Monthly Archives: February 2019

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Antler Restrictions: Fact and Fiction- Part 1

Antler Point Restrictions. The phrase elicits debate immediately. It seems as though emotions on both sides quickly get super charged and it leads to the kind of infighting amongst sportsmen that isn’t conducive to civilized conversation, nor to finding any middle ground. Perhaps there are plenty of ways that goals between the two camps aren’t congruent, but I would contend that there is a reasonable discussion to be had as to whether or not APR is necessary, as well as if it is beneficial, or, counter productive.

Pennsylvania is, in many ways, the poster child for APR. I remember when it was implemented. I also remember the conversations among sportsmen about whether it would actually benefit the herd, or even the general hunting experience in the State.

Arguments About APR

The arguments against it typically went something like the following: Pennsylvania doesn’t have the genetics to grow true trophy class deer; high grading will occur and inferior bucks will be breeding more does as the genetically superior bucks will be harvested, leaving only those remaining inferior deer to propagate; opportunity will be reduced because hunters won’t be able to shoot most of the bucks they see, and kids won’t want to hunt anymore because of it; there is no biological benefit to APR; I hunt for meat, not horns; they are ruining the hunting heritage of the state.

The last argument is purely emotional and subjective, so there is little argument for, or against, it. You either believe this or you don’t. It’s safe to say that most people who were in favor of APR, didn’t see point restrictions as a way to eliminate hunting as we know it, but instead to evolve it in the 21st century. The arguments they offered in favor of APR were usually something along the lines of: buck to doe ratios in the state are severely out of balance, in some areas as high as 1 buck to 20 does; the unbalanced sex ratios create a biological problem for the whitetail deer herd; hunter experience is diminished by a poor age structure and out-of-balance sex ratios; my neighbor shoots all the bucks I pass up and we can’t practice QDM effectively unless APR is implemented; I want to see and shoot more ‘big’ bucks.

The last argument is also emotional and subjective, so there is little argument for or against it. But, what if I told you that both sides of the debate introduced valid points that should be considered, as well as false or emotional ones that should be ignored?

It’s somewhat surprising to me that more than a decade after implementation we can still be discussing this topic, especially when a large majority of Keystone hunters now agree that antler point restrictions are a good thing for the State’s whitetail population. But, it’s true that some people are still very heated about the idea of the State prohibiting the harvest of certain bucks. I know this because just recently I found myself accosted by a family member who was very heated about antler point restrictions and the harvest opportunity they had recently cost him. He was pretty upset and started in on me for being a ‘trophy hunter’. Interestingly, if you saw my basement wall, you would probably agree that most hunters, especially those in the Midwest, wouldn’t call me that. So, I suppose a lot of the conversation comes down to perception and individual hunters’ mentalities or experiences. I tried to explain that I’m not a trophy hunter, and really not a vocal proponent or opponent to APR. (However, in the interest of transparency, I do think APRs have generally worked in PA, and I have a sister state in NY to compare the progress to. Every year I hunt very similar ground in both states and, though anecdotal, I can see the stark contrast between the two management plans.) My family member ended the conversation by proposing the idea that doe season should be totally shut down for a year or two in order to allow for the does to raise more bucks to shoot. He followed that statement up by informing me that he shot two button bucks this year.  All of that being said, let’s try to tease this discussion apart just a bit.

Anit-APR Argument #1: This area can’t grow trophy deer, and I hunt for meat, not horns, anyway

