The fall hunting seasons are rapidly approaching. Here at our Colorado headquarters, we’re looking forward to the antelope season opener in mid-August, and archery seasons for deer and elk close behind.
Organizing gear for a hunting trip can be a daunting task if you wait until the last minute. Start prepping your gear now. You’ll be able to address any issues with plenty of time to fix them.
Here are seven items that should be on your pre-season hunting gear checklist between now and opening day:
1. Practice with Your Weapon
Whether you’re preparing for an archery hunt, muzzleloader hunt or a rifle hunt, practicing with your weapon should be a year-round activity. This is the single most important piece of gear you’ll carry into the field. Without it, you’re not hunting.
In the weeks leading up to your hunt, spend extra time building confidence in your shooting abilities. Practice in your hunting clothes, with your backpack, binocular harness, and any other accessories you intend to use. We also take any opportunity to practice in inclement weather. During that next big thunderstorm, put on your raingear and go shoot your bow!
2. Spend Time in Your Boots
Aside from your weapon, boots are arguably one of the most important pieces of gear you’ll bring on any hunting trip. Bad blisters can ruin an otherwise enjoyable hunt. Don’t wait until the week before your hunt to spend time in your boots.
Quality boots that fit properly should feel comfortable right out of the box. The purpose of wearing your boots now is not as much to break them in, as it is to discover issues with enough time to correct them. Wear your boots on several hikes or climb local stadium stairs. If they aren’t comfortable now, they probably won’t be comfortable in the backcountry. If needed, try aftermarket or custom insoles. Or, it might be time for a new pair of boots.
Before the season starts, also take the time to wax or re-waterproof your boots. We highly recommend using Kenetrek boot wax on your full-grain leather boots.
3. Fill In Your First Aid Kit
When was the last time you did an inventory of your first aid or survival kit? If you used bandages, pain relievers, or blister pads last season, now is a great time to fill in those holes. This is one of those easy tasks that can become yet another stressful item if you wait until the last minute.
In addition to bandages and other items you may have used last season, check the expiration date on medications and look for other items that may need to be replaced. I carry a small bottle of iodine tablets in my emergency kit, in case my filtration system fails. Items like this should be replaced every few years.
4. Plan Your Backcountry Meals
While you have plenty of time to give it some thought, start planning your meals and food items for your next hunting trip. How many dinners will you need? How many breakfasts? What do you plan to bring for midday meals and snacks? Bad planning in this department can either lead to calorie deficiency or carrying more weight than you need. Start the planning process now and maximize your calories per ounce.
For backcountry meals, we highly recommend Peak Refuel and Mountain House freeze-dried options. After a long day in the field, it’s nice settling down with hot meal that didn’t weigh your pack down. Wilderness Athlete supplements can also help keep you charged on a tough hunt.
When I plan a multi-day backcountry hunt, I will put food for each day in a separate baggie. Then when I’m up before daylight, I can simply grab a bag and throw in the top of my pack, rather than trying to organize my daily rations in the dark.
5. Assess Your Cook System and Fuel Needs
Like your meals, it’s best to think through your cook system and fuel needs well before the hunting season. Too much, and you’re carrying unnecessary weight. Too little, and you risk running out of fuel. Consider the number of days you’ll be in the backcountry, and how many of your meals or beverages will require heat.
If you use a Jetboil or similar stove system, check the fuel level of any leftover canisters from last season. Partial canisters might be great for short forays into the backcountry. On longer trips, you’ll probably want to start with a full canister of fuel.
6. Make a Plan for Meat Care
Now is a great time to decide how you’re going to handle meat care on your hunt, if you’re fortunate to harvest an animal. How are you going to transport the animal out of the backcountry? Do you have sufficient cooler space? Once you get home, what’s your plan for processing the meat?
Meat care begins where the animal falls. Make sure you have appropriate, quality game bags for your hunting situation. If you’re hunting deep into the wilderness on a backpack hunt, you may be able to bone-out the meat. In this case, our Carnivore III game bags are ideal. This set of five bags is designed to carry four boned-out quarters and the loose meat from elk-sized game. It also includes a plastic ground tarp for deboning meat, plus ID tags and zip-ties.
If you plan to keep meat on the bone, but still keep weight to a minimum, our High Country Series would be the right choice. This series includes the Muley for deer-sized game, the Wapiti for elk-sized game and the Caribou. These include four bags for bone-in quarters, and one bag for loose meat. The Caribou set includes an additional rib bag to meet Alaska hunting regulations.
Finally, our Magnum Pack series is the most complete game bag system. They are available in three sizes for deer-sized game, elk and caribou-sized game and moose and buffalo-sized game. The Magnum Packs include four bags for quarters, a loose meat bag, a camp meat bag, and a cape bag. The Moose Magnum Pack includes an additional rib bag to meet hunting regulations in Alaska. Additionally, each Magnum Pack includes a 2-mil plastic bag, nitrile gloves, and ID tags with zip-ties.
7. Check Replaceable Blades and Sharpen Knives
Make sure your knives are sharp and ready to go. You’ll have even more confidence in your meat-processing plan, knowing that your knives are in top condition. Whether you use replaceable blades, fixed blades, or a combination, take the time now to audit your system.
We highly recommend the Havalon Piranta knife for its razor-sharp, replaceable blade system. These knives can make quick work of any animal, big game or small game. When it comes to the extreme durability of a fixed-blade knife, we highly recommend Knives of Alaska. We’ve also had great success with the lightweight skinners made by RaptoRazor.
These three have become our go-to blades for big game hunting, as they can cover any situation. Before the season starts, make sure you have replacement blades ready for your Havalon, and that any other knives are well-sharpened.
Avoid the Last Minute Panic
Get started now. Make sure your gear is organized, and avoid a last-minute crisis. The days leading up to your hunt should be some of the most fun and exciting days of the year.
If you have questions about our recommendations, please feel free to contact us. At HuntingGearOutfitters.com, we offer a select lineup of gear that we personally use in the field. We know the benefits and the limitations of each of these items. We would be happy to help answer questions and help you decide on the right gear for your next hunting adventure.
By Ryan McSparran
Ryan is an outdoor writer based in Colorado, and is proud to be a part of the team at Hunting Gear Outfitters.