Sitka Gear does things differently, including how they choose their pro team

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Just about every outdoor gear maker in the world has a sponsored pro team, so it’s no big deal, really, that Sitka has one too. For most hunting companies, you can tell pretty easily why each member was selected: they have a TV show, or they’re a famous football player or golfer or standup comedian. Companies pay celebrities for their endorsements, so on websites and catalogs, you’ll see a heap of names and pictures of famous people all agreeing how
great a product is.

The point of this whole exercise, of course, is to help companies sell stuff. Most people trust celebrities more than names they’ve never heard before, which is why Beyoncé sings about cola, and why Phil Mickelson tells people about arthritis medication.

But that old way of doing things never really appealed to us at Sitka Gear.

In 2005, we were two guys with no financial backing making gear worthy of mountaineering, yet designed to solve the problems hunters face in the field. The stuff looked different – athletically cut and technologically lightyears ahead of the bulky, ill-fitting garments you’d never want to climb a mountain in.

When we started a pro team in 2007, we called the elite members athletes. The idea was revolutionary, and people joked about how athletic a guy really had to be to drink beer and shoot stuff. But the idea stuck. Sitka Athletes proved themselves worthy of the moniker – training, preparing, and exerting themselves with a focus to rival Olympic hopefuls. They were not celebrities. None of them had TV shows or threw baseballs for a living. They were merely remarkable, authentic, hardworking hunters that any guy would be lucky to learn from. And none of them were ever paid to wear or endorse Sitka. In fact, to become a Sitka Athlete, you had to own the gear beforehand.

From a marketing perspective, ours was a strange way to build a pro team. Sure these guys were known well among small circles of hardcore hunters, but most people had never heard of them. No matter. The point was always to have guys around at the top of their game who could beat the hell out of our gear on the most demanding hunts imaginable, and give us honest, specific feedback about what they liked, what they didn’t, and what we could do to make them better hunters.

It worked. With the help of the Athletes, our gear has evolved to the point that the mountaineering companies we’ve always looked up to are now incorporating our innovations.

 So who are the Sitka Athletes? You can read up on the entire team at www.sitkagear.com, but here’s the story on three guys of whom we couldn’t be more proud.

Seacatelkhoritrimmingmeat copyMark Seacat, Mountain Athlete.
After photographing, filming and writing about 16 different sheep hunts, Sitka Athlete Mark Seacat got his own tag in the fall of 2012. Still, it wasn’t solely his hunt, and after eight days documenting fellow Sitka Athletes Bobby Warner and Kiviok Hight’s incredible successes, he had one day to make it happen. Using a borrowed left-handed rifle, he harvested a beautiful old Dall. As he and his companions were packing out in an icy rain, they couldn’t find passage through the steep canyon and raging river between them and camp.

With much effort and luck, they managed to build a weak and smoldering fire with green willows to wait out the night, and their collective rushed and shivering woodcutting left Mark with a deep slice to his hand, followed by a proud scar to commemorate his first ram.

Later that year, while hunting with Sitka Athlete Adam Foss, his Montana elk season came to a close with a seven-day backcountry mission during the season’s worst blizzard. When the blinding storm broke, and Mark harvested a fine bull. But by that point, the duo was dangerously low on food and supplies, and the ensuing 50-hour pack out left them stumbling with exhaustion, dehydration and malnourishment.

What makes Mark different from other overenthusiastic hunters is that he actually wants to hunt like this, while most of us want only to have hunted like this.
“I’m constantly looking at how to push myself further,” he says. “Like, how do I find an animal that would somehow define the effort I put into this?”

Before turning his full attention to hunting, Mark spent years living out of cars, tents and storage units as a climber chasing storied summits, steep icefalls and classic big wall lines around the world. His nomadic existence gave him something like a guiding principle: process, exertion, and personal experience mean more to him than accomplishments. That way of thinking has been bleeding from the edges of his photos ever since. In fact, Mark’s authentic, experiential images are largely responsible for the hunting industry’s slow repentance from years of staged photos and contrived expressions of machismo.

