Knowledge from Storms: Wheel Book January 2024

Evolution of a Mountain Hunter

Photo: Haakon Johnson

Your left hip is completely worn out! The joint is bone on bone and full of arthritis. At this point, your only option is a total left hip replacement.

Well, F&%# Me! Images of old men using walkers and wearing velcro shoes, a handicap placard hanging from the rearview mirror of my easy-to-access Honda Civic, and shopping the grocery store in a scooter with a wicker basket on the front threatened to shatter my ego as the X-ray shined in my face. God Damn, I’m turning into Blue, I thought, the fictional, retired geriatric Navy Vet who got a new plastic hip before pledging the fraternity in the movie Old School. At least Blue got to go out in a blaze of glory, wrestling top-less co-eds in an inflatable pool of KY Jelly. What was my future?

As I walked out of the doctor’s office, I went through the five stages of grief in the two minutes it took to walk to my truck, getting stuck between anger and acceptance. Driving home, I admitted I’d beat myself up pretty good physically over the last 30 years and took a bit of twisted pride in knowing I’d worn out a few body parts by 54. I wouldn’t trade a day of the aggressive, adventurous life I’ve led to this point, but the big question was, could I continue to live it?

I decided that I would do everything in my power to help my situation, delay the surgery, and, when required, be in the best shape I could to recover quickly and get back into the mountains. The truth is, since turning 50, I’d been on a slow glide path into a black hole with aches, pain, ailments, and reduced physical capability. It was pissing me off. Until then, I’d always been durable, able to eat and drink anything, work with little sleep, and still perform at a high level. But in my fifth decade, that strategy needed refinement.

The first thing I did was to quit drinking. I’d played around the edges of sobriety a few times, quitting for 3 or 4 months when COVID locked us inside, but now I required more extreme measures. Hell, I’d been drinking at a professional level since I was 13, so it seemed like a good time to stop.

The second thing I needed to do was to get a grasp on my diet. Losing some weight would take the strain off of my joints and hopefully make my hip less painful and stiff. I don’t believe in diets per se. I think they’re bullshit, playing on people’s hopes and fears, and they usually crush most people like a stale cigar ground under the heel of your boot. The only way to fundamentally change is by restructuring your lifestyle and then having the discipline to stick with it long enough to create new habits.

My friend, John Dudley, had taken the Keto approach a year prior and gotten amazing results. Weight loss, energy, mental focus, and the ability to still move around the mountains successfully bowhunting. John and I are physically alike, so I hoped we would also be metabolically similar. I read quite a few books on the Keto lifestyle and its health benefits to get a broad overview, then began preparing for the transition. John and I both attended the Pope and Young convention in Reno, and I got some final lessons learned from him and the encouragement to give it a solid effort. When I left the P&Y convention last April, I committed and began my journey.

Now, I’m not a dietician, so don’t take everything I say here as gospel. But I intuitively knew the Keto framework would align with my metabolism and body type. I’ve never needed to eat a lot of food, no matter my output, and I’ve always been sensitive to carbohydrates. Nothing I’d done nutritionally to that point had ever moved me one way or another in regard to weight, so I hoped this would be the catalyst. I removed all rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, sugar, and alcohol from my diet. My carbs come primarily from green, leafy veggies that, luckily, I’ve always enjoyed eating. To help keep me accountable, I tracked my daily micro and macronutrients and total daily calories. I’m a geek that way, but I learned a lot about my eating habits. I also got blood work done just before starting as a baseline.

The first couple of months were an adjustment but went great. My wife and I both subscribed to the new lifestyle, so I didn’t need to make special food or abstain from certain meals. I played with meal plans and based them on how I felt both physically and mentally. I maintained my standard workout program and noticed I was getting stronger. This increase was probably due to my strength-to-weight ratio shifting in my favor. What I also noticed was how sharp I felt mentally. My mind was energized and firing on all cylinders. Finally, except as a baseline when I started, I didn’t weigh myself, as I thought it would be a distraction. Instead, I based my progress on how my clothes fit, quality of sleep, workout performance, and mental acuity. 

By mid-summer, I began training with a completely new Crisis Nutrition plan. My existing plan hadn’t changed much in a decade but now needed to be modified to provide the performance I required in the mountains within the new nutritional framework. I started with short day trips, then progressed to all-day efforts. I made a few tweaks, then headed out for an overnight trip, making sure I covered lots of ground like I would in September. I was also pleased by how well my endurance was while hiking with a 40-50-pound pack at altitude. 

