The odds were good that a bull was going to visit the small waterhole, which was ringed by sign. The sun was shining in a deep-blue sky, bathing our side of the mountain in afternoon warmth, and everything felt right. We watched a spike mule deer buck come and go, and listened to the buzz of flies around us as they lifted off and returned to piles of elk droppings.
Then, a distant round of thunder reached our ears. My partner and I looked at each other, and I remember thinking that there was no way a storm was going to form in the cloudless sky above us. My hunting partner, who has far more experience than I do in the backcountry, immediately unzipped his pack and dug out his raingear.
Within a few minutes the thunder was closer, and I realized he was right. The storm, which had been building on the other side of the mountain, drifted over us and delivered a healthy bout of hail in a matter of a few minutes. The hail was then replaced by rain, and our bluebird day turned into something cold, wet, and totally unexpected in the mountains. Without the right clothing, we would have been miserable instead of just somewhat uncomfortable.
Western hunts, especially those in the high country, obviously demand the right clothing. But what about whitetail forays? I say yes, and it's not just the late-season, brutally cold sits where the right duds keep you comfy and in the woods longer.
One of my biggest pet peeves about whitetail-specific clothing is that it's often designed for colder temperatures than we encounter. I'm an all-season deer junkie, which means that if it's 80 degrees in September, I'm still going hunting. For those types of days, I tend to use some of my lightweight Western gear, because it's usually perfect for those conditions.
But then there are all those other times on stand where it might be 25 degrees at dawn, and 50 degrees by midmorning. The conditions vary, and with it so does our comfort and willingness to be out there if we're not wearing the right clothing.
I'm to the point in my bowhunting career where I'd rather spend good money on camo than just about any other gear because of how important quality stuff is to the overall hunt. That's a beneficial attitude to have, because the best stuff is expensive.
Fortunately it's worth it, especially if you opt for something like Pnuma Outdoors' latest — the Tenacity Coolcore Performance Hunting Shirt ($90). This shirt uses Coolcore moisture-activated cooling technology, which immediately moves heat and moisture away from your skin if you should work up a sweat while hanging treestands, or packing out an elk quarter.
Conversely, if you sit down for a breather as evening approaches and the mountains start to cool as only mountains can, this shirt will keep you warm thanks to the use of hollow-yarn chambers inside each strand of fabric. This next-level shirt also boasts SilverStrike antimicrobial odor control, weighs only 8.5 oz., and is guaranteed for life. Pair it with the Tenacity Hunting Pant ($150), and reap the rewards of high-level hunting function meeting the latest technology.
Browning's Hell's Canyon Proximity Jacket ($190) and Pants ($170) are another great option for bowhunters.
These three-layer garments use Browning's Pre-Vent membrane and ADDVANCED SCENT CONTROL to keep you undetected. Choose from Mossy Oak Break-Up Country or Realtree Xtra camo patterns in these quiet, well-designed hunting duds.
When it comes to finding perfect-fitting, well-designed hunting clothing, us guys have very little to gripe about. It's the ladies who have been underserved in this market, which is something that Sitka Gear took notice of a few years ago. They enlisted the help of plenty of hardcore women hunters to design their new lineup, and it shows.
Anchoring this new venture is the Celsius Jacket ($249), which features a soft nylon shell and PrimaLoft Silver Active Insulation to function perfectly as a mid-layer when temps are chilly and the bucks are randy. The Celsius Jacket is offered in Elevated II camo, and sizes range from XS to XXL.
KUIU's offerings are about as technically advanced as they come, with the premium-polished, goose down-stuffed Super Down Jacket ($230) an ideal choice for a litany of bowhunting scenarios. This jacket weighs only 9 oz., so it's perfect for stuffing into a pack and using as an insulating layer when needed.
As with all of KUIU's garments, the water-repellent Super Down is designed for an athletic fit, meaning it will provide serious warmth without bulking up your outfit and getting in the way of your string during the moment of truth.
Another down offering worthy of a backcountry bowhunter's consideration is the Instinct Backcountry Packable Super Warm Down Jacket ($220) and Pants ($200).
This packable insulating layer from Cabela's is designed to keep you warm during long periods of stationary activity, which covers everything from glassing high-country mule deer to climbing into a treestand and riding out the daylight hours.
Newcomer to the tactical clothing arena is SIXSITE. Their South San Juan Insulated Jacket ($350) uses PrimaLoft Gold Insulation, allowing you to stay warm and dry in even the most extreme conditions.
It is also designed with a zippered chest pocket, two zippered hand pockets, and reverse coil #5 YKK zippers, making it the perfect choice for DIY elk trips, daylong rut hunts for whitetails, or just about anything that requires lightweight, warm, and packable clothing.
Naturally, if you're thinking high-end technical hunting gear, you're going to want to address footwear. I've worn a lot of boots in my life that ranged from inexpensive knockoffs to top-dollar Italian offerings, but the best backcountry boots I've ever slid on come from Kenetrek in the form of their Mountain Extreme NI ($455).
These 10", waterproof and breathable boots are crafted from 2.8mm of top-grain leather, and provide the kind of traction and ankle support that is most welcome in a near-vertical world.
Once your feet are covered, it's time to think about packs. What you strap to your back can make a big difference in your hunt enjoyment, and these days I find myself leaning hard toward packs like the 2,900-cu. in. Traverse X ($240) from ALPS OutdoorZ.
This pack is large enough for a day trip in mule deer territory, or if you're like me, carry camera gear and the makings of a dark-to-dark sit in whitetail country. It's built with Lycra shoulder straps for serious comfort, features multiple compression straps for external gear storage, and is designed with a hydration pocket and port.
If after taking out a second mortgage to buy top-end duds and boots you're feeling a little cash-strapped but still need a great pack, you're in luck. Tenzing has the new-for-2017 TX 15 ($130), which is designed with a high airflow trampoline suspension, a removable waist belt, and four lateral compression straps for securing protein-packed loads.
The TX 15 offers plenty of interior storage as well, thanks to its two compartments, two side pockets, three organizational pockets, and for those times when a sudden bugle breaks the midmorning silence and you've got to move right now — a shove-it pocket.