The following is the gear I use in the field, prioritized by importance. I’ve included links to more information and the best places to purchase the item:
Bow: Mathews eZ7 (2011 model)
I chose a Mathews bow because it was FREE! I won my bow in a magazine story-writing contest. Still, it’s been a great bow–smooth, fast, and accurate. This model has since been discontinued, but you can still find one used for half price.
If I had to upgrade my bow today, I’d choose the new Mathews No Cam bow. The “no cam” technology is light years ahead of anything else and will likely set the new standard in bow technology in the future. No Cam bows are the smoothest drawing bow, and better yet, they are super-easy to tune. The only drawback is they’re heavy; so I’ll hold out for a lighter model.
Other fine bow makers include Hoyt, Bowtech, PSE, Bear, Prime, and others. The brand doesn’t really matter too much. You can expect to pay close to $1000 for a new bow without accessories. If you’re on a budget, you can buy a five-year or older used bow for half the cost of new one. The best place to buy a used bow is in your local classified ad or on EBay.
FYI: My bow is the eZ7 model. The “e” stands for easy, which means a smoother draw cycle which is easier on my bad shoulder.
Binoculars: Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10×42 (Realtree Camo)
I chose these binoculars because, a) The glass is amazing for the price, b) they are designed to gather lots of light early and late in the day which is when you’ll need it most, and c) they are relatively inexpensive. I bought my Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x 42mm at Amazon.com.
I recommend the higher powered 10x42s as opposed to lesser powered binos (i.e. 8×42). Also, the 42mm objective lens lets in more light in than smaller ones (i.e. 10×25, 10×32). This eliminates the need to pack (or even own) a heavy spotting scope. Just make sure you have steady hands or something to rest them on since 40-power can be shaky. Other models I recommend are the Vortex Diamondback 10×42 and the Nikon Monarch 7 10×42.
Arrows: Gold Tip Hunter XT 5575Carbon Arrows
Arrows are easy. There are tons of makes and models out there, but in the end they’re just a carbon stick. You really don’t need anything fancy. I use Gold Tip Xt Hunter 5575 because they’re inexpensive and because they really are the “toughest arrow” out there. It’s not just their slogan, but their unique design that makes them so strong. You can really beat the heck out of them!
The most important features in selecting an arrow is the proper length, weight (grains-per-inch), spine (stiffness) for your setup. All arrow manufacturers have a selection chart to help you choose the correct arrow for your bow. As an aside, I’ve found that a slightly over-spined arrow has better penetration since it straightens out quicker in flight.
Broadheads: Trophy Taker Shuttle T-Lok, 125-grain
I used to use mechanicals, but recently changed to the Trophy Taker Shuttle T’s for the following reasons: 1) They fly accurately–like field points–as long as your bow is tuned correctly, 2) They have solid blades (non-vented) which reduces wind drag and noise, 3) They are very tough, unlike mechanical blades, and 4) They sport a large 1 3/16″ cutting diameter which produces great wound channels and blood trails. I recently used Shuttle T’s on my Idaho bear hunt and was very impressed with their performance.
Note: I use the heavier 125-grain version simply because I prefer more weight up front.
Knife: Outdoor Edge SwingBlade
Sooner or later your knife will become an essential piece of gear, and the best hunting knife I’ve ever owned is the Outdoor Edge SwingBlade. Not only does it come with a built-in gut hook, but it holds a razor-sharp edge longer than any knife I’ve ever owned. I recently used this knife to cape and quarter an entire bison and never had to stop to re-sharpen. AMAZING! It’s available in black or blaze orange and features a rubberized non-slip grip so you won’t cut your fingers off.
Laser Rangefinder: Bushnell Scout DX 1000 ARC
I’ve had some real junky rangefinders in the past. My old rangefinder failed so horribly last year that I went out and bought this Bushnell Scout DX 1000 ARC. Fortunately the local sporting goods store had it on clearance for only $200. So far this rangefinder has been amazing. The best features are the angle compensation, the clarity, and the brush mode which allows you to kinda see through brush and trees. Plus it’s relatively cheap! What’s not to love?!
Bow Sight: Montana Gold Ascent (single-pin)
As many of you know, I recently switch over to a one pin sight (aka slider sight). The main reason I switched is because I like having just ONE PIN. I don’t like multiple pins blocking the animal’s vitals, nor do I like shooting between the pins. My philosophy is simple: one animal, one yardage, and one pin.
I bought my Montana Black Gold sight form a local classified ad for only $100. It’s tough as nails and very high-quality.
Arrow Rest: Trophy Ridge Whisker Biscuit Quick Shot
The Whisker Biscuit is a very simple, yet awesome, containment style rest. The arrow just drops in quietly and shoots right through the bristles. The best things about this rest are, a) There are no moving parts which makes it very reliable, b) it’s inexpensive; I buy them on clearance in springtime, and c) it’s quiet (again because there’s no moving parts.) I was skeptical about the design at first, but after four years I’ve found it to be very accurate and reliable.
