Monday, June 1, 2009

Two Most Important Things To Take On Your Elk Hunt

Hunters used to ask, "What should I bring on a wilderness elk hunt?"

When I booked hunters I had a list of most of the items they should bring.

However, the two items that YOU need that will "make or break" YOUR hunt are:

1.  Footgear

2.  Sleeping gear

Good footwear and good sleeping gear will keep YOU comfortable in any weather.  I'm not sure how many hunters have come to camp with light, sneaker-type shoes and a K-Mart sleeping bag, but each of them was miserable the entire hunt.  In camp or out, they weren't relaxed, just cold, shivering, exhausted and tired.

Sporting goods stores, catalogs and internet hunting suppliers have acres of boots and shoes.  In some conditions they all work.  Sometime in the early 1980 I quit wearing leather hunting boots--even during relatively dry bow season.  The boots that worked best 'then' were L.L. Bean rubber-bottom, leather-top boots.  Their drawbacks were no, or little, arch support and rather cheap leather on top.  I'm not sure when I changed, but I went to Schnee's boots.  

They are rubber-bottom, leather-top like L.L. Bean's, but they are made for use.  The tops are made of real leather, not that flimsy stuff that resembles velveeta cheese.  The two pair of Schnee's that sit in the mud room now have tops that have been on two pair of bottoms-each.  And, they are still going strong.

Schnee's are made in a small shop in Bozeman, Montana.  Their customer service is exemplary.  How do I know?  I've had things done that are not quite normal.  On the first occasion, I wanted to have eyelets on the inside lace row and normal hooks on the outside lace row.  Schnee's boots have machined lace hooks, not the cheap bent brass found on many boots.  The problem with them, if you ride a horse, is that they rub on the stirrup leathers and become sharp.  The sharp hooks put lacerations on the stirrup leathers and fenders.  Steve Schnee said, "No problem.  We'll get them done any way you want."  I have had all my last six or seven pair of Schnee's made that way.

On another occasion, I wanted a pair of their double-insulated boots.  They had discontinued them, but still had a few bottoms left.  I called Steve Schnee and asked if I could have a pair of their remaining bottoms.  He said, "Yes, you can.  Just send your old double-insulated boots and we will exchange the bottoms."  

The third occasion, I had used one pair of Schnee's only one day while hunting mule deer in rugged country behind Bear Top Lookout (east of the lookout).  Two-thirds of the rubber bobs had broken off.  I was out of the mountains for only two days.  I called Steve Schnee, and told him the problem.  Steve sent me a new pair overnight, without worrying about money, to replace my defective ones.

I kept three different types of Schnee boots on hand while I guided.  An uninsulated pair for bow season, a single-insulated pair for rifle season, and a double insulated pair for late season.  I like the 13" tops and the air-bob soles, as well as my custom lacing arrangement.  I also keep extra felt/thinsulate liners to exchange daily.  It's important to change them every day.  While your feet will stay warm and relatively dry all day, moisture will develop and in the right conditions, the liners will freeze to the rubber on days two, or three, or four.

Schnee's boots are never stiff and cold in the morning like leather boots.  They don't rot from water, snow, horse or cow dung, and they have an arch and pretty good support.

After you take care of YOUR feet, YOU'LL want a good toasty place to sleep.  It doesn't matter if you like rectangular bags or mummy bags, get the best bag you can afford.  (It will be worth more to you than a German rifle scope costing three times as much.)  

For bow season, I wouldn't take a bag rated at less than 0 degrees Fahrenheit.  For early season, I would make 10 to 20 below zero as my benchmark.  For late season, 40 below.  There are a lot of good brands available.  I have bought Slumberjack for years.  They are quality and reasonably priced.  I've had one for over 20 years.

Down is nice, but there are many new fills that are as warm, nearly as compressible and much better at maintaining their thermal properties in damp climates.

I prefer a mummy bag.  They are smaller and there is less area for your body to heat after a long day hunting the elusive wapiti.  If the mummy isn't your thing you might look at bags that are a cross between the traditional rectangular bag and a mummy.

In relation to bags, many of my hunters pleaded for me to get cots.  At the time, we slept on beds made on the ground.  Basically, we made a large wood frame--half the tent--filled the frame with loose hay, and lathed down a tarp covering it. Then, each hunter had a two-inch foam pad.  The only thing I had against the arrangement, was there was no place to sit in your bed and put your boots on.  The hunters got cots, but the guides wanted to continue on the floor--so did my wife and I.  When you sleep on the floor, you only have to warm the ground once.  When you sleep on a cot, you heat the air under the cot all night.

If you have good boots and a good bag, all you need to worry about is keeping up with your guide.


If you read my blog you know that I don't review any products (except here).  I still won't do that.  I will only endorse products that I have used extensively and found to work for me.  They may not work for you.  In the case of Schnee's and Slumberjack, I believe they will.  Additionally, I have not been compensated for endorsing any Schnee or Slumberjack products, except they have returned comfort and warmth for years.

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David said...

I'd love to hunt elk some day. Great site.

Jeff K said...

Got a 6-point bull in Wyoming during bow season. You're advice is very sound. I had poor footwear-BIG MISTAKE! It can and will snow in September...consider waterproof clothing/footwear! In addition to a good sleeping bag, consider a pad as well (keeps you off the cold ground).