Some hunters may tell you that the only way to kill a big bull is to spend a lot of money. That is not true. There is still one way an average Joe can harvest a big bull, which is drawing a tag in a trophy unit. Yes, drawing a tag in a great unit can take years, but more often than not, it is worth the wait. Cody Nelson from the Outdoorsmans is willing to wait for a good tag. “Drawing a great archery tag in Arizona can take years, even though I am a resident. Because it can take a long time to draw a tag in some of the more coveted units, some hunters simply don’t bother putting in for tags which is a big mistake. Over the last decade, I have drawn a couple great tags that were worth the wait,” Nelson explained.
This year Nelson drew a great tag and spent almost ten days looking for the right bull. “We spent a lot of time glassing and looking for the right bull. When you wait a long time for a tag, the last thing you want to do is shoot the first decent bull you see. I was willing to put my time in and hunt hard. Being willing to stick it out to the bitter end has been one of the keys to my success over the years. Even when I have a great tag, I am still hunting on public land and finding the right bull can require lots of time,” Nelson added.
On the ninth day of the hunt, Nelson spotted a nice bull that he estimated scored close to 360 or larger. “I spent a fair amount of time watching that bull in the evening. The bull ended up fighting a smaller bull. What was amazing to watch was the smaller bull broke the main beam off the 360 bull in two places while I watched them fight,” Nelson said. As the evening progressed, Nelson watched the bulls and was hoping he could find him again in the morning. “I was using the new Swarovski 8X42 EL Range binoculars and was amazed at how well I could see in low light conditions. I continued watching the bulls late into the evening. I figured if I could locate the bigger bull in the morning, I would try to get a shot and go recover his broken tine after I shot him.”
The plan changed slightly the next morning when the old bull who had broke the tine off the 360 bull came within bow range. “This old bull had an enormous amount of mass and a large body. It was clear after looking at him that he was an old bull so I decided to shoot him. He didn’t go very far after the shot. I use Wac ‘Em Broadheads. I am amazed at how quickly they bring down big bulls. He is a 7x6 that scored nearly 330 inches and was a massive bull. It was amazing watching the bulls fight the day before. It’s a hunt I will never forget,” Nelson exclaimed.
This hunt is proof that waiting on a good tag and working hard to find a good bull can pay off. If you don’t play the tag drawing game like Nelson, you probably should. It is still the best way to put a monster buck or bull on the wall without breaking the bank.
In “Food Plots For The Rest Of Us,” I will discuss how bowhunters with small parcels of property can build a food plot that will attract bucks and provide good shot opportunities. On TV, bowhunters often see large green food plots that cost thousands of dollars to build and maintain. This article will show readers how to put in small food plots that don’t require much time, effort or money. Many food plot companies are offering seed blends that are drought tolerant, can handle a wide range of soil conditions and can be planted without the use of expensive machinery. With $100, a rake, a shovel and some elbow grease, hunters can put in a food plot that attracts deer. I will do a sidebar on how to build a small food plot in a remote location and a second one on the importance of doing a pH test. I will interview Steve Scott from the Whitetail Institute about how a small plot can often be the secret weapon bowhunters need to harvest a whopper buck.
One question that often gets asked at the Outdoorsmans headquarters is, “Are high end optics worth the investment?” The answer of course is yes, but I interviewed Cody Nelson from the Outdoorsmans so everyone would understand why high end optics are worth the money.
Most people swallow hard when they look at the price tag on a pair of Swarovski, Zeiss or Vortex Binoculars. They often decide not to make the purchase because many hunters don’t want to fork over $1,000 or more for a pair of binoculars. After all, that’s how much a gun or bow costs! “For some reason, hunters don’t have a problem buying a new bow that costs $1,200 but they have a problem spending that much on a pair of binoculars. The difference is a hunter replaces his bow every few years. A good pair of binoculars will last a lifetime if a person takes good care of them. Hunters need to consider their optics as a piece of serious equipment, not just another accessory,” Nelson explained.
