Friday, February 28, 2014

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Millennial Generation of Bowhunters

I am part of the Millennial Generation of bowhunters. 

We are that group of hunters who, it seems, have a higher focus on physical prowess than past bow hunting generations. Watching the shift in bowhunting from the stereotypical person driving around in a truck all day with their bow hoping for an opportunity, to that of a person willing to run up a mountain in chase of their dream has been a unique experience. It has also been a motivating one.

I cannot deny that my own love for physical fitness stemmed from a specific hunt my second year afield. It was a day I will never forget, complete with huge sage-covered hills, no water, miles of ground and one black bear. It took the horrifying experience of packing out a 200-pound bear to show me the importance of physical training. Since then, running, lifting and cycling have played a vital role in my hunting style. This same style has been exemplified by hunter-athletes like Cameron Hanes, who is a driving force behind the transition of turning many generations of bowhunters, old and young, into mountain-roaming beasts.

Maintaining a high level of physical activity has been paramount to my success since that sweltering late-summer day in 2002. Even today, 12 years later, I still believe this and look to continually push myself physically. That is why I am always looking for the next fun thing to keep the blood pumping!

So, if you're interested in joining me for an upcoming trail race, be sure to check out this link: Winthrop Rattler Trail Run, April 19, 2014

I believe wholeheartedly that being in the best shape possible does play an important role in bowhunting, and it has been a joy sharing some of my favorite running events through my blog as prepare for the hunt.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bearing down this Spring

Spring bear season is almost upon us and for fellow archery addict this represents a great opportunity to hit the field early with bow-in-hand. Here in Washington, we have 19 permits to choose from across the state, with 697 total permits available. Permit applications must be submitted online by February 28, 2014.

Drawing a tag of any kind often seems impossible, but when it comes to Spring bear there is a real opportunity of seeing "successful" in the results column. The majority of Washington Spring bear tags can be drawn every three years. I was able to draw the Monroe unit tag my first year applying, and the Copalis unit the very next season. Though unsuccessful both years, I was able to learn a lot about hunting bruins in the early season by speaking with biologists, tree farm managers and other hunters via online forums. Here are a few considerations for Spring bear draw hunts:

Know your unit before you apply:

The actual size of the unit available will vary depending upon the "prescription" for bear removal generated by a timber company manager and local wildlife biologists. This number is estimated by past tree damage assessments on timber company property. When bear come from their deep sleep, they are in search of easy food, often in the form of new grasses and the nutrient-rich cambium layer of younger pine trees.

Though not entirely devoid of its protective bark,
this tree may not survive the scarring created by a hungry bear.
The cambium layer resin can be seen leaking from the trees wound. 
A Department of Natural Resources forestry manager I met while hunting the Monroe unit gave me the rundown on how to discern a bear-damaged tree from a porcupine-damaged tree--which is actually a common mistake bear hunters make in the Spring. Porcupine often scar a tree above head height, choosing to stay higher to avoid predators. Their scarring will be similar in depths to a bear marking, but will fail to wrap around the entire trunk of the tree. Trees often survive a porcupine assault. A bear marking will be 3 to 4 feet off the ground and encircle the entire tree trunk, forcing the cambium layer to leak tasty resin out. The resulting mark will kill the tree very quickly.

Successful draw candidates will receive a packed of information from the State with detailed maps of the hunt area, and information about obtaining gate key access. Gate keys provided by the Department of Natural Resources will cost the hunter a $100 deposit, which will be refunded when the key is returned.

Know who owns the land and associated fees:

My second Spring bear draw was a total disaster. As a poor beggar college student, I could hardly afford the gas to get to my hunting spot, but I was excited to see that I had drawn again in 2012. Trouble was, the land owner for the Copalis unit--the group who asked the WDFW to provide Spring bear permits for the area--required all hunters to pay a $300 access fee for the gate key and right to camp. That was a deal breaker for me, and I did not even attempt to hunt the unit because of the fee. I had a very hard time understanding why I should pay $300 to do the timber company a favor by removing a bear. Lesson: understand who owns the property and what fees are applied.

