Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Revisiting My Goals from 2013 - How Did I Fare?

Everything seemed to hit me all at once a couple weeks ago. In fact, it felt like an implosion in my brain that left me feeling less than inspired to write. It took some solo hunting, backyard camping with my daughter, and watching some On Your Own Adventures online to get me fired back up. I thought it would be fitting to share with you all how my 2013 went. My 2014 goals are rolling around in my head, but in the meantime, here is what transpired in 2013. 

2013 Goals & Objectives for The SoCal Bowhunter
  1. Shoot at a 3D target range (or set one up). ~ I didn't make it out to a 3D range this year. Guess I have to REALLY focus on doing that in 2014.

  2. Get back into bowhunting shape and I don't mean just losing weight. ~ I totally succeeded with this one! Not only did I get back in shape, I kept the weight off during hunting season. That will give me an advantage for the 2014 hunting seasons, provided I keep working my tail off, lifting weights, and practicing at the range.

  3. Do more turkey and hog hunting. ~ While I did not get out turkey hunting, I made it out hog hunting a few more times and got closer than I have in the past. I ventured onto new public land, made some new friends and hope to get an arrow into one this year.

  4. Arrow a SoCal deer (pacific-hybrid or mule, I don't care). ~ This monkey is now off my back! I worked my tail off for the past few seasons to get close to a deer during the archery season and it finally happened.

  5. Spend some more time freshwater and saltwater fishing. ~ I made it out one time this year. Only once, but it was priceless as I took my daughter fishing for the first time. It was a great experience and I cannot wait to go more in 2014.

  6. Gain access to some new hunting areas. ~ I succeeded with this goal, too! I found some new area on my own and also some new areas with the help of some new friends. I am working hard to find some other areas available for deer hunting this next year where there are more deer, less hunters, and more opportunity.

  7. Save up for the 2014 Archery Trade Association (ATA) Show. ~ Yeah, this went downhill fast. While I wanted to go, my daughter's birthday is at that time and I didn't have the cash to go. No worries though. I am happy with my decision and will look forward to hearing from my fellow bloggers who are going.

  8. Spend more time taking good, quality photographs in the field. ~ I was sort of middle of the road on this one. I opted to take my Nikon into the field more, but split the time with my iPhone in regards to blog photos. It was very convenient for me to do that and worked well.

  9. Visit some product manufacturers factories or offices and get to know some of the people behind the scenes. ~ This didn't happen as most of the companies were only open M-F and I would have had to take time off of work to go do tour the facilities. Hopefully, sometime it'll happen, but it wasn't a priority.

  10. Teach someone new how to shoot a bow. ~ I didn't necessarily get to teach someone directly, but I was able to help a few people get back into archery or just answer some questions. It was great to be a part of that and now I hear more and more people locally are wanting to shoot. Alright!

  11. Volunteer for the 2013 Sheep Survey ~ I was a part of this and again we failed to see sheep, but it was windy as hell when we were out there. I did get to do a review on some gear and test my own will power. I plan on volunteering in 2014 and hitting up a different spot in hopes of seeing sheep!

  12. Apply for some draw tags and preference points. ~ I have thought long and hard on this one and want to do it, but really like the idea of doing DIY hunts, OTC in other states. If I had a steady flow of 'hunting cash' I'd probably apply more, but for now I will stick with what I can do in the moment.

  13. Continue to pursue out-of-state hunts. ~ Hunting Colorado spoiled me and I am planning on going back after elk in 2014. I am also planning on hunting in a Midwest state or heading back to NY to hunt with my family. I just haven't decided on which yet.  
Did you have any goals for 2013 and did you achieve them? Please share and if you have any ideas, suggestions, or challenges, too! I would love to read about them.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Labral Tear and Corrective Surgery (in Latin - Oldicus Farticus)

A few months back I was having some serious hip discomfort. It was more of a dull ache that wouldn't go away. After some tests, X-rays and an MRI I was told I had a cyst caused by hip dysplasia and a torn labrum. You can read the thrilling information here. I was also informed that I would likely need surgery to correct the issue. I wasn't too thrilled at the prospect of four weeks on crutches and then three-four months of physical therapy. I wanted to be ready for hunting elk in the Fall, but I also wanted to fix it if it needed it. I was at a crossroads.

Yesterday, I had a consultation with an arthroscopic surgeon and she gave me some good news. While my labrum is torn, and my ball joint has too much bone and needs to be shaved down, I don't need to have surgery right away. She went through the motions of testing my flexibility, hip rotation, and checked to see if I was in any pain. Now, there is a very slight ache everyday, but on a scale of 1-10, it's about a .2. Yeah, not too bad and it's something I have dealt with for over 12 years. While I shouldn't wait more than a couple years, as long as the hip is working, I am good to go. She seemed impressed that I can run 4 miles a day and my hip isn't sore afterward. Heck, even I am impressed.

My hip only hurts when I twist and turn the hip, like getting in and out of my car or squatting down. I guess my CrossFit competitions and medicine ball training will just have to wait (that's sarcasm for you folks).

The prognosis is that the labrum will not heal itself and I will need to have surgery before too long. If I don't, there's a chance that I would need a full hip replacement in the future. Yeah, I am not into that prospect right now. My plan is to have the surgery in a couple years, so long as it's not bothering me. If it hurts, well then, I am headed for the OR as soon as possible.

Now that I have taken care of getting it looked at I can plan my elk hunt, whitetail hunt, or any other hunt I want to go on this year. I plan on a few hog hunts on public land and possibly going out of state for whitetail. I have a few opportunities in hand and just need to decide on what I want to do (and what my bank account says I can do). I am thankful I don't need immediate surgery, especially this time of year. Here's to staying healthy and hunting hard in 2014!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

2013 Gift Guide for Hunters

My brain has been flooded with ideas for my 2013 Gift Guide. There are so many cool new toys, gadgets, apparel, and quality merchandise out there for hunters. There are more than enough items on my list and many I have reviewed over the past year or two. Believe me when I say I know how difficult it can be for someone to have to buy a gift for a hunter. I am one of those difficult hunters to buy for! One, I feel I have everything I need for hunting and I really can't think of anything I want to have someone else buy me. The second reason is that I am very picky when it comes to my gear. I know many of you face the same dilemma and I am here to help.

