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Hunting Western Big Game: What gear you need and what you don’t. 

Intro

After the ‘Fly Fishing Gear’ blog post I figured the next is western big game need and don’t need list. 

Everyone loves talking about gear and researching gear and buying new gear but then reality hits with all the options and costs varying so much. If you’re just starting, here are my thoughts about what you need for western big game. The west is wild and can be 60 in the day and 20 at night. It can range from -20 in November to 50. That said, this is not an all encompassing list, rather, a general guideline. Even saying ‘western big game’ we need to classify that by saying deer-elk-antelope as this list will change between Alaska Dall Sheep or Wyoming Bison or Idaho Mountain Goat.   

I’m a smaller guy at 5’9” 150lbs and I’m cheap. I tend to focus on weight and cost as my two main points of concern. Obviously, the more you spend the lighter gear is, usually, so I have to find the right middle ground that fits me and my family. I am not a gear junkie and I do not geek out about researching brands and tech specs between object *most of the time*. There are some exceptions for me such as optics and weapons where I try to research as much as I can. Most everything else comes down to a cost and weight ratio that I need to be comfortable with. I always feel guilty buying things for myself because I have a family and not a lot of expendable income. All of these things occupy space in my mind when making a decision. 

This is my setup for rifle or archery hunting. It’s my setup for backpacking or car camping. It’s my setup for early season or late season (with some changes). It’s my setup for deer or elk or antelope (with some changes).   


My gear

Pack and in the pack:
  • Eberlestock Mainframe with add-ons: Vapor 5000 duffle, gun scabbard, upland hunting pouch 
  • Seat pad
  • Sawyer water filter. In line plugin filter
  • Trekking poles with duct tape
  • Bugle
  • First aid kit/Oh shit kit
    • Toilet Paper
    • Bandaids/moleskin
    • Petroleum jelly on cotton balls (fire starter and for cuts)
    • Wrap for sprain and strains
    • Tylenol and personal medication
    • 2 fire starting devices in a ziplock bag. Metal match and lighter.
    • Dry tinder and paper in ziplock bag
    • Aluminum blanket
    • Printed map of hunting area
  • Water bottles/bladder. 2L bladder and extra L water bottle 
  • InReach Mini
  • Portable charger and 3 chords for 3 devices
  • Food. Everything for a day in a ziplock bag except a dehydrated dinner. Bags are between 2300-2500 Cal 
  • Kill kit
    • Elk game bags
    • Flagging tape
    • 2 knives. One is a Havalon with 4 replaceable blades. The other is a fixed blade. 
    • Paracord
Summary

My backpack is secondhand from a buddy who was selling it. I upgraded the bag to the Vapor 5000 at an expo when they were on sale. I love the pack. It is very lightweight and modular and holds all my gear. Being a smaller guy having an adjustable pack is important for me to get the right fit, and this does. I have a really nice upland hunting pack that I take one of the shell pouches off. It attaches to the waist belt of my hunting pack for snacks, bugle tube and other gear. I like having snacks at the ready during a hike. It’s amazing how quickly a little piece of candy can give you a quick burst of energy for a push up a hill. 

Favorite piece of gear:

I hate needing to take my bladder out of my bag to refill it; so I got the quick connect in-line filter. The squeeze filter is really light weight, inexpensive, and fast.

The Gamin InReach mini is a game changer also. I would recommend some kind of satellite communication device if you have a family.  

Bino chest pack:
Summary

I love having my binos and rangefinder protected but quickly accessible. Not much to say here other than the chest pack was a thing I was hesitant to add but am happy I did. Elk calls and wind checkers are often in my pocket or in the pouch.

Favorite piece of gear:

Vortex rangefinder. It has angle adjustment and compensation which is a great feature to have. I cant imagine not having it with me for archery or rifle.   

Bow and carry:
  • Bow: Bowtech Carbon Knight
  • Arrows. I buy cheaper ones. Not the cheapest, maybe mid-grade. 
  • I shoot a Fletcher J-hook release
  • Broadheads (Muzzy and shuttle t-lock). Fixed blade. 
Summary:

I love my bow. It is not the fastest or latest cool bow but it is light and shoots well. Hunting is hiking. You will go hiking, you might shoot your bow. You might hike for days and days, miles and miles, without ever shooting your bow. Having a weapon that is light and easy to carry is important for me given that fact. 

