Raising Awareness: Sportsmen For Warriors

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Over 8,000 veterans- the men and women who made sacrifices to protect our freedoms and way of life- take their own lives each year in the U.S. Three million people have served in the military for the United States since September 11, 2001. Of those three million people, 20% need help. Read on to learn how Sportsmen For Warriors uses hunting and the outdoors to provide life enhancing support to our nations warriors and their families.

Last week I was forwarded an email from Ben Bateman, a United States Army veteran and founder of Sportsmen For Warriors: an organization which, in the simplest of explanations, provides life-enhancing support to our nations Warriors through recreation in the outdoors. The email Ben had written, which touched on his own post-war struggles and the striking veteran statistics listed above, was eye-opening to say the least. As a result of his email and the fact that KUIU has recently become a sponsor of Sportsmen For Warriors, I wanted to learn more and do what I could to help spread the message.

After reading everything on their website and having a phone conversation with Ben, it became apparent that Sportsmen For Warriors’ field of work transcends “hunting” as most of us know it. This is not a program that simply sends a veteran hunting after enduring the mental and physical challenges of war, concluding that the person is suddenly better prepared to succeed in society. Instead, they work closely with each warrior over time, peeling off the layers of emotional strain through curative conversation.

“Hunting success isn’t the point”, Ben explains. “What matters most are the conversations we’re able to have with our warriors. The biggest hurdle these men and women face when coming back from war is opening up and sharing their feelings. Therapeutic conversation and creating new, post-war memories is our initial goal; hunting just happens to be a very good vehicle to drive us toward these objectives.”

By providing a platform for veterans to speak openly about their experiences with other warriors like Ben who can relate is what begins the healing process and opens the door for future goal-oriented meetings. “The human psyche makes people think that they’re responsible for things they’ve witnessed in war. I’ve been there. I spent a lot of time wondering what I could have done differently to not see friends die”, Ben says. “The best way to get past these consuming thoughts is to talk about them. Without opening up, it’s very hard to come to peace with the mind. At the same time, it’s also very hard to open up- hence the suicide statistics.” Not only does the initial release of any built up thoughts help a warrior mentally, but it allows Sportsmen For Warriors to pin down the specific needs of an individual moving forward. From this point, they are able to determine the best ways to grow a warriors support base, help them network, and further support their healing.

Ben brings up numerous examples on why time spent hunting in the field promotes conversation and new memories, many of which we can all relate to… assuming if you’re here reading this, you are likely seasoned in the outdoors. But there’s one concept that stuck with me, one that many of us will likely never be able to relate to. “For a lot of these guys, their only memories of the mountains are firefights in the mountains of Afghanistan”, says Ben. “For them to come home and have the opportunity to create positive mental relationships with familiar surroundings is huge.”

Beyond healing through conversation and memory-making, Sportsmen For Warriors takes pride in their ability to bridge the gap between military leadership skills and job requirements within the civilian workforce. According to Bateman, many employers tend to overlook applicants who lack traditional credentials such as a Bachelors or Masters degree. With help from Sportsmen For Warriors, veterans on the hunt for quality jobs learn to tailor their resumes to show how their on-the-ground leadership skills in the military can directly translate to what a given employer is looking for in their workplace. Furthermore, Bateman and his team actively seek out job openings that fit the unique skill set of any given warrior in the program. Achieving a fulfilling civilian career path goes a long way in the quality of life for our veterans and their families.

During our phone call, I asked Ben what the average guy can do to help or support a veteran on the casual encounter level. He explained “Lots of people simply ‘thank a veteran’. While it’s a nice gesture, taking it one step further can make a difference. Ask them for a story, ask them where they went, or what they learned. Showing a veteran that you care to make a deeper connection goes much further than a passive ‘Thank You’.”

If you would like to join KUIU in supporting Sportsmen For Warriors with time, talent, or funds, Ben Bateman can be reached by emailing ben@sportsmenforwarriors.org or calling 719-313-6719. The organization’s goal is to provide support and outdoor opportunities to 30 warriors in 2015. Warriors accepted into the program are not limited to military personnel, as they also accept applications from Police, Firemen, and EMS men and women.

