Written By: Jodi Stemler
Originally published in MDF Magazine
If anyone ever forced Butch Whiting to choose only one species he could hunt for the rest if his life, the answer for him would be easy – mule deer. Growing up in Idaho, Whiting’s family hosted an annual hunt at his grandparent’s cattle ranch. The entire family would gather together to deer hunt, process their animals, and spend time together.
It was the memories of experiences that drove he and Josh Cleghorn to start their hunting and tactical apparel company, Kryptek. The company has been exhibiting at the Western Hunting & Conservation Expo for the last five years, and the company is a strong supporter of the Mule Deer Foundation. We recently caught up with Whiting to ask him about his most memorable mule deer experiences and about his company that is taking the industry by storm.
Kryptek Co-Founder and CEO Butch Whiting
MDF: You grew up mule deer hunting, right?
Butch Whiting: Absolutely, our mule deer hunting trips in October at my grandfather’s ranch were my family’s vacations. We’d all get together to hunt and that outdoor culture, those experiences are what is engrained in my vision of hunting. Mule deer hunting was my primary focus up until I went to college. In the military, I’d daydream about being out West again on opening day. I didn’t hunt whitetails until I was stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I went out with a few friends bowhunting and killed a buck – it turned out it was a really big whitetail, but all I could think was that this buck’s antlers could fit inside a mule deer rack! Hunting back East is so drastically different from western hunting. When I was deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, it became daunting that every year I was missing another mule deer hunt.
MDF: Your passion for hunting is what connected you and Josh during your service?
BW: Yes, I was an Army Attack helicopter pilot and Troop Commander, and Cleghorn was one of my junior officers. We flew a lot of missions together in the Ninewa Province in northern Iraq. We’re serving in these third-world-s*#@holes and we both had grown up backcountry hunting, and in our down time we’d reminisce about it and compare experiences. Eventually we started talking about how it would be awesome to be part of the outdoor industry so we could live our passion every day. Our vision that we came up with was to bring some of the advances we’d seen in military/tactical apparel to hunters. As soon as we came home, we put that vision into a business plan – that’s how Kryptek got its start.
Whiting stands atop a custom wrapped Kryptek truck after a successful day of mule deer hunting.
MDF: How did Kryptek go from a daydream in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan to the company that it is today?
BW: Our first big break was with Cabela’s, they saw our business plan and our concept of “spiraling the features and functions out of special operations apparel into the civilian hunting market” really resonated with them. They’d tried to capture the tactical/hunting crossover demographic but lacked any authenticity or credibility, both of which Kryptek has. We got an exclusive deal with them and started selling our designs using a licensed camouflage pattern – Mothwing’s Mountain Mimicry – in all Cabela’s stores.
At that time, we had strong aspirations to design our own camouflage patterns. These aspirations were accelerated when the Department of Defense put out a solicitation looking for a new family of camo patterns for the U.S. Army. This Solicitation became known as the “U.S. Army Camo Improvement Effort.” Based on our experience, we knew that after a ghillie suit, the most effective passive concealment measure on the battlefield is camo netting. When this netting is stretched over a hide-site or tent, the hexagons become distorted and the fabric that is woven in the netting takes on a three-demensional aspect. Our camo designs took these 3D aspects and made them feasible to print on a two-dimensional surface. This was achieved primarily through our micro and macro-layering techniques.
We submitted our Camo concepts – for the DOD solicitation we needed to come up with patterns that were effective in arid, woodland and transitional environments – Kryptek was selected in the top 24 companies that would enter into testing. For Phase I testing, the Army brought in nearly 800 soldiers over a period of a year and showed them pictures of different background terrain with a picture-in-picture, or “PIP,” of a silhouette of a man wearing the various Camo patterns. They’d measure the retinal response time to see how long it took the soldiers to acquire the silhouettes. From this, Kryptek was one of only four companies down-selected for Phase II live, force-on-force testing in the field. This group became a part of what was known as “The final four.” This was a major accomplishment for Kryptek, as the other companies were all major industry players. All the reports we got back told us that our Camo was out-performing the competition in the tests, but after a couple years of testing, Congress passed a bill that stated all federally funded units would go to the same Camo pattern. This decision put the U.S. Army Camo Improvement Effort into a tail spin, and the DOD did not release any of the Phase II test results or announce a winner. Regardless, Kryptek had competed against some of the best new Camo patterns in the world, went through the most extensive testing for Camo ever conducted, and had excelled – we knew we had it right. Our patterns are extremely functional.
After the DOD process, we launched our line of hunting apparel to the public and the response has been incredible. Our “Battlefield to Backcountry” vision runs through all of our products. We make our apparel with some of the most cutting-edge components, fabrics and materials. We know they work extremely well because they are extensively field tested in some of the most austere environments and conditions in the world, in both hunting and combat situations. Kryptek’s also received a lot of visibility and attention because it is selectively used by U.S. Special Operation Units and SWAT team members which caught the attention of some people in the entertainment industry. You can see Kryptek camo in video games like Call of Duty Black Ops and Advanced Warfare, as well as Hollywood movies including American Sniper, Fast & Furious 7, Jurassic World and more.
That iconic hexagonal Kryptek pattern works in a bunch of different environments with different colors – we even have a performance fishing line – so there are options for whatever you like to do outdoors.
On the lookout for mule deer.
MDF: But your own personal passion is still with mule deer hunting, did you have any good hunts this year?
BW: I had the opportunity to hunt on Deseret Land & Livestock property in northern Utah as a guest of John Nosler and Nosler Inc. this past fall. The hunting is managed by “Wild Country Outfitters” that does an incredible job managing the quality of the deer on the property. We harvested some exceptional bucks and the overall experience was world class. I was also fortunate to hunt mule deer in Colorado with Bull Basin Outfitters this fall also. The area we hunt with Bull Basin is highly dependent on the weather and migration kicking in. This year proved to be good timing, and our group took some exceptional bucks there also!
MDF: Were one of these your most memorable hunt?
BW: We had an incredible time, but no, they're not my most memorable hunt. I have two daughters who both hunt and they each got their first mule deer two years ago. While we don’t have the family ranch to hunt on anymore, we still try to create our own family memories and hunt in the backcountry with wall tents and family time together. My daughters have said these are their favorite experiences and both of their first mule deer hunts stand out to me.
However, my younger daughter’s hunt was probably the most difficult. That year, she was 12 and her hunt was being filmed for an outdoor TV show. We were down to the last days of the hunt and I found a little piece of BLM land right on the Oregon border. We went out and found a big buck and worked to get a good stalk on it, which is a lot more difficult when there are cameras there. We’d get into a position, get the cameras set up and then she couldn’t see the deer over the sagebrush, or we couldn’t get the cameras set up. It took us seven different times and several hours to get in good position within 250 yards and she made a great shot!
Whiting with daughter Kylee.
Whiting with daughter McKenna.
That was my most emotional and stressful hunt. We’d spent a lot of days getting ready, understanding all of the skills, knowing how to use her scope and shoot well. It all came together and she had to really fight through to get that buck. It was definitely one of my toughest but most memorable hunts and my daughter still says it was her best hunt. I enjoy hunting with my buddies, but to share these experiences with my wife and my daughters, it just makes it that much more special. I feel good that I’m able to pass on the love of hunting and our western landscapes to my family.
Mule deer success.