Category Archives: Gear

Safe Treestand Set-Ups

               Safety is more often discussed in hunting circles now than it has ever been in any time in the history of hunting.  As land, especially in the eastern half of the United States, is sub-divided more and more hunters are getting away from the deer drives of the past and employing the use of elevated stands to give themselves a visibility advantage and help conceal them from deer’s line of sight.  With the ascent comes inevitable risks.  The good thing is that the safety equipment that is being produced by outdoors manufacturers has never been simpler to use or as efficient as it is today.  The safety equipment you should be utilizing will vary depending on the type of stand you are using, but regardless of the style you choose, any time you are elevated, you should be using the right equipment that will ensure you make it home after the hunt.  Below, we’ll break down the equipment needed for climbing trees and hunting out of different types of stands and touch on some methods and tips for each.

1. Fixed position stands (including ladder stands)- If you have a place pre-scouted, as is often the case in lease situations or when you’ve purchased your own recreational property, its likely that you are going to want to have some pre-hung stands in place.  The advantage of these stand sets is that there is a lot less work involved to get into the tree and start hunting, and with that comes less noise.  These stands can be hung or set up well before hunting season starts so that the area has time to recover after your intrusion.  In these situations, it’s advisable for a hunter to select larger, more comfortable stands, especially if the location is in a travel corridor that provides a promising, all day rut hunt. Furthermore, weight isn’t as much of an issue, and because they are set before season, the noise created from setting up a larger, bulky stand isn’t as concerning as when you are setting a truly mobile stand in the middle of season.  Likewise, the commotion of carrying the pieces of a heavy ladder stand into the timber with your hunting buddy isn’t as concerning in July or August as it would be in September or October. 

               When setting up a fixed position stand it is important to utilize a safety harness that comes with loops along the waistline to incorporate a lineman’s belt or lineman’s rope system.  This system will allow you climb up a stick ladder while still being secured to the tree. The lineman’s belt will allow you to use two hands to attach buckles and set the stand platform on the tree.  A lineman’s belt will not completely restrict a fall, but if used properly it will keep you from falling the whole way to the ground.  By making sure that your lineman’s belt is always above waist height at its contact point with the tree, you can reduce the distance you will fall if an accident happens.  Your lineman’s rope or belt should be connected to your harness via a locking carabiner.  It is important that the carabiner have a threaded locking feature to prevent it from accidentally opening, potentially causing an accidental fall.

               Be sure to set your tree stand platform below the last steps on your climbing sticks so that you can step directly across, or down, onto the platform from the stick ladder.  You should also have your lineman’s belt above the treestand, so that you do not have to unhook it to climb into the stand.  This keeps you connected to the tree at all times and protects you from your own, human error as well as possible stand failures.  Once in your stand, a safety line can be attached to the tree above your head and dropped to the ground.  These life lines utilize a prusik knot system that allows you to slide the knot up and down the rope as long as tension is not applied to the knot.  With your safety harness tether connected to the prusik knot, a fall from the stand would result in the knot tightening around the lifeline and the friction on the rope will keep the knot from sliding.  Once your tether is connected to the prusik knot on the life line rope, you can remove your lineman’s belt.

               Ladder stands provide their own challenges and hunters should avoid setting ladder stands by themselves.  Stands can rotate and roll on a tree trunk, or, if not properly angled, they can easily tip over backward as the hunter climbs up to secure the ratchet straps around the tree.  Using a rope system around the ladder portion and connecting it to the tree trunk can help to keep the ladder against the tree.  It will not, however, completely eliminate the stands propensity to roll from side to side.  For this reason, it is imperative to have someone securing the bottom of the stand when you are climbing for the first time.  A safer option is to use a set of portable climbing sticks to climb the tree trunk and ratchet the stand tight to the tree before you climb it for the first time.  You can also drop a safety line at this time and climb the ladder stand fully secured to the tree.  Some manufacturers produce ladder stands with a hinging mechanism which grips the trunk of the tree when the weight of the stand rests against the hinge bar.  This is one example of the many safety improvements and innovations that are being made within the outdoor industry, but it is still advisable to have a hunting buddy present to steady the stand, even if you bought a ladder stand with this feature.  Once installed, ladder stands are some of the safest and most comfortable treestands available.  Many of them feature cushioned or sling seats, arm rests and shooting rails.

Climbing stands– Climbing treestands can be some of the safest and most comfortable treestands to use.  Many manufacturers offer several different models of climbing stands, featuring a wide range of options. It’s important to remember that if used incorrectly, climbers, like any treestand, can present some dangers.  Hunters using climbing stands will be selecting trees without branches and this cuts down on the number of safety steps needed, considerably.  Attaching your tree strap or tree rope to your safety harness tether before climbing onto the platform of your climber may seem like overkill, but it is the best way to stay safe.  Even a 2.5-3 ft. fall can be severe, depending on how a hunter contacts the ground.  Once you begin your ascent, make sure to keep the harness tether and tree strap above your head, moving it up as your climb.  The tether should not hang across your neck or face, or go under your arm.  Keeping the tether and rope assembly above you as you climb limits the distance you will fall if your climber slips on the tree or you lose your balance and fall during your climb.

Once you reach hunting height, set your tree rope so that your tether has the slightest bit of slack when you are sitting down.  This will ensure that you will not experience a big impact and shock if you were to doze off while sitting in the stand and fell out.  It will also reduce (as much as possible) the distance it will take to engage the tether if you fall while standing.  Thirdly, this will keep the harness tether out of your way and make it easy to duck your head under it and/or pass your bow from one side of the tree to the other, if you must make such an adjustment when a shot presents itself.

               Aside from the obvious need to wear a harness at all times while climbing and hunting from a climbing style treestand, it is equally as important to set your climber on the tree correctly before you begin to climb.  Most climbing stands use an adjustable cable or belt that goes around the tree.  The tree stand essentially becomes a lever, and when you put weight on it, the tree cable “pulls” against the back of the tree and the V bracket of the platform “pushes” against the front of the trunk.  To effectively engage this simple mechanism, the angle of the platform must be correct.  Most trees are a bit larger at the bottom than they are 20-25 feet up, so you must also account for this difference in diameter.  Set the belt or cable a little short so that the climber starts at a slight angle when at ground level.  This will ensure that is sits level when at hunting height.  If you adjust the tree belt too far in, or out, you will end up with a platform that is pitched up or down.  Both scenarios can be problematic for safety, and neither is conducive to a comfortable hunt.  A platform that is angled down runs the risk of rotating over, a situation where the stand platform essentially collapses downward under the weight of the hunter. A climber set with an aggressive upward angle can create an issue where enough leverage is not able to be applied to the front of the stand to get a good “bite” on the tree, or, the angle doesn’t allow the teeth in the V bracket to engage the tree bark properly.  When this occurs, a hunter is at risk of experiencing a wild ride as the stand platform can, without warning, slide down the trunk of the tree.