Nelson believes spending good money on a pair of binoculars is worth the investment because good glass can increase the odds of success. “Good glass that is crystal clear and is a joy to look through. As a result, when using a good pair of binoculars while scouting or hunting, hunters will probably take more time to try to locate game. Cheap glass often doesn’t have good eye relief and hunters often end up with a headache. If hunters get a headache while glassing, they will probably quit hunting early, thus reducing the chances of spotting game. The clearer the optics, the better the eye relief, the longer a person is willing to sit and watch for movement. High quality glass can help a person be more successful in the field. Hunters have to see the animal and know where the animal is before they can slip in on it and actually hunt it,” Nelson added.
Whether a hunter is looking for the tips of antlers on a 350-inch bull elk or looking for a bedded Coues buck, having glass that is razor sharp and crystal clear is necessary. “If the image is fuzzy, spotting a bedded buck is more difficult. Seeing subtle movement or the difference in color when a buck is trying to hide in the rocks can be difficult with cheap glass. High end glass is clear and sharp, which makes spotting game easier. It’s the little things that make a difference. Having glass that is super clear can make a difference while hunting,” Nelson noted.
High quality glass outperforms inexpensive glass in lowlight conditions. “We know that animals move a lot at first light and at last light. Seeing them in low light conditions can be difficult, especially when using cheap glass. Every year when magazines do their optics tests, the companies that win the low light contests are companies that make high end optics. You won’t see a $200 pair of binoculars win that award. Being able to see game in lowlight is a necessity. High quality binoculars perform great under these conditions,” Nelson said.
People often worry about warranties when shopping for binoculars. Nelson says the beautiful thing about good glass is people rarely need to use the warranty. “All the optic brands we carry offer great warranties. The great thing is that the odds of someone needing to send in their binoculars or use their warranty if the binoculars are taken care of are slim. Customers get what they pay for. When people invest in good glass, it lasts a long time. High quality binoculars are a long term investment.
Are you in the market for a new pair of binoculars or a spotting scope? Do yourself a favor by buying the best optics you can afford. You won’t regret making the investment. Call the Outdoorsmans team and have them help you choose a pair of optics that are right for you.
Over the years, I have hunted with the Outdoorsmans pack all over America. From the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the backcountry of the Gila in search of trophy bulls, the pack has never let me down. However, the guys at the Outdoorsmans are never satisfied. The Long Range Pack System was good, but they wanted to make it better. This year, they made a few changes that truly make this pack unique. “We wanted to make the pack more user-friendly. We have all been in the backcountry and have had a problem getting something we wanted out of our pack because some of the pockets were hard to get to. We redesigned the pack to make it easy for hunters to get to those items they constantly use,” Cody Nelson said.
Outdoorsmans is known for being a company that knows optics and knows how to utilize them to maximize a hunt, so it seems logical that they would put a lot of effort into building a pack that is very user friendly for the hunter who regularly relies on their binoculars or spotting scope. “Our new Long Range Pack comes with a padded optics pouch in the lid of the pack that can hold binoculars as big as a pair of 15‘s. This pouch will protect binoculars and make it easy to get to so when a hunter sees something across the canyon and wants to look at it, they can get at their binoculars quickly instead of having to dig around for 15 minutes trying to get to their glass,” Nelson explained.
Another change is the new pack tripod retrieval system on the side of the pack that makes getting to a tripod quick and easy. “Before we had a long pocket, getting a tripod out of the pocket took a fair amount of time. Our new system comes with quick release buckles that keeps the tripod secure and makes getting to the tripod easy. On the opposite side of the pack, you can store a spotting scope. With this system, everything is at your fingertips and we all know that if getting to your optics is quick and easy, we will use them more,” Nelson added.
The bag on the new pack can be separated from the frame of the pack without being completely removed. This leaves a large spot in between the frame and the pack to store a quarter of meat. “This feature makes packing out meat much easier. Many packs require the bag to be removed and just the frame is used to pack out meat. This system allows you to pack out meat and pack out your gear at the same time or pack out more meat. This new feature keeps the meat bag secure and sandwiched between the pack frame and the pack so it doesn’t move around as you walk. It helps you distribute the weight and keep everything secure,” Nelson noted.
If you are looking for a new pack to use this fall, check out the New Long Range Pack System from the Outdoorsmans, you won’t be disappointed with all the new hunter-friendly features.
