qz - Used
First Lite Allegheny Bottom – Used
First Lite Kanabs - used
Kryptek Merino top - used
Kryptek merino bottom - used
Kryptek Alaios Pants - Used
Kryptek Aquillo - Used
Kryptek Zeus Gloves - used
  Kerri (Lucky 1 2) LRRP Hat - Used
Sea to Summit eVent - 3L - Used
Wool beanie made by my wife - Used
Sitka beanie - Used
Lorpen Heavy Weight Merino Wool Socks - Used
Kenetrek Mountain Extreme Uninsulated Boots - Used
Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters - Used
Wiggy's Waders - Used
Kuiu Belt - Used

Rain Gear
Kryptek Koldo Rain Jacket - Used
Kryptek Poseidon Pants – Used

First Aid Kit
Customized Personal FAK – Used

Water/Cook Kit
Kifaru small Pullout - Used
MSR 4L Gravity Works Filter - Used
Nalgene Bottle - Used
Heavy Cove Ti canteen & cup - Used
Saywer Mini Water Filter w/Squeeze bag – Used
MSR Pocket Rocket - Used
MSR 8 oz. fuel canister (2) - Used
Eagle 1.5l kettle - Used
Alpine Fry bake - Used
Optimus Titanium Long Spoon - Used
McNETT Tactical 30x50 microfiber towel – Used

Mini Reviews:

Kifaru Megatarp- Single best shelter set up I've used. During buggy weather the addition of the 1.5 net tent makes the set up very comfortable, colder weather with the annex and a small stove makes it four season capable.

First Lite Base Layers – Of the big four or five companies who make merino base layers I believe FL to be the best, I've used nearly all of them.

Kryptek Apparel – The rain gear combo of Koldo Jacket & Posedion pants were stand outs. I knew they were good going in as I'd been using the set up for nearly a year but I hadn't used them virtually continuously over several days. They worked very well, breathed enough, broke the wind, kept me dry and worked like armor in the willows. The pocket layout on the Koldo is superb, roomy enough and placed correctly. Outstanding combination.

Wiggy’s Waders – My thoughts are the same as Throc's, I was suprised at the durability and lightweight, very good value for what you're getting.

HPG Original Kit Bag – What else needs to be said? Still working wonders when you want to carry some micelaneous items plus your glass. I also use it as a 'grazing bag', blue berries were every where, I'd also opened a zip lock back of trail mix in a pocket, grab blue berries and a handful of trail mix and graze while hiking.

Alpine Fry Bake - Hard to get excited about a pan but I am about this one. Non stick, fairly lightweight, I often cooked my Mountain House in this pan instead of the bag. Mixes better, less clumps, just put the MH in the pan, add the hot water and put the lid on it. I placed the pan on top of my still hot kettle and then covered it with a HPG 25cm bag to insulate. Also used that method to cook some 7 grain cereal with some fresh blueberries. I cooked my grayling in the same pan.

Tenkara Rig - I used the Yamame though I also had a Iwanna with me. The Tcreel and Ebira are from thomdarrah and worked wonderfully well. All in I caught perhaps 6 or 8 grayling of varying sizes and ate one of them. I am the first to admit that having been a fly fisherman my whole life I have not adapted well to Tenkara. I am so used to managing line and rod, not just rod that I find myself trying to figure out something to do with my left hand. I'm working on breaking a lifetime of fly fishing habits, while there are some similarites the two are not the same and sometimes I feel like 50% of the equation is missing with Tenkara. I continue to work with it and the fall trout seasons are when I hope to finally find my Tenkara 'magic moment'.

Vortex Talon HD 8x42 - They did not disappoint, clarity, low light use, field of view, all around great glass that did everything I asked of them.

27 September 2015

Quick, Cheap, & Lightweight Comfort Improvement for a Frost River Isle Royale Mini

Isle Royale Mini

Previously I posted about adding a Frost River Isle Royale Jr to a ALICE pack and because I've seen several posts about making these packs more comfortable with weight over longer distances Ill add my most recent improvement, specific this time to a Isle Royale Mini.

Note in the image below that the shape of the back of the pack appears 'odd'? Almost looks like the back of one of those old Swiss Rucksacks...

That's because there is a internal frame of sorts.

