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We hunters like to think of ourselves as a tough bunch. After all, we take to the wilderness whenever we can to pursue our meat on its home turf while the majority of our peers endure, at worst, long lines at the supermarket checkout for theirs. It follows that we often pretend to be impervious to all the many, many, uncomfortable and even painful conditions that Mother Nature can and will throw at us on a seemingly constant basis.
While we’re busy defying the elements and “sucking it up,” it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that hunting is something we’re supposed to enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable while stalking a whitetail or chasing rabbits. Here are some basic items every hunter should consider bringing on his or her next to trip in order to make the outing more comfortable and more fun.
Depending on such factors as game species being hunted, hunting method, local climate, terrain type, and weather, a hunter may want to pack all or at least some of the following:
Note: The above checklist is adequate for day-long trips on which the hunter will remain within a reasonable distance (1-5 miles) of a home base (a vehicle, campsite, cabin, or rural home). Deep wilderness excursions that require the hunter to bivouac overnight are a whole different ballgame and should be the subject of a separate article written by a far more rugged individual than I.
While selecting and packing gear for a hunting trip may seem on the surface to be a straightforward, no-brainer of a task, there is a degree of nuance involved, primarily in the area of balancing comfort and preparedness against weight and mobility. Read on for what specifics to consider when packing for your next outing.
Clothing and footwear choices will obviously depend on such factors as region, time of year, and weather. That said, regardless of whether you’re hunting doves during a Texas September or deer during a Maine November, it pays to remember the age old catchphrase, cotton kills. Cotton is a wonderful fabric for lounging around the house or yard on a lazy Sunday, but it can be a dangerous fabric to wear in the woods. Cotton is slow to dry and does not wick moisture away from the body. As it saturates from perspiration or inclement weather, it will cling the body, facilitate rapid heat loss and possibly lead to hypothermia (not to mention make for a miserably uncomfortable experience).
Better alternatives to cotton are modern synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene and fleece that are lightweight, wick moisture away from the body, and dry quickly. If rain or snow is in the forecast, a waterproof outer layer is a must. Basically, the best clothing choices for running, hiking, or cross country skiing are also typically good choices for hunting.
Another potential option for hunters is tried and true wool clothing. Wool possesses a unique quality in that it will keep the wearer warm even when wet. However, wool is a thick and heavy fabric that can inhibit mobility, so it may be a better choice for hunting from a stand or blind as opposed to stalking and still hunting.
Similarly, footwear decisions should depend upon terrain, temperature, and hunting style. The hiking boots that allow agile movement during a spot and stalk hunt may mean painfully cold feet in a deer blind. A word of caution about footwear: Don’t cheap out. Cheap boots that offer inadequate ankle support, insulation, and durability will ruin a hunt in short order. “Buy once, cry once” is a fitting cliché to remember when buying boots.
Regardless of what clothing and footwear choices happen to be best for a particular hunt, bringing extras, if possible, is a great idea. Being able to put on a warm, dry pair of boots after sinking a foot in an icy stream or being able to put on a fresh shirt after sweating through another is the kind of morale booster that can separate a good hunt from a miserable one.
Getting lost, even on familiar ground, is a possibility. It is therefore a good idea to always carry a basic survival kit consisting at least of a waterproof fire starter, a knife (it can be the same one from your field dressing kit), rope or other ligature (again, there is overlap with the field dressing kit), a whistle or other conspicuous means of signaling, basic first aid items, and a space blanket if there is room. While the above won’t keep you happy and comfortable during an unplanned night in the woods, it will help you stave off hypothermia, exposure, and exhaustion. If you're brand new to hunting, visit our Hunting Guide to learn the basics of what it takes to get started.
In order to reduce the chances of needing the above survival kit, topographical maps of the area being hunted as well as navigational devices should always be on a hunter’s gear list. It should be noted that while modern electronic navigational tools such as smart phones and handheld GPS units can be useful hunting tools, they should not be completely relied upon. Batteries can die, phones can be dropped, and signals can be blocked. Learning how to navigate the old fashioned way by map and compass should be on every hunter’s to-do list.
While it’s not necessary to bring a gourmet picnic lunch on every hunting trip (though if you’re hunting from a spacious blind or stand, you may as well) it is a good idea to bring enough food and water to maintain sufficient blood sugar and hydration levels to stay alert and energetic. In most cases, a few energy bars and a few bottles of water small enough to be kept in the pocket of a coat or game vest will be enough to keep a hunter going on a day-long trip.
What can be considered adequate depends on the type of hunting being done. For example, for a deer hunter in northern New England where deer populations are low and hunter success rates are even lower, one box ammo could last a lifetime. On the other hand, a dove or quail hunter who only brings one box of shotshells might have to call it a day by mid-morning.
Generally speaking, it’s better to have too much ammo than not enough, unless so much is carried that the weight becomes burdensome.
Firearms are machines. And like all other machines, they can break and fail. If a hunter’s budget allows, keeping a backup rifle or shotgun secured back at camp or in a vehicle could mean the difference between a successful hunt and going home early in frustration.
If a backup firearm is not practical, it might be worthwhile to at least consider keeping a backup optic handy. Even top quality rifle scopes don’t react well to being dropped (as can happen in a bad fall).
On short duration hunts that don’t take the hunter all that far from a home base, most essential gear can be carried in pockets. As distance and duration increase, however, it may be necessary for a hunter to carry more food, water, and gear than can be reasonably stowed in clothing and a backpack may become necessary. However, the added cargo space afforded by a backpack comes at the cost of mobility and maneuverability (traversing a cedar swamp or blackberry bramble while wearing a full sized backpack would not be an enjoyable experience).
As a compromise, a lumbar pack could be considered. This is essentially a “half backpack” that secures to the lower back and affords more carry capacity than pockets, and more mobility than a backpack.
Blinds and tree stands are typically thought to be permanent or semi-permanent structures strategically positioned in areas where game animals are known to frequent. Fixed blinds are comfortable and sometimes luxurious nests from which to hunt, but they are difficult to impossible to move should it become necessary to match changing game patterns. Essentially, you’re married to the spot you picked at the beginning of the season.
A solution to the above conundrum comes in the form of lightweight, portable ground blinds and tree stands that enable a hunter to be both concealed and mobile. Portable ground blinds are essentially small tents that can be deployed and broken down in minutes.
Portable tree stands (also called climbing stands) can be packed into a hunting spot and set up without tools.
While the above packing guide might seem overwhelming to the novice hunter, it is important remember that not all gear has to be carried on every hunt. Over time, every hunter will learn how to adapt the type and amount of gear carried to each specific hunt and learn to balance comfort and safety bulk and weight.