Knowledge from Storms: Wheel Book June 2023 Entry

Training: Basics

Training the basics can be boring, repetitive, and feel like a waste of time. It’s hard work and not glamorous. It takes commitment and doesn’t come quickly. But mastering the basics separates the best and consistently successful from the rest. 

These fundamental skills are the building blocks of true capability. You’ll fall back on the basics in stressful and difficult scenarios, like accurately shooting your weapon from a poor position, starting a fire in a winter storm, or navigating back to the truck when you’re physically and mentally depleted. 

Ask anyone great at shooting a bow, baking a cake, or operating on a human’s heart how they achieved their proficiency. You’ll often hear that after they invested the time in the basics, they continued to train and refine them, seeking mastery. I know guys who are amazing with a pistol, and they all routinely dry fire, working on grip, sight picture, and trigger pull.

Regularly working in blank bale shooting, even throughout the summer, pays dividends in the fall. Being disciplined when practicing fire-building skills even in mild conditions prepares you for when the conditions suck and your backs up against the wall. Taking a basic first aid course is not redundant when you or a partner is injured in a remote location, and the A, B, and C’s of care are your lifeline to survival.

Nothing comes for free, and to be great at something requires a long-term and gradual progression. I’ve found it begins with and builds upon mastering the basics. Obsess the details, build fundamentals, and watch your capabilities grow. I promise it’s time well spent.

Gear Locker: E-Lams (ultralight) signal panel.

Struggling to breathe and unable to walk, Paul’s options were limited. He could sense the mountain lion’s presence and sometimes hear its soft pads in the pine duff, but the dark abyss swallowed up the predator’s form as it hunted my friend. 

Paul had ridden into the Bitterroot mountains a week earlier to archery hunt bugling bulls. Opening morning found him and his two horses fifteen miles into remote wilderness. An experienced woodsman, Paul embraced solitude and its associated risks and had decades of experience under his belt.

Living from a sparse camp, he was cautious of the large four-legged predators he knew shared the area. Over his first few days hunting, he’d encountered tracks of Black bear, Griz, and Cougar. 

Arrowing a great bull one crisp, clear morning, Paul broke down the elk, constantly checking over his shoulder for unwanted guests. Satisfied the loads were tied down and secured to his pack horse, he began the long journey back to the trailhead.

Quietly riding through the forest content with his success, Paul’s horse suddenly spooked, bucking violently, throwing him off the saddle. Hitting the ground hard on a downed log, he fought to catch his breath. Eventually, coming to his senses, he realized his two horses were gone taking his camp and kit with them. Trying to stand, Paul collapsed in searing pain. Fighting to breathe and staving off shock, he realized his inconvenient situation had become life-threatening.

Paul had no way to communicate or signal for help. Cell phones weren’t prevalent back then, and Sat phones were expensive. He was well off any established trails, and the chance of another hunter or outfitter randomly riding by was scarce.

For three torturous days, Paul endured hell as he dragged himself towards his truck. During his odyssey, he spotted a low-flying aircraft probably scouting for elk and once saw a pack string of hunters several hundred yards away but didn’t have the strength to yell out and no way to signal. 

Paul became aware of the lion’s presence on the second night of his ordeal. He later estimated the cat had stalked to within 20 feet of his weak, bleeding form before dissolving back into the night. Only divine intervention prevented him from not becoming the lion’s dinner that night.

After three grueling days of crawling and dragging his broken form, Paul got to the trailhead. Once at the truck, he drove 20 miles to the first homestead down the mountain before passing out. Doctors later diagnosed Paul with a punctured lung from a tree branch, a broken right arm, collarbone, and most of his ribs on that same side, along with a concussion and face lacerations. 

Modern technology has created a false security blanket for backcountry travelers. We assume we can communicate with electronic devices to anyone at any time, but this is far from the truth. Some places out West, even on major freeways, don’t have cell coverage, so communications deep in a valley are certainly unreliable and not guaranteed. 

Unfortunately, no matter how diligently we prepare, things can and will go wrong in the mountains. If you spend enough time off the grid, issues will arise that may raise the stakes. If you find yourself in a survival scenario like Paul, you must be prepared to manage it. 

A signal panel is a basic form of communication that marks your location. The military uses signal panels to assist aircraft in identifying troops on the ground, but they’ve not gained favor for backcountry hunting. A signal panel, however, could be the difference between being found and suffering for days like Paul. But let’s face it, the chances of getting into a survival situation are slim. Why would you burden yourself with something that you’ll likely never use?

I’ve found signal panels to be very useful while hunting. Modern camo is insanely efficient, and spotting your partner on a stalk can be almost impossible. Signal panels are a great way to flag a hunter into an animal’s location and mark the glassing knob for reference. I use a signal panel to mark my location as the spotter and as the hunter while stalking. 

I’ve used pieces of military VF-17 panels for years, but they are heavy and can’t be used at night for recovery by rescue pilots wearing night vision. The E-Lams signal panel solves these issues. At 2.6 ounces, the E-Lams Ultra-light panel doesn’t weigh you down. Its 2’x 3′ size is large enough to signal a low-flying aircraft and features a reflective border for pilots to locate you in the dark. 

A signal panel, mirror on your compass, and whistle are great basic ways to signal for assistance. These basic forms of communication are often overlooked in today’s high-tech world. But when we enter the backcountry, we must have a deeper bag of tricks to draw from for this primitive setting. Communication is vital when entering this arena, and it’s not always going to be a cell phone.