The idea that PA can’t grow a trophy class of deer is quite simply misguided. The idea that the genetics and soil types are inferior to that of the storied Midwestern states, and therefore trying to increase age structure and maximize potential is nothing but a fool’s errand, is disingenuous. Why? Because this argument is a half-truth, and is largely coming from the same hunters who want to be able to shoot a fork horn and are upset that they can’t. While it may be true that the corn fields of Iowa or the rich soils of Buffalo County may be superior habitat for Boone and Crockett deer, nearly every part of the Northeast has the potential to grow Deer that reach the Pope and Young threshold of 125”. This is a trophy anywhere in my book, but in the Northeast, it’s a stud. If anyone tells you differently, they haven’t hunted long enough, in my opinion. It wasn’t too long ago that a 110” buck or higher was considered the buck of a lifetime around these parts and if you shot one, not only would everyone in town know about it, people would tell you that you might as well quit hunting because you’ll never shoot one bigger. The overlying point here is that I very much doubt that the anti-APR hunters, who would like to have the opportunity to shoot the first buck they see, would fail to classify a 125” whitetail in the trophy category. Because of APR there are more of these deer available to hunt and kill in the State of Pennsylvania than ever before. So, it’s safe to say that the assertion that PA can’t produce a ‘trophy’ class of deer, within the ‘average’ hunter’s definition, is false. I also doubt that the majority of meat hunting hunters would pose for a picture with a 120” buck with the tail end of deer toward the camera, in order to adequately show off those substantial hams for which they shot the deer, of course. So again, it’s safe to say that, to varying degrees, antlers do matter to just about everyone.  This doesn’t even address the fact that since APR implementation Pennsylvania has increased its Boone and Crockett entries exponentially and State records have been broken and re-broken. In 2016 the non-typical archery record was broken with a deer measuring 228 6/8”, and this season the typical archery record was set by a State Land buck with a net score of 185 4/8” (grossing in the 190’s). These deer aren’t trophies for Pa, they are trophies anywhere across the Whitetail’s range.

Anti-APR Argument #2: APR will cause High-Grading to occur

This influx of record book entries, along with the anecdotal evidence that is the significantly different look of social media feeds in recent years, seems to fly in the face of any high-grading argument which some anti-APR hunters choose to make. The record books tell us that big deer are falling in PA with more regularity and Facebook photos, forum threads and local big buck contests seem to be evidencing this annually as well. Biologically, and genetically, high-grading within an ungulate species that breeds as whitetails do is a misnomer and a straw man argument. Deer do not have harems as elk do, and the idea of a dominant “breeder buck”  servicing the majority of the does in an area has been debunked. With radio telemetry studies we can determine how deer move during the rut  and we also know that bucks breed one doe at a time. A buck may speed 48 hours breeding one doe repetitively until she is through her breeding cycle and then he will break away and find another. While this buck is bedded in thick cover with a hot doe, other does in the area are also coming into heat. In populations with unbalanced age structures (anything greater than 1:1 really), most bucks will participate in the breeding season. There are enough does that even that ‘inferior’ spike will be getting some action in November when that mature ‘breeder buck’ is hunkered down with his current doe. The high-grading argument has its flaws in genetics as well, mainly due to the fact that the doe contributes half of the genetic material that is within the next generation of buck fawns. Some captive deer breeders will tell you that the most inheritable antler traits are passed through the maternal side of the deer’s pedigree, leading them to believe the buck’s mother has more to do with antler potential than its sire. Since we can’t harvest does on the basis of their antler potential, it becomes nearly impossible to positively or negatively alter the genetics of the deer herd through hunter harvest. Just ask any of the renowned biologists who are part of the QDMA. This is also why the idea of shooting “cull bucks” from a wild Deer herd to improve antler size is foolish and misguided. Lastly, the high-grading argument doesn’t account for later born fawns, poor growing seasons, or a buck which was born to a first time mother. A buck that is younger when it is growing its first set of antlers may be behind in body size when comparing it to other deer in the same fawn crop. He may display smaller antlers for the sole reason that he is still catching up to his peers. Additionally, a harsh Winter which causes deer to enter Spring under nourished, or a poor growing season and dry summer during critical antler development times can also stifle antler growth, even with mature deer. Lastly, every Fall, some doe fawns reach sexual maturity before their first birthday and are bred. These does may not have access to the best food sources as do matriarchal does, and may not produce as much milk because they are still growing themselves after fawning. This can cause a buck fawn born to one of these does to start life behind other deer in the local herd. Those things have nothing to do with the antler genetics or the maximum antler potential within that deer’s DNA.