For more information regarding hunting black bear in Washington State, be sure to check out this document outlining the 2012-2015 bear hunting rules: Washington Bear Hunting Link

Understand bear behavior:

The best way to approach this, especially for first time Spring hunters, is by going online to hunting forums. I have found awesome information from the forum and forum. Hunters love sharing their past success stories, particularly because the units are draw only, so there is no fear of losing their "spot".

Locating bear in the Spring often boils down to covering a lot of ground. Bear, especially toward that later days of the season (which runs until May 31 or June 15 depending on the unit), will spend the majority of their day eating to replenish fat reserves. If there is fresh snow in your hunt area, your chances can be greatly diminished, as bear typically become sedentary when food sources are covered.

Finding food sources will be essential. Focusing efforts on large grass flats and exposed roadsides where grass can grow freely are great options. Stands of timber are another good bet, as bear will focus on trees in the 20-30 year old range due to the large amount of nutrient-rich cambium being produced. This age class of tree is typically in the "stem exclusion phase" when the planted trees block the majority of light to the forest floor, creating a dark, barren understory. Locate dark stands of timber near older logging road systems and take note of tree damage near the edge of the units. Bear will gravitate between open grass logging roads and dark timber patches. Skunk cabbage, the bright yellow-tipped swamp plant, is another good food source for emerging bear. The root of the skunk cabbage plant acts as a laxative, so keep your eyes open for open, swampy alder tree bottom lands.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Getting a Grip

 There was a time in my archery career when I was guilty of choking my bow. I didn't know the act of doing so was a heinous crime to my shooting evolution, but that's how we learn, right?

A decade ago a trend existed amongst bow manufacturers to incorporate high wrist grips into many beginner bows. I cannot say whether or not a high-wrist grip--a large wooden or composite grip resembling a turtle shell--truly affects a bows accuracy, but I can relay the affect moving away from them had on my own shooting.

Shooting form and the grip

Archery is a sport of rigidity. The human musculature allows for the body to nearly lock into a rigid form to support the weight of a bow at full-draw. For example, the top photo is of myself with a well-tuned Limbsaver Proton at the appropriate draw length. The rigid, "locking" effect is visible from where my release hand notches into place behind my jaw bone. Locking also occurs down my nearly-straight left "bow" arm, which supplies ample tension during the shot (hence back-tension shooting!). There is, however, one place you do not want rigidity in your shot: the grip.

Grip evolution

Many new bow manufacturers have switched riser designs to a low-wrist style of grip (see photo of my new PSE DNA's nearly non-existent grip on right).

Low-wrist grip's allow for a larger surface area of the palm, essentially the "life line" running down you hand, to come into contact with the riser. This contact improves stability during the shot process.

Conversely, a high-wrist grip focuses the contact into the dough-like wedge of flesh between you thumb and index finger, minimizing contact and allowing the "squishy" muscle to shift when the draw weight of the bow settles on the hand. It also kinks the wrist into a non-rigid movement upward.

 Your hand pressure on the grip is also important. Notice in each image how my hand is placed: slightly cupped inward, fingers not touching the riser. This minimizes contact with the bow during the shot process, allowing for a clean release of the arrow (no flinch!).

Another trend in bow design is to minimize the arrow shelf on the bow, essentially taking the throat (where my finger is pointing on the right image) higher and closer to the center point of the bow. The design allows for the hand to smother the top end of the grip, and allows for more downward riser area for a proper low-wrist grip.

The take-away from this is, if you have never tried a low-wrist or medium-low-wrist grip, to try it head to head with your current set up. Pay close attention to you shooting form with each shot and see the difference!

One final grip hint: We are approaching the cold late season, and most hunters tend to grab their bow and run to the field with a few more layers on, including gloves. Understand that every layer you add, whether it's an outer shell with thick arms, or a thin pair of gloves, place more distance between you and your bows fit. A difference of 1/4" on the bowhand because of a glove, coupled with another 1/4" of padding the release on the wrist can make a big difference in the field. So, be sure to shoot prior to season with all the layers you intend to hunt with!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Mid-season Dust-off

Ah, Fall. That magical time of the year when the tree colors change, the weather turns crisp, and a bowhunters dreams are once again rekindled.

