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How to Find a Good Hunting Spot During the Off-Season

How to Find a Good Hunting Spot During the Off-Season

If you’re an experienced hunter, this article probably isn’t for you. But if you’re an experienced hunter and have friends that don’t hunt, you might want to send this article to them so they can keep an eye out for you. It can’t hurt… For 

How to Train Your Eye to Find Morel Mushrooms

How to Train Your Eye to Find Morel Mushrooms

Morels are truly a spring delicacy. They exist all over the northern U.S. and can be found anywhere from orchards to alpine forests, but out west we’ve usually harvested them from April-June in forests that burned in recent years. They’re super fun to hunt for 

How to Pick Wild Morel Mushrooms Safely

How to Pick Wild Morel Mushrooms Safely

Morel mushrooms are a prized delicacy and it is well known that the best way to find them is to search through burn areas during the spring(s) following a wildfire. Recent fire seasons out west have been unprecedented, so it’s safe to say that morel hunters are drooling about this coming spring.

With that excitement and with the likelihood of hunters having lots of success, there will be plenty of newbies out in the woods looking to harvest their own morels, and we think that’s awesome! Who wouldn’t want to go for a walk in the woods and bring home a big bag of fresh, delicious food?

Before we get started, we have to say that this post is NOT all you need to read to safely identify morel mushrooms. In fact, there is not a single article on the internet that can teach you how to identify morels. Learning how to ID mushrooms is an enjoyable process and should be done in real life with a real teacher. This can be a through a trustworthy mentor or a structured class. No amount of YouTube videos or blog articles can substitute for the safety of in-person learning.

That said, we think that morels are a relatively safe mushroom to harvest and we’d like to share the main tools that we use to make sure we are harvesting safely. Many of these tools can be used with other species as well, so lets get started.

1. First of all, we’ve noticed that sometimes new mushroom hunters underestimate the diversity of mushrooms in the wild.

We’ve seen this classic mistake numerous times – A new hunter heads out into the woods looking for chanterelles. They know they’re looking for an orange mushroom, so when they find one they assume it’s a chanterelle. They might even notice that it doesn’t look quite right – maybe the gills are a little different or the stem isn’t exactly like the pictures they saw. But hey, it’s orange and gilly, so it must be a chanterelle. In reality, they simply don’t realize that there are dozens of species of orange mushrooms.

On some days we may bring home 3-4 edible species, but we’ve come across dozens of species that aren’t edible or that we couldn’t identify that day. Just knowing and appreciating that there are many, many species of mushrooms is an important first step in mushroom hunting, which leads me to my next tip.

2. Identifying mushrooms can be difficult and it’s a learning process that should be treated that way.

It isn’t something you look up real quick on YouTube and then get to eating mushrooms. If you are interested in harvesting wild mushrooms, be prepared to enter a learning process that will take time and energy. You need to buy books, learn from others, and consider taking a class. I was extremely fortunate to work outside every day in the mushroomy woods with several experienced mushroom hunters (thanks guys!).

Our favorite book to get practicing is called “All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms“. It’s a great book because it has all of the common mushrooms that you’ll run into, its small, and it has awesome pictures of strange mushroom hunters. This is a thing you’ll come to appreciate more and more, even after you’ve picked so many that your fingers turn into mushrooms.

3. One of our philosophies about mushroom hunting is to stick with species where mis-identification won’t result in a fatal mistake.

There are mushrooms out there that can kill you and there are also mushrooms that can make you unpleasantly sick, but you’ll survive. If you research and know what you are looking for when you look for morels, and you make a mistake, it won’t kill you. A common lookalike, “Verpas”, aren’t recommended for eating but they won’t kill you. If you go hunting for a white mushroom with gills that grows on the ground and you make a mistake, it could be fatal.

We stick with species that are pretty hard to misidentify – like hedgehogs.

4. Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer

This is sort of true with mushrooms. There are several species of “false morels” – species that look sneakily similar to a morel. Get to know these too so that when you find them in the woods you have a better chance of knowing that they aren’t morels. The mushrooms in the photo below are “Verpas”, a morel lookalike that we don’t recommend eating. It’s good practice with any mushroom to know what lookalikes you might run into. Books like “All That the Rain Promises…” do a good job of indicating what lookalikes you might run into.

5. Cut it in half!

So you’ve read the books and done the research and found what you think is a morel. Cut it in half from top to bottom.

One of the most telling signs that a morel is a true morel is that it is hollow from the bottom of the stem to the top of the cap. Notice the mushroom on the right has a gauzy-filled stalk…Not a morel!

Here is a picture of one of our first morel harvests, 8 years ago, when we cut every mushroom in half to make sure it was hollow. This type of paranoia is healthy when you first start hunting mushrooms. An added bonus to cutting them in half is that they dry faster if you’re dehydrating them. They are also easier to clean when you can take a good look inside for any sneaky dirt clods or hitchhikers.

6. Look for a “honey comb” texture and expect a variety of colors

The way I think of it is that true morels always have a “honey-comb” textured cap, while false lookalikes often have more of a folded, brainy texture. True morels can exist in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. Anything from golden yellow to black is possible. Take a look at the first four images shown below. Notice the variety of colors but the similar honeycomb cap with sharp edges. Then, take a look at the falsies below.

Check out these false morels with their weird, gauzy stalks and folded, brainy caps. They have real morels next to them for comparison.

7. Double check every mushroom when you get home.

Even when you are 100% confident in identifying a certain species of mushroom, it’s possible to put the wrong mushroom in your bag. When you’ve been grabbing handfuls of mushrooms on your hands and knees all day like a crazed zombie, it’s actually somewhat easy to accidentally put the wrong mushroom in the bag. Maybe it blended in to a clump of good mushrooms, or maybe it just looked similar.

Either way, when we get home we like to spread them out on the table, bust out the mushroom book, and double check everything. It’s a great time for more dorky photos.

