Training: Gym Rat The gym is a crucible to test yourself, both physically and mentally. It can also be a sanctuary from the madness of everyday life. But despite the many benefits the gym offers, it’s a contrived environment with limitations. Now’s the time to take what you’ve built in the gym over many months and get outdoors for sport-specific training as the season approaches. Technical skills are only built and refined in the real world. You can push too hard in the gym without the penalty of mismanaging hydration or overestimating your limits. Laying on the floor, dry heaving while tasting the blood in your mouth as friends applaud your effort doesn’t mean shit in the grand scheme. Go that hard in the backcountry, and you’ll become a statistic. Box steps only get you so far before you need to climb a mountain. Becoming proficient at rucking over broken terrain requires time and effort, demanding you assess micro-terrain for foot placements, counterbalance the weight on your back, and manage your fueling to provide an adequate cognitive function to navigate and arrive on time. No matter how determined I am in the gym, I know I can quit and walk away if it gets too difficult. Five miles deep on a training hike involves real commitment, providing insight into the effectiveness and inadequacies of your crisis nutrition plan that the gym never will. The only way to break your feet into new boots is by covering mile upon mile over varied terrain, under load, to ensure your footwear system is dialed. Long, grinding days enduring your mind’s continuous, often unwanted dialogue, coupled with dynamic weather, aches and pains, and poor sleep, best prepare you for the harsh realities of the mountains. Find adventure this summer by backpacking to a high lake, bringing only your primitive fishing kit to provide sustenance. Go to a new area, get lost, question your navigation, and walk unplanned additional miles. Spend a night out with limited resources like you would if caught overnight away from camp while sitting on a quartered bull, keeping the bears away. Document your lessons learned and go out again better prepared. The gym is foundational to building fitness and critically important, but it’s not the means or end if you seek adventure outdoors. Getting outside gets your mind right and ready for fall. I’m a gym rat and enjoy the convenience and immediate feedback it offers, but it’s merely one component of your preparation. It’s ok if your bench or squat declines as you prepare for fall. You’ll have plenty of time next winter to work back to your PR’s as you feast on venison and recall your grand backcountry adventures. Gear Locker: Grim Reaper Micro-Hybrid Broadheads I was nearing the end of a long day chasing bugles and didn’t think it would come together before dark. But just as that thought went through my mind, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. A bull had snuck silently down to a small creek 80 yards away and was drinking, unaware of us. One glance at him through my Swaro’s was all it took to determine he was mature. Swiftly moving to get a shot angle, I knocked an arrow and ranged him at 56 yards quartering away. Upon impact, he blew out of the creek bottom, up a small hill, and stopped broadside. Instinctively knocking another arrow, repeating “60 yards, 60 yards” to myself, I came to full draw and executed another shot. The second arrow hit the bull in the pocket on the opposite side of the first, and I knew he was done. Reviewing the arrow impacts while quartering up the elk, I was pleased but not surprised by the results. My Grim Reaper Micro-Hybrid tipped arrows had delivered me another mature bull. Photo Credit: Haakon Johnson Over the previous several years, these broadheads have cleanly killed three mature elk, an old Iowa whitetail, a mossy-backed Mule deer, and numerous other animals. Reviewing my notes days later, I discovered the total recovery distance on the three bull elk was less than 200 yards combined, all expiring within sight. I love to test broadheads in the off-season and have hunted with many different brands and models over the years. Overall, I’ve had good results, but I’ve rarely been completely satisfied and always sought something better. A few years ago, I decided to try Grim Reaper after a friend and successful archery elk hunter’s recommendation. Embarrassingly, Grim Reaper had not made it on my radar, so I was excited but measured during my testing. This year will be my fifth shooting Grim Reaper heads, and I’ve had nothing but positive results. Grim Reaper broadheads are made in Provo, Utah, and their quality is superb. Their broadheads are sharp, durable, accurate, and lethal. The Grim Reaper Micro-Hybrid features a 1 1/16″ cut -on-contact fixed 2-blade with two expandable blades that open upon entering with a total cut diameter of 1 3/8″. This combination provides great penetration and creates big wound channels and short recoveries. The Micro-Hybrid is accurate through my set-ups and flies well to 60 yards but loses velocity after dropping several inches. The decreased velocity is not an issue except for longer follow-up shots. To counter this, I carry two Grim Reaper Pro Series 3 blade expandables in my quiver. These two very different broadheads group well, providing me with a deadly combination and increased capability. The Micro-Hybrid sells for $44.99 for three hunting heads and one practice head which is a heck of a value in today’s shockingly high-end broadhead market. Archery and bowhunting are all about confidence, and you must believe in your broadhead’s ability to provide quick, clean, and ethical kills. Grim Reaper-tipped arrows give me that confidence when I execute my shot and send the arrow to its destiny. www.grimrepeaperbroadheads.com Courses: Backcountry Mission Planning Course Backcountry Mission Planning is 16 chapters, drawing on my 30+ years of mountain experience. It focuses on preparing you for the upcoming big game seasons and all backcountry travel, making you a more knowledgeable Student of the Game. Use code BARKLOW to receive 20% off an annual Outdoor Class membership and get access to all the courses available on the Outdoor Class website. www.outdoorclass.com The Closet: Med Kits Standing knee-deep in the snow, I couldn’t figure out where the blood was coming from. The Mountain goat I was skinning had been dead for an hour, and it was so cold that everything was frozen, including my hands. But the blood was fresh, so it was either mine or the animals. Standing up and stretching my tight back, I took in the rugged, wind-swept mountains. It was late afternoon on a short Alaskan winter day, and I still had a lot of work to do and