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Ultracheap Ultralight

Ultralight backpacking and hunting gear is expensive, right? The “Big 3” in regard to ultralight consists of your shelter, sleeping system, and pack. These are usually the biggest and heaviest items that you will be taking with you, and will usually yield the biggest weight savings when you upgrade. But they also usually come with the heftiest price tags. What if you just got geared up a year or two ago? Are you going to abandon perfectly good gear in favor of the new product line? It can be tough to accept the steep cost-benefit ratio of dropping hundreds of dollars to upgrade to a new sleeping system just to gain a couple of free ounces over your old reliable bag. But, if you want to drop some serious weight from you pack, the Big 3 are going to yield the most impactful upgrades.

So if you are not yet ready to pull a full Big 3 upgrade, or maybe you already have the top of the line bag, tent, and pack and you want to trim a couple more ounces, keep reading for some tips to get how to shed a little more weight from that hunting pack for a price of next to nothin’.

Consolidate your electronics, consolidate your batteries. Like an ever-evolving beast, my cell phone has devoured and absorbed a multitude of my other devices. I no longer need a backup flashlight or collapsible lantern, because my cell phone has a sustaining camera flash that can fill both their functions. I haven’t carried a camera in years. I no longer carry a GPS because my phone has apps like OnX Hunt. I no longer carry a book because I have an e-reader app with books stored on my phone electronically (including valuable hunting reference guides and other pdfs). Giving up other devices for the phone may seem pretty obvious, but my recent weight saving has been in batteries. To power my phone, I carry an extra battery pack (I’ve found the Anker PowerCore 10000 to have the best charge to weight ratio). It gets me about four full charges, which is usually more than I need. Since I’ve now got a universal USB power bank, I can also power up my rechargeable headlamp, reducing my need for any backup AAA’s (It also charges my watch and Steripen if needed).

You call that a knife? If you’re like me, you find yourself accumulating knives without even trying. I’ve got a full box of knives that I’ve received as gifts, or were door prizes from hunting banquets, or I may have bought just because I liked the feel of it. Some are great knives, some are decent. I don’t know where the impulse came from, but I always seemed compelled to try and get some sort of use out of each of them. I had one that I would use for elk, one for deer, one for skinning, one for caping, and so one. I’m not saying that I would take all those knives with me into the backcountry, but I did have a fairly large elk knife (9.2 oz, 9.5″ overall length, wood handle, full tang) that I would regularly pack deep in the woods. I’ve since come to the conclusion that one of my smaller knives (2.6 oz, 7.5″ overall length, rubber handle, full tang) is completely adequate in the field, and I am more than comfortable using it to take apart an elk. Since losing a knife would be pretty much a game-ender for a hunt, I usually bring a smaller backup knife as well. From my random collection I’ve found a Buck Paklite Caper that weighs in at 1.4 oz. Those two knives combined are still over a quarter-pound savings over my larger elk knife.

Speaking of quarter-pounders, cut out the snacks. This can be a tough one, initially. But in reality, you probably don’t need snacks. You’ll be more efficient while hunting and less distracted if you don’t bring snacks. How many times have you sat down to glass, and impulsively began pawing through your day bag for something to eat. Many times we are using snacks as a distraction to boredom rather than as a means to restore energy. This isn’t a recommendation to cut down your daily calorie intake, but rather consider putting all those calories in your main meals. Many times, snack foods are less calorie dense, or are lower quality fuel (i.e. sweets), or are in smaller portions with more packaging than your meals. Be aware of how you pack your food. I’ve been guilty of neglecting to include the calories of my snacks in my food plan, throwing them in last after I’ve already accounted for all my necessary fuel in meals. This has resulted in extra weight I don’t need, and I regularly those snacks uneaten when I unload at the end of a trip. If you don’t want to get rid of your snacks completely, you can front-load them in your trip. The hike in is likely going to be one of the most physically strenuous days of your hunt, so you can use that first day to chow through your junk food.

You’re gonna stink, cuz you nasty. You may be able to reduce some of your scent, but you’re not going to be able to eliminate it…not even close. Once you come to terms that you are trying to manage scent, not eliminate it, you can get rid of a lot of gear. Extra undies, extra socks, deodorant, bathing wipes, scent concealer spray, soap, and shampoo are all either ineffective or impractical to take into the backcountry. The soap and shampoo are probably the most effective at reducing your scent trail, but I’m not interested in bathing in a high country lake during September (especially at the sacrifice of daylight hunting hours). The bathing wipes are nice to have, but I have found them to be much heavier than they need to be. They are thicker than shop towels and drenched in de-scenting solution. If you feel you must utilize some method of bathing, I’ve found baby wipes to be a much better alternative, which are still unscented and are much thinner and lighter. Extra clothes are going to help manage scent, but I usually only bring one extra pair of socks and undies for a week-long trip. I can always give one set a rinse in the stream and an air dry if thing get too ripe. Or, if the bike/hike in is going to be strenuous and I know I’m going to be pretty brutal on that first day’s clothes, I’ll consider that first set of clothing to be sacrificial, and cache them somewhere where I can collect it out my way out.

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What will permanent Daylight Saving Time mean to Hunters?

In the last few months, several western states have voted on ending the biannual time change and remaining in Daylight Saving Time (DST) for perpetuity. This essentially means there will be no more “fall back” and “spring forward” time changes each year. Washington and California have already approved bills to remain in DST, and it appears that Oregon will soon be following suit. Idaho, which has the the northern half of its territory in the Pacific Time Zone, has been resistant to recent bills to make the permanent switch. Even if a state votes to secede from Standard Time, Congressional approval is still required before the change can take effect. So the change to permanent DST is not yet guaranteed, but it does look to have strong support from the west coast states. Congress is more likely to allow the states to turn permanently to DST if there is solidarity with all states in the time zone. Nevada (also in the Pacific Time Zone) actually asked Congress to allow individual states to be granted the right to decide whether or not they will stay in Daylight Saving Time back in 2015.

So, what will permanent Daylight Saving Time mean to hunters? Well, let’s start by looking at what will not change:

Hunters will not lose hunting hours. Bear with me, I just want to clear this one up right away as it may seem obvious to some. With permanent DST, the hours of legal light will be shifted forward one hour to reflect DST after the first weekend in November. It will result in legal light arriving one hour later in the morning and ending one hour later in the evening, so the total hunting time will not be changed.

