Too often, we don’t realize what we’ve forgotten until it’s too late. You get out into the field, haul yourself up into a tree stand, settle in to wait for a buck and then it hits you—you forgot your knife. Or your game call. Or any other piece of easy-to-overlook gear that you can’t do without.
It’s happened to the best of us, which is why we put together this handy checklist of all the little essentials you might have forgotten to update or replace. The start of hunting season is now right around the corner, but it’s not too late to pick up any last-minute gear you may need.
Along with firearms and camouflage, field knives are one of the most iconic pieces of hunting equipment. Sadly, they’re also often one of the most neglected.
A high-quality and razor-sharp hunting knife or field dressing kit can make processing your game after a hunt a breeze, but a subpar one can easily turn field dressing into a chore.
If you’re looking to replace an old knife or putting your kit together for the first time, we recommend a fixed blade knife with good quality steel. Folding knives can be used in a pinch, especially to dress smaller game, but the pivot and locking mechanism can easily become gummed up by blood or fur. It can be a real pain to clean, but failure to do so creates a breeding ground for bacteria.
Fixed blades, on the other hand, are easy to wash or wipe off. You’ll want to stick to something with high-quality steel, as cheaper metal may require resharpening multiple times to process a larger animal like a deer or boar.
Other features like gut hooks, which can sometimes be built into the back of the blade and make opening the abdominal cavity easier, can often come in handy but aren’t really required.
Of course, just because a knife is old or well-worn doesn’t always mean it needs replacing. A fresh edge can often do wonders for an old knife, making it cut just as good as it did from the factory or better. For that, though, you’ll need a proper knife sharpener.
Knife sharpeners break down into three basic types: pull-through, stones, and sharpening systems.
Pull-through sharpeners are simply devices that contain two honing elements in a “V” formation inside some type of handle. To use, simply place your knife in the “V” and pull it through. The honing elements, often ceramic or carbide, sharpen both sides of your knife at the same time.
These sharpeners are quick and easy to use, but rarely achieve the levels of sharpness attainable with stones or sharpening systems. They also are fixed at a specific angle, so you’ll have no ability to control the width of your bevel.
Sharpening stones give you complete control but are much harder to use well. Despite their name, they can be made out of either certain types of stones or steel plates impregnated with diamond abrasive.
They’re basically just a flat abrasive surface that can be used to grind a knife against to hone its edge. They vary in size from large stones designed to be used on a workbench to pocket-sized versions for use in the field. Your results with this type of sharpener are almost wholly dependent on your level of skill.
Sharpening systems like Spyderco’s Sharpmaker or the Accusharp Precision Knife Sharpening Set reduce the amount of skill required to properly sharpen a knife by delegating angle control to a mechanical system, rather than having the user control the angle of their knife edge manually.
With the Sharpmaker, users choose from one of two predetermined angles and two different grit levels. The abrasive ceramic rods then sit at the selected angle, and all the user has to do is keep their knife vertical and draw it against the rods.
The Accusharp system uses a clamp and guide to set the angle of the edge and comes with 5 different-grit stones and 6 angle settings. Both of these systems are easy to use and can be learned in minutes.
Not all hunters use calls, nor do all species of game require them, but in many cases, they can be used to give you an edge and bring your target to you rather than going to it.
Game calls come in many versions, from old-school box calls, slates, and blown calls to sophisticated electronic speaker systems that can lure in dozens of different species. The former—used most often for turkeys and waterfowl—are effective, reliable, and inexpensive. They’re a great option if you want something you can fit in your pocket or if you only hunt one type of game.
For more avid sportsmen, electronic calls make a lot of sense. Devices like the Foxpro XWAVE digital game call can produce hundreds or thousands of different sounds, letting you use a single call for all your hunting pursuits.
It’s also Bluetooth equipped and can be used remotely, so unlike manual calls, users can place the XWAVE in one location to lure game, then position themselves downwind in a blind or tree stand up to 300 yards away.
These days, hunting clothing is pretty much synonymous with camouflage. You can take to the woods in jeans and a T-shirt, but proper camo will serve you better, providing an advantage by decreasing your visibility to your prey. For those hunting with a bow or crossbow, good camo can be even more important.
Still, camo patterns and earth tones aren’t for everyone, and your choice of attire is rarely going to be the deciding factor between going home with a full game bag and going home empty-handed. Regardless of your stance on camo, though, everyone who will be in the woods this hunting season should be equipped with a high-visibility orange garment.
Most states require hunters to wear some version of orange clothing, often designated as “Blaze” or “Safety” orange. Even where it’s not required, it’s still a good idea to wear orange in the field, for everyone’s safety.
By now, most hunters will usually have a firearm ready for the season. They know what they’ll be hunting and where they’ll be going. Ammo, on the other hand, often gets left till the last minute, at which point you’ll be grabbing whatever is left on the shelf at your local sporting goods store.