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Tee Shirt Drive

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Sportsmen For Warriors is currently running a Tee Shirt fundraiser. They need to sell 31 more shirts by April 12, 2015 to meet their goal. Shirts are $20 and all proceeds will go toward getting more warriors into the field. There is a donor who will match the total sales raised in this event. Follow the link below if interested in participating:

Sportsmen For Warriors Shirt Drive

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As always, thank you for reading.

Todd Harney

The Benefits of Routine Raingear Care

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Waterproof-breathable garments are the most complex, expensive, and often important pieces to our layering system. They are relied on heavily as the first line of defense when the weather turns bad, and performance or lack thereof can make or break a hunt. Quality raingear isn’t something that needs to be babied, but there are steps that can and should be taken to ensure the highest performance is achieved on each outing. Furthermore, proper care for these garments goes a long way in promoting their longevity.

Before jumping into preventative measures, we first need to understand how and where raingear performance drops off due to neglected care.

The photos corresponding with each category below are of an original 2011 Chugach Pant that was worn heavily for four years, and only washed a couple of times with normal laundry detergent. Although the performance of these pants had deteriorated over time, you will see how NikWax was able to bring them back to life. While it’s possible to rejuvenate neglected raingear, routine care is a much better course of action.

Water Repellency

Every waterproof-breathable rainwear on the market comes standard with an exterior DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the face fabric. This coating causes water to bead up and roll off the garment, which in turn minimizes the workload of the waterproof membrane itself. While some DWRs are surely better than others, none last forever. Abrasion, dirt, and prolonged moisture are all unavoidable culprits that lead to the reduction in a given DWR’s effectiveness. Once a DWR has lost its potency, the face fabric will absorb more water (photo below). More water in the face fabric equates to a heavier garment that takes longer to dry, and also contributes to a loss in breathability.

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DWR Care and Re-Application

DWR treatment should be re-applied about once per season for frequently used items. It’s pretty easy to tell when the DWR has worn off, as it has a very visible affect on performance (see photo above). While it’s normal for some moisture to wick into the face fabric during prolonged exposure to water and friction or abrasion, the majority of water should roll off. When this stops happening, you know the DWR has lost some of its potency.

Fortunately, DWR rejuvenation is relatively cheap and easy. Simply machine wash the garment with a tech-specific detergent like NikWax Tech Wash (more on washing in the next section), and follow with an additional wash cycle with a wash-in DWR. You don’t need to dry between washes. We use and sell NikWax Softshell Proof as the go-to DWR for our raingear. Why Softshell Proof? Because our raingear is made with a 4-way stretch fabric, a standard Hardshell DWR is too brittle to handle the stretch in the fabric. If you are performing these steps on raingear with little to no stretch, then you want to use a true Hardshell DWR solution.

Below is our sample pant after undergoing Tech Wash and Softshell Proof DWR treatment. The difference is night and day. Notice the location on the pant is the same as the photo above.

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One more photo after 8 hours of standing water.

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Breathability

The breathability of a storm shell is one of the key factors that differentiates “top of the line” garments from “the rest”. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the first things to diminish as a garment gets used and abused. In addition to the negative effects of a wetted out face fabric explained above, sweat, skin cells, dirt, and oils from the body clog the backer and the membrane from the inside out. Likewise on the exterior face fabric, the buildup of soil and grime acquired over the course of a few hunts has a real affect on ventilation at the microscopic level.

The discoloration from years of sweat and body oils is obvious on the inside of our sample pant before washing:

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Maintaining Breathability

Breathability is maintained by routine washings with a technical detergent. NikWax Tech Wash is designed to cleanse the pores on the inside and outside of waterproof-breathable fabrics, without leaving behind invisible breathability inhibiting residue like a regular mainstream clothing detergent will. While it’s not as powerful as a full-on DWR reapplication wash, Tech Wash will also help prolong the water repellency on the face fabric. Raingear should be properly washed after every couple long, hard-use hunts.

