Most people overpack for everything. It’s just as easy to “add to bag” in real life as it is online. It’s no big deal if you bring more than you need for a vacation, camping trip or weekend visit to a friend’s house — but hunting trips are a different story. Every item you pack must be worth its weight because that weight adds up and puts pressure on your back, feet and body as you walk to your stand. Plus, you’ll have to pack it out, hopefully alongside a bow kill.
So how do you decide what makes the cut? Beginners might not know what to take, and veterans might need to pare down the packing list. Some trips, especially backpacking trips in remote areas, require extra, specialized gear, and you must plan accordingly. But for a basic, everyday hunt, this list can help. And you can tweak it over time, as you learn from your experience and find items that you prefer. This list assumes that you’re fully dressed (boots, suitable hunting clothing, etc.) and your stand or ground blind is already in the woods. If you’re a mobile hunter using a tree saddle or climbing stand, add those items in, too.
- Purchased hunting license: Shooting a game animal without a valid hunting license is illegal. Buy your license and carry it with you at all times. Some states allow hunters to have a digital license, but others require a paper copy. Check your state wildlife agency’s regulations to ensure you’re following the law.
- Bow: No-brainer here.
- Quivered arrows with broadheads: These three items are a package deal, so they count in our list as one. You can’t forget your arrows if you hope to shoot a game animal.
- Release aid: Most modern bowhunters use an index-finger release or a thumb release to easily draw their bow and release an arrow. Consider attaching the wrist-strap release to your bow’s riser when not in use so it’s always with you. You can also add a retention strap to a thumb release.
- Harness: Treestand falls kill more hunters than anything else. Safety first! Don’t risk your life. Always wear a safety harness when hunting from an elevated platform. It’s important to stay connected from the ground up. Use a lifeline when climbing trees and a lineman’s belt when you’re hanging stands.
- Flashlight: There’s no doubt about it, humans can’t see in the dark. A flashlight is necessary to safely navigate to your hunting spot without tripping, falling, running into a spiderweb or getting smacked in the face with a branch. You might need it for following a blood trail in the dark, too.
- Compass: It doesn’t matter how far into the woods you go, it’s easy to get turned around, especially in the dark. Take a compass and get your bearings before heading afield.
In a pinch, your phone can double as a flashlight and compass, so you can omit those items since you’ll most likely be carrying your phone. However, be sure it’s fully charged and you save battery power for those apps on your way out. Or, bring an external charger. You definitely don’t want to be without a light and compass.
Seven Items You’ll Probably Want to Take
- Bug protection: Ticks and mosquitos can ruin hunts. If you can’t sit still and you’re uncomfortable, you’ll probably want to leave. Use permethrin for ticks and a Thermacell to repel flying nuisance bugs.
- Water and snacks: When deer hunting is slow, your stomach seems louder. Carry a water bottle to stay hydrated, and pack apples, carrots, crackers, a sandwich or protein bars to stay energized.
- Screw-in bow hanger or bow stand: You can sit with your bow in your lap, but depending on your setup, a bow stand or screw-in bow hanger might come in handy. They’re inexpensive and small, and they make a big difference in comfort.
- Rangefinder: Judging shot distances is difficult, especially from an elevated platform. A rangefinder can make the difference between a perfect shot and an unforgettable mistake.
- Knife: Carry a sharp knife to field-dress your deer. Or, carry a multitool and use the saw blade to trim branches around your setup, too.
- Flagging ribbon: Flagging ribbon comes in handy to mark locations. Use it to mark a trail into or out of your stand area, and to mark blood after you shoot.
- First-aid kit: Accidents happen. Be prepared with bandages, latex gloves and other safety items.
Depending on the weather or time of the season, you might also consider packing hand warmers, extra layers or rain gear, as well as rattling antlers and deer calls, like a doe bleat and grunt tube. Some hunters also carry binoculars, toilet paper and a hand saw or pruning shears. Most hunters put all of these items in an easy-to-grab (and organize) backpack or fanny pack that’s carried to the woods each trip. That way you can grab your pack and bow and hunt with confidence, knowing you brought everything you might need. Just don’t forget to restock the snacks.