There will be no change for hunting in early March through October. Since the “fall back” time change occurs the first weekend in November each year, the hunting opportunities in September and October will not be affected. So this would typically be archery season for elk, as well as archery and modern firearm seasons for deer. On the spring side of the calendar, there will be no significant change either. The most popular spring hunting seasons (spring bear and turkey) typically kick off around April 15, which is within the current DST period of early March through early November. Most of the change to hunting hours will be for late season big game hunting opportunities, and later bird seasons.

Here are some of the changes that could potentially affect your hunting if DST were to become permanent in your state:

More late sleepers crashing the primo hunting hours. If there is no time shift back one hour in November, this is effectively changing dawn (or the time of legal light) forward one hour. If day break had normally come at 7:15am on November 15, it will now be arriving at 8:15am under permanent DST. Some folks may appreciate that extra hour of rest, but I would prefer an earlier sunrise. Lowering the barrier to entry for the golden hunting hours of dawn twilight is not something I generally support, but it may be a benefit to some.

Shorter mornings and longer evenings. When you lose an hour in the morning, you get it back in the evening. If you have other obligations like family or work that you have been juggling with hunting, permanent DST make create a new challenge (or opportunity) for you. If you had been getting up early to get a half day of hunting in on the weekends, you will be losing one of those hunting hours in the morning. On the other hand, if you had been trying to sneak in a little bird hunting after work every now and then, you will be getting the benefit of an extra hour of legal light in the evenings.

Changes in human activity and animal response. Not everyone hikes miles away from all roads and civilization to get to their favorite haunts. If you hunt an area near roads that see commuter traffic or other human activity, there may be an affect on wildlife and how they respond. Recall that this will be mostly in November and December during later big game seasons and bird seasons. Human activity such as slamming doors, letting the dog out, starting the car, or turning on lights can influence the habits of wildlife. If you give this some consideration before heading out, it may give you an edge to help your success.

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A Sportsman’s Goals for 2019

What motivates you to get outside and hunt? Is it the physical and mental challenge, connection with the natural world, or just getting away and enjoying camaraderie with friends and family? Identify your key drivers, and use them to set the basis for your goals. When done right, goalsetting can be one of the most valuable tools to help you perform better and have more fun when going on your next backcountry outing. Setting goals can be useful in many aspects of your life, and let’s be honest, there are tons of articles and books out there on how to set good goals. I’m going to hit on the main elements, and how to help you get some perspective when developing your goals for the next hunting season.

What makes up a good goal? I try to check and make sure my goals are:

  • Realistic – If you make goals too difficult, or if their success requires a large factor of luck, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Failing to meet goals can have a negative effect on your attitude and ability to succeed, so make sure you give yourself a reality check first. If your goal to kill a 400 class bull requires you to get drawn for a specific hunting unit, and requires the bull to walk in front of you on one of the few days you devote to hunting this fall, then it is not very realistic. Don’t expect God, your local Department of Fish and Wildlife, or the roulette wheel to help you achieve your goals. Make a goal you can control.
  • Specific and Measurable – You need to know definitively when you have achieved your goal. Making goals specific enough so you can keep a scorecard of where you are throughout the year, and track your progress.
  • Balanced – Few people can set one imperial goal that drives them through the hunting season without causing detriment to other factors of life. Make sure your goals take into consideration your overall happiness in life for you and your family.
  • Efficient – Make sure you are getting the most bang-for-buck out of your goals. For example, I have no fitness goals this year. I have not been hindered by lack of physical fitness for the last few hunting seasons, and my previous task-based goals have become routine. So, I can realistically say that I am at a level of maintenance. This year I’ll focus on weaker areas that will be more impactful to my hunting success.
  • Task-based – Your goals should be a call to action. Sometimes your goal can be somewhat nebulous, but you should be able to break it down into a goal consisting of actionable items.

For the Hunting category of my goals for this year, I’m choosing to focus on

  1. Increase balance of time with family
  2. Contribute to conservation and sporting community
  3. Woodsman skills
  4. Expand my hunting opportunities

I have long hours and travel a lot for my day job, so it makes it tough to spend time with my two-year-old son that seems to sleep about as many hours per day as a koala bear. If I’m working in the office, I can be gone for work before he is up in the morning, and I sometimes get home after he has already gone to bed in the evening. I’m usually on the road a couple days per week as well. Come hunting season, I feel pretty guilty leaving for a week at a time to chase elk. I’ve realized that I need a goal to make my favorite recreation activity is sustainable and balanced with my family life. This year, instead of taking time to go hunting, I’m going to trade time for hunting. To do this, I am going to track the time I spend away hunting and make sure I pay those hours back to the family, within one month. I’m also going to make a communication plan so my wife and I can prioritize our family schedule, and optimize the time we spend as a family during the hunting season.

To increase my contribution to conservation and the sporting society, there are a lot of organizations out there that have a pretty good structure for volunteer activities and charitable donations. I’m setting my goal for donating $xxx (sorry I’m not going to disclose my actual number with you) towards conservation and sporting stewardship, and volunteer at least 20 hours of my time. To keep things interesting (I like to throw in “wildcard” goals each year), I’m going to read two books with views on hunting and conservation that oppose my opinions. This will hopefully help soften some of the sharp edges of my opinions and help communicate with non-hunters.

Regarding woodsman skills, I like to throw some fun and more easily achievable goals for good measure. Easier goals can provide additional motivation, since so that you can check off goals throughout the year rather than just at the end. Last year I did some backpacking trips in late August, and some hunting in early September that got me into some plants that I was not familiar with. It also made me realize that plant identification was an area that I was lacking. So this year, my goal is to be more proficient at identifying trees, berries, roots and other plants that may be useful to me in the backcountry. I hope to benefit from improving my knowledge of what can be used for food, shelter, and tools, or identifying plants that may indicate a presence of wildlife. My goal is to be able to identify ten tree species, ten berries, and ten flowers/roots/bushes, and understand how they could be significant to wildlife or myself. I’ll achieve this goal by reading two books on the subject, and using field guides on my hiking and scouting trips this summer.