Our sample pant after one wash in NikWax Tech Wash:

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Components

In the production of waterproof breathable fabrics, multiple layers of thin and fragile material is carefully bonded together using light layers of specialized adhesives. Once a garment has been sewn, all seams are taped for waterproofness through a process that requires even more heat-sensitive glue. Over time, bacteria buildup from body oils and dirt can eat away at these chemical adhesives that play an important role in the performance of raingear.

Note: Not all seam tapes are created equal. Obvious quality differences in seam tape can be seen throughout the industry upon visual inspection of the inside of different raingear garments.

The seam tape and laminated layers have held up well to the abuse in our sample pant, which likely wouldn’t be the case with cheaper components. KUIU raingear uses Bemis seam tape, a brand known for making the highest quality seam tape available. Seam tapes of lower quality are typically thin and transparent- sometimes so thin that the stitching can be seen raising up through the tape itself. If the stitching becomes fully exposed due to wear-through on the thin tape, steps must be taken to re-seal. Gear-Aid Seam Grip is a good product in this situation.

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Ensuring the longevity of seam tape and lamination bonding agents is achieved through a regular washing routine, as described above in the breathability section. Refrain from using extremely hot water and drying methods, as some seam tapes are heat-sensitive.

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NikWax: Additional Information

NikWax Tech Wash and Softshell Proof can be purchased as a bundle kit in the KUIU Gear Shop. One bottle of Tech Wash provides 2-3 washes worth of solution, while one entire bottle of Softshell Proof is required for DWR application. Click the link below for more information.

Link: NikWax DuoPack

Whether you’re planning on purchasing a new set of raingear this season or you’re still getting use out of an older set, the same rules apply: keep it clean and rejuvenate the DWR as needed. Without question, taking these steps throughout the season will pay dividends in the day to day performance and season to season longevity of your waterproof-breathable investments.

-Todd Harney

DIY High Calorie Bars

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In preparing for a backpack hunt there aren’t many places where we can increase our performance:weight ratio and save money at the same time. Luckily (since it’s an expendable or one-time-use item) food is one area where with a little extra at-home preparation and research, one can increase the calorie density of their consumables while saving money over the course of a season.

The most simple way to start is by making your own calorie-rich snack or energy bars. We burn so many calories in the mountains that persistent re-fueling is essential to maintaining our drive day in and day out. Keeping convenient trail food handy is the only way to assure frequent eating on the go. Unfortunately, altitude, physical exertion, and fatigue have a way of curbing hunger, making proper eating habits easier said than done. This is where the calorie density of our food becomes incredibly important: when we don’t feel like eating, every bite we take matters.

Some type of store-bought bars, whether they be Cliff Bars, Power Bars, etc. can likely be found in nearly everyone’s pack at any given time. You can do better though… read on to learn how.

Making the Bars

Making your own high-calorie bars that put the store-bought stuff to shame is quick and easy. You might spend more time wandering around the store looking for Dried Dates than you will making the bars. And don’t worry, there’s no oven involved so this isn’t considered “baking”. The only kitchen supplies you’ll need are a food processor, a bread loaf pan, measuring cups, and some wax paper. If you want to accurately calculate the calories in each bar, a kitchen scale will come in handy.

  • Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 Cups Dried Dates
  • 1 1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries
  • 2 Cups Dry Roasted Peanuts

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Chop the two cups of peanuts in the food processor until they look like mine below. Consistency should range from sand-like to pea-sized. Pour the peanuts into a bowl and put the cranberries and dates into the processor. Run these together until a thick paste forms.

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Put everything together in a bowl and mix evenly by hand.

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Line your loaf pan with wax paper and spread the mix evenly on top.

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Add a second sheet of wax paper on top and press mixture into the bottom of the pan by hand or with some kind of roller. The tighter you can pack to down, the better your final product will hold together.

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Once pressed hard and tight, the mix will keep its shape. Take it out of the pan and lay it in the freezer for 30-45 minutes to harden.

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Once hardened in the freezer, take it out and cut into bars. By weighing and adding up the calories of the entire batch, you can cut your bars to any desired per-piece calories by weighing them out.