One dream many bowhunters have is to spend an extended period of time in the backcountry chasing elk, deer or other big game animals. One of the biggest problems a backcountry hunter faces is what to do with the meat after the kill. When the daytime temperatures are in the fifties or cooler, a bowhunter can take his time cutting up and deboning an animal. When the temperatures are extremely warm, everything changes. Getting the meat off the animal and cooled down becomes a top priority. In warm temperatures, when one member of a hunting party kills an animal, all hunting stops and everyone pitches in until the animal is off the mountain and on its way to a game cooler. After all, for most of us, taking home high quality meat is one of the main reasons we bow hunt.
Making sure meat stays clean and cool and doesn’t spoil is a tough job when hunting deep in the backcountry. No one knows that better than Steven Rinella, Host of the MeatEater on the Sportsman Channel. He makes his living harvesting game and turning it into high quality meals that his friends and family enjoy eating. “One of the main reasons some wild game tastes bad on the table is because it isn’t taken care of properly in the field,” says Rinella. “Making sure field care is done right often results in good table fare.”
GET RID OF THE HEAT
Heat is enemy number one when hunting in the backcountry. “When I kill something in the backcountry, I don’t like to leave the guts in the animal overnight. If for some reason, I need to leave an animal overnight before I start cutting it up, I always gut it. A big animal like an elk cannot be cooled fast enough. Big game animals hold a lot of heat in them and you need to get rid of that heat. Gutting an animal is a must, even when it is cold out, if the animal must be left for a long period of time,” Rinella explained.
Another thing Rinella does is get the hide off. “The hide of an animal also holds heat so I don’t like to leave the hide on my quarters. Some people think it keeps the meat cleaner, but the meat can spoil faster, especially in warm weather, if the hide is left on the meat even for short periods. Always get the hide off and let the meat cool,” Rinella added.
KEEP IT CLEAN
One major thing hunters do wrong is allow their animal quarters to get dirty. “Keeping meat clean is very important. You don’t want your meat to get covered in dirt or worse yet, get a lot of hair on it.” Hair from a big bull elk, for example, may be covered in mud or have urine or feces on it which can result in the meat not tasting good on the table. To keep hair and debris off of your meat, always hang it or lay it on a clean tarp of some kind when cutting it up in the field so it doesn’t come in contact with the ground.
When skinning an animal, use an extremely sharp knife so you can quickly skin the hide away from the carcass without having to tug or pull on the hide. The more tugging and pulling you do, the more hair will come loose from the hide and likely fall onto the meat. One thing no one wants to find in their elk burger is elk hair.
When Rinella is taking care of an animal in the field, he likes to cut the meat in large pieces instead of deboning most of the time. “I like to quarter an animal and keep the quarters whole. I also keep the ribs in large pieces. I keep the neck and backstraps whole. Keeping the meat in large pieces allows me to keep the meat a lot cleaner and decreases the amount of surface area that is exposed to bugs, dirt and other contaminants,” Rinella noted.
HANG IT HIGH
After everything has been removed from the carcass, Rinella puts it in the trees. “When possible, as soon as I have the meat removed from the animal, I put it into breathable game bags and hoist them in the trees. People should never put meat in anything other than a breathable game bag. Game bags are made of mesh material that allows the meat to breathe and cool and prevents bugs from getting to the meat. By mistake, some folks use non-breathable bags which can quickly spoil meat because it can’t cool down fast enough.”
Meat gets hoisted into the trees for a few reasons. It keeps the meat out of reach of most animals, keeps the meat in the shade under the branches of the trees and even a light breeze when hanging in a tree will quickly cool the meat. “I am always amazed at how long meat will last in the backcountry when properly taken care of. Even when daytime temperatures are extremely warm, meat will do well if it is in the shade and the nighttime temperatures drop a little and get cool. Getting the meat in a tree is a must if a hunter can’t make it out of the backcountry for a few days,” Rinella advised.
One more reason you want the meat up in the air and in the breeze is because it will form a hard layer on the outside of the meat which protects it from almost all things bad. “A gentle breeze and cool temperatures will result in a hard rind forming on the outside of the meat. It is similar to a rind on an orange. This hard layer is dried out meat that actually protects the inner meat. I want this hard layer to form so my meat is protected. After I get the meat out of the field and start processing it, all I have to do is trim away this hard layer to get at all the quality meat underneath. This is one reason I don’t like to debone the meat. Deboned meat can dry out quickly. When kept in large pieces, only the outside layer becomes hard.”