Mushroom Haul

8. If you’re not 100% confident, don’t eat it. Take good pictures and consult with a pro.

This goes for every type of mushroom. If you aren’t sure, it’s not worth getting sick or worse. While we usually avoid social media and don’t recommend seeking all of your advice for mushroom hunting online, we DO recommend joining some mushroom hunting social groups on Facebook. On these pages, you can post pictures of mushrooms that you have found to see what others think they are, and you can follow along to learn about mushrooms from the community. There are lots of very experienced hunters on these groups so if you’re careful, it can be an excellent resource for identifying mushrooms you have found.


While this article definitely wasn’t all-inclusive, we hope these tips were helpful. If you want more general information about finding morels, check out this article. And here is another article we wrote about training your eye to find them in the field, with a fun activity to get you even more mushroom hunting ready!

Please feel free to comment or message us with any questions, and thank you for reading!

How to Find Morels – Our Favorite Spring Mushrooms

How to Find Morels – Our Favorite Spring Mushrooms

First of all, this post isn’t about identifying morels but that’s obviously a very crucial part of any foraging. We have a brief post here where we provide recommendations for resources to learn to I.D. morels. Here is a mushroom that looks similar to a 

What do I need to do to go Hunting?

What do I need to do to go Hunting?

Wow, we’ve been busy. We went from wildfire evacuation directly into a big hunting trip for two weeks. We followed that up with moving and here we are. We are barely settled in our new home but we’re back to hunting before it’s over for 

Our “Famous” Maple Venison Breakfast Sausage Recipe

Our “Famous” Maple Venison Breakfast Sausage Recipe

Elk Maple Breakfast Sausage

We have been perfecting this recipe over the years, but it all started after a successful elk hunt in Idaho. I had been daydreaming about maple breakfast sausage, so after I got my first bull and a friend loaned us his grinder, it was on. Now we make breakfast sausage every year, and we even have our own grinder to abuse.

It’s a pretty simple recipe with just a few staple ingredients. The fun is in the sampling stage, where you mix everything in by hand and cook up little patties as you go until you’re happy with the taste. In past years we froze the ground sausage in quarter to half pound packages, but this year we made breakfast links with sheep casings.

Patties are great for egg sandwiches and don’t require the extra work of sausage stuffing. Links are easy to throw on the stove for a quick breakfast and make less of a mess in the pan. We don’t really have a preference. Whatever tickles your fancy!

Elk Maple Breakfast Sausage

Ingredients

  • 12 lbs venison for grinding (roughly 1×1 inch chunks)
  • 3 lbs bacon
  • 1 lb beef or pork fat
  • 1/4 cup cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup dried sage
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 1/2 cups Franks RedHot Original sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups real maple syrup

Prep

Keep all your grinder parts nice and cold before you begin. We put whatever the meat touches into the freezer or outside if it’s below freezing out hours before we begin. We also keep the meat nice and cold beforehand, and often it is still slightly frozen when we start. This keeps the grinder running smoothly, keeps the fat in the meat and prevents it from gunking things up, and probably cuts down on potential bacteria growth.

Instructions

  • Start by placing all of the parts of your grinder, your bowls, and anything else that will be in contact with the meat into the freezer to cool off. Make sure everything stays cold throughout the process – if you need to, put everything into the freezer and take a break. We prefer to grind meat that is still partially frozen but no matter what it needs to stay cold.
  • Set your grinder up for a coarse grind and push the venison, bacon, and fat through, doing your best to integrate the fat into the grind as evenly as possible.
  • Add the salt and spices and mix thoroughly – we do this by by hand but a stand mixer works great too.
  • Set your grinder for a fine grind and push all of the meat through one more time.
  • Add the maple syrup and Franks Redhot and mix into the meat thoroughly.
  • Form a small patty and throw it on the stove for a quick taste test, add more of whatever you desire until you’re happy. We tend to make some of the sausage mild and some of it more spicy so that when we give it away to friends and family they can choose what they want.

Tips and Tricks

  • Oil the moving parts of your grinder. We grease our grinding plates and blade with a light coat of veggie (or similar) oil at the beginning of a day of sausage making and before putting the grinder back into storage once its clean and dry. This keeps the parts rust free in storage and cuts down on friction when actually using the grinder.
  • Prepare to get messy. Sometimes we wear rubber gloves, sometimes we don’t. You may want them, they’re nice to have. We like to place a piece of plastic wrap over the on/off switch on the grinder to keep all the nooks and crannies free of crud. Large wire brushes are handy for cleaning out all the parts the meat passes through. Take the time to thoroughly clean your grinder at the end of the day.
  • If you don’t use casings, baking the sausage patties in a toaster oven or regular oven (on parchment paper) works great and is less messy than stovetop. Freezing quarter pound servings is great for the two of us. Half pound servings work well for 4 to 6 people. Sheep casings are the perfect size for breakfast links. We prefer hog casings for dinner sausage, as they are a little larger.

Our Super Trusty, Cheap, and Simple DIY Awning

Our Super Trusty, Cheap, and Simple DIY Awning

Several of our friends have asked us for instructions for our DIY awning, so here you go! Sorry for the mediocre photos – we wanted to get this out to a few friends before hunting season so we’re working with what we had – please 

The Unforseen Value of our Skoolie – Running from the Caldor Fire

The Unforseen Value of our Skoolie – Running from the Caldor Fire

If everything were going as planned, Olivia would have her full attention on finishing out her first school semester and I’d be working hard to prepare for the upcoming hunting season. Instead, we’ve packed some of our belongings and we’ve left home to get away 

How to Make Your Life Chaotic – Get a Puppy and Convert a School Bus

How to Make Your Life Chaotic – Get a Puppy and Convert a School Bus

It’s safe to say that this spring was hectic. We worked on our school bus every chance we could, often running late into the night. We also got a puppy who we named after one of our favorite towns in Idaho – “Stanley”.