This is a $7 'tree back' found in most hunting type stores, on line etc etc. It's intended to be strapped to a tree, you lean against it and makes pretty much any tree super comfortable. Well it also fits near perfectly in a Isle Royale Mini, with it in the pack the pack hugs your back and with the straps adjusted correctly the pack pulls into the shape of your back and sort of 'rides' on your lower back, some of the weight there and some on your shoulders.

Note the vertical bands with the cross webbing? With the stuff in your pack pressing against this area it provides quite a bit of comfort against your back.

With it inserted in the pack.

For about $7 or less depending on where you pick it up, it is a very light weight option to dramatically improving the fit and ride of a Mini!

21 September 2015

Archery Opener- Father & Son Up The River Weekend

Minnesota archery season opened on Saturday the 19th so second son and I hiked up the river to our favorite camping spot. We only had Saturday to hunt as we had a lot of things to get done on Sunday. It's early too so as much as we like to bowhunt neither of us wants to really end a season on the first day. Sometimes it is enough to just be in the greedwood, bow in hand and walking the mountainsides.

The path down to the river is worn away, the river sees a lot of hikers and fishermen through the summer. Come the fall though we usually have the place to ourselves, post snow and freeze I've never encountered another person in that area. Counting the days till winter!

Son snapped this pic as I started down the trail. We were wearing our hip boots with our hunting boots strapped to our packs as the crossing is upper thigh deep in some places.

If the area looks familiar it is because it is the same one we spent three days on last year, much later in the season. Back then we packed in our big tent and wood stove as it was cold enough to need it. This early in the year we had lows only in the high 40s with highs in the 50s.

I loaned my Kifaru 7k Highcamp on a duplex frame to the son for the trip. He's between packs and trying out much of his dad's collection, looking for something to trip his trigger. I think all he has accomplished is to have contracted my 'needanotherpack syndrome',  a condition for which there is apparently no known cure.

My pack was a Kifaru Late Season with some large pockets on either side, a medium in the center, a medium on the top and a dock and lock on the bottom. This was a trial run for this pack and set up. The pack is listed as 3400ci, with the pockets and the dock and lock I'm guessing it's around 5200ci. 

He's taken to using a page out of my playbook. A GSX tent under a BCUSA 10x10 tarp. A configuration I used several times and found super functional and comfortable. Plenty of ventilation, excellent weather and bug protection, gear storage area. It's a economical yet very functional set up.

I was using what I now believe to be one of the top five pieces of gear that I have ever owned. A Kifaru Megatarp which has quite simply become the end all be all 'Taj Ma Hut' for yours truly. Winter, summer, Alaska to the high desert, river bottom to mountain side this has served me so well that I think it's probably as close to perfect for me as I'll ever find. While I have the annex and I also use the Bear Paw Net Tent 1.5 I used neither on this trip and simply left the front end open.

Once we had camp set my son set about getting a bag of water and I fiddled around and got my stove and food ready for dinner. Simple affair, Mountain Hause as usual. This MSR gravity fed water filter is now on its fifth year of use and still going strong!

We crashed not long after dark, excited to chase deer in the morning I well if sporadically. When I woke at 0500 I set about coffee and breakfast in the red light of my headlamp. While I carry a larger headlamp (Petzl Tikka RXP reactive which won my headlamp war last winter) I've been carrying a Petzl e+Lite within my sleep kit. It's perfect for inside the shelter use, has multiple outputs including red lamp and weighs pretty much nothing. I consider it a mandatory piece of kit.

With Breakfast done we wished each other good luck and headed out in separate directions. I no longer worry about him being off on his own. He's quite competent and has shown the ability to make good decisions in the wild, a competent if young woodsman who probably enjoys being on his own these days more than me being over his shoulder.

I enjoyed my time in the woods, more loafing than any serious hunting. Watching wildlife do their thing and learning what I could. We spend the day doing our own thing, while deer were spied no arrow left the string with lethal intent. It was enough to walk the game trails, ghost the timber, spy the beaver and wonder at the majesty of the wild.

Our hike out was uneventful and without much talking, neither had the desire to shatter the silence with what would likely have been meaningless words. It was enough to share the space so to speak.

Sometimes there is no need to talk, this was one of them.