Anti-APR Argument #3: APR will reduce hunter opportunities

Hunter opportunity, if reduced solely to buck harvest, has not sustained any significant decreases in the state of Pennsylvania. Statistically speaking, hunter buck harvest has remained consistent based on a percentage of licensed hunters across the state, so the argument of diminished opportunity really falls quite flat. Many of the people I know, myself included, who haven’t filled a buck tag this year, could have if they would have chosen to shot any legal buck. But, because of APR, many hunters have seen what another year of age can do, and they choose to self regulate beyond the APR standards. Even with this self regulation and the mentality of higher antler criteria that has been making progress within the hunting ranks, statistical harvest success rates have remained consistent. What we have seen, however, is that for the first time in modern hunting history, PA has begun to harvest more (59% in 2016) 2.5 year old or older bucks than yearling bucks. The majority of the statewide buck harvest comprised of yearlings used to push near 80% annually. On the contrary, some 60% of New York’s harvest is still made up of yearling bucks, the highest ratio in the nation. Youth hunters in Pennsylvania are allowed to shoot a buck with antlers over 3” in length, and since they can shoot deer that are otherwise “protected”, one would have to argue that the youth opportunities have increased in the State. Like every State, PA faces hunter recruitment and attrition issues, but it is hard to correlate that with a lack of youth opportunity. Likely, there are other, more significant roadblocks to entry for the next generation. Sports and electronics present bigger threats to the perpetuation of hunting within the next generation than do APRs.

Anti-APR Argument #4: APRs are not biologically necessary.

The best argument offered by the anti-APR crowd is that Antler Point Restrictions are not biologically necessary. This I (cautiously) agree with. I say cautiously because the discussion is more nuanced, but as a whole, sustaining a huntable population of Whitetail deer does not require APR.  If an area is recruiting fawns back into the herd at a high rate, buck fawns will be present the following year as sexually mature yearling bucks, and can breed the does to produce the next generation. Even if there is near 100% exploitation of the buck population, as long as there is high fawn recruitment, the deer herd will be able to regenerate from year to year. Of course, this doesn’t account for the social effects this may have on the herd, the physiological effects on the bucks, or the effects on hunter experience, but we will get into that in a bit.

Part 2 of this blog series will discuss common arguments often offered by those in favor of APRs.

By Reuben Dourte


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Lessons From Tragedy

Category : Miscellaneous

*Feature Image Credit: Tree Thrasher Facebook Page

I met Todd Pringnitz about 4 to 5 years ago at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, PA.  That was when he was still involved with Wicked Tree Gear, a company he founded that made high end tree trimming saws for hunters.  Todd wouldn’t have remembered me; as, since that time, he’s undoubtedly met thousands and thousands of other hunters at trade shows and our short five-to-ten minute conversation carried no more or less significance than the next, or the next.  What I can say about that interaction with Todd is that I found him to be very much the same guy you see on camera when you watch any of the video content he has produced over the years; an energetic, exceedingly positive guy who appeared filled with genuine excitement for life.  Todd was a Michigan native from the Grand Rapids area, (a high hunter density area I too lived in for 5 years), but he followed a dream and moved to the storied big buck area of SE Iowa.  Todd bought a 63 acre chunk bordering the Snake River and used his engineering background to continue to manufacturer and innovate in the hunting space while he manicured his small property into a piece of land capable of producing mature, Boone and Crockett caliber animals, year after year.  By all means, Todd was living the American Dream, and every hunter’s dream, simultaneously.  But, in the early morning hours of February 25, 2019, Todd Pringnitz passed away as a result of injuries sustained in what can only be described as a horribly tragic ATV accident.

              As I mentioned, I didn’t know Todd on a personal level, although there are many people who did, and they would be much better equipped to provide more insight into Todd’s life, accomplishments and who Todd Pringnitz was.  The reason that I decided to write about this tragedy is because all day my mind has drifted back to this incident.  I’ve been thinking about Todd’s wife, and his 2 month old son.  My youngest son is also approaching the 2 month mark and so, resultantly, this tragedy caused me to contemplate and reflect perhaps a little more than it might have otherwise.  I can’t imagine what his wife, family and close friends are feeling right now.  More than likely, life is probably a bit of a blur right now for them, and that may not change for a while.  Healing takes time. Its true.  But, there are also lessons to be taken from tragedies, and in doing so, I believe they help the tragedy, itself, seem less in vain.

Todd Pringnitz was a young guy.  That day he left his home and got on the four-wheeler, I’m sure was just another typical day for him.  Yes, it sounds cliché, but the one lesson we can take from this is that we never know when it is our time.  More importantly, however, because we don’t know when it is our time, its exceedingly important to treasure every minute we have with the ones we love.  Make sure you don’t leave home angry; don’t let the sun go down on your anger; hug your kids every chance you get, even if it annoys them.  Engage with your children, and your spouse- they will remember those interactions and quality time, if your time here is cut short, far more than the amount of money you made or the title you held at your job.  Put down the phone and actually talk to people.  Keep life in perspective: that thing you are upset about, would it still be important to you if the other person was gone tomorrow?  And I don’t mention these things as lessons for us all to bear in mind because I believe Todd Prignitz didn’t do them.  Precisely the opposite, in fact.  Nevertheless, Todd’s untimely passing highlights that we all must make vigilant efforts to conduct ourselves and interact in positive ways, because none of us have a crystal ball. Furthermore, don’t procrastinate, don’t assume a damaged relationship will get better solely with time.  Don’t ever wait to tell your children what they mean to you.  We never know when our window of opportunity will close.

