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For some, a successful hunt means getting a big buck on the ground, out of the woods, and into the freezer.
For others, it means simply getting that big buck in their cross hairs, experiencing the thrill of the hunt whether they pull the trigger or not.
In both scenarios, the hunter has put his or her knowledge and skill to the test, and their efforts paid off in triumph.
Check out our Beginner's Guide to Hunting for a getting-started guide.
The key to a successful hunt starts before you leave the house.
Good hunting clothing, boots, and gear are essential in the quest for any wild game you chase.
Whether you are dove hunting in the hot, sunny South or chasing elk across the snow-capped Rockies, the same principles apply.
Your clothing and gear can make or break your hunt. It can cause you to miss a whitetail while you are trying to get set up or to have to turn back before you even make it to the stand.
With so many options for hunters these days – from camo patterns to innovative materials, built-in scent control to noise-reducing fabrics – the choices can be overwhelming even for a seasoned hunter.
When it comes to your hunting clothing and gear, the keys to great results are fit, comfort, mobility, and durability.
Don’t get caught up the in latest fads, because what a hunting celebrity on TV is promoting might not work for every hunter in the same situation.
I promise, you don’t need to be dressed head-to-toe in expensive name-brand camo and gear to have a successful hunt. Focus on what works for you.
In terms of camouflage, look for a motif that will compliment your terrain, but don’t spend too much time worrying about specific patterns.
I’m not saying you should wear your marshgrass-patterned waterfowl jacket when trying to hunt spring turkeys, of course, but you get the idea.
It seems like every company out there has a dozen variations on the same camo patterns, and each one can work just as well as the next in the right environment.
Who cares if I’m actually wearing 3 different marsh grass patterns? (The ducks certainly don’t!)
So, where exactly should you begin?
I like to start at the bottom and work my way up, so it’s only appropriate that we kick things off with footwear.
As with everything we will discuss here, the right type of hunting boot will depend on where / what you are hunting.
But, a good pair of comfortable, durable, waterproof boots is essential.
If they can be used across different types of hunting, even better!
I’ve got a pair that is suitable for a wide variety of hunting, from deer to ducks to alligators, and I have just enough room to add a second layer of socks if the weather gets extra chilly.
You’ll want to break those boots in before your first excursion, too – nothing cuts a hike short like a surprise blister on your heel.
When it comes to socks, you should stick with the moisture-wicking style, regardless of weather conditions.
Feet can perspire in any temperature if you are moving around, and wet socks are miserable whether the temperature is 5 or 95 degrees.
Moving up, pants are next on our list.
Mobility and durability are the two key factors when it comes to hunting pants.
You may hike up a mountain for several miles or sit in a tree stand for several hours, and your britches should be capable of both (potentially on the same hunt).
Look for camouflage pants that are the right combination of comfortable yet tough, in a pattern that will help break up your outline and blend in with your surroundings.
And don’t forget about a belt – one snag on a rouge branch could pull those pants straight off!
(The author, coyote hunting in Nevada.)
Continuing upward, it is important to keep your upper body warm (or cool) and comfy, while also maintaining mobility in your torso and arms.
In terms of hunting shirts, I like a combination of breathable layers, with a moisture-wicking base layer to start.
Will it be extra warm on your hunt?
Look for a loose-fitting shirt with ventilation features at the back.
Will you be shooting a lot?
Consider a hunting shirt with built-in padding.
In colder climates, opt for a couple of fitted layers to conserve body heat, rather than thick, bulky ones.
This will help maintain that flexibility and movement needed when you only have a few seconds to prepare for a shot.
A shooting shirt like this has extra padding built in, helping absorb the recoil of the gun while quail hunting.
Similarly, hunting jackets come in quite a wide variety of style and fit, but function and mobility remain critical.
I try to avoid the more cumbersome coats, and look for 1-2 waterproof (or weather resistant) jackets to wear over my base layers.
