This is the gear I use and recommend. Each item has been field tested and time proven. I’ve included a short review and link to more info and where to buy. (Updated 2024)
Bow: Mathews Halon 32 (2017 model)
My current hunting bow is the Mathews Halon 32. It has a 7-inch brace height and is set at 60 pounds. This bow replaced my old single cam model. The main difference is the dual cams, which greatly increases speed and kinetic energy.
Due to shoulder injuries I shoot a lower poundage bow, and though the draw cycle of the Halon is not as smooth as a solocam, it is much faster and more accurate.
I am not a pro-staffer for Mathews, but I highly recommend their bows for shear accuracy and reliability. For info on their current lineup of awesome bows, click here to visit Mathew’s website.
There are many other fine bow makers including Hoyt, Bowtech, PSE, Bear, Prime, and others. The brand doesn’t really matter anymore. You can expect to pay close to $1000 for a modern compound bow without accessories, but if you’re on a budget, you can always find a lightly used bow for half the cost. Over the years, I’ve purchased many great, used bows from EBay and local classified ads.
Binoculars: Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10×42 (Realtree Camo)
I chose these binoculars because:
- The glass is amazingly sharp for the price
- Designed to gather lots of light early and late in the day which is when you’ll need it most
- Waterproof and rugged design
- They are relatively inexpensive. I bought my Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x 42mm at Amazon.com for around $300.
I recommend the 10x42s as opposed to lower-power binos such as 8x. Also, the 42mm objective lens lets in more light in than compact ones (i.e. 10×25, 10×32). This eliminates the need to pack around a heavy spotting scope most of the time. Just make sure you have steady hands or something to rest them on since 10x can be shaky.
The only other brand I would recommend (and in the same price range) is the superb Vortex Diamondback 10×42. Not only does Vortex make a great product and a fair price, but all optics include the “VIP Unconditional Lifetime Warranty,” which means they’ll repair or replace at no cost to the customer, no questions asked.
Vortex Razor HD 16-48x65mm: The razor HDs are made with superb glass and have a bright, crisp picture. At only 3.6 pounds it is also light enough to pack into the backcountry if necessary. Like all spotters, the picture gets a little dark at the far end (around 40-48x), especially early and late in the day.
If I were to buy a second scope, it would be the Vortex Razor HD 20-60x85mm. The 60-power gives you incredible reach, but costs a little more money and is a pound heavier. That’s the price of super-optics.
Arrows: Carbon Express D-Stroyer MX Hunter
I’ve used many different arrow brands over the years, and currently I’m shooting the Carbon Express D-Stroyer MX Hunters. I chose these arrows primarily because they are extremely accurate due to the DUAL SPINE WEIGHT FORWARD technology. According to Carbon Express, the “Patented 2 Spine arrow shaft reduces oscillation by 50% versus single spine and has twice the accuracy!”
Shot placement is the single most important aspect of harvesting an animal. These arrows feature a “weight forward” design which increases accuracy by adding more weight to the front end.
Finally, the D-Stroyer MX arrows come with aluminum nock collars and a protective coating called Buff Tuff, both of which protect the arrows and extends their life.
When selecting an arrow be sure you know your proper arrow length, stiffness or “spine”, and your desired arrow weight (Grains Per Inch). All arrow manufacturers have a selection chart that helps you choose the correct arrow for your bow.
FIXED Broadheads: Trophy Taker Shuttle T-Lok
- Unlike most fixed blades, these ones really do “fly like field points.”
- Shuttle T’s have solid (non-vented) blades which reduces wind drag and noise in flight.
- The blades are thick and very tough, unlike most mechanical blades and the 1-1/8″ cut produced great blood trails.
**** UPDATE 2024: DO NOT BUY these broadheads!!! I removed the Amazon link because they are now made in China and are total crap; not sharp at all. The originals were made in Taiwan (see photos below). Even the packaging is just stapled together. However, if you can find the original Shuttle T’s, buy them!*****
Mechanical Broadheads: Rocky Mountain Warhead 100-Grain
I got my new “speed bow” three days before the deer opener and was having difficulty tuning fixed blade broadheads. As a last ditch effort, I ran to the sporting goods store and picked up the cheapest mechanicals I could find, the Rocky Mountain Warheads.
They were very inexpensive, but man did they perform! I took a beautiful 5×5 buck that went down within 75 yards. The Warhead cut through two ribs and lodged in the offside shoulder without bending a single blade. Not bad for $15 broadheads!
My next favorite mechanical broadhead is the good, old Swhacker 100 grain. The Swacker performed best in my mid-range price broadhead tests, and I believe it’s because of the sharpened “wing blades,” or the little blades that stick out during flight.
