Having received the Eberlestock H2 Gunrunner a couple of months ago it was perfect timing for both the Chamois and Tahr ruts. Over that time we managed to seriously thrash this pack while at the same time weigh up the merits of the scabbard system over the conventional strap it on to the side idea.
Touted as a minimalist rifle carrying pack for serious mountain hunting. It weighs in at 3lb 8oz with 1400 cubic inches of space, which is 1.5kg and 23 litres for those of us evolved enough to use the metric system, making this a seriously light pack. But will it handle the proverbial kiwi jandel?
Dedicated rifle carrying packs are pretty popular with the United States, but with our very different hunting styles, how applicable is this system to Kiwi's and our way of hunting?
The Eberlestock brand was born out of Olympic Biathlon’s, when in 1985 Olympian Glen Eberle became frustrated with the cumbersome and heavy gear they were competing with. From there they have developed rifle stocks, carrying systems, sleep systems and a range of apparel and shooting gear. More on the history here if you’re interested. Eberlestock
Eberlestock certainly dominates the military and tactical market in the US, and it's safe to say that the military doesn't persevere with gear that won't hold up to some abuse.
Back to Basics
When you have a big pack you tend to fill it up right? The more room you have then the more borderline necessary things you tend to cram in.
For a day on the hill what do you really need inside your pack? Spare layers, food, water, PLB, knife, head torch, spotter and tripod is kind of the essentials right?
When I first got the Gunrunner I was a little concerned as I was dropping in volume from 40 litres down to around 25!! How the hell was I going to fit all I need for a full day on the hill in that?
Truth is that the size of this pack is deceiving and the design is more important. With draw string pockets on both sides, generous top zip compartment and compression straps running both vertically and horizontally. This pack can carry a hell of a lot more stuff than its catalog volume would have you believe.
In saying that it’s really important to remember who this pack is for….
In New Zealand the type of hunter who will get the most out of this pack is the alpine hunter who walks off the road end for either a short or full day hunt, or the guy who uses a heli or 4WD to get in somewhere to base camp from. Truth is we all need to have a day pack in our arsenal.
The reason I say Alpine Hunter is because it’s those guys that tend to cover a lot of rough steep terrain with their rifle strapped to their packs 99% of the time. Classic kiwi meat hunters may want to have a look at some of the bigger volume options from Eberlestock. The Gunrunner is perfect for the Antler/horn focused hunter who puts more emphasis on covering ground than hauling loads, I’ll stick with my bloodstained and smelly 60l for freezer filling thank you.
You can beef up the volume of this pack by around 6 liters if need be, Eberlestock sells additional saddle bags that attach to either side of any of their packs via the ample amounts of webbing they've provided for just that purpose.
Free yourself from your rifle sling…
The Scabbard System was the obvious feature that drew me to this pack. Up until now I’ve either had my rifle strapped to the side of my pack for a big climb or slung over my shoulder when I’m in promising looking terrain. The pit falls here is the constant shuffling required to keep your rifle comfortably on your shoulder when wearing a pack. Any steep terrain where you want to be using both hands and/or an axe for climbing requires your rifle to be strapped on the pack again. The gunrunner simplifies this whole thing by storing the rifle comfortably out of the way, yet always being accessible.
Pretty simply, down the middle of your back is by far the most balanced place to carry a rifle, it’s also the most protected. Protected to the point where I now just drop my pack without even thinking, and no way would you do that with your fancy rifle and scope just strapped to the side.
It's quite easy to pull your rifle out while the pack is still on your back so long as the pack isn't over stuffed with gear. As I use a full length rifle with quite a long suppressor on it, I actually found it more convenient and better balanced to put the rifle in upside down (butt first). This worked well as there is ample room in the scabbard. With any rifle of normal length I stuck to the usual way of barrel first, which easily gets the weight low enough.
You can’t knock your scope, plug your barrel or even scratch your stock when it’s in the scabbard, which is awesome.
