I’ve been talking a lot about gear lately. With hunting season coming up it’s that time of year where I dust off my stuff and get my setup dialed in. Decisions are made about what pieces to use and which to leave out. Invariably as the season goes on I will make changes as I see what new systems are working and which are not. Point being, as I think about what gear helps me be more comfortable, accurate, and ultimately successful in the field, I wanted to spend some time discussing how to best invest money into your hunting setup. Whether you do this as a hobby, as a beginner, or professionally, you are putting time into it. At some point, you will likely spend some money to purchase things that you hope will make your time invested in hunting more productive.
When you are first starting out hunting you will likely be using whatever you have available. Maybe you are borrowing a crossbow or hunting rifle from a friend or relative. You might be hunting in jeans and a non-camo winter coat. There’s nothing wrong with that. Ultimately, your success in the field will depend on your accuracy, ethics, grit, determination, and woodsmanship. However, assuming you have come to the point where you decide to spend some money on gear, it can be a daunting task to know what pieces are likely to benefit you the most. Economics teaches us that we have to deal with unlimited wants and limited resources. Everyone’s resources and needs will be different, but when you have available resources it’s important to use them to achieve the greatest return on your investment. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest gadgets and camo patterns. Let’s take a look at where to start spending money to improve your chances of success while hunting.
This list is meant to work from 1-10 with 1 being the gear to upgrade first. Go in order. You don’t need to go down to 10 and buy an ozone generator if you don’t have a good set of binoculars first.
The Upgrade List
- GPS or mapping software. You don’t need to buy a dedicated unit. The OnX maps app will work wonders. If you’re not using some type of computerized mapping and GPS software you are seriously missing out. The ability to e scout, see property boundaries, mark waypoints, and track your way back to your truck is almost essential at this point. Will probably be the best $20 upgrade to your gear you spend.
- Your weapon. The most important piece of gear you have is your bow, crossbow, or firearm. You don’t have to spend $2000 on top of the line equipment. However, you should do some research and try out different brands and models. Get something that is quality and well made. Whether you have $1000 to spend or $500, there are great options in both categories. Budget at least another $250 to spend on a scope (or bow sight) that has quality glass and holds zero. You will only be as good a shooter as your weapon allows. Buy it at a quality shop that can tune your bow properly, or in the case of a rifle, properly mount the scope and zero it in. Finally, have it zeroed with the ammo or arrow/broadhead you will be hunting with and then stick to it during the season. If you switch ammo or get a different arrow/broadhead you will need to rezero your sight.
- Binoculars. The difference between a $150 pair of cheap binoculars and a $500 pair of quality glass is going to be nothing short of revelatory. Hunting crepuscular species (bear, deer, elk) is going to require being able to spot them in low light conditions. Inexpensive binoculars will work fine in daylight, but when the light gets lower a better pair will still allow you to see clearly. Once you have purchased a quality pair of binoculars, invest in a good bino harness. If you keep the glass in your pack you won’t use it nearly as much as if it is attached to your chest and easily accessible.
- Range Finder. If upgrading, you can get a solid unit that reads out to 1000 yards and features angle compensation for under $200. Will greatly improve your practices and shot selection while in the woods.
- Tree stand, saddle, blind. Whatever you usually hunt out of. A new model will likely be lighter, more comfortable, and can offer better concealment. A solid place to spend upgrade money since you will likely use it for every hunt.
- Boots. A good, comfortable pair of hunting boots can change everything. If you’re whitetail hunting short distances that might mean a good pair of insulated rubber boots. Backcountry hunters will benefit from a sturdy pair of mountain boots. If your feet are uncomfortable, cold, or wet it will seriously put a damper on your hunting.
- Accessories. Get a quality hunting knife. Spring for a brighter headlamp or flashlight. Improve your first aid kit. Get a solid bow hanger for the tree. These are relatively inexpensive upgrades, but can come in handy and make your life easier while out hunting.
- Technical Clothing. I don’t care what color camo you pick (or if you go solid colors). Invest in a quality layering system with base layers, mid-layers, and outer layers. Tailor it to the climate you hunt in. While not necessary to have success in the field, it will make you more comfortable and more likely to spend longer outside. This increases your chances of success. A good set of apparel will be expensive and can cost from $300 and up. However, if you keep it clean and store it properly it should last for at least 3 seasons.
- Your pack. After upgrading all of your other gear, you are going to want a good way to get it in and out of the woods. Check out our Ultimate Guide To Whitetail Hunting Packs to learn more about the different options on the market.
- Scent control products. I’m not knocking the scent control industry by putting them last on the upgrade list. I use ozone and several other scent control products, but you can kill animals without them. Their efficacy is almost always overstated. If you have upgraded every other piece of gear on this list and decide you want to spend some money to pick up a small gain, then go for it. Just don’t expect it to do something impossible (make you completely scent-free) and still plan on playing the wind.
Finally, understand that no gear is going to be a substitute for hard work and dedication. There is nothing you can buy that will instantly make you a better hunter. Put in the hours scouting, dialing in your gear, and practicing at the range to truly improve your skills. That being said, a new piece of gear can make practicing and hunting more enjoyable and the more you enjoy something the more you will do it. Whatever gear you are using this fall, take smart shots, be still, be quiet, play the wind, and spend as much time in the woods as possible. Good luck!