Raised under different circumstances, Sitka Athlete Jim Hole might have been a CIA Agent, wearing black leather gloves to surgically dismantle 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 nearly 30 years of archery-only hunting has created a population of remarkably 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 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.
"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.
Jim has his stands further subcategorized into ratings of what he calls "tolerance." A high-tolerance stand is one that forgives noise or minor shifts in the prevailing wind currents. A low-tolerance stand, by way of comparison, is one that's situated where any noise or shift in the wind will stomp out the likelihood of seeing a big buck. But because such stands are often ambush sites close to, or actually within, known bedding areas, the risk can be more than worthwhile.
Jim is intense about stand selection and fanatical about how you approach. After he has checked the wind and determined the hunt's stand site, he will explain exactly how you are going to travel from his van to the stand. You do not get out of the van unless you can repeat the approach direction, the prevailing wind and the strategy.
It feels like a high-stakes paramilitary maneuver, and Jim is as intense and uncompromising as a 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.
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