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Wrap individually with saran wrap and you’re done. Store them in the freezer, fridge, or wherever you want. They’ll last a few weeks unrefrigerated, and much longer if frozen.

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Caloric Analysis

Now let’s look a little deeper into what we just made, and compare it to what we would usually buy at the store.

  • 1 1/2 Cups Dried Dates (792 Calories)
  • 1 1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries (660 Calories)
  • 2 Cups Dry Roasted Peanuts (1,642 Calories)
  • Total Weight ~1.4 lbs (22.4 oz)
  • Total Calories ~3,094
  • Total Protein ~74 grams
  • ~138 Calories/Ounce
  • This puts the 3.15 oz bar pictured above at 434 calories!

By Comparison, a 2.4 oz Peanut Butter Crunch Cliff Bar supplies 104 Calories/Ounce, for a total of 249.6 calories. Sure, if the Cliff Bar weighed the same as the homemade sample above it would be closer at 327 calories… still 107 calories short, and you’d have to buy another Cliff Bar.

For the sake of another mainstream comparison, PowerBar’s latest Performance Energy bar weighs 2.01 oz and offers 220 calories, for a less than stellar 109 Calories/Ounce. At least they have catchy packaging.

Lastly, while not necessarily apples to apples, Mountain House’s most calorie-dense dinner entree option is Mac and Cheese, coming in at about 130 Calories/Ounce.

So just how much difference does it make to eat the homemade 434 calorie bar on the go vs a 250 calorie store-bought bar? According to a popular online calorie estimate calculator, the extra 184 calories in the homemade bar is enough energy to allow a fit 175 lb man hike about a mile while wearing a 30lb pack.

Substitutes and Additions

One could easily add and substitute ingredients to the recipe. Apparently orange zest in the mixture enhances flavor, although I have not tried it as I like the taste as-is. By using Macadamia nuts instead of Peanuts, the calorie density would increase slightly, although the protein would drop significantly.

Whether you decide to stick with the recipe above or play around with ingredients on your own, rest assured that you’ll end up with a final product that adequately addresses your backcountry nutritional needs. Good luck.

-Todd Harney

Do Your Feet a Favor

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For the amount of wear and tear we put on our feet in the mountains each year, it’s remarkable how frequently we fail to invest in the proper support needed to ensure maximum comfort and longevity for our most abused load bearing body parts. Purchasing quality boots is a definite step in the right direction toward happy feet, but for many of us, a well made aftermarket insole is the missing link that prevents us from achieving the utmost comfort. According to studies, an astounding 75% of the population has some sort of foot problem, with just 10% of those people using some sort of over-the-counter supportive device.

After locking in SCARPA as our boot to offer in 2015, Jason came up with the idea of adding a line of insoles to our Gear Shop and the hunt was on. I researched the top insole brands on the market and met with a number of them in Salt Lake City at Outdoor Retailer in January of 2015. After speaking with insole designers, meeting with reps, and testing an array of samples, Superfeet came out on top by a considerable margin. If you don’t want to take my word for it, Superfeet is the #1 insole worn and recommended by doctors.

Why Factory Insoles Fall Short

Boot companies specialize in the making of boots to “fit” a wide range of foot volumes and arch types. From a business and production standpoint, large scale boot manufacturers have enough on their plate in dealing with the accommodation of different foot lengths and widths. Trying to add a third dimension to the built-in fit by offering an array of arch support types would simply be unreasonable, so they slap in a cheap flat factory insole and call it good, assuming the buyer will upgrade depending on their specific needs. Whether or not the end user realizes this is not the boot makers problem. This is consistent among all boot companies, regardless of the quality of their product.

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Why Superfeet Make a Difference

Superfeet insoles today are a product of 40+ years worth of R&D in foot biomechanics and cutting edge materials. By leaving the footwear making to the footwear makers, Superfeet has been able to focus on the fine details that matter when it comes to quality foot support. The simple answer to “Why Superfeet make a difference” is that their distinct shape mildly manipulates the structure of the foot, transferring the weight of the body onto the most supportive portions of the foot’s arch.