There are quite a few items on this list. I decided this year to add in a great many items to give you all some variety. Some of you may want gear, some may want food, and some may want to read books. Overall, I think you will all be able to find something worth giving to your special hunter this year.

Schnee's Wilderness Boots - Some of the best hunting advice I have ever received was that in preparation for any hunt, I should always take care of my feet. Hunting should be fun and full of adventure, and not worrying about constant foot anguish. Always take of your feet. Remember that because at $319.00 a pair, the Wilderness boots are not inexpensive. Made in Italy, they have superior construction, are tough, waterproof, and insanely comfortable. I would recommend these boots to any bow hunter looking for a pair of all-terrain boots that will last them for years. I use these boots on nearly every hunt I go on, cold weather or hot.

SuperFEET Insoles - When you are hunting, blisters, swollen arches and bruised bones are the LAST thing you want to be thinking about because they will totally ruin a hunt. On my elk hunt last year, my boots performed great, but the bottoms of my feet suffered because I didn't have the right insoles and my feet paid the price. Plus, my bones took a mean bruising from the punishment of the Rockies. Not this year my friends! I have been using the SuperFeet merinoGrey insoles and my feet are the happiest they have ever been! They retail for $45.99 and let me tell you, I am putting these on my Christmas list! I need a few more pair!

Wildlife Tags – Does your hunter have a mount that needs a little something extra? Wildlife Tags are great for showing off who took the animal, when they took it, and where. Prices for each Wildlife Tag are very reasonable. The 3"x2" retails for $9.99, and both the 4"x3" and custom tag are $14.99. Wildlife Tag donates one dollar ($1) of each tag purchase to Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry in support. What a great way to give back to the community!

TightSpot Quiver – This quiver will be the last quiver you buy.  Each one is solid, adjustable, and the warranty is unbeatable. For $162.95 they are worth the money. I own one for each bow I own, but if you wanted to use one quiver, you could swap them from bow to bow by simply adding a mounting kit to the second bow.

JetBoil Cooking System and Mountain House meals – Do I need to say more? I love my JetBoil and I love Mountain House meals for backcountry hunts and even on day trips. Having a warm meal on a cold day will do wonders for you! Especially the Beef Stroganoff! The JetBoil retails for between $75-100 and you can find deals if you look hard enough.

HHA Optimizer Lite Ultra Archery Sights - Most gear options I usually leave up to the bowhunter to choose, but this time you will be safe in getting a single pin sight from HHA Sports for the bowhunter in your family. They just won single-pin sight of the year for the 10th straight year from Bowhunting World Magazine! The HHA Optimizer Lite Ultra single-pin archery sight mounts easily, can be adjusted to suit your needs, and when utilized properly will have you shooting some of the tightest groups ever! It has dramatically affected my shooting style. Quality products like this are worth every hard-earned penny. You can count on quality craftsmanship, solid construction and a well-performing single-pin sight that has certainly increased my confidence on the range. This is one archery product I highly recommend to any bowhunter looking to increase their ability of consistently hitting the center of your target.

Western Hunter and Elk Hunter magazine subscription – A couple of great magazines for any hunter. There are excellent gear reviews, hunting stories, and tips that will make you crave more. Plus, you get to read about some amazing adventures as you plan out your own. You can get a year of both for $29.99. What a steal!

RZ Mask - In the hunting application I think the mask works very well, fits comfortably, but it does have a relatively steep price tag of $34.95. The benefits are that you do get three filters with the mask. When you consider the filtering and fit you get what you pay for. Plus, you don't have to clean any oily residue from waxy paint from your face.

Badlands Packs – If you want the best built, most comfortable packs on the market, then pick up a Badlands pack. There is a pack for every hunter in their arsenal. I own a few of their packs and use them for different hunts. My favorite is the 2200 as I have found it to be the most versatile pack I have ever used.

MINOX Optics – These might seem like the priciest item on the list, but they will save you miles of walking and strain on your eyes. You can expect quality German glass, with an emphasis on quality.

Piranha Bowstrings - Take the time to get the bowhunter in your family a new set of strings they will love! Eddy is one of the best string builders out there and the quality of his strings is excellent. More often than not, bowhunters fail to replace their strings in a timely manner. This will be a gift that keeps on giving!

Jerky from House of Jerky - This was all perfectly dehydrated and flavorful meat. I would recommend their products to anyone, especially outdoors men and women. Why? Beside the fact that it tastes great and is good for you, it packs extremely well and is great snack. The recommended serving size is one ounce. I think that should be changed to "Serving Size: One Bag."

Hi-Country Wild Game Jerky Seasoning – Have a hunter who likes to make their own jerky? These spices are top notch and full of flavor and kick. I liked it so much I am going to give some other Hi-Country Jerky Seasonings a try. At $8.29 a kit you can't go wrong. You don't need to be a psychic to see that there will be plenty of tasty homemade jerky in my future.

KoolerGel™ - Now why would I put KoolerGel on a list like this? Probably because I use it each and every time I go out hunting. I have saved hundreds of dollars from not having to buy extra ice for my hunts. You can buy Kooler Gel directly from Trophy Bag Kooler, LLC, or from one of the retailers listed on the TBK website. For under $10 you get a six pack. Trust me, it's a sound investment.

Camp Dog Cajun Seasoning - Papa Scott sells it in different sizes and offers other products on his site. The 8 oz. canister of original Camp Dog Seasoning sells for only $7.50 and that seems like a steal to me. That's the one I bought. Like I said, a little goes a long way and this stuff is great. Everyone I know that tries it loves it! Be sure to get some!

Grand Trunk Hammock - If you are planning on hiking into the backcountry, or just taking the family out for a picnic, leave the sleeping on the ground to the critters and enjoy the luxury of resting in a Grand Trunk Parachute Nylon Double Hammock. The Grand Trunk Double Hammock retails for $64.99 from their website and I believe that is more than reasonable.

Six Nutrition Vitamins - A 30-day supply of the SIX Nutrition Vitamins for Men costs $59.95. Considering it is six pills each day in a convenient pouch, and the fact that they worked well for me, I will say that's a good price. Better yet, buy the three month supply and save $30 or so. Keep in mind the guarantee, but I am going to bet you won't need that.

HuntingGPS Maps - The investment is worth it in my opinion. $99.99 gets you the map on an SD card. $129.99 for the BaseCamp download, but one of the best is the maps for Google Earth. To me that is worth not venturing onto private land, getting a ticket or being shot at. Check out their website for more details on the mapping software and how it can work for you.