I believe the second lesson we can take away from Todd’s passing is to live your own life and live it to the fullest.  Todd was a Michigan guy who wanted to kill giant whitetails in Iowa, and was just crazy enough to think he could make it in the outdoor industry, to boot.  Todd founded several companies and helped with product innovations for others.  Todd never appeared to be the kind of guy who was overly swayed by naysayers and critics.  He had his own style, he was chasing his own dreams, and he was committed to doing that.  He was on a path that he chose and he chose it deliberately.  He took risks, he bet on himself.  I’m sure those career moves and entrepreneurial endeavors came with a certain amount of angst, but ultimately what seemed to prevail most with Todd Prignitz was a high amount of enthusiasm and the love for life that eludes far too many people nowadays.

Third, when tragedies happen, its far less tragic for the person involved than it is for their family.  Todd’s son will grow up without his biological father, and his wife lost her partner in life.  Regardless of what you may believe about the afterlife, Todd is no longer suffering, but the heart ache and challenges ahead for his family are still very real.  We pursue an outdoor lifestyle that comes with risks.  Most times, we can calculate and mitigate those risks.  Some types of hunting and outdoor activity come with more inherent risk factors than others.  I don’t know all of the details of Todd’s ATV accident, but we do know that he sustained a serious head injury and underwent some form of brain surgery.  Was Todd wearing a helmet when he wrecked on the ATV?  I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.  This is not a criticism of Todd.  What it is, is a reminder that almost everyone has people back home that need them to make it back home.  When we venture into the woods, it’s our obligation to our loved ones to take those precautions that are within our control so that we do make it back home to those who need us the most.  The use of safety harnesses, lifelines, general firearm precautions, helmets, tractor roll bars, etc. etc. should all become non-negotiables when we venture afield.

              Lastly, as I scrolled through the comments left on Todd’s various Facebook pages, I was captivated by one commenter who said something along the lines that their heart breaks for Todd’s wife and son, but his son will be able to grow up and watch hours and hours of his dad doing what he loved to do- hunting big bucks.  This struck a cord with me because when I started to casually take a video camera afield with me, my motivation really was never to produce videos for anyone but my children, and myself.  I hope that one day they will enjoy watching those videos with me, or enjoy reading some of my ramblings on this blog.  I hope all of it will give them insight into who I am as a person, and then ultimately motivate them to be better than me.  Todd Pringnitz has produced countless hours of footage both shed hunting and archery hunting his small piece of property in Iowa.  To his family, these are more than just hunting videos now.  They are a portal back in time.  They are a way to hear Todd’s voice and see his excitement, and relive moments that were important and significant to him.  His son will hear stories about his father, but he will also be able to see his father and hear his father’s voice, and have insight into his father’s hobbies, passions and business pursuits.  What an invaluable gift and blessing that video footage becomes.

A father, husband, son, taken before their time is always a horrific tragedy.  There is no other way to describe it.  There isn’t any way to make it less horrible and its hard to fathom the emotional toll it must place on those closest to the deceased.  But, in some way, it seems that using that person’s life to inspire careful self-reflection, and as a vessel to receive valuable life lessons, is one of the best ways to honor those who are taken from this world far too soon; and that is what compelled me to take to the keyboard today.  RIP Todd Pringnitz.

If you feel compelled to donate to the GoFundMe account established to help Todd’s wife, Katie, and young son, Baker, please follow this link: https://www.gofundme.com/funds-to-support-todd-pringnitz

By Reuben Dourte


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Layering for Whitetails

The difficult process of choosing whitetail gear is further complicated by advertising claims and consumer biases.  There is also the advent of social media, which has unarguably exacerbated the glamorization of the fashion hunting industry.  I wear gear that is what most people would consider “expensive”, but I wear it because it works.  If you are going to invest in any gear that will assist you in the field, you should be doing it for its utility, not its popularity.  Its also important to understand that some of the popular brands are popular because of a deserved reputation gained through superior performance.  This is certainly the case with the technical hunting clothing and layering systems available today.

