BILLINGS – Sometimes I can sound like my mother. (Imagine a high-pitched voice coming from a man with a gray beard.) “You’re not wearing those pants, are you? It’s snowing! Where are your boots?
I tend toward mother hen when it comes to outdoor activities, always checking and double-checking to ensure that folks trekking with me have the right gear. That instinct and falsetto voice kicked in again this fall when I took a friend hunting for his first time.
By the end of the four-day excursion, he suggested I put together an article identifying all of the things with which greenhorns with no background or upbringing in the sport should gear up. So here are a few suggestions. Consider them as possible Christmas gifts for your beloved hunting newbie.
Pants: I’m only going to say this once: Cotton kills. That’s right: try to avoid cotton in all of your fall/winter hunting gear if possible, because once cotton gets wet, it gets cold, drawing heat from your body when it needs it most. For pants, buy a pair of woolies. Army-Navy stores stock the cheaper versions. They’re a bit heavy, but they’re quiet when walking, or if you rub up against brush and branches. They’re also warm when wet.
Hunter orange jacket: If your hunter is going to be wearing a backpack, consider getting them an orange jacket. A backpack covers up half of an orange hunting vest, making the hunter less visible to other folks in the woods. It’s also nice to have a hood to pull up when the snow falls, keeping the ice from building up around your collar.
Bandana: This old standby serves multiple purposes: You can blow your nose; wipe off your glasses or scope (because you forgot your scope covers); use it as a small towel or large bandage; and use it as a makeshift face mask if your face gets cold. Too bad they don’t come already broken in. I don’t like them when they are brand-new and the cotton material is still stiff.
A warm hat with a brim: Even if you have a warm hat, hunters need a hat with a brim to keep the low-angled sun out of their eyes in the fall. If you have a warm hat with a brim, you’ve scored. A loose wool hat can be worn over a baseball cap to provide the best of both worlds. I like hats with ear flaps.
Boots: Montana fall days can range from T-shirt weather to cold hovering in the teens to low 20s. Most folks have some type of hiking boot for warmer weather, but when it’s snowing, raining, blowing and cold only warm boots will ward off frostbite. Leather boots need a Gore-Tex liner and insulation to keep feet dry and warm, or invest in an all-rubber boot like a Muck or similar brand.
Waterproofing: If you’re not going to invest in warm boots, at least make sure that you treat the leather or other outer material with a spray-on or rub-in waterproofing treatment. That will buy you a bit of comfort.
Neoprene socks: Here’s another item that can help out if you don’t want to buy new boots. Neoprene socks will keep your feet dry even if your boots get wet. Buy them large enough to wear a polypropylene liner sock underneath for a bit of extra comfort.
Liner gloves: I love a lightweight pair of polypro gloves for wearing in mittens or under latex gloves if you’re gutting or skinning an animal. I don’t wear them under gloves because they seem too tight, but they work well in mittens, which can be quickly taken off to shoot.
Latex gloves: As mentioned, latex gloves are a good way to keep your hands dry while gutting, skinning, cleaning out the rain gutters, changing the oil on your car or just about anything where you want to keep your hands clean. They can also be worn over warm gloves when fishing in cold weather for a waterproof layer.
Small bag: I carry a backpack hunting. To keep everything mostly in one place, I use a small waterproof bag to hold my knife, tape, saw and anything else I can think of. That way when I want to find something, I’m not rummaging through the whole pack. (Probably unnecessary if your pack has ample pockets.) Also, if I pull my bag out and stuff game in, I don’t have to worry about getting gore on that gear.
Scope covers: If your rifle has a scope on it and it’s snowing, flakes can pile up on the lens, especially if you’re carrying the rifle over your shoulder. Scope covers can keep your lenses free of crud so you can see to shoot. Just make sure to take them off or pop them open before raising the gun to shoot.
Lightweight binoculars: Binoculars help hunters see game before the game sees them. Lightweight binos are easier on the hunter’s neck since that’s less weight to carry. You can get bigger, better binoculars and use a chest strap to take the weight off of your neck, but I like the simplicity of small binoculars. Unfortunately, their size is not reflective of their price. Good binos like a pair of Leupolds or Nikons will cost you more, but work well.
Game bags: Packing out meat in a backpack is much tidier with game bags. They come in old-school cotton or new materials that are lighter and more breathable, but always seem to tear easier, too. I’ve got one of each.
Game saw: I inherited an old game saw from my father that I still like better than new ones. It has small teeth that don’t catch as much as the newer models. The beauty of a game saw is that you can split the pelvic bone between the hindquarters and open up the chest cavity, making gutting a heck of a lot easier and cleaner.
Paracord: Everyone should carry about 100 feet of paracord and a few carabiners. It’s a lightweight way to hang game, your pack or to tie things onto your pack. Especially if you’re making multiple trips to pack out an animal, paracord can hang the front quarters over an elevated tree branch until you get back.
Knife sharpener: There are basic small ones and fancy complicated ones. The fancy ones are good for home when you have time to use them and an electrical outlet. The small ones are great for in the field to touch up your blade if it starts feeling dull while processing your game meat.
Apps: There are some great new apps that you can load on a smartphone to help you locate Block Management Area boundary lines, identify your location, or to find isolated public lands. Next to a map or GPS, an app provides tons of information.
Spare batteries: I never seem to have spare batteries when I need them, especially AAAs. Carrying spares (I tape mine together) ensures you’ll have a backup power source if your headlamp or flashlight fails you. The spare, rechargeable cellphone-charging batteries are also super handy, especially if you’re using your phone’s app to help you hunt. Don’t forget to take the phone charger cord.
Lights: A headlamp of decent if not superior quality is probably one of the most important hunter or outdoor tools. You don’t want a crummy light if you’re hiking out in the dark in a snowstorm. I carry a headlamp for when I need my hands free, and also a high-output small LED flashlight when I want to look farther into the woods.
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