The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli - Most of you will be pleasantly surprised when you read this book. By the end you will feel like Willie and Uncle Mark are part of your extended family. I am not going to give all details away here, but I highly recommend picking up a copy. While it started off slow for me, the meat of the book and the ending were thought provoking, powerful and entertaining. It'll give you insight into the mind of a vegetarian-turned-hunter, the inner battles one has to address and the highlights of some great dynamics between friends and family. For $12.99, how can you go wrong!

Last, but not least… Arrows - a bowhunter can never have too many arrows. Enough said and happy shopping!

Monday, December 9, 2013

I Finally Filled a Southern California Deer Tag!

It's been seven long years for me. Seven years of hunting hard for Southern California mule deer and I finally put my tag on one. My legs have walked many miles and my friends and I have driven many miles in search of Southern California mule deer. Plenty of scouting, scouring maps, and making phones calls to find the right spots holding deer. I am proud to say it has been an adventure-filled journey.

Before I go into the story of my hunt, I must say thank you to my buddy Steve. We haven't seen each other in a few years, but Steve was the only guy willing to help a new-to-California bowhunter seven years ago. He helped show me the ropes, review licenses and tags, and took me out hunting out here. I learned a great deal from him and I owe him a great deal. Thank you for helping me out, Steve. I greatly appreciate it!

Now for the story! Solo hunting is something I have learned to appreciate. While hunting with someone is ideal, as I love to share the experience, solo hunting offers solitude and a self-reliance that cannot be matched. My hunt on Sunday was a solo effort and a cold one at that! When I arrived at the trailhead, the temps were around 30 degrees prior to factoring in the wind chill. I figure that the temps were ranging from 19-30 degrees all morning. It was so cold that as I was I hiking in, my water bladder had ice crystals coming out and then the ends froze. I wasn't able to get any water out until I warmed up the end. Crazy!

A few weeks ago, Brett and I were in this spot and we had set up on opposite sides of a valley in hopes of glassing up a deer. On our way in, we noticed fresh tracks and that we had just missed a few deer moving across the ridges to where Brett was setting up. With that knowledge, I decided to set up where Brett had been sitting. The wind direction was perfect for hunting that spot, but it was blowing right in my face and incredibly cold!

No sooner had I set my backpack on the sand when I noticed a dark shape out of the corner of my eye. A hundred yards below me was a doe feeding away from my location. She was heading into the wind, but walking very slowly.  I was amazed that my planning was working out the way I had hoped. So for the next ten minutes I watched her slowly feed through the draw. She kept whipping her head back and forth as if to try and shake something off her ears. The wind was biting cold and it was blowing right in her face. As she continued to feed, she neared the bottom of the draw and had to make a choice. The draw meets the main canyon floor and could either go left, toward some seriously thick brush, or right and come up by two other draws. Every time I had seen deer in this area, they always went left and deeper into the canyon. As I mentally prepared to start hiking around the hill and into the vast brush, she surprised me and took a right turn and walked right up over the ridge need to me. It was game on!

As she fed into the brush in the next draw, I couldn't help but notice how slow she was moving. She wasn't injured as far as I could tell, but she seemed different than the other deer I had seen all season. As soon as the doe wandered into some thick brush I made my move. I skirted the hillside, keeping her in sight, and dropped over the backside. My plan was to circle the backside of the hill, come around the base and set up in ambush by the second draw I figured she would cross. The wind was gusting in my face and I knew I could do it. I also knew that while she was moving slow and I had a good chance at this coming to fruition, I should not delay. The draws were not very large and I would need to be in place before she got there.

Off I went down the backside of the hill and down a well-worn deer trail. As I found solid footing, the draws came into view. I stopped and scanned the perimeter and did not see the doe. I still had time to get into position, but I needed to be patient. (This will come into play later.) My mind went into tactical mode as I saw the top of the brush where the deer was and viewed my potential ambush spots. With the wind still gusting in my face, I slipped in behind an old scrub brush. I scanned the area and figured she would have to cross over the ridge and I estimated it would be the one 30 yards in front of me. Then I waited.

I didn't wait long, maybe a minute (seemed like 10 seconds) and she crested the ridge. I was standing upright and she paid me no attention. 'Odd,' I thought. Most of the deer I had located here would spot me and try to stare me down. Again, she was moving slow, shaking her head, and I could tell she was cold. Heck, I was cold! My core was warm as my Icebreaker base layers did their part, but also my Badlands apparel had me feeling protected from the wind. The wind was biting though and my neck, although I had a warm balaclava on, was getting chilled and it ran right down my spine. The worst part was that my hands were starting to turn hurt pretty bad from the cold, but I knew this was my chance and I had to tough it out.

Then it got interesting. As if on cue, the doe wandered in and stopped at 30 yards, broadside, right behind a dead bush. As soon as she took two more steps I had a perfect broadside shot. Then my patience was tested as the doe pawed the ground and bedded right down in front of me! She was a mere 30 yards away and I had no shot! I had no protection from the wind and my hands were turning to ice. I found it humorous though. Here I was with a perfectly planned ambush (at least in my mind) and I was being tested again. Could I be patient long enough to get a good shot on this deer and fill my tag?

The doe curled into a ball, her head on the opposite side of my location and rested. During the next twenty minutes, I slowly worked my way into a shooting lane. Each time the wind gusted, I slowly took a step. On my third step I was getting a bit too confident and my foot brushed a small weed. It's amazing how darn loud the leaves on a single weed are when the wind stops blowing. The wind had stopped at that moment and my goof sounded like frozen, brittle piece of plastic being crumbled under my boots. I felt that my hunt could be over as I looked up to see the doe come to full alert, but she stayed bedded. I stood there for nearly a minute, left leg bent and the quads on my right leg were burning from holding my weight up. The doe then curled back up. I knew I would need to be more careful and I kept telling myself to be patient.

Twenty minutes later I was in an open shooting area. I ranged the deer at 25 yards and felt very confident, perhaps a bit too confident. I could make this shot. Now I would just have to wait her out. That would prove to be easier in mind than body as my hands began feeling the stinging needle jabs of being too cold as I held my bow. For nearly a half hour I stayed perched on the hillside patiently waiting. I tried warming my hands in my pockets, but them temps were in the mid 20's and I will be honest, I was cold.