I first shot Shuttle t-lock broadheads. They were absolutely trash. One or two shots at a target and they were dull. They flew inconsistently and my confidence was very low with them. I switched to Muzzy. They stay sharp and fly great. Can’t ask for more.  

Favorite piece of gear:

My bow. I can and will change my arrows and veins and points, both broadhead and field points. My bow is light and shoots great. I feel very confident with it and that is the most important thing with a weapon. 

Gun and carry:
  • Gun- .270 WSM 
  • Sling. 
  • Scope- Leopold 3×9 
  • Scope Lens Cover.
Summary:

I bought the gun and don’t love it. It is hard to find ammo and it is very expensive when I find it. I even got reloading supplies but even those are hard to come by sometimes. The bullet is fast and shoots very flat. But it’s loud and kicks pretty good. The scope is a used scope from a buddy and I like it but might upgrade. 

Favorite Piece of Gear:

None really. I might add a break to the muzzle and new scope or I might sell it and get something entirely different. I would absolutely recommend some kind of lense cover for rain or snow with any rifle. You can’t shoot at game you can’t see. 

Clothing:
Summary:

I think clothing is worth the investment. I prefer material over patterns and I prefer quality over brands. I’d rather have a nice wool sweater from Kuhl than a camo hunting brand that costs more. The right clothing can make a hunt much more enjoyable and knowing how to layer is a great skill. You can use high quality outdoor brands and despite common beliefs you don’t need matching camo – you don’t need camo at all.

Favorite Piece of Gear:

This is a hard one. My bamboo shirts are my favorite piece of clothing for fishing, hiking, hunting, snowboarding or going to a movie. But having lightweight down jackets and pants for glassing are necessary. Rain gear is a must if you want to be comfortable. If I had to pick one thing I would pick my socks. Good high quality socks are so necessary for western hunting. If you’re climbing 1500 feet and hiking 5 miles or more you need to take care of your feet. I love them. 

Equipment I want to upgrade:

  • Binos. I have 8×42 and want another pair that are bigger. I am thinking 12 or 15 power binos. 
  • Boots. I’ve ran Asolo boots for a few years and they do just fine. I’m looking at Crispi boots. We both sponsor the same conservation groups and if I can spend my money to support a group that supports my interests I like to do that. 
  • Scope. If I keep my rifle I’ll upgrade my scope. A 3×9 scope is fine but there are soooo many great options out there for slightly better distance shooting. 
  • Game Bags (lighter is better). What I have is fine but there are bags that weigh half as much. Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain. 
  • Arrow tools to build and work on arrows. I love fly fishing and the intricacies and nuances of it. I love how deep you can get into entomology and tying your own bugs. Archery is a lot like that. You can go so deep as to make your own bow and arrows if you want. I like that I can make and fit arrows to me and my bow and I would enjoy that.
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March Mania Fly Bracket

Background

I freaking love fly fishing. I love fly tying. I am a fan of basketball. I love the high energy and excitement of the unknown living up to, or, letting us down. Every year my optimism for the upcoming fishing season gets me all giddy. The idea of bugs dancing on the water and trout eagerly eating gets me all excited. All the while my wife is unamused and although she is excited to fish, she is more reserved with her emotions. The idea of a fly bracket hit me in the winter. I thought, “why not marry the two things I like about March”. We’re all tying or fishing or dreaming of fishing.

I wanted to do something to lift our spirits and possibly give a little moral boost to us anglers. Feel free to use this as a guide for flies to tie this winter/spring. Or as a good list of flies you need to stock up on for the year. These are by no means the best flies in the world (though the argument could be made for some). These are by no means the best flies for your local waters (though the argument could be made for some). It’s just for fun. Check back weekly to see if what you think are the best flies are what others think are the best flies. FILL OUT YOUR BRACKET HERE March Mania

I came up with a list of 64 flies. 95% of these came from the depths of my brain. A few I looked up, mostly the old classic patterns. I thought it would be fun to put a classic and modern together. Each fly has a little history of the fly (as best we could find) including who tied it, when, what it’s for etc. If we are wrong about something, please tell us at ([email protected]) ([email protected]). Feel free to reach out if you have a great story for a podcast or if you are the originator one of the flies in the competition. We want to accurately record the history of the fly. I randomized the order so there might be a tiny dry versus a huge streamer. There are classics versus new. There are traditional flies versus modern flies. I did not pair them, I let the computer do it and just went it.