I say "once again," because following an enthusiastic early season of chasing bulls, bucks and bear, the inevitable season's end comes all too quickly.

So we hunters wait. We scratch away the time with trail camera outings, forum posts about tips and tactics, and hopefully continue our shooting regiment...Or do we?

It's time to be honest; Do you shoot your bow consistently following the early season rush? I mean, it was dialed-in perfectly, so why change perfect, right? This sentiment is common amongst many bowhunters around the country who hang up their bow during the month or more between seasons, and it can lead to major headaches heading into the late season.

I don't know about your part of the country, but here in the Pacific Northwest the shift from warm September days to the frozen November late season can spell disaster for a fine-tuned archery setup. So how do you avoid what I like to call the "mid-season dust-off"?

The Plan:

1. The easiest plan is a consistent one. Continue your shooting regiment as you have prior to early season (and hopefully year round!) Switch back to field points during the mid-season hiatus to save your arrows from being sliced and diced. Trust me, there's plenty of time to switch back to your broadheads, and it really doesn't take long at all. To make the transition easier, try this:

*Make sure you mark the vanes, by number, of each arrow you plan to hunt with.

*Likewise, when you remove each broadhead from the arrow be sure to mark it with the same number. Simple fix!

Knowing your broadheads is the key to having confidence in your shooting rig.

That way when you assemble them again for a quick broadhead session in mid-November you already know the broadhead in-hand is tailored to the arrow. Most hunters realize the importance of finding the proper broadhead-arrow combination, and that if one head fails to fly perfectly with one arrow, that it is wise to try another from the pack to see if it works better. Yes, broadhead ferrules (the main body of the broadhead) can vary ever so slightly right out of the package. So try the broadhead-switcharoo if one head fails to fly just right.

2. Shoot at least a week prior to your late season hunt! If mid-season dust-off occurs you'll need to understand what your bow is doing. What it's doing, you say? Shouldn't it be the same as earlier? No, that's not always the case. Cold weather, extra clothing layers, even your body adjusting to shooting in adverse conditions, can all play a roll in the shift from early to late season shooting.

Fine-tuned equipment in 90-degree temperatures can change dramatically in freezing conditions. Granted, the newest bows on the market can help curb some hot-to-cold whoa's, but don't count on it. The key is to shoot your bow rig in temperatures
matching (or close to) those you intend to hunt. You might be surprised what occurs during your late season practice trips, so remain calm and you'll be dialed-in in no time.

Good luck this late season, and may your arrows fly true!

One final tip: String wax. Not just for your bow string (a must here in the rainy Pacific Northwest), but for your broadheads as well. Apply a small amount of string wax to the threaded body of your broadhead ferrules to ensure they stay put inside your arrows insert.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Like Acid in my Veins: A Lactic Acid Refresher

It’s that point when your body parts feel like lead. Each step is labored, and your well trained legs seem to be fighting your every move in the right direction. What madness is this? Could it be that dreaded running demon known as lactic acid that is not only causing my race day agony, but my post-race fatigue, too? What role (if any) does it play in post-race blues?

Sometimes the only thing to do when you have pushed
too far is to rest and let the lactic acid settle.
Feel the [Acid] Burn

According to WebMD, the ailment-diagnosing source for all of us non-board-certified desk jockeys, the buildup of lactic acid stems from low oxygen levels during exertion, as the body attempts to break down carbs for muscle fuel.
Lactic acid begins to build in the body when glucose (sugar in the bloodstream) is broken down to it minimal form during any hard workout, resulting in the need for the body to clear the lactate from the bloodstream in order to maintain a high rate of exertion. As many runners have noticed, there is a limit to what the body can handle. 

The affect of too much lactic acid is that oh so lovely burning sensation in the muscles that gives the extremities the feeling of being lead-filled.
Often, the increase in lactic acid forces the runner to stop in order to decrease the acid buildup, which, according to the website BrianMac Sports Coach, occurs quite rapidly during exercise—with removal typically happening within one hour after exercise stops.
So what’s the cure? For the runner, taking a few minutes at the aid station mid-race can curb the initial buildup of lactic acid and prolong the physical output. The key word: “prolong”, which means, unfortunately, lactic acid is with you every step of the way on race day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t control its onset to an extent.

