Deer Hunting Gear: A Minimalist Approach

By Chuck Hawks

Being as lazy as the next guy, and maybe a little lazier, I am not inclined to carry any more stuff into the woods with me than is absolutely necessary. For instance, I detest backpacks and refuse to wear one. I have a knapsack that I use to keep my miscellaneous hunting gear together, but I usually end up leaving it in the car or in camp and taking only as much as I can carry in a belt pouch or a fanny pack.

But clearly there are some things that we need in the field. A gun and ammunition, for example. Gear that I usually take deer hunting includes the following.


I prefer traditional handguns for deer hunting, so when handgun hunting I normally carry my .44 Magnum Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter. This fine revolver wears a 1.5-4.5x variable power Nikon scope and rides in a special holster worn like a sling. It strikes a solid blow out to 100 yards on deer.

Sometimes I have been known to carry a .357 Magnum revolver, such as a Colt Python or a Ruger Blackhawk sans scope. These are, of course, the cat's meow for convenient carrying, especially in very rough country, as they are lighter and can be worn in a regular belt holster. But the maximum effective range is limited to perhaps 75 yards, and 50 yards (or less) is better.

If I'm wearing a conventional gun belt and holster I may forgo even the fanny pack I usually wear. I'll just slip a belt pouch onto the gunbelt to carry a few essentials. These would include the small items in the zip lock freezer bag I normally carry in my fanny back (see below), a half-dozen spare cartridges, my wallet, and my hunting license and deer tag. I never carry a handgun when rifle hunting, as I can see no need for a pistol if I have a rifle handy.


When rifle hunting I try to carry a rifle suitable for the conditions. In Western Oregon, for instance (where I live), that is usually one of my .30-30 lever actions, or my bolt action .308 Ruger Model 77RSI. These rifles are fairly short and reasonably light for easy carrying, without going to extremes.

I usually hunt in the rain, for which my stainless steel Marlin .30-30 seems particularly suitable, although I have never had a blued gun damaged by rain. It will get the job done out to 225 yards (according to my Rifle Trajectory Table), which is a long shot in the heavily forested foothills where I usually hunt. Most deer here are killed at less than 100 yards. All of my hunting rifles wear slings for easy carrying.


For either the pistol or the rifle I usually carry a total (including those in the gun) of about a dozen cartridges. That is two cylinder loads for the revolver, or roughly two magazine loads for the Marlin M-336 and three magazine loads for the Ruger M-77 or one of my other magazine rifles. I figure that ought to be more than enough ammo to bag a deer, or fight a small battle.


Wear some. I try to dress appropriately for the anticipated weather conditions. They may seem quaint, but long underwear are great in cold weather. Wear boots that are comfortable for hiking. Browning and Coleman are brands of boots that I wear. Select clothes that are quiet and don't make a lot of noise when you move--deer have big ears for a reason. Natural fibers like wool and cotton are usually best. Nylon jackets, parkas, and rain suits are very noisy and should be avoided. Blue jeans are also pretty noisy, so if you favor jeans, wear a pair that is old and soft.

Wear dark or camouflaged fabric gloves when deer hunting, and particularly when on a stand. We humans move our hands a lot, and this movement alerts deer. My camouflaged hunting gloves are the kind with thin material over the pad of the trigger finger, so I can shoot without removing them. (For years I used inexpensive, dark brown, cotton work/utility gloves with the last inch of the right hand index finger cut off. They worked fine.)

Blaze orange makes you stand out like a sore thumb, which I guess is the idea. Unfortunately, while deer are color blind, they can still see a blaze orange hunter's vest at great distances, because its reflectance is like nothing in nature. Send a friend wearing such a vest and/or hat off to pose on a wooded hillside a couple hundred yards away and take a black and white photo of him. When you get the prints back from the photo finisher you will see what I mean. Unless blaze orange is mandated by law where I am hunting, I prefer to wear a long sleeved red flannel shirt or a red wool vest under a traditional red and black plaid hunting coat, and a red felt crusher hat.


Since a deer must be field dressed at the end of a successful hunt, a knife is necessary. Actually, I carry two knives if you count my pocket knife (and I do), which I never leave home without. It is a lightweight, made in the USA, Gerber with a single 2.5-inch locking blade. I generally keep it nice and sharp, and it is probably all that is needed to field dress an average deer.