Buying in advance even by just a week or two drastically increases your available selection, and sometimes, selection matters. For medium and large game, a proper soft-point expanding bullet can have a drastic improvement on terminal effect. Full metal jacket rounds are much more likely to lead to a wounded animal and a lengthy tracking expedition, even with good shot placement.
For upland bird and waterfowl hunting, many jurisdictions heavily restrict the weight, material, or type of shot that can be used. Picking up a few boxes ahead of time can save you the headache of driving from store to store trying to find something lead-free or otherwise regulation-compliant.
With the quality and affordability of modern optics, there’s little reason not to put a scope or red dot on your rifle these days.
At the end of the day, a clean harvest all comes down to shot placement. The exact point of impact of your bullet matters much more than caliber, bullet choice, or any other factor involved in the shot. That being the case, any upgrade that can help you place your bullet exactly where you wanted it with greater precision and consistency is a worthy one.
That’s exactly where optics come in. In most cases, that means a scope, but red dots are appropriate for certain applications, such as environments with lots of trees and brush creating short sight lines.
For most hunters, though, it’s hard to ignore the benefits offered by magnification. Being able to zoom in on the target allows hunters to line up a shot with much greater detail—instead of aiming at the vitals, you’re now able to place your crosshairs in the very center of the animal’s chest, ensuring a hit to the heart.
Scopes also provide a finer aiming point, further improving your precision—even the thickest crosshairs obscure substantially less of a target than a brass bead or front sight post.
The biggest advantage scopes provide, though, is arguably the simplicity of the aiming process. With iron sights, the user is aligning three different points to make a shot: the front sight, the rear sight, and the target. Any deviation between the alignment of the front and rear sight can alter the path of the bullet, even if your front sight is located perfectly over the animal’s vitals.
Scopes simplify this process to two points: the crosshairs and the target. As long as you have a proper sight picture through your scope and your zero is accurate, your bullet is going to land exactly where the crosshairs are located when you pull the trigger.
Our SLx® HUNTER™ series of scopes start at just $199, so you don’t have to break the bank to upgrade your rifle with some glass this hunting season. These scopes offer all the features you need for hunting, like a second focal plane reticle, high-clarity glass, and durable construction that can handle the bumps and bruises from being carried through the woods.
Any time you venture into the wilderness, there’s always the possibility of injury. Add firearms, knives, and a few million other people into the mix, and the odds of a mishap definitely go up.
A decent first aid kit can provide first-line care for a wide range of traumas, from cuts and scrapes all the way up to gunshot wounds, and definitely deserves a place in your hunting kit. Think of it like insurance—not all that fun to shop for or buy, but important to have all the same.
Your first aid kit doesn’t need to be big or elaborate; in fact, we generally discourage people from carrying any medical equipment they don’t know how to use or aren’t confident with. A simple setup like our Primary Arms Individual First Aid Kit is sufficient for most people and provides the core tools needed to treat the most common injuries.
We offer our first aid kit both with and without a tourniquet, but for any activity involving firearms, we fully recommend the tourniquet.
It’s not uncommon for hunters to forgo hearing protection when they head out into the field. Some people skip the earplugs because they want to be able to hear their surroundings, while others rationalize that just a few shots a year aren’t all that dangerous.
Sadly, even one unprotected gunshot can be enough to cause permanent hearing damage. The damage is cumulative, as well, so a handful of shots every year during hunting season can easily add up to a hundred or more over a lifetime.
Luckily, modern hearing protection is cheap and effective; even just a pair of foam earplugs are sufficient to prevent hearing loss, although they may not be comfortable to wear all day. More sophisticated over-the-ear hearing protection can offer similar levels of protection, greater comfort, and often even improved perception compared to unprotected hearing.
The Impact Sport electronic earmuffs from Howard Leight are a perfect example. They offer padded ear cups and headbands for greater comfort, especially over prolonged periods. In addition to an NRR rating of 22 to protect against hearing damage from gunshots, they also offer electronic sound amplification to help users detect noises they never could have heard unaided.
If you’ve ever spent a full day in the field lugging a rifle or shotgun around, you know the value of a good sling. Carrying your firearm in your arms all day accelerates fatigue and can make you less stable and less accurate when it comes time to take the shot.
Good slings don’t have to be expensive. Even a $20 sling can make a substantial difference to your comfort in the field. We recommend sticking with something made from high-strength nylon and padded for comfort, such as those available from Outdoor Connection. They’re available in common camo patterns, and many models feature a handy thumb loop to help stabilize your rifle while slung.
If you prefer a more traditional aesthetic, though, a leather sling will get the job done just fine, too.
Don’t wait until you’re sitting in your blind to go over your equipment and figure out what’s missing or needs replacement. With hunting season right around the corner, now is the perfect time to pick up any last-minute essentials you need.