Off-Season Hunting Gear Maintenance

For most of us, hunting season has sadly come to an end. Now that we find ourselves in the lull after hunting season, and won’t be back out until shed hunting and scouting trips, now is as good a time as any to service and maintain your gear. Most manufacturers will recommend certain products to use with their items, but generally speaking, you can follow some basics to keep your gear performing its best.

Water Repellent Coatings

We are living in a golden era of technical clothing. No matter what brand you are running, most will have items with a water repellent coating in their lineup. It is crucial to identify which items in your kit might have a coating and do some research on the construction of that garment. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on how best to care for each article of clothing. If a coating is used, it may need to be reapplied periodically. 

Laundering

If laundering is necessary, be sure to use a garment wash specifically designed for technical hunting garments or military uniforms. Read labels carefully and be sure to avoid detergents with UV brighteners in them, as this will cause your camo to be more visible and glow in low light to many of the animals you are pursuing. Remember to stay away from scented detergents; You don’t want to be smelling like “Spring Meadow” when you should be smelling like “Fresh Earth”. Be wary of detergents that are labeled as “natural” or “eco-friendly” as they still might contain UV brighteners.  Most hunting shops will sell a garment wash that will fit the bill. Never use fabric softener or dryer sheets with your hunting gear.

Take note of what was in the washing machine in the previous cycle and consider running a cycle to clean the tub of any leftover scented detergent or fabric softener before you wash your hunting gear. Using the gentle cycle is a great way to prolong the life of your garments, but consider hand washing hunting items in the tub if there is cause for concern.

If you had a successful hunt and got blood on your clothing, avoid harsh chemicals like bleach. An old butcher’s trick is to fill a tub with cold water and liberal amounts of salt. Let the garments soak for an extended period of time and the blood will get pulled out of the garment. Then launder as you normally would. This works especially well for pieces that are more difficult to launder such as packs and shooting bags. 

Hang drying is often the best practice for many items, but certain materials warrant alternative methods. Stick down items in the dryer on low heat with tennis balls to loft and redistribute down throughout the item. This at the same time dries out any residual moisture from your hunt. Merino items should be laid flat to dry and treated as delicate as one can.

If you are using a dryer for any item, be sure to use only low heat. 

When in doubt, follow the tag on the particular item for cleaning and care instructions or call the manufacturer for guidance.

Care and Storage

There are a few different methodologies on gear storage. I’ve heard of everything from sealing in large plastic Ziplock-style bags to tossing it in the corner of the garage. I tend to treat my gear with love, so that it will love me back when it’s game time on the side of a mountain. Personally, a large plastic tote with a tightly fitting lid is my preferred affordable method for storing my soft goods. Regardless of your ideology, a few pieces you want to pay close attention to are your sleeping bag, insulation layers, tent, and pack. 

Sleeping bags should be stored in their storage bags and out of the compression bags. This will help the insulation keep loft for the next use. If at all possible, hanging the sleeping bag unzipped to air out is best, as it also helps with any smells – especially for down bags. If unable to do this for the entire offseason, doing this for at least a few days before storage will help keep things fresh.

Like your sleeping bag, insulation layers need to be treated with care. Stored outside of their compression sacks and either hung or lightly folded on top of the rest of your soft goods in a plastic tote is ideal. Your main concern is keeping the insulation’s loft and not permanently crushing it. Many companies have done a great job of making this less of an issue, but still something to be mindful of.  

Tents should be confirmed they are clean and dry before long-term storage. If you are using a canvas tent, this is especially critical, as mold can form and devastate even the best of tents. Take time to ensure all pieces are free of any tears and guy lines are not frayed.

Packs should have their straps “zeroed” out to prevent any memory to the straps and hung if at all possible. If hanging isn’t an option, be mindful of how you store your pack as the padding in the belt and straps can become kinked and set over time. 

Sleeping pads are maybe the easiest piece of kit to maintain. Give them a quick clean and make sure they don’t have any leaks; realistically though, you’ll know if it has a leak or not if it was used on the last hunt. 

For all pieces of kit, store them in a cool and dry room out of direct sunlight so they avoid premature deterioration.

 

There is a reason you spend your hard-earned money on premium pieces of kit. You depend on it when you’re in the backcountry and shouldn’t need to second guess whether it will perform the way you need it to or not. Preventative maintenance goes a long way and will pay dividends in the end. Make it a part of your postseason routine, and many of these pieces will last longer than thought possible.

 

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