When I was a younger buck, I normally went hunting with my aunt. She’d pull into my driveway at 4:30 AM, and awakened by the headlights, I’d slip on my camo and wander groggily out the door. Sometimes my bow wouldn’t even be strung yet.
My aunt was always ready, though. She didn’t just wake up extra early that morning. Getting ready for a hunt was a week-long ritual for her. After washing her camo, she’d keep it in a box filled with pine needles till the morning of. She’d always have the best spots picked out, and she’d spend the whole day before sighting her bows. She even brought spare batteries.
Guess who got more kills.
I learned the lesson eventually. It pays to be prepared in life. In hunting, doubly so. As a bowhunter, there are specific things you should make sure to do before you head out, and there are specific things you should make sure to pack.
License and Tags
Make sure you’ve got your license and deer tags stored somewhere with your gear or just in your wallet. Double check before you leave in the morning. You don’t want to be caught by the ranger just before you score your big buck.
If you’re hunting on public land, this isn’t a problem, but if you’re going to a ranch or private property, make sure you have the owner’s permission. Unless it’s a close friend of yours, it can even be a good idea to get this permission in writing and carry it with you, especially if you’re taking a firearm.
Check your batteries
You should check anything electric in your gear to make sure the batteries are working. If it’s been a while since you changed them, you might consider changing them regardless. Many hunters routinely change out the batteries in their gear at the beginning of the season and once or twice in the middle. We’ll get into all the electronic devices you might need in the next section.
Tune your bow or clean your gun
Weapons deserve respect, and part of that respect is making sure they’re in tip-top shape before you use them. They also need to be sighted in.
Wash your body and your clothes
Smell is one of a deer’s primary senses. No matter how much cover up smell or lure scent you spray, if you smell like human BO, nothing’s going to come near you. Before you go out, you need to wash your body and your gear with scentless soap specifically designed for hunting. Rose and shea butter shampoo will probably tip the deer off too.
Check the weather
Look at the forecast the night before. Sometimes things come up unexpectedly, and you don’t want to be caught in a monsoon. We’ll get more into all-weather gear later.
Tell someone where you’re going
Don’t just say you’re going hunting. Tell your family or friends exactly where you’re going to be and how long. That way, if you don’t come back, they’ll know where to start looking for you.
General Hunting Pack List
Camo and Orange Safety Vest
You’re going to have to wear something, obviously. Under your camo, layers are a good idea, so you can remove them as the day heats up, but you won’t freeze in your stand early in the morning. Don’t forget your blaze orange, either. Don’t worry. Deer are red-green color blind and can’t distinguish the orange from your camo. You don’t want to get shot.
Food, Water and a Bathroom
A big mistake hunters make is leaving for lunch. Bring something with you to eat and drink. Ideally your food shouldn’t smell too strongly, so energy bars work well. They’re compact, too. If you think you’ll get really hungry, you could even consider buying MREs at your local army surplus store. If you’re going to be drinking, you also need to bring a bottle to keep your urine in. Taking a leak in the woods could possibly alert deer to your presence.
Hunters haven’t always had this luxury, but these days it’s a must. Not only is your phone your emergency call for help, it’s your GPS and your camera if you finally get that buck. Plus, you can upload a book to it to pass the time. Just make sure it’s fully charged, and you might even consider taking an extra external battery for it.
Even if you checked the weather, and there’s no rain in the forecast, it’s still a good idea to bring a raincoat or poncho just in case. Bring clothing you might need for the cold as well: stocking cap, mask, gloves, etc.
The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared” for a reason. In the woods things can change in an instant, and you can lose your orientation a lot more easily than you might think. Bring a compass to find your way, a lighter and matches in case you have to make a fire, and a rope to make any lashes you might need. You should pack water purification tablets so you don’t have to worry about running out of water. Bring a hunting knife, too. You’ll need it anyway if you get your kill.
If you can, take a print map with you. Along with your compass, this will help you get out of the woods if you get lost. Yeah, you’ll have a map on your phone. Bring a print one anyway.
Hunters often forget to bring light. The woods get darker a lot faster than you expect, and extra light could come in handy. Headlamps also work really well.
You never know when you might fall out of a tree. A good first-aid kit should include bandages, antiseptic and over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen.
Hand Saw or Branch Clippers
You don’t want to give up the perfect spot just because the tree is too dense for your stand. Take a folding saw.
When you get your kill, you’ll need something to help you get it out of the woods. A deer drag is basically just a cable you attach to the deer’s body that makes it easier to drag. If you want to really make things convenient, you can buy a deer cart.
Your camo has you hidden from sight, but you also need to hide yourself from smell. Make sure you at least bring a scent to cover up your own. If it’s the right time of year, bring a scent to lure in the deer you want. Check out our top picks for deer scents to learn what scents to use when.
You should also appeal to the deer’s sense of hearing. Pack along a few calls and fill the woods with sounds that will attract deer right to you. Make sure you bring the right calls. Take a look at our reviews of some of the best deer calls to learn what works.
Bowhunter’s Gear List
There are a few more things you should think about specifically if you’re going bowhunting.
Bow and Accessories
So you’ve got your bow, whether it’s compound, recurve or long. You also need whatever accessories go with it. For the minimalist, that could mean nothing at all. For others hunters, that could mean a sight, a full optic scope, a light, even noise dampeners for the bowstring. Whatever accessories you decide you need, make sure they’re attached to the bow you take with you.
Quiver and Arrows
Obviously you’ll need arrows, but the quiver is what you use to carry them. You can also buy bow cases to carry your bow that have quivers installed inside. Personally, I usually just carry my bolts in the quiver and keep my arrowheads in a safe place in my pack. Then once I’m out in the woods, I attach the arrowheads. Four is a good number for arrows, but some hunters like to take more.
An arm guard is a cuff you wear on the wrist of the arm you use to hold the bow–left if you’re right handed, right if you’re left handed. The guard protects your skin when the bowstring is released. If you don’t have the guard, the bowstring will slap your wrist. The bow will still work, but it isn’t very fun.
Rangefinders are especially helpful for bowhunters because they let you know if your target is within range of your bow. They also work like binoculars to let you get a closer look of the deer. You can buy different kinds with all sorts of functions, from angle to wind correction, which also come in handy for the bowhunter.
Bow releases are mainly used with compound bows. There are two main kinds. A wrist trigger release attaches to the bowstring and then loops around your wrist. To release the bowstring, you pull a trigger similar to a rifle. A back tension release hooks to the bowstring, but then you pull the release with your fingers. When you want to release the string, you rotate the trigger. Both kinds let you more easily manage the power of the bow, and they’re especially helpful if you have to keep the bow drawn for an extended period of time.