I previously shared my list of must have gear for deer season. In that list, I covered what I consider the absolute minimum. That means I would definitely not go hunting if I didn’t have everything on that list as it would probably be illegal or unethical to do so.
This list is my should have list. These are the things I consider essential to a safe deer hunting trip. Personally, I would likely opt not to go on a hunting trip without most of items on this list as the risk to hurting oneself is too high. There may be a few items I may forego depending on the circumstances, but chances are if I’m out hunting these items are nearby.
As I stated in the previous post, from my point of view, gear falls into a few distinct categories: hunting gear, safety/sustenance gear, and comfort gear. Additionally, each piece of gear can also be sorted by location or vicinity to the hunter: on person, at vehicle, or at camp. I should also clarify that I am specifically talking about hunting deer from a blind or compartment located not too far from a hunting camp or a vehicle that can be used to get to camp in a reasonably short time.
Should Have On Person Gear
Most of items here will probably seem like a no brainer, others are things that maybe less obvious. Let’s get into it.
Hunting tools needed on your person include everything you need to identify the game animal, make an ethical kill, and prepare it for harvesting.
Remember, this list adds to the on person hunting tools previously covered in the must have list. The tools on this list may improve the efficiency hunting and harvesting a deer.
Blades will get dull. Frankly, there are only a few things that will dull a knife blade faster or as fast as deer fur and bone. So having one of these handy can really help with field dressing a deer efficiently, which in turn will reduce the chance of spoiled meat.
I like the Kershaw Ultra-Tek Blade Sharpener. It’s a light, not too big, not too small steel blade sharpener that can be had for under $15.
Binoculars & Range Finder
I went back and forth on wether or not to include these an essential should have item. And I think it depends a lot on your weapon system. Let me explain.
I think it is absolutely essential to be able to properly identify and range the game animal in order to take an ethical shot. If one can do that with your weapon system (using the rifle scope for instance), then the binoculars (or monocular) and a range finder is not essential. However even if you can do that with your weapon system, it is a lot more convenient to do that with initially with binoculars and a range finder. It’s also safer to do with binoculars and a range finder since one isn’t sweeping the environment with a muzzle to accomplish the same task.
With that said, I really like the binoculars with a built in range finder. Less gear to carry, and probably a little less weight. I’m currently using a set of Vortex Optics Fury HD range finder binoculars and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about them. The only downside is the price with an MSRP of $1,599.
A decent pair of value priced binoculars will run around $200-300.
A decent value priced range finder will run around $250.
Like I said, if one can positively identify and accurately range a deer, then these are essential. But I do highly recommend them.
My must have list was very light on safety equipment. However given that a hunter will be exposed to everything mother nature can throw, I consider it essential to be prepared to deal with the elements, predators, and even our own clumsiness.
A must have in my book for any shooting sports and hunting is no exception. A pair of safety glasses or sunglasses don’t have to break the bank to keep those eyeballs safe – just make sure they meet ANSI Z87.1 standards (check for the stamp).
These can be had for around $15 on up. A pair of brand name Oakley’s can set you back over $200.
At the 160 db range, a single gun shot will result in permanent hearing loss without hearing protection. Like eye protection, I consider hearing protection essential.
I like to recommend Howard Leight Impact Sport electronic shooting earmuffs. For around $50, they are a low profile earmuffs that adequately protect your hearing while also amplifying low volume sounds. This can actually aid in your ability to hear game animals approaching.
For the more frugal folks out there, hearing protection will start around $6 for a single pair of reusable plugs or $20 for a box of disposable foam plugs or earmuffs. Frankly I don’t care for these options as they also diminish hearing ability, but they will protect your hearing from the damaging sound of a gun shot.
I maybe biased as armed citizen towards carrying a defensive sidearm wherever I am legally allowed to do so when considering a sidearm as essential. Perhaps it wouldn’t be essential if the hunting weapon system is an AR-style rifle, but even so I find a defensive pistol to be something I can keep on my person as I transition from the hunting area back to civilization. Walking into a gas station to pick up ice (or something else) with an AR-style rifle slung across my check seems to attract more unwanted attention than a pistol on my hip (that is likely concealed by a hunting vest or jacket).
My current sidearm of choice when I’m out hunting is a Sig Sauer P220 Legion in 10mm Auto. A revolver in .357 Magnum would also work nicely, albeit with less capacity. If I were hunting in an area where bears maybe present, I would also consider a revolver in .44 Magnum. Granted these choices aren’t based on experience with defending myself from predators with them, they are strictly based on advice provided by other hunters and the internet.
Quality semi-auto handguns in 10mm Auto will start around the $600 mark (like a Glock 29 or Glock 20).
Quality .357 Magnum revolvers start around $350 range.
Quality .44 Magnum revolvers start around $600 range.
Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK)
Accidents happen. Negligent self inflicted gun shots shouldn’t happen, but they do. The possibility of being attacked by a predator also exists. Given any of these events could result in an injury where a major artery is damaged, then one could effectively be rendered unconscious with a life threatening injury in under a minute.