Being somewhat of a short arse and often carrying a full length rifle with a suppressor the size of a javelin on it, I was worried that on steep down hills the bottom of the scabbard would be dragging a lot. However Eberlestock has got the position of the scabbard about right as even for me this hasn’t been a problem. In fact in tight shitty sub alpine scrub where I always used to have my rifle in my hands to protect and push through the scrub, I can now push my way through guiding the rifle along as it’s just behind my head.
The lower part of the scabbard does tuck up away into the pack nicely, which is great if you want to use the pack for other purposes or are perhaps just carrying the tripod for the day.
Great…. No zips on the main compartment. Reason being, if you were to blow out the zip on a pack designed that way, then you’re left with absolutely no way to get your shit home.
A generous top pocket is big enough for the essentials you need at hand i.e. range finder, hip flask and whatever else you into.
The stitching and materials used in these pack looks to be high quality, and I’m comfortable in saying this will last, as I know what sort of horrible scrub I’ve dragged it through and so far I can barely see a mark on it. This is particularly impressive when you consider its weight as most manufacturers end up sacrificing some durability to get the weight down.
The material used in the camo colours is "NT-7 Rip Stop Nylon" which is designed to be much quieter to push through the scrub, this fabric is also very waterproof. The 500D Cordura Nylon used in the solid colours is from their tactical fabrics and is designed purely to be super robust.. High quality YKK zippers, MOLLE webbing and decent plastic buckles top off the use of high end materials. Given the quality and robustness of all the materials i'm still quite surprised with just how they've managed to keep the overall weight down.
This pack is offered in a range of colours, my one being the Rock Veil pattern. This colour seems well suited to a range of NZ enviroments and more importantly isn't too offensive and too "loudly camo" for the more conservative kiwi's.
The shoulder and waist straps are sufficiently padded for the packs purpose and more importantly have a nice breathable mesh to help deal with the inevitable sweaty back issue.
Being a minimal pack by design the harness system is simple and effective, there is a simple way to adjust the shoulder to the waist height, although this may be a little limited in range.
Obviously load carrying is limited for this pack. Forget about stuffing it full of meat along with your usual hunting gear, get a bigger model if this is you. Dealing with a Tahr/Cham cape is going to be this pack maxed out and you’re not going to have a great time getting home with that new Tahr rug. But it’s all a trade off right? How often are we actually pulling the trigger? Your mates will feel sorry for you and carry the spotter anyway.
I did manage to stuff a Chamois buck skin and head as well as my usual gear (just) into the pack, but a bull Tahr? No way, your gears going to end up strapped to the outside.
I've been super impressed at the materials and the build quality of this pack, honestly this thing is not that far behind Cactus for durability. Other hunting specific pack manufacturers take note!
I’ll admit I'm a little fussy and the one thing that I think would help would be to have slightly longer webbing for both the horizontal and vertical compression straps. With a longer vertical strap I’d be able to stack my stuff just that little bit higher and still get it shut. In saying that I’m no pack designer and this is a minimalist pack, so it’s really made me think about what I’m carrying on the hill for the day. Another small oversight is that there's no dedicated way to carry an ice axe, although I did manage to find a very good work around for this by attaching the axe down the side of the scabbard using the shoulder adjustment strap and one of the compression straps.
In short if you want to stop fluffing around with slings and pack straps, and your more focused on horns than back legs. Then this certainly is a day pack worthy of your hard earned tin, and it’s not a laughable amount of tin either. $399 is on the upper end for a day pack, but really what you’re getting is two things, freedom from the burden of your rifle on your shoulder and cheap insurance for your rifle and scope. This type of pack won't suit everyone's hunting style, but if you do hunt as described above then it's a worthy addition to your collection hunting paraphernalia.
Eberlestock is distributed in New Zealand by NZAsia, and from my experience these guys are good to deal with when it come to any issues or customer service.
Any decent hunting shop should have these in stock, go and check them out.