3. Mobile Hang-On stands – The process of setting up a mobile hang-on style stand is very similar to that of a pre-hung fixed position stand.  There are, however, a few minor differences that are important to note.  One of the advantages of a mobile stand hang-on versus any of the other stands is their increased versatility.  While they may take longer than a climber to set up, and the stand weight combined with a set of mobile climbing sticks is typically a heavier package than a streamlined climber, a hunter opens up more tree options when using one of these stands.  Trees with low branches, which can provide addition cover to the elevated hunter, are now an option, as are trees that are less-than-straight.  Additionally, these stands are far lighter than their more “permanent” cousins, so they require a lot less effort and wrestling to get them into a tree.  This makes the stand-hanging process with these stands arguably safer than with larger, heavier fixed position stands; and it is definitely quieter.

               Just as you did when hanging a fixed position stand, it is imperative to use a safety harness with lineman’s rope capabilities.  The lineman’s rope should be used at all times when ascending or descending the climbing sticks.  When using the kind of modular climbing sticks that are necessary for mobile hunting, a lineman’s belt adds an increased level of safety while making it easier and more convenient to set your sticks and stand.  Being able to use both hands makes set up and tear down of the stand a much quicker and quieter process.  Many harnesses come with a lineman’s belt included; however, few if any come with a second lineman’s belt.  This is where hunters are most likely to cut corners when using a mobile hang-on stand.  Because this type of stand gives you the ability to hunt trees with branches or forks, you will need a second lineman rope to stay connected to the tree at all times.  When you encounter a branch, run your second lineman rope above it and connect it to your harness before you disconnect from the first belt.  Avoid the temptation to simply unclip the lineman’s rope with one hand, while holding on to the climbing stick with the other hand, in order to move the rope above the branch.  This is the best way to have an unnecessary accident and become a hunting statistic.  Likewise, be sure to use the one lineman’s rope or belt and connect it to the tree to serve as your tree rope. Clip in to this rope with your harness’s tether before you disconnect your first lineman’s belt.  When the hunt is over, you can do these steps in reverse and stay tied in at all times.

Other tips-         

When you are hunting from an elevated position, it is always good to let someone know where you are.  Dropping a location pin on your phone and sending it to a family member or trusted hunting partner can cut down on the time it takes for help to find you if you were to encounter a life threatening situation.  If you are hunting in an area that has cell phone service, it is a good idea to keep your cell phone in a chest pocket of your hunting coat rather than in a backpack that hangs from your tree, or in a pants pocket.  Depending on how you fall, you may not be able to reach you back pack, or the leg straps of your safety harness might make some of your pants pockets inaccessible.  If a leg strap happens to be positioned over your phone, depending on the impact, your phone could be damaged in the fall. 

If you properly adjust your tether, and you are reasonably fit, there is a possibility that you will be able to regain your position on your stand platform (assuming that your stand was not what failed and caused the fall).  If this is impossible, you need to be aware of the possibility and dangers of suspension trauma.  The same safety harness that just saved your life can become a danger if you are not prepared to take the next steps.  Hanging motionless from a harness, (with the legs straps further reducing blood flow), can reduce circulation and cause blood to pool in lower extremities due to gravity and inactivity.  This inhibits the circulation of a significant amount of blood volume to the rest of the body.  Loss of consciousness can subsequently occur within 10-15 minutes.  If this happens to a person who is merely standing on level ground, they will faint and then the horizontal positioning of their body will redistribute the blood throughout, via gravity, and they will regain consciousness.  However, if you are stuck in a vertical position because of your harness and you lose consciousness, gravity will not be able to help distribute the blood throughout your body and death can occur.  To help prevent this from happening, many safety harness manufacturers have begun to include a webbing strap that is connected to the harness and features a loop on the end so that the suspended hunter can put a boot in the loop and periodically take pressure off the leg straps of the harness.  This movement allows circulation to occur and keeps the hunter conscious.  If your harness doesn’t have this feature, be sure to find one that does and remember to continue to move extremities after a fall, so as to ward against the blood pooling effect that a static, vertical position can have on your body.

               Elevated hunting is one of the most effective methods a hunter can use to kill a deer.  Along with the advent and advancement of trail cameras, innovations within the competitive treestand marketplace are likely one of the things most responsible for hunters becoming more effective than ever in their pursuits of whitetail deer.  The advancements within the industry have made it safer than it ever has been to hunt from an elevated position; but in order to realize the benefits of these innovations and improvements, a hunter has to be committed to the correct utilization of these tools and safety mechanisms.  In short, don’t cut corners on quality when choosing treestands and treestand safety gear, and never cut corners on proven treestand safety practices in the field!  Happy (safe) hunting!


Choosing the Right Release

A beginner’s guide to release styles.

            When it comes to choosing archery equipment, the options seem nearly endless and paralysis by analysis can certainly become a real thing.  Enter any online forum and ask for advice and you’re bound to be inundated with a lot of opinions, and most of them, well-meaning.  Having such a plethora of options is both a blessing and a curse to an archer.  It certainly makes finding the right “fit” a possibility, regardless of the product type; but it also makes the selection process much more difficult.  Throw into the mix the influence of social media and it is easy to be thrown off course by what other hunters and shooters are doing instead of what is the best option given an archer’s own unique circumstances.  Release aids are a product that is offered in a wide array of styles, from a wide array of brands and manufacturers.  Finding the right release aid depends on application and what feels comfortable to the archer; but it’s imperative he or she understands the difference in the functionality of the four main types of releases on the market, so as to be able to make an educated purchasing decision.  

-Index Trigger- Index finger releases are widely popular with hunters.  Typically, these releases utilize some kind of wrist strap, (usually with a Velcro or buckle closure), which attaches to the shank of the release.  Index trigger releases have a trigger similar to a firearm, which is activated by the shooter’s index finger.   This type of release is extremely popular with hunters for multiple reasons.  First, the release is always attached to the hunter’s wrist and so it is “at-the-ready” when a target animal steps into a shooting lane.  When still hunting, the release can’t fall out of the hunter’s pocket, and it allows for a quick connection and draw sequence when milliseconds count.  Additionally, index trigger releases are, by and large, the most economical release option on the market.  While there is, indeed, tremendous variation in pricing, some models of index trigger releases can be purchased for as little as $20-30.  This gives the entry level archer and hunter an economical option.  Many index trigger releases offer the benefit of simplicity, as well.  While the lack of adjust-ability may be a deterrent to some, many hunters appreciate a basic design that works reliably, without the need for tweaks.  Still, there are several index trigger releases that offer a wide range of trigger adjust-ability, including both tension and travel.  These highly adjustable releases sit atop this category, but the adjust-ability comes with a higher price; though many archers will find it to be a worthwhile investment in order to achieve gains in both accuracy and consistency.

-Thumb Trigger- Thumb trigger releases are handheld release aids that use a barrel-like trigger that is engaged with the archer’s thumb.  Some archers who are experiencing target panic with a basic index trigger release will graduate to a thumb trigger in attempt to overcome their symptoms.  A thumb trigger release utilized properly can, indeed, help an archer achieve a surprise release and help avoid shot anticipation that leads to target panic.  However, when the shooter utilizes the thumb barrel like a simple trigger, it can be just as easy to “punch” a trigger with a thumb release as it is with an index finger release. 

