5 Pieces of Gear You Need to Start Hunting

What’s the bare minimum you need to get out there and hunt something?

by posted on April 8, 2024
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Image courtesy Ditale Outdoors

Hunting can be a gear-intensive pursuit, and it’s true that a lot of the things we add to our gear collections can make time in the woods more effective or enjoyable. But you don’t have to drop a couple paychecks on a trailer’s worth of stuff to have a successful hunt. You do, however, need a few basic items beyond your gun and ammo (or bow and arrow).

1. Something to Help You Hide
For most types of hunting, with the exception of some Western spot-and-stalk hunts, you’ll need something to hide you from the sharp eyes and noses of your quarry. This might be camouflage, or it might be a blind or a treestand that gets you off the ground and out of eyesight. It might even be a scent-management spray or device that can help you hide your human scent. More than likely, in the long run it’ll end up being a combination of several of these things.

Keeping it basic: The simplest and cheapest gear that’ll help you hide for almost any hunt is a set of camo clothing—and your full set doesn’t have to match. You can hunt almost anything by hiding against a tree and not moving, and camo helps break up your outline. If you can’t afford a blind or treestand to hide in, start with basic camo and go from there.

2. Something to Help You See/Aim
You’re going to need an aiming device for big game—whether that’s a scope on your firearm, a sight on your bow, or simple iron sights on your rifle. You don’t need to spend a fortune on an optic for hunting at normal ranges, but your firearm is no good to you if you can’t aim it. For wingshooting, this is moot, as you don’t aim a shotgun when shooting moving targets. If your shotgun is going to double as a turkey gun, though, you’ll need some way to aim it. The beads that probably came on the gun are good enough for this, but you might consider upgrading to a fiber-optic front bead or a red-dot optic.

You might also find a set of binoculars helpful for many types of hunting, but you can get away without them, particularly if you’re a meat hunter who is not evaluating trophy quality and you’re not spot-and-stalking.

Keeping it basic: The simplest and probably cheapest aiming device for rifles are iron sights, but most modern-day rifles are set up to easily add a scope, and you’ll probably be happiest if you do so. I don’t recommend going super cheap on scopes, but a bargain-basement option will work in a pinch if it’s all you can afford.

3. Something to Carry Your Stuff
You’ll be carrying at least a few items into the woods—even if it’s just your driver’s license, hunting license and some toilet paper. Most of us carry more than that (hello, snacks) and find a backpack helpful. A waist-pack style saves space and bulk if you don’t need to carry much, or take a tip from turkey hunters and wear a vest with plenty of pockets for all your stuff. Waterfowl hunters tend to prefer blind bags that sit flat.

Keeping it basic: Camo backpacks can be cheap at your local sporting goods store or big-box store, and if you’re not packing out meat or hiking for miles, you don’t need anything elaborate to carry your gear afield. You can spend as much or as little money in this category as you want. For the kind of hunting I do, I don’t spend much!

4. Something to Help You Field-Dress
Many of us field-dress big game directly in the field, and you’ll need at least a knife for this. Depending on what you plan to do with the animal, you might also carry a ziptop bag to drop the tenderloins into. A pair of gloves or a bottle of water for rinsing off your hands is very helpful. Even if you don’t field-dress afield, you’ll need some kind of knife to clean your deer, turkey or ducks at home or back at camp.

If you plan to butcher your own big game, you’ll need a gambrel or some way to hang it up, and you might also want a bone saw (a Sawzall works if you have one) and a skinning knife.

Keeping it basic: I like a strong fixed-blade knife for field-dressing and a replaceable-blade knife for skinning. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on either, but the one thing you do need to make sure you pay attention to is keeping your knife sharp. A dull knife is a dangerous knife, and field-dressing is slippery work. If you go for a fixed-blade or folder, inexpensive or not, invest in a sharpener or have it sharpened regularly.

5. Something to Help You Get It Home
Small game, turkeys and waterfowl are pretty easy to transport, but big game needs a little more planning. You do not have to go out and buy a four-wheeler or a truck to go hunting; we’ve seen deer transported out of the field in just about any type of vehicle you can imagine, including small sedans. You can probably make your current vehicle work, but if it’s not a truck, at least buy a tarp for the truck or a cargo rack to transport a deer on.

Depending on how deep into the woods you hunt, you might have to drag your big game a ways. Carry a thick rope for this purpose; some people like a plastic sled for dragging, but this requires going back to your vehicle to retrieve the sled, so how helpful this is depends on the terrain and the situation.

Keeping it basic: Make a plan for getting an animal out of the woods before you go afield, but don’t go out and buy an ATV just to go hunting (unless you want one and can afford it). You’ll probably need a drag rope, and you might need a tarp and tie-downs to secure an animal in your trunk if you don’t have access to a truck. If you do have a truck, think about how you’ll get a heavy deer in the bed if you are alone. Will you need a winch?

Small-game hunters and waterfowlers might consider a game vest or game strap to carry their animals easily.

Hunt-Specific Items
Some types of hunts require specific gear items. There are ways to hunt ducks without waders, but if you’re going on a flooded-timber walk-in hunt, you really do need them. There are ways to hunt geese without a layout blind, but if the geese are hanging out in a cut cornfield and you want to hunt it, you probably need one. Turkey hunters need turkey calls (fortunately, they’re not expensive) and most of the time, waterfowl hunters need duck and goose calls. Small-game and upland bird hunters who are going to be brush-busting need chaps or brush pants to keep from shredding their clothing.

Similarly, there are ways to hunt big game without a ton of gear, but if you’re going to do a backpacking trip for elk or moose, you can’t get away with the kind of cheap big-box-store pack I carry my snacks to the deer stand in. If you’re camping, you’ll need all sorts of specialty items just for that, including a way to protect meat and other food from bears. If you’ll be anywhere remote, you probably need a first-aid kit and some safety, emergency and maybe communications gear.

The bottom line is that you can start hunting with very little gear aside from your firearm of choice. You might have to plan your hunts around what you have available, but only a few items are true necessities—a scope or other aiming device, a knife, a simple backpack and some camo will go a long way toward making you successful with the bare minimum of gear.  

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