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Hunting is hard. Good gear makes it exponentially less so. With a quality spotting scope, say, you can pinpoint a big bull elk bedded down on a distant hillside that you would have never seen otherwise. Or, with a solid treestand, you can stay above a whitetail’s line of sight as it approaches your food plot. Beyond these tactical advantages, good gear protects you from cruddy weather, which is more or less a given if you spend any amount of time outdoors. And the less cold and wet and miserable you are, the longer you can endure in the field—significantly upping your chances of bagging a duck, a deer, an elk, or whatever your quarry. This duffel’s worth of surefire products, including some gear I’ve tested on dozens of hunts, will equip you for your next big outing.
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Mathews VXR 28
If you know any bow manufacturer, you know Mathews. And for good reason, as evidenced by the VXR 28, the latest in the company’s series of superb double-cam models. The deadly quiet, smooth-drawing 4.4-pound bow launches arrows in the ballpark of 340 feet per second—read: real damn fast—and can easily shoot a tight group out to 50 yards.
SIG Sauer Oscar8 27-55×80
You can’t stalk, much less shoot, what you can’t see. And if you’re glassing big open country, you need magnification in a major way. The Oscar8 delivers in that regard, with an 80mm lens, a 27- to 55-times magnification range, and anti-reflection coatings on the glass. In other words, you’ll not only be able to see far but also with excellent resolution. Another big plus: The Oscar8 costs hundreds less than models coming from the top European optic-makers.
Sitka Fanatic Jacket and Bibs
All camo isn’t created equal, especially in terms of quietness. On one end of the spectrum is big-box-store bargain-bin camo, which is often stiff and makes deer-spooking noise with the subtlest of movements. On the other end is the Sitka Fanatic Jacket and Bibs ($449 each), which excel at shutting up, thanks to extra-quiet fleece outer material and PrimaLoft Silver Hi-Loft Ultra insulation inside. The combo is ultra-quiet and exceptionally warm—ideal for creeping through the winter whitetail woods.
Vortex Razor HD LHT 3-15×42
Which type of rifle scope you need ultimately hinges on the game you’re hunting and where. That said, the Razor HD LHT is a triumph of versatility and would shine on hunts for Western mulies, Eastern whitetails, and a whole bunch of stuff in between. At a mere 19 ounces, this scope will add next to no weight to your rifle, and it has a very respectable 42mm lens and an illuminated reticle. One would struggle to find a better, lighter scope for the price.
Sitka Pantanal GTX
The Pantanal GTX is a waterproof workhorse of a glove, with a breathable Gore-Tex membrane and PrimaLoft Silver insulation. My pair has held up for six years and counting, keeping my digits warm on Saskatchewan crane hunts, in the Wyoming backcountry, and on plenty of less far-flung adventures.
Zeiss Victory SF 10×32
Binoculars can’t touch spotting scopes in terms of magnification. But many hunters, including me, prefer them anyway, since they’re easy to tote and relatively lightweight—huge perks afield. (Though you can certainly use both on a hunt.) The Victory SF, by German optic stalwart Zeiss, is a standout with a nearly unrivaled field of view: 130 meters at 1,000 yards. Other binos are doing pretty well with 110 meters of view. The fast-focus feature further distinguishes the Victory SF, which has fast become a favorite among both hunters and birders.
API Outdoors Ultra-Steel Extreme 20-Foot
You can tag deer from the ground, no doubt. But treestands offer a clear advantage stealth-wise by elevating hunters above an animal’s line of sight. If you’re new to treestands, or maybe less nimble than you once were, consider a ladder stand, like the 20-foot Ultra-Steel Extreme. It’s reasonably priced, comfortable, and about as safe as treestands come.
Browning Primal Fixed Skinner
If you’re breaking down elk, moose, or other big game, you need a knife that’s hefty enough for the task. Browning makes solid options for the money, including this unfussy 4.3-inch drop-point fixed blade. Browning’s Speed-Load knives, which make swapping out dull blades a cinch mid-skinning, also warrant consideration.
You can guesstimate the size of a buck hanging around your hunting spot by carefully studying his rubs and scrapes and trying to glass him while scouting. Or you can save yourself the trouble and buy a trail cam. The 24-megapixel Browning Patriot snaps high-quality photos day or night, plus it boasts a 90-foot detection range and .15-second trigger speed.
Thorogood Infinity FD 9-Inch Drakar Waterproof Insulated
If a pair of Montana-made Schnee’s is beyond your budget, Thorogood’s Infinity FD Series insulated boot is a solid alternative. Waterproof leather meets 400-gram insulation in the upper to keep you warm and dry. Meanwhile, the supportive PU-TPU midsole features shock-absorbing EVA foam at the heel for lasting comfort.
Mystery Ranch Beartooth 80
Mystery Ranch packs won me over on a multiday Yellowstone fly-fishing trip a few years ago, mostly for being tough as hell and far from heavy. The 85-liter Beartooth is one of the Bozeman, Montana, company’s standout backcountry offerings, with a handy U-shaped zipper, pockets galore, plenty of room for a sleeping bag, and straps for securing a rifle or a bow. And it comes in four sizes so you can dial in the fit.
Leupold RX-Fulldraw 4
You’re not as good at judging distance as you think. The Leupold RX-Fulldraw 4 will prove it. With six-times magnification, the 7.5-ounce optic—designed for archery hunting—ranges objects out to 1,200 yards and is accurate down to about 1.5 feet. For bowhunters, that means more accurate shots and more venison in the freezer.