In this article I will be using some examples of Kuiu apparel, because this is most of what I currently own and use.  These pieces are simply an example, and the fundamentals and principles of a layering system and their benefits can be achieved through many different brands and options- there is more than one way to skin this cat.  What one hunter places value on may be slightly different than another hunter’s priorities.  Different hunting styles allow for sacrifices in some areas, or create justification for gains in others.

Why Consider a Layering System for Whitetails?

System layering for whitetail hunting hasn’t been mainstream for very long.  In fact, I would argue it still is not.  The old days of layering 2, 3 even 4 sweatshirts and heading to the woods with 15 lbs of clothing on your back, sweating profusely, still managing to freeze while on stand, and having trouble anchoring your bow string because of excessive clothing bulk, are over.  There are more efficient ways to layer which can provide a hunter with less clothing weight and bulk, and significantly more mobility.  The benefits of layering to the active mountain hunter are obvious.  Thermal regulation can occur by adding or subtracting layers based on physical exertion.  It’s true that a static hunter, one who is sitting on stand for hours on end moving as little as possible, has different needs. A heavy outer garment with lots of insulation may seem like the easiest way to go, but it is often lacking in the areas of weight efficiency and versatility.  Very often, these systems are only used once temperatures plunge below freezing; so the hunter must still develop another whole system for early or mid season bowhunting.  The expense can start to add up and soon a layering system starts to look cheap in comparison.

If assembled correctly, a layering system can provide a whitetail hunter with numerous combinations for a broad spectrum of temperatures.  One well-thought-out system can take a hunter from the beginning of season to the end.  The weight savings associated with developing a layering system, vs. one with heavy thermal outer layers, can be significant, giving the hunter a rare combination of high warmth-to-weight efficiency, superior versatility and arguably the best bang for their buck.  If you are a mobile hunter, carrying a stand and sticks on your back to your hunting destinations, and you could shave anywhere from 2-5 lbs of weight, while saving a couple hundred dollars, and improve system performance, would you do it?

Below are some of the concerns I had with my prior hunting apparel and how I solved the issues through the implementation of a layering system.

Problem 1: Base layer basics

I spent a lot of years hunting in synthetic compression layers similar to the sports apparel that Under Armour became famous for.  I layered heavily over this base and was still cold.  The reason was twofold.  First, the synthetic material of my base layer would become damp with perspiration when I walked to my stand.  I typically wore some of my insulation layers as I walked in and it was rare I did not work up somewhat of a sweat.  My layers were simply too bulky and too heavy to feasibly pack them, so the easiest way to get them in the woods with me was to wear them.  Once I was wet from perspiring during my walk, my layers weren’t providing me with the same thermal efficiency as they may have otherwise.  Secondly, I usually put my outer layers on immediately and essentially trapped the moisture and water vapor inside my clothing.  As soon as my body temperature cooled, the wet base layers  actually pulled heat away from my skin.  While the base layers would eventually get wet with perspiration, they also were generally hydrophobic.  They did not absorb moisture extremely well unless there was an excess of it, and the remaining moisture was left on my skin where it would start to evaporate and provide even more of a cooling effect.  A hydrophillic base layer that is absorptive will pull moisture away from your skin and into the garment.  Additionally, some fabrics will continue to insulate after they are wet, while others will not.

The second thing that was occurring with these compression-type base layers was the restriction of blood flow once I was in my stand and moving very little.  If you are active, compression layers can be an asset to your circulation, but they really have little benefit to the static hunter. Between the cool dampness of perspiration and the lack of blood flow to my extremities, I was routinely uncomfortable in the tree stand.

