Pushing the Limits Part 1
I recently finished an amazing book written by G.O. Young called Alaskan-Yukon Trophies Won and Lost.
It’s quite inspiring when you reflect on the “good old days” not even 100 years ago. Tough men with indomitable spirits that persevered through some of the most brutal weather a hunter could ever endure. It was a time of leathery men who didn’t have to pretend to be tough; they were just born that way. No smartphones, computers, Gortex, or high-dollar rifles and range finders. Just men with a real passion for the perils of the far north.
Makes me question my own toughness when I think about men like this. It is only when we encounter real adversity that we can see how we measure up. Flat ground and field hunting has never held my attention. I have spent much of my life looking for tough hunts that would challenge my abilities as a hunter. Maybe more than that though, I have looked for hunts that would challenge me as a man. Hunts that push my physical ability and stamina, hunts that separate the men from the boys.
I’ve hunted and killed many amazing animals in my life. Multiple dall sheep, grizzlies, caribou and moose. Countless elk hunts, big muley's, bears, and rugged tahr hunts on ice fields in New Zealand. One of my
personal favorites...a rocky mountain bighorn sheep deep in the Frank Church wilderness with my brother. I have been pushed to my limits time after time. I always felt the most alive when I was being stretched by tough country and tougher animals. And I wanted to do it again!
Picking the Right Unit
So this year I began looking for a hunt in my home State that would require me to once again rise to the challenge. A once-in-a-lifetime backcountry moose sounded about right. Big animal, deep in the mountains, and no contact with the outside world for weeks. I spent a couple of hours looking at the various moose units in Idaho using the ‘designated roadless’ layer on Basemap to narrow down some areas that might fit my criteria.
After finding a few areas that looked good I did some aerial scouting to determine land ownership, topography, and burn activity. I found one area that really piqued my interest. The next step was to look at draw odds, moose density, harvest success rates, and trophy quality in this particular unit. BaseMAP made this extremely quick and easy. Everything checked out...good bulls (40”-50” averages), about 50% success rate, and about 25% draw odds for residents.
The real limiting factor on this hunt is accessibility. This unit had exactly what I was looking for. (If you have ever hunted moose before you know that the packing of meat MUST be taken into consideration.) The moose hunting begins about 8 miles in from the nearest road with much of the good habitat between 15-20 miles in from the access point. I spend most of my time hunting each year on horseback, so this unit was beginning to look perfect to me.
The horses can get you into and pack your quarry back out of country that is flat out impossible on foot, which opens up a whole new world of opportunity for avid hunters. As long as you have pack trails, there is very little you can’t do with a horse. One of the last BaseMAP overlays I added was the trail layer and found there were a ton of good pack trails traversing this pristine unit. That sealed the deal and I took the plunge and put in for the draw.
May 17th arrived and the Idaho draw results were posted…..I DREW!!! I would not have this opportunity had it not been for BaseMap. I went from wanting to hunt moose, to finding a great unit, to drawing a tag in the same year. It is a wealth of information and I highly recommend it to anyone serious about their hunting goals.
My research is done and now I’m beginning to take the next step in this once-in-a-lifetime journey for my Shiras moose...scouting my unit. The unit I drew is quite a distance from my home so I will be relying heavily on BaseMap to do a lot of my pre-scouting. I'm excited to get boots on the ground and will have a solid plan when I arrive at the trailhead.
This hunt is going to be one that will push me to the limits once again, deep in the mountains for 18 days in October hunting not only moose, but elk, deer and black bear as well. I can't wait!
Pushing the Limits Part 2
I find it harder and harder to get away and into the mountains these days. 2 years ago I began training to become a pastor, the demands on my time seem to grow and time for hobbies naturally shrinks. This marks the first hunt in my life of this caliber that I have not put my boots on the ground before season. Its also the first season that honestly, it doesn’t bother me. As I write this my once-in-a-lifetime Shiras Moose season has been under way for 4 weeks. My bull is probably raking trees, locking horns and chasing cows as we speak.
One of my best friends, Shane, who will be joining me on this hunt always says that I am over confident when it comes to just about everything and this hunt is no different in his mind. I respectfully disagree with him.
You see, killing is no great feat for man, we have every advantage we need. In fact, Genesis 9:2 tells us that “The fear of you (man) and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered.” God has given us authority over the animals on a foundational level. So whenever I approach a hunt that seems like I have a disadvantage of some sort, I come back to this timeless and primal truth that no matter what my disadvantage is, I have the ultimate advantage over my quarry.