Stanley is a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, a versatile hunting breed, and we are working hard on training him to hunt for pretty much any type of bird that you can hunt out west. He’s already a great retriever, but he still has a long way to go before his first hunt.

Stanl;ey

We planned on writing more frequently to update our friends and family about what was going on with our school bus conversion, but our lives became so chaotic that we just didn’t have time.

We aren’t done with the conversion but the bus is in a very livable condition. And it has a new paint job! We painted it white but we decided to leave some of the original yellow paint for trim around the windows.

More importantly, it has a bed, sink, shower, stove, and fridge/freezer that are all working great. Everything is entirely solar powered (plus propane for the stove and water heater).

We were able to get great deals on some very cool materials for the bus. The cabinets are mostly made out of bamboo plywood, which looks especially clean and simple. Here’s a photo before we added the last upper door and latches.

bamboo cabinets

We also got ahold of some Shou Sugi Ban – cypress that is burnt on one side and then clear-coated. We used it for an overhead “niche” wall in the back above the bed, and also for a lot of the trim around the rest of the bus.

paneling

Here is how the inside of the bus looked as of a couple of weeks ago before we added the bed in the back. The flooring material is also bamboo plywood, but it’s and amber color while the cabinets are blonde.

skoolie
skoolie
skoolie

We also managed to get a security camera system installed, a very loud alarm, 11 interior lights, an exterior light, a backup camera, and plenty of storage in plenty of cabinets. We even squeezed in a slide-out pantry cabinet in between the driver’s seat and the shower.

Here’s what it looks like most recently with the bed in the back and the windows blacked out for sleeping. The current window covers are temporary and my moms working on sewing the actual insulative curtains.

My most recent little project was to install trim around the emergency hatch and fan.

The bus still needs a lot of trim, backsplash, paint, a couple more drawers, and a few other things, but it’s mostly finished, and we will keep working on it here and there until its done.

If you have any questions or comments about our bus build so far, feel free to comment below.

Back to work!

The Ultimate Hunting and Fishing Mobile – Our School Bus Conversion

The Ultimate Hunting and Fishing Mobile – Our School Bus Conversion

That’s right, one of Olivia’s many dreams came true. She bought a school bus. It’s going to be a big project converting it, but it’ll be really fun. Olivia thinks the main purpose of the bus is for her to live in while she is 

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 5

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 5

If you haven’t read parts 1-4, you can find them here. I started my first afternoon of Rosie hunting disappointed. As I took my first look with my binoculars, I spotted an ATV down where I was planning on hunting. Bundles of fog were quickly 

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 4

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 4

camper with wood stove

If you haven’t read parts 1-3, you can find them here.

You would think that after camping in super cold weather for three days we would be ready to head home with a truck load of meat. Instead, we dropped the meat off at a cold storage business and went fishing.

We spent the majority of two days camping on my favorite river and “road fishing”, a new experience for Scott. He’s used to walking in to where he fishes, but in this case, I’m familiar with the river and know about a lot of great spots you can access from the road that are somehow still kept fairly secret. Luckily my memory served me right, and we we’re able to catch some nice trout. This was the first fish I caught – a beautiful wild cutthroat.

The fishing wasn’t incredible, but the fish that we did manage to catch were good-sized wild fish that we gladly released back into the river.

On this particular river (and on many others) if you find foam you’re likely to find trout.

Any of the big eddies that build up a layer of foam also build up a layer of insects on the surface. I’ve found that as long as it is a calm day, the wind won’t blow the foam away. These spots have produced good trout fishing for me very consistently.

trout online

If the fish are there feeding, you can see small ripples in the foam where they are slurping at the surface. It can be sort of hard to see because the fish don’t jump, they just slurp. If you hang out long enough you will probably see them in there.

cutthroat trout

Of course it’s not that these are the only places that hold fish. But if I only have a day or two to fish my favorite river, driving up the river to fish each of these holes is the best way to go. This strategy hasn’t failed me yet.

We had a relaxing couple of days fishing and camping on the river, but at this point in the trip I had another tag in my pocket for Roosevelt Elk on the Washington coast, and I was ready to process my bull and move on to the next hunt. I’ve never had the opportunity to hunt for elk in two states before, let alone back-to-back. At this point, though, I had an entire elk to process.

Luckily for me my mom is awesome and she spent two days with me out in the cold garage helping me process my bull. It’s a tedious, time consuming process, especially if you are careful and try to minimize the amount of meat that ends up in the meat grinder.

I try to keep as much of the animal in whole steaks and roasts as I can.

All of the really tough, inedible pieces of tendon and things like that go into a separate bag to be made into dog treats, so nothing gets wasted. Even if you don’t own a dog, consider making some for a friend’s dog. They’ll definitely love you for it. We pop it into the oven on low heat for a few hours then finish it in the dehydrator. The end result is a tough chew that any dog will be happy to gobble up.

elk dog treats

Despite the amount of work, I couldn’t stop feeling the immense sense of gratitude I feel when I get to harvest a big game animal. This time I kept thinking about how I would absolutely defend this meat from a mountain lion again.

elk hind quarter

Breaking down elk quarters isn’t complicated, just tedious. I pretty much just slap the quarter down on a covered table and trim the meat into sections where it wants to be trimmed. By following the natural divisions of muscle, you end up with a bunch of big cuts of meat and separate trimmings for the meat grinder.

elk meat

As I have progressed as a hunter, I have also progressed as a cook, and one of the main things that I have changed with my processing it to just do less.

It’s simple – the less you do with the meat initially, the more options you have later.

Instead of cutting backstrap into small steaks, leave it in bigger pieces that can be grilled like a tri-tip. You can always cut it into steaks later if you want.

Same with ground meat. This year we froze chunks of meat to be ground later and I am stoked to be able to take meat out of the freezer and have freshly ground burgers and taco meat. The texture of freshly ground meat is far superior to ground meat that’s been frozen.

