Hunting gear used to mean boots, jacket, gun, and a pocket of ammo. Sometimes a knife. Then you toughed it out all day.
That simplistic style can still suffice, but most of us like to carry a few more items. Some of these (like a binocular chest pouch) are superfluous and just get in the way. But the right hunting gear (like dry boots!) can make our hunts more comfortable and productive. A few gadgets could save our lives. Here are some I’ve learned to love — or at least consider.
But before we launch, let me give fair warning: This is a product review/endorsement article. It is biased. I am recommending products I like and use. Most have been provided to me free of charge for test and review for the usual reasons: the manufacturers hope to get exposure in magazines, social media, and blog posts like this. You may think this makes my opinion useless, but I assure you I do not recommend products I do not find useful, effective, etc. What you don’t see here are dozens of gadgets I tried but didn’t find acceptable.
Let’s start this list on a controversial note. I suspect most people under age 30 would no sooner hunt without a smartphone than without a gun or bow. But some of us see hunting as an escape from our high tech lives, a return to the simple man-against-nature reality that truly tests our skills and knowledge. Anyone can navigate the wilds with a GPS, smartphone maps, instant contact with friends, on-demand emergency rescue, etc. Abandoning this digital assistance changes the dynamics, makes us more aware of our actions, nudges us toward learning and applying outdoor skills that used to be called Woodsmanship.
Older hunters, by necessity, learned the “boy scout” skills necessary to hike, hunt, navigate, shelter, and survive afield without satellites holding their hands. To their credit, many younger hunters are rediscovering this commitment. They are taking on Nature, learning to use primitive skills to not just survive, but thrive and succeed as did thousands of Daniel Boone woodsmen before them.
The smartphone option, then, is yours to choose and use. Personally, even though I’ve hunted, backpacked and camped from the Arctic to the Southern Alps of New Zealand without smartphone help, I recommend hunters carry one for emergency rescue if nothing else. At the same time I recommend eschewing texting, calling, watching videos, and playing games that distract from the real reason you’re hunting — intimate contact with Nature. We can play with our phones any hour of the year. Our time afield is limited and precious. Hunting is an increasingly rare and special opportunity. Soak it up. Make the most of it.
Often a “should I or shouldn’t I” choice, but erring on the side of “should” often saves the day. Even if it doesn’t rain, this waterproof layer can pad wet grass or block a cold wind. The trick is balancing performance with weight and bulk. I promise you a heavy waxed canvas jacket takes up a lot of room in a pack. Some super-light, gossamer rain suits stuff in a pocket and weigh just a few ounces, but tear easily, too.
The most rugged and effective rain jacket I’ve ever worn is a Simms Guide Jacket. The model I have is several years old and no longer cataloged, but it’s quite similar to the current G3 Guide Tactical Wading Jacket. The secret to its success is a tough nylon face covering (and protecting) 3-layers of GORE-TEX. This thing bulls through brush and even light thorns without damage, holds out rain like a submarine, yet is breathable enough that I don’t work up a sweat unless I’m really pushing. Simms rain jackets aren’t cheap, but Alaska guides swear by them because they work.
Most big game hunters carry one. Badly.
Everyone knows a binocular enlarges the deer we see right after they start fleeing. That’s when we dig the optical rig out of our pack or one of those overbuilt binocular chest bags from with they emerge grudgingly, slowly.
Stop! A binocular should be instantly accessible like a rifle or shotgun. You don’t need to baby them in a padded room. A modern binocular like Riton’s 10×42 HD is already protected by a rubber armor coating covering a strong magnesium frame. External glass is coated with not only anti-reflection layers, but also an anti-scratch, anti-smudge coating. There are rubber eyecups that pop off and on the eyepieces. The objective lenses ride facing down with the entire top of the binocular to shed rain, snow, drool, and crumbs. The unit is waterproof, fogproof, and dustproof. It’s guaranteed for life. Why would you wrap it in a case where you can’t access it quickly?
This Riton 10×42 RT-B MOD 5 binocular is like so many of the new brands these days. It features all the prime ingredients like HD/ED glass, fully multi-coated lenses, phase-coated BAK4 prism glass… And MSRP is just $529.99. Which means you can buy one for a LOT less, like this $387.07 offer. That’s still not a drop in most of our buckets, but it’s a reasonable investment considering all it can do. Use it to scout for game, find game while you hunt, watch birds and elk, track prairie grouse and pheasants to their landing spot. Glass distant ponds and wetlands for ducks. Check what’s going on in that suspicious car parked down the street. You only get one crack at this outdoor life. Make the most of it with Superman vision. Get a decent binocular like this Riton and USE it. If you damage or break it, they’ll fix or replace.
