Gearing Up for the Hunt May Mean Gearing Down the Pack List

Gearing Up for the Hunt May Mean Gearing Down the Pack List

Too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily a great thing.

I was on a wilderness backpack hunt with a big, strong guy who started out so overloaded that his pack frame broke. After two days of huff and puff, he donated to the mountain gods his full-sized bath towel, the spare boots he’d had dangling from the pack, a complete change of clothing, an extra box of ammo and most of the excess other stuff that had been stuffed inside his pack where the rest of us couldn’t see it. I had a hunch he’d have pitched his 13-pound rifle off a cliff if he thought we wouldn’t notice.

The poor guy was a victim of “gearitis.”

Gearitis is the result of human acquisitiveness exacerbated by clever marketing and peer pressure. If Dan got that new Deathwind M777 aluminum chassis 6.5-505 Gibbs Ackley Improved with the Swarzeica 2-36x60mm laser scope and a thermal night vision laser bluetooth rangefinder to direct it, by golly you are buying the same, plus the ballistic nylon hyper-digital Marine-camo-pattern underwear.

No offense, but you’re starting to look like that magazine model they dress up with all their advertiser’s Christmas specials. The essential garments, the climbing sticks, binocular garages, scent dispensers, portable blinds, electronic calls, digital hearing enhancers, satellite mappers, infrared thermal game finders, solar chargers, tool belt harnesses, gun holsters, cartridge carriers, spotting scope stabilizers, riflescope covers, ropes, cables, winches, game carts, spare tires, gew gaws, thingamajiggies and hand sanitizers.

Thus encumbered, you’re about as mobile as Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story.” Don’t forget your polycarbonate eye goggles or you’ll shoot your eye out.

Look. I get it. We are all susceptible to marketing and shiny new things. And we sometimes have a little extra cash burning a hole in our pocket, so why not indulge in a tool or two we’re convinced will finally put us in the picture with that big buck or bull? And who knows? Maybe it will.

But what if that gadget costs you that shot of the year? More than one overly endowed deer has walked away unscathed because the hunter who had him dead to rights decided to adjust a turret or bipod leg instead of shooting. Every outdoorsman’s challenge is knowing when enough stuff is too much.

Assessing what we truly need to hunt successfully involves a lot of research, product sampling and time afield. Most of us try a new gadget from time to time, thinking it will really help, only to discover it gathering dust or rust a year or two later. Now and then we stumble onto a gadget that really does become a critical component in our arsenal. How, then, do we know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em so we don’t waste our limited discretionary dollars on fluff and stuff?

I suggest we start by anchoring the essentials. Let’s outfit the general firearms whitetail hunter, the typical October through early December day-hunter venturing forth at dawn and retiring to hearth or home after dusk. No need for an eider down sleeping bag, tent, stove, snowshoes, emergency flares or other major survival gear. But in addition to hunting license and tag, we will want to cover these bases.

  • Clothing: This isn’t too hard. Suit yourself. Literally. You might need more or less insulation, but you’re experienced and wise enough to know what you need to remain comfortable and functional. Don’t wear too much, don’t wear too little. Layering makes perfect sense because you can don or doff as necessary. If you’re frequently shivering or sweating, try new fabrics, perhaps a balaclava or thick stocking cap instead of a ball cap. You’ll figure it out soon enough. Just don’t fall for the advertising that insists you’ll die if you don’t have the latest high-tech super fabric in the latest military camo pattern guaranteed to make you invisible to all detection including bat radar. Deer are about 2,000 times more sensitive to movement than colors or patterns.
  • Boots: Warm enough, light enough, stiff enough. You know comfort when you wear it. Shop and try until you find it. But don’t skimp on boots.
  • Day Pack: Just big enough to haul the clothes you peel as the day warms, something to eat and drink, a gutting knife and basic first aid/survival gear like a lighter, kindling, headache tablets, etc.
  • Ammo: You’ll need a cartridge or three. You don’t need rounds that group inside a quarter-inch at 100 yards so much as bullets that penetrate to and through the vitals while expanding sufficiently to cause maximum hemorrhaging. Blood loss is what kills game. Not thump or wallop.
  • Firearm: Oh yeah, without one of these you’ll have a grand adventure, but no venison to prove it. But which firearm? Great Granddad’s .30-30 lever-action with the buckhorn sights that cover up 90 percent of any deer more than 50 yards away or a new 9-pound precision rifle in 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum topped by a 5-40x56mm scope on a 20 MOA Picatinny rail capable of flicking a tick off a fawn’s ear at 1,397 yards in a 13 mph right angle breeze?