That said, we do like to do some initial processing to provide fast, easy dinners for later: sausages, burger meat, and seasoned meats like teriyaki meatballs, chorizo, and spicy Italian are a few we have done.

packaged elk meat

After two days of visiting with family, cleaning up my gear, and processing meat, the freezer was full of packaged meat and I was ready to hit the road and start hunting again.

Last year I hunted for Roosevelt Elk in Washington and was unsuccessful. I came really close to harvesting an animal and I was super excited to try again in 2020. In Washington most western units have an early season in September and some units have a late season in the end of November and early December. Earlier this fall, I had to cancel my planned early-season hunt because of smoke and fire danger in the area I wanted to hunt. This was a huge bummer, but I knew I might still have an opportunity to hunt the late season which kept me looking forward.

Luckily, the timing worked out well to tack on a few more days of hunting before I had to head back to work. I was excited to hunt with another good friend and I was excited to get deep into the jungle of Western Washington again.

I arrived to my first hunting spot mid-day to a typical wet, foggy Washington scene. Low thick clouds were blowing through at a fast pace, so I could see pretty far off until I couldn’t see anything at all a moment later.

western washington mist

In Washington I primarily hunt private timber lands. A lot of the private timber lands require a costly permit but the lands I hunt are free. However, they are only open to day use and nonmotorized traffic. Another reason I prefer them – no motorized traffic to deal with.

The habitat in private timber lands is something in itself to figure out.

Leaving the logging roads can be anything from easy to pretty much impossible. It all depends on the age of the timber.

Fresh clear cuts are huntable for a few years, then they become too thick to walk through. After some time (I am not sure how many years), trees get old and tall enough that they block out the understory and become navigable again.

I started off my Washington hunt by making sure my bow was in tune. As much as I wanted to ditch the truck and take off into the woods, I had carried it with me for a week of driving around on bumpy roads and it’s obviously very important to double check and make sure it hasn’t been bumped out of tune. I made 20 or 30 shots at my foam target and all was well, so I set off on foot for what would become another awesome adventure.

You can find part 5 here.

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 3

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 3

If you haven’t read parts 1 or 2, you can find them here. The next day, we decided to head straight to our plan A area – we had to put chains on the truck just to drive in. I use the heavy duty v-bar 

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 2

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 2

If you haven’t read part 1, you can check it out here. By the end of our second day of hunting, we had seen dozens of antelope and mule deer, whitetail deer, several moose, bighorn sheep, and several herds of elk. This was enough to 

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 1

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Moose – Part 1

panorama

When I was visiting with family this fall my grandmother said something like, “your grandfather doesn’t like to kill things” and I immediately thought “Well, if I enjoyed killing things, that would make me a psychopath”. What she meant, really, was that my grandad wasn’t interested in hanging out while I was turning elk quarters into steaks, roasts, burgers and brats.

A lot of people who don’t hunt or haven’t been around the culture of hunting think of hunters as psychopaths – people with no conscience who like to drive around shooting animals for fun. I know that’s not what my grandmother meant, but as someone who entered hunting through my own experiences and not through family tradition, I am constantly reanalyzing the decision I make every year to head out in the woods to try to kill big game. I always end up redeciding whether or not it’s truly the best way to bring meat to the table, and for some reason this year it was a frequent thought. At one point a mountain lion forced me to think so incredibly literally about it – am I just out here interfering? Is this worth it?

As funny as it would be to most people, if I could have gone back in time and imagined the perfect vacation, this would have been it. I was somehow able to finagle two weeks off from work and I had two elk tags burning a hole in my pocket. Little did I know that some major adventures would be had – all of the highs and lows that make a journey memorable and moving. To me, this is what hunting is all about. Not killing things, but the adventure, the challenge, and the companionship, all with the hope (but not expectation) of harvesting our favorite type of meat.

This hunting trip turned into such an adventure. There was so much that I learned and that I thought would be worth sharing, that I decided to break it up into several posts – here’s part 1.

——-

This year I was fortunate enough to draw a highly coveted late rifle elk tag. For those of you unfamiliar with the ins and outs of hunting tags, this was like winning a raffle for a really good elk hunt. In this case, the odds for drawing the tag were about 15%. If you think about it, every year you have a 15% chance to win. You could go for years, or even an entire lifetime, without drawing a tag like this. So when you draw one, you go.

My plan was to hunt for a Rocky Mountain bull for two weeks, and if I was lucky enough to harvest a bull in the first week I would head to the coast to visit family and try my luck at getting a Roosevelt elk with my bow.

I left work on a Friday with my friend and coworker Scott. He has experience hunting, but this would be his first elk hunt. I was excited to be able to bring along someone who was super stoked to be there. It was also great knowing that he’s an outdoor enthusiast who is in great shape, and he has lots of experience in the backcountry.

Our trip began with lots of white-knuckle driving through several snow storms. We pulled over in the middle of nowhere about halfway through our long drive and woke up to a wind swept high mountain desert after being snow-blasted all night.

frozen vehicles

We knew this trip would be cold. Lows were in the single digits and highs were in the 30s and 40s. I spent some time before the trip putting together a wood stove setup for our camper. This deserves another post because I think it’s an idea worth looking into for anyone hunting/camping out of their truck or van. The heat from the super powerful little stove kept me dry and very, very warm.

stove in camper

After about 6 more hours of driving in the morning, we arrived into the first town at the border of our hunting unit where we made a quick stop for wiper fluid. While Scott was in the store, I spotted the first herd of elk through my binoculars – I had a hard time believing my eyes.

We drove up into the hills to get a little closer, went for a short walk, and within the first hour of being in our hunting unit we were looking at a huge herd of elk with several decent looking bulls.

glassing elk

As we continued watching, elk were pouring out of a patch of timber in a single file line. As they fed across the slope in front of us, another hunter showed up and headed off in their direction foot.

first bull

We were excited to see elk so quickly, but we decided to head down the road to leave those ones for the other hunter. We immediately ran into another group of elk – this time a bachelor group of four bulls. Daylight was slipping away and they were too high up to go after that night, so we pulled over and camped nearby for the first night.

