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Owner's Field Test:  Packing Elk Quarters in the Just One

People often ask me if I hunt.  I usually think that the answer's obvious, just by looking at our products.  But since I get asked, I thought it was time that I introduce myself.  Now, don't get me wrong -- I'm not going to waste a lot of your time telling you all about myself; I care more about showing the philosophy behind our company than I care about people knowing what I eat for breakfast.  Having said that, though, what I really want our customers to understand is that I'm designing performance products because I'm a user of them.  I haven't been overly impressed with what I've found in the marketplace, so a long time ago I decided to start making things for myself.  Now that Eberlestock is up and running, I spend far more time talking on the phone and tapping on a keyboard than I spend doing the things that I love in the great outdoors.  But I'm on a mission not just to build great products, but to build a great company.  It's a bit of a challenge, but at the end of the day, if I have one good backpack left, and one good rifle, it'll have been worth it, and it will have been a heck of an adventure.

Another thing that I've encountered along the way is a question about whether the Just One pack will haul big quarters.  I've packed enough elk quarters to know a big one, and have made enough packs to know what it takes to haul one.  Comfortably.  Or as comfortably as is possible when you've got all that you can carry strapped to your back.  The bottom line is, if you can get it in, and pick it up, the Just One'll haul it.  And if you can't get it all inside, then strap it to the outside, using our compression strap system, and then, if you can pick it up, it'll haul it.  If you've got your pack rigged right, you'll be comfortable.  I know this, because I made the pack with all of this in mind.  But in order to prove it with the J104, I took one out of a box a couple of years ago and went for a test drive, on a solo elk hunt. 

The trouble with building a company like ours is that, in order to get it up and running, you run out of time.  So, instead of the week or more that I really wanted, I had only two days to go out and dig up a good bull and to get him off the mountain.  I prefer un-mechanized elk hunting, and usually go out by myself, so only another high-country foot hunter will really appreciate the size of the challenge I'd laid out for myself.  I hadn't had time to do any scouting, so I just had to pick a place based on past experience.  I'm not the kind of guy who'd be satisfied with shooting an elk off his back porch, or going to some outfitter who's got one tied up around the corner.  I like to get a feel for the weather, the wolves, and the hunting pressure, and then pick a spot where I can find some elk who'll be surprised to see me.  I'm fortunate enough to live in a place where I can still do that.

So it was, that well before the early dawn on the fourth day of rifle season, I was far to the north, way up high in one of my favorite places; the only man on the mountain and mighty glad to be there.  It may not have been opening day, but it was opening day on my mountain, and there was eight inches of beautiful, quiet, virgin powder snow to make it perfect.

Here I get to the first reason why our Just One pack exists.  I got some good laughs at myself, as I took several headers after stepping on bunch grass disguised as rocks under the snow.  After about the third one I finally made myself stop, pay attention, and say, ok, those aren't rocks.  Having your gun safe when the going's tricky is a beautiful thing.

High dawn, my opening day on the mountain.


I glassed until well after first light, and saw no sign of elk.  I hadn't seen any tracks on the long climb up into the snow, and am the kind of guy who can't stay still forever.  I'm not afraid to go out and look far and wide for the animals (that's why they call it hunting, isn't it?).  Knowing that the beautiful clear dawn meant sun, and sun meant melting snow, and melting snow meant vanishing elk tracks, I headed out on a long bushwhack to a place I call Fortress Ridge.  I call it that because it's almost inaccessible; because the elk go there for a reason, and it's the kind of place where they're always surprised to see me.  It's also the kind of place where getting an elk out means harder work than most guys are game for.  Which made it a perfect place to locate a nice bull and to put my new pack to good use.