To relate this back to improved comfort and boot performance in the backcountry, by upgrading from factory insoles to Superfeet users will experience:

  • Better alignment of the back, knees, and ankles while standing still.
  • Decreased ankle pronation and supination (side to side flex) while side-hilling.
  • Increased shock absorption while carrying a heavy pack.
  • Decreased pressure in toe box during steep descents.
  • Decreased risk of Plantar Fasciitis: inflammation of the connective tissue in the sole of the foot caused by heavy use on hard surfaces and uneven terrain. This is one of the most common foot ailments associated with improper support in the mountains.

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Below you can see the pronation of my knee and ankle while standing one-legged on a factory boot insole (Left). While standing one-legged on the Superfeet Green (Right), balancing was much easier and provided much better alignment in the knee and ankle. As shown in the diagram above, poor knee alignment has a direct affect on the rest of the body.

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Styles Offered by KUIU

Superfeet insoles are now available in the Gear Shop section of the KUIU online store! While Superfeet offers a wide variety of insole types, we have narrowed it down to what we feel are the two best options for the backcountry big game hunter: Superfeet Carbon and Superfeet Green. These are both top of the line styles, and each is designed to fit a different foot shape. Not only are these great options for use in hunting boots, but they work very well in athletic type shoes as well. Take a look below to find out which insole is best for you.

If you are still unsure about which insole is best for you, feel free to call KUIU Customer Service as they have received quality training from our regional Superfeet Rep.

Carbon

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Superfeet Carbon is designed for those with a flat foot or low arch. Furthermore, Carbon’s low profile allows extra room inside the toe box which can be a benefit for those with a higher volume foot looking for just a little more wiggle room than the factory insert provides. The structured cap on the bottom of this insole is a carbon-composite material that is incredibly light weight and durable, and also allows a small amount of flex during use (think shock absorber). A single Carbon insole for a size 11 foot weighs just 1.4 oz. Longevity for this product is rated at 12 months or 500 miles.

Click here to shop Superfeet Carbon

Green

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We chose to carry Superfeet Green as a solid option for users who have a high arch and need more support than what the Carbon provides. Green uses a larger polymer cap for support and does not offer the flex of Carbon (this is necessary in providing full support for a high arch). Because of it’s higher supportive profile, Green may require a short break-in process for some users. Lastly, Green has a higher profile toward the toe, offering a slight increase in insulation over Carbon. A single Green insole for a size 11 foot weighs 1.9 oz, and has an estimated longevity of 12 months or 500 miles.

Click here to shop Superfeet Green

60-Day Guarantee

Superfeet is so confident in their product, they offer a 60-day comfort guarantee. If you are not satisfied with the performance of your KUIU bought Superfeet, you may return them to KUIU within 60 days of the original purchase for a full refund.

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GIVEAWAY!

UPDATE: DEWEY PRATT, YOU WERE CHOSEN FOR THE FREE PAIR! I HAVE SENT YOU AN EMAIL. THANKS TO EVERYONE ELSE WHO COMMENTED!

Everyone who Subscribes and submits a comment to this post will be entered into a drawing to win a FREE pair of Superfeet. I will pull the winning name out of a hat this Friday, March 13th at 12pm PST. The winner will get to choose between the Green and Carbon models.

Don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear right away. I have to approve them before they show up on the public page.

Lastly, I want to thank all of the new subscribers who joined The Hunt last week in response to the KUIU newsletter. We are over the 500 subscriber mark as of today (3/10/2015). Email me at toddh@kuiu.com if you have ideas for future posts.

-Todd Harney

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Determining Your Arch Type (Addition to Original Post)

There were a few questions that came up in the comments on how to determine your arch type before choosing an insole. One way to do this is by wetting the bottom of your bare foot and taking one normal step onto a piece of thick paper. A “flat” foot (little to no arch) will look like the print on the right. A “normal” arch will look like the print on the left. A print that lays down even less water in the arch area than the print on the left would be considered a “high” arch. Tim, who took the step on the left, is comfortable in both the Carbon and the Green insoles.