Steep inclines, high hills and a fast pace increase lactic acid buildup.
This hill, the Skyline Rim Trail, has an incline of 2,000+ vertical feet
in the first 2 miles, making for a lactic threshold-building run!
The Big Question: Does lactic acid buildup during an event mean more soreness after?

The short answer: No. Based on all of my research about post-race stresses on the body, my aches and pains are not to be attributed to that race day weightiness brought to my limbs by lactic acid. One positive note is that lactic acid levels, I have learned, can be beneficial if managed properly.
                  By pushing your body to high anaerobic levels you can help to increase the amount of oxygen your body can process during a given time period. By pushing your body’s anaerobic threshold you can offset at least some of the short term affects caused by acid buildup. The key is to push your exercise output above your standard, predetermined race pace for a short amount of time—typically 2 to 4 minutes, according to Runner’s World online. Follow this high-output with a “cool-down” running speed of 1 to 2 minute below race pace and boom! You have just helped nudge your lactic threshold in the right direction. Now, just do that several time throughout your run, several day per week, and you can simply avoid being burned by lactic acid…at least for a while. There are several good lactic threshold training plans available online through Runner’s World, so be sure to check them out prior to your next race.
                  As for the initial question: Why am I so sore post-race? It would appear that lactic acid buildup, contrary to common wisdom, does not carry over into my post-race blues. So, what does? In upcoming posts I will dig deeper into what causes the hurt, and (hopefully) figure out ways to avoid it!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Post-race fatigue is in my blood...Literally

The turn-around at the top of the Rainshadow Running Angel's Staircase 35k race

I was bent over, struggling for breath in the middle of the trail with sticky phlegm projecting with each cough, and the only thing I could think was: What the heck is happening? I was only four miles into my usual eight-mile trail run through the hills outside Ephrata, Washington, and my body was putting on the brakes. So, as I stooped over my spittle I thought about what had led me to this lowly point.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that my current running struggle follows my longest—and toughest—trail race to date, the Angel’s Staircase 35k by Rainshadow Running? Perhaps it was the 21.7 miles of trail-running bliss peppered with 5,926 vertical feet of gain that could have done it? Perhaps not, so I decided to take a deeper look into what affects happen following an all-out race effort.

The Basic Premise: Getting to the root of my fatigue

Gravity sucks. And, when gravity meets altitude and incline, which, in the c

ase of the Angel’s Staircase race which peaks at 8,000 feet, you get an all-out battle for muscle-recruiting oxygen. The battle is most noticeable through the huffing and puffing that occurs as the elevation (and trail grade) increases. But what causes all this deep huffing and puffing when the altitude and distance increases?

An important thing to note before carrying on is that a large part of the struggle (or lack thereof) is dependent on your pre-race physicality, but elevation and altitude cannot be discredited.

The rapid transition to higher altitude—and yes, 8,000 feet is high for someone living at or near sea level—will cause red blood cells to multiply as they attempt to make the most of the dwindling oxygen in the atmosphere. When cells multiply, according to, they make the blood thicker, which causes the runner to feel sluggish.

Combine the increase in red blood cells with the change in air pressure (which is roughly 25-percent less at 8,000 feet compared to sea level) with a substantially higher heart rate caused by the need to filter more oxygen, and you get one worn out runner. The speed at which this cell increase occurs is not clear, but the quick transition to higher altitude can cause quite a bit of physical discomfort.

Many runner training groups recommend high altitude training as a safe, legal competitive edge—a roundabout way of blood doping by making you blood thicker prior to sea level competitions. But there are limits. “At these higher altitudes [above 8,000 feet], your exercise capacity decreases to the point that ‘deconditioning’ can take place,” according to the Institute for Altitude Medicine.

So, what is one possible result of my racing venture above tree line? A buildup of red blood cells, which can significantly prolong recovery time and time between future training runs. This, of course, is not the only combination of factors leading to my unsavory mid-run state, so I will be addressing other factors associated with post-race fatigue and hopefully building a plan to counter it.