My backpack hunt gear list for big game is identical to my gear list for a normal backpacking trip with similar conditions, with the notable addition of hunting-specific items. In this five-post series I list and explain this extra clothing and equipment, and make them available for download.
- Before the shot: Optics and safety clothing
- The shot: Rifle, scope, ammo, and supports
- After the shot: Field dressing & packing out
- Download instructions: a spreadsheet or set of PDF’s
Backpack Hunt Gear List: Before the shot
With the exception of a lucky outing, finding the game often constitutes the bulk of most hunts. In fact, about 75 percent of hunting trips in Colorado end without having taken a shot or packed out meat. If it were that easy, it’d be called shooting, not hunting.
Optics and safety clothing are needed to find game. Below is my gear list, followed by more in-depth selection discussions.
- Critical = A must-have, no exceptions
- Suggested = A valuable addition, few reasons not to bring
- Optional = Not critical, but worth consideration
- Depends = Contingent on trip objectives, conditions, and/or other selections
- Unnecessary = Unlikely to need and/or can be improvised
When hunting in Colorado with a rifle or muzzleloader, or with a bow during rifle season, hunters are required to wear:
- A blaze orange hat or head covering, visible from all directions; and,
- At least 500 square inches of blaze orange above the waist.
During rifle season, I would suggest that non-hunters abide by these regulations as well. Incidents of trigger-happy hunters are very rare, but always sad. During archery season I’m much less concerned — bow hunters need to be more certain about their shot placement and they need to be much closer to their target.
For my first year of hunting, I purchased an inexpensive cap and vest package, both with hook-and-loop closures, and have since upgraded both. My new cap fits better and has a more secure plastic snap closure. My vest is heavier, but it does not get tangled as easily (because it is stiffer) and it has a few convenient exterior pockets. The WFS model is overbuilt and can be lightened with scissors, a lighter, and a sewing awl.
What, no camo?
I do not own a single camouflage item, and I do not see that changing soon. Last year I was successful while wearing my normal backpacking clothing (plus my hunting cap and vest), and more than a few big game animals have been taken by hunters wearing blue jeans and flannel.
This is not to say that camouflage is not effective. For bow hunting, it can be very advantageous. But for rifle season, the benefit seems more marginal. If I identified primarily as hunter, I would buy camo clothing and equipment. But for now there are still many ways in which I can improve as a hunter without investing in a new wardrobe.
Binoculars and/or a spotting scope will help find game that are effectively invisible to the naked eye. But they are of little help without a good lookout or if there is no game around. In that sense, optics merely complement pre-trip scouting, hunt strategy, and understanding of wildlife behavior.
If money and pack weight were not a factor, I would carry binoculars as well as a spotting scope. But backpack hunting (and my budget) has limitations, and binoculars are the all around better choice. Plus, in the areas I have hunted in Colorado, binoculars have so far been sufficient. I imagine spotting scopes to prove their worth in big landscapes with lots of visible terrain, such as Alaska, the desert Southwest, and even Colorado’s eastern plains or western slope.
My Pentax binoculars are high-end compacts, and appear to be phasing out. In retrospect, I wonder if mine are “stupid light” and if I should have purchased a heavier pair with a larger eyepiece and objective like the Vortex Diamondback 12×50 that would be a relative joy to use for hours on end.
A rangefinder could be very useful, especially for longer shots when a bullet will have greater drop. But, personally, I have a 200-yard self-imposed limit until I spend more time at the range, and a .308 drops only about two inches over that distance.
The rut normally ends in Colorado before the first rifle season in early/mid-October, and so too the window during which game calls are a reliable hunting tactic. In later rifle seasons, calls can still be useful, however.
I should probably learn to use diaphragm calls, like the Primos Elk Select, because they are lighter and more versatile. But before my first season I had enough to learn, so I went with the Primos Hoochie Mama instead. I made a 4-foot sling with 3-mm cord so that I can hang it over my shoulder for easy access.
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