Amongst hunters who favour mountain dwelling game, the topic of gear can be highly contentious… There are countless websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, and articles dedicated to the use and review of it. I have seen grown men get into fist fights over the pants that they wear and who made them. My usual take on gear is this; most high-quality companies today produce great items that will fit a hunter’s needs to keep you warm, dry and successful on your adventures. When people ask me I typically will tell them to find a company that aligns with their values and beliefs, and there will be something that they manufacture that will work for their purpose. That was until I threw caution to the wind and went ibex hunting in the Central Asian country of Tajikistan. I have been fortunate to adventure hunt the western part of North America from Mexico to the Northwest Territories and most of what exists in between the two. I can tell you that there is nothing that compares to the harsh and unforgiving landscape that we experienced in the Pamir Mountains. In this place, if your gear doesn’t perform as advertised, you just wasted 50+ hours of uncomfortable travel, hard earned money and potentially put yourself in physical harm. I don’t use those terms lightly in the “extreme” marketing world that is in our faces every day but if you know me I don’t blow smoke to put it politely. So here is my take on the items that were standouts on our Ibex hunt.
PROOF Research Barrels
Both Adam and I have custom built precision rifles with PROOF carbon wrapped barrels. Not only is carbon fibre lighter than steel, it is also stiffer, allowing for reduced harmonic barrel vibration and a more inherently accurate system. My rifle had a Sendero contour and Adam choose a Sendero light for his rifle. From talking to contacts at Proof, I learned that while the Sendero Light shaves a little weight, there is a slight barrel life advantage to the Sendero. These barrels aren’t cheap, hence my decision to choose the Sendero. My rifle is a .300 win mag topped with a 26” barrel, G7 NSX 5.5-22×50 FFP scope and comes in at 9 1/4 pounds. My goal was to keep this gun under 10 pounds and I could have not achieved that without the PROOF barrel. I have two other custom guns, one with a Hart barrel and the other with a Bartlein. While both of these rifles are very accurate, they are edged out by my newest gun. Simply put, the accuracy and consistency are like no other steel barreled rifle I have shot. I have over 250 rounds through this gun and there has been almost no copper fouling — which tells me they put the time in to make sure these barrels are manufactured to the highest standards. Currently, I am considering building a 6.5 PRC, and I can guarantee you there will be a PROOF barrel on it.
Sig Kilo 2400 ABS
If there is one piece of gear that I cannot stop talking about, it is the Sig Kilo 2400 ABS rangefinder. This rangefinder uses the Applied Ballistics solver to give you a firing solution which takes into account angle, pressure, altitude, and temperature. I cannot think of a better test for an advanced rangefinder than 15,000’ above sea level and variable temperatures. We were able to connect on two center punch shots on targets at 1600 yards with the dope provided from the Kilo 2400 — if that is not proof enough I am not sure what is. You can configure multiple guns into the system and I was able to test this with my data and Adam’s, both of which gave true trajectories that we verified at given ranges. The rangefinder links up to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and while it is a cool feature to use at home I wasn’t sure how field applicable it would be. I saw the true value in this when the situation of a language barrier is encountered. If you do not have a hunting partner and have to rely on your guide to range an animal as you prepare for the shot, this feature allows you to read the data off of your phone screen. Regardless of the language spoken you can still make the necessary adjustments, and send your shot down range.
Beyond Clothing – A5 Stretch Alpha Sweater
The more I travel to hunt, the less I am inclined to wear camo colored clothing. The big companies are starting to produce more of their lines in solid colors, but they don’t always have what I am looking for so I typically use a mix of gear. Beyond Clothing is a Seattle based company that manufactures in the US and supports the military — which has additional appeal to me. The Stretch Alpha Sweater is a 3 layer active insulating jacket from their Axios line. It starts with a grid fleece backer, then Polartec Alpha Insulation, and finally a 4-way nylon stretch weave fabric coated with an exceptional DWR. A large comes in at 21.9 oz. and it is very effective at blocking the wind while remaining breathable. This is the first softshell type piece that I have found that does not make me sweat to death under exertion. I was able to hike with a pack on and remain comfortable while moving and stay warm when we stopped to glass. I highly recommend this jacket and will get lots of use out of it in non-hunting situations which always helps justify the price tag.
The Niak is part of Hilleberg’s Yellow Label series of tents which means they consider it to be a three season tent. Hilleberg’s Yellow Label tents are built like most companies four-season tents, and I firmly believe you can push the envelope later into the season. It is an incredibly roomy one person tent, which allows you to fit all of your gear inside without using the vestibule giving your room to cook and move around when the weather isn’t cooperating. Coming in at a packed weight of 3lbs 12 oz. makes it an easy choice on extended backpack trips and doesn’t take up a great deal of room in your pack. At ¾ the size of many two-person tents, you could fit two grown men inside somewhat comfortably if space is an issue on the side of the mountain. It really shines with an adult and child, which is one of the reasons I choose it as my son and I will get lots of use out of it during the offseason. This tent was recommended to me by the likes of Dustin Roe, Adam Foss, and Aaron Snyder — if it is tough enough for them it will certainly hold up for you as well.
Pretty simple. On thin skinned game at mid to long range, they just kill. If you are hunting in high winds, at high altitude, for non-dangerous game, load a Berger behind some stable powder and as long as you do your part the bullet will not disappoint.
First Focal Plane Scopes
I really saw the benefits of an FFP scope if you have multiple animals you are trying to judge or are trying to pull off a double with your hunting partner. Having the ability to shoot holdover with a mil-reticle on any power is a real advantage when animals are moving and things have the potential of “getting western”. My next mountain rifle will have a FFP scope on it for this exact reason.
Mountain Medic Apex First Aid Kit with Med Pack option
Emergency evacuation services are a great choice when traveling to places like Central Asia and I highly recommend them. With those services, there is a going to be a critical window of time before medical professionals can get to you, especially in that part of the world and that is where Mountain Medic comes in. The one pound Apex kit is everything that you need in a lightweight package to keep you alive in an emergency situation. The CEO is an orthopedic surgeon with prior US Navy experience and is a very experienced backcountry hunter. The Apex kit is designed from practical and professional experience unlike something from REI that contains band-aids and bubblegum. It also includes a great guide that helps you act accordingly. The Med Pack option is convenient and cost-effective when in need of things like Diamox. Trying to explain to your GP what Diamox is and why you need it is great if you want to deal with that brain damage…
Outdoorsmans Medium Tripod with Micro Pan Head
Outdoorsmans is a great company with great customer service. There are carbon fibre options out there that are lighter weight but in the high winds of Tajikistan, the small weight difference worked to our advantage for stability. I prefer the Medium height as I do not have to extend the legs much and the leave the center post at the lowest setting which makes the set up quick and easy. The Micro Pan Head is very smooth and had no problem keeping a 65mm spotter steady, as well as locking solidly for Digiscoping purposes. Their tripods are just plain tough as well. My carry on was overweight, and I had to start cramming things into my checked bag to rectify the situation. One of the first things to go in was my tripod. Having used and abused this tripod in the past, I was completely confident that it would remain unscathed — no matter what the baggage handlers threw at it.