With the recent surge in new hunters and it being that special time of year again, I wanted to share some of the items I overlooked as a new hunter, but consider important, if not necessary now. Hunting can be an overwhelming adventure with oftentimes a steep learning curve. Don’t let that deter you from one of the most rewarding challenges known to man.
With that being said, I assume you are at the point where you are ready for your first hunt. You have selected a rifle or bow that you have become proficient with. You have your clothing system ready to go. Your pack has a kill kit with all the tools necessary to field dress your harvest and you are fully aware of the legal requirements of you by your local laws. What more could you possibly need?
Top five lists are always hard. They often spark debates whether those five items are actually the correct answers or not. While there are many right answers, this is the whittled down list of the top five items I overlooked as a rookie hunter, but now never leave home without.
There are quite a few options in this category. In fact, there are so many options it probably warrants an article all by itself. I often hunt in remote areas where there is zero cell service, and other hunters are few and far between. While I love the peacefulness of being alone in the wilderness and away from the noisy city, having the means to communicate with others while in the backcountry is not only peace of mind for you, but also your loved ones back home who might be worried why you haven’t shown up yet as your elbows deep processing the moose of a lifetime.
Having the ability to send a quick message to update your partner is a good way to not end up in the dog house when you get home.
Most satellite messengers have a GPS function where it will send your location to predetermined contacts at set intervals. This is worth its weight in gold, as not only does it keep the wife apprised of your location, but if something does happen and you need help, people will know exactly where to find you. Speaking of help, many devices have an SOS button that will initiate an emergent rescue if the need arises.
One item that took me much too long to try, and now never leaves my pack, is my glassing pad. Weighing around an ounce, this item adds next to no weight, but adds a great deal of comfort. A lot of time during backcountry hunts is spent glassing.
Not every area you go to will have soft ground to plant your rump in, and even if it does, using a glassing pad can act as an extra barrier between you and the damp dirt. Nothing sucks the heat out of you like being wet, or sitting on a cold rock. Depending on the pad’s design, it can also double as a shooting support when in the folded position. The comfort to weight ratio makes this a no brainer to add to the gear quiver.
Many of us younger guys, myself included, often overlook trekking poles. I’m not sure if it’s ignorance or just too big of an ego, but having a set of poles to help on steep ascents and hopefully heavy descents sure make times much easier and help prevent injuries. As sure-footed as one can be, after a long grueling day when the fatigue sets in, the chance of falling, rolling an ankle or stepping in a hole skyrockets.
An added bonus to using poles is when you do spot that animal, and you’re trying to build a stable shooting position, trekking poles can be lashed together and be used as shooting sticks. Some ultralight tents will even use them as the main supports for the framework. Carrying pieces of kit with more than one use is a necessity when backcountry hunting, and trekking poles sure have multiple uses.
FIRE STARTING MATERIALS
Being prepared in the backcountry is a must, but sometimes simple items can be overlooked. If you plan on staying overnight, you will undoubtedly carry some means of starting a fire.
What about if you’re just planning a day hunt?
Often when I hear stories of people having a miserable experience in the backcountry and being forced into spending the night, they never have efficient means to start a fire. Some might argue you can start fires without man made materials, and while this is true, if you’re in a situation where you need to build a fire, time is usually something you don’t have a lot of. Being able to start a fire can not only keep you from freezing, it can melt snow for water, cook food, and is a huge morale boost. Consider carrying a small fire kit regardless of your planned length of hunt.
Unfortunately, as a new hunter, you may have not experienced having to field dress an animal. One consideration that is often overlooked is how to combat flies when you knock something down in warmer weather.
Early seasons like some of the bow seasons we have in Alberta can often be quite warm.
Carrying some pepper with you can save your meat, especially if you have to leave some behind as the size of the animal requires multiple trips to pack out. Pepper prevents flies from landing on the meat and laying eggs.
Nothing is more heart wrenching than wasting an animal you have harvested. Simple black pepper can be a lifesaver when spread liberally over the meat. There are many options you can use here, and I encourage you to do your own research, but black pepper is easy to pack, considerably lighter than liquid, and if the bag busts open in your pack, it’s not going to ruin gear.
BONUS: WET WIPES
Quite possibly one of the most versatile items in my bag are wet wipes. Whether you want to clean up before lunch, or nature is calling, throwing a small pack of wet wipes in your bag is cheap insurance that you won’t be dirty one way or another. Buying the unscented variety will help with not smelling like a tropical flower and are great for post field dressing cleanup.
One thing to pay attention to is in colder weather they will freeze, and then you are left with a brick of frozen towelettes. At that point they go from one of the most versatile items, to literally useless until thawed. If you anticipate the need for them, try placing them close to your body to make sure you can grab at least a couple from the pack that aren’t frozen.
Hunting is one of the greatest challenges a person can embark on. Luckily many new hunters are able to find mentorship from veteran hunters which lessens the steep learning curve. While I don’t consider myself a veteran, I hope that I am able to pass tips and tricks along to new hunters any chance I can. The six items above now come with me on every hunt whether it be a short day hunt after work, or a grueling multiday ascent into the backcountry.