Here is the breakdown with links to some of the gear I ran during 2019 TAC events.
1. A Bow. TAC doesn't supply bow's so you are going to need to bring your own. If you don't plan on shooting the course manufacturers like Prime and Hoyt have bows to test on the practice range but you can't take them on the courses. Mathews and other brands were also there with demo bows but they were only at certain events. Most shooters, including the KOTA crew, seemed to shoot their normal rigs. 3D target shooters brought their target bows, bowhunters shot their hunting setups. Few seemed to have TAC specific setups so keep that in mind as we run through the list and if you need to buy new gear I'd recommend buying gear you can use in your normal hunting/outdoor adventures.
2. At least a dozen arrows. This should be self explanatory. If you have watched any videos from TAC the event has a variety of courses each with its own unique flavor. On each course you can expect some combination of tight, steep shots with uneven footing and at least one target that is going to be 90+ yards out. Even great shooters miss and when you miss in the mountains your arrow is likely going to be lost, bent, or broken. You want to have enough arrows to enjoy yourself and take those far shots without having to worry about running out by the end of a 25 target course (the standard length of every TAC course). This is especially important if you plan to shoot multiple courses. As far as what type of arrow you should run? Bring your normal hunting or 3D target arrows but if you want a suggestion for a well performing setup I would say something with a low profile and moderate weight so it can cut through the wind on a flat trajectory capable of reaching those far targets while avoiding as many perilous low hanging branches as possible. A small or micro diameter arrow like an Easton Hexx, Axis Pro, Pro Comp, or Injection with low profile vanes and a finished weight somewhere in the 350 - 470 grain area should give most shooters the best balance of weight, profile, and trajectory. Of course, if you are a heavy poundage puller or long draw length you can get away with a heavier setup but anything over 520 grains is likely going to have a trajectory that sends it into the tree canopy.
3. Quiver AND/OR Backpack. This is user preference. Most of the KOTA Crew preferred to run a small to medium size backpack and simply keep our arrows running out of the top. TAC courses usually run around three to four miles and take about as many hours. A hip quiver can get annoying bouncing around your thigh for that long but we saw quite a few shooters including John Dudley and Chad Mendez running them. To be honest reaching over your shoulder to retrieve and re-holster arrows from your pack was almost equally annoying. The first few times make you feel like Rambo or Legalos until it came time to return your arrows to your pack which was almost always an awkward affair. As far as backpack size I started with a larger Mystery Ranch Treehouse, which is my "do it all" pack. I ran this for both Vermont and the MTN Ops course at Park City. It had enough room for the rest of the items on this list plus some KOTA gear I promised people and any swag I purchased or picked up throughout the day. On the last day of the Park City event I decided to run the much smaller Sitka Ascent 12 pack which still had room for everything on this list but not much else. As you would expect the Ascent 12 was more comfortable and I will probably run something similar at future events.
Tight Spot Quiver
4. Rangefinder with angle compensation. This is a must. You can't hit what you can't range. Not with a bow anyway. One of the cool things about TAC is it legitimately tests your gear and you will likely find even "good" range finders are far from perfect. We ran range finders from Sig, Leupold, and Vortex and they were all about the same when it came to accuracy. Preference came down to which reticle the shooter preferred but they all seemed to perform equally well on the down slopes and struggled a bit on steep upward angles of twenty degrees or more. I also noticed as much as a two yard difference in reading with the Sig Kilo 2200LRH depending on whether the target was dark or light in color. Lighter colored targets like goats would give a more accurate reading than darker targets like black bears or hogs. We ran into one shooter with a Leica rangefinder which proved worthy of their hefty price tag (they run between $500 and $1000 USD) and it outperformed all other rangefinders we encountered. If you don't have a rangefinder with angle compensation you are going to need to download or create a cut chart. How you do that is frankly beyond our expertise but that is what is needed...
