As we move into the latter half of summer and start inching closer to hunting season, it’s time for many of us to start making preparations. Whether that’s setting out trail cams and tracking deer trails or patterning a new brand of birdshot at the range, it’s always best to get the prep work out of the way early.
For many, a new hunting season means new gear. Whether you’re replacing something old and worn out or trying out a piece of equipment for the first time, we’re here to help you find exactly what you need.
Technically, there are plenty of people out there who hunt with bows, crossbows, or traditional weapons, but for your average hunter, a firearm is a requirement. What type of firearm will vary depending on what game you’re hunting, but most people will be well served by either a centerfire rifle for medium game such as deer or bear or a shotgun for turkeys and waterfowl.
Luckily, we live in a golden age of hunting rifles and shotguns. There’s an absolute abundance of top-notch firearms on the market, each with their own features and quirks. At the end of the day, any hunting rifle or shotgun from a quality manufacturer such as Savage, Ruger, or Mossberg is going to be more than accurate and reliable enough to put food on the table.
If you’re in the market for a new firearm, all you really have to do is pick your favorite camo pattern.
A magnified optic offers a more precise and detailed sight picture, making it easier to place your bullet exactly where you want it. While you may be able to get by with iron sights, a good scope can sometimes be the difference between a clean kill and tracking a wounded buck into the late hours of the day.
Shot placement is paramount when it comes to hunting. Where your bullet hits will have a greater impact on the outcome of your hunt than any other single factor. A magnified optic allows you to pinpoint exactly where you want to aim and obstructs less of the target than iron sights, increasing your odds of a clean shot and a good harvest.
Many optics are also available with helpful features like drop-compensating reticles for longer shots, illumination for low-light situations, and adjustable zoom. With all that being available, there’s little reason not to consider adding a scope to your hunting rifle.
Our new Primary Arms® SLx® HUNTER™ scopes offer a forgiving exit pupil and generous eye relief, making it easy to get a proper sight picture in a wide range of shooting conditions. They’re available in either 3-9x or 4-12x magnification ranges, so you can choose exactly how much magnification you need for your hunting scenario.
Our HUNTER scopes also feature second focal plane reticles for consistent crosshair size and sight picture across the full magnification range.
Camouflage may be the official uniform of hunters everywhere, but plenty of deer have been harvested by guys in jeans and flannel shirts. Mossy Oak looks cool, but it’s unlikely to be the difference between coming home with a buck and coming home empty-handed.
Remembering to wear your blaze orange, on the other hand, can be the difference between coming home with a deer and not coming home at all. Even in states where an orange garment isn’t required, it’s still heavily encouraged as a way to ensure your safety in the field. For that reason, a good bright orange shirt or vest definitely makes our list of essentials.
If you don’t have one already, we recommend the Primos Gunhunters Hunting Vest. It’s got plenty of surface area for states that have a minimum square-inch requirement and features a waterproof lining to help keep you dry in adverse weather.
An abundance of pockets makes it handy for storing gear you can’t fit in your pants or on your belt. The main pouches are even large enough to fit most binoculars, while the zippered pockets have a compass and small LED light built into the pulls, saving you from having to carry either of those items.
The necessity of hearing protection really ought to be self-evident, but it gets skipped over far too often. It’s not uncommon for hunters to rationalize that they’re only going to be taking one shot, so ear protection isn’t really necessary.
Unfortunately, one shot can be all it takes to land you with permanent hearing damage. Hearing damage is cumulative, as well, meaning that it builds up over the course of a lifetime. Just because your last shot didn’t leave you with that obnoxious, quiet ringing noise in your ears doesn’t mean that your next won’t. Any time you’ll be discharging a firearm, hearing protection needs to be used.
At a bare minimum, simple foam earplugs are usually sufficient to prevent hearing damage during hunting. They’re dirt cheap, disposable, and comfortable enough to tolerate, but they do come with certain trade-offs.
Blocking your ears with foam plugs helps to dampen the gunshot, but it dampens everything else too. You won’t be able to hear much going on in the forest or water around you with plugs in.
As such, while simple ear plugs meet the minimum requirement, we wholeheartedly recommend more sophisticated protection. A set of electronic ear muffs like the excellent Howard Leight Impact Sport Earmuffs not only preserve your hearing but feature electronic sound amplification.
This means microphones built into the exterior of the muffs collect the noise around you, filter out anything loud enough to be damaging to your hearing, and then feed the remainder into speakers inside the headset. The earmuffs can even amplify very quiet noises, making it possible to pick up subtle sounds you never would have noticed unaided.
Last on our bare essentials list is a good field knife. Whether it’s fixed or folding is up to you; quality knives of both types can be used to dress game, although fixed blade knives tend to be better suited to the task.
Folding knives cut just as well as fixed blades, but the hinge and locking mechanism puts them at a disadvantage for cleaning game. The process of field dressing an animal is going to involve a fair amount of blood, which can be next to impossible to fully clean out of a folding knife’s internal components.
Still, if you’re willing to disassemble your knife and scrub it back to sanitary condition after a hunt, a folding knife can be used.
In either case, you’ll want something with a blade made from decent-quality steel. Everyday pocketknives and bargain fixed-blades can sometimes get away with cheaper types of steel, but if you use them to dress medium or large game, you may find yourself stopping to sharpen your blade multiple times.
Ka-Bar’s Game Hook Knife is an excellent example of a good, versatile hunting knife. The 3.25″ blade is just long enough to be useful but not so long as to be unwieldy and incorporates a gut hook for easier field dressing. Subtle finger grooves are molded into the grip to help prevent your hands from slipping if they become wet, and the stainless steel construction ensures the knife can handle being in the field for extended periods without rusting.