I hunted down the ridge a long way, and although I enjoyed just being there, solo, on a spectacular day, I was disappointed not to find any elk tracks.  But I was consoled by not having found any wolf tracks either.  Thinking that the elk must be hunkered down low, I turned back off the ridge and over to Rye Creek.  Nearly all the way off the mountain, and still having not cut any tracks, I was thinking it was time to bail out and go to the place of Plan B.  Just then, I came upon some mid-sized bull tracks, heading back up the mountain.  My old friend and hunting mentor, Henry Blagden, had once told me, in his drawled out and highly experienced voice, "Glen, any bull's a good bull."  This seemed particularly apropos, as I was on the shortest elk hunt of my life, and there didn't seem to be a whole lot to pick from.  So I headed back up after him.  We were on a south facing slope, the day was progressing, and the snow was melting fast.  In several spots, the tracking got tough.  But I noticed that on his route, I was starting to find increasing amounts of old sign.  I think you're showing me where you guys are hanging out this year.  Up and up he went, with me in trail, repeating the 3500 foot climb I'd already made that morning before daybreak.  Just below the very top of the mountain, his track was joined by a small herd, and among these were some big bull tracks.  This guy'll be better for giving the pack a workout, I thought, so I switched to him. 

The elk were moving around the backside of the mountain, into the deeper snow, and escaping the warming sun.  I skirted their trail, a little uphill, and kept my eyes focused on the farthest reaches that I could make out in the thick lodgepole forest.  I kept up my very slow, patient pace, begrudging the long warrrurump sound that each of my footfalls made in the melting snow, in the otherwise utterly still place.  After a little distance, and a little time, I sensed something and stopped.  Moving my head a little sideways, I saw through a gap in the thicket what I was looking for.  Elk fur.  A shift of my head brought a big bull into view, looking up my way through a slot in the timber, and no doubt wondering what all of the warrrurumping was.  I'd quietly slipped my rifle out of its Backscabbard a little while before, knowing that I was near the endgame.  The gun was in my right hand, and that was the one that I figured the bull couldn't see, so I slowly shifted it up until I was looking at him through my Leupold's crosshairs.  I could just see his front section and head bracketed in one of those long aisle ways that are peculiar features of logdepole stands.  Horns going straight out sideways from the head were lost in treebark on either side.  Branch-antlered bull, I said to myself, he'll do.  Squeezing the trigger, I dropped him neatly with my .300 Win Mag.

Once I got up close to him, I found that his rack wasn't going to make the record books, but I've shot enough trophy bulls to not feel compelled to do it every time that I go hunting.  I just drew a quiet smile as old Henry's words slowly drifted their way back through my mind, aaany bull's a good bull.  Besides which, he was a big-bodied old boy, and packing quarters and filling my freezer were what this hunt was all about.  So I settled in, and got to work.  With the elk skinned, quartered, and hung, I took all of the prime meat, some extra, and the rack, and headed off the mountain.  This is the second reason that these packs exist.  I'm not the kind of hunter who'd want to climb all the way back down, or for that matter wouldn't want to go 100 yards, to get a pack frame to carry my game.  I want to put it into the thing that I'm wearing, and I want the thing that I'm wearing to be compact, comfortable, and then, of course, to get a lot bigger when I'm harvesting something.  Carrying a heavy pack is another time that it's nice to have the Backscabbard for your gun.  Put away in there, you don't feel it, and even with a full load in the pack, you can reach back like you're scratching your neck, and grab your gun and pull it out.  There's nothing else like it, period. 

Like most of my days of elk hunting, this one ended in the dark, with me in the middle of nowhere and a plan for getting back to somewhere.  The easy thing about hunting in this country is that there is always one way home -- down -- but you just have to be careful which way down you pick, lest you find yourself in for some nasty surprises.  Or a long walk out from the bottom of the wrong side of a mountain.  Anyway, I picked the right way, humped on out of there, and staggered into my camp a few hours later.  Knowing what lay ahead the next day, I gorged myself on elk meat and any other food that was handy and easy to prepare.  Then I slept as long and hard as I could.