Many thumb trigger releases offer trigger tension and travel adjust-ability.  A thumb release that is adjusted for minimal trigger travel, and enough tension to allow the shooters thumb settle around the trigger without firing, can be correctly activated with much the same shot sequence as a hinge style release.  The movement to activate the trigger doesn’t come from the shooters thumb, or wrist, but instead from the motion of applying back tension against the bows back-wall through the contraction of the muscles in the archer’s back.  This expansion movement causes a slight rotation of the release in the shooters hand, at which time a correctly adjusted thumb trigger will be activated as it is pressed into the shooter’s thumb.  The result is a surprise release. 

Some hunters who choose a thumb release may gravitate toward a closed jaw style that can be clipped onto the bows D-loop so that it is always in position to quickly draw on a game animal.  Others may opt for an open hook design that allows for faster loading on the D-Loop.  Many hunters feel that a thumb trigger provides a similar feel and shot sequence as the hinge release they use for target practice or competition shooting, but still gives the same deliberate trigger pull option (although less technically correct) as an index finger release, in the event a fast shot needs executed before the window of opportunity closes.  In this manner, this style of release becomes a very viable happy-medium.

-Hinge-  Hinge releases are another type of handheld release that are popular with target archers.  As mentioned, the shot activation sequence with a hinge has similarities to that of a thumb trigger release, but a hinge release lacks a “trigger”.  The release is activated by the contraction of the shooter’s back which creates an expansion motion.  The shooter, almost as if pushing with their bow hand and pulling with their release hand, continues to draw through the shot, applying back tension.  As the elbow of the shooter’s draw arm moves behind his or her shoulder, the rotation achieved through this motion activates the hinge release as it moves with the shooters hand.  The rotation should not come from the shooters wrist, but instead, the actual “hinging” should come from the contraction of his or her back.  Archer’s who choose a hinge release and begin to rotate the release with their hand become susceptible to the same kind of anticipated shots and target panic symptoms that can plague shooter’s who punch index finger or thumb trigger releases.  The “trigger”, so to speak, has just moved from the release to their wrist.  Hinge releases that are utilized correctly provide an archer with a surprise release and incredibly accurate results.

Hinge style releases can be more susceptible to misfire than some of their counterparts.  However, when a hinge is adjusted and used correctly, it is a very safe release aid option.  Some manufacturers are developing “safeties” for hinge releases.  This way, if the shooter’s draw or form is a bit off and the release is not positioned correctly during the draw cycle, a misfire doesn’t occur.  The precise form and consistency that many hinge releases require make them a less popular option for many hunters.  Hunter’s often find themselves drawing in awkward positions and shooting at awkward angles.  Coupled with the lack of an actual “trigger”, less hunters utilize hinge releases and they are far more prevalent in target competition.  Still, some archer’s successfully hunt with a hinge style release aid and are incredibly successful in doing so.

-Tension Activated- Tension activated releases operate just how you would guess.  When enough tension is applied to the release mechanism, the release will fire.  Tension activated releases are a fantastic way to combat target panic.  Because, like a hinge, there is no trigger on the release and an archer just keeps applying back tension until the shot is activated.  This eliminates the hand-eye-brain coordination that needs to take place with many trigger style releases.  With a trigger release, the shooter’s eye sees that the pin is on target, sends a message to the brain and the brain tells the shooter’s finger to engage the release.  Overtime, this sequence leads to the aforementioned and dreaded shot anticipation.  By nature of its design, a tension activated release eliminates one of those steps and allows the shooter to float the pin around the bulls-eye, or vital area, while they continue to apply tension until the release activates.  Many tension activated release aids can be adjusted so that the shooter must apply significant force before they will fire.  Other manufacturers have tension activated release aids that can be turned to “training mode” and will not fire.  This forces an archer who is dealing with target panic to practice their shot sequence, including their expansion motion, without being able to anticipate a shot, because there is no shot. 

Most tension activated releases use a lever that must be depressed by the archer during the draw cycle.  Once over the peak of the draw cycle, and holding at full draw, the shooter can release the lever.  The tension activated release must be set to slightly more than the bow’s holding weight.  As back tension is applied, the additional pounds of pull activates the release.  To let the bow down from full draw, the safety lever must again be engaged so that the bow does not misfire. 

Tension activated releases are popular and effective training tools, but their adjustability makes them a very popular choice with many target archers.  Although, technically speaking, it is possible to “punch” the trigger on a tension activated release by abruptly pulling through the shot, this style of release is thought by many to be one of the most helpful ways to curb target panic symptoms. As with hinge style release aids, the lack of an actual trigger on a tension activated release keeps them out of many hunters’ hands. 


               So how does an archer choose the right release?  Everyone’s situation is different and unique.  The best approach is one that is based around understanding the use and application for the release, i.e. the type of hunting or shooting, and the specific problems, if any, each individual archer is personally facing.  Understanding the way each style of release works, and how to properly employ its use is key, but that knowledge has to accompany a certain amount of honest self-reflection and introspection on the part of the archer in order to have maximum effectiveness. 


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.


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

Testing Garment Noise of Technical Hunting Aparrel

I conducted a casual testing of several pieces of techincal layering apparell from a few different manufacturers to determine if significant differences were noticeable in terms of face fabric noise.  Below is a video showing the test and the results.



A Game Changing Quiver

Category : Bowhunting Gear

Reviewing the Apex Gear Game Changer Quiver

Enter any online archery forum and you well might find yourself caught in the crossfire of heated gear debates about brands of bows, types of rests, arrows, shooting techniques, etc.  One piece of gear that seems to come to the forefront of conversation far less frequently is the bow quiver. Generally, bowhunters seem to be less particular about the quiver they put on their bow.  Most of the time, it seems like quivers are marketed in much the same way as many stabilizers, i.e. based on their fashionable appearance rather than any superior performance offering. So, you can hardly blame a bowhunter who might place high value on the aesthetics of their bow quiver and fail to consider much else in their selection process.  

For a long time, the quivers I used were selected either because of their price point, or because their camo pattern matched that of my bow.  I’ve used quivers of varying degrees of quality, and always have felt that each one had its own attributes as well as shortcomings. While the quivers I used were adequate for my hunting application, each came with some level of inconvenience and were often found to be lacking performance in certain critical areas.  When I ordered a new 2018 Quest Thrive bow, I knew I needed to find a quiver that would add to the performance of the bow and not reduce it. Finding a quiver that was rigid, and manufactured with quality components, was very important to me. The Thrive bow is very dead in the hand after the shot, and it was imperative that the accessories I would put on the bow would not cause any reduction in that performance.