Mark hunts now like he climbed then. On his last ascent of Denali, he didn’t take the well-trod West Buttress with its better odds at the summit. He took the Cassin Ridge – a strikingly aesthetic, technically difficult line that flirted with the threshold of his abilities.

“Pushing the edge of what’s personally possible requires gear at the edge of what’s technically possible,” he says. “Gear that’s truly better always opens up new possibilities, and that’s what Sitka has done for me.”

Mark’s been a member of our Athlete Team since 2007.

jim holeJim Hole, Whitetail Athlete.
Raised under different circumstances, Sitka Athlete Jim Hole could have been a CIA Agent, surgically
dismantling the economies of belligerent nations. Instead, his dad introduced him to hunting in the Edmonton Bow Zone.

The Bow Zone encompasses 1,635 square miles of abundant forage, nutrient-rich soil, and heavy-horned genetics, where decades of archery-only hunting has created a population of large, remarkably intelligent bucks. With very little human contact, the bucks are completely intolerant of infringement on their territory.

“One mistake and they go nocturnal,” Jim says.

According to Outdoor Life Magazine, “When most people talk about The Zone, they talk about Hole. And when they talk about Hole, they are actually talking about ‘The Program,’ his rigid tactical and philosophical approach
to hunting monster whitetails.”

In nearly 30 years of guiding in the Zone, Jim has masterminded the taking of several record-book whitetails. But there are no results without the process, he says.

If you want to go through The Program, it begins on a Sunday afternoon with Jim examining every piece of equipment you plan to take into The Zone. He critiques your packing methods, your choice in range finder, clothing and bow sights. Next, he has you demonstrate that you can organize your gear according to his strictures. Any metal or plastic surface that might clink or clank gets wrapped in sound-deadening tape. Binoculars must be cinched tight to your chest. Your bow must snap into a spare arm hook that hangs on your left hip. You must have a loop on your right hip where Jim’s custom-designed portable tree stand will hang silently on the frequently long hikes to and from his stand locations.

Jim Hole_Sitka-3-XL“Sound carries for miles up here, literally,” Jim says. “Make one wrong noise, especially metal-on-metal contact, and that buck is gone.”

Like the CIA Agent he might have been, he carries a briefcase into the field. In it he keeps maps and a cross-referenced list of all his stand sites, as well as a chart denoting the wind directions required to hunt specific trees, with up-to-date notation on the last time a human visited each location.

Hunting with Jim feels like a high-stakes paramilitary maneuver, and Jim is your drill sergeant. He knows hunters who are new to The Program will find it difficult to master.

“It’s a technical hunt, which is not easy,” Jim says. “But if you learn to hunt like this, the rewards can be phenomenal.”

Sitka Gear has been a part of The Program since the introduction of the Whitetail Line in 2010.

Brimmer ShotMatt Brimmer, Waterfowl Athlete.
Sitka Athlete and waterfowl freak Matt Brimmer helped make our waterfowl gear a game changer. Born and raised in the Pacific Flyway’s Klamath Basin, he spends 80 days a year pushing waterfowl hunting to the next level. From greenheads to speckledbellies, if there’s a flight, Matt’s there to intercept it and call it off course.

He guided Jonathan Hart with Oregon’s storied Roe Outfitters seven years before Hart founded Sitka.

After years of sitting through sheets of west coast rain, he jumped all over the world’s first truly technical hunting gear the first year it became available.

“I adopted it, I purchased it, I set myself up with a full Sitka System, ” he said. “I had no idea Hart was behind it.”

It would be a long time before Sitka started making waterfowl gear, but Matt used Open Country and Elevated Forest gear to enable his not-so-casual elk and turkey habit. He’s a renowned elk caller, regularly appearing on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s World Elk Calling Championships stage. And you should hear how he talks to aggressive toms.

When Sitka gives him prototypes, he performs the same rigorous testing rituals that he uses to find the right call for the situation. His test feedback was so robust, he became rather influential in product development as Sitka waded
into the waterfowl world.

Of all Sitka Athletes, he tests perhaps the widest range of gear in the widest range of climates.