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“They Look Like Small Mule Deer”

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We all have a species that we grew up learning to hunt; one which provided us an annual opportunity to pursue and as a result, develop our skills in the field. If you started hunting young enough, it’s likely that this species was all you knew- or cared to know. For me, it was the Colombian Blacktailed Deer. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to expand my hunting into a wider variety of game and regions since the early days, I still find myself looking forward to Blacktail season each year, like a kid waiting for Christmas.

At the company holiday party last year I began showing some Blacktail photos to Brendan Burns, who sarcastically commented back with, “Oh a big Blacktail? Big deal, looks just like a small Mule Deer!” And while they may ‘just look like a small Mule Deer’, they really are a unique species that offers some pretty awesome hunting opportunities throughout the west half of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. I can only speak from experience on the hunting of Blacktailed Deer in California, which will be the focus of this article.

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In California we can begin archery hunting for Blacktails as early as the second Saturday in July. I took the buck in the photo above last year (2014) on July 12th- a time when the rest of the country has almost nothing going on in the way of big game hunting. With California’s liberal (so to speak) two tag limit, a guy can hunt this species from early July all the way through October in OTC areas. This means a lot of time to spend in the field each year, which I took full advantage of growing up.

Blacktail Habitat

The variety of terrains these deer can be found in throughout California is remarkable. Driving the coastline on a summer day in certain areas it’s not uncommon to see Blacktailed deer literally walking on the beach. If you had enough time on your hands, you could drive up to 8,000 ft peaks in the northern Wilderness Areas and glass deer there on the same day. “Classic” California Blacktail habitats would be considered coastal sage with grassland and redwood canyons, mid elevation oak woodland, and high elevation manzanita/oak brush country. Most Blacktail in the state are resident, while there are a few herds that migrate in and out of the higher North Coast ranges; particularly the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, and Yolla Bolly.

Though quite contrasting from one another, all three habitats below represent great Blacktail country in California.

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Diverse Seasons

Hunting for these bucks is incredibly tough, no matter the time of the season. It’s not uncommon for daytime temperatures to reach 105 degrees or higher during early archery. Everything you step on, brush up against, or even look at the wrong way makes noise. The deer tend to be pretty nocturnal this time of year, spending the better part of the daylight hours hunkered down in the heavy shade. To make matters even more interesting, Blacktail are known for their ultra high sensitivity and incredibly low tolerance toward unnatural sounds and movement. There are a couple advantages for the hunter during this season though: First, like Mule Deer, Blacktail will spend more time feeding in the open during primes times of the day when in velvet. Secondly, it’s pretty easy to pinpoint where bucks will be holed up during the heat of the day. They like lots of shade, they like a breeze, and they like to bed on small flat areas with a slope at their back. If a buck is spotted moving toward a bedding area at first light, understanding these things can make it easier to narrow down where he will likely plant himself for the day.

About the time the temperatures cool and rifle season begins, the big bucks have shed their velvet and headed for heavy cover and seclusion.  Unlike most Mule Deer, the majority of Blacktails in California live in areas where they don’t need to pack on a ton of extra fat to get them through the rut and winter. As a result, they don’t spend much time during daylight hours in open feeding habitat exposed to glassing hunters. Unless there’s a cold snap or weather system involved, most rifle season sightings on public land are minimal and typically occur at first and last light. The buck below came out of the timber in the final moments of shooting light on a mid-season hunt in 2010. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

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In the central and southern coastal portions of the state, it’s not uncommon to get some rut activity during the final week of rifle season- the third week of September. This is a great time to hunt as sightings can be frequent and the weather is still nice. It’s not a very common practice for whatever reason, but when the time is right, Blacktails can be very responsive to rattling. One year between my small group of hunting family and friends, we connected on five solid archery Blacktail bucks by rattling at the end of rifle season. Below is a buck that I rattled in on the second to the last day of last rifle season. Yes, I’m guilty of long-arming the smaller bucks for the photos…

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Rut activity is much less common during the general season the further north of the Bay Area you decide to hunt. The later closing ‘B-Zones’, a group of units located in the Northwest corner of the state, are prone to rain and snow toward the end of rifle season which can dramatically improve success. When severe enough (every 4-6 years), these October storms can drive lots of deer to migrate out of the high country in a short period of time. Hold on to your trigger finger if you’re lucky enough to be in the mountains when this occurs.