KEEP IT DRY
One enemy of all game meat is moisture. “I try to keep moisture away from the meat. This is another reason I hang meat in a tree under the branches. The tree can keep a little bit of rain off the meat.” When it is raining after a kill, using a tarp hung above the meat in a tree is one way to ensure meat doesn’t get wet. Moisture and humidity are your worst enemy after a kill. If you find yourself in these conditions shortly after you have killed something, get the meat out of the field as soon as you can and do your best to keep it dry.
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT...
When heading into the backcountry, there are a few things you never want to leave the trailhead without to ensure your meat makes it out of the backcountry in good shape. You will need a great backpack for packing out meat and super sharp knives. Rinella uses a Havalon knife, a tarp, a paracord for hanging meat, high quality game bags and pepper, Meat Savr or some other type of fly deterrent that can keep flies away from your meat if it has to be hung for long periods.
MAKE A FEW CALLS
Call several game coolers before heading into the backcountry so you have a place lined up ahead of time so you are not looking for a game processor after the fact. Most small mountain towns have game coolers nearby who will either process your meat or at least cool it for you.
Coming home with a cooler full of meat is one of the most rewarding things about bowhunting. By following the meat care guide above, you can ensure you and your family will have dozens if not hundreds of high-quality organic meals. Nothing beats a steak on the grill from a free range wild animal that was raised in the mountains on grass and drank from mountain streams which is a far cry from the meat you buy in the store.
Outdoorsmans Pack System
A good pack is as important as high quality game bags when hunting in the backcountry. Rinella uses the Outdoorsmans Pack System when hunting off the beaten path. “There are several reasons I like the Outdoorsmans Pack. It has a liner that can be pulled out and quickly cleaned so I can throw a game quarter into the pack and remove the bag when I get home and hose it out for the next trip. I sometimes clean it in a creek during the hunt. The liner quickly dries and is ready to go again so I don’t have to worry about all my stuff getting bloody. This big internal bag works well for packing out meat and gear and is easy to keep clean,” said Rinella. The pack can also be removed and the frame can be used to pack out large quarters. A pack like the Outdoorsmans can make a 75-pound load feel much lighter which is a must when packing out large loads of meat.
Food good enough for family and friends
“If I were to be completely honest, my favorite thing to eat is elk backstraps,” said Rinella with a laugh. “But I like making great tasting meals out of things people don’t always utilize. For instance, I love taking the neck of an elk or deer and browning it in a crockpot. I slow cook it for hours until the meat falls apart. Then I put it in BBQ sauce and serve it like pulled pork. A neck is always fatty and greasy and it tastes a lot like pork when cooked down. This type of recipe is easy to do and everyone I serve it to loves it.”
About the author: Tracy Breen is a full-time outdoor writer, marketing consultant and motivational speaker. To learn more about him, visit www.tracybreen.com.
We get calls here in the shop on a daily basis asking about spotting scopes and what makes one better than another, or why should they get this scope over that scope. We can spew the numbers from manufactures catalogs and websites all day long, but what it really comes down to is in field use. Without time in the field with a particular optic, nothing we say is going to be different than what the customer could get from the manufacturer.
This last season I had the opportunity to use the new Swarovski STX 95mm spotting scope on a few of my hunts. So I am going to provide a review of the scope as a hunter and not as a sales person. No technical lingo or quoting text from the Swarovski catalog.
To be fully honest I have never been a spotting scope guy, I have always carried 15’s in my bag, and relied on them for most of my glassing purposes. I just never saw the benefits of carrying the extra weight for the extra magnification. With that being said, the STX 95 changed my mindset completely! This thing is an absolute work of glassing beauty. The scope is amazingly clear throughout the 30-70 magnification settings unlike any spotter I have ever used in the past.
The ability it gave me to see if that object I was looking at over two miles away was a bedded deer or a rock, saved me valuable time in unnecessary stalks (we have all been there.) The scope was so valuable on my Coues hunt in Southern Arizona that the extra five pounds in my pack felt like a bargain in the trade off. Yes the STX 95 weighs in at a touch over five pounds but the clarity it gives you at the highest magnification will keep you from having to pack it all over the mountain chasing rock deer.
As you can see I was truly blown away by the STX 95 and its capabilities in the field. If you ever get a chance to look through one in the field do so and I will be here to take your order when you call!