After scouring as many manufacturer websites as I could find, and browsing the shelves of the local pro-shop, there was one quiver I kept coming back to.  I was previously unfamiliar with the brand and so I decided I needed to take a closer look and dissect the product, its construction and its specs. The Apex Gear Game Changer had all the features I was looking for, (and some others that weren’t even on my radar), all packaged into the product with precision and flawless quality.  I decided I would need to break down my evaluation into four categories that represented the most important things I expected out of the quiver that would find its place on my new bow. After usig the Game Changer quiver for several months, I came to the following conclusions:

  1.  Vibration and Noise- 4.7 out of 5- Quivers have the potential to add noise to your bow after the shot.  Depending on the materials used, they can also be a liability in the tree stand if a hard plastic hood accidentally bumps against a metal stand or bow hook.  Likewise, certain arrow clip designs can make silent arrow removal anywhere from difficult to near impossible. The Apex GameChanger excels in the areas of vibration dampening and noise reduction.  The hood of the quiver sports a rubber Tru-Touch coating that has a great feel to it and offers some vibration dampening qualities. The rail is made from high quality machined aluminum and its rigidity further reduces the possibility of after-shot vibrations.  Lastly, the rubber used for the dual arrow clips is supple enough to allow for silent arrow removal.
  2.  Attachment System- 5 out of 5- Manufacturers are constantly innovating new and different methods for quiver attachment.  Some are better than others, but the system that is employed with the Apex Game Changer is hands down the best in the industry.  The attachment system uses a precision machined aluminum post and channel system that allows the quiver to slide on and off the bow silently.  This also provides the additional benefit of some forward and backward adjustability which helps with bow balance. The quiver is secured into place using a threaded cam lever clamp that can also be operated silently.  With the Game Changer quiver, the days of snapping a quiver into a bracket, sliding it into a loose fitting clip or securing it with a cheap plastic clamp and bracket are over! This feature alone is of significant enough benefit to earn this quiver a spot at the top of the marketplace.
  3.  Arrow and Broadhead Security- 4.5 out of 5- Since I began shooting small diameter arrow shafts, I’ve encountered problems with my arrows maintaining a secure fit in the quivers I used.  With a loose fit, arrow shafts are left to vibrate and create additional noise in the quiver. It was a necessity for me to find a quiver that provided a tight fit for the Gold Tip Kinetic Kaos arrows I was shooting, while still allowing for easy and silent arrow removal.  The arrow clips on the Game Changer quiver are design to accommodate a variety of arrow diameters, all the way down to micro-diameter shafts. The shape of the arrow clip and the soft rubber material provide a solid connection while maintaining ease of operation. Dual clips keep arrows more secure, and even after target shooting for several rounds, the arrows did not migrate out of the hood insert.  The rubber hood insert provides a secure fit with any broadhead design, both fixed and mechanical.
  4.  Construction-  5 out of 5- As previously mentioned, the Game Changer quiver is constructed of high quality, CNC machined aluminum.  The quiver is rugged and tough and maintains its aesthetics via a skeletonized off-set rail. The machined mounting bracket allows for mounting adjustability both forward and backward and can also be attached with a bit of tilt to aid in bow balance.  The bracket even features additional adjustability, allowing the quiver to be moved in closer to the bow’s riser in order to reduce both torque and the need for as much counter balancing with stabilizer bars. The Tru-Touch rubber coating is a nice feature and adds to the quality feel of this bow accessory while the coated, machined aluminum loop allows for the quiver to be silently placed on a tree hook when it is detached from the bow.  

Total: 4.8 out of 5

The combination of ingenuity, careful design considerations and high quality materials results in a rigid, rugged, bow-mounted quiver that has the look, feel and performance that one should expect when buying a high quality archery accessory.  When durability and functionality are high priority, it is hard to look past the Apex Gear Game Changer.


3 Minute DIY (Public Land Legal) Bow Hanger

I had trouble finding public land legal bow hanger options that were compact and quiet to carry.  I also wanted something that would allow for the incorporation of the 1″ webbing strap I was already using to lash my back pack to my stand platform so as to cut down on the amount of gear I would need to carry into the woods.  After trying many different things, I stumbled upon a composite rafter square I no longer was using and it ended up being exactly what I was looking for.  I drilled holes to make a slot for the webbing strap to thread through and finished this off with a carpenters knife.  A simple band saw did the trick for the rest of the cutting and the hanger is wide enough to accomodate split limb bows and sturdy enough to support even the heaviest models.

Here is a time lapse of the 3 minute project:



Is the Quest Thrive the Best Bow of 2018?

Category : Bowhunting Gear

How the Thrive stacks up against the top bows of 2018.

At the beginning of the 2018 calendar year I began searching for a new hunting bow.  I decided to approach the process with as little bias or brand loyalty as possible.  I wanted to end up with a bow that fit me well, was forgiving, and comfortable to draw and shoot.  I shot a good many bows from a variety of manufacturers, there are still some that I haven’t shot and frankly, it would be almost impossible to shoot every flagship bow from every manufacturer.  I’ll do my best to outline some of the specs of each bow I’ve included in this review and detail what general things I was looking for, but be aware that this isn’t going to be a tech filled article.  I’m a bowhunter, not a target archer, and as such, my opinions are, in many ways, that of a layman.  There are so many bows made today, all of which can kill most animals in North America with the right arrow combination, so the search for the right bow comes down to a lot of personal preference.  The recent uptick in traditional bowhunting has done a great job in showing both traditional and compound archers that high speeds do not have to be achieved for maximum penetration and so (full disclosure) I don’t give it much weight when making a decision on a bow to buy.

At a high level, the main criteria I consider in a bow are: draw cycle/valley/let-off, back wall, brace height, mass weight, balance, hand shock and price.  Detailed below is what I am looking for in each of those categories.  Your needs may be different than mine, so it becomes important to outline the preferences that affect my determinations on the shoot-ability, performance and comfort of each bow.

  • Draw cycle/Valley/Let-off- I prefer a smooth draw cycle that doesn’t stack up before let off. Some people might refer to this as a “hump and dump”.  I also prefer a fairly wide valley as I find that this makes the bow a little more forgiving to shoot.  Along those same lines, I like the additional let off that can be achieved with a deeper set valley and a bit more cam rotation, and I am more than happy to sacrifice some bow efficiency to achieve these comfort gains.
  • Back Wall- I like a very solid back wall, and for this reason I really prefer a bow that can utilize limb stops vs. cable stops. I prefer a bow that likes to stay on the wall and this is another reason I prefer a deeper valley and also why I steer away from a bow with a ‘jumpy’ cam system.
  • Brace height- Because I am big on hunting with a forgiving bow, I prefer a longer brace height. I’ve shot bows in the past with brace heights of over 8”, and I really prefer no less than 7”.  Since I’m not too concerned with maximizing arrow speed, I don’t feel it’s necessary to move to a 5” or 6” brace height for the purpose of a few feet per second.
  • Mass weight- Some archers prefer a heavier bow. Heavier bows can typically absorb more vibration and they tend to offer more stability.  While I don’t like an extremely light bow, I don’t want a heavy, clunky bow that leads to more fatigue when I am target shooting in pre-season.  I prefer a bow with an out-of-the-box weight in the high 3 to low 4 lb range.
  • Balance- A bow that is balanced will sit in your hand with minimal need for counter weights. This keeps mass weight to a manageable level for a hunting set up and can aid in improving your form, consistency and follow through and, as such, your accuracy.
  • Hand Shock- Over the past decade, bow manufacturers have achieved huge strides in vibration reduction. Regardless of the model you choose, in comparison to the older bows you may be used to, you are going to be amazed at the improvement in vibration dampening technology on a new bow.  Still, there are some models that are leading the way in this area and its worth noting!
  • Price- Unless you are independently wealthy, price should, responsibly speaking, play a role in a purchasing decision. It certainly does for me.

The Bows

        Of the 10+ bow models I’ve shot this winter, I’ve chosen 5 to compare and will give a short description of my opinion of each followed by a 1-10 score for each of the categories listed above.