I hate heavy bipods that are attached to a rifle. Yes, they are nearly as solid a shooting platform as sandbags and a benchrest, but they’re heavy, bulky, ugly and a pain in the back when you shoulder-carry your gun. The majority of the times you want to flop prone and use them, grass, boulders, or the roll of the landscape stops you.
Much better and vastly more versatile are portable bipods and tripods. Over the years I’ve used Steady Sticks, BOG pods, and most recently a prototype of Darrel Holland’s field bipod. So far my favorite remains the Steady Sticks, two slim, aluminum poles in short segments shock corded together like tent poles. The original Stoney Points have been modified into something less effective, but I found what appears to be the original with a new name, the Ade Advanced Optics Bipod 39-1. The only place I’ve ever seen it is Amazon, and they have 19 on sale for just $24. Get one, practice until you learn how to use it effectively, and you’ll be good to shoot precisely at all responsible hunting ranges from kneeling, sitting, and prone.
I have a love/hate relationship with hoodies. I hate the gangster way they look. I love the neck protecting warmth they provide. But not in cotton. Cotton is fine around the yard and ranch, but when I might get caught in the open miles from the camp or truck, I want a fabric that minimizes evaporative cooling. The $60 Wildfowler Zip-Up Sweatshirt in 100% polyester does. This simple, basic garment is perfect for layering or using as your external jacket. Ribbed stretch cuffs and hem help keep out drafts. Full length zipper makes on and off easy. The surface is tightly textured to resist pilling and burs while the interior is a soft, short nap. And of course, there’s that hood to block those cold breezes and hold in all that noggin heat generated by your overactive hunting brain.
I reported on the Lightning Strike last winter, but the start of hunting season is a good time to strike again. Having a sure source of ignition on your person as you hunt is no superfluous option. Many a hunter has died because he or she had no way to ignite lifesaving fire. Matches are ok if kept dry and you’re not shaking too violently to strike one. And if the wind isn’t too strong. A Bic lighter is fine unless it’s too cold for the butane to vaporize and ignite. A ferrous rod scraped by steel always puts out a shower of extremely hot sparks as shown in this video.
The beauty of the Lighting Strike is its funneling effect. The aluminum tube directs all of the sparks right where you aim it. And under the cap of the handle you store the included Napalm Tinder fire starter pads that ignite instantly and burn hot for several minutes to get tinder burning. You can use the Lightning Strike with just one hand by standing on it, too. Amazon will sell you one for $69, but you can order direct from Lighting Strike’s web page and get one for $60.
After more than half a century of knife use, I’ve locked in on the ideal do-all utility knife. It’s the Swiss Army Huntsman. Yes, I’ve crowed about this before, but only because it rides on my belt everywhere but the shower and airports — and it’s been through enough airports that I’ve donated plenty to TSA. What the Huntsman combines are enough tools for effective repairs and maintenance — except for a pliers. What it offers that most versatile knives don’t is a saw. Small, yes, but good enough for taking off elk legs, branches, PVC pipes… A day rarely goes by that I don’t use my Huntsman. Get one here for $43. And never leave home without it.
Merino Wool Socks
Who more appropriate to sell us merino wool hunting socks than a Kiwi? New Zealand is the kind of harsh, wet mountain hunting country in which anyone can appreciate a thickly padded, itch-free, warm-when-wet wool hunting sock. The blend of nylon, acrylic, Hollowfil polyester, and Lycra in these Swazi Hunter Socks adds stretch, comfort and durability. Grab a pair or two here for $29.99 each. Your warm, blister-free feet will thank you.
Light Up Your Hunting Gear
I don’t often need a flashlight when I’m hunting, but when I do, I really do. And no light is more convenient than a headlamp. Hands-free. Shines where you’re looking. This 6-ounce, rechargeable Fenix HL60R is no chintzy plastic throw away, but a rugged, aluminum unit with adjustable LED. It glows at 1 lumen red for sneaking past game. It blasts up to 950 lumens white for reaching more than 300 yards. Rated 100 hours battery life on 5 lumen eco mode, 3 hours on High (400 lumens.) Recharges via a USB port, but also accepts CR123 batteries. Five-year free repair, limited lifetime warranty, waterproof to 6.5 feet, and as bright and functional as they come. MSRP $99.95 now on sale for $74.95 here.
The author admits to a minimalist approach to hunting, preferring to keep things simple and uncluttered. But he also admits there are many useful and effective gadgets that enhance the outdoors experience. Keeping these to a manageable number is the trick.