On the other hand, I believe in carrying a real hunting knife when I am deer hunting. It can be a handy tool in the woods. So I carry a heavy duty Olsen knife with a 4 inch blade in an equally heavy duty leather sheath. I keep this knife very sharp, and I generally touch-up both knives with a stone (just to make sure) the night before I go hunting. I also carry a small Arkansas touch-up stone, but both the Gerber and the Olsen hold an edge so well that it is usually not required.


If I had a GPS unit I would probably carry it. But I don't, so I carry a small, folding compass about the size of a pocket watch. Mine is a Normark, and it seems to work well enough, as I have never gotten seriously lost. (By which I mean that, although I have several times not known precisely where I was, I at least knew which direction to hike to get back.)


As those of you who have read my article on the subject of binoculars already know, I favor quality optics. My compact binoculars are roof prism Leupold 9x25's that are really sharp. They date from a period when Leupold was having their binoculars made for them in Europe by Leica. Their soft leather case has a useful belt loop, and I use them as both hunting and travel binoculars. I also have a pair of high-end Celestron 7x35 porro prism binoculars, but they weight more than the Leupold compacts, so I seldom carry them very far from the nearest vehicle or camp unless I really need their greater brightness or field of view. I probably shouldn't admit it, but if I am hunting in heavy cover I sometimes save weight by leaving both pairs of binoculars behind. (I'm lazy, remember?)

Fanny pack gear

I keep the most essential items in a zip-lock freezer bag, which keeps them together and dry. These include my compass and the small sharpening stone mentioned above, a Cutter snake bite kit, a 1-ounce bottle of insect repellent lotion, a pair of leather shoelaces (to serve as thongs if necessary), water purification tablets, the smallest Maglight with a fresh battery and a spare, a book of matches, a pair of tweezers, and a very small first aid kit.

Also in my fanny pack is a pocket pack of Kleenex, a standard Leatherman Tool (I guess that makes 3 knives, since it includes a sharp blade), one 30-gram bar of compressed Trioxane heating fuel (I have no idea if this stuff is any good, but it's supposed to burn and at least it's small), a disposable butane lighter, an emergency thermal blanket (space blanket), about 30 feet of small diameter nylon cord in another zip-lock bag, a large zip-lock freezer bag (empty), a couple of small zip-lock freezer bags (also empty), the spare cartridges for whatever gun I am carrying, my wallet, and my hunting license and deer tag. Oh, and a pen to fill out the tag. Fully loaded, this fanny pack weighs less than one pound, so it is not a great burden.

Knapsack gear

These are things that could be handy, particularly if I had to stay out overnight. They include a set of Stoney Point Steady Stix II folding shooting sticks, my cloth gloves, my red felt crusher hat, a red bandanna, a light plastic tarp with grommets (multiple uses, including as an emergency shelter), a 2-foot square sheet of heavy duty plastic (folded up and kept that way with masking tape--this can be handy to sit on), a small square of aluminum foil (folded), a package of trail mix (snack food), an Accu Filter water filtering straw, a Coghlan's pocket saw (cable saw), six fire sticks, a 5-inch utility candle, a small box of wooden matches, BLM or Forrest Service maps of the area to be hunted, about 50-feet of parachute cord (this is strong enough to hang a deer), three small paper targets (handy for checking that a gun is still sighted-in, if necessary), some disposable ear plugs, a pint bottle of water, and an itemized list with everything on it so it is easy to replace as required.

I keep the fanny pack, with its gear inside, in my knapsack, along with my Olsen hunting knife and Leupold binoculars. This keeps everything in one place, organized and ready to go. The loaded knapsack (including fanny pack) weighs about 8.5 pounds. The bottle of water is the heaviest single item and one of the largest, and where I hunt there is usually plenty of water, so I am inclined to leave it in the car or in camp. But it's available if I choose to carry it.


Having reviewed all the gear I have accumulated in order to hunt deer, I have realized that I am not as minimalist as I had thought. Of course, I know that some hunters carry a lot more gear, including backpacks, food (meals, not a snack), a change of clothes, coats, sweaters, rain gear, multiple cameras and film, tripods, bipods, rangefinders, big binoculars (10x50 and the like), spotting scopes (I do own a good one, a Celestron, but I don't take it deer hunting!), and all manner of other "necessities." But I wonder what happened to the good old days, when I went deer hunting with a loaded rifle, a hunting knife, and a handful of spare cartridges in my pocket?

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Copyright 2002, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.