  1. Mathews Triax– The Triax is Mathews new short axel-to-axel design that is proving to be making some noise in the hunting industry.  I loved the Triax when I shot it and most of my concerns about the axel-to-axel length were eliminated after I tested it out.  To me, it felt just as stable as a longer bow and the most noticeably impressive thing about it is how dead in the hand it is.  The bow felt plenty fast and was plenty quiet.  I felt that the draw cycle was surprisingly hard given the rounded, oversized cams, but the valley was excellent and the back wall was good for a bow with cable stops.  The bow stayed on the back wall well and the let-off was adequate.  The bow has a lot of weight at the top and when holding it, it has a tendency to want to tip forward.  However, when its shot, the top of the bow still wants to kick back and it will probably require more weight out front to compensate than you might expect.  The bow’s 6” brace height is shorter than I prefer in most circumstances, but the feel of this bow was more like a bow with a 7” brace.  For such a short bow, the Triax is fairly heavy at 4.4 lbs.  Some of this is likely due to the rather robust riser and limb pockets on the bow.  The suggested retail price on the Triax is $1099 but I have found many bow shops to have it listed at $999.
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Let-off: 8/10
  • Back Wall: 8/10
  • Brace Height: 7/10
  • Mass Weight: 7/10
  • Balance: 6/10
  • Hand Shock: 10/10
  • Price: 8/10
    • Score: 54 –  Average: 7.71
  1. Bear Kuma– Bear came out with their newest flagship bow, the Kuma, and offered it in both a regular and long draw option. I shot the standard Kuma.  This bow has slightly smaller and slightly less rounded cams than some of its predecessors from Bear.  The 33” axel-to-axel bow is well balanced and feels very fast.  However, I found the draw cycle to be very uncomfortable and harsher than I would ideally prefer.  I would also like a deeper valley, but to be fair, some improvement in that area could be achieved by adjusting the limb stop.  The cams felt a bit more jumpy than I would like and the bow doesn’t like to stay on the wall.  The Kuma has a 75% let-off at full draw.  The bow I shot came out of the box with cable stops, and the back wall was fairly spongey.  Some of this could be mitigated with higher quality strings and cables, as well as the installation of a limb stop.  The bare bow comes in at 4.3 lbs and the brace height in 6”.  It draws, shoots and feels like a 6” brace height bow.  Most noticeable when shooting the Kuma right after the Mathews Triax was the increase in hand shock and torque.  I also shot the Bear Moment, a carry-over from 2017, and have to say that I personally prefer this bow to the Kuma.  The Moment has a better draw cycle, a better valley, a better back wall, a slightly more compact 31” axel-to-axel, 80% let off and significantly less vibration.  Both the Kuma and the Moment retail a few hundred dollars less than other manufacturers’ bows, coming in at $899 MSRP.   I have even seen the Kuma around $800 at some shops, a great price point for a flagship bow!
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Let-off: 5/10
  • Back Wall: 5/10
  • Brace Height: 6/10
  • Mass Weight: 8/10
  • Balance: 8/10
  • Hand Shock: 6/10
  • Price: 9/10
    • Score: 47 – Avg: 6.71
  1. Bowtech Realm– Bowtech followed up its successful Reign series with the Realm in 2018.  Don’t get them confused, in my opinion they aren’t comparable.  I shot a Reign 7 before I shot the Realm.  The Reign draws and shoots like a speed bow while the Realm feels like the very smooth, very forgiving, very comfortable Bowtech hunting bows I have owned in the past.  The Realm uses Bowtech’s Smart Bow technology to offer two draw cycles to the archer, a speed setting and a comfort setting.  I prefer to shoot on the comfort setting and will sacrifice some speed for increased shoot-ability.  The silky smooth draw of the Realm gives way without dumping into the valley.  The draw cycle is superior to the Triax, but once at full draw the bows feel about the same.  The back wall is similar and both bows stay on it well.  While plenty fast to be extremely lethal, and rated at the same 340 fps as the Reign 7, I would be surprised to find that the Realm was as fast as the Reign.  However, I didn’t shoot either through a chronograph because speed is of little concern to me.  The Realm rivals the Triax in terms of hand shock elimination.  It is extremely dead in the hand.  The Realm has a 7 1/8 brace height and a 30 ¾ axel-to-axel length.  It has a fairly blocky riser, with beefy limb pockets and very short, wide limbs.  The bow is listed at 4.3 lbs mass weight, but actually looks like it should be heavier than that.  Although rated the same as the Kuma, it felt more comparable to the Triax in weight.  The let off of on the Realm I shot felt somewhere in the 75-80% range.  The bow retails for $1099 MSRP but you may find it on the rack at many shops for $999.
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Letoff: 9/10
  • Back Wall: 8/10
  • Brace Height: 8/10
  • Mass Weight: 7/10
  • Balance: 8/10
  • Hand Shock: 9/10
  • Price: 8/10
    • Score: 57 – Avg: 8.14
  1. Elite Ritual- Elite certainly improved its offering in 2018 with the Ritual. In comparison to some of Elite’s prior flagship models, the Ritual blows them away. This is a sweet shooting machine that offers about everything you could want in a hunting bow.  The precise weight distribution on the bow is immediately noticeable.  It offers a draw cycle that very much resembles the Bowtech Realm.  I felt that the Ritual had a valley that was a bit more to my liking than that of the Triax or the Realm.  The back wall was very similar to the Realm and the bow is incredibly dead in the hand.  Like the Realm, it does not cede much ground to the Triax in that area.  The axel to axel is comparable to the Bear Kuma at 33 ¼”.  The brace height on the Ritual is 6 ¾” and the mass weight is rated at 4.3 lbs.  Of the bows I shot, this bow felt the lightest, which I attributed to the excellent balance and weight distribution.  The Ritual retails for $999 and I’ve seen it advertised at local shops for $949.
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Let-off: 9/10
  • Back Wall: 8/10
  • Brace Height: 7/10
  • Mass Weight: 8/10
  • Balance: 10/10
  • Hand Shock: 8/10
  • Price: 8/10
    • Score: 58 – Avg: 8.29
  1. Quest Thrive– Quest brought the Thrive to market in 2018 and it wasn’t even on my radar as a bow to test.  I was getting one of my old bows restrung at a local shop and the owner encouraged me to try one.  I was both surprised and impressed enough to shoot a couple follow up shots just to make sure I felt what I thought I felt!  Keep in mind that Quest is to Prime what Diamond is to Bowtech, Mission to Mathews or, back in the day, Reflex was to Hoyt.  These brands manufacture quality bows that can be offered to the consumer at a more affordable price point.  To meet those price points, sometimes the manufacturers forego the use of some of the more expensive technology and components.  In this case, G5 does not incorporate the parallel cam technology of the Prime bows into the Quest line.  Still, they are good looking and great performing bows.  G5’s advanced riser technology allows them to boast some of the most rigid aluminum risers in the industry.  If you are at all familiar with G5, you could easily mistake the Quest Thrive for a Prime Rize.  Aside from the Rize’s parallel cam, the two bows spec out extremely similar.  The Thrive has a 33.75” axel-to-axel length, making it one of the longest axel-to-axel bows I tested.  The listed mass weight of 4.3 lbs felt heavier than the Kuma or the Ritual and more in line with the weight of the Realm and the Triax.  The draw cycle stacked up a bit but did not dump into the valley.  The valley on the Quest was adequate, but I would adjust the draw stops a bit to make it wider than it comes out of the box.  Even so, the bow stayed on the back wall and the limb stops are rock solid.  This had the absolute best back wall of any bow I shot.  The weight distribution on the bow, while not quite as impressive as the Elite Ritual, was close to it, and the bow is incredibly balanced and maintains it through the shot.  Quest is even shipping these bows with all the modules to adjust from 26-31” draw lengths!  One of the biggest “wow” factors for me with this bow was how dead in the hand it is.  We’re talking Triax dead, here.  This bow sacrifices nothing in vibration dampening to any flagship bow in the industry right now.  The second “wow” factor was the price.  At a MSRP of $679 and most shops carrying them at $650, this bow and its price point are hard to beat.  Imagine a bow that can compete with any flagship model, for box store pricing.  It’s almost too good to be true!
  • Draw Cycle/Valley/Let-off: 7/10
  • Back Wall: 10/10
  • Brace Height: 7/10
  • Mass Weight: 7/10
  • Balance: 9/10
  • Hand Shock:10/10
  • Price: 10/10
    • Score: 60 – Avg: 8.57