If you hunt from a blind, a sling may not be truly necessary, but anyone who’s spent a day trekking through the woods with their rifle in their hands knows the value of a good sling. If you plan to do any significant amount of walking with your rifle, a proper sling will increase your comfort and reduce arm fatigue.
Good hunting slings share many of the same features as tactical slings. You want something rugged, made from materials tough enough not to give out after one season. Padding is also an important feature, even more so than in a tactical sling. The biggest purpose of a hunting sling is added comfort so there’s no reason to limit yourself to bare nylon.
We’re particularly fond of the padded Super Sling from Outdoor Connection. It uses Neoprene rubber for its padding, which conforms to the shape of your shoulder for superior comfort. They also integrate a handy thumb ring into the strap, which makes it practically effortless to control your rifle while walking and prevent it from bouncing or swinging.
The Super Sling is available in a variety of camo patterns as well, so you can usually match it to your clothing or rifle.
There are lots of hunters who relish tracking their quarry through the field, mapping trails, and following the subtle clues left behind by game. If your ultimate goal is to put meat on the table, though, it’s a lot less work to bring the game to you.
That’s where things like animal calls come in. There’s a call out there for nearly every animal under the sun, from things as simple as discarded deer antlers to high-tech electronic units that can mimic dozens of different species.
Most commonly, though, you’ll see calls used in predator and bird hunting. For predators, the calls usually mimic the cry of a distressed animal, tricking them into thinking they’re in for an easy meal. Duck and turkey calls, on the other hand, replicate the sounds these birds use to communicate with each other.
In either case, the goal is to convince the animal that there is something at your location that they want and draw them in. Good quality calls can be very, very effective at this.
Game calls are a very diverse set of equipment, with options for myriad species, sounds, and methods of making noise, so it’s impossible for us to pick a single model to recommend, but we carry a full selection of quality calls to choose from.
Field Dressing Kits
One good knife can be enough to field dress game, but a proper kit of knives and tools makes the process faster, easier, and cleaner. A hunting knife is a jack of all trades, while a field dressing kit offers specialized tools optimized for each step of the process.
Take the Accusharp Game Processing Kit, for example. It includes three different knives, each specialized for a different procedure. One has a gut hook, to speed up and simplify the process of opening the abdominal cavity without rupturing any viscera, while another is specially contoured to make skinning easier. A single hunting knife can do both of these jobs, but it won’t do either of them as well.
In addition to knives, the Accusharp kit includes a saw for getting through tough bones, a rib spreader, and a convenient sharpener to keep everything in top condition.
Even just one or two cameras strategically placed in your hunting area can provide a wealth of information about what animals are around, when they’re active, and what areas they frequent, letting you make more informed decisions about where to set up blinds and treestands.
The Bushnell Prime Low Glow Trail Camera is one of our favorites. It’s got an extremely rapid activation time and a set of infrared LEDs to illuminate nighttime images up to 80 feet away, ensuring you don’t miss a thing. A single set of batteries can last up to six months, so you can record all summer worry-free.
Nighttime hunting isn’t legal in every state or for every type of game, so be sure to check your local laws before setting out into the woods. Where permitted, though, night vision optics offer a massive advantage over daytime hunting for certain scenarios.
Many animals are more active at night and often substantially less cautious. They’ve evolved knowing that the darkness will hide them from many predators, so they don’t take the same efforts to conceal themselves that they would in the daytime.
A night vision scope like the ATN X-Sight 4k Pro HD allows you to take advantage of this paradigm and hunt your prey when they least expect it. This is especially effective for predators like coyotes since they do most of their hunting at night.
The X-Sight 4k Pro is a digital night vision scope, so it’s usable in daylight or darkness, and integrates a whole host of extra tools including a ballistic calculator, a range finder, and recoil-activated video recording.
When it comes to searching for game, there’s simply nothing that can compete with thermal technology. These optics work by detecting infrared energy generated by an animal’s body heat and converting it into a visible image.
This means that when viewing an image of a forest, the ground and foliage will all appear roughly the same color, but anything with a significantly higher temperature than its surroundings will be sharply contrasted, making it the ultimate counter to an animal’s natural camouflage.
Thermal vision is most effective when combined with a night vision aiming device. A thermal handheld like the excellent FLIR Scout TK Monocular can be used to scan the forest through the darkness and spot game, then a night vision scope can be employed to line up the shot, providing a more detailed picture of not just the animal, but also its surroundings.
This is essential for safe hunting since thermal vision provides less clarity and contrast of the environment since it’s all roughly the same temperature. It can also be difficult to distinguish between animals of a similar size and shape using a thermal, so a night vision scope is helpful to determine if the thing you’re viewing is a coyote or just a fawn.
The practice of combining thermal and night vision optics to track and hunt game has become particularly popular in our home state of Texas for dealing with feral hogs. Anyone who’s had to deal with these animals knows just how destructive they can be; they frequently travel in packs and can destroy farmland at an obscene rate. Augmenting your hunting gear with advanced optics makes pest species like hogs easier to find and easier to engage, especially when dealing with large packs.
Hunting is one of the oldest pursuits known to man, and there was a time when it was practiced with little more than sticks and stones. Today, the basic hunting essentials are more than that, but you can still get started with little more than a rifle, a hunting knife, and some personal safety equipment.
For avid hunters, though, there’s a real advantage to be gained by investing in a few pieces of gear beyond the basics.