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: The shot
After finding game and getting within range, it’s time to take the shot. My equipment:
- 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 shopping for my rifle I set a few parameters. It had to be:
- Suitable for elk and deer;
- Light, but still practical for target shooting and the shooting range;
- Reasonably priced; and,
- Resistant to wet and freezing weather, which is often the case in October and November in the Rocky Mountains.
I narrowed my calibers to the ubiquitous .308 Win and .30-06. As a new hunter with uncertain shot accuracy, I feared the .270 would be underpowered. Meanwhile, I was concerned that more powerful calibers like the .300 and .338 Win Mag would be too heavy, too hard on my runner’s body, and too destructive on a small mule deer.
Eventually I settled on the Tikka T3 Lite Stainless. It has a weather-resistant (and sleek-looking) synthetic stock and stainless steel barrel. It’s lightweight, but does not have the severe recoil and hefty price tags of even lighter models like the Model 20 from New Ultra Light Arms. And the build quality was at least a few steps above entry-level rifles like the Ruger American.
Premium optics are pricey, but you generally get what you pay for (although not proportionally). My Leupold scope is not a Swarovski, but it was within my budget and it’s still very nice: bright, durable, and versatile.
On major purchases like sleeping bags, skis, and kitchen knives, I have learned — through trial and error, unfortunately — that “buying right” the first time is more economical in the long-term. Frugality is less costly when it comes to smaller items like socks and safety clothing. I think I will be happy with my rifle/scope combo for many years to come.
The 3-9x magnification range seemed appropriate for Colorado. At 3x I can hunt in the timber and brush. At 9x I can take moderately long shots (200 yards or so) across open terrain. The higher magnification 4-12x version would be better for even longer shots, but I’m doubtful that I could hold the rifle steady at 12x without supports, or that I would be willing to take such a long shot on a live target anyway given my current shooting ability and my second-nature understanding of bullet ballistics.
During my first two seasons I used a Kifaru pack with the gun bearer accessory for quick access. Last year I was happier with the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60L Pack, however — it was lighter and more agile, and proved capable of carrying 70-pound loads. Plus, I helped design it.
The Flex Capacitor does not have a gun bearer, or an easy option for one, so I purchased a simple 2-point sling that allows me to keep my arms free while still having quick access to the rifle, and to carry my rifle independently of carrying my backpack. Carrying the rifle in my arms is not practical for any extended length of time.
When combined with a well placed shot, any hunting-grade ammo should work. More accurate match-grade ammo like the Federal Premium Gold Medal can be used, too, but penetration and expansion sounds inconsistent, and the manufacturers do not recommend it.
My bigger question is the number of rounds that I should carry into the field. My thinking, per tag:
- 1 miss
- 2 rounds for a kill (hopefully just one)
- 1 just in case
Another round or two as backup shots for a hunting partner sound prudent. In the event that I use up my rounds without filling all my tags, the car is never too far away. However, the time lost to an ammo resupply would never justify the extra weight of a few more rounds.
The one time I had an elk in my crosshairs, my rifle bounced around like I’d just drank a gallon of coffee. Thankfully, I was within about 50 yards and I could shoot from the prone position.
Other shooting positions are less reliable, however, and I would probably be reluctant to take a 200-yard kill shot from, say, a standing position. In such cases, shooting sticks would improve steadiness and thus shot accuracy.
To date I’ve been reluctant to buy dedicated shooting sticks. They seem too redundant with trekking poles, in terms of both their materials and how they are used and carried in the field. I created DIY shooting sticks using my trekking poles, but I think this system and my thinking will benefit from more field experience.
A rifle sling may be a partial alternative to shooting sticks. I cannot keep my rifle as steady with the sling as I can with supports, but a sling is certainly better than off-hand.
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