The way I break it down, the Quest Thrive is on its way to becoming one of the very best bows in 2018.  I suspect Quest will move a lot of these bows in the coming months.  The level of competition in the archery industry is staunch and many manufacturers are producing a phenomenal product.  Each bow I tested seemed to excel in one field or another.  All of them are more than capable of taking any game animal on the continent with the right arrow combination.  The Quest Thrive, quite frankly, excelled in the most categories while remaining the most economical bow of the group.  When performance meets affordability, you get great value!


Product Review: Braken Wear Roam Fleece Jacket

Category : Gear

If you follow this blog, or the Common Ground Bowhunter Instagram Account, you know that I am a pretty faithful subscriber to the Kuiu system.  I have no affiliation with Kuiu, I just like their stuff and I believe in it.  Aside from altering my post season scouting, my gear is probably the thing that is most responsible for changing how I hunt.  So, all that being said, it takes a lot for me to find something that actually causes me to spend my money elsewhere, at least when it comes to technical hunting apparel.  I will concede that there are a few brands in this market that rival Kuiu’s performance and specs, but the price tag is almost always significantly more than Kuiu and so I find myself going back to their direct-to-consumer model price savings.  Likewise, if I can find something cheaper or even equal in price, it almost always seems to come with a sacrifice in performance, weight, material technology or innovation.  Still, I am constantly looking to improve my layering system and so I try to keep an eye on what is out there.

That’s how I came across the company Braken Wear.  I believe I saw a post on social media and so, naturally, I looked into their gear offerings.  Although there wasn’t much I needed, I was, at the time, contemplating purchasing another Kuiu Peloton 240 Full Zip Hoodie so that my wife and I would both have this valuable layer in our systems.  I have told many people that the Peloton 240 Full Zip Hoodie might be the best piece in the whole Kuiu offering.  So, when I browsed Braken’s offerings on their website I looked into their Roam Insulated Fleece Jacket further because it appeared to have some of the features I was looking for, for a fraction of the cost of a Kuiu Peloton 240 Full Zip Hooded Sweatshirt. And, although it is labeled as a jacket, the Roam more resembles a thermal hoodie.  After purchasing the garment and using it all season to hunt Whitetails in the Northeast, here is what I found.

Braken Wear Roam Fleece Jacket
The Braken Wear Roam Fleece Jacket is a 3 pocket, full zip, highly breathable mid layer with a fitted, cordless hood.  The jacket is cut longer in the back to provide full coverage whether standing, sitting or on the move.

Weight-  (4.8 Stars)

Garment weight has become one of the most critical deciding factors for me when contemplating the purchase of hunting gear.  Even though I am not doing a lot of ‘active’ hunting, aside from occasional still hunts or deer drives, I still need to be able to pack all my gear into my stand location.  Sometimes this means hunting a pre-hung set and sometimes it means packing a portable stand, climbing sticks and all my outer layers in to hang the stand and hunt the same day.  Throw in the weight of a camera arm and other necessities and ounces begin to matter.  When I was looking to buy the Roam jacket, Braken did not list their  weights on their website, so I contacted them via messenger to request a garment weight.  The salesperson was responsive and helpful and gave me a weight for an XL jacket- 18 ounces.  At just over a pound, this was only 3 ounces heavier than a Peloton Hoodie from Kuiu, and truth be told, I am not sure what garment size Kuiu uses to calculate their weights.  Once I had determined the other specs were satisfactory, I ordered the jacket; 1 lb+ is within the range of what I am looking for in this type of layer.

Weather resistance/breathability- (4.5 Stars)

I knew going into the purchase that the Roam jacket did not have a durable water repellent (DWR) coating on the face fabric.  Since I was planning on using it as a mid layer I was not too concerned.  (I was more concerned with the wind resistance and breathability.)  Although the coat got a bit wet during a few light rains when I was walking to my stand without my soft shell layer on, the fabric is extremely fast-drying, and I found it to be mostly a non-issue; but a DWR coating would be nice.  The Roam jacket could be used for an outer layer during dry, mid-season conditions.  I would be comfortable wearing a 200g/m2 Merino wool base layer and the Roam jacket on evening sits where temperatures would be dropping into the 40’s.  The wind resistance of this garment is good, but I would not utilize it as my outer layer in frigid temperatures, but then again, it isn’t designed for that anyway.  The best part about this jacket is that is is so highly breathable.  It has the perfect combination of weight and breathability for walking to my stand in the morning in sub freezing temperatures.  Rarely was I hot or cold, and the thermal regulation of the garment amazed me.  It far outperformed my expectations in this area.  I quickly became more than willing to give up the DWR feature to have this kind of breathability in the jacket!

Comfort and Fit- (3.9 Stars)

Braken Wear Roam Fleece Jacket
The sleeves could be a bit longer, but their tailored fit and nicely finished cuff helps the garment to fit under outer layers more easily.

One of the best parts about this jacket is the length.  It falls well below the waist when standing and does not drift up your back when sitting in the stand.  It has an athletic fit like the apparel in many layering systems.  The hip pockets are spacious and the single chest pocket is large enough for a cell phone, license, and even a battery charging cell for your phone if you were so inclined.  One of two negatives I found was that the sleeves could be a little longer for my arms, but the cuffs are very comfortable and the taper helps keep the sleeve from riding up, although thumb holes would be an added bonus and make putting on an outer layer over the Roam jacket a bit easier. However, that is something that I’m willing to sacrifice to be able to enjoy a better price point.  The second negative I found was that the cut and size of the hood was slightly long and wide for my head.  If I put the hood up the whole way with no hat on, it would come down over my forehead further than I preferred.  This could affect some of your peripheral view since the cut of the fitted, cordless hood would be slightly off from its intended placement.  When wearing a hat or beanie, the hood size and cut is about perfect.  The weight of the hood is perfect when walking into your stand in the morning, adding enough warmth, while breathable enough that you don’t sweat.  The sizing on this piece seems to run a little small in comparison to typical US sizing.  This, coupled with the athletic fit, would cause me to advise to order a size up from what you typically wear.  I ordered an XL and it fits me comfortably enough, but there is no room to spare, and if ordering again I would probably purchase a XXL.