On day two, I planned to do a 12-mile loop in which we would hike up one ridge, gaining 4000 feet in elevation, wrap around a drainage, and come back down another ridge – the ridge where we had seen the four bulls the night before. In the morning we saw two bulls head uphill at a quick pace, so we headed up the ridge after them.

We soon crossed two fresh sets of elk tracks in the snow and followed them up the ridge until we ran into another, larger, single set of tracks. They were headed in the direction we wanted to go, so we followed.

As you get more experience following animals around in the woods you learn to gather every bit of information you can from any sign you find. In this case, the large bull was walking at a steady speed, but wasn’t stopping much to feed. He was on the move, but he wasn’t running so I knew he wasn’t spooked.

moose track

As we crested over a hill, I knew the bull was nearby. The tracks were super fresh. We slowed down in anticipation of seeing him just on the other side, but as we came over the hill all we could see was a lone mule deer doe in the distance. The doe spotted us and took off, and at the same time we heard crashing through the brush down below in the bottom of the drainage.

Out came a moose. A huge bull moose. We had been following moose tracks. He ran out and across the other side of the drainage, stopping a few times to look back and check us out.

It was our first full day of hunting, and I am sure at this point Scott was questioning my knowledge and hunting ability – and to be fair I was questioning myself. I’ve spent enough time in the sagebrush to not really expect to see moose, so when we saw big, fresh bull tracks, I assumed they were from an elk and didn’t look any closer.

The rest of our first whole day was uneventful. After about 3200 feet of elevation gain, post-holing through snow was making my legs cramp up and we weren’t going to have time to finish our loop. We headed back down to camp a little discouraged compared to day one, but I knew we’d learn from our mistakes and adapt our strategy. We continued to glass on our way down but didn’t spot anything. Not even a moose.

glassing

That night, I happily discovered that I could heat up my elk burrito over my new wood stove setup – no propane stove needed. Every hunting season Olivia and I pre-assemble burritos in bulk and freeze them – they make for a super easy and filling main course that doesn’t require any dishwashing at all. We load them with ground elk chorizo, spanish rice, beans, peppers, onions, and lots of cheese – and they always turn out crispy on the outside.

cooking a burrito in the camper

Feeling encouraged by what we had seen on our first day, I spent my first evening in pain while my legs cramped in all sorts of weird ways. After a lot of stretching, I buried myself into my sleeping bag and wondered what to do on day 2.

Little did I know, the next day we’d be following wolf tracks, and the night after that I would be fending off a hissing mountain lion in the dark.

You can find part 2 here!

Checking Air Quality – How To Forecast Smoke with Windy.com

Checking Air Quality – How To Forecast Smoke with Windy.com

Today I was supposed to be leaving for a 9-day Roosevelt Elk hunt in Washington and instead I am sitting at my computer, unable to go outside because it’s too smoky. I’m delaying the hunt for now and I will probably end up bagging it 

Linguine With Clam Sauce

Linguine With Clam Sauce

This recipe is relatively fast and easy, and a great way to use some of the frozen clams in your freezer. It’s a family favorite, and one that my mom makes every time I fly back east for a visit. Now that we harvest our 

One Backpack to Suit All Your Outdoor Needs

One Backpack to Suit All Your Outdoor Needs

The blue Osprey backpack that I used for years worked well for backpacking, but when we started having success big game hunting and it came time to haul large loads of meat (like the elk that Olivia harvested in the photo below) it was uncomfortable to a point where I am sure it was unhealthy. I also had to put game bags full of meat into the inside of the pack, which wasn’t ideal when I wanted to use it for its original purpose later on.

cow elk

A sleeping bag that smells like elk blood probably isn’t the smartest move. The bright blue color stood out like a sore thumb, it was starting to rip, it wasn’t waterproof whatsoever, and I despised having to pull out my bright red rain cover as soon as it started raining. But it worked. It got the job done several times. Here’s a photo of it loaded up for a work trip when I was working as a fish technician sampling fish in the high country.

Like many of us, I tried to first focus my limited finances on absolutely essential things for trips like gas, food, a good sleeping bag, tent, etc. My Osprey worked, but I hated it for hunting.

When I finally decided to upgrade and get a backpack specifically for hunting, I listened to hunting podcasts, watched a lot of videos online, read reviews, and talked with friends. I quickly became familiar with a lot of the main hunting brands. I also looked at larger Osprey backpacks and other recreational packs just to keep my options open – they were often significantly cheaper than hunting packs but never had the meat hauling capabilities I was looking for.

I started looking more closely at hunting backpacks made by brands like Kuiu, Stone Glacier, Exo Mountain Gear, Mystery Ranch, Kifaru, Eberlestock, ALPS, and more. I went into bigger stores like Cabela’s and Sportsman’s Wharehouse, and smaller local sporting stores that carry quality gear that I could try on.

While I was deep into pack research I went hunting with my friend and experienced hunter, Trevor, and picked his brain a little. He really likes his Kuiu pack, and it was helpful to get a first-hand account of why it worked for him. I was very close to buying one of their models, but I ended up continuing to look for something a little more waterproof – I really don’t like using a rain cover.

In addition to wanting to buy a pack from a quality brand with reputable customer service, I had specific criteria in mind for a highly modular pack in my price range.


Here is what I was on the lookout for:

1. Budget of about $500 or less

Some of the high-quality pack brands didn’t have anything under $500, and if they did they were often much smaller packs than what I was looking for. Or they didn’t satisfy criteria #2.

2. An entirely modular pack system that I can use as an ultralight day pack OR for extended, overnight trips

Every fall I end up doing some day trips, car camping, short backpacking trips, and longer backpacking expeditions. Sometimes I will do several types of trips within a week. Finding a pack that can literally do anything is not easy. Some brands, especially the higher quality brands, offer frames separately from bags and you can purchase several different sized bags that are interchangeable with the one frame. This is a great option if you have a lot of cash, but the problem is that buying several bags gets very expensive very quickly.