For most of my life, I have primarily hunted Washington, Montana, and Wyoming. But I have begun to wonder why I have overlooked Idaho. It seems pretty odd to think that I have driven across it several times a year in search of game, when Idaho itself has so much to offer. But in reality, there is a finite amount of time and energy to put towards hunting preparation, especially if you are like me and hunt primarily DIY on public land. But again, I have recently found that I will be making several trips to Idaho this year for various obligations, and this will be creating a great opportunity to become much more familiar with the Gem State. My goal is to scout and prepare to hunt Idaho next season. To prepare this season, I will make two dedicated trips to explore and scout an area, read all regulations to become proficient, and utilize my previously planned trips to Idaho by creating time to do some hiking and scouting on each outing.

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WWGD? (What Would George Costanza Do?) aka “The Opposite”

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite has to be right.

What if every instinct you ever had was false?  What if every calculated action you took was actually detrimental to your happiness?  On May 19, 1994, American television viewers tuned in to witness a man brave enough to challenge his own pillars of belief, and his name was George Costanza.  On that night, NBC aired the 21st episode of the fifth season of Seinfeld, which was titled “The Opposite”.  In that episode, George comes up with a theory: What if every instinct, every decision he has ever made, has been wrong and is the source of all his life’s disappointments.  From that moment, he decides to begin an experiment to test the decisions he makes in his daily life.  For every action he is about to take, he consciously does the opposite of what he thinks is appropriate.  Over the next thirty minutes, we see George get his dream job with the New York Yankees, move out of his parents’ house and into a new apartment, and land a new girlfriend that most would agree is way out of his league.

I love “The Opposite” because I admire George’s courage and commitment to challenge his own status quo, and it provides an opportunity to play the “What If” game: What if George was an outdoorsman?  What if I have been behaving like George?

If George was a hunter prior to his “Opposite” epiphany, I like to think that he would hike out the same trail to the same clearing every year, throw out a few calls, scan the same treeline repeatedly, and call it a day once he considered the temperature to be “too hot for anything to be moving around”.  He would stick with the same old plan, which was probably never his to begin with.  It was probably passed along to him by a more experienced hunter, or maybe he overheard it one night at a local bar, and George lazily took it for gospel.  He abides by knowledge he considers to be commonly-accepted, or maybe he found success by simple luck the first time he tried it, so he sticks to it year after year hoping to recreate the triumph of his first outing.   This leads George in a continuing cycle of frustration and embarrassment.  He takes no risk by attempting anything different.

When George finally tries his “Opposite” approach, it isn’t easy.  It’s uncomfortable, and he risks public embarrassment with each new action.  But luckily for him, his instincts were so misaligned that each opposite decision is a substantial improvement to his situation.  The average person is not likely to see the same results as George, so it’s probably not the best idea to turn a full 180 degrees like he did.  But, the idea of challenging your assumptions, taking risks, and trying something uncomfortable is on point.

What I had been behaving like George?  I can admit that I have a tendency to fall into the same old routine, almost subconsciously, without taking a moment to consider a new technique.   I sometimes fail to question the actions that have become automatic.  For example, for years it was my instinct to make fun of my buddies that used trekking poles while out hiking.  Right before they became popular, a guy came rolling into town with a trunk full of “Swedish Walking Sticks”, and every blue hair in town came out to see him demonstrate how to walk while poking at the ground with those sticks.  The man sold off his walking sticks and left town, but the image of all those old timers walking around with their new trekking poles stuck with me.    That was the image I always associated with my friends carrying them in the woods.  But then, I finally tried them last year.  After a twelve-mile backpacking trip, my shoulders and upper back had never felt better.  No more knots, no pain in my scapula, no sore neck.  I now own two sets and I’m thinking about getting a third.

I have also realized that I have become so fixated on minimizing my pack weight that I have totally lost focus of what will really make my backpacking trip more pleasant.  I might save a few ounces with my ultralight sleeping pad, but the good night’s sleep that I get with heavier and more comfortable mat definitely outshines the weight burden.  Also, I will no longer go on a multi-day hunting trip without camp shoes again.  If I’m hunting for five or six days and spending countless miles in heavy boots, the joy of soft camp shoes at the end of a long day cannot be matched.  They definitely contain more body-rejuvenating power than the one and a half pound weight savings from leaving them back at the truck.

So, we all experience the plateau-effect from time to time.  Maybe taking some risk by trying “The Opposite” may help you get to the next level.

 

Pittman-Robertson Act and wildlife funding explained, and why it is important during COVID-19

The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, also commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, has been in place since 1937 and is a key funding source for wildlife management, habitat, conservation and hunter education programs for state wildlife agencies. If adjusted for inflation, an equivalent of $18.8 billion has been distributed under the act since its introduction. The allocation of these federal funds to each state is based upon a formula which includes factors for the state’s land and water areas, population, and the number of hunting licenses sold each year. There is also separate funding provided for wildlife program administration, as well as grants, which helps to distribute the funds more fairly and keep smaller states with less hunting support from being excluded. The Act is largely supported by outdoor sportsmen and sports-ladies.

So where does the funding come from? Have you ever checked your receipt from your local sporting goods store and noticed the tax added on? Nope, not unless someone is scamming you. Pittman-Robertson funds come from an excise tax, meaning the tax is paid by the manufacturer, importer, or producer for each item before it gets to the consumer. It is a consistent tax across all states, and it is factored into the sale price of the item you’re buying. There is no tax added at point of purchase. It is levied on manufacturers that produce more than 50 units per year, and second-hand transfers of items like firearms are generally excluded from the tax. It is derived from specific hunting and firearm-related equipment, and it can be little tricky to know exactly how much tax your purchase supports. So I’ve done the research and provided a full breakdown of what is and isn’t taxed:

What is actually taxed:

  • 11% of sale price for bows;
  • 11% of sale price of broadheads, field points, quivers, bow sights, arrow rests, stabilizers, wrist slings, strings, string silencers, or any other piece of equipment that would be physically attached to a bow;
  • $0.53 per arrow (This rate is as of 2020. The rate per arrow increases each year with the annual IRS determination of inflation);
  • 10% of sale price on pistols;
  • 11% of sale of firearms other than pistols;
  • 11% of sale price of ammunition;
  • Manufactured parts of firearms, pistols, bows, or ammunition purchased unassembled, taxed at the same rate at which the complete piece is taxed.

