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Author: Mark Nelsen
Keeping your hands free for hiking, glassing and calling while moving from one hunting area to the next can be invaluable. The new Bow/Rifle Pack from Cabela's carries the load so you can concentrate on hunting.
Six miles and 3,500 vertical feet - that was our goal for the next few hours. I've done this trek every September for the past several years; it's the arduous hike into our elk camp. Each fall, as the aspens begin to turn, we load our gear and pack animals onto truck and trailer, making the day-long journey from flatlands to base camp along a lonely Forest Service road. Once there, after a restless night's sleep under a Rocky Mountain sky, we begin our forced march skyward, each of use leading a horse or mule loaded down with panniers of food, camping gear and other essentials. We each carry our own pack as well, to help ease the burden of our critters. We repeat this ritual each fall during archery and muzzleloader elk seasons, and most years some of us will be packing in a bow, while others carry a long gun.
As much as I appreciate a horse or a mule for packing, I've never entrusted them to carry my bow or rifle on the trail. Things tend to happen quickly on the trail - an animal spooks crossing a deadfall, a mule lays down because a lead rope wasn't cinched tight enough during a rest stop, a tie-down breaks, and, just like that, your bow or rifle could be hopelessly damaged. My annual elk hunt is dear to me, and with the cost of licenses, vacation time, and gear, the last thing I want to do is watch my hunt disappear over a ridge in a blur of thundering hoofs and flying pots and pans. So, I carry my bow or rifle during the long walk to camp. That is, until last season, when I decided to field-test the Cabela's Bow/Rifle Pack.
One of the biggest pains of a long hike is carrying your firearm or bow, whether packing-in to a remote camp or simply logging a lot of miles looking for big-game animals. After a few hours, a bow or gun feels like the weight of the world is hanging from your shoulder, increasing fatigue and decreasing concentration - neither of which is desirable during a hunt. But the Bow/Rifle Pack proved its worth before we ever made it to camp - and excelled during the following week.
The concept is pretty simple - a day pack that is designed to not only carry all your gear and a hydration bladder, but also designed to carry your bow or long gun, be it rifle, muzzleloader or shotgun. The design works wonderfully. Before we left base camp, I simply stuck the lower cam of my bow into the foldout support (the same for a rifle butt stock), and then cinched the rest of the bow to the pack with the three adjustable hook-and-loop straps. Each strap can be moved back and forth horizontally to different positions on the pack to accommodate different style bow risers or gun stock configurations. Once attached, a small compression pod buckles over the gun or bow to further keep everything securely in place. The compression pod can be detached completely from the main pack and used as a small daypack. I used the compression pod to hold all my toiletries and small hunting items while in camp, and used the main pack without the compression pod as my day pack once our hunt began. The compression pod has fold-out shoulder straps, is built with organizer panels on the inside and has a foldaway blaze orange safety panel.
The main pack is hydration-bladder compatible, and has a generous main compartment that is big enough to hold everything you need for an all-day hunt. Mine carried raingear, food and all the necessities in the event a lovesick bull wandered into bow range. The pack has two side pockets for the stuff you want to keep close at hand, and one of the pockets is sewn on using a pass-through design, so you can carry shooting sticks or a tripod behind the pocket. A mesh-bottom pocket below the side pocket keeps tripod legs or shooting sticks from falling through. I used this pocket to carry a Stoney Point Explorer Hiking Staff, which doubles as a shooting and glassing monopod.
I mentioned that the pack excelled during our weeklong hunt. That's because from our spike camp, we hike another couple of miles up and over a ridge to our hunting area. Because this twice-daily hike is more walking than hunting, I used the Bow/Rifle Pack to carry my bow several more hours each day, which left my shoulders well rested when it came time to carry my bow through the day's hunt. Plus, my hands were free to help negotiate steep trails, glass distant meadows and use my GPS.
Like all quality day packs, The Cabela's Bow/Rifle Pack has adjustable, contoured, padded, non-slip shoulder straps and padded hip belt. A rigid but lightweight sheet frame with aluminum stays adds extra support and structure while the molded back panel is very comfortable on long hauls. The pack has an adjustable sternum strap, something I really like when carry a heavy load. I also found this pack easy to adjust to a custom fit with both the hip/waist straps and the shoulder straps, so that I could really cinch down the pack when loaded and keep it riding on my hips where it belongs.
The pack is quiet - I never gave it a thought when sneaking in to set up on a bugling bull. It's made from a waterproof fabric that is soft and quiet with a low-nap finish to resist burrs, seeds and other cling-ons.
This pack comes in two sizes, four camo patterns and you also have the option of choosing the advantage of a main compartment that is lined with Scent-Lok®. With all of the things that are carried in a pack, this is a considerable advantage to avoid tipping your hand to downwind game. I chose the Large model in Seclusion 3D for my hunt.
If your hunting adventures take you over a lot of terrain, and you're tired of struggling through brush and heavy cover carrying your bow or rifle, you owe it to yourself to give the Cabela's Bow/Rifle Pack a try. I think you'll be amazed at how refreshed you feel, even after a six-mile hike with a 3,500 vertical foot climb.
A native Nebraskan, Mark Nelsen grew up hunting and fishing, with a love of the outdoors that was fostered by his dad and uncle. From those early days pursuing rabbits, Nelsen turned to the great upland bird hunting Nebraska has to offer, and later, to big-game hunting. While still enjoying time in a duck blind or stomping out a plumb thicket for a gaudy rooster, Nelsen is most at home pursuing elk in the high country, turkeys in the low country, or sitting in a deer stand with bow or muzzleloader in hand somewhere along the Platte River. When hunting seasons are closed, you'll find him throwing a loop in a mountain stream or lake, in pursuit of the perfect presentation to a rising trout, or tucked into a hillside trying to call a coyote into range.
After a career in broadcast journalism that included working on outdoor television projects, Nelsen turned his attention more to the written word, and joined the Cabela's family of employees. He and his wife reside in Sidney, Nebraska.
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