Braken Wear Roam Fleece Jacket
Small details go a long way to add comfort, such as the chin guard built around the zipper.

Warmth- (4.5 Stars)

This is one of the warmest ‘sweatshirts’ you will wear.  The inside has a thick fleece liner that is perfect to wear over your base layer, and provides most of the warmth in the garment.  The outer material is a fast drying synthetic with lots of stretch for added comfort.  The hood offers a little extra warmth and concealment and is basically an extension of the collar of the jacket.  The jacket zips past the chin, and chin guards on the zippers are a nice, added touch.  Braken has considered some body mapping in this garment to increase its warmth to weight efficiency and it is evident when wearing it.  It is warm in the places you need it and lightweight in the places you don’t.

Noise/Concealment- (5 stars)

This will be one of the quietest garments in your system.  The face fabric literally makes ZERO noise.  If wearing as an outer layer, you don’t need to worry about getting busted drawing a bow or raising a gun.  The zippers Braken uses are high quality YKK and can be operated silently with a minimal amount of care.  The proprietary camo pattern has a digital striped look to it with a brown background.  I don’t suspect any detection problems as it seems to blend nicely, but I so rarely wear this as my outer layer, the camo pattern in my situation was of little importance.  I would have bought this jacket if it was a solid color.

Braken Wear Roam Fleece Jacket
The stitching on the Roam jacket is precise but rugged and durable. The zippers are high quality and the fleece backer is extremely warm on chilly November mornings.

Durability-  (4.2 stars)

The quality and feel of the jacket is great.  The stitching also seems to be of high quality and the seams are all perfect.  After a season of use, aside from some blood, the jacket still looks brand new.  It laundered well, and seems to be holding up great.  I would not expect to go busting brush or walk through a brier thicket while wearing this jacket and not end up with a few snags.  Since its not designed as a primary outer layer, this application is unlikely anyway.

Price- (5 Stars)

The jacket is on the BrakenWear site for $107.24 (plus shipping).  However, I hit this when the timing was right and got something around 30% off.  The jacket, with shipping, cost me less than $90.  If you know anything about technical clothing, you know that is a steal.  Considering the Kuiu Peloton 240 Full Zip Hoodie is $149.99 (not on sale) and the (very comparable) Sitka Traverse Hoodie is $199, this is a phenomenal price.

Company and Customer Service- (4.8 Stars)

From what I have been able to find out about the company, they seem like genuinely good people who are passionate hunters.  The company is obviously small and still in a growth and developmental stage.  I imagine that breaking into the hunting apparel industry is about as hard as it gets.  That said, they were extremely responsive to my messages when I had questions about the product and, as I previously mentioned, they even weighed the jacket for me!  I received notice that the item was shipped within 12 hours of purchase and it arrived at my front door before the minimum shipping estimate given at purchase.  Very impressive, considering I have bought clothing from US based companies and it has arrived days (sometimes weeks) after the last day of their delivery estimate.  Braken deserves a lot of credit for this kind of customer service and speedy shipping from overseas.

One thing that I wish they would make more available is some additional details about their company, the sourcing of their materials, and the ingredients and technology in their garments.  I found it hard to determine what fabrics were used in the garment and as such it was more difficult than it needed to be to determine if this was indeed what I was looking for.  I essentially ended up taking a leap of faith because of the sale price, but if given more details on the website about the fabrics and the technology behind them, this decision process could be made easier.  Since I purchased the Roam Insulated Fleece Jacket, Braken has included weights for several of their items on their website.  This was a necessary addition and will help their customers to make better informed decisions.


This is a great piece to add to your layering system, especially when considering the price point and customer service you will receive.  This jacket has now replaced my Kuiu Peloton 240 Full Zip Hoodie about 90% of the time as a mid layer piece during the second half of the season.  And that isn’t because it is cheaper, that’s because it performs that well for me.  The performance of this piece is on par with much more expensive technical garments and that makes it a phenomenal value.

Overall Rating- 4.6 (out of 5 stars)





hunting bike

Tour De Common Ground

What does biking have to do with hunting?  You might be wondering this.  And, if you are, chances are at this point in time the answer for you is “Not much”.  Friends of mine have been using bicycles to their advantage for over a decade now.  Since I haven’t had the same need in years passed, (or at least perceived that I didn’t), I avoided this method of transportation.  The basic reason was that where I hunt, the access is such that there are no trails suitable for biking.  There are, however, county roads; but for every season leading up to this one, we simply walked or drove along the roadways.  This summer I dug out an old mountain bike from my shed and gave it a new coat of paint, checked the brakes, and got it ready to use for hunting season.  You may be wondering why I would need, or want, to use a bicycle for any kind of transportation, given how I just described the area we typically hunt.  As I see it, there are plenty of benefits to having this tool in your arsenal, so it is just one more trade secret I can apply as needed.  The weight of each benefit shifts and changes based on the terrain, area, and your style of hunting. But overall, most (if not all), serious hunters can reap the rewards of utilizing a bicycle for stand access.

  1. Save Time- Riding a bike saves valuable time when accessing stand locations.  You aren’t going to be riding you bike right to your stand tree, so you are still going to have some foot travel, but you can keep a good pace down a reclaimed railroad bed on a bike, often with less physical effort than walking.  A half hour or hour walk to get back into a remote piece of public can be shortened to ten or fifteen minutes by bike.  Those extra minutes during a morning hunt could mean the difference between beating a buck back to his bed, or not.  It also can mean a few extra minutes of shut-eye which can become valuable toward the end of a long season.
  2. Less Sweat- You might as well capitalize on mechanical advantage.  Riding a bike, if on relatively level ground, is less likely to cause you to sweat as much as walking the whole way to your stand at a brisk pace will.  Less sweat=less scent.  It also means you are less likely to have wet clothing that will make you cold as soon as your body cools.
  3. Remote access- If you are hunting large public parcels and you are walking back hiking trails or railroad beds for several miles to get away from other hunters, a bike can do wonders for you.  Not only does it save time, but it also makes these remote access areas even possible to hunt.  Most people aren’t willing to walk 2-3 miles in.  A bike makes these treks more feasible so you can avoid hunting pressure and hunt the deer that are doing the same.
  4. Deer Carrier- One of my good friends has rigged up his bike with a few extras, like a platform over the rear wheel and a handle bar rack.  When he shoots a deer in a remote area, he walks it out on his bike instead of dragging it for 2 miles, or having to quarter it in the timber.  I’d better mention that this technique is best coupled with some hunter orange to cover the deer for safety reasons.
  5. Less Pressure- In my opinion, the number one case for using a bike is that it allows you to put less pressure on the deer you are hunting.  In suburban areas, deer may be used to bikers riding on trails past their bedding areas.  You may need to push in past doe bedding to get to an area where you think a buck is bedded.  If riding a bike keeps you from being associated with danger, it can give you access to more remote pieces of a property without spooking non target deer.  Likewise, if you hunt primarily in hill country with a mixture of cover and open fields, you may be coming out of the timber and moving along roadways to get back to you vehicle.  The deer may not tolerate the sight of a human walking along the roadside, however, there is a good chance they are accustomed to dirt bikes, fourwheelers and even cyclists on country roads.  You can avoid having deer associate you with danger by turning your approach into just another common, non-threatening disturbance along the thoroughfare.  This is the primary reason I pulled my bike out of the shed this year.  I want to be able to move up and down the county road quickly, and without the deer associating me with hunter foot traffic.  I hope this will keep the deer in the destination ag fields less disturbed throughout the whole season and keep doe family groups patterns in tact all the way into the pre-rut timeframe.