The Tournament

This is a predictive 1v1 fly tournament, single elimination, most votes wins and moves onto the next round. Which of the two flies do you have more confidence in? Rounds are weekly in March and End Thursday nights at 11:59. Mark from the Fly Fishing 97 Podcast and I will be doing a recap of the matchups and preview of the new matchups of the winners. Listen weekly to hear what we got going on and what flies will move on. Check your brackets often!

The first question that popped into your head, like mine, was: How the hell are you going to compare a Comparadun and a Prince nymph? The short of it is, I’m not. It’s 100% subjective to the voter. The fly with the most votes moves on to the next round. So, it’s actually a democratic vote of confidence per fly match up. The essential question is: Which of the two flies do you have more confidence in? I am not picking winners nor am I saying that fly A is better than fly B, you are, along with 5000 other voters. The second question is: Which of the two flies does the fly fishing community have more confidence in? Votes will be tallied and whichever fly gets the most votes moves on to the next round until we crown a champion, “The Best Fly in the World” as voted on by random possibly highly unqualified people. 

Prizes awarded for perfect brackets! 


Guidelines

The scenario I paint for the matchup is simple… It’s a midsummer day (morning, afternoon, evening, night). You are on a western trout river. Your standing near the bank in ankle deep water while looking out at the river. You open your fly box. On the left side there is one fly, and on the right, there is the other fly. Which one are you more likely to grab and tie on first?

I know, I know, I know… But what about the temperature of the air? What about the temperature of the water? What about a hatch? Are there bugs in the water or in the air? What about the weather that day? Is it sunny or overcast? Is it pocket water or flats like the Henry’s Fork Ranch? I get it. I’ve been fly fishing for 25 years and I understand the variables and nuances. I simply can’t answer those questions because it would bias the results. The long and short of it is, it’s whatever you want it to be. Same with the flies. If I say a Pheasant Tail versus a Elk Hair Caddis, I’m really pairing up 100 possible combinations. Again, it’s whatever you want it to be. The Pheasant tail could have a beadhead or not. It could have a CDC collar or not. It could be size 10 or 20. It could be a jig head or non-weighted. It could be traditional or have a hotspot. If you open your fly box on the left and right side there are your favorite variations of those two flies: favorite color, size, style, shape whatever.


Future

This is meant to be fun. I am really interested in seeing the breakdown of votes for flies. I hope you are too. I have plans in the future to qualify voters before the voting begins. I think people who fish for a living (guides) should get more credit with their fly choices than myself who fishes often but not as much as a guide. Lastly, the guy who goes fishing with a guide or only gets out 8 days a year gets the least valued vote. Let me know what you think about that. I was thinking of implementing 3 choices – Fishes 50+ days a yearFishes between 50-10 days a yearfishes less than 10 days a year. Subsequently, there is a grade to the qualifying voter. “50+ day” people get a multiple of 2. “Fish 50-10” days get a single vote. “Fishes less than 10 days” get a .5 multiple on their vote. I think this will also help with achieving reliable data (best flies).  

Once you vote, don’t be afraid to post on social media and tell people what you got going into the next round. I think the bracket matchups will get more and more interesting round after round, week after week. Get your friends together and see who has a better selection. 

Big Thanks to Mark at The Fly Fishing 97 Podcast. Without his expertise in recording and producing podcasts this would not be possible. Also, the winner will get flies mentioned in this bracket tied by Mark himself. Checkout his other podcasts because he has some of the best fly fishermen in the world on there. Also, big thanks to the wives for allowing us to stay up late and talk about flies, fishing and for tying flies for you guys. Finally, if you tie these flies you know how long it takes to tie one. It only takes a second to lose your entire fly box. Protect your fly box, nets, fly rods and other valuable gear with Karmik Outdoors. Here is a little video about the value of our decals.

– Robert, Founder of Karmik outdoors, terrible fly tyer, only slightly better fishermen but still not great.