When the temperature drops and you load up on outerwear, its easy to turn into the Michelin Man if you’re not careful.
This can affect your gun mount, how the gun rests on your shoulder, and ultimately your shot placement.
Half an inch difference on your shoulder might not seem like a lot, but at 150 yards away, you could be way off!
On the other hand, as the sun rises and the day warms up, the ability to shed a layer or two at a time will help maintain a comfortable body temperature.
If all you’ve got is a thick shirt and a thicker camouflage jacket, your only choices might be sweating or freezing.
The jacket’s camouflage pattern doesn’t necessarily need to match the pattern on your hunting pants, either.
As I mentioned, as long as you can break up your outline and blend in with your surroundings, you should be set.
The morning started out below freezing, but by the time I shot this red stag in Patagonia, I was down to my base layer t-shirt and a vest.
If your weather is “not too hot, not too cold,” then a good vest is a great layer to add.
It’ll provide a bit of extra body warmth, while keeping your arms unrestrained.
If you live in a state that requires hunters to wear international or “blaze” orange while pursuing particular game, you can kill two birds with one stone and don an orange hunting vest.
Be sure to check your state’s regulations before you head to the woods without it!
The author, quail hunting in South Carolina.
Reaching the top of our bodies, we arrive at headwear.
Needless to say, you’ve likely seen an overabundance of options when it comes to hunting hats.
Even non-hunting brands sell camo hats these days, so don’t let the ridiculous number of choices overwhelm you.
When it comes to hunting, hats serve one purpose – to keep your head covered (part of breaking up your outline), whether it is for camouflage alone or for warmth and protection as well.
The same goes for facemasks. You’d be surprised how much a person’s face sticks out in a forest of greens, browns, and greys.
In warmer months, I prefer face paint in lieu of a facemask.
Since I don’t need the extra layer for warmth, I find myself adjusting and readjusting it more than necessary.
A few quick stripes of face paint will take care of that issue.
Choosing the right fit in a hat and facemask are important – if you are constantly fidgeting with either one, you’ll likely spook a deer before you even see it coming.
There’s about a 60 degree temperature difference between these two photos.
When discussing hunting clothing, we can’t forget about gloves.
As with hats and facemasks, hunting glove’s main purpose is to keep your hands covered, even in warm weather.
I keep a lightweight pair for deer hunting in spring or early fall, and a heavier pair for winter months.
Keep in mind that, even in cold weather, you still need to maintain dexterity in your hands.
Dense, chunky gloves might be warm, but there’s no sense in wearing them hunting if you can’t actually hunt while wearing them!
I like the fingerless glove / mitten combo style best.
Last, but certainly not least, we have hunting packs and backpacks.
You can easily go overboard when it comes to the gear we carry, so I try to take a minimalist approach at first.
After all, the more space you have, the more likely you are to “over pack.”
Whether you prefer a hunting backpack or waist pack, both options are great.
A backpack allows you to carry heavier gear (or pack out your game), while a waist pack allows for a bit more access – you don’t have to take it off to search for something.
With either option, vital traits of a hunting pack are weight, function, and durability.
You want the pack to be light when it is empty, but not so flimsy that it will tear on the first rock you snag.
It should also be weather resistant, if not entirely waterproof.
We pack in everything from expensive optics and delicate camera gear, to ammunition and rations in them, after all.
I opt for packs with multiple pockets or compartments in lieu of one big pouch, so that I can easily sort (and later, find) my gear with ease.
When you aren’t in the field or on the mountain, take care of your hunting clothing and gear at home.
Wash your camouflage separately from other laundry, using scent-free detergent and dryer sheets, and keep it stored separately as well.
Scent can travel very far, very quickly, and you don’t want to ruin your hunt before it begins!
With fit, comfort, mobility, and durability in mind, paired with the knowledge of what terrain and weather you’ll encounter on your adventures, you’ll be on your way to a successful hunt in no time.