3. A meat hauling capability separate from my main bag

Regular backpacking packs like my old Osprey aren’t great for hauling meat. Not only does the inside of your pack get bloody and furry, but you have to take everything out of your pack to make room for the meat, which in my case often resulted in not having enough room at all.

osprey backpack

In my mind, keeping meat bags separate from everything else is a no-brainer for a big game hunting pack. Sometimes I’ve used Olivia’s green Osprey pack to camouflage a little better and that would get the job done, but I was still putting meat into the inside of the bag.

4. Ability to easily haul meat even when my pack is set up as a day pack

I like the option of being able to go on a day hunt with a super-light pack with nothing but the absolute essentials (first aid, water, food, kill kit, etc.). I also want to have the ability to carry out a large load of meat if I am lucky enough to harvest an animal.

5. A high quality pack frame that remains comfortable with heavy loads

For this, I decided to choose only from the most reputable of brands and to focus on frames made by hand and of the highest quality material. An adjustable frame and padding in all the right places without overdoing it.

6. Have a 100% Waterproof Backpack

In an ideal world a good hunting pack would be light weight but 100% waterproof 100% of the time. Last fall I hunted western Washington for Roosevelt Elk and Black-tailed Deer and it changed my perspective of wetness. It rained consistently, even in September, and the chest-high foliage just stayed wet. I want to be able to hunt through rain and soggy conditions without having to worry about whats on my back getting soaked.

7. Ability to haul oddly-shaped objects like rafts, inflatable kayaks, antlers, etc.

We do a huge variety of stuff. I was looking for a pack that could carry anything and everything I could possibly want to strap to my back. Crates full of mushrooms, boxes full of berries, bags of edible plants, sheds, who knows what I might want stow in there.


The Solution- A Kifaru Tactical Platform Frame with a Cargo Net and Dry Bags.

kifaru backpack

This pack can do just about anything. The total cost for the frame and cargo net was about $460. The total weight without a dry bag is 4 pounds and 11 oz. (I chose the 26″ frame with ultralight composite stays). For a multi-day trip with a large 100 L+ dry bag, the pack weighs about 6 to 7 pounds. As a day pack it weighs about 5 to 5.5 pounds. The weight of this setup is the same as or just slightly more than comparable backpacks, but the comfort and versatility more than make up for a few ounces here and there.

It might seem like a lot of money for a pack without any bags. The way I see it is that if I change my mind, I can buy a regular bag from Kifaru and I will only have the additional cost of $65 for the cargo net – which will come in handy regardless.

I spent another $20 on a 30 L camo dry bag for day trips and I already had a large dry bag to use for extended trips. Larger dry bags (50-100 or more liters) from high quality brands typically cost about $40 to $100 and can weigh anywhere from less than one pound to a little over two pounds.

For hydration, I use a 6 liter MSR Dromedary bag with a Hydration Bag Converter Kit that can be suspended in between the frame and the dry bag, or just strapped onto the outside.


Here are some of the benefits

It works great with any bag.

For a super, super ultralight day hiking setup I can toss all of my gear for the day into a game bag and strap it down. For longer trips I can run a large dry bag and strap down as much gear and/or additional drybags as I want.

kifaru backpack

The frame is super comfortable even with a heavy load.

Comfort is definitely dependent on preference of the person carrying the pack, but one thing I wanted to point out here is that with the cargo net you can adjust the load up or down or side-to-side very easily to distribute the load how you want it. When I was lucky enough to harvest a deer in Washington last fall I strapped two quarters, the head, and my 20 L dry bag onto the pack. We had an easy and comfortable hike out in the dark.

This pack is truly 100% waterproof.

No rain covers outside or trash bags inside and no more worrying about valuable and essential gear like my sleeping bag getting wet. One of my main concerns was that opening and closing a dry bag might be annoying, but when you compare the ease of opening a dry bag side-by-side with a lot of packs where you have to cinch a draw string and then secure some buckles, I think I actually prefer the dry bag. All it takes is a few rolls of the opening and clipping it shut.

In addition to being 100% waterproof, dry bags float.

Considering a hunting trip involving a river crossing or a canoe, kayak, or raft? I would definitely rather have my gear in a dry bag for any of those circumstances. A dry bag may not float with enough heavy gear in it, but if you lose your backpack to a river or otherwise get it wet, if you can recover your bag your gear will still be dry. And there’s always the option of using an over-sized bag to make sure it will float if that’s a big priority.

Dry bags aren’t expensive to repair or replace.

If you happen to burn a hole in an expensive backpacking bag, tear it, or otherwise destroy it to where your pack company can’t fix it, you’re looking at several hundred dollars to replace it. Dry bags are easy to patch yourself and they are cheaper to replace.

No more blood soaking my bag or my gear.

This goes hand-in-hand with being waterproof, but I wanted to point it out because it’s another nice bonus. Dry bags are easy to clean out, and usually need no more than a wipe down after a trip.

It’s modular and easy to strap on additional storage and gear.

The hip belt has sewn loops for hip pouches, water bottle pockets, range finder, or whatever else you might want handy.

I have a scope case that I can strap onto the out side of the pack – it has a water bottle pouch that fits my large Nalgene too.

I also bought some hip pouches from Amazon that fit great, though I haven’t put them through the test of a full hunting season yet.

This pack has tons of other uses.

It is great for shed hunting in the spring. I can use it to haul our inflatable kayaks and/or raft. I’ve used it for small day trips when we take off for a high mountain lake to fish. The options are endless.


Drawbacks

This pack definitely might not work for everyone – but don’t get me wrong. I think that it would make a lot of people really happy that are currently using other gear. It works well for me, and that’s why I wanted to share. So far I really haven’t experienced any drawbacks with this pack and I am surprised that I haven’t seen it done before.