We as hunters have built off of this foundational advantage with so many ingenious innovations, especially in the last 100 years. We have long-range rifles, amazing calls, hunting clothing, optics and transportation like never before. But none of those advancements are necessarily game-changers in my opinion. I’ve hunted in Carhart’s and a plain shirt for most of my career, I’ve shot most of my animals at 100 yards or less and have called many moose in with nothing but my mouth. The Kiwi’s in New Zealand that I’m friends with always laugh about how Americans are so into our gizmos, gadgets and gimmicks. They are of the mindset that you don’t need the next best thing, you just need a gun that shoots and a little ambition.
That’s a fresh perspective that seems to have gone extinct about the time that hunters started becoming pseudo celebrities. When hunting became a rich mans sport and not a way of providing meat for the family. My how hunting has changed even in my lifetime. It seems to be all about the pictures on Facebook and the likes you get. Have you killed your sheep slam yet? Oh didn’t think so. You don’t have a buck in the books? Must not be a good hunter. You haven’t been to Africa? Well, you haven’t lived. You haven't shot a 400” stag out of a pen in New Zealand? Well, you just haven't arrived.
There is something to be said for a pure passion for the great outdoors and the animals that call it home. A passion not measured in inches, dollars or likes. A passion that drags you out of bed at 2 am, that demands sweat, blood and sometimes tears of joy and pain. A passion that frustrates and rewards. A passion that has highs and lows but always keeps you coming back for more. A passion that doesn’t need recognition or praise. It is a passion that I see in very few people today. You may know what I am talking about, maybe you have seen it. Maybe you even have it. The twinkle in a mans eye when he recounts the story of the bull he killed, or more often, almost killed. The shaking and shouts of joy when a hunt comes together and the constant call tugging at your heart, drawing you back to the crisp fall evenings under a blanket of stars on the side of a mountain trying to stay warm around a small campfire because you had to stay overnight when you chased a muley too far. That is passion. That is hunting. Whether you are freezing in a tree stand in Ohio or freezing on the side of a cliff in Alaska, it was the same passion that got you there and it is that passion that links hunters together, that gives us an unspoken understanding of each other.
I am very good friends with Jeff Balch, the man who built Basemap from the ground up. This tool grew out of his pure passion for hunting. Not a man who wants recognition, fame or fortune, but a man who enjoys the animals and the places he hunts. It was Jeff who set out not to develop a gizmo, gadget or gimmick but a truly transformational hunting tool. It is right there with the good shooting rifle and the primal ambition of a true hunter. A tool for the passionate, by the passionate.
I’ve heard objections to this technology and admittedly something new and this advanced can raise eyebrows, but my perspective is slightly different. As a man with little to no extra time on my hands, a demanding job, a family to raise and lets face it a limited number of hunting seasons (no matter how old you are) I would like to experience quality hunts and not the depressing anguish of total defeat. I have never known a hunter that hasn’t had a train wreck of a hunt that didn’t start with tremendous hope and excitement. It is crushing. I also don’t know many hunters that can take a lot of time away from providing for their families. The way I see it is this. Time is the most valuable resource on the planet and Basemap conserves time therefore Basemap is valuable for a hunter. Three things you need to be successful hunting: a weapon, ambition and time.
This tool has been invaluable for me in its first few months of existence. As I said earlier I have not had the time to go and scout this area and the animals for myself. To be honest with you, I never would have put in for the draw on this hunt because of my time restraints, but I felt confident this year that I could develop a successful game plan from home. I have trail maps, marked camping locations and several key hot spots plugged into my Basemap App on my phone so that I can navigate this foreign territory like I’ve been hunting it for years. Even though I haven’t been there in person I have everything I need; a very good understanding of the area I will be hunting, a gun and a ton of ambition.
I leave in one week to embark on this hunt of a lifetime, I will be using all 2 weeks of my vacation that I have been saving for the last 2 years to make it happen. It is going to be a hard hunt, it will be a physically and mentally challenging hunt and I am confident that it will be a successful hunt.
Keep an eye out for pictures and my last article upon my return!
May God Bless you all,
Justin A. Gibbins
Pushing the Limits Part 3
As I sat down to begin writing this article my Moose season had already been underway for 4 weeks, my bull was probably raking trees, grunting and chasing cows as I typed. It seems to be the rule more than the exception these days that it is almost impossible to get away and into the mountains. Life is fast paced and everyone has needs that must be met and mine seem to be the last on that list most of the time. As a Pastor it is difficult to get away for large blocks of time and that is exactly what I needed to make this hunt work; A large block of time. I did not get a chance to put boots on the ground in this big, foreign chunk of wilderness and so, I had to rely on my online scouting. I had found the hunt with it, now I was about to see if I could successfully execute my once in a lifetime opportunity.
