Simply put, you can’t kill what you can’t see and hunting the west is a lot different than hunting the hardwood stands of the midwest and east where you often see deer within close proximity to your stand. A good set of binoculars is essential to finding deer, elk, and antelope in the broken mountainous terrain and wide open spaces of the west. If you have a tag and a weapon, spend your next dollar on the best pair of binoculars you can afford. The most common size for a western big game hunter is the 10x42 which gives you a good combination of magnification, field of view and is small enough you can glass effectively without too much shake, even without the assistance of a tripod.
Whether you decide to day hunt from a base camp or tackle a multi-day backpack hunt you need a quality backpack. You’ll need to carry equipment, food, water, kill kit, and clothing and if you are successful you’ll need a way to get the meat, antlers and cape back to your rig. There are alot of backpacks on the market at a variety of price points. Most packs designed for recreational backpacking are not ideal for backpack hunting or hunting in general. Hunters have unique needs and companies like Mystery Ranch and Stone Glacier design packs specifically for hunting. Most notably, those packs can comfortably carry heavy loads and have built in load/meat shelves that allow successful hunters to easily pack quarters or boned out meat bags as well as your gear. Add in heavy duty stitching and materials that can withstand the rigors of western hunting and you can see that there is a big difference between a backpack and a quality hunting backpack.
For obvious reasons a good hunting knife has been a staple in every hunters gear list forever. In the past you had to be proficient with a wet stone to put and maintain a good edge on your hunting knife. While that’s still an meaningful skill to have, there are some awesome lightweight options that provide you a continual razor sharp edge. The replaceable blade Tyto 1.1 and Havalon Piranta knives will ensure that you always have a sharp blade and weigh next to nothing. If you pair one of those with a field fixed blade knife like the Tyto Esee Izula or a Civilware folding knife you’ll be prepared to tackle any situation. You have to have a hunting knife, it might as well be lightweight and always have a razor sharp edge.
Global Positioning System (GPS) devices have changed the game for western big game hunters and the Garmin InReach Explorer has added the additional benefit of also working as a two way text/satellite messenger. Not only does it work as a GPS but it could also save your life in a pinch. There are probably a thousand ways a GPS handheld device can help you with hunting the west, but to name a few, you can record routes, waypoints, evaluate topography, land ownership, roads, trails, and even use it as an alarm clock. You can literally identify a potential camping spot or water source on GoogleEarth, plug that GPS coordinate and route into you handheld device and then use it to walk right to it without having ever been there. A handheld GPS is an incredible tool that every western hunter should have in their pack.
Is a rangefinder essential for hunting, maybe not in the purest sense of the word, but I can’t think of another piece of gear that drastically improved my percentage of success. Shot opportunities often develop quickly and a rangefinder provides you the advantage of knowing exactly how far a game animal is away. That knowledge translates into more accurate shots and quicker, more ethical kills. Whether I am archery, muzzleloader or rifle hunting, my rangefinder is always close at hand.
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