If I had to be critical, I would point to the cost and say that you could definitely get a cheaper hunting pack from another brand. However, it may not have all the qualities that I was looking for and found in this pack.

It’s also not the lightest option – it’s ever so slightly heavier than some of the other options out there for hunting backpacks. This is mainly because of the dry bags which weigh a bit more than a regular backpacking bag. I’ll definitely accept an extra pound, though, to never worry about my gear getting wet again.

I hope this review of my pack is helpful for anyone considering an upgrade, or looking to change over to something a bit more modular and waterproof. It has certainly worked well for me. Feel free to comment below or drop us a line with your hunting pack success stories. There’s definitely a pack out there for everyone.

The Must Haves For Mushroom Harvesting

The Must Haves For Mushroom Harvesting

What to bring along for a successful and fun mushroom harvest One of our favorite activities is mushroom hunting. We started to get passionate about fungi when we lived on the coast of California for a time. From our little home in the redwoods we 

Seven Places to Kayak Fish in the Strait of Juan De Fuca

Seven Places to Kayak Fish in the Strait of Juan De Fuca

The last post I wrote about strategies for kayak halibut fishing received a lot of positive feedback so I decided to take it a step further. In the past couple of years we fished the Strait of Juan De Fuca fairly extensively, mostly by kayak 

Our Easiest Grilled Salmon Recipe – Teriyaki and Dill

Our Easiest Grilled Salmon Recipe – Teriyaki and Dill

Teryaki Dill Salmon

Here’s our favorite, and definitely our easiest, grilled salmon recipe. My friend’s dad made it for me YEARS ago and I have made it ever since. It has even been a hit with friends who “don’t eat fish”. You only need two ingredients in addition to the salmon, and measurements don’t at all need to be precise. Slap some teriyaki and dill on it and it’ll be great!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound salmon fillets or steaks
  • 2-3 tbs teriyaki sauce – we use “Mr. Yoshidas”
  • 2-3 tbs fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tbs oil

Instructions

Here is a great tip for grilling fish in general: Lightly oil the grill grate – pour oil into a small bowl. Fold a piece of paper towel into a small rectangle and use tongs to dip it into the oil, then wipe it onto the grates.

  1. Preheat your grill for medium heat.
  2. Place salmon flesh side down on the grill (skin side up) and cook for 6 minutes.
  3. Flip the salmon, then use a brush to spread about 1 tbs of teriyaki on top – you just want a light coat. Close the grill lid and continue to cook until the salmon is done . When it is done it will flake apart easily with a fork and be opaque (or check for 145 degrees with a thermometer).
  4. Once the fish is fully cooked, turn the grill off and brush the fish again with more teriyaki. This time you want to coat it well and try to get as much as you can on the fish.
  5. Remove the salmon from the grill and sprinkle the chopped dill all over the top of the salmon. You really can’t use too much dill.

Enjoy!

How To Adventure With Your Dog

How To Adventure With Your Dog

One thing you should know about us is that if we’re outside, chances are we have our dogs with us. The only exceptions are when we are actually hunting, or when we venture to areas where dogs aren’t allowed. Our boys come with us on 

Our Favorite Website for Wind Forecasts

Our Favorite Website for Wind Forecasts

Windy.com is a really awesome interactive website for wind forecasts. It’s easy to use – you just zoom in to the area you are interested in and click on the map and it will tell you the current wind speed and direction. – For a 

Fish Tacos with Mango Cucumber Salsa

Fish Tacos with Mango Cucumber Salsa

This recipe serves 2-3. It is one of our favorites and is super easy and fast!

Ingredients

The basics:

  • 1/2 pound halibut, rockfish, lingcod, or any other white fish cut into boneless strips about 1/2″ thick.
  • Corn tortillas
For the salsa:
  • 1/2 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1 mango, peeled and chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Dill, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
For the beer batter:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 a beer (usually a lighter beer like a pale ale or an IPA but it doesn’t matter much)
  • about 1/4 tsp salt
  • about 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbs dill, finely chopped

Directions

Salsa
  1. Add all the salsa ingredients to a bowl. Mix gently and let the flavors meld while you prepare the batter and fish.
Batter
  1. Heat oil in a pan, deep enough to cover about halfway up the pieces of fish you’re working with.
  2. Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisk
  3. Add the beer and dill to the bowl, mix to consistency of pancake batter

*Start heating your tortillas right about now*

Fish
  1. Once the oil is shimmering, or it spits when you flick a tiny bit of batter in it, dredge fish in batter.
  2. Place the fish in the oil a few pieces at a time. Keep a close eye on it, and flip when the underside is golden brown.
  3. Remove from oil when golden brown throughout and place on a wire rack, paper towel, or paper bag and keep warm until all the fish is cooked.
  4. Build your tacos and enjoy!

Our Favorite Website for Marine Weather Forecasts

Our Favorite Website for Marine Weather Forecasts

We use www.weather.gov for ocean weather forecasts for the same reasons that we use it for land forecasts – weather.gov offers an accurate marine point forecast that is specific to the exact location where you plan on fishing. If you’re interested in an ocean weather 

Why You Shouldn’t Use the Weather App on Your Phone – How to Read the Weather for Outdoor Activities

Why You Shouldn’t Use the Weather App on Your Phone – How to Read the Weather for Outdoor Activities

If you just look at an app on your phone to get the weather forecast before you go outdoors, you have been seriously missing out. If you want to catch more fish, find more mushrooms, avoid bad weather when hunting, and generally be a better 

Two Basic Websites for Understanding River Flows

Two Basic Websites for Understanding River Flows

When we are planning a rafting, kayaking, or fishing trip on the river, the first and most important thing to look into is the river flow. Flows don’t only determine the conditions for safety but also the chance for success of fishing trips. With snow melt, rain, and lots of other factors effecting river flow, it can be tricky predicting flow. Luckily there are some great free resources for river conditions.