Consider tweaking a mountain bike for hunting access in the future.  If it can save time, help you get into more remote areas, or lower the pressure on your local deer herd, how can it hurt your efforts?  Sometimes its the little things that make all the difference.

-Reuben Dourte

Email me at



Why Kuiu.

I hesitated to write this blog because I wasn’t sure I wanted to venture down a “brand-specific” road.  There are brands that I trust and have used for a number of years with success, but that isn’t to say there aren’t other brands that would achieve the same or better results, perhaps with the same or better price, and so I remain open to the evolution of my gear.

My intent isn’t to plug a specific company’s product.  My intent is to talk about a system and the benefits it provides.  If another system provides the same efficiencies at a better price point, I’m open to it.  Kuiu made sense for me, another company’s line may makes sense for your style of hunting.  The important part is that your clothing choices are well thought out and give you the functionality you need. Good clothing keeps you in the stand longer and therefore can increase your chances of success.

So here’s why Kuiu:


Good hunting clothing is expensive.  Highly efficient insulation as well as water repellent, breathable membranes come at a premium, so it was important for me to maximize the number of clothing combinations I could make from the least number of pieces in order to address early to late season insulation needs from one single system.  The ability to do this is one of the main reasons I chose Kuiu over similar hunting clothing systems.

A Simple System-

The idea behind a gear system is pretty simple.  First, you have a next-to-skin layer that needs to feature both moisture wicking properties and odor control.  Merino wool has natural odor eliminating capabilities and draws moisture off your skin and into the garment where it can evaporate while the base layer still provides warmth and insulation.  Synthetic base layers can also do a good job of insulating, and some of them are incredibly fast drying and also feature odor fighting properties that are manufactured into the fabric.  It is simply hard to beat the warmth of natural fiber merino wool which is why I selected merino wool base layers of various weights. (Base layers will fit tighter to the skin, so order the same size as you normally wear in T-shirts.)

The second layer of your gear system is your insulation layer.  Here again comes the option of natural vs. synthetic.  Kuiu has a high loft down system that is incredibly light weight and compact.  Packing layers into your stand location becomes easier with this ultra light insulation system and reduces perspiration and therefore body odor. (I purchased XL Superdown layers even though I were a Large in other clothing.  The XL fits perfectly and allows for merino layers to fit nicely underneath.)

A midweight thermal hooded sweatshirt can act as both an outer layer during earlier season hunts and an insulation layer in the dead of winter.  The best thing about Kuiu’s Pelaton full zip hoodie is its versatility.  The knitted fabric stretches to fit comfortably over insulation layers without elastic and fits perfectly over only merino layers as well.  (Because I planned to use the Pelaton hoodie over my down layer and I ordered an XL Superdown layer, I also ordered an XL hoodie, which fits perfectly over the insulation layer.)

Outer layers comprised of Toray Primeflex material are treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent).  The Attack pants can be used as a perfect early season pant or as a shell layer during later season hunts.  The natural stretch of the fabric allows them to fit over the merino and Superdown layers.  The Attack pants are the most comfortable pair of pants I have ever worn, hunting or otherwise, and allow an unrestricted range of motion for demanding hunting styles or hanging stands on run-and-gun sets.  I bought the Guide jacket because I like an outer layer with a hood for added weather protection.  Made of the same Primeflex material as the Attack pants, the guide jacket also features micro fleece backing for added warmth and comfort on later season hunts.  This was another big reason I chose the guide jacket, as I feel added warmth in your core is important on cold late November/December hunts.  Wind and water resistant, light rains will bead off this Primeflex fabric but they remain breathable to keep an active hunter’s body heat regulated.  (Order at least one waist size larger than you typically would wear to allow for room for your base layers.  I wear a 34 waist in blue jeans, but ordered a 36 in Attack pants and they fit perfectly over the under layers.)

Several rain gear option exist, and this might be an area you can forego if you are looking to save some money.  I chose to select the Teton rain system because it was the most economical of the choices and the water permeability of 10,000mm is suitable for any conditions I will find myself in.  Mostly, my goal with rain gear is to be able to stay out in a light rain and not have to worry about my guide jacket or attack pants being water logged for the next day’s hunt.  You can learn more about waterproof ratings and how they are calculated here.

The layer combinations are nearly endless and this gives you options from early to late season with just a few simply clothing items.


Mobile hunting has its value when pursuing whitetails.  Getting into remote areas is hard work and packing a stand and other gear makes it that much more difficult.  The ability to improvise and adjust is worth the effort however.  Being mobile is easier when you are wearing ultralight gear.  Insulation layers that weigh a few ounces and outer layers with the same kind of lightweight efficiency make it easier to carry layers in without adding significant weight to your pack.    I can’t tell you how cumbersome packing in heavy, inefficient layers can be.  Pack weight is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, whether you are hunting remote public parcels or walking into small pieces of private ground.  Weight means work and work means sweat.  Sweat increases your human scent and makes it easier for deer to detect you, and long hours in the stand with sweat soaked base layers lead to a cold and miserable sit.


If you look at the price tag on some of the items on Kuiu’s website, you may wonder how price could be a benefit when purchasing Kuiu gear.  Certainly, Kuiu is an investment and there is cheaper hunting clothing to found.  But when comparing similar quality, (and more importantly, efficiency), in clothing it is hard to match the price point of Kuiu’s gear.  Similar clothing manufacturers are based on a retail model which requires significant retail mark-ups.  Some of these other gear systems might be available at your local sporting goods store, however, if you are serious about streamlining your gear system, there is a good chance you know more than the floor rep about the product line.  When this happens, you are paying for a retail markup that isn’t giving you much value-added when you don’t receive added expertise from the salespersons at the store.  You may also find that more items are needed to achieve the same kind of system that Kuiu can provide with fewer items.  Some layering systems from other high end manufacturers utilize heavily insulated outer layers which are harder to pack into your hunting location and don’t provide as much versatility.  To achieve the same flexibility you may find yourself buying more items, and adding additional high priced items equals way more expensive overall.  Kuiu isn’t cheap by any means, but its pricing structure is more palatable than other manufacturers who produce clothing of similar quality.


Kuiu isn’t going to be for everyone.  Some people’s hunting styles will lend themselves to traditional hunting that may be acquired for cheaper prices.  However, for those looking for an ultralight option to provide mobility, versatility and efficiency, it is hard to match the price/quality ratio of Kuiu.

What does your clothing system look like to get you from early to late season?  Leave your comments below or email me at

-Reuben Dourte