Best of all, you can find black-colored Swacker “knock-offs” sold on Ebay and made in China. Unlike other Chinese garbage, however, these knock-offs perform just as well as the originals at half the cost.
Knife: Outdoor Edge SwingBlade
The Outdoor Edge SwingBlade is the best hunting knife I’ve ever owned. Not only does it convert to a sharp gut hook, but it holds a razor-sharp edge for a long time.
I used this knife to cape and quarter an entire bison and didn’t have to stop and re-sharpen it. AMAZING! It’s available in black or blaze orange and features a rubberized non-slip grip so you won’t cut yourself.
Laser Rangefinder: Bushnell Scout DX 1000 ARC
I’ve had some real junky rangefinders in the past. My old rangefinder failed so miserably that I went out and bought the Bushnell Scout DX 1000 ARC. I got a great deal on it, paying only $200. So far this is rangefinder has been amazing.
The best features are the angle compensation, low-light clarity, and the brush mode which allows you to kinda see through brush and trees.
1-Pin Bow Sight: HHA DS5019 Optimizer
For close quarters hunting, like in heavy timber, I prefer a multi-pin sight. But for more open country I rely on a quality one pin sight (aka slider sight). The biggest advantage to one pin is that it doesn’t block the animal’s vitals. It also keeps you from picking the wrong pin under high stress situations. My philosophy is simple: one animal, one yardage, and one pin.
I chose the HHA Optimizer DS5019 for two reasons: It’s heavy duty and operates smoothly with minimal movement behind the bow. Previously I shot a Montana Black Gold Ascent, but it uses plastic parts which actually broke during a hunt! Never again.
Multi-pin Bow Sight: TRUGLO Carbon XS Xtreme
Dragging my heavy Mathews bow through the woods is bad enough without adding any more metal accessories. That’s why I chose an ultra lightweight carbon-composite sight like the TruGlo Carbon XS Xtreme.
This bow sight is lightweight yet very tough, and the pins are VERY bright. Best of all it’s a relatively inexpensive.
Arrow Rest: Trophy Ridge Whisker Biscuit Quick Shot
The Whisker Biscuit is a very simple, yet awesome containment rest. The arrow just drops in quietly and holds the arrow in place as you creep about the woods. Then the vanes shoot quietly right through the bristles. The best features are:
- No moving parts to break
- Relatively inexpensive and long lasting
- Very quiet (again because there are no moving parts.)
In the beginning I was skeptical of the shoot-through design, but after ten years of field experience, I’ve found it very accurate and reliable.
FYI: The Whisker Biscuit comes in several different models. Depending on the bow, I use either a basic WB Kill Shot or the more advanced WB Sure Shot Pro with tool-less micro windage and elevation adjustments.
Mechanical Release Aid: Fletcher .44 Caliper Buckle Release
I’ve used the Fletcher .44 Caliper for more than a decade. Originally I bought it because it was inexpensive–albeit well-made. At the time it was also being used by the Primos hunting team.
Now I’m in love with the Fletcher; it’s solidly built and never-failing. I really like the loose head design (no metal post) which can tuck between my wrist and the strap when not in use.
As a bonus, the Fletcher is very safe because it doesn’t have a clumsy metal post. My brother once had a metal post rip right out of the buckle and tear through his thumb! I don’t need that in the woods.
**** NOTE: The original Fletcher .44 is no longer made, however a similar model is the new Trophy Ridge ArchX. *****
Stabilizer: Limbsaver LS Hunter Lite 7-Inch
Most modern compound bows (like my Mathews Halon) are designed perfectly balanced without the need for a stabilizer. However the Limbsaver LS Hunter Lite serves two other important purposes.
First, it reduces vibration, thus quieting my bow using a “carbon fiber tube filled with proprietary NAVCOM technology that neutralizes vibration.” Second, whenever I set my bow down to glass, I always lean it against my leg face down.
This stabilizer is the perfect length to prop up my bow and keeps the limbs out of the dirt and rocks. Best of all it doesn’t add much weight to my bow at just 3.5 ounces.
Arrow Quiver: Mathews 2-Piece Q-Lite Quiver
Whatever bow you shoot, I highly recommend a lightweight, two-piece arrow quiver. Mathews Q-Lite is designed to fit tightly against my Mathews bow, and the tighter it fits, the less canting or leaning will occur during the shot. Tight fitting quivers reduce this effect.
Secondly, the Q-Lite is one of the lightest quivers on the market, weighing in at only 7 oz. My bare bow is heavy enough, so I look for the lightest accessories I can find.