            The Solution:

Merino wool.  Every whitetail hunter should know those words.  It is hard to beat merino’s warmth efficiency.  It’s also unbelievable how merino wool provides a naturally odor resistant base layer.  Merino wool contains lanolin which is an antimicrobial substance that provides the sheep with resistance to skin infection.  It also provides the hunter with an essentially odor-free base layer.   Additionally, the moisture managing properties of merino wool create an environment where bacteria has a harder time growing and reproducing.  Merino wool is also incredibly warm for the weight of the fabric.  Crimps in wool fibers create loft and naturally insulating air spaces in the garment.  Merino fibers have close to 100 times more crimps per inch than other wool fibers and even “thick” merino fibers (24 microns) are less than half the diameter of a human hair.  This means that when fibers are damaged there, are less abrasions that are felt against your skin.  This gives merino wool its soft, no-itch feel.  Merino fibers also have the ability to retain 30-35% of their weight in water.  This means that the fabric has the ability to wick moisture from your skin to help regulate your body temperature.  This is also likely merino’s most significant drawback, in that it dries slower than some synthetics.  It’s hard to categorize this as a drawback though, because I have found merino to dry incredibly quickly.  And unless you plan to sweat significantly in a very humid climate, it is hard to trade all of merino’s other benefits for something that is less relevant to a tree stand hunter’s situation.  The polyester base layers I have worn, although they claim to be infused with anti-microbial technology, don’t hold a candle to the odor control achievable with merino wool.  Merino wool base layers are not compression layers and because of this, in addition to the aforementioned properties, they are a static Whitetail hunter’s best friend.  Odor control, warmth-to-weight efficiency and moisture management while allowing for full circulation is the combination you need in the tree stand.  The weight of merino layers is measured as grams per square meter (GSM or g/m2).  200+ g/m2 fabric weight is my preferred weight for tree stand hunting in the Northeast.

Problem 2: Michelin Man Insulation

            Turtle neck, cotton hoody, fleece pullover, cotton hoodie #2, polyester vest, sweatpants etc. etc. etc.  A few years ago I was wearing so many heavy, inefficient layers that my mobility was reduced significantly and my stamina was likewise affected.  Carrying 12-15 pounds of clothing on your back is taxing.  And when that clothing is thermally inefficient, it becomes hard to justify the weight.  I had so many “insulation” layers on that there were times that I was unable to properly anchor my bow string.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had seen the buck of a lifetime on one of those hunts, but I would have likely been scrambling to adjust my apparel while a dream deer was walking out of my life forever.  The packability of these layers is non-existent.  They don’t compress, they are heavy, they are bulky.  The best way I could get all the clothing to the woods, which I needed to wear to stay even a little warm, was to wear it.  As mentioned, I ended up in a sweat, which turned into a cold sweat and then I was freezing within an hour on stand.  Cotton is a poor choice for insulation, as are many polyester blends.  Fleece is a better insulation material, and creates a larger air barrier, but it isn’t sufficient as a sole mid- layer piece.

            The Solution:

Packable lofting insulation in the form of down, down blends or synthetics solve multiple problems for the tree stand hunter.  Air is a great insulator, and sweatshirts layered on top of sweatshirts do a poor job of taking advantage of this.  Down is rated by fill power (fp) and, for example, 850fp down lofts to 850 cubic inches per ounce of down.  This means that the higher the down rating, the more loft and air the garment will possess.  A garment made with 100% goose down as its fill is incredibly efficient in insulation properties and light in weight.  Instead of 5-8, or more, pounds of insulation layers, a static hunter may be able to reduce their mid layers to as little as a pound or two using down, a down blend or a synthetic down product.

            The negative of down is that once the fibers are saturated with water, its ability to loft is lost and with it, its insulating properties are severely diminished.  Companies are developing treated down products that coats the down fibers to make them resistant to moisture, and their garments are usually treated with a durable water repellent finish on a down proof membrane as a first line of moisture protection.  Still, back country hunters are sometimes wary of utilizing down because of the reality of reduced performance in wet conditions. A whitetail hunter in the Northeast or Midwest, who is not backpacking overnight, isn’t playing the same high stakes game as someone who is 10 miles from the nearest thoroughfare.  Some companies have chosen to develop apparel that utilizes a down and synthetic blend in order to take advantage of the warmth-to-weight efficiency of down while providing some performance in wet conditions.  The sacrifice typically comes in the form of a slightly heavier, slightly less pack-able piece of clothing.

Other companies have developed synthetic fibers that replicate the performance of down while their hydrophobic nature helps to preserve their performance when wet.  Another drawback of a down layer is that because the outer shell of the garment needs to be “down-proof”, (so that the fill is not lost through the fabric), the layers lack the breath-ability of a synthetic insulation layer.  Active spot and stalk style hunters should probably consider an insulation with a higher breath-ability than down.