Just as my release hand was warming to where I could feel my fingers, I conjured up a plan. I searched the ground for a rock. I was going to throw it over the does head in the hope that she would get up and I'd have a broadside shot. The plan sounded great in my head, but this is where I failed the deer. I picked up a rock and as I stood up, the doe turn and sat upright. I was slightly uphill and had a view of her side and knew I could make the shot. At this point, my hands couldn't wait too much longer. She looked away. I placed the rock in my pocket and drew my bow. As I settled in, anchored and focused, the doe did exactly what I didn't need her to do. She lay back down just as I released my arrow. I watched in horror as my arrow hit much further back than I wanted. The doe got up and walked to the opposite side of the canyon and stopped. I ranged her at 44 yards, nocked another arrow, and just as I was going to draw for a second shot, she slowly walked down deeper into the canyon.

My heart felt heavy. Incredibly heavy. I prayed and asked God to give her a swift death. I was not in good spirits as I did not want an animal to be suffering at my hand. Knowing that I did not want to bump the doe, I slowly crept up and found my arrow. Then I wandered to where she had been standing and found a pool of blood. Not the large pool I hoped for, but it was blood and I knew I needed to back out. I took a quick glance down the canyon and saw no movement, so I backtracked and headed up to my pack.

I decided that I would grab my pack and hike high on the hill to glass the canyon floor and the brush in hopes of locating the bedded doe. After glassing for an hour with no luck I made another plan. It was still very cold and I wanted to give the deer more time. I knew I needed to wait. So, I packed up and hiked the mile back to my car. It was a very long mile. I am sure you other hunters know the feeling and have had the thoughts I did as I took step after step. I should have been overjoyed, but I was not.

At the car, I emptied a few things from my pack in the hope that I would find the deer and need room to pack her out. I also decided to make myself a warm meal and have some coffee. The wind kept blowing out the flame on my JetBoil, so I had to light it inside my car. It was so cold that after boiling water and making oatmeal and coffee, I set them down for 20-30 seconds to move some things around. In that time, my coffee went from hot to lukewarm. Another few seconds and it was the coldest cup of hot coffee I had ever had. The oatmeal was warm and that gave me some satisfaction. Then I felt something in my pocket. I reached in and there was the rock I was going to use to get the doe to stand up. A subtle reminder to what could have been had I followed my instincts.

As I hiked back to the spot where I found blood, I checked my watch. I had waited three hours and the temperature had only risen to 34 degrees. It was time to start tracking. One of the things I take great pride in is being able to track. My dad taught me to look at everything and watch your step. Always look ahead of you before making that step. I cannot tell you how many times I heard my dads voice telling me to slow down, look at all the foliage for blood and look ahead. Then I saw it. One small drop of blood on the smallest leaf around. I looked ahead and saw another. I glanced up the canyon and saw nothing. I took a step and found another and another until one deer trail became two and I lost the blood trail. Which way had she gone? As I contemplated and searched for fresh tracks I saw her. She was dead not ten feet in front of me behind a dead bush. I thanked God and then looked back up the trail. She had died not 30 yards from where I found first blood. She only went 75 yards after the shot.

Instead of being elated, I was somber. Sure I was happy at finally arrowed a deer in Southern California, but I was also sad for the deer. I had taken a life in order to feed myself. I think part of it was hunting alone and I am thankful I was able to experience that. I live for the hunt and it had taken me seven very long years to punch a tag. Again, I prayed and thanked God for her. I thanked the deer for her sacrifice and said I was sorry. Not sure if I have ever done that quite like that, but I indeed felt sorry for any anguish I put her through. As I began to move her, I noticed something about this deer that made me think I was meant to take her. She was old, thin, and looked somewhat sickly. To give you a mental picture, I was almost able to move her by grabbing her spine. Yes, she was THAT thin. Her ribs were showing and her muzzle was worn. As I checked her head, I found the culprit of her constant head shaking. She was covered in deer lice. Her neck hair was very thin from scratching and the lice had taken over. I felt bad for this old girl and was thankful I was able to take her out of the herd. I filled out my tag, attached it to her ear and then took some photos.

I deboned her in the field and took all of the meat. She was so thin that her loins were concave. I was saddened, but thankful to have fresh venison. The crows were circling and squawking at me as I packed the meat and head onto my Badlands 2200. The weight of the pack felt good as I made my way out of the canyon. Hiking back to my vehicle was better this time around, but my glutes were feeling it. I put the meat in the cooler and sat down. I was tired. I rested for a bit and then made the drive to get my tag countersigned.

As I reflect on the past seven years, I am super thankful, and increasingly grateful to those who have supported me and continue to do so. We have been through much together. To me, each of those six tag-soup years was a success because I was out there hunting hard and enjoying it. This year I was blessed to fill my deer tag and right now I am going to let that sink in for a bit.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Late Season Southern California Bowhunting

By the end of November, most of the California deer seasons have ground to a halt. A few options remain for the archers who may have drawn one of the coveted either-sex tags that are good until the end of the year. There are other options for late season hunting, such as bear, pig, coyote, turkey, etc. While it is tough to fill a tag in SoCal, there are plenty of game animals to hunt.

In regards to hunting deer in the late season, you have to consider what has transpired over the past couple months. The regular archery season is over and rifle season has just ended, so the deer are scattered and on edge. You have to think smart and remember that while some tactics might remain the same, many others will be escalated.

The rut tends to begin late in Southern California and that can be a factor in finding a good buck. Finding a buck chasing a doe can be difficult, but it does happen and if you are ready, you can get in front of the deer for an ambush. The great thing about the late season tags is that they are good for a buck OR a doe. I would be happy with either one in my freezer. Remember that even though the deer may be rutting, many will still be on high alert from having been hunted so hard the month prior. You will still have to be stealthy.

Playing the wind should always be the number one thing on your mind. Face it, you stink and to a deer that used its keen sense of smell to locate predators, you will get busted early if you ignore this. You can wash your clothes in scent-free soap, spray down in cover scent, and use scent-free deodorant, but you know what? You still have an odor that a deer can smell. Try to come at the deer from downwind.