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.
Boots: Cabela’s 8″ Gore-Tex Silent Stalk Sneakers
My old favorite was the Cabela’s Silent Stalk Sneaker boots. They are lightweight, soft-soled and quiet, water-resistant, and inexpensive. However they’ve been discontinued. Now I just look for any decent, mid-height, uninsulated boots with soft soles.
Soft soles are the most important aspect of bowhunting boots. This is why they are sometimes called ‘sneakers’. Sneaker boots are quiet over most terrain, and you can feel every twig and rock under foot. The soft soles also have surprisingly good traction, even in snow.
Speaking of snow, early season boots have little to no insulation, but you can still wear them in snowy conditions provided you wear an extra pair of wool socks. If they get damp, you can always carry an extra pair of socks in your pack.
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. But I use the Tarantula 3-Strap Armguard because it’s longer than the two-strap and therefore covers more jacket.
I don’t use an armguard unless I’m wearing a jacket or coat. For newbie-hunters an armguard will help avoid string slap. Once you perfect your shooting form you won’t need one either.
Primos Bow Sling
Unless you’re covering lots of miles, I wouldn’t consider a bow sling as essential gear. Personally, my hunt doesn’t usually start until I’ve covered several miles over rugged country. Using a sling is safer for your bow and keeps your hands free to glass or use trekking poles.
Most of today’s backpacks allow you to carry your bow on your back. If yours doesn’t, then a bow sling is a great accessory.
Note: The original Primos Bow Sling has been upgraded to a quieter neoprene version.
Day Pack: Fieldline Treeline Day Pack
I’ve never hunted without a backpack on. That being said, I’ve also never hunted with a backpack that I paid more than 25 dollars for. That’s right, the Fieldline Treeline Day Pack seen here is sold by Amazon and Wal-Mart. I usually get mine on clearance in the post-season.
This pack is relatively small, but big enough to hold all the gear I need for a day plus an extra layer or two. For longer trips and packing meat I bring a big frame pack that I bought for five dollars at a thrift store. Ha Ha, it’s good to be cheap!
Primos 736 Power Mule Deer Grunter
Can you call in mule deer? Yes you can, but only during the rut. I’ve used this call to bring in curious rut bucks trolling for hot does.
I haven’t had a lot of luck with anlter rattling or doe bleats. But the Primos Mule Deer Grunter really works during November and December.
Once your deer is down in the backcountry, you better have some game bags. Game bags are absolutely necessary to keep meat dry, clean, bug-free, and hung in the shade. This is especially important during the hot, early seasons.
I won’t leave camp without a pack of Alaska 48-Inch Quarter Game Bags in my backpack. They are pre-rolled, stretchy, tough, roomy and take up very little space in your pack. You can easily fit a whole deer, sheep, goat, or bear in these. For elk, moose, or caribou you’ll need the 60-inch version.
Whenever I hunt where there’s no cell service, I always keep a two-way radio in my pack. This is primarily for safety, but also cooridinating with other hunters. I chose theMotorola Solutions Portable T605 radios because they are durable, weatherproof, and have good range and battery life.
Backcountry Pack Tent
Like all my gear, I demand my tent to be reliable, light and inexpensive. The Kelty Late Start two-person backpacking tent fits the bill! I chose this 2-person tent because it’s roomy, lightweight (weighs only 3.5 lbs.), and weather proof. It’s also easy to setup and resistant to condensation.
I know there are lighter tents and teepees out there, but this is the perfect tent for all conditions. It only costs a little over $100 dollars, which means I can spend the rest of my money on permits and tags! The perfect tent if you’re on a budget.
Jet-Boil Backpacking Stove: 1 Liter
Jet boil stoves are fast and efficient at boiling water quickly while conserving fuel. I always wanted a jet boil stove, however they were too expensive…until now. Now you can get a variety of off-brands that work just as well as the original, and for HALF the cost.
I chose the Wild-Wind XO 1-liter stove because of the great reviews. After a year of use I’ve found it to be very reliable and functional. It’s also lightweight and conserves fuel .
Dehydrated Backpacking Meals
While hunting in the backcountry I eat mostly freeze-dried meals. I’ve tried several brands and found that the Peak 2 Refuel meals are the best. Not only do they taste better, but they also contain more protein, which is absolutely necessary when hunting in extreme terrain.
I like all of the Peak flavors, but I especially like the Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli, not only for flavor, but high protein content.
NOTE: Like all freeze-dried meals, these can be very pricey. Consider ordering in bulk.
Those are all my recommendations for essential gear. In the end, gear should always be secondary to the process of hunting. Learn the woods, love 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.