But, static stand hunters can pack down to the tree stand and put their insulation and outer layers on once they arrive at their destination.  This reduces perspiration and leaves you with a layer that has a level of wind resistance, is treated with durable water repellent, and is able to be compressed to the size of a softball in your backpack.  Don’t plan on using down layers as an outer layer for bowhunting though, as they will be noisier than synthetic insulation layers which might utilize brushed faces and quieter fabrics.  Down insulation is highly efficient, and its benefits for the tree stand hunter far outweigh its shortcomings, however, the selection of down, down blends or a synthetic insulation is situation specific.  The most important thing is to consider your system weight, and how you will transport your layers.

            Lastly, it is easy to get confused by all the insulation options in the market place right now.  Aside from fp ratings or the many different synthetic products, tree stand hunters need to assess the versatility of their system.  Some might advise the purchase of one heavy insulation mid-layer, although I decided to go the route of purchasing a down jacket and a down vest.  A customer service representative at an apparel company probably won’t advise you to assemble a layering system like this, because it isn’t exactly how the system is designed.  However, many of the down options designed for mountain hunting utilize a highly efficient down but do not incorporate as much insulation in the garment as a static hunter needs in late December.  Adding a second down layer in the form of a vest does two things, it provides more insulation and warmth and it maintains a higher level of versatility in your system.

A heavier down coat is a great option and can be highly effective, but if you are looking to buy the least amount of items possible and want to get from the beginning to end of season with one system, an ultra light down jacket and an ultra light down vest can accomplish this quite nicely.  I typically get through all of late October and November utilizing one down layer, and incorporate the second during December firearms season.  The down jacket, vest and pant I wear weigh 9.5, 7.4 and 11.6 ounces, respectively, and are the pieces most responsible for the weight reduction in my whitetail system.

Problem 3: Mid season versatility

For a number of years I utilized a carbon lined scent control jacket and pants as my outer layer.  While I was never sure it actually worked for scent control, I figured it couldn’t hurt.  During those years, I felt I needed to have a scent controlling outer layer on whenever I was on stand, and so I wore that jacket and pants from October to December.  What I should have done was found a lighter weight jacket, but I felt it was difficult to justify a separate early season system since the majority of my hunting time would occur after November 1st, anyway.  The result?  I often was on stand sweating like crazy through mid October.  I would have been better to go out in my camo fleece which I used as a mid layer through late season, and just left the scent control jacket at home, but at the time my mentality was different.  Now, my system allows me to utilize a lightweight mid-layer piece as an abrasion resistant outer layer through mid season.

The Solution:

            A technical mid/outer layering piece like Kuiu’s Peloton 240 full zip hoodie can become the most versatile piece in your whole system.  Other companies have similar items, such as the Braken Wear Roam Fleece which I utilized often this past season.  A full zip hoodie, one that provides some performance details that a simple cotton pull-over does not, is invaluable to an archery hunter.  Some of these technical pieces offer a bit of wind resistance while remaining highly breathable.  Comfort and mobility can be retained for the archer and the fleece backing that many of these garments offer is helpful for a bit of added warmth.

The Kuiu Peloton full zip hoodie has been my go to outer layer during almost all of October, worn with only a down jacket and merino base underneath it.  This particular garment’s unique and proprietary knit design allows for significant garment stretch without the use of elastic.  Elastic lacks insulating properties and becomes heavy when wet.  The result is a super light hoodie that gives the hunter zero restrictions on mobility.  During colder weather, I incorporated the slightly heavier Braken Wear Roam Fleece as a mid-layer under my soft shell outers.  This piece, worn combination with my super down layers, kept me in the stand during long, cold all day sits into December.

Problem 4: (non)Weatherproof outers

The heavy, bulky outer layers I had previously utilized incorporated an outer face that was similar to a micro fleece.  While these layers where a quiet choice, they became waterlogged with the slightest drizzle of rain.  Though they had a certain level of weather proof properties, most of the performance came from the inner lining of the garment keeping the moisture from fulling penetrating to my mid-layers than it did from the garment’s outer shell shedding precipitation.  The jacket and pant system I was using were also incredibly slow-drying, and if they were soaked during a hunt, they were unlikely to be dry by the next day.  Since I don’t have access to a clothes dryer where we spend most of our hunting time, I eventually needed a second set of outer layers as a backup to my primary ones.  This resulted in plenty of times where I elected to not hunt in wet conditions.  Not only was it miserable to sit in the stand and get soaking wet, but I couldn’t afford to have wet clothing for the remaining days of hunting.  When weather conditions begin to affect the time you can spend afield, it is time for some change.