The weather has now changed from the 100 degree early season to being downright frigid in the late season mornings. You have to dress appropriately for the weather! All while trying to stay quiet, keep scent down, and be stealthy. It's a challenge. Here's the other factor; the weather may stay cold all day or it might warm right up to 90 degrees later in the day. How do you prepare? Layers! You have to wear layers, but you have to carefully plan out how you will wear them. If the area you are headed, like mine for example, is going to be 30 degrees at 5:00 AM and 85 degrees by 1:00 PM, you need to have ample layers to stay warm, but also lighter layers for mid-day. I know my hike in is going to be 2.5 miles and I am going to get sweaty. I don't wear all of my heavy clothes when I leave the parking lot. Instead I pack them. I wear in my base layers and maybe one other layer, but nothing more. When you leave the parking lot, you will probably feel cool, but trust me when I say that after 15-20 minutes of hiking your body will warm up. You might sweat a bit, but it is better to sweat into one layer of clothing than into ALL of your clothing and have to drink more water as a result. Once you arrive at your destination, allow your body to cool down a bit before adding the heavier clothing. Take off that base layer and let the wind air-dry it quickly. Once you start to chill down, put it back on along with your second layer (shirt or pullover), and then your jacket or coat. This will keep you warmer and will keep your human scent down. As the day grows warmer, you can lose an article of clothing here and there to stay comfortable. It might take a few trips to get the hang of it, but you’ll figure out the best plan for the area you hunt.

Also, pack and drink plenty of water. I have seen multiple hunters on the trail with a single bottle of water for a six-eight hour hunt. Even the colder weather will suck the water out of you, so drink plenty of it and drink often.

The most important factor is to just get out there and have fun hunting. Be safe, think ahead, and be persistent. Not many people get the opportunity to hunt mule deer so late in SoCal and it's something you don't want to let go to waste. Best of luck out there!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Exercise Regimen - for Bowhunters and the Like!

After the second helping of turkey and gravy, third piece of pie, and then a night cap with family, it's now time to relax, right? I know that a few continuous days of this will lead to lethargic behavior and a desire to make best friends with the couch. Don't allow yourself to get sucked into that mindset! While I am not an expert, I am going to offer up a few ideas to help keep you honest with your body and with keeping fit through the holidays. Not only for keeping fit, but many friends and family plan on hunting the day after Thanksgiving and you want to enjoy it, right?

Each week prior to Thanksgiving, my fellow bowhunters (and others) tell me that they are going to eat anything they want and get back on track January 1 and lose all the weight they gained. Why do that to yourself? I'll be honest, I love to eat. I do. But I also hate feeling overfull and tired after the Thanksgiving meal. Here are some tips you can follow to not only enjoy the meal, but get out and hunt the day after without feeling so sluggish. I plan on hunting the next day!

Take a walk or go running Thanksgiving morning. My wife and I participate in the Long Beach Turkey Trot 5K race every year on Thanksgiving morning. We burn off around 600 calories and get in the mindset that working out and staying healthy feels good! You can go to a local park and walk, hike a forest trail, or bike someplace fun. Just do something active PRIOR to the meal!

Bring storage containers with you to the meal. As crazy as it sounds, my dad got me hooked on this years ago. I used to gorge myself on the meal because I knew it would be a year until I had more. But why do I have to wait that long? Just bring some of the meal home with you and enjoy it for a couple days.

Drink plenty of water before and with your meal. It'll help you feel fuller, faster. Plus, you will begin to digest the meal better.

Put the salt away! Who needs high blood pressure when you want to relax. Plus, if you are planning on hunting the next morning, you'll want to avoid all of that extra sodium. I am sure there will be plenty in the other food served.

Don't go back for seconds! Don't go into a tryptophane stupor and put a second helping in your mouth just because it tastes great. If you are full then stop eating. Best advice is to wait twenty minutes or so and then decide if you really are hungry or if you are full and just want to eat it because it's good. You are going to want to save some room for pie, right?

Plan on an after dinner walk. Just a walk folks. Don't go crazy and plan on strenuous exercise. It's not goof for your heart. Plan to go for a nice family walk and burn some calories and get the metabolism going a bit faster.

Be grateful for the Thanksgiving meal and don't be a glutton. My wife and I tell my daughter every year to remember that there are thousands of people going without a meal or eating far less than we are today. Don't get sick on your meal, be thankful and enjoy it. Enjoy your meal, but consider all you are blessed with before acting like pack of meat-crazed wolves on the hunt.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Southern California Deer Hunting Turns Cold

Driving to our hunting location at 4:00 AM on Saturday was much better than the normal 3:00 AM, but it was met with chilly air that turned colder as we neared the mountains. Brett monitored the temperature gauge and we laughed about it being colder than normal and hoped we had packed warm enough clothes. When we parked, we noticed raindrops forming on the the windshield. Once outside the vehicle the wind was gusting 10-15 mph and it was cold! We knew we had a decision to make; hike into our spot in the rain and have the wind in our faces for an our before sunrise, or relax in the truck for another 45 minutes and then hike in and stay a bit warmer. We opted for the second as we have been up here with the wind before and it was not pleasant.

After a 45 minute nap, we hit the trail and took our time as to not get too sweaty. Our plan was to glass a valley that normally doesn't get seen much. Brett would take the far, high side and I would hike down the backside of the hill, into the valley, and up the other side to stay out of the wind as much as possible. Brett and I noticed fresh tracks in the rain-soaked sandy trail and thought it looked promising. As I hiked around the hilltop, I noted two more sets of tracks and these were extremely fresh. So fresh that I thought I may have spooked deer right to my partner. I followed them until they reached a drop-off point, but saw that they were headed for Brett's location. I had high hopes!

I dropped my pack and began glassing before I made my descent. I saw nothing and knew I needed to drop down and get out of the wind. As I made my way down the hillside, I noticed some great features in the brush that would hid the largest of bucks. It actually made me smile knowing that we could be sitting right above a legal buck and never know it if he just stayed put. Hunting to me is about the experience and the adventure. The meat in the freezer is the bonus.

Once I finally reached my spot, I knew it would be a difficult sit. I was in a good spot for a shot for any deer thay came down the valley or was skirting the hillsides, but I couldn't get out of the wind like I wanted to. That being said, I still put my neck gaiter on and tried to get comfortable. Finding a good seat on a steep angle of rock proved to be difficult. I was finally able to get somewhat comfortable and began glassing. Brett had hidden himself well on the hillside. It took me a minute to find him. For an hour and a half we sat and saw no deer. Brett located a nice rabbit near my location, but nothing else.