For current river conditions and flow forecasts, we like to use the Northwest River Forecast Center by NOAA.

Similar to NOAA weather forecasts, you get a map where you can click on any river guage to get the actual measured current flow as well as a forecast. Here is an example:

River forecasts can be tricky, especially in systems with man-made alterations like dams, so you will want to be aware that a river forecast, like a weather forecast, may not always be accurate. They are formulated based on parameters like snow melt and rain, and not usually at all on the decisions that utility companies make about how much water to release from reservoirs.

If you want historical river flow data (for example, you want to know what the flow was last time you floated the river, or last time you caught fish in a certain hole), you’ll want to head over to the USGS National Water Information System Mapper

Click on the flow guage you are interested in and then click on “Access Data”. From there, click on Current/Historical observations. In the first box, you can change the start and end dates to look at historical flows and more.

Deep Zoom – Free Interactive Map for Tides and Currents

Deep Zoom – Free Interactive Map for Tides and Currents

If you’re planning on fishing out on the salt, it’s essential to have an understanding of the tides and tidal current, especially if you plan on fishing from a kayak. For studying tides and tidal current, we highly recommend checking out Deep Zoom. The main 

Catching Pacific Halibut from a Kayak: the Basics

Catching Pacific Halibut from a Kayak: the Basics

To get started, here’s a quick preview of what it looks like when a 30 lb halibut pulls on an A1 buoy. In my mind, this is the pinnacle of fishing in the Northwest. I know that other Northwest fishermen may not agree, but we 

Halibut Harpoon Setup for a Kayak

Halibut Harpoon Setup for a Kayak

I was giving my harpoon a good look-over today to make sure it is all in order because HALIBUT IS OPEN in Washington!!! I have been waiting since it closed last year for this. The weather has been bad, but it looks like it is going to be better here soon.

First off, if you are considering kayak fishing for halibut, know the regulations, and even more importantly, know your limits. It is NOT for beginners. I’m working on an in depth article about what you can do to prepare if you are interested, but know that it takes time and experience to approach kayak fishing for halibut safely. Hopefully it doesn’t seem like I’m bragging here – just want people to stay safe.

Last year I spent months making leaders, sharpening hooks, hoarding bait, sitting in my kayak on the garage floor pretending to harpoon fish… this year has been weird wondering if it would open or not. We are moving soon, so we have been really busy and it came up fast. There’s nothing like getting everything together in one afternoon.

Anyway, here’s my setup for a kayak harpoon. It has worked successfully several times and I don’t plan on changing anything. It’s very similar to a lot of other setups with a few modifications that I really like. I think it’s definitely worth taking a look at if you’re building a harpoon setup for your kayak.

I started with a regular wood halibut harpoon.

You can probably get almost all of the info you need just from the picture, but here are the main modifications I made:

I cut the shaft and drove it into a crab float

Another option is to attach small floats to the back end of the harpoon. It’s preference. I found this crab float on a river bottom and it was sitting around. The benefit that I really like, though, that I didn’t foresee, is that when it’s strapped onto the side of my kayak, it’s easier to grab with my hand because the float creates a small gap. Also, when I accidentally dropped it after harpooning a halibut last year, it bobbed up and down vertically and was very easy to find after I landed my halibut. It was surprisingly far away and may have been hard to find otherwise.

To decide what length you want the harpoon, sit on your kayak on the floor and pretend to use the harpoon. Just don’t let anyone catch you on video. Know that the fish will be a foot or so underwater.

I cut the harpoon shaft to the length I wanted and then just drove it into this crab float.
Halibut in a Kayak
If you look on the left side of this photo, you will see the harpoon strapped in. I like the small gap that the harpoon float creates between the shaft of the harpoon and my kayak.

For those of you that have caught halibut and/or also notice details, you might have noticed that in the photo above, the harpoon tip is on top of the fish. It was a long battle with a lot of current, and by the time the fish came up and flattened out, it was upside down. So I harpooned it through the bottom. That spot, though, is where I would harpoon a halibut every time from a kayak (if my aim is good). There is a lot of meat there for the tip to hold, but it’s soft enough that it goes through easily enough. I’ve found it to be a difficult, awkward task when the time comes and the fish is right next to you. Rod in one hand, harpoon in the other, trying to manage your float and rope so you don’t get tangled…. all the more reason to practice on your garage floor.

I added a short piece of shock/bungee cord

This is so that when a fish takes off downward and suddenly, the resistance won’t pull the harpoon tip through it’s body. This is especially prone to happen if you harpoon the fish in a softer area like the belly. It hasn’t happened to me, but I have heard stories and I know it’s more common when people harpoon a halibut from their boat and the harpoon tip is just attached to a cleat on the boat.

Everything else is with my harpoon is fairly standard, but here are some close up photos to show some detail:

I put two rubber bands on the shaft. That way if one cracks or breaks I have a backup.
I used duct tape to cover any sharp spots so they won’t cut my line or my hand.

If this is all new to you, I would recommend looking at some other harpoon setups and try hard to think everything through. Which side do you fight fish on? Which hand will your rod be in and which hand will you used to harpoon? How will you get the fish flat? How will you make sure that your float and rope don’t get stuck to anything?

For me the order of operations is:

  1. I put the harpoon tip on my harpoon and get it all set BEFORE I start fishing.
  2. Fight fish up on left side of kayak but I bring my line around to the right side of my kayak once it is getting close (make sure you think through which side the fish will be on and which hand you will harpoon with).
  3. Get harpoon in my lap and make sure line and float are untangled and free from the kayak.
  4. When the fish gets really close, I switch the rod to my left hand, grab the harpoon in my right hand, pedal forward to flatten the fish out, shove my harpoon float off into the water next to me, then harpoon the fish. That way the rope and float can’t get stuck to your kayak.

To those who are headed out kayak fishing for halibut, I really hope to see you out there. Good luck and be safe!