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Hunting Western Big Game: What gear you need and what you don’t. 

Intro

After the ‘Fly Fishing Gear’ blog post I figured the next is western big game need and don’t need list. 

Everyone loves talking about gear and researching gear and buying new gear but then reality hits with all the options and costs varying so much. If you’re just starting, here are my thoughts about what you need for western big game. The west is wild and can be 60 in the day and 20 at night. It can range from -20 in November to 50. That said, this is not an all encompassing list, rather, a general guideline. Even saying ‘western big game’ we need to classify that by saying deer-elk-antelope as this list will change between Alaska Dall Sheep or Wyoming Bison or Idaho Mountain Goat.   

I’m a smaller guy at 5’9” 150lbs and I’m cheap. I tend to focus on weight and cost as my two main points of concern. Obviously, the more you spend the lighter gear is, usually, so I have to find the right middle ground that fits me and my family. I am not a gear junkie and I do not geek out about researching brands and tech specs between object *most of the time*. There are some exceptions for me such as optics and weapons where I try to research as much as I can. Most everything else comes down to a cost and weight ratio that I need to be comfortable with. I always feel guilty buying things for myself because I have a family and not a lot of expendable income. All of these things occupy space in my mind when making a decision. 

This is my setup for rifle or archery hunting. It’s my setup for backpacking or car camping. It’s my setup for early season or late season (with some changes). It’s my setup for deer or elk or antelope (with some changes).   


My gear

Pack and in the pack:
  • Eberlestock Mainframe with add-ons: Vapor 5000 duffle, gun scabbard, upland hunting pouch 
  • Seat pad
  • Sawyer water filter. In line plugin filter
  • Trekking poles with duct tape
  • Bugle
  • First aid kit/Oh shit kit
    • Toilet Paper
    • Bandaids/moleskin
    • Petroleum jelly on cotton balls (fire starter and for cuts)
    • Wrap for sprain and strains
    • Tylenol and personal medication
    • 2 fire starting devices in a ziplock bag. Metal match and lighter.
    • Dry tinder and paper in ziplock bag
    • Aluminum blanket
    • Printed map of hunting area
  • Water bottles/bladder. 2L bladder and extra L water bottle 
  • InReach Mini
  • Portable charger and 3 chords for 3 devices
  • Food. Everything for a day in a ziplock bag except a dehydrated dinner. Bags are between 2300-2500 Cal 
  • Kill kit
    • Elk game bags
    • Flagging tape
    • 2 knives. One is a Havalon with 4 replaceable blades. The other is a fixed blade. 
    • Paracord
Summary

My backpack is secondhand from a buddy who was selling it. I upgraded the bag to the Vapor 5000 at an expo when they were on sale. I love the pack. It is very lightweight and modular and holds all my gear. Being a smaller guy having an adjustable pack is important for me to get the right fit, and this does. I have a really nice upland hunting pack that I take one of the shell pouches off. It attaches to the waist belt of my hunting pack for snacks, bugle tube and other gear. I like having snacks at the ready during a hike. It’s amazing how quickly a little piece of candy can give you a quick burst of energy for a push up a hill. 

Favorite piece of gear:

I hate needing to take my bladder out of my bag to refill it; so I got the quick connect in-line filter. The squeeze filter is really light weight, inexpensive, and fast.

The Gamin InReach mini is a game changer also. I would recommend some kind of satellite communication device if you have a family.  

Bino chest pack:
Summary

I love having my binos and rangefinder protected but quickly accessible. Not much to say here other than the chest pack was a thing I was hesitant to add but am happy I did. Elk calls and wind checkers are often in my pocket or in the pouch.

Favorite piece of gear:

Vortex rangefinder. It has angle adjustment and compensation which is a great feature to have. I cant imagine not having it with me for archery or rifle.   

Bow and carry:
  • Bow: Bowtech Carbon Knight
  • Arrows. I buy cheaper ones. Not the cheapest, maybe mid-grade. 
  • I shoot a Fletcher J-hook release
  • Broadheads (Muzzy and shuttle t-lock). Fixed blade. 
Summary:

I love my bow. It is not the fastest or latest cool bow but it is light and shoots well. Hunting is hiking. You will go hiking, you might shoot your bow. You might hike for days and days, miles and miles, without ever shooting your bow. Having a weapon that is light and easy to carry is important for me given that fact. 

I first shot Shuttle t-lock broadheads. They were absolutely trash. One or two shots at a target and they were dull. They flew inconsistently and my confidence was very low with them. I switched to Muzzy. They stay sharp and fly great. Can’t ask for more.  

Favorite piece of gear:

My bow. I can and will change my arrows and veins and points, both broadhead and field points. My bow is light and shoots great. I feel very confident with it and that is the most important thing with a weapon. 

Gun and carry:
  • Gun- .270 WSM 
  • Sling. 
  • Scope- Leopold 3×9 
  • Scope Lens Cover.
Summary:

I bought the gun and don’t love it. It is hard to find ammo and it is very expensive when I find it. I even got reloading supplies but even those are hard to come by sometimes. The bullet is fast and shoots very flat. But it’s loud and kicks pretty good. The scope is a used scope from a buddy and I like it but might upgrade. 

Favorite Piece of Gear:

None really. I might add a break to the muzzle and new scope or I might sell it and get something entirely different. I would absolutely recommend some kind of lense cover for rain or snow with any rifle. You can’t shoot at game you can’t see. 

Clothing:
Summary:

I think clothing is worth the investment. I prefer material over patterns and I prefer quality over brands. I’d rather have a nice wool sweater from Kuhl than a camo hunting brand that costs more. The right clothing can make a hunt much more enjoyable and knowing how to layer is a great skill. You can use high quality outdoor brands and despite common beliefs you don’t need matching camo – you don’t need camo at all.

Favorite Piece of Gear:

This is a hard one. My bamboo shirts are my favorite piece of clothing for fishing, hiking, hunting, snowboarding or going to a movie. But having lightweight down jackets and pants for glassing are necessary. Rain gear is a must if you want to be comfortable. If I had to pick one thing I would pick my socks. Good high quality socks are so necessary for western hunting. If you’re climbing 1500 feet and hiking 5 miles or more you need to take care of your feet. I love them. 

Equipment I want to upgrade:

  • Binos. I have 8×42 and want another pair that are bigger. I am thinking 12 or 15 power binos. 
  • Boots. I’ve ran Asolo boots for a few years and they do just fine. I’m looking at Crispi boots. We both sponsor the same conservation groups and if I can spend my money to support a group that supports my interests I like to do that. 
  • Scope. If I keep my rifle I’ll upgrade my scope. A 3×9 scope is fine but there are soooo many great options out there for slightly better distance shooting. 
  • Game Bags (lighter is better). What I have is fine but there are bags that weigh half as much. Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain. 
  • Arrow tools to build and work on arrows. I love fly fishing and the intricacies and nuances of it. I love how deep you can get into entomology and tying your own bugs. Archery is a lot like that. You can go so deep as to make your own bow and arrows if you want. I like that I can make and fit arrows to me and my bow and I would enjoy that.