            The Solution:

            Durable Water Repellent outer layers have become a necessity in my layering system.  Not only are they weather resistant, most technical outer layers integrate some form of windproof membrane as well.  This is an important feature for the Northern whitetail hunter.  Between the wind resistance of a soft shell outer layer and the down proof membrane of my system’s insulation layers, I don’t feel the wind blow.  This keeps me in the stand longer on those cold, blustery December days.

            The second reason I have gravitated to soft shell outer layers with DWR is that this style jacket and pants are typically going to be faster drying than heavily insulated fleece outer layers.  They are also lighter and don’t hold as much water weight.  I like to think of my outer layers as the siding of a house.  They might provide a bit of insulation, but the high R-value comes from the insulation located between the drywall and the siding.

            The trade off of some of the outers with DWR finishes, and a less brushed finish, is that they are presumably less quiet than those fleece outer layers that have been popular with whitetail hunters for years.  I say “presumably”, because I have yet to be busted from a deer hearing my movement because of the fabric with which my outer layers are constructed.  It’s been my theory that if you are moving fast enough for a deer to hear you, you have a much better chance of them visually busting you.  The outer layers I use are Kuiu’s Guide Series, although I have also had excellent luck with the significantly less expensive Teton soft shell jacket that they manufacture.

Other companies offer soft shell jackets which perform similarly, Skre, Sitka, Plythal, First Lite and others produce soft shells which can provide some of the same performance features for the whitetail hunter.  The same principle can be applied across several technical clothing companies.

            It’s fair to note that a DWR finish is not water-proof, it is water repellent.  A heavy downpour can soak these layers and rain gear is the next consideration if you are interested in becoming fully weatherproof.  I utilize Kuiu’s Teton rain gear because it is extremely pack-able and weighs as little as my merino base layers.  It easily fits over my system (I buy a size up in outer layers and rain gear to allow room for layering and mobility).  This is not Kuiu’s highest rated rain gear, in fact it is their lowest performing and cheapest priced.  But it is exactly what a whitetail hunter needs for stand hunting.  It is so compact and takes up so little room that I will throw it in my pack if there is even a chance of rain in the forecast.  It’s worth noting that this rain gear is not going to withstand any brush-busting during a still hunt, but I’ve found it to be ideal for the tree stand.  It’s also worth noting that some people will initially find the rain gear to be too noisy for bowhunting, but, if you’ve ever hunted in a steady rain, you know that a significant amount of noise is drowned out by rain drops hitting the leaves on the forest floor.  Because of this, I have never had a noise issue when wearing this piece of my system.

Conclusion:

The concept of layering systems can be broken down to three clothing components- base layers, mid insulation layers, and weather resistant outers.  A whitetail hunters priorities for their base layer should be moisture wicking, non- compression and odor resistant, instead of the quick drying compression layers an active hunter might choose.  The priorities for mid-layer insulation should be high efficiency warmth-to-weight ratios, instead of the breathable membranes used with synthetic insulation that are more suitable for active hunting.  An optional mid-to-outer layering piece can add versatility throughout October and additional warmth as a layering piece in late season.    It is important for outer layers to offer DWR, be fast drying and lightweight.

My system weight is as follows:

Base layer merino top: 11.6 oz

Base layer merino bottoms: 10.2 oz

Down jacket: 9.5 oz

Down vest: 7.4 oz

Down pant: 11.6 oz

Mid-layer hoodie: 16.5 oz

DWR jacket: 27.5

DWR pant: 20.8 oz

Total system weight: 7.4 lbs

Prior clothing weight: 12.56 lbs

Weight Savings: 5.16 lbs

            Regardless of what you brand or system you choose to wear into the woods, make sure you understand the ingredients within each part of each system so you can make an educated decision regarding what will work best for your style of hunting.  Understand that a mobile, public land hunter is going to have different system needs than a private land hunter who may be able to take a four wheeler to a box blind.  Understanding the performance, the benefits, and the limitations and drawbacks of the garments will allow you to customize your hunting clothing to meet your specific needs.  And believe me when I tell you, getting a layering system dialed in is going to change your hunting experience entirely.

By Reuben Dourte
CommonGroundBowhunter@gmail.com