Most men (women seem to be better about this) seem to obsess over firearms and ammunition when it comes to deer hunting, including myself. The truth is that there are many effective firearm-ammunition combinations for deer in the Eastern US. Basic guidelines are that it be .243 or larger diameter hunting bullet (not FMJ or full metal jacket military-type bullet) and it have at least 500 foot-pounds of energy at impact, preferably closer to 1000 foot-pounds. This means that cartridges like full-powered 357 Magnum fired out of a ordinary revolver with a 4″ barrel will have adequate power at shorter ranges. Out of a rifle, it goes even faster, and so has even better effective range (out to 100 yards or so). 357 Magnum rifles enjoy a small following where I live. Almost all true rifle cartridges are more than adequate, and many are over-kill, and so are shotgun slugs. But shot placement, now that’s important. And frankly, so are things like piece of tape and a ballpoint pen.
Let’s go through the essentials. It begins with being adequately dressed and shod. This depends greatly upon the weather, but generally, it seems like it is about 20 degrees colder than it is when you are stationary, and about 20 degrees warmer when you are dragging a deer, so I like the concept of layering.
I’ve never purchased any specialized hunting apparel. I wear my ordinary 6″ leather work books with cushion-sole wool socks unless it is very cold, and then I wear my US military surplus intermediate-cold weather boots with wool socks over cotton socks. I usually wear cotton long-johns unless it is very warm. The pants and shirt I wear are Korean war era olive-drab green wool. I also have a very warm super heavy Austrian military surplus wool sweater. I only wear the sweater if it will be cold, and I always wear a long-sleeved turtle-neck cotton t-shit beneath it, or it would literally be a form of torture. All of my hunting apparel cost me less than it typically costs to buy one special-made hunting coat, and I can adjust layers with changing temperatures.
I have never felt camouflage has any purpose when you are forced to wear Hunter Orange (during firearms and muzzleloader seasons in Indiana, and for good reason!). Our woods here are mostly green through the winter, and so are meadows and hayfields, so I think that olive-drab may have some merit, but I mostly prefer that color since it is easy to match because most old military apparel is olive drab. Also, random members of the public know what you are doing walking around with a rifle wearing green. If you were wearing street clothes, they may become alarmed.
After clothes and footwear are addressed, it comes to the particular things needed for deer hunting. At a minimum to me this includes the following:
- A bag that you can preferably sling over your shoulder or wear like a backpack that is comfortable and sized adequately for your needs. I use a Finnish military surplus “gas-mask bag”. I greatly prefer a bag that has just simple flap with quiet snaps or buttons and without velcro (velcro is noisy) or zippers (often need two hands to operate).
- A small, foldable pruning saw that is sharp. The possibility of needing to saw bone or small branches exists. There is no other way to do it. I often make makeshift “ground blinds” using low-growing weedy shrubs with this saw if my hunting strategy shifts to still-hunting from my preferred method of stalk-hunting.
- A good hunting knife. I sincerely believe the classic Buck 110 is the perfect deer hunting knife. These can be readily had at Wal-Mart or Rural King for under $30 which is a bargain considering their quality.
- A multi-tool or Swiss army type knife. I favor the wire-cutters and pliers that come with a multi-tool, but I like the tweezers that are on Swiss type knives.
- A decent small LED flashlight. I use a Coast HP-1. Sometimes I remember to bring a spare AA with me. This is essential because deer hunting often involves very dark conditions and following blood trails.
- Some lens wipes. This is only if you have a scope. Mud and rain can render a scope useless without these.
- A plastic zipper bag with cotton t-shirt fabric or paper towels saturated with rubbing alcohol. This is for cleaning your hands and wiping knives that may become soiled.
- A plastic zipper bag with toiler paper or paper towel because it is better than wet leaves. You’re worth it. I also put four latex or nitrile surgical gloves in this bag for field-dressing.
- I bring a small t-handle with a torx head bit on it so that I can remove my scope and use sights should the scope become unusable. A little torx-head Allen key (often supplied with scope rings) would be better, but I keep losing them.
- About 20 feet of 3/8ths rope, preferably hunter orange or some florescent color. Thick enough that it wont tear your hand up. Use this to help you drag the deer and/or tie it to your vehicle.
- I wear a hunter-orange baseball cap most of the time. Get one with a black underside to the bill, otherwise the orange reflects off the scope. I also bring a knit orange hat with me in case it gets cold to protect my ears. I rely on my hat to fulfill my hunter-orange requirement. In some states (Ohio for one) this may not be adequate, and you may have to wear a vest instead.
- A ball-point pen or permanent marker and a piece or tape you can write on. This is what you use to “tag” the deer. It works much better than a piece of string and paper. Of course, you must bring some state ID (I keep mine in my wallet) and your hunting license, too. I usually put these in one of the compartments of the bag inside a small plastic bag to keep them safe from water.
- A “butt-pad.” While I don’t keep this in my bag, and usually tie it to the back of the belt I am wearing with a piece of para-cord, I consider a closed-cell foam seat of a neural or olive-drab color essential for keeping you butt from freezing if you sit on the ground while still-hunting in the cold. It is not needed if it is warm or your intend only to hunt on your feet, but sometimes strategies change mid-hunt, so keep that in mind. Mine cost $2 at Menards a few years ago when they were clearancing them off in January. I should have bought them for all my friends.
The contents of the bag do not clank or make crinkle noises, and the bag is small and light and hardly any burden. Unlike a back-pack, it allows you to sling the rifle across your back when you are dragging the deer and doesn’t hang on your shooting shoulder. I cross sling the bag on my right shoulder (I shot off my left). Also, if you keep the bag at your side then it is much more accessible than a back-pack.
Oh, and I almost forgot the ammunition! I keep mine in a shirt pocket on my breast. Lever-action rifles like mine don’t have detachable magazines and load round-by-round. A breast pocket is about the best place to keep these spare rounds. I usually only bring 10 with me total, loading five in the rifle and keeping five in my pocket. They don’t clank in that wool Korean war-ear shirt, either.