Trophy Quality

Trophy genetics are all over the board in California from region to region. As a general rule, the best trophy Blacktail genetics in the state (and arguably the country) will be found in Mendocino, Tehama, and Trinity Counties. Combine quality genetics with the fact that these counties have huge expanses of remote public terrain where bucks can grow old without disturbance, and what you get is one of the most underrated big game trophy regions in the US. It should be stated that these counties have plenty of closely managed private properties as well, which certainly donate their fair share to the record books.

On the map below, the red line highlights the approximate Blacktail boundary recognized by Boone and Crockett in California. The green line encompasses what I consider the “sweet spot” in the state for overall trophy quality. The numbers, letters, and black lines represent California’s big game zones. Base map credit: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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The Boone and Crockett minimum for typical Colombian Blacktail is just 135. As it may seem like a small number to those most familiar with Mule Deer, there are very few Blacktail diehards out there who consistently hit this mark. Of my 24 Blacktail harvests, I have only one which has surpassed the B&C net minimum. Most bucks harvested in the state are forks, with what I would guess as having an average 16″ spread and gross score of less than 100 inches. In fact, there are many areas particularly along the coast south of the bay area, where the genetics are so poor that plenty of bucks never become anything but a fork their entire lives. These bucks receive the nickname “Pacific Fork”. Below is a Pacific Fork I took a few years back.

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The body on a mature Blacktail in California averages roughly 120 lbs live weight, and rarely exceeds 150 lbs. As you can see below, they are not nearly as labor intensive to pack out as a large Mule Deer. This entire buck fit in the bag and load sling of my Ultra 3000.

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To give a better idea on how deceivingly small a Blacktail’s head and body size can be, both bucks below score only in the mid-120s. Many would likely field judge them higher.

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Hunting Opportunities

There are a handful of limited draw tags for Blacktail in California, all of which provide a quality hunt during the rut with lots of public land within the boundaries. Most notable are the Covelo hunts taking place in the area of the Mendocino National Forest and Yolla Bolly Wilderness. Hunters may choose to apply for either the archery or muzzleloader hunts in this famed region known for producing awesome bucks year in and year out. Additionally, two late draw hunts are offered in Monterey County and one in a small portion of Sonoma County.

As far as hunting access goes, there are plenty of public mountain ranges that offer solid backpack hunting opportunities with lots of elbow room once a couple miles or more have been put between the hunter and the road. The Mendocino National Forest, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Trinity Alps Wilderness, and Yolla Bolly Wilderness combined offer a staggering 1.8 million acres of public land- much of which is excellent Blacktail ground.

While there can be heavy road hunting pressure in places like the Mendocino and Los Padres National Forests, some of the biggest Blacktails killed each year are taken within a mile of these high traffic forest roads. With that said, it’s pretty easy to out hike the crowds and find both solitude and higher deer numbers in the more secluded drainages. Even though there are lots of trailheads to choose from in the wilderness areas, the terrain lends itself well to going in off trail to further improve the chances of having an area to ones self. Google Earth is a great tool for finding these locations.

Outside of National Forest and Wilderness Areas, those willing to put in the time studying maps can locate isolated chunks of nearly untouched BLM property with high potential. For an out-of-stater looking to come to California for a backcountry DIY Blacktail hunt, the areas mentioned in the Trophy Quality section above are great starting points.

Closing Remarks

Despite the fact that California isn’t revered as a wildly popular non-resident hunting destination, it quietly offers some incredible opportunities for those seeking to pursue lesser-known deer species in the US. Furthermore, with the wide range of hunt types and season dates, a California Blacktail hunt can provide the perfect solution to those looking to jump-start their big game hunting in July, or add a grand finale to their year toward the end of October.

I’ll be the first to agree with anyone that a big Blacktail looks like small Mule Deer, but this species is worthy of more recognition than that.

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-Todd Harney