Eddie Bauer Midweight FreeDry Merino Hybrid
You can easily spend a pile of cash on base layers and thermal underwear, with some premier hunting-gear brands charging between $80 and $150 for their (admittedly top-notch) wares. But Eddie Bauer’s Midweight FreeDry line costs roughly half as much and is plenty warm for most outings, thanks to a moisture-wicking 175-gram merino wool-polyester blend.
Heavy-Duty Insulated Jacket
Kuiu Super Down Pro Hooded
Because I am occasionally moronic, I once flew to Alaska in early autumn and neglected to pack a heavy-duty insulating layer. A Kuiu Super Down Pro Hooded Jacket, loaned by a merciful salmon guide, saved me. The jacket, designed to be worn under a rain shell, weighs just 13.4 ounces and is stuffed with water-resistant 850+ fill goose down. I tested it again for this review and had forgotten, in the years since my Alaska blunder, how it feels like wearing practically nothing; I was also reminded that the jacket runs a touch small.
First Lite Brooks Down
If you’re stalking early-season elk or sheep in mountainous terrain, or even chasing small game, the ultralight Brooks Down sweater will keep you warm while on the move. Yet moisture-wicking volcanic sand particles embedded in the insulation will prevent you from working up a big sweat—which can quickly turn bone-chilling if the temperature nosedives. Made of moisture-resistant 800-fill down, the 10.9-ounce jacket folds down to almost nothing, so it’s easy to stash in a pack, too.
First Lite Seak Stormtight
Being cold is one thing. Being cold and wet is a very different kind of hell. First Lite’s 3.5-layer Seak Stormtight will spare you such agony. Designed for the frigid, sloppy environs of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, the uninsulated shell includes pit zips, big front pockets, and waterproof zippers.
Cabela’s Classic Series II Neoprene Boot-Foot
Spend time around duck hunters and you’re bound to see someone sporting a pair of Cabela’s boot-foot waders. Made of flexible 3.5mm neoprene, the Classic Series II is a solid, affordable entry-level pair that’s warm and well-fitting. I’ve always had good luck with Cabela’s gear—the Hiker 2.0 Wading Boot is a true stud—and the Classic Series II Boot-Foot Waders aren’t an exception in terms of quality.
Muck Boot Arctic Pro Mossy Oak
Duck Camp Brush
I’m a recent Duck Camp convert, owing largely to the Texas apparel startup’s durable, triple-stitched Brush jacket. The standout feature is the removable bird bag, one side of which is orange for upland hunting and the other brown for ducks and dove. Or detach it from the back of the coat when you’re walking around town. For women, try Orvis’s waxed-cotton Equinox Utility Jacket.
Filson Single Tin Cloth
Filson Tin Cloth Cruiser jackets, in my view, are a waste of money for upland hunters, since they’re impossibly heavy and offer almost no warmth. Filson chaps, however, are a solid investment. Made with the same abrasion-resistant waxed cotton as the Cruiser line, they can handle thorny, brushy country where regular pants would get ripped to shreds.
Duck Camp Early Season Wetland Trucker
In my experience, a duck hat is a duck hat is a duck hat, so long as it reasonably matches the brush. So you might as well get one that looks cool, and the Early Season Wetland Trucker definitely does.
A cheap Carhartt camo beanie will, in most cases, do the trick to keep your ears and head from freezing in cold weather. For the other times, when the weather turns straight-up evil, you want something like Sitka’s Boreal Beanie, with a fully windproof Gore-Tex shell and 60-gram Primaloft insulation. Sitka doesn’t claim the Boreal is waterproof, but I can’t recall my head ever getting soaked in one.
Cyclops 210 Lumen
Dusk is an opportune time to drop a deer. The catch is that, if you do, you’re often tracking and field dressing it in the dark—no fun. This Cyclops headlamp will make both tasks worlds easier. It will run for about six hours on the brightest setting, and its three LED lights throw out 210 lumens. This two-pack is also super affordable; keep one in your truck and one in your bag.
Morakniv Companion Spark
For what Morakniv knives lack in flash they make up for in utility. This four-inch model is near-indestructible, mega-light at 4.5 ounces, and holds an edge for a good long while. With a Ferro rod in the handle, it’s the ideal blade to keep stashed in a survival kit.
Thermacell MR450 Armored Portable
Mosquitoes would have eaten me to death in the Boundary Waters if not for a Thermacell, a butane-fueled contraption that puts out a roughly 15-foot no-bug zone. The 6.4-ounce MR450 has a slight edge over other Thermacell models, in that it includes a built-in belt clip. Why this tiny piece of plastic isn’t standard on all Thermacells, I couldn’t tell you, but it’s worth the slight upcharge.
Camp Chef Pursuit 20
Back at camp, smokers can turn even the toughest, gamiest-tasting pieces of meat (looking at you, turkey legs) into a delicacy. The affordable Camp Chef Pursuit collapses down to roughly the size of an ice chest, so it won’t hog cargo space. But set it up, and 501 square inches of cook space are at the ready.
MPowerd Luci Pro
This space-saving solar light puts out a respectable 150 lumens, lasts up to 50 hours per charge, and deflates down to almost nothing, making it ideal for backcountry camping. If you’re without sunlight, the 6.1-ounce light is also USB-rechargeable. I’ve carried mine in the Oregon high desert, Yellowstone, and Alaska, and it lit up camp like a champ each time.
J.R. Sullivan is a contributing editor for Field & Stream. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Time, and Men’s Journal.
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