While training my Crisis Nutrition plan, I was conscious of not only my physical performance but also my recovery and cognitive functions. One issue I had dealt with over the last four months was leg cramps, which can be a common issue with a low-carb diet. I doubled my Protekt electrolyte volume, paid attention to my water intake, and didn’t have any issues in the field afterward.



If you’ve ever bowhunted antelope, you know that it can be frustrating but a ton of fun. You can wear yourself out with long summer days and stalks from dark to dark. I hunted speed goats for 4 or 5 days in the August heat and felt great with consistent energy and focus. 

Before heading out for my first elk hunt, I weighed myself and discovered I’d lost 50 pounds in 6 months. My hip felt much better, although I knew my days of running ultras were over. I didn’t suffer from the chronic pain that had kept me up at night and the agony I experienced in the field over the last few years. Physical therapy and a smarter training plan had clearly paid off. I also think a byproduct of my refined eating and no alcohol provided reduced joint inflammation, lessening pain and increasing mobility.


I had a great fall hunting season, but it was a grind, as it should be. I had lots of close encounters but limited shot opportunities at mature animals. However, the opportunities the hunts did provide I took advantage of, executing technical shots late in the hunts. My mental clarity and focus were sharp, and I had consistent energy all day. 

With the full moon in early October, I had to maneuver into position several hours before first light to ambush a herd of elk who were moving all night and damn near in their beds at shooting light. I made a big play in the pre-dawn that just barely got me into position as the herd moved past my position. My shot was a bit low and back, and I knew it was a liver hit. So, with a clear mind, I had the discipline to sit down and wait 8 hours before taking up the blood trail and recovering the bull.

        Photo: Jay Beyer Imaging



Backcountry Mission Planning


Backcountry Mission Planning has 16 chapters and draws on my 30+ years of experience hunting the wilderness. It focuses on preparing you for the upcoming big game seasons and all other backcountry travel, making you a more knowledgeable Student of the Game. Use code BARKLOW to get 20% off an annual Outdoor Class membership and unlock all the knowledge on the platform.



Survival for the Modern Hunter

The Wild Sheep Convention 

Reno, Nevada, 18-20 January 2024

I’ll be presenting a Survival for the Modern Hunter seminar at the annual Sheep Show. My presentation will be on Saturday, 20 January, from 1-2 PM at the Reno Convention Center.

Whitetails started to occupy my mind as I returned from a successful hunt for an Aoudad ram in the Davis Mountains of Texas in mid-October. I was a bit concerned thinking about staying warm during all-day sits in November in a Montana river bottom. I was running colder than usual with my loss of body mass, and I was curious how I’d hold up and what I’d need to wear to confront the weather. Ultimately, I committed to my vetted clothing system and nutrition plan and was pleased with the results. I was able to sit all day in a treestand, sometimes in single-digit temps, wearing far less clothing than my hunting partners. I attribute much of this to my experience and trust in my 8-piece Whitetail clothing system. I also stayed engaged and awake throughout the day and didn’t get sleepy in the afternoons, which contributed to my success. 

Around 12:30 on day nine of my hunt, I heard a few grunts as a mature buck dogged four doe’s quickly past my stand. Having already ranged prominent landmarks, I picked up my bow, came to full draw, grunted twice to stop him, and placed a perfect arrow through his chest at 35 yards. Throwing up my binos, I watched him fall 100 yards away in the Cottonwood bottom as the noise of the river came back into my consciousness.

The modifications I’ve made to my lifestyle, training, and, most importantly, my nutrition have provided me with some great dividends. I know we all slow down with age, but I want to ensure as this natural progression unfolds, I take my own advice. It’s easy to be hard, but it’s hard to be smart!

I love hunting, skiing, and being in the mountains too much to give in this early. I know the hip replacement is inevitable, but how I manage the situation is totally up to me. I may slow down, but I intend to be in the mountains hunting for many years to come. It’s unfortunate that it took this long for me to modify my habits, but at least I did it. The rewards are still revealing themselves, and I don’t intend to give up the ground I’ve gained.

The path I chose is not for everyone, and yours may be different. What’s important is to not accept the status quo and to spend time finding your own solutions. Winter is the perfect time to review your lessons learned, update gear, modify training plans, improve shooting efficiency, and continue working on becoming the best version of yourself.

Happy New Year