There are so many stories I could tell about this hunt; the horse trailer that slid off the treacherous mountain road with all my horses in it, the terrifying narrow trail with a 200’ drop into the river with a single mis-step, the torrential downpours we experienced, the dead truck batteries, the 25 mile days boon docking on horse back or even the nightmarish brush.
But I think the thing I will focus on is the night. What night? The night that only happens once in a lifetime.
As we rode back from another hard day with nothing on the ground I couldn’t help but be a little discouraged. It was October 8th and I was 6 weeks into my season and 2 days into my hunt. Maybe I was foolish to think I could have trusted my online scouting so much without ever having hunted an area before. (There were many who thought it.) We had been hunting in some of the worst brush imaginable all day and it had been pouring down rain. Not my favorite combo. I was exhausted. I was beginning to doubt. Then I looked up. It was a beautiful evening, I was 10 miles from the nearest road and was riding along a beautiful river with grassy meadows all over. My friend Shane was right behind me on Mindy. Shane always says, “I hunt the country just as much as I hunt the animal.” And those words snapped me out of my self-pity. I looked up and saw a magnificent picture of a perfect evening in God’s country and I was instantly content. Sometimes I get so caught up in the kill that I miss the hunt altogether. I spent the next 30 minutes just letting the wonder in. There wasn’t a word said between us. All you could hear were the horse hooves clopping down the trail and the water running over the smooth stones as it wound down to civilization and the busyness we had finally managed to escape. It was peaceful.
My heart was finally in the hunt. And now the hunt was on. About 45 minutes till dark and 2 miles from our camp, I looked ahead to a meadow that I had been really focused on when I was building my hunt plan on BaseMap and that’s when I saw him. Standing about 600 yards away in a mix of willows and golden grass right next to the river with a rocky peak behind him stood a stud of bull with his cows. He was jet black with dark red horns dripping from the rain that had been falling all day. My heart stopped. This was it. I couldn’t tell any specifics but it was one of those bulls that you didn’t have to take a second look at. He was a shooter.
The problem was, I didn’t have a shot. I ripped my rifle out of my scabbard, threw down the big moose shed I had found that day, tied up Hootie and took off running up the trail. Shane trying to catch up to me in my mad dash. There was really no shot anywhere that was easy, we were stuck in trees and he was down in the willows. So naturally, we went into the willows with him. Running through streams and swampy areas tripping through the branches we (not so quietly) stumbled our way out to the bull. As we were clearing the willows he saw us at 250 yards and took off to run but unfortunately for him I don’t do so well with opportunities getting away from me and I took a quick off hand shot as he disappeared into the brush. Crraackkkk! Hit him hard and he whirled and came right back into the open as I racked another round in. Boom….Whoppp.. Another round right behind the shoulder. The sound of the action working was quickly followed by one last shot and he staggered and fell right next to the river, a mist of lung-blood hanging in the air. There are few things that will be burned in your mind like watching a dream come true and as I walked (more ran) over to my dream, a flood of emotions overtook me. The video is hilarious, I am jumping around and whooping and hollering and shaking my gun and making all sorts of weird joyful sounds! Then I laid hands on him. The dream had become a reality. What I had imagined was now tangible.
He is all I could ever ask for. Mature, insane mass, big double eye guards, heavy everything, teeth worn all the way down. I killed him in a place I didn’t know existed, that my foot had never stepped in before, that my eye had never seen. I had pushed the limits again, and somewhere near the edge of ourselves we found my dream in a spot fit for a once in a lifetime memory.
I don’t think words can do justice for such an experience as this. It is surreal in so many ways. We took pictures as the darkness fell on us. Headlamps on we began to peel back the thick hide on this rhino-sized animal and started quartering the bull. It was primal. Nothing but the sound of knives, grunts and the river flowing in the cold, damp and dark night as we cut up the bull. We laid the quarters on the roots of an old cedar that had toppled over and found our horses back up on the trail. At some point the stars had come out and we turned off our head lamps and let the horses pick their way back to our camp (we couldn’t see anything). I rode the whole way with my head laid back looking up at the heavens thanking God for all the blessings he has poured out in my life. It was a night, one that you will never forget and that many dream of. It was a day that will live forever in my memory and a moment that will be blazed in my mind. It was in a single word, magnificent. A hunt like this changes you, it is unavoidable. You cannot go into foreign territory and conquer it without it changing you.
I am grateful for the opportunity to hunt this animal. I am thankful for the tools that helped me find this hunt. It is humbling to know that I am part of a very small group of people that have experienced a hunt like this. And I am truly blessed to be able to hunt such incredible new country. If I had one piece of advice for anyone that is planning on going on a once-in-a-lifetime hunt I would say this: Hunt the country as much as you hunt the animal! You won’t regret it.
May God guide your thoughts and your shots,
Justin A. Gibbins