We met up and decided to drop our packs, hit a side trail, and glass up a spot that was good last year. We glassed it and saw nothing. No movement, no deer backsides as they try to shield the wind, and no dark shapes on the far side of the valley. We figured it was time for breakfast.

Taking the time for breakfast was something we haven't done in a while. Normally, we'll just pack a sandwich, but we knew it was going to be cold. So out came the Jetboil, the coffee and hot cocoa, and the Mountain House Scrambled Eggs with Ham. As we enjoyed the hot beverages while the dehydrated meal soaked up the boiling water (sounds appetizing, doesn't it?), we talked strategy about the remainder of the day. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but we also knew if we kept moving, we would stay warm.

This was a great breakfast as we shared ideas for the remainder of the hunt.

After breakfast, we hit the trail and moved very slowly along a treeline. On a couple separate occasions, we have spooked deer and had them stop and stare at us. Not this day though. We saw nothing down below and saw only one set of fresh tracks, but they were headed in the direction we were headed. We were downwind and hopeful. Then the tracks disappeared up the mountain and we were back to square one.

We hiked a trail for the next two hours looking for sign, glassing, and checking out new ambush locations. By the time we had to head back we had some good options and had covered a good chunk of land to get there. We were pretty happy with how well our boots performed and how cold the winds were getting. We also watch snow dropping on the far away mountains. It was beautiful to watch.

On our way out, we noticed something that made us laugh. There were fresh tracks coming from a ridge line that crossed right over our tracks just an hour and a half before. A deer had come off the ridge we had walked by and the tracks were huge! We commented on how the deer were mocking us and we just had to laugh. The deer had evaded us yet another day, but that was OK.

We made short work of our hike back to the truck and realized we had hiked eight miles. It felt pretty good and we discussed elk hunting in 2014, knowing we would have to step up our game to get after the wapiti. At the truck, we began making plans for our next outing as Our season isn't over yet. We are just hoping for less wind and more deer next time!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

First Impressions: Strother Rush XT and Wrath SHO Compound Bows

After talking with local Strother Archery rep, Dave Diekmann, about the new compound bows, I just had to get out and shoot them. Up until this point I had never shot a Strother bow, even though I had been hearing good things about them for years. One of the main reasons is that we had no dealers down here willing to carry them. That kinda puts a damper on things! So we set a date and met up at Field Time Sports and Guns in Westminster, CA. I had been to FTSG once before when they first opened and were preparing to put in an archery range. Now that the range was up and running, I wanted to check it out.

First off, the folks at Field Time are good people. I had met the owner, Bob Wickes, a couple years ago and love hearing his hunting stories. I met Chris for the first time Tuesday night and really dug his personality. Asked all the right questions about my interest in archery and if I had been shooting long. When I mentioned 30 years of experience, he said he'd stop talking and let me shoot, but I insisted on hearing more. You see, I don't know everything and will never claim to. Chris sees these bows often and hearing his enthusiasm and impressions of the bows was great! Thanks for the guidance and enthusiasm, Chris! 

When Dave showed up on Tuesday evening, the range was packed! I wasn't sure we'd get a chance to shoot. He brought out the Rush XT and the Wrath SHO, both in Realtree Black. The bows looked pretty sick if you ask me. At first look, I thought the cable slide looked a bit odd and constricting. I even felt it might interfere with the shot a bit. The ZT Loc-N-Cradle limbs looked awesome and locked in secure, which I had never seen before. The Badger cams looked great and even had a stop on them to keep you from overdrawing the bow. Pretty nifty design.

First up to shoot was the Strother Rush XT set at 60#. The range is set up at 15 yards and the target in my lane was a pie plate. (I guess they know how much I love pie.) The weight of the bow is great and the grip fit into my hand very well.

The draw on the Rush XT is very smooth, has very little change in feel at the valley, and not much of a back wall. Overall, it drew smooth and steady, and I was able to anchor very comfortably. As a challenge, I opted to shoot for the very bottom of the pie plate to see how close I could get. The shots were very flat, fast, and there was no vibration in the bow. One cool thing I like about the Strother line is there isn't any limb vibration dampening, and there was no stabilizer on this bow. As you can see, the bow was not only set up properly, but with the HHA Optimizer single pin sight, I was able to nail the bottom of the pie plate.

Next, I shot the Strother Wrath SHO set at 70#. The bow grip felt a bit heftier than the Rush, but it wasn't an issue. I used the same arrows and shot at the same spot on the pie plate. I drilled the bottom of the pie plate with this bow, too. This bow has a tougher draw at 70#, but when it hits the valley it eases a bit into a hard back wall. You really feel it, but I didn't mind it. I noticed a little vibration in the riser when shooting, but the ATA is 30 3/16" and figured I might feel some. It's the shortest ATA bow I have ever shot. Overall, it performed well for a bow that short!

After shooting both bows, I was very happy with both. I REALLY like the Rush XT. The Rush has a shorter brace height, which I tend to be fond of, than the Wrath SHO. I plan on shooting both of them again and shooting the new bow that is rumored to be coming out soon. I want to really take some time with each bow. Have any of you shot the Strother line? Are any of you interested in shooting Strother? I am interested in what everyone thinks after shooting them. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Product Review: SIX Nutrition - Vitamins for Men

Growing older for a man usually leads to a quest for either getting a better body or going through a mid-life crisis. I am fighting the 'closer to 40' feeling by finely tuning my body and mind. For the past 30 days I have been working out and taking SIX Nutrition Vitamins for Men to see how they help me perform.

I do not like the gym. I despise the machines and being boxed in. I feel limited. Instead, I prefer exercising in the great outdoors. I do not like to run long distances. I am a naturally built sprinter and I used that to the best of my ability when playing rugby for twelve years. As I have aged, sprinting and running are not something I look forward to. With that said, I do enjoy the results they provide.

Back at the end of August, I began a training regimen to try and lose between 25-30 pounds and build up some strength and endurance. My wife is the runner of the family. She is the one who got me into trying out running and I am thankful for that. I started running, biking, hiking, lifting light weights and eating right. The biking and hiking was the easiest part and the running was the toughest. I was running a couple miles a day, a couple times a week. Throughout each run I was aching, tired, and miserable. I just did not have the stamina to keep pushing. I'll admit, even mentally I didn't feel up to the task.

