If you’re anything like me, you’re probably starting to bring your gear out of storage and making checklists in preparation for the upcoming season. I’ve come to rely on these yearly audits, using this time to make considerations about what I should replace soon, what I need to replace now, and what I want to replace based on new preferences.
Like everyone else, my schedule in the fall tends to fill up quickly. Having all of my gear in one place and knowing that I can just grab my pack and head out the door has helped me become a more effective hunter and spend more time in the woods because I’m not wasting precious time searching for my missing headlamp or cursing myself when I’m sitting in the stand and realize that my grunt tube is on the kitchen table.
As I start to prepare for fall, I’ve made a top-to-bottom list of the things that live in my pack all season, along with a couple of insights as to why I carry them. Just like packing for a backpacking trip, this list is organized from things I need most readily, down to things I can stop to retrieve from the pack without jeopardizing my hunt.
Top of Pack & Hip Strap Pockets
- Rain fly & poncho – This goes without saying. Being wet is no fun; being wet and cold is even worse.
- Headlamp – A couple of years ago, I started carrying a coyote hunting headlamp with a battery pack instead of the smaller version you can get at a big box store. I love it, and don’t think I’ll ever go back to something smaller.
- Face camo – Whether you believe in woodland makeup or not, I keep this in a spot I can reach easily for tree-stand application.
- Calls – Depending on a dozen variables, like the time of the season and what I’m hunting, my calls are always in an easy-to-access spot.
- Range finder – If I’m archery hunting, my range finder stays on my binocular harness or in the top of my pack for easy access.
- Hearing protection – I use electronic in-ear hearing protection, and it’s always in my left hip strap pocket to keep me from having to search for it.
- Extra ammo – Having a spare magazine with rounds loaded is a great way to not have to climb down out of your stand to get the magazine you left in your gun case.
Mid Pack, Main Pockets
- Extra layers – Again, this is season dependent, but I often get sweaty on the hike in and then find myself getting chilly once I’m set up, so I always bring an extra top layer.
- Tree saddle & accessories – This gets packed on top of my extra layers so it’s the first thing out of my pack when I get to my selected tree. Because of its size, it doesn’t get carried externally on my pack.
- Odor killers – I usually give myself a spray down once I’m in my tree and have put on my extra warming layer.
- Pull rope – This comes out at the same time as my saddle and lets me get up the tree safely and then retrieve my rifle or bow.
Bottom Pockets, Deep Storage
- Cleaning kit – This includes my knife, gloves, and a couple of other things I use to process a harvest.
- Flagger’s tape – I use this to mark blood trails if needed. Since this is rare, it tends to stay stuffed in my pack, and I use a Ziploc bag to pack it all back up after retrieving my harvest.
- First aid kit – I always carry a first aid kit, tourniquet, lighter, and some duct tape with me for one reason—it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
- Notebook and pen – Typically after every hunt, I record details including stand position, weather conditions, and any notable events into a diary to help myself keep track of exactly how my season is going. I use this data to help inform next year’s hunting strategy.
To some, the amount of gear I carry may seem like overkill. To others, you may be wondering why I’m not also carrying X, Y, or Z thing. I’ve learned that each season is a process of trial and error and by using this pre-season time to revise my load-out, I go into the season better prepared. It’s all about the process and testing to dial in what really works.
So, pull out your pack, lay out your gear, and think a little about what you’d want to do differently this year.
Good luck and happy hunting!
James Moffitt is the founder of TrailHead Creative, a branding, and content agency based in Richmond. He’s an avid outdoorsman, hunter, and angler and takes any opportunity he can to spend time outdoors with his wife and Labrador retriever, Huxley.