Mechanical Release Aid: Fletcher .44 Caliper Buckle Release
I’ve used the Fletcher .44 Caliper for many years. I bought it because it was less expensive than others–albeit well-made–and, at the time it was being used by the Primos team. Now I’ve fallen in love with it. In five years it hasn’t failed. I like that it doesn’t have a metal post that attaches to the buckle. This allows me to tuck the dangling release head into the buckle and my wrist when not in use. It’s also safe. My brother had a metal post release that ripped out of the buckle when he drew back and it tore open his thumb! I don’t need that in the woods.
Arrow Quiver: Mathews 2-Piece Arrowweb FP Series
Whichever bow you own, I highly recommend two-piece arrow quiver. This one is designed to fit tightly against my Mathews bow. The tighter it fits the less canting, or leaning, will occur during the shot. Canting is caused by the weight of the arrows pulling the bow to the side. Tight fitting quivers reduce this effect. There are several secondary manufacturers that make two-piece quivers for all types of bows. FYI, these quivers are not removable, but they don’t need to be. For more info on this quiver, visit the Mathews website.
GPS: Garmin eTrex
The photo above is not my actual unit. My unit is beat to hell and you can hardly read the screen! I have hundreds of waypoints for fishing, hunting, treasure hunting, and everything else. Yes, you can hunt without a GPS (as I often do to save on weight), but in most cases a GPS is necessary. Luckily they’re inexpensive so long as you don’t get too fancy. My eTrex was a gift in the year 2000! You can buy the same unit used on Ebay for around $75.00.
If, or when, I ever upgrade I’ll probably bite the bullet and get a GPS unit with private/public land boundaries and mapping capabilities. Although my eTrex has worked great for seventeen years, my hunting is a lot more technical these days. When my unit finally dies, I’m looking at the Garmin Oregon 600 .
Boots: Cabela’s 8″ Gore-Tex Silent Stalk Sneakers
Is a boot gear??? Yes it is! Is it necessary? Maybe; I know some hunters who hunt in running shoes. But for me and the terrain I hunt in, boots are absolutely necessary. The Cabela’s Silent Stalk Sneaker boots are a light-weight, soft-soled, water-resistant boots with excellent ankle support. They’re also relatively inexpensive ($99.00 on sale). The most important aspect is the super soft sole. This is why they call them ‘sneakers’. These boots are very quiet; you can feel every twig and rock under foot. Even after completely wearing out my first pair, the soles still had surprisingly good traction, even in snow. Speaking of snow, Silent Stalkers are an early season boot with little insulation, but I still wear them year-round. Because of my active hunting style, my feet rarely get cold. I just wear two pairs of wool socks and they’re fine.
Armguard: Tarantula Three Strap
Boring…let’s get through this quick! You need an armguard to keep your jacket sleeve out of your bowstring’s path. Any old armguard will work; heck, you could even use duct tape. I use the Tarantula 3-Strap Armguard because, a) it’s longer than the two-strap and therefore covers more jacket, and b) I got it cheap (used condition, 3 for $15). I don’t use an armguard unless I have a jacket on. For newbie-hunters, an armguard will help avoid string slap. Once you fix your shooting form, you won’t need one either.
Bow Sling: Primos
A bow sling would not be considered essential gear, that is until you use one on a long hike. A lot of my hunting doesn’t start until I’ve covered several miles of rugged country. I used to carry my bow in my hand, but when hiking rough country it’s safer for you and your bow to keep your hands free. Some backpacks allow you to carry your bow on your back; mine doesn’t, so the bow sling is a great accessory. I don’t use the sling on all my hunts, but I really appreciate having it on long ones. I got my bow sling used on EBay for $15.00.
Note: The original Primos Bow Sling has been upgraded to a quieter neoprene version.
Day Pack: Fieldline Treeline Day Pack – Realtree APX
I’ve never hunted without a backpack on. That being said, I’ve also never hunted with a backpack that I paid more than 20 dollars for. That’s right, the Fieldline Treeline Day Pack seen here is sold by Walmart, and as usual I got mine on clearance in the post-season. This pack is big enough to hold all my gear and even an extra layer or two. For longer trips and packing meat I’ll bring a big frame pack that I bought for five dollars at a thrift store. Ha Ha, it’s good to be cheap!
Camera: Canon Powershot G15
If you want to get published in the hunting magazines, or if you just want professional-quality photos, I highly recommend the Powershot G-Series cameras by Canon. I’m a professional photographer, but there’s no way I’m carrying my heavy rig into the woods. So I bring the next best thing–my G15. As an added bonus, this camera also shoots full HD video,!
Basically, this camera shoots pro-quality images in an easy to carry, affordable, point-and-shoot design. When it comes to getting decent field photos, you might get by with an iPhone. But if there’s any chance of getting published, you’ll need something better.
Note: My G-15 camera has been upgraded twice already, but you can still get a mint condition model for less than $300. I got mine on Ebay for half the original retail price.
Those are all my recommendations for essential gear. Remember, gear should always be secondary to the process of hunting. Learn the woods, learn the deer, and work on yourself first. A few thousand years ago mankind was sneaking around naked and armed only with a spear, and he did just fine.
If you have any questions or suggestions for other items, let me know.