What is not taxed:

  • Bows under 30 lb draw;
  • Bow cases, slings, hangers, racks;
  • Bow hand releases;
  • Bow targets and accessories;
  • Armguards, accessory belts, finger tabs, shooting gloves;
  • Arrow components: Nocks, inserts, vanes, other fletching;
  • Arrow saws, fletching jigs, other arrow tools;
  • String wax;
  • Arrows under 18″ length, or otherwise designed for children;
  • Full natural wood arrows;
  • Firearms or ammunition purchased by any military defense department;
  • Firearm suppressors, fully automatic firearms, or other firearm devices which require federal tax stamps;
  • Fishing gear subject to the Dingell-Johnson Act tax
  • Any equipment, apparel, supplies, gear, tools, food, service or miscellaneous item not listed in the “What is actually taxed” column above. Even if the item is generally associated (or specifically marketed) towards outdoor recreation or hunting.

For Pittman-Robertson annual revenue, you could roughly state that about one-third of revenue comes from the sale of ammunition, one-third comes from sale of long guns, and about one-quarter comes from the sale of pistols. Archery equipment accounts for about eight percent. Over the last fifteen years of so, funding has been allocated at an approximate rate of 17% going to basic hunters education and safety programs, and 83% going to wildlife management. For state distribution, remember that the factors are the state’s land and water area, population, and the number of hunting licenses sold. In 2019, the states that received the highest dollar distribution from the Pittman-Robertson Act were Texas ($31M), Alaska ($28M), and Pennsylvania ($24M). Inversely, the states receiving the least dollars in 2019 were Delware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. They all received about $4M each. No state may receive less than o.5% or more than 5% of the annual funding. It should also be noted that the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands also receive funding under the Pittman-Robertson Act, and they were granted $1M-$2M each in 2019. These U.S. territories do not receive distribution by the same formula as the U.S. states, but rather a set percentage set by statute.

So why is this especially important right now during the COVID-19 pandemic? The Pittman-Robertson Act funding provides up to 75% (this value is limited by the Act) of a state’s funds for specific projects. The states have to make up the remaining 25%, which usually comes from hunting license revenue. The Act also allocates separate funding for conservation grants, which may provide full funding for a project, and also may be split among multiple states which apply for the grant in partnership. This means that Pittman-Robertson acts can provide the lions share of funding for a state’s wildlife management, while states still need to supplement with their hunting tag revenue. With the current pandemic situation, many states have put restrictions on spring hunting opportunities such as bear and turkey, and have further restricted non-resident hunters traveling in from out of state to hunt. It is too early to tell what impact this will cause to conservation funding, especially if there are travel restrictions that continue later into the fall. Non-resident hunters can provide a significant portion of the state’s hunting tag revenue, not to mention the economic stimulus of bringing out-of-state dollars to inject small businesses in rural communities. But even though state tag revenue may be down in 2020, there may be a positive funding swing due to the surge in firearm sales. The FBI has estimated that gun sales have nearly doubled in March and April 2020 compared to the previous year. These sales have mainly been for perceived self-defense concerns. Pittman-Robertson Act funds don’t differentiate for “intent”, so regardless of the purchaser’s motivation, the tax revenue still goes towards conservation as lined out by law. But as a consumer, hunter, or conservationist, you can make informed decisions on where you put your dollars.

Form Walking for Hiking the Backcountry?

Do you have a hitch in you giddy-up or are you a easy-strider? You may already be able to hike twenty miles a day through alpine terrain with time and energy left over to setup camp in the daylight. This article isn’t going to help you double that mileage, but it may help you get there 10% quicker and be more comfortable doing it. When I’m out on the trail and I feel myself starting to fade, I take a moment to analyze my hiking form to see that everything is in check. Usually, I’ll find a relatively small issue, like my knees slightly bowing outward and I’ll focus to bring them back into form. This typically results in immediate positive feedback of an increased pace without exerting any additional energy. I ran track for a time growing up, mostly mid-distance events like the mile, and we used to spend a lot of time focusing on form. This wasn’t necessarily to create a running posture fit for the cover Runner’s World Magazine, but rather to focus on small imperfections in your mechanics that would suck away energy or otherwise make you vulnerable to injury. I’ve found a lot of crossover in the techniques to analyze running form that can be used for hiking. I wouldn’t recommend someone try to force a stiff upright posture, since we are inevitably going to be making adjustments while hiking due to pack loading and varied terrain, but small imperfections can be corrected with a little attention and time. Once issues are identified, a lot can be improved through focused stretching and exercise. If you’ve got any real joint or back issues, you should get with a specialist to work them out as soon as you can. Procrastinating on chronic issues is just going to make them harder to correct in the long run.

When to analyze your stride? Start out by focusing on your hiking stride without a pack, while on a relatively flat surface. Be relaxed, just act natural as you walk. If you try to walk too perfectly, you’ll likely stiffen up with tension and cause more imperfections. Walking unladen on a flat surface will give you a pretty good idea of your baseline mechanics. Once you have that, focus on how your mechanics change when you are hiking inclines, mellow declines, trails, when loaded up with a pack, and (most importantly) when you’re fatigued. Weaknesses always show themselves when your tired, and this will cause the most exaggerated breakdown of your hiking mechanics. Personally, I have a left ankle weakness that causes a slight slap in footfall rather than a smooth roll from heel to toe. I try to strengthen it by doing exercises like one-legged squats, as well as performing other isometric dumbbell lifts while standing on one leg at a time. I’ve also got some reduced hip mobility that causes my right foot to swing slightly outward when running. I’ve come up with a nightly stretching routine which includes attention on glutes and hip flexors which has largely improved this issue.

What should you focus on? It’s tough to look at everything at once, so the best approach is focus on one joint area, and in one plane of movement. Are your knees bowing outward, or moving like two efficient pistons moving you forward with no lateral sway? If your knees are moving efficiently on one plane, are your feet following them or do they wander to the side and travel through an elliptical orbit in the horizontal plane? If someone were to view you looking straight down at the top of your head, would they see your hips stay relatively on the same plane as your shoulders, or do they open up to one side as you stride forward? Do your toes of each foot point in the same direction throughout your stride, or do they stray inward or outward as you swing your leg forward?

Our hiking mechanics usually feel so natural to us, it is difficult to analyze on our own. If you don’t have a friend to help out and give observations, or if you don’t want to look like a weirdo asking your buddy “Hey would you mind checking me out as I walk this trail today? I mean, really focus on my body and my movement, and give me your honest impressions. I can do the same for you later.” Just set up you cell phone to get some video from a couple different angles; one at your feet and knees, one at your hips, one at your shoulders, and make sure you get both profile as well as directly in front and behind you. Check your shoes and gear for uneven or unusual wear as well, which could be an indicator of imperfect hiking mechanics. Small improvements in mechanics can yield real results on the trail.