When I began working out (two months prior to taking the SIX Nutrition supplements), I would run a couple miles and feel exhausted. Mentally, I was having to work hard to focus on my goals while running. I also noticed that my body would tighten up and at one point I pulled a tendon in my calf and couldn't run for a week. My back muscles would tighten and then I'd feel fatigued. When the opportunity came to test out the SIX Nutrition supplements, I figured why not. I had nothing to lose. So I began taking them.

Let me say that taking six pills sucks. Especially with that plastic coating that makes them float in your mouth. They were difficult for me to swallow at first. The package says to take them 30 minutes prior to working out or in the morning with 8 oz. of water. Taking them 30 minutes prior did not work for me. I like to workout first thing in the morning, so I opted to take them immediately AFTER I worked out. When I took them prior to running I felt like I was going to vomit the entire run. I hated that feeling. When I took them after my run, or the evening before my run, I didn't have that feeling and I felt great. I think the best benefit I had came when taking them the night before.

Officially, these worked great for me! Let me touch on the finer points of the SIX points.

  1. I noticed an increase in endurance. I went from running two miles in agony to running a 5K three times a week. Some days I pushed myself to 4.25 miles and felt great.
  2. Recovery: I was rarely sore throughout the 30 days and I worked hard to make myself sore. I ran, the next day I would bike twenty miles, then run again on day three, and then hike a steep 6 miles on day four. Then I'd repeat it in some fashion. I just didn't feel sore.
  3. Overall, I felt good. My joints that are normally very sore and achy did not feel anything like they did. After many years of rugby and being overweight much of my adult life, my knees get achy. They felt incredibly lubricated and loose while taking the supplements.
  4. Sex drive: I'll be honest - I never had a problem with that, even as I get closer to forty. The wife is going to love that I said that, but it's true.
  5. Strength and muscle were two things I honestly didn't think I'd see many results in, but I was wrong. My core is tighter, I feel stronger, and I didn't pack on pounds of muscle. I feel better now at age 38 than I did when I was 20. When I run, I can actually feel my core tighten and stay really strong, which helps me breathe better. A vast improvement!
They also offer a 90-day guarantee, too. Not just any guarantee, a 110% money-back guarantee:

If, after using SIX FOR MEN for 90 days, you don’t agree that it is the best nutrition program you have ever used, if you don’t feel more energy or experience better overall health in 90 days, we will return 110 PERCENT of your money! 
Remember my weight loss goal? I lost 39 lbs in 12 weeks. The testing of the SIX Nutrition came at the end of the 12 weeks, so it's a legit test. (This is not a weight loss supplement, but an overall supplement for a mans health.) This greatly improved my ability to stay focused and train hard when I was tired and my body felt shot. I have never had a supplement plan work well for me until I began using the SIX Nutrition supplements. It worked so well that I was able to not only keep up with my hunting partners on our last couple trips, but I was able to stay out ahead of them and I wasn't even close to out of breath. My muscles felt strong and I felt like I could hike for days. It was a wonderful feeling!

A 30-day supply of the SIX Nutrition Vitamins for Men costs $59.95. Considering it is six pills each day in a convenient pouch, and the fact that they worked well for me, I will say that's a good price. Better yet, buy the three month supply and save $30 or so. Keep in mind the guarantee, but I am going to bet you won't be needing that. 

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I received Six Nutriton supplements  for free from Six Nutrition as coordinated by Deep Creek PR an Outdoor Industry Public Relations Company in consideration for review publication. All opinions are strictly our own.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Orange Army and Staying Positive

Blaze Orange. You wouldn't believe the amount of blaze orange Brett and I saw last Sunday. We knew we would encounter some, but we must have run into 40 rifle hunters near our spot. It was good and bad. Good to know that if there are that many hunters there is land to hunt, but bad that we were the only archers. With a quick, 'Screw this, let's go to our other spot!', we hit the road and hiked in to our other spot.

Neither one of us were anxious to hike nine miles with all the orange because we knew with every orange hat or vest, there were probably five guys NOT wearing orange. We hashed out a plan to hunt the backside of a foothill that overlooks two canyons. We normally viewed this hill from about a half mile away, but we always saw deer on it. Today it was our chance to see what we could make happen.

We skirted below the ridgeline to keep from silhouetting ourselves and decided to start peeking over the edges. As I looked down one side, I immediately noticed an odd shape at the bottom of the ravine. Rifle Hunter! He was crouched down, rifle on his lap and not wearing any orange. Just as I told Brett, he turned to me and said, 'Two doe coming up the ridge!' Immediately, we went into hunt mode.

Brett backed up, dropped his pack and grabbed his bow. He backtracked around the hill to get in front of the deer while I stayed put in case they bolted. I watched as Brett made his way over the ridge about 100 yards away and sat down to glass. I also kept an eye on our firearm carrying hunter down below. This guy was in a great spot, but we knew he could only shoot a buck. The does were ours if we could make it happen. Turns out, the doe had other ideas. They never came up the ridge. We glassed four nearly a half hour and nothing.

We regrouped, but were not discouraged. Deer had been spotted and that is ALWAYS a good sign. As we ate our breakfast, we watched the other hunter hike a trail and set up facing a steep face more than half a mile away. A half hour later, I spotted our two deer nearly a mile from where we first located them and they were headed away from us. At the rate they were going and with the hunter right there, there was no point in trying to go after them. We still had a month and a half to fill our tags.

We glassed for another couple hours, spotted another hunter and no more deer. For us, it was a successful outing. We had seen deer, got some hiking in, and had a game plan for a couple weeks to get out and hike our tails off in search of a SoCal mule deer. With the weather cooling down and rifle season now over, it is time to wait a couple weeks for things to settle down. After that, it's game on as we go back after them!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Product Review: MINOX BL 10x44 Binoculars

Hunting the West forces you to become best friends with your optics out of necessity. Covering ground in a short amount of time is imperative.  One of the best ways to do this is with the use of high quality optics. As a Southern California hunter who has to cover much ground in search of wild game, I have become one with MINOX Sport Optics. As part of the MINOX Adventure Team, my MINOX BL 10x44 binoculars are an essential tool to locating animals and if I ever left home without them, I'd make the drive back to pick them up. I have been using them for all of 2013 and they are without a doubt one the best tools I am using and will continue to use.

