Outfit yourself with the essentials before stepping afield.
While deer hunting takes many forms in a variety of different habitats and terrains, one thing is for certain: The more time you can spend afield, the better your chances of filling your tag. Quite obviously, a good rifle, shotgun, handgun or bow is a must-have, but there is other gear that will help your success. Some of it can really improve your day afield—and some of it is totally unnecessary. That said, a hunter with good instincts and a dedication to the sport can make do with a minimum of gear, putting venison in the freezer year after year and not being miserable while doing it. Let’s take a look at some of the basic items to help you do the same.
Being properly dressed is a very important part of any hunt, but especially so with deer hunting. On any given day, you may go from a leisurely walk to your stand to sitting still for hours and then, with some luck and skill, you’ll be exerting much energy field dressing and dragging out your deer back to the truck. During the hunt you may be in an enclosed blind, which cuts down on wind exposure, or perched high in a tree stand exposed to all the elements. For each of these scenarios and everything in between, you’ll need to dress according and also for the weather. An example:
I spend the majority of my time hunting deer in New York’s Catskills and Adirondacks, so the weather is both cold and ever-changing during our deer season there. I’ve come to appreciate wool clothing from companies like Jagdhund and Filson for their ability to breathe and yet keep me warm when it gets wet. I also appreciate modern fabrics for base layers—Under Armour garments wick moisture away from your skin wonderfully.
Note I mentioned base layers. In colder climes, layering your clothing is vital. That long walk into your stand will leave you sweating, and putting on layers once you’re situated in your stand, you’re quickly going to chill as that sweat dries, and that makes for a long, uncomfortable day of hunting. But layering isn’t limited to cold-weather hunts. Deer hunting in southern climes can start with very cool pre-dawn hours, but by mid-morning you’re roasting. A base layer of a breathable, wicking layer should be a no-brainer, with a lighter layer or two on top for the walk to the stand and those hours before the sun amps up to broil.
A note about camouflage. It is very important to bowhunters, as they need to be close to game. Remember, camo is about breaking up the shape of the human form, something most animals recognize as danger, rather than hiding you in totality. That said, it certainly doesn’t hurt those who enjoy hunting with a firearm, but sitting still and staying downwind of a deer is more important than any camo pattern. Too, nearly every firearms deer season in this country requires the use of blaze orange. Amounts of blaze orange required will vary by state and sometimes locality, so check your game regulations carefully to make sure you’re in compliance.
Footwear that best suits the area you’re hunting is paramount. Wet, cold or sore feet can end a hunt faster than anything. Hunting boots should be well-worn and properly broken in, whether they are light hiking boots for early season or heavy pac boots for frigid hunts.
I generally do a lot of walking while hunting deer, combined with sitting for anywhere from one to three hours at a time, so I ask an awful lot of my hunting boots. To avoid blisters, I insist on high-quality wool socks, no matter the temperature, and they also keep my feet warm, even if sweaty or wet.
Sitting on stand for deer, while very exciting on opening morning, can get downright boring. A good binocular used for searching for deer in the brush and thick woods or far across a soybean field occupies your mind and helps pass the time. You will also see more deer with a binocular than without one—and you’ll often see them well before they get to a point where you’re ready to shoot, giving you time to prepare. I’ve used many binocular brands, including Leica, Bushnell, and Leupold, and will tell you that you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to a binocular.
A good daypack or backpack, with all your gear neatly organized, can make your time on stand much more comfortable. A pair of warm gloves, perhaps an extra hat, handwarmers, a granola bar, bottle of water, a sharp knife, and many other light yet welcome items such as a rangefinder can be stored in your pack. Now, that’s not to say that you need to bring everything but the kitchen sink with you, but a few spare rounds of ammunition or a flashlight for tracking a wounded deer in the dark can make a world of difference should something go wrong. A small roll of surveyor’s tape, for instance, doesn’t take up much room in a pack, and can mark the last bit of blood or a trail back to the vehicle. Even a small book can be stowed in your hunting pack to help keep you on your stand longer.
I have a few packs that have served me well over the years, from a leather “possibles” bag that carries the bare necessities to a soft backpack (I like the Pelican MPB35) with lots of compartments for assorted gear. Depending on where I’m hunting, the terrain, and the distance from my vehicle, I may change packs several times a season.
Every deer hunter needs a knife, as it will serve a number of different purposes. I like a good fixed blade, but you certainly don’t need a Bowie knife, Roman short sword or John Rambo’s blade to get the job of field dressing done. You can also opt for a folding knife. A blade three to four inches in length will definitely suffice, so long as it’s solidly made and sharp. Such a blade gets the basic gutting job done. For skinning, boning and other butchering duties back home in your workshop or garage, other blades will be needed. For a one-stop solution, knives with replaceable blade knives—Havalon knives come quickly to mind—are an option.
A small cushion for your bottom, which will not only keep you more comfortable but also dry and warmer, is a welcome addition to any hunt. Sitting for long periods (think about an airline flight) causes discomfort, which leads to fidgeting, and movement is never good in the deer woods. Invest in a good cushion, and your bottom will thank you later.
About the Author: Phil Massaro is a freelance author and editor-in-chief of Gun Digest Annual. He is happiest hunting the wildest places left on earth.