How to Hunt off a bike

Norco Bigfoot hunting setup with trailer and bows
The setup hauled six days worth of gear for fifteen miles. Four more miles were packed on foot to base camp. Base camp was reached the first night.

Brands are mentioned in this article. I have no affiliation with them and have received no compensation.

Do you remember that feeling as a kid when you got your first bike? How about when you got your first deer? For many, these are two of the most exciting memories from our youth. The bike meant exhilaration and freedom. Killing a deer called upon more complicated emotions. Both left lasting impressions in our minds, and that associated memory is probably why I have found my favorite hunting access to be from the saddle of two-wheeled, human-powered machine.

Trail Selection

Hunting by bicycle access can be an efficient way to a little deeper into the woods in less time than hiking, while expending less energy. But, it isn’t meant to go everywhere. A trail actually has to meet some pretty select criteria for me if I’m going to head out on a bike hunt. The criteria are based on goals of efficiency, safety, respect, and the law.

The first thing to know about a trail is what users are allowed on it, and how heavy the use is. For starters, bikes are not allowed in designated wilderness areas on Forest Service land, so be prepared to unmount and stash you bike when you get to the boundary of any wilderness area, as it will be hike-in access from there onward. Electric bikes, also known as E-bikes, have further restricted use on public trails, as they are technically considered motor vehicles on most Forest Service and BLM land. E-bikes have several advantages over motorcycles in that they are lightweight, efficient, quiet, don’t emit exhaust, and tread more gently on the trails. But, they are motor vehicle travel, and let’s not kid ourselves by thinking they are the same as conventional bicycles.

You should always check the local land management agency’s website to find what users are allowed on specific trails, as well as recent trail reports. If the spring blowdowns have not been cleared, or if the trail is muddy or otherwise vulnerable to erosion, it’s probably best to pick another route. Trails that receive heavy horse traffic should be given consideration as well. The last thing you want to do is come around a corner and spook a pack line. Plus, one main advantage of hunting off a bike is the added mobility and trail range over other hunting pressure. If your frequenting trails with a lot of horse traffic, your not going to be capitalizing on that advantage.

The biggest factor that goes into my trail selection is the technical rating (rocky, rooted, or otherwise steep or uneven condition) of the trail. If I’m heading out with gear for a multi-day hunt, I’m probably going to pick a pretty mellow trail. This is especially true if you are going to be hauling a trailer, since a double wheel trailer will usually require a wider and more developed trail for efficient travel. A single wheel trailer can be pulled on narrower single track, but just be prepared to spend some time and frustration getting bucked around or having to dismount and push. Ideally, I would want to find a trail that is a steady, smooth, uphill grade while heading out to he hunting spot, allowing for a mellow downhill back home if I’m coming out loaded with meat. Fire roads with storm damage that have made them otherwise impassible to motor vehicles (but open to other non-motorized traffic) are great opportunities to extend beyond hiker range into unpressured country. If riding without a trailer, a pack on your back or bike rack (sweet rhyme section right there) can make for an odd center of mass and throw off your balance, limiting your ability to travel some trails. That being said, I will usually take on more technical trail for a day trip where I have a relatively light gear load.

Think through your plan before you load up with a weapon and expensive hunting gear strapped to your bike. A trail that is within your ability level while on a summer recreational ride may turn into a real bear once you head out with your hunting gear. Consider safety before all else.

Bike and Gear Setup

Felt DD geared for a day hunt
The rear rack in this photo is primarily used as a hitch. I find a trailer hitched off the seatpost is easier to pull than one hitched to the rear axle. The front scabbard works for rifles, shotguns, bows, and fishing rods.

If your in the market for a new bike to take hunting and you need some tips on what to look for, check out my previous article here.

Even though he turned out to be a colossal liar and world-class cheater, Lance Armstrong was still accurate when he said “It’s not about the bike”. If you have a bike with air in the tires and lube on the chain, you can take it hunting. If your current bike has neither of those things and has been sitting in your garage for twelve years, then you may need to reevaluate how ready you are to hunt from it. In reality, if it has been sitting for a year or more, then it should be taken in to a local bike shop for a tune up before riding. Keep in mind that not many bikes are designed with the forethought of carrying a significant load beyond the weight of the rider, so you want to make sure everything is in order and working properly. Don’t get me wrong, bikes are built to take a pretty substantial pounding on the trail, and you can safely load it with an impressive amount of gear provided you’ve properly maintained the bike, balanced your load, and most importantly, realize that you won’t be able to bomb down the trails like a maniac.

My gear loading order of preference is as follows:

Rambo ( https://rambobikes.com)makes a really nice hunting trailer. It is designed to hitch only to their racks, but can be fitted to other racks with minor modification. But, I’m sure someone should comment that it voids all warranty or whatever.
  1. Trailer. If the trail is wide and mellow enough for a two-wheel trailer, then that is where my gear goes. Trailers, even when loaded heavy, are surprisingly efficient and comfortable to pull. As mentioned above, the ability to pull a trailer is controlled by trail conditions and terrain, so give yourself a reality check to see how much time you would be willing to be off the bike pushing it versus the convenience of the time riding with the trailer. With a trailer, the weight of all your gear is primarily going to be transferred straight down into the ground through the trailer wheels, with a small amount of weight transferred through the hitch to the bike itself. This allows for the most comfortable and stable ride. Also, you can usually load up a trailer with a lot more weight than you can comfortably put on a bike. I have hauled out a 150 lb load over 15 miles of bumpy trail without a problem. Lateral load balancing is less of a concern with a two-wheel trailer, but you need to pay more attention to fore-aft balance, since you don’t want the trailer hitch putting excessive downforce into the rear of your bike (or conversely lifting your rear wheel off the ground).
  2. Rear rack. If I can’t bring a trailer, then I’m going to utilize a rear frame rack as much as possible. With a trailer, you will probably have to use a front rack, since the trailer hitch will use up most of the real estate in the back frame of the bike. Also, I personally get a little nervous about the combined forces of a trailer and rack on the rear triangle of my bike frame. On a rough trail, the rack and trailer are going to be exerting vertical, horizontal, as well as twisting forces over various frame elements, so I usually avoid this situation just for peace of mind. The rear rack requires less effort to balance than one mounted over the front wheel, so that is mainly why it is preferred. Be careful of your loading though, since anything that gets jostled loose could be miles behind you on the trail before you notice. Also, you can easily forget it’s back there, which can result in an unintended roundhouse kick to your bow or rifle as you’re swinging your leg back during a dismount.
  3. Front rack. The front rack works fine, but it requires quite a bit more energy while riding. Adding just a few pounds on either side of the wheel will slow down your steering considerably, requiring more effort to keep the bike tracking on the trail at slower speeds. I do like mounting my hunting weapon to the front rack, though. It allows me to keep an eye on one of the more expensive pieces of hunting equipment, and make quick adjustments if anything might be coming loose. Since bows and rifles are relatively heavy, I will usually strap a water bottle or small gear sack to the opposite side of the front fork for balance. Even though I have a front rack listed lower in preference than rear rack, it is probably where I load most of my gear in the hunting season. Since a trailer is my preferred setup, I’ll usually hunt with that as much as possible, and match a front rack for hauling me weapon. When a trailer is not feasible, I will usually leave the rack on the front rather than switching it back to the rear. This ends up being a really convenient set up if I’m going to go on a quick forest grouse hunt, or any other day hunt where I want to get back in a few quick miles before taking off on foot.
  4. Backpack. I’ve always found it more efficient to keep gear loaded on the bike, where it lowers my center of mass and saves me from the fatigue of fighting an upper force (backpack). That isn’t to say that I don’t do it quite frequently, since it is the quickest and simplest way to get out hunting on a bike. But, but I prefer to reserve it for shorter rides with lighter gear loads. I usually head out with the assumption that if I kill any big game, it will be hauled out with a combination of loading to the bike racks and backpack.
Montana deer hunt from a bike
Blackburn Outpost Fat Rack
A sturdy adjustable rack is key. This is my current go-to: The Blackburn Outpost. It fits just about any bike, and can be mounted front or rear. (https://www.blackburndesign.com)

Fitness and Ability

Every spring I am surprised how easy it is to fall out of “bike shape”. I usually do a fair amount of mountain biking throughout the summer, and I even get in a fair bit of snow biking in the winter, but my biking fitness still drops off steeply once I am away from the bike for a while. Doing other exercises like running, hiking, and working out at the gym can help, but they just don’t seem to give the same conditioning as spending time out on the trail. We all know that lower body strength is important for riding, but the core strength needed for balancing a bike on rough terrain while loaded up with gear and meat is substantial. Coasting down a relatively gently grade with a load of gear will still tax you with quick, subtle, and constant movements for balance correction. Having a good baseline of core stability will make that ride out much more comfortable. Hopping on a stationary bike at the gym may seem like a good workout to prep for biking, but it is not going to get your the core strength needed, and is a poor analog for the real-life posture of mountain biking. But, if that is all you’ve got, it is still going to be better than nothing. I would recommend adding in some resistance training and combining squat variations as well. If you own a stationary bike (versus using one at the gym), try swapping out the saddle with the one from your mountain bike to help your hip posture. This will also help mitigate any initial saddle soreness you might feel when jumping on your bike after being away from it for a while. Speaking from personal experience, if your backside is sore from riding, it won’t be pleasant sitting on rocks and logs for long glassing sessions.

Snow biking in Wyoming
Badgerdog is always telling me: “Staying in shape is easier than getting in shape”.

The key really is to get out and do some riding before you head out hunting in the fall. Get out on some local dirt singletrack as much as possible. Riding down the paved bike path simply isn’t going to get your legs, core, and mind ready to load up with hunting gear and crank up the trail into the backcountry.

Bold predictions of 2019 Hunting Trends

Although hunting is known to be steeped in tradition, there are popular trends and innovation that push the lifestyle and sport forward. Here are some bold predictions as to what expect for this coming 2019 season. Keep in mind that these predictions are for entertainment, designed to be bold, but also derived from an initial element of truth.

Prediction No. 1: Backcountry Shawls Outsell Quilts and Hammocks Combined

Now I’m not saying that quilts and hammocks are a dying trend. Quite the opposite actually, these everyday comfort items are on an upward trajectory that should be spurring the imagination of more performance gear developers. The lines between casual recreation, comfort, weight savings and performance will continue to smear together into a multifunctional gear bonanza, and I am all for it. Old familiar comfort items are going to be repurposed and updated. Think of the possibilities: backcountry shawls, field robes, sport pajamas, packable essential oil diffusers, performance loungers. Now that your grandma’s favorite decorative bedspread has been converted to backpacking gear, nothing is off the table. I personally own multiple pairs of tent slippers as well, and they are fabulous. When you spend days deep in the wild, why shouldn’t have have some luxuries that remind you of all the comforts of home?
All joking aside, the creativity of gear developers has taken a major jump forward in the last couple years. The outdoor gear industry has always had a steady push forward with innovation, but now that we have hammocks and quilts, the period of innovation efforts previous feels a little stale. The previous gear trends have had a lot of focus towards style and branding development over performance development. I think the industry now has an injection of creative brands that are willing to break away and take risks, and I am excited to see what they come up with next.

Prediction No. 2: WOOL UNDERWEAR! (Wait, that’s already a thing?) Fine, I’ll go with WOOL DENIM!

Yes wool underwear is a thing. It’s merino wool and it’s fantastic. It has become the dominating fabric in many hunters’ baselayers, and it is obvious why: Quick drying, cool when it needs to be cool, warm when it needs to be warm, thin and less bulky, and now even comfortable. To bastardize one of the great Seinfeld lines to emphasize my point: “I would drape myself in velvet merino wool if it were socially acceptable”. Wool denim jeans are probably the last article I need to complete my ensemble for everyday casual wear.

A lot of outdoor brands are dialing in their merino blends with polyester, spandex and nylon to give it the comfort and stretch needed to be the go-to fabric for all four seasons. I would like to predict a merino underwear supply shortage sweeps the nation in 2019 and riots erupt in the street. But that’s unrealistic. Merino resists odor and stink, so you really only need one or two pair for a week-long hunt. With that kind of performance longevity, it’s unlikely the demand will soar high enough to reach critical levels. So it’s pretty unlikely that there will be panicked stockpiling by hunters to deplete the nation’s supply. As long as sheep keep growing it, I think we’ll be fine.