The BL 10x44 binoculars are extremely lightweight and very easy to carry and hold while glassing, but don’t let that fool you. These binoculars are top notch in the form of quality. I carry them while scouting, hunting, and even hiking with the family. I do like having them on a tripod when I am glassing an area for a long period of time, but honestly, these are light enough where I can comfortably rest my elbows on my knees and glass for hours.

The powerful light-gathering optical systems feature multi-coated lens elements that guarantee the best optical performance and neutral color rendition of the object in view. Thanks to the roof prisms with a phase-correction coating, the user is offered an image with exceptionally high detail rendition and high contrast, also in low light situations.

Low light visibility is one of the best features of the BL 10x44 binoculars. On a recent deer hunt in SoCal, my hunting buddy and I were set up long before sunrise. I began glassing an hour before sunrise and he asked me if I could actually see anything. Not only could I see, but I didn’t have to squint or refocus. I viewed a valley over a half mile away with ease. It is one of my favorite features of the MINOX 10x44 BLs. I was able to spot a doe, bedded across a canyon from us before the sun rose and my confidence in these binoculars grew even more.

Eye fatigue is something I hear so many of my fellow hunters talk about and share with me. They ask me how I avoid it and I simply say, 'I don't get eye fatigue because I use MINOX optics.' That's the honest truth. I glass the foothills and mountainsides for hours every time I hunt and my eyes always feel good. No headaches, no fatigue, and a crisp, clear view of everything I am looking at.

I also look for smooth diopter adjustment in a binocular. These have it! I am able to adjust the diopter and refocus quickly, smoothly and it stays in place. I have used other binos where the diopter adjustment would rotate on its own. The adjustment is very smooth, even when it gets gritty from use in SoCal, which leads me to my next point.

I am very hard on my gear and the conditions out here are rough on it, too. It’s dry, sandy, and hot. It is inevitable that my gear will get dusty and dirty. My MINOX binos have seen their share of dirt this year. I don’t just clean them with an optics cloth though. First, I blow out as much of the debris with an air hose at a low PSI, and then I use an optics cloth. While most of the dirt comes out, I have noticed that some dirt has made a home around the diopter adjustment. There is a slight grinding sound when I focus. Not a huge issue, but it is there.

MINOX also offers one of the best warranties in the business, too. You can read it below.

MINOX offers all customers a specialized Total Coverage Warranty. After a simple registration, customers can benefit from an extended protection against all manufacturing and functional defects - from the day of registration, the MINOX Total Coverage Warranty will be valid for 30 years.

The MINOX BL 10x44s retail for $499.00 and for quality optics and a warranty like they offer, this is a great price for optics. Plus, you will use these for more than just hunting and the investment is worth it in my opinion. Even now I can’t stop thinking about hitting the forest with my MINOX binoculars in hopes of locating that elusive mule deer buck!

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Middle of Another Tough Season

My gear has been getting a workout this year. So have my legs. I have been practicing, scouting, hiking, and hunting for a couple months and have yet to draw back on a deer. It's been tough to say the least. Will I let that get me down? Heck no! I am still pumped as I have nearly two months left to fill a tag.

A couple of my buddies and I have been out bowhunting SoCal mule deer together for the past two months. We have spotted some deer, but haven't been able to get close enough on public land. Have we been able to get out as much as we hoped? Nope. We all have families, jobs, and things that come up, but those days when we do get together, we make the most of it. We hike, glass, hike, glass, and repeat over and over. Many would be discouraged, but I am not. I am just getting in tune with the land and when it is meant to happen, it will.

Lately, we have found plenty of mountain lion tracks in our go-to spot. Not just any tracks, but big ones alongside little ones. No bueno! Last weekend, my buddy Michael and I hiked nine miles in search of deer. We glassed basins, trails, valleys, and didn't spot a single deer. It's only the second time in two years I have gone out and not seen at least a handful of deer. We did spot some rifle hunters, but only three of them and most were more than a mile away. Even still, we hiked around a few hillsides and that's when we located the kitty tracks. 

The best thing to happen to us was at the end of the day when we were heading out of the parking lot. Michael had just left when another truck pulled in. The driver cordially asked if I was a hunter and if I had any luck. When I said no, he asked what my weapon of choice was. I told him I was a bowhunter and he lit up. He shared that he was not a hunter, but that he and his buddies were motocross enthusiasts and they had a problem. There were so many deer around their spot that they couldn't ride without fear of hitting one. For a few more minutes I chatted with him and got the directions to his spot and I am hoping to make it out in the next two weeks to scout the area and hunt it. 

It's always hard to hunt out where I hunt, but I know the deer are there. Time to put my boots on, put my muscles and optics to work and try to located a high desert mule deer.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Showing Some Love to my SoCal Hunting Buddies

Recently, I shared some hunt success from the East Coast and now it's about time to share the West Coast version. Some of my hunting buddies have been putting in a great deal of time and effort to kill some deer and pigs this year and have met with great success!

Tony Catalde - The Bearded Boar - killed this beauty of a blacktail a couple weeks ago on the last day of the season with one, well-placed arrow. Tony and his family live off the land and he's a great guy to get to know and follow. He does some great things for the hunting and fishing industry and is a great cook (from what I read and see). Here's is his brief recap of his hunt:

Arrowed this Blacktail at 30 yards. He went another 15 and laid down, after a long and hard season I'm finally glad deer season is over. I can focus on bears and pigs finally. And make a lot of Jerky and Venison dishes. Love the life.

Follow Tony on Twitter and Instagram.

Cody Scott hiked a long way into unit D14 and camped overnight in hopes of finding a mule deer. The next day he put the crosshairs on this magnificent mule deer buck. Cody hauled this animal out on his own and by the size of that animal I'll bet it was a chore. Cody is a big dude and that animal is rather large to say the least. That is a great buck for D14! Way to go Cody!

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Chris Turgeon and a buddy hit some SoCal public land in search of some feral pigs recently. Chris is a pig killing machine and when he found a sounder near his hunting spot, they set up and were able to kill two fine eating pigs. Here is Chris with his trophy! The smile says it all!

Great job men! I am super stoked for these guys as they are some of the hardest working hunters I know. Plus, they are all family men who hunt in California. I am proud to call them my friends and can't wait to hear some new stories of their adventures!