In the deep freeze of winter in the Alberta Bowzone, where late November temperatures can reach forty below, there’s one consideration that legendary whitetail outfitter and SITKA athlete Jim Hole, Jr., prioritizes above all others when he’s selecting and rigging his gear: silence. And we’re not just talking about stealth on the way to the stand — that’s important, too — we’re talking about the silence of an owl perched in a tree.
“You can easily hear a car on a gravel road five miles away, and that’s nothing compared to what the deer hear. It’s similar to being in an empty concrete warehouse with nothing to absorb sound,” he explains. In the coldest temperatures, the sound of a zipper or a bow clinking against a treestand can spook far-away deer before they even make their presence known. “It’s a very unforgiving place to hunt, and a lot of that is the nature of what you’re hunting, which is mature animals.”
The Alberta Bowzone, an archery-only trophy whitetail region, surrounds Edmonton, a city of about a million residents. In keeping with Bergmann’s rule — which states that the colder the climate, and the higher one gets in terms of latitude, the bigger the animals get —the whitetails in the Bowzone are monsters, and they don’t hang around long enough to make it into the 150-inch range by being dumb. To keep himself as quiet as possible, Hole soundproofs his gear with hockey tape, usually printed with the Canadian flag. His water bottle, every part of his tree stand, his release, the bases of the mid-size antlers he carries for rattling—everything gets a layer of hockey tape. Anything likely to freeze to the point of feeling like dry ice, like the grip of his bow, also gets a layer of tape to protect his hands.
Hole, 53, has been outfitting for thirty-three years, and he’s credited with pioneering the most effective tactics for taking trophy whitetails in the Bowzone. In November 1999, Hole’s mastery resulted in a 192-inch buck that ranked fourth in the world at the time for North American whitetails. Clients come from all over the United States and Canada for a shot at a trophy Bowzone buck, and Hole expects them to hold themselves to his standards of discipline. He compares hunting the Bowzone to being in Stanley Cup playoffs: “You can’t be up here without your A-game. You don’t have a warm-up time. You’re in the third round, and it’s expected you’re hunting at a certain level, and if you’re not at that level, you’re just on a cold-weather vacation.”
A normal day during the November rut involves hunting a morning stand and an evening stand, though depending on the moon phase, which influences peak animal movement, Hole may set up a client in a single stand in the middle of the day. Scent is crucial, which means Hole’s hunters aren’t allowed to bring food or coffee to keep them company in the stand. “Does a football player have a hamburger at halftime? No. If you can’t eat or drink enough in camp so you can do your hunt, you’re doing something wrong.”
Hole is the first to admit that hunting the Bowzone is a labor of love. “Actually it isn’t fun — it’s awesome, but it’s really tough, and it’ll show you who’s who. I don’t care where you come from or what you’ve got, because when the game starts, it’s very clear who’s got it and who doesn’t".
“When I’m hiking in with my whitetail pack with clothes, antlers, binos—my pack weighs between 15-20 pounds, but I’m dressed lightly. When I’m going in I’ve got that pack jammed full and I’m wearing a light hat and my pant zips are open. I’ve got my stand on my right hip and my bow on my left hip, and I could walk 100 yds like that or a 1,000 yards. Everything is based on the efficiency of being organized, having the right gear, and being athletic.”
“I walk in with just a skull cap, and then I pull the medium one on when I start to get cold, then pull the heavy one on when I’m in the stand. The great thing about SITKA gear is it’s very dynamic. I don’t take a hat off to put a hat on—I put one hat over an existing hat, and then I might put a third hat on over the second hat.”
Hole carries five gloves, which he layers as it gets colder. First layer is a merino wool glove to walk and work in, for both hands. Then a medium glove for both hands to go over that as he gets colder in the stand. Finally, one Incinerator Flip Mitt for his left hand, which is his bow hand. “When you have to hold your bow at my latitude, you need the Incinerator Flip Mitt to hold the bow for a long time when you’re on lockdown, and you have to wait, wait, wait, when you have a deer in front of you. But your other hand can be on a warming pack in the SITKA hand muff, keeping your trigger finger warm. You can pull out your shooting hand at the last minute, but you can’t reach for your bow with a deer in front of you.”
“In the cold-cold I’ll wear the Fanatic bibs. In the medium cold I’ll wear the Fanatic light bibs. And when it’s not very cold I’ll wear the Stratus pants with the rubber waistband to hold in my shirt.”
“8x30 are perfect for up here. You’re in the woods, generally you don’t want 10 power. You want bright glasses because this is a game of low-light a lot of times.”
“A lot of hunting big whitetails is versatility, being able to bounce here, there, and the other place. My hunting tactic is to try to magically be in any tree anywhere, hunting spots that are fresh and clean so big bucks are comfortable walking near them. If there’s a branch in the way that shouldn’t be there, I remove it. The difference between a shear and a saw is that a shear is quiet. If you can use a shear, you’re better off from a stealth standpoint.”
Hole hangs his treestand off of his right hip when he’s walking in, and climbs trees that he’s already fitted with self-auguring bolts. He insists that his clients move straight up the tree, to an average height of about 18 feet, as soon as they get to the stand to minimize ground scent. As for his safety harness, “I want a seat harness because it allows me to adjust my clothing dynamically, not to sweat walking in, and to switch jackets and layers. I can’t sweat, or I’m gonna freeze to death, and I’m gonna stink.”