E-Lams Ultra-Light Panel:  $50.00



The Closet: The Puffy Jacket

I’d pushed too hard chasing the sunrise up to the ridge. I arrived just in time though to glass the basin at first light but had soaked my base layer top. The cold, steady breeze drove some urgency as I dropped my pack and pulled the puffy jacket from below the top lid. Throwing it on over my other clothing and optics harness, I could feel my body heat being trapped as I quickly zipped it up. 

Pulling on a wool beanie, I sat down on my small foam pad out of the wind, set up the tripod and spotting scope, and began looking for a bull to pursue. Within 15 minutes, my baselayer top was mostly dry, and I was warm and focused on the task at hand.

                                                 Photo Credit: Adam Foss

Puffy jackets are classified as Static insulation, built for periods when the user is not moving or generating much body heat. This layer serves a vital role within a technical clothing system and is designed to capture and regulate body heat as it radiates away. 

You want to be stingy with your body heat when outdoors because your metabolic engine runs off of food and water, which are limited resources in the backcountry. A puffy jacket helps leverage your body’s heat source to warm up and dry out and can save your life, staving off Hypothermia. These insulated jackets are not built for hiking or stalking, as the loft from the insulation and tight-knit exterior are intended to capture body heat and hold it, so, by design, don’t breathe well. 

Puffy jackets should be sized to layer over all other clothing, including your optics harness. Wear them at rest breaks, while glassing, around camp, or to supplement your sleeping bag. I carry a lighter & thinner puffy jacket in warm temps and a thicker puffy in colder temps, but I always carry one in my pack. 

Remember, anytime temps are cooler than your body, generally at 98.6 F, you give up body heat to the atmosphere and will become chilled over time. Because of this, I consider a puffy jacket part of my survival kit and don’t go into the mountains without one. If I have to spend an unplanned night out after quartering up a bull or get stuck in technical terrain waiting for daylight, a puffy jacket will help keep me warm to ride out the night.

Loft equals warmth, so if a static-insulated puffy jacket begins to lose its loft from moisture clumping the insulation, the jacket’s ability to keep you warm declines. Synthetic and treated down are the two best insulation choices for this layer. Synthetic is the do-it-all workhorse, excelling in damp climates without being babied, and is a great all-around choice. Treated down is lighter and more compressible than synthetic but is more expensive and finicky and can falter in consistently damp environments. 

Puffy jackets are not a fashion trend created by hipsters trying to look cool and legit in mountain towns. This critical layer is foundational to a technical clothing system and should be in everyone’s pack year-round. 

Down Insulated

Arcteryx Cerium Hoody $400.00

Kelvin Lite Down Jacket $379.00

Outdoor Research Helium Down Hoodie $279.00


Synthetic Insulated

Kelvin Aerolite Jacket $329.00

Patagonia Micro-Puff Hoody $329.00

Arcteryx Nuclei FL $299.00

Backcountry Mission Planning Course

My first online course with Outdoor Class is now available. Backcountry Mission Planning is 16 chapters, draws on my 30+ years of experience in the mountains, and focuses on preparing you for the upcoming big game seasons and becoming 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.








The Word: Style Matters

If I posted up long enough at the wallow, I would eventually catch a bull moving to water in the middle of the day. But the mere thought of that made my stomach churn. I had endless mountains to hike in search of an elk and didn’t want to waste the opportunity for exploration by posting up. However, it was late into the archery season, and time was running out but sitting water all day just didn’t align with my ideals. 

The elk had been silent with the unseasonable heat, but I knew they were around as I’d glassed up a few mature ones near last light. I could come back to this unit with a rifle in a few weeks, but I gave up rifle hunting 20 years ago as it didn’t align with my evolving style. 

Climbing to a good glassing spot during mid-afternoon, I started to doze off when a faint bugle drifted on the wind. Sure enough, a bull had come to the wallow I visited earlier that morning and was cooling himself off with a mud bath.

I didn’t get down to him in time before he wandered off but had a good idea where he went to make a play that evening. But ultimately, that was my last opportunity before the season ended. 

Our hunting style is an expression of who we are that evolves with experience and maturity. Our individual style exists outside of legal rules and regulations and encompasses more than selecting a technique or strategy. 

Style is probably more front of mind to me because of my several decades of alpine climbing, where style is often debated. The two basic philosophies being to either siege an objective and conquer Mother Nature by every means possible or seek success by one’s disciplined individual standards. The protagonist in alpine climbing risks life and limb to climb an objective based on their chosen style, making it a very personal and visceral experience. 

I seek the same experiences hunting the backcountry that I did alpine climbing, choosing to employ a style that satisfies my personal beliefs at the possible expense of more consistent success. Some hunters select trad gear, others compound bows, while others choose long-range rifles. No right or wrong exists, but conscious thought should be applied to your style.

Ambush, spot & stalk, and modes of transportation like horses, motorized vehicles, or on foot help in defining your style. Hunting style can also morph based on the environment, experience, species, and partners but should never compromise your personal ethics. 

If you’re less experienced, not in great shape, don’t have the time, or simply prefer a different experience, don’t cave to perceived pressures to hunt a certain way for fear of not being considered legit or cool. But expect to be questioned by those who don’t understand.

Unfortunately, folks get pressured into the style de jour and feel they have to hunt a certain way, say, public land deep in the backcountry with a certain weapon. If that’s your jam, have at it, but it’s not the only way. These are critical points to work out and discuss with your partners before stepping afield, as nothing will ruin a trip quicker than misalignment on a hunt’s style.

I’m looking for unique experiences featuring incredible vistas with a small, select group of humans. I’ve spent many nights alone in the mountains because I couldn’t find partners that I aligned with on hunting style. And although not always successful with a kill, I always walked away understanding more about myself, with the satisfaction that I didn’t compromise my ideals.