Because of that, I consider an IFAK to be essential. I also highly recommend first aid training. The kit should at the very least include a tourniquet, hemostatic dressing, and emergency trauma dressing. The goal is to stop the bleeding so one has a change to get to safety and seek medical assistance or buy time for help to arrive.
Plan on spending around $100 for a decent IFAK and an easily accessible pouch to carry it in. North American Rescue has some great kit options.
For $20, an Adventure Medical Kits Trauma Pak is a good low cost option, but it is missing a tourniquet.
Not intended for snacking, but rather for those unexpected situations where some additional calories are needed. Like in an emergency where employing the IFAK was required and mobility is limited, a few calories may be essential to provide nourishment while waiting for help to arrive. Or perhaps one over exerted themselves field dressing and dragging a deer, a few calories can really help.
The food itself can be anything that has a high caloric density. Meaning one can carry quite a few calories without adding too much weight or too much bulk. Nuts are a good option (honey roasted nuts are a great option if there is concern about low blood sugar levels).
I personally like throwing a few Cliff Bars along with my gear.
One can pick up something from a gas station on the way to the hunting grounds for a $5 spot.
It’s not uncommon to have to hike to a blind or compartment in the dark before first light for a morning hunt. Likewise, hiking back in the dark from an evening hunt happens. Then there are times a hunter will find themselves field dressing or quartering a deer in the evening. A flashlight makes these activities easier and safer.
I’ve carried a Streamlight ProTac 2L in my pocket for years. It stays in my pocket when I hunt as well. Given how much use I’ve got out of it, I can argue with a sticker price of $50. However, there are lower cost options.
The lowest cost option would be to use the light built into most smart phones (I am assuming most folks have one) since it costs nothing. However, I rather save the battery on a cell phone for communication needs (I’ll talk about that next).
There are plenty of low cost flashlights priced around $10-15 that will get the job done. However, there is usually a significant trade off in terms of compromised quality, decreased resistance to elements, and increased bulk made for the low cost options.
This will be the last piece of safety equipment in this list. Assuming most folks have a smart phone (or cell phone), it’s probably just a tick in the checklist for most.
However, one should consider that hunting areas may have poor or no cellular service. For these scenarios, one should include some walkie talkie radios. Price ranges for walkie talkies vary quite a bit, that variance is usually a result of the radio bands used. GPRS radios are typically lower cost, but also have shorter ranges. FRS radios cost more and function at larger distances. I’d estimate $40-80 for a value price set of two.
This is the first time I’m mentioning specific gear intended to make the hunting experience more comfortable. One may think that comfort isn’t essential, but I’d argue there is one piece of comfort gear that is. Or perhaps, it would be better categorized as hunting gear. Either way, here it is.
A Day Pack
Given all the gear listed in the must have list and the essential should have gear listed in this list, it would be quite the task to organize and carry all that gear in pockets situated on worn clothing.
A good day pack makes carrying all the gear significantly easier and the overall experience more comfortable.
This is an item that I would not skimp on. A good pack lasts a long time and provides much more comfort than low cost options.
I would suggest an 18-24L day pack that accepts a hydration bladder. Here are a couple of options around the $100 mark:
Should Have In Vehicle Gear
While I’m risking sounding like a broken record, I have been assuming a vehicle will be near the vicinity of the camping area. This is one of the reasons, I’m recommending a day pack rather than a multi-day pack. With this in mind, there are a few more things I think one should have have in the vehicle before heading out on a hunt.
In Vehicle Safety Gear
The items in this should have list are intended for safety. They may or may not be used during a given hunting trip, but they sure do help if they are needed.
I covered water as a must have on person item before. At some point that on person water will run out and will need to be refilled. For this reason, I suggest having more water in the near by vehicle.
A case or two of bottled water or a 5-gallon insulated water dispenser work well here. No need to spend significant money here.
Goes hand in had with more water in the vehicle and in the same theme. Nothing special is here. Just extra calories to replace use on person calories. Or just something easy to grab and snack on between hunts. Personally, I like nuts and jerky for in vehicle food. One could get fancy and put some sandwiches or something similar in a cooler – but I’d save that for camp or real meals between hunts.
Complete Should Have Checklist
So there you have it, this is what I consider gear one should have when going deer hunting. I’ve summarized the gear in a check list along with the entry level budget required for those items to get started. Like the must have list, a lot of the items on this only need to be purchased once. As such, I’ve also added a what I consider the “buy once, cry once” budget (labeled as BOCO Budget) for those items in case anyone is wondering what I would budget for purchasing gear that one would enjoy for a lifetime (or at least several seasons).
|Blade Sharpener||Hunting||On Person||$20||$20|
|Binoculars & Rangefinder||Hunting||On Person||$500||$1,500|
|Eye Protection||Safety||On Person||$20||$200|
|Hearing Protection||Safety||On Person||$6||$50|
|Day Pack||Comfort||On Person||$100||$100|
Again, buying higher end gear isn’t required. I would only recommend looking at that option once a hunter is certain they will be hunting for the rest of their natural life and maybe looking to pass gear down to future generations. Even then, some items will definitely not last a life time, but should last either several seasons or can be repurposed for other activities.