Sig Kilo 2200 LRH
5. A Sight that can reach out to at least 100. In our checklist we specifically said a slider sight. Technically it doesn't have to be a slider sight but we are not aware of too many fixed pins that can reach out to 100 or have enough pins to do so. As we mentioned earlier you can count on at least one target on every course that will be 90+ yards away. So you are going to want a rig capable of reaching out to that distance unless you are comfortable launching a "Hail Marry" and potentially kissing at least one arrow goodbye. I did shoot with a Joe (@JJonely on Instagram) who completed the entire Nock On course at Park City with a 5 pin sight that maxed out at 60 yards. He was even able to hit two targets at 97 and 100 yards by holding at the bottom of his sight housing. Was it awesome? You bet your ass it was! But there are few people with either the skill or luck to accomplish this so you will probably have more fun and save some arrows with a slider sight and bow and arrow combo that can reach out to 100. There are targets at certain TAC events set to even beyond those distances. For example the 112 yard Caribou target was a novelty shot where shooters paid $10 and if they cleanly hit the 12 ring were entered into a drawing for a supped up Leupold Ford F-150. As far as which slider to choose? There was a healthy distribution of Spot Hogg Fast Eddie & Fast Eddie XL, Hog Father's, Axcel Accutouch, and Black Gold sights. Dudley was the only one we saw running the new Carbonic and his was the target scope. There were also one or two shooters running the CBE Engage we reviewed last month but Spot Hogg, Axcel, and Black Gold were definitely the favorites and I didn't hear any shooters complaining about any of them.
Spot Hogg Fast Eddie XL
6. Release aids (preferably two). Unless you are one of the Fitzergeralds and shoot your compound with fingers, you are going to need a release aid. And as the saying goes "two is one and one is none" so you might as well load a backup in your pack. It's easier than you think to unknowingly drop or loose something out on the mountain and a release aid is definitely an essential piece of kit. Knowing this community someone would undoubtedly lend you one to complete the course but who wants to be "that guy"? Better to bring two just in case.
Nock On Nock 2 It & Silverback
7. Binoculars. This could probably go in the optional category but I found myself pulling out my binos so much I decided to include them here. TAC is known for having far targets which are sometimes partially obstructed by trees, rocks, grass, and branches. Having a set of binos to find targets and identify small arrow wrecking branches is key. If you don't have binos get to the Archery Village early and take advantage of Leupold's loaner program and test out some of theirs. They only ask that you provide your driver's license which they will hold onto as collateral. And while you are at it pack some sort of microfiber cloth to wipe off your lenses. It gets dusty out on the course, no sense scratching up your lenses.
Leupold BX-4 Pro-Guide
(Below: @Jits_savage going full send from a mountain bike jump on the MTN Ops course in Park City)
8. Boots or trail running shoes. Again, user preference but quality is key. If you hunt and hike in Converse All Stars more power to you. Most shooters opted for quality hiking boots or trail shoes from brands like Crispi, Salomon, and Kenetrek. You can get away with running the wrong shoes on one course but if you plan on shooting multiple courses, especially in the more vertical Western states you will find yourself much more comfortable and less fatigued with a quality pair of boots. Your feet are your wheels, put good tires on them. We've been partial to Crispi the past year. I have been rocking the Crossover GTX for some time now and they performed well throughout the Spring hunting season and at both Vermont and Utah TAC events. KOTA crew-member Devin (@Jits_savage on Instagram) wore a lightweight hiking boot in San Antonio and was fine but when he was less than halfway through the Sitka course at Park City I got a message from him just as my plane landed in Salt Lake asking if I could pick him up a pair of Crispi Colorado's from Black Ovis on my way to the mountain. As if I needed an excuse to drop by Black Ovis.... Devin wore the Colorado's for the rest of the weekend on both the Prime and Mtn Ops courses and could not stop complimenting the difference in quality and comfort he felt even though the boots were straight out of the bow. Both of us can honestly tell you they are the best boots we have owned. And no Crispi is not a sponsor, so take that endorsement for what it is worth.
Crispi Crossover Pro GTX
9. Lightweight hunting pants. As we've mentioned a few times TAC course usually run between three and four miles but can go much longer. The MTN Ops course at Park City this year was seven and a half miles start to finish. Most courses are on semi-groomed trails but almost all feature sections that vary between somewhat brushy to straight up bushwhacking. I wore Prana Brion climbing/hiking pants (I was waiting for my new Corrugate Guide Pants from First Lite to come in...) at both Vermont and Utah and they looked a bit worse for wear by the end of two courses and showed damage around the shins where I had busted through brush. You can also get away with shorts but expect to get some scrapes along the way. In contrast our Corrugate Guide pants and shorts were comfortable but still looked like new at the end of the weekend. The same goes for the Sitka equivalent Devin and some of the other shooters in our group ran.