Considering that we nearly wiped 20 to 40 million bison off the planet with open-sighted black powder rifles, something like a basic .243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor or 30-06 Springfield should suffice for persuading a chest-shot whitetail to join us for dinner. Simply put, choose a middle-of-the-road cartridge that doesn’t kill at both ends, something you can aim and fire without closing your eyes and gritting your teeth first. As for weight, a field-ready rifle shouldn’t require wheels to move. Six to 8 pounds is about right. Barrels 20 to 24 inches maneuver in cars, boats, blinds and woods more easily than those that are 26 to 32 inches.

As for scopes, oh “deer!” Anyone younger than 40 probably won’t believe this, but not only do you not need 30X to put a reticle on a deer, you rarely need 10X. A 10X scope makes everything look 10-times closer. Your buck 500 yards away will look as if it’s just at 50 yards. If you can’t align a simple open sight on a buck at 50 yards, you need an optometrist more than another scope.

Seriously, powers much higher than 10X can get you in trouble. They have limited field of view. This leads to shooting the buck on the right instead of the left because you can’t see both at the same time. The magnified view through the scope looks so much different than the one you saw with your naked eye or even your 10X binocular. You have no idea which buck is which. Or if an even larger one just stepped out of the trees. And if you miss or wound it and need to take a shot at a running deer, too much power hinders your ability to swing to get an adequate lead while keeping your target in the view. Because today’s scopes will zoom five, six or eight times, you can get low power with extreme high-power top ends, but the price comes in the form of 30mm or larger main tubes and huge objectives. All this adds bulk, weight and imbalance to your rifle. You begin to feel as if you’re manhandling artillery rather than swinging a rifle.

By the way, I “get” the appeal of super magnums and super scopes. They seem to make all things possible. And when you haven’t a lot of deer-finding experience or much confidence that you’ll find any, you want to be ready to engage the briefest glimpse of one in the next area code. “Hey Siri, where’s the nearest legal buck?” The problem with this is that the gear needed to make extreme shots makes the more common closer shots difficult. If you don’t believe us old Fudds who insist most whitetails are shot well inside 200 yards, talk to a few young bowhunters. They don’t seem to have much trouble taking deer well inside of 80 yards.

While we’re denigrating your favorite artillery scopes, we’ll also recommend minimizing the bells and whistles. Bubble levels, multi-stadia lines, dialing turrets, parallax dials, illumination buttons and rheostats. The more dials, knobs and options, the more distracting the operations and the more likely something will break or be left on the wrong setting. The reason peregrine falcons get their daily dinner is because they’re rarely distracted by which reticle to use.

Given the above anti-fluff-and-stuff warnings, you won’t be too shocked to discover I don’t recommend multi-holed stocks with a half dozen bolts and knobs for micro-tuning length of pull, drop at comb, drop at heel, cast and drop at toe. I don’t advocate folding stocks, barrel shrouds, lower Picatinny rails, LED lights, laser sights or extended magazine release levers either. Nine out of 10 dentists don’t agree, but nine out of 10 veteran hunters who’ve shot more than two deer and half an elk sure do.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are hunting rifles we’re talking about here. Hunting is an act of Nature as natural as getting a drink of water. But a lot more challenging. It requires concentration and immersion into the habitat, terrain, air and light. It demands total focus on the environment, on your prey—not on your tools. “Keep it simple, stupid,” or KISS principle, is not just a military slogan. It’s the hunter’s mantra. The fewer wheels, clips, levers, dials, numbers, lights, lines and cranks you have to think about, the more efficiently and successfully you can engage in your job—hunting.

With that said, feel free to weigh yourself down with “apres-shoot” gadgets and tools. Thermal carcass finders, two or three knives, a hatchet, gut hooks, winches, sleds, flags, packs, wheeled carts, LED trail markers, flashlights, flares, game bags, field gun cleaning kits. Sky’s the limit.

About the Author
Award-winning outdoor writer and contributor Ron Spomer says hunting is everyone's way of connecting with true freedom—the freedom to interact with Earth as naturally as does a wolf, falcon or chickadee. During more than 50 seasons afield, Spomer has decades of hunting experience and writes regularly for multiple outdoor publications, including NRA Publications, sharing his vast knowledge on guns, ammo, optics and gear. For more information, including his top hunting tips and tactics, visit his website, Ron Spomer Outdoors.