Prediction No. 3: Hunting Becomes Just Unpopular Enough for Hipsters to Join in

Americans participating in hunting have dipped over recent years. This is not to say that the industry is in trouble, as fishing participation has increased, and sportsmen and women are spending more dollars per capita than they have in the past. With increased dollars spent on hunting and fishing-related equipment, the funding from the Pittman-Robertson Act tax revenue has remained a strong funding source for state wildlife conservation. The low hunter participation may indicate a bleak trend for the longevity of the sport and lifestyle, but I think we are actually on the verge of attracting an untapped demographic. I think if we all just dug a little deeper, we could drive hunting popularity another 1% lower, which may be the breaking point of unpopularity for hipster participation. I know it sounds far out there, but try and follow me here: Hipsters have an initial threshold of unpopularity, which is the barrier for entry for something to become cool to them. Once that unpopularity threshold is reached and they can deem it cool, that unpopularity threshold is raised several percentage points (obviously this threshold must be raised to accommodate the influx of hipster participants, otherwise the increased popularity would create a situation where the hipster was participating in something that should be considered uncool). Now, unfortunately this model is not sustainable, because after a period of hipster participation, hunting will be deemed played out by the hipsters, and they will leave the activity as mostly one solitary mass, very similar to the way they entered. The key point here is that not all will abandon hunting, some will stay and continue to contribute to the lifestyle and wildlife conservation. Also, it has been clearly documented that right before hipsters deem an activity played out, there is an influx on non-hipsters that flood the activity. These remaining participants that joined during the end of the hipster craze will undoubtedly find a true dedication and connection with the outdoors and wildlife, and they will remain as lifelong supporters and advocates. These remaining hunters will cause a net increase that will keep hunter participation levels boosted over recent year’s statistics for years to come.

Prediction No. 4: Eating Wolf Becomes Cool

Wild game meat has had a huge PR boost since the Meateater movement pushed forth a few years ago. Squirrel, black bear, and jackrabbit are three species that were not broadly considered to be palatable, but now have seen a more widespread increase as a consumable and favored game meat. Long-standing prejudices against the palatability of many wild game have been challenged and dispelled.
With the increased culinary popularity has come an increase in  adventurousness in wild meat consumption, and possibly some one-upmanship as well. Therefore, next up on the list has to be wolf meat. Not just sampling wolf meat, because there have been isolated reports of people eating wold in the U. S., but experimentation with preparation and cooking methods to actually make it popular. Given the fortitude required to actually coherse the morsels of the meat down your gullet, combined with the hunting challenge due to the wolf’s cunning, wolf is positioned to be the next critter up to become table fare of the hunting elite. Other cultures around the world have enjoyed canine meat, and it was well documented that the Lewis and Clark expedition preferred dog meat over all else available on their journey. That is not to say that the canine prepared by others through history is going to be the same as a wild wolf harvested by a hunter. Diverse diets, living conditions, as well as method are all variables that affect the quality of an animal’s flesh from a palate’s viewpoint. But, it seems to be the most reasonable culinary analog. Pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone is what helps us venture further into the wilderness and be more capable hunters, and I think we can agree that wolf is well outside the current comfort zone for most of us. Also, eating the animal you kill is a way of showing respect for its life. Harvesting meat is not the only reason for people to get out and hunt, but my personal opinion is that it should be near the top of everyone’s power rankings of motivation, and we all should be giving well-deserved consideration when we go out to hunt an animal.

Hunting Permit Application Strategy: Are “Points Only” Applications Helping or Hurting You?

I’ve commented before how I think the best permit application strategy is to go all-in each spring, with the realistic expectation you will not get drawn for anything. Don’t fall into the deception that you have enough points to get drawn for a special elk unit permit, so you won’t apply for a special deer or antelope permit because you won’t have time to focus on anything but elk this year. Also, don’t skip application years because you are forecasting conflicts (work, personal, or otherwise) that are going to limit your availability for hunting. We’ve got a finite amount of time on this planet, and the number of good hunting years that you have available is just a fraction of those. You’ve got to take every chance you get.

But now, some states are offering “Points Only” permit applications for some special hunt drawings. They basically work like this: You pay your application fee to be entered into a special permit draw, check the box on your online application for “Points Only” instead of your preferred hunting unit, and your ticket won’t be entered into the hopper for random drawing in the current season’s hunt. Come next year, you will have accumulated your preference or bonus point (depending on which system is used by the state to which you have applied), which will increase your chances of drawing, just as if you had applied the year before and been unsuccessful in the draw.

Why are bonus points a good thing? Well, there are a couple situations that are pretty positive. You might have something scheduled that you know will conflict with your available time for hunting, and you just can’t find a way to slide that conflict down on your priority list without backlash from your conscience, significant other, or maybe karma. Points Only applications will allow you to continue to accrue points for that year, without the risk of being drawn for a hunting opportunity you won’t be available to take. Also, the state is still getting your application fee, which it would not receive if you had chosen not to apply due to fear of being successfully drawn and having to forfeit previously accrued points. Those dollars will go towards funding wildlife management in the state over the next year.

Why are bonus points a bad thing? As mentioned above, major life events involving health conditions and addition or subtraction of family members should usually receive precedence over all other engagements; hunting-oriented or otherwise. But don’t let the minor inconveniences and challenges of life conflate into a roadblock for your hunt of a lifetime. I’ve found that when you challenge your excuses, you usually find your issue isn’t a lack of time, but a lack of creativity. You can always put in some extra hours at work to make your boss happy before you leave for your extended hunting vacay, or you could build some flexibility into your schedule to catch up on engagements when you return, and that baby is going to be delivered regardless of whether or not you are there to witness it. Maybe that last example falls within a gray area, but the fact holds true that things will get done without you present. Points Only applications make it much more convenient to listen to those excuses. You may think that you can strategize your hunts better by “saving up” points for a year when the hunt will be most convenient. But, the reality is that there is no sure thing, no matter how many points you have. Also, many hunters are hoarding those points just like you, so you may not be getting the advantage you think you have. In addition to that, there is potentially a time when many hunters begin cashing in their points, constricting opportunities to only those who have saved up points for their golden years to hunt. And as I alluded to previously, life provides no sure things either. You never know if this is your last opportunity to go on that hunt of a lifetime.