First Lite Corrugate Guide Pants
Sitka Ascent Pants
(Below: @Jamr00 sending it on the Nock On Course)
10. Rain gear. Like hunting, Total Archery Challenge doesn't wait for the weather. Most areas these events are held are in their dryer seasons by the time the TAC comes to town, but best to have a light rain jacket in your pack should you get caught outside during a passing shower. A light rain jacket can also double to keep you warm on cooler mornings while you ride the lift to the summits. Though not a true rain jacket, I recently picked up the Corrugate Guide Jacket from First Lite recently (can you tell I love their Corrugate line?) and it worked perfectly as a durable yet flexible and breathable light rain jacket. If that sounds like a shameless plug it is because I have become shamelessly obsessed with this particular piece of gear. Expect to see it in many, many photos to come.
First Lite Corrugate Guide Lite Jacket
11. Hat, sunscreen, chap-stick. Because sun. If you have watched any stories on the Knights of the Apex Instagram page the past week you no doubt have seen more horribly chapped lips. Utah is dry, bring a good chap-stick and apply liberally. As far as headgear, we recommend clicking on the 'Shop' tab near the top of your screen and purchasing a fresh KOTA cap to support the site ;)
12. Basic Medkit. I always keep at least a basic "boo-boo" kit in my bag. Usually this consists of some smaller bandages, athletic or Leuko tape, an H Bandage, Hemostatic Agent like Quick Clot, Celox or other gauze, and a small tourniquet. That's about the extent of gear my first-aid knowledge is good for. All of this weighs next to nothing and can be packed into a small accessory bag. Mine is from Dark Angel Medical and is a bit overkill. Despite looking really cool I will be switching all of my gear into a Kifaru Ultrlight Pullout as soon as they arrive in the mail. Of all my EDC items I find myself using my med-kit the most so why not bring it on the mountain? You'd be surprised how often someone in your group either develops a blister or takes a tumble and you'll be glad you brought a boo-boo kit.
13. Allen keys and bow tools. If you shoot your bow long enough something will come loose... While you are at it, always have some extra D loop and a lighter just encase yours breaks in the field and you have to replace it. I usually fashion mine into a little bracelet just so it is always on me. Eat your heart out Pinterest...
14. Phone or Camera. Because "pics or it didn't happen". One of the running jokes in every shooting group I have been in at TAC is that someone will undoubtedly be the Instagram model of the group and take an obnoxious amount of pictures. This ribbing is all very tongue in cheek because everyone in our groups always finds themselves grateful we took photos after the event. TAC presents some amazingly difficult shots with breathtaking backdrops and you'll likely run into some awesome people along the way. So take a moment to stop, snap a few pics, and soak in the memories. You'll be glad you did.
I've just recently started running the Nikon Z50 and love it. I'm a novice with a camera but it's a nice mid size mirrorless APSC camera with all of the buttons and most of the features of it's full size brothers and sisters. It's also weather resistant so I don't have to worry about it in a light drizzle or snow. The kit 16-50mm lens is also surprisingly good and sucks in to pancake size making it perfect for carrying in a smaller mid size pocket.
15. Snacks. Ferrari's don't run on air. Gotta feed the machine.
I'm a big fan of RX Bars
16. Water. There is ice cold water conveniently provided in YETI's usually just before the chairlifts or gondola's and somewhere around target twenty of each course. We would recommend bringing your own water supply because you will be hiking and it will likely be warm. I carried a 1 liter Nalgene bottle for the Vermont course where it was only around sixty degrees when we shot and a 2.5L Osprey hydration pack for Park City where it was upwards of ninety degrees each day. I typically prefer hydration packs. Having that hose right in front of me allows me to drink on the run. Whenever I carry a Nalgene in my pack I tend to forget about it until I am already dehydrated.
