Deer hunting is one of the most popular hunting types in the United States, and there’s a good reason why. White-tailed deer numbers are higher than ever, and hunting opportunities abound throughout the country. Deer hunting is also a very gear-intensive pursuit, and that’s part of what makes it so fun to many hunters. Making sure you stock your pack with all the things you need before setting out on the first hunt of the year can just be labor to you or it can be a labor of love, depending on how you look at it. When gearing up for your first deer hunt of the year, consider 10 things you’ll likely need.
If you’re going to stock your hunting pack for deer season, you’ve got to have a hunting pack to stock. There are a variety of different kinds of packs, and all offer different advantages. Frame packs are useful for hunting trips involving hiking way back into the wilderness and taking everything you need to survive with you. Soft-sided backpacks are better for weekend trips, and those with lots of pockets let you organize your equipment where it is easy to find when you need it. Fanny packs are still popular with many hunters, especially in warmer weather where a backpack can make your back sweaty. Regardless of what type of pack you pick, spend some time organizing your gear in it and remember exactly where everything is. Finding the right piece of equipment in the dark can be challenging otherwise.
Next to your gun, ammo, bow and arrows, a good pair of binoculars can help increase your success more than nearly any other piece of hunting equipment. Binoculars can allow you to see deer you would otherwise miss, judge deer you can’t even tell the sex of with your naked eye and determine whether that faraway movement you saw was a coyote, buck or maybe even Bigfoot. Look for a pair of binoculars powerful enough to judge a buck’s rack 300 to 400 yards away, but small and light enough to easily fit into your hunting pack without making it too heavy to carry. Better yet, get a good binocular harness to use with your binoculars and save that valuable real estate inside your pack for other gear.
In nature, white-tailed deer make a variety of different vocalizations to communicate with one another. Fortunately, nearly all of those vocalizations can be duplicated by hunters to draw deer into shooting range. Fawn bleats can be used in early season to attract does exhibiting their maternal protective instinct. Doe bleats attract bucks when looking for does during the rut. Buck grunts sometimes attract other bucks looking for a fight or checking out who invaded their territory. And antlers rattled together can simulate buck fighting, drawing other bucks to watch or join in the fray. Hunting supply manufacturers make calls to duplicate all of those vocalizations. If you’re short on pack room, a good grunt call is probably the most effective and versatile call throughout the fall and winter.
Scent Elimination Products
One of the things that make deer so hard to kill with anything but a moving vehicle is their keen senses. Their sense of smell ranks toward the top of the list. If a mature buck or old doe get a faint whiff of human odor, they’ll vacate the scene very quickly, sometimes alerting all the other deer in the area that danger is at hand. Scent elimination and masking products can give you the edge needed to overcome a deer’s sense of smell. There are many different scent-proofing products available, including laundry detergent, body wash, shampoo, spray-on cover scent and others. Using a number of these products together can help mask your scent, resulting in a deer getting within bow or rifle range before it knows you are hunting it.
While you can bolster your chances of hunting success by hiding your own odor, you can also attract deer by using odors that they like. Many attractant scents are made from urine, whether buck urine, doe urine or doe-in-heat urine. Buck tarsal gland scents are also available, as are preorbital and forehead gland scents, often used at buck rubs, scrapes or mock scrapes. Other attractant scents might smell like a food deer love, like apple or acorn scent. The most commonly used scent is doe-in-heat scent, which is fairly effective all year except for very early in the season before any does come into heat. When used in conjunction with a doe decoy, it can also be effective at bringing a big buck into bow range during the heat of the rut.
Believe it or not, a quality rangefinder can greatly tilt the odds of bagging a buck into your favor as quickly as just about any other piece of equipment. For both rifle hunters and bowhunters, more deer are probably missed each year because the hunter was wrong about the range than for any other reason. Gravity is to blame for that. Bullets and arrows fall as they get further and further from your muzzle or bow. At different ranges, they will be at different stages of falling to the ground. This “drop” is what makes it so important to know whether a deer is at 185 yards or 295 when you are rifle hunting or at 24 or 37 yards when bowhunting. You owe it to the deer to make the most accurate shot possible, and knowing the range can make that much easier.
Since much of deer season in many states occurs during the late fall and winter months, cold temperatures can quickly put a damper on your hunting opportunities if you’re not prepared. And the two things that seem to get coldest the fastest are your hands. This is important for more than just comfort—cold hands can make it harder to handle your hunting gear, including your binoculars, rangefinder, bow and gun. Since shooting a bow or gun requires precision, hands that feel like blocks of ice won’t cut it. Fortunately, inexpensive chemical handwarmers can keep your hands warm and dexterous when your fingers would be freezing without them. Get a pack and keep them with you all the time if there’s any chance of cold weather during your hunt.
Earlier we explored deer’s keen sense of smell. Unfortunately for hunters, deer also have incredible eyesight and can see the slightest movement of your hands or other parts from an unbelievable distance. Consequently, anything that can hide your body’s movement when preparing for a shot, reaching for binoculars or blowing a grunt call is well worth having along. That’s why a small roll of camouflage material is a great thing to carry in your pack. Whether you are hunting from a tree stand, a box blind or from the ground, wrapping some camo material around whatever type stand you are using can be just the ticket to mask motion, keeping that big buck you are hunting from seeing a small movement and dashing for the next zip code.
Saying that a bow or gun hanger is a deer pack necessity might sound trite to some hunters. But if you’ve ever tried to pick a bow up off your lap and clanked your arrow against the safety rail, you know how important it is to have a good place for it. Likewise, if you’ve attempted to pick up your rifle and knocked your rangefinder onto the ground, spooking every wild animal within 200 yards, you know how imprecise placement of your gun can result in squandered opportunities. A good hanger will solve all that, and can also help minimize safety hazards. When you have a hanger properly attached to the tree, you know that a rifle or bow hung from it is secure there. And you know exactly how to grab it for a shot without banging and bumping limbs or objects.
Field Dressing Accessories
While all the other things discussed up to now have been designed to help you get your deer, field dressing accessories are needed once you’ve successfully filled your tag. Of course, a good knife is a necessity, and you should always carry one while hunting. One of the simplest and handiest field dressing accessories is a pair of rubber or latex gloves, which can enable you to field dress your deer and not have stinky hands all the way home. A “butt out” tool is another handy gadget that helps you gut the animal without getting waste on the meat. Other types of accessories sometimes carried by deer hunters include a rope or strap to use when dragging the deer to your truck and big game bags to keep flies and dirt off your venison during transport.
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