miles to ski back to my truck. My blue fleece gloves were frosted as I rubbed my hands together, encouraging circulation. As I performed this action, rivulets of crimson blood dropped into the snow creating a stark contrast against the white ground. Like a casual observer, I squeezed my left hand into a fist and watched as blood flowed from my glove, coating the toes of my boots. Calmly, I determined I was the source of this life-giving liquid. Medical kits are critical for our health and safety when heading into the mountains. Your kit should be built to manage common ailments and injuries like headaches, allergies, diarrhea, lacerations, sprains, and broken bones. However, the knowledge to leverage the kit’s capabilities is just as important as the contents. Possessing tools like airways or tourniquets is not productive and possibly more harmful if you aren’t trained to use them properly. You must know the A, B, C’s of first aid, the signs and symptoms of cold & heat injuries, the effects of altitude illness, and the course of action to take if any of these present themselves in the field. You and your partners should take a basic first aid class or Wilderness First Responder course, keeping current. These courses help best leverage the contents of your med kit and its capabilities. But you can’t build a med kit for every contingency, and to do so creates a kit that burdens you and creates excuses to leave it at home. Training with and using your kit in the field will inform this reality, and the kit will slowly evolve into something workable. Just be sure and replenish what you use and check for expired meds and supplies before each season. I’ve found the best place to carry the med kit is in the Possibles Pouch. This way, it’s with other critical gear packaged for contingencies and is not left behind when dropping your pack to go on a stalk. Simply grab the Possible Pouch, strap it on, and go. Here are a few links to my Knowledge From Storms youtube channel providing a more detailed explanation of Possibles Pouches and Survival Kits. Survival Kits 1 Survival Kits 2 Survival Kits 3 Each person needs to carry their own med kit and be self-sufficient in case of separation from the group, like going on a stalk or heading to a water source. The kit also needs to be personalized to individual needs, like prescriptions, allergies, or personal medical issues. If a partner goes into anaphylactic shock from a bee sting or an Asthma attack, they need their Epi-Pen or inhaler in their personal kit. The med kit should be mandatory in your loadout and always be in your pack whether you’re headed out for the day or a month. It’s cheap insurance. Hopefully, you’ll never need it for anything other than minor issues, but if the day comes you need its full capabilities, you’ll be glad you packed it. www.unchartedsupplyco.com Media: Big Hunt Guys Podcast Trail, Brady, and I link up at GoHunt HQ and discuss preparedness for the backcountry and a story arc of my journey to Sitka Gear. The Western Rookie Podcast Brian Krebs and I talk about preparedness for this fall’s hunting seasons, some survival skills we should all possess, and how we should each define success for ourselves before stepping afield. Listen Here Live Events I’ll be at the following events in July, sharing time between the range, the Sitka Gear booth, Montana Knife Company, and Uncharted Supply Co. Stop by, and let’s talk about planning & preparation for this fall. Terry Peak, SD TAC, July 14-16 RMEF Mountain Fest, Aron Syder, and I will host an RMEF fundraising event Saturday night, 15 July, at Terry Peak, SD Brighten, UT TAC, July 20-23 The Word: Alignment Like a fat kid in the buffet line, our eyes and aspirations are often bigger than our stomachs. Sitting on the couch daydreaming of adventure and future success costs nothing; no pain, thirst, self-doubt, or punch in the mouth. But it’s often where the seed is planted for both epic adventure and crushing defeat. Trying to force your will upon the mountains and hoping for mercy is a fool’s errand. Trust me, I’m nothing if not stubborn, often at my demise. Wasted time, money, and seasons have all slipped through my fingers, thinking I could buck the system, beat the odds, and somehow pull off a win, knowing I wasn’t ready yet or deserving. Luck is certainly a component of any adventure, but as the slogan at 30 Seconds Out (www.thirtysecondsout.com) says, “Hope is Not a Plan.” For years I tried fruitlessly to kill a big Whitetail with my bow. I’d pick five days on the calendar based on “expert” advice and the moon phase, but the odds of success plummet when a warm front settles over your stands. Until I reassessed my goals and provided myself the time and flexibility by leasing a farm for 2-3 weeks, did I begin to find success. I hate e-scouting and researching new areas; it bores me and always falls to the bottom of my priority list. Yet, I thought I could randomly wander into the elk mountains and dig up a trophy bull every year. It didn’t happen because my actions weren’t aligned with my goals. Not until I spent the required time and committed more did my “luck” begin to change. Seeing a friend doubled over, incapacitated from acute mountain sickness, wondering how I’ll get him out of the mountains is sobering. Arrogance allowed us to believe we could travel from sea level to 14K’ while climbing 10K’ of semi-technical terrain in 12 hours and escape without issues. It didn’t happen and cost my friend dearly for his effort. Hubris kept me in this vicious cycle for years because I’d often pull something off, which affirmed my flawed process. Those moments of success, grounded mostly in luck, was enough of a bump to my ego to make me think I was competent and skilled. After getting my dick kicked in hard enough a couple more times, I’ve hopefully learned my lessons. Consistent success, however defined, comes when goals are aligned with reality. Are you experienced enough in the environment to live unsupported for two weeks out of a pack and kill an animal? Have you scheduled enough time to acclimate to the altitude you’ll be living in to stay healthy? Does the quality of the animal you’re looking for even exist in the unit, or are you pissing up a rope? Youth allows us these transgressions, but Damn! – did I ever waste time and opportunity along the way. Today, I’d rather have fewer trips or tags but more time to prepare and perform. My urgency to crush everything is not what it once was; the physical and emotional scar tissue a constant reminder. But my desire for success burns as hot as ever. Aligning reality and goals is not easy, but I know it’s the best course of action for consistent growth and accomplishment.