Getting ready for hunting season? Here are 15 essentials. It may not be you want, but if you have these, you’re ready.
1. Firearm or Bow
2. Arrows or Ammo
4. Game Calls
5. Flares, Mirrors
6. Field Boots
9. Blaze Orange or Camo Hat
10. Blaze Orange or Camo Coat
13. Scents, Attractants, Coverups
14. Hand/Toe Warmers
15. First Aid Kit
Hunting may well be the most gear- and gadget-intensive sport on Earth. You don’t have to have the best and latest equipment, but then you don’t have to come back with a trophy, either. With so much that is essential, here’s a very broad overview to buying hunting gear.
The Weapon of Choice
It all starts with the weapon; after all, how many people do you know who hunt bare-handed? As for rifles and shotguns, there are a tremendous number of choices available, from the budget-priced to the expensive and very expensive, from the standard to the exotic, from the powerful to the very powerful. With so many choices, the best advice on selecting a rifle or shotgun is work backward. That is, determine what game you’re after, then select the right ammunition, then the right gun for that ammunition.
As for cartridges or pellets, you want to be a responsible hunter so the animal is killed quickly. That means a big enough bullet for a clean kill while preserving as much meat as possible. Lighter bullets tend to be more accurate over shorter distances, but obviously they have less killing power at longer range.
After ammunition, you still have a lot of choices. For repeating rifles you’ll need to select bolt, pump or lever action, which is mostly a matter of personal preference. So much of choosing a rifle or shotgun is personal, and what feels good on your shoulder. There are also a lot of technical information available, and manufacturer’s websites (www.remington.com, for instance) will help you match the exact rifle or shotgun to fit your needs.
Of course budget is a factor, but it shouldn’t prevent anybody from starting out. “You can get a very good entry-level rifle or shotgun at a modest price,” says Remington, “and as you continue your hunting career you can move up.”
Bows (and Arrows)
Bow hunting goes back a few years (almost 40,000, in fact). And while the fundamentals haven’t changed much, the equipment is a lot more sophisticated than in the days of Fred Flintstone. Most hunting today is done with compound bows that use a series of cables and pulleys that reduce the amount of power needed to pull the string back.
Generally, the longer the brace height the more accurate the bow. Accomplished hunters can probably do well with a 6-inch brace, but an average hunter (or if your accuracy has been declining — be honest) should probably use a 7-inch. Some professionals use an 8-inch brace.
Quietness and lack of vibration are critical for successful bow hunting, because if the deer can hear the string, it can “jump-the-string” and get out of the way before the arrow arrives. This is an area where manufacturers have made great strides, including anti-vibration and damping accessories, as well as with ready-to-shoot packages where these items are built in.
The speed of the arrow (measured in FPS — feet per second) gets a lot of attention because the quicker the arrow arrives, the more likely a clean kill. However, some hunting authorities discount the importance of speed unless you’re hunting mule, deer or antelope at longer distances. In most cases, arrows that are not too heavy can take a target down within 40 yards.
Arrows are measured in grains per pound of draw weight. A heavy arrow (8-10 grains) will absorb vibration and produce smoother, quieter shots, while light arrows (under 6 grains) will be faster and have a flatter trajectory. Medium weighted arrows (6-8 brains) are a good choice for beginners.
The stiffness of the arrow is also a factor. Most manufacturers provide a chart for recommended stiffness, based on the length of the arrow, desired weight of the point and desired draw weight. Aluminum arrows provide reliable flight and penetration at a lower cost. Spend a little more for carbon arrows which will last longer without sacrificing speed and trajectory.
A good knife is a must-have for hunters. Bow hunters may want more flexibility with a utility tool that will help them adjust bow pulleys. For others the ability to skin game after the kill will be most important. The weight and portability of the knife is important, especially how well it fits into your supply pack or belt. Folding knives mean less storage space. For durability look for “full tang” construction. This means there is a single piece of metal all the way through the handle.
A deer’s sense of smell is 60 times more powerful than a human’s, and depending on wind that deer can smell you a mile away (literally). You want to remove your human scent, but you don’t want to replace it with something the animal will still recognize as dangerous. Washing with regular soap merely replaces one scent with another, and a deer will be very leery of the smell of soap.
While it is impossible to completely eliminate your human scent, the key for a hunter is to get that scent down to trace levels so you can get close enough to the deer without setting off their olfactory alarms. “Deer constantly smell predators,” according to Wildlife International, makers of Super Charged Scent Killer®, “but it’s only when the smell is powerful enough that they will react to it. If you can keep your odor at trace levels, you can get as close as you need to make a kill.” Super Charged Scent Killer works at a molecular level, preventing molecules from forming into gaseous odors. Another advantage over conventional soap is that the product will last longer than a day.
Besides eliminating odors, there are scent masks that will help you blend into your surroundings. There are pine, acorn, apple, cedar and other ‘natural’ scents that will help you become unobtrusive to your prey.
Seeing the Target
While your sense of smell may never match the animals you hunt, there are numerous ways to improve your vision. Binoculars will help you spot game, but nothing will beat laser range finders in precisely measuring distance to the target. This is extremely important in bow hunting, where misjudging distance will put the arrow over or under the target and risk wounding (but not killing) the animal.
Bushnell Optics rangefinders include Angle Range Compensation Targeting Modes that will provide true horizontal distance from 5 to 99 yards for bow, and bullet drop/holdover data from 100 to 800 yards for rifle.
These rangefinders include different modes:
SCAN — across the course while viewing a continuously updated LCD display of the distance between you and your target.
BULLSEYE — geared for close-range use, this mode acquires the distances of small targets and game without inadvertently measuring background target distances. When more than one object is acquired, the closer of the two objects is shown on the LCD display.
BRUSH—ignores the foreground, such as brush, boulders and tree branches, and provides distances on the LCD display to background objects only.
Rangefinders are an outstanding tool for hunters, but they can only do so much. “The problem some people have is with expectations,” says Bushnell. “They see the word ‘laser’ and they think it is some kind of ‘Star Wars’ device that’s going to make them amazing hunters. The rangefinder is a tool — a good tool — but it doesn’t eliminate the need for skill with a rifle or bow.
And that really applies to any piece of hunting equipment. It can make you more comfortable, it can improve your ability to see the animal, it can even help you shoot; but ultimately, hunting comes down to you versus the animal.
*To receive Dunham’s coupons and information on new products, events and sales, sign up for Dunham’s Rewards.