So there are two side to Points Only applications. And if you still think you might check that box, consider this: Every time someone selects “Points Only” on their application, they are leaving an opportunity on the table. They may be planning to hammer the draw with a boatload of hoarded points in the future, but they are leaving the door open for you this year.

Backpacking Luxuries Turned Necessities and Other Tricks

Note:  I receive no compensation for any product mentioned in this post.  

Pack optimization through balance of needs and weight should be the goal for backpacking trips. But, too often we either try to go too light and cut out the things we actually need, or pack gear that goes underutilized.  We mourn the gear we left out of the pack in order to cut weight, and lament the things pull out at the end of the trip unused. I do love dialing in my pack, and tracking the ounces or even pounds that I’ve trimmed from my last trip. But I think I love the sneaky comfort items that I’ve muled in even more. I try to keep notes and an inventory of my most and least used gear, and here are some of my revelations from the last year.  Most of my camping was related to backcountry hunting, but I’m going to try and keep this list relatable to any backpacker (I’ll get some notes down about some hunting-specific revelations a little later).  Some of the items below are packable gear, and some are more along the lines of small hacks.  Also, keep in mind that I’m writing from the reference of my camping practices, which is generally a long hike in, setting up one or maybe two base camps, and mainly doing long hikes for 3-6 days, returning to base camp each night.  So, if you are mainly doing overnighters or loops, you may want to consider the specifics of your hike before filling up your pack.

New items that I will never leave behind again:

Camp chair/stool – For the last couple of years, I have watched in envy while my buddies have relaxed in ultralight camp chairs while I crouched uncomfortably over my stove each evening.  I was really tired of switching between crouching, sitting on uneven rocks, and eating dinner standing up, but even the best ultralight chairs weigh in around 1.5-2 lbs or more, and really don’t pack down as small as I would like.  But, this year, I finally found a stool that had the right balance of weight burden and comfort, and it was worth the weight (play on words there for you sharp ones).  So this year, I packed in the Micro Stool from Grand Trunk (10.6oz actual weight), which packs down very small and is the lightest seat I could find.  It only sets up to be about 10 inches off the ground, but I  actually found it to be quite comfortable (I’m 6’0″), and way better than log or stone Mother Nature had lying around.

Oil shooters with pepper chasers will cap off any meal

Extra food seasoning – I eat a lot of dehydrated meals when camping out.  They’re pretty good, but I think we can all agree they are not haute cuisine.  I don’t usually take a lot in the way of snacks, but try to rely on my main meals to get the nutrition I need.  To get the extra calories, and make things more palatable, I’ve been bringing along a couple ounces of olive oil and crushed red pepper flakes.  The olive oil makes the rehydrated food texture more relatable to a normal meal, and adds the healthy fats that the dehydrated meals usually lack.  Most of the major brands of dehydrated meals seem to utilize Indian and Latin flavor palates pretty heavily, so the red pepper is pretty compatible with most meal options.  For the sake of your gut, the last thing you want is to overdo the spiciness, but I haven’t run into that issue yet.  Red pepper flakes seem to be milder on the stomach than a lot of the other spices, but that may just be personal predisposition.  Pro Tip – Don’t worry about buying special containers for your seasoning, spent airline booze bottles are super light and work great.

My new favorite trick:

Mountain Coolers – aka pure, cold mountain streams.  Beer is delicious, but too heavy and bulky to pack in, right?  Well, at least too heavy and bulky to pack very far.  For reference, a six-pack of cans weighs in at just over five pounds.  This year, I implemented the system of packing a couple beers in just a couple miles, then dropping those beers in an icy mountain stream.  Then, on my way out, I’ve got some refreshingly cold daddy sodas to celebrate the last couple miles of a long trip through the mountains.  I realize that I’m probably not the first person to implement this strategy, but I felt smarter than the lovechild of Elon Musk and Adolf Coors when I cracked that first can of frosty suds while hiking out of the woods this fall.  As a side note, there are some precautions to take while leaving beers in stashed in the woods.  The unfiltered stream could pass along diseases on the top of the can, so take care with the water you stash in.  Also, bears have been known to enjoy chomping through unopened beers, so beware of the critters that may be poaching your cache.

Things I left behind and missed severely:

Camp shoes – Wet boots suck.  Tired feet suck.  Soft comfortable shoes are awesome.  Don’ get me wrong,  I’m very happy with the performance of my hunting boots from sunup to sundown.  But, after several warm days, feet get sweaty and tired.  Getting out of the boots and into fresh shoes in the evening is a guilty pleasure.  I don’t know if it’s just the feeling of the soft, forgiving, unsweated liners; or possibly the need for your feet to feet some subtle difference in support.  I used to go with the North Face tent mules, which are quite literally down sleeping bags for your feet, but I have graduated to slipper-shoe hybrids to walk around camp in the evenings.  I’ve currently got Teva Ember mocs (1lb 3.6oz actual weight), which have the coziness of slippers with the support of a lightweight shoe.  There isn’t too much in the way of tread, which helps reduce wear and tear on tent floors and sleeping bags (especially if you’re wearing them to bed on those extra cold nights).  The Merrel Barkley Moc is great if you want more of a shoe than a slipper, and they are very light (1lb 0.6 oz actual weight).

Chapstick – My September hunt was earlier and warmer than the last few years, and I definitely felt it in the intensity of the sun, and lack of hydration.  I typically don’t bring chapstick because I don’t like to use it hunting due to the scent that usually comes along with it.  But this year, my lips became chapped and cracked, and became a distracting and painful nag for most of a six-day trip.  It seems silly to leave such a small item behind that can have such an impact on part of your general comfort.

Items underutilized compared to years past:

Earbuds and extra phone batteries – In years past, I have usually used earbuds with my phone to listen to music while taking mid-day naps or podcasts after lights out each night.  This year, I found myself using the Kindle app on my phone more often, as well as the notes app to record my reflections of the day.  I like to use the ebooks for reading entertainment, but I also like to ability to reference field guides, trail guidebooks, or other articles on woodsmanship or hunting.  So, the moral of the story is, find some good ebooks and you won’t need the headphones.  Also, remember to utilize your phone’s power-saver function combined with airplane mode, keep your phone from being exposed to the cold too often, and your battery can last for days.