The next morning, I drove my rig down to where I thought I'd have the shortest hike.  The trouble was, and I knew it well from other elk I'd packed off this mountain, that the only way back up there was up the wall of Fortress Ridge.  That's what I get for living in Idaho and shooting an elk on top of a mountain, I guess.  But it keeps me in shape.  So, a hard half-hour climb up a 50 degree slope brought me to the knife edge of the ridge.  From here, the walking was easier, the views were spectacular, and the elk were plentiful.  Another smile to myself.  I hadn't come this far down the ridge in my exploratory sweep the day prior.  Guess I could have shot one a little further down from the top.  Oh well.  On the way up, I heard what every elk hunter loves to hear.  A bull bugling.  No wolves here.  No hunters either.  This is my kind of place.  The Wild West, if only a small remnant of it.  On both trips up and back down again, through the day and into the night, I was serenaded by several different bulls.  Pretty remarkable for a late season rifle hunt, long into a cool-weather fall, and long after I figured the rut ought to be over.  All the way up; this turned out to be a long way.  That elk was further back there than I thought.  I looked at my watch.  There was no way this was going to be over before dark.  I picked up the pace, got to the kill, shoved chocolate and water into my body, and eased a rear quarter into my Just One.  I've found that, if I put a quarter into a plastic bag, it not only keeps my pack cleaner, but helps to get the quarter into the pack.  I set the pack on the ground, face down and expanded, and lay the quarter just uphill from it.  Then I slide the quarter in, like slipping a big fish into a net.  I know for a fact that it's a rare elk or moose quarter that won't fit into the meat compartment of the pack.  But for you Phil Shoemaker-like, schoolbus-sized bull moose killers, you can use the triple compression strap system and the Flex Chassis to strap anything, and I mean anything up to moose quarters and down to boat motors, to the outside of this pack.

Anyway, after I got the first rear quarter in there, I propped the pack up, and kept loading the meat from a boned-out front quarter, and then whatever else I could fit.  Then came the part that pack hunters both relish and dread: putting it on.  Feels heavy, but feels good, I told myself.  I'd adjusted the pack's internal stays to fit my back's contour, and with the load aboard, the pack was wrapped onto me like a big glove.  I picked a traverse line through the snowy forest to lead myself back to the easier walking of the ridge, and stepped on out.

Watching the day slip away, I tore along where I could, and baby-stepped where I had to, and it was nearly 5 o'clock before I hit level ground in front of my old Land Rover.  Oh, man.  Gotta go back up again.  More chocolate, water, and food.  Unloaded the meat and lightened the pack of all but necessities.  Traded my rifle in for the big Mag light out of my truck.  Made sure I had my headlamp, and stuff for getting cozy if I had to bivvy up there.  And headed up.  Fueled by adrenaline, and warmed up after hauling the first load off the mountain, I cut about ten minutes off the climb up the wall.  Then I stretched out long and hard for the elk kill, and enjoyed the music of the wind in the trees and the serenade of the bulls.  I moved a big herd out of some timber that sounded like a stampede of cattle.  I love this, I thought to myself. 

3500 Feet Below.  1st Quarter Down.

The sun had set when I got back to my elk, and I loaded the second rear quarter, the other boned-out front quarter, and the rest of the edible meat into my Just One.  I was glad now that the weather had broken, because there was half of a waxing moon rising in the east.  I cleaned up the kill site, and then groaned as I got into the pack, this one's heavier.  Next, I started a long stagger off the mountain. In the growing darkness, I had several miles to walk and a 3500 foot descent to make, and I was bone tired.  The best advice that I can offer to anyone knuckle-headed enough to try this is, if you get tired, stop and rest.  And drink lots and lots of water.  And be patient, and keep your head about you.  And carefully plan every footstep.  I could go on, but maybe I'd better just say that I don't really advise anybody to do this.  Anyway, now that I'm a self-confessed knuckle-head, I'll tell you that I did all of these things, and more, and very carefully picked my way off that mountain.  Got lost a time or two, and the final pitch was about five times longer in the dark than I'd remembered it being, but when I hit that road and stumbled to my rig, I was one happy fella.  And there's nothing like some man-sweat, as opposed to horse sweat, or to gasoline fumes, to make elk meat taste just right.

Pack Animal.

Anyway, I thought you'd want to know that I make my products to use them.  And, harsh critic that I am, I like what I use.  I hope that you do as well.

Happy Hunting,

Glen Eberle, President, Eberlestock

2004 - 2009, Eberlestock USA LLC.                Eberlestock     -     PO Box 862    -    Boise, ID    -    83701       -     USA          

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