Osprey 2.5 Hydro Pack
That's it for the essentials you will need on each course. If we missed anything feel free to drop us a line in the comments. The following items we considered "optional" but you'll probably find they make your TAC experience a little easier.
Bino Harness or Pack. You'll no doubt see most shooters either running a bino-harness or some sort of retention lanyard for their binos. Our crew prefers bino harnesses/packs because they allow us to keep our binos, rangefinder, snacks, lift pass, and other smaller items like releases and even more snacks in front of us where they can be easily accessed. It's the same reason we wear them while hunting. Most of our crew ran some variation of an Alaska Guide Creations Harness but there are a lot of great bino packs on the market. The ACG was by far the most common we saw among other shooters but there were also a good deal running different models from FHF, Sitka, Marsupial gear, and the new ADAK harness from Black Ovis. I know we mentioned them twice now, I promise they are not a sponsor.
Alaska Guide Creations Kodiak C.U.B. W/M.A.X. Pocket
Alaska Guide Creations Range Finder Pouch
Arrow Puller. TAC keeps their targets in great shape which makes it difficult to pull arrows from them. This ingenious little device will make arrow removal a whole lot easier. Your hands and shoulders will thank you. This particular one is made by Easton.
(Easton Arrow Puller. Photo not from TAC)
Gaiters. If you are someone who likes gaiters bring them. Like I said earlier you'll probably find yourself brush busting or trudging through some shallow water at some point. Especially for those western shoots gaiters will help keep the moon dust and dirt out of your boots.
Bow Sling. It's not even close to essential but if you want to keep your hands free while you walk around archery village checking out different vendors and products it is a nifty and cheap product to throw on your bow. A few of us have been running Sitka's Bow Sling for the past year which also provides some padded protection around the cams and also features covers for both your sight and fletchings which can be stowed inside the sling when they aren't being used. I have become a big fan of bow slings. Whether you are walking around archery village or into the woods on a dark November morning they help protect your bow's strings and cables while keeping your hands free. I also like to keep one on my bow when it is packed away in my bow case for traveling to further safeguard my strings, cables, and sight pins from gear, zippers, or other debris which may come loose in my case during the journey.
Sitka Bow Sling
Flip Flops. Another lightweight creature comfort. We saw more than a few guys slip on some flip flops after finishing a course and our sore feet were pretty envious.
That's really it. If you are flying to TAC you will of course need a good bow-case. I have been suing the Easton travel case for over a year and love it. It has room for my bow, arrows, accessories, and most of the clothes I would need for a short trip. It is also more discreet than Pelican or SKB hard case and makes airport travel a whole lot easier. Expect a full review on this case to come. I want to give it a prolonged trial period before publishing anything in detail since it is a piece of gear you all will be trusting the life of your bow too. But so far so good! As far as other clothing items check the weather before you head to the event and dress accordingly. Most guys chose to wear their technical hunting gear along with a cotton logo tee and hat (cough; KOTA CAP!) from their favorite brands.
So there you go! Think of this list as "bring what you normally shoot plus..." and consider purchasing any items we listed above that you don't already have. Whether it is your first or fourteenth TAC event you will no doubt walk away with new friends and a laundry list of things to adjust whether that be in terms of technique or gear. Most likely it will be both. After shooting a TAC event it can be tempting to change all of your gear in order to better meet the demands of a these types of courses. I don't know why but the whole KOTA Crew found ourselves doing this. As if we are going to be taking shots on animals at 100 yards, in cross winds, across mountains at steep angles in Florida and New York.... Between all of the shots we took and vendors we spoke to, we came away from each TAC event with a long wish list of abilities and gear. We all agreed that the best approach to learning from TAC would have been to take notes on the shots that gave us trouble, try and identify what we could have done differently or what skills we need to improve on (Nock On Podcast # 241 has been a great starting point) and then explore gear that would further supplement this. In a nutshell we are analyzing our bad shots, seeking better shooting techniques, applying those techniques, and then supplementing with gear. Which is basically the bowhunter's journey in general.
(Left to right: Me @aj_iaquinta, Bert Sorin @bertsorin of Sorinex, Donnie @eatsleephuntelk, Devin @jits_savage)
For more photos and videos from TAC check out our page and stories on @knightsoftheapx on Instagram.