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Backpack Hunt Gear List || The shot: Rifle, scope, ammo & supports

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.

Last revised: October 30, 2018


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
Rifle, scope, sling, ammo, and DIY shooting sticks

Rifle, scope, sling, ammo, and DIY shooting sticks

Long gun

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.

Scope

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.

Attachment

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.

I settled on the reasonably priced Tikka T3 Stainless in .308, which is weather-resistant and suitable for elk and deer, and paired it with a Leupold VX-2 3-9x40mm.

I settled on the reasonably priced Tikka T3 Stainless in .308, which is weather-resistant and suitable for elk and deer, and paired it with a Leupold VX-2 3-9x40mm.

Ammunition

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.

Supports

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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Posted in on October 28, 2016
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18 Comments

  1. Lewis Martin on October 28, 2016 at 10:03 am

    Hi Andrew,

    Great write up as always.

    I’m wondering if you’ve ever come across using a gun yoke on your trekking poles? I think it would be a little more sturdy setup. Check out the DIY on Rokslide http://www.rokslide.com/forums/diy-gear-modifications/10666-trekking-pole-threaded-insert-mod.html

    • Andrew Skurka on October 28, 2016 at 10:54 am

      That’s the best DIY solution I’ve seen, thanks for sharing the link. The all-thread male/female pieces are brilliant.

      Wonder where he found that two-point yoke. Most commercial models have a single attachment point. And the only aftermarket yoke I can find is also a one-point. Maybe I settle on a monopod that I reinforce with my second pole with the Voile strap.

      • Lewis Martin on October 28, 2016 at 12:26 pm

        Looks like he hacked it off an old set of shooting sticks. I can’t seem to find the two point yoke anywhere either, only thing I can think of is fabricating up an aluminum bracket of some sort to connect the two but like you said the monopod and Voile strap might do the trick.

        People also get yokes for their tripods, and use them for shooting sticks, that’s something you might get into if your glassing get’s more serious.

  2. Carl Ashby on October 28, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Great stuff Andrew – as a fellow hiker and hunter, I appreciate that you are willing to share your journey. You’ve made a lot of great choices here.

    One suggestion would be to consider shifting to lead free ammo. While lead based ammo is the norm for big game, non lead alternatives (generally copper or gilding metal) perform well in the field. I hunted with lead for years but have transitioned to lead free and I’m glad I did.

    A couple key reasons to think about shifting:
    1) Safety for anyone that consumes the meat. Lead rounds, even those designed for weight retention, fragment and leave those fragments in the meat – they can travel pretty far from the point of impact during cavitation (the temporary wound channel that is opened upon impact). This is key for a couple of reasons – the CDC considers consuming lead at any level as toxic (no acceptable minimum). While I didn’t personally mind eating lead (I’m sure I’ve brain damaged myself in plenty of ways), when I started feeding vension to my young children, I thought more about it. Equally important, my wife does wildlife rehab and educated me on the impact on raptors – the amount of lead in a grain of rice is sufficient to kill a bird the size of a bald eagle from lead toxicity – and it is a slow painful death. The gut pile we leave behind is effectively poison for any bird that feeds from it. Is this a real risk? I don’t know, but I hate the idea of killing a vulture, hawk, or eagle to go along with my deer.
    2) Performance – lead free alternatives are generally designed for controlled expansion and penetration. They perform well on large game and will generally pass clean through, which is ideal for a double lung shot and for blood trailing.

    The downside is that they cost a bit more. I still practice with lead based rounds, as long as nothing eats the dirt, I think it’s fine. I shoot a few 3 shot groups to check the zero with my hunting rounds and head to the field knowing that I’m minimizing the potential risks involved with lead.

    Best of luck on your hunt this fall!

    Youtube video demonstrating fragmentation:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaFYUtgXWZY

    A lead free alternative round to consider:
    http://www.cabelas.com/product/Barnes-VOR-TX-Rifle-Ammunition/847308.uts

    • Andrew Skurka on October 28, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      Funny, I had those in my hand, but went with the Hornaday because I had used them before. I hadn’t even considered the lead issue. Thanks for calling it out.

      • Joel Henton on November 1, 2016 at 2:05 am

        Hi Andrew, I use Barnes projectiles for my 7mm-08 here in New Zealand and they perform great. Excellent expansion and they retain their weight. With regards to the lens covers, I use an old bike tire tube and cut a couple of 3 inch lengths and pull those over each lens. Probably something you’d only see here in New Zealand but it works really well, keeps the rain off the glass and doesn’t matter if they hang over the glass 1.5 inches, doesn’t effect your field of view at all. On last light it’s easy enough to pull the rubber back over your objective lens so you don’t miss any light transmission. Also keeps most foliage from gathering on the glass. Costs nothing if you’ve got a worn out tube and it might even shave a couple grams…. I’ll be putting my pack on to walk the length of New Zealand in a couple of weeks and I’ll be packing my Thompson Contender for a considerable portion of it. Deer are introduced so we can hunt anytime of year and take as many as desired. Maybe you’ll have to like to plan a hike / hunt here in New Zealand! As a side note, I’ve enjoyed checking out your website, lots of great stuff on here. Kind regards, Joel

  3. Bill on October 28, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    I have pretty much gone to the Barnes copper bullets for my hunting. One of the main reasons was that they tend not to fragment like copper jacketed bullets can. I have had excellent penetration and most shots have been pass throughs. I recovered one bullet and it had expanded perfectly.

  4. Robert Collins on October 30, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Lots of great rifles out there. My stainless synthetic ~1988 Browning A-Bolt in .270 Win is plenty for elk. I’ve killed antelope, whitetail, and elk with it out to ~275 yds with 130s. Savage would be another manufacturer I’d look at, but, don’t need to. Love all of my Leupolds, but am really happy with Nikon & Vortex glass I’ve used too.

  5. Bill on October 30, 2016 at 11:39 am

    All of the cartridges based on the .308 Win. are excellent choices for hunting. Some are more common than others. The 7mm-08 Rem and the .338 Federal should also be good cartridges for Western hunting. I shoot the .243 Win and the .260 Rem, but not fro large game, although the .260 should be good for deer. They all have good ballistics and the recoil is more than tolerable. A less powerful cartridge in a lighter rifle makes for easier packing. I still favor a heavier barrel because I’m more able to keep the sights from bouncing around. These days, my big game hunting is done with my muzzle loader. Mine is a modern scoped rifle, which isn’t always legal out west. I enjoy the challenge of shooting the muzzle loader. The first shot had better be on the mark, because the chances of a followup shot are slim.

  6. Doug K on November 1, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    second Carl’s recommendation for lead-free ammunition, for the reasons given.
    We shot a couple of rounds at the range just to make sure it didn’t behave differently than the lead rounds and now reserve it for hunting. If only used for hunting shots, it’s not at all costly.
    On a guided hunt my son dropped an elk in its tracks at 200 yards with the copper bullet so it was certainly effective.

    I settled on a Weatherby Vanguard 30-06 with a Leupold scope, for our do-it-all rifle. So far delighted with it, has stood up to bushwhacking and is extremely accurate (in my son’s hands that is).

  7. Scott T on June 3, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    Hi andrew.
    I saw you mentioned using a sling to steady your rifle, this doesn’t help alot i find so i replaced my sling with a rhodesian sling from andys leather. It does double duty as a sling and shooting aid. Heres the link.
    https://www.andysleather.com/collections/slings/products/the-rhodesian-sling

    All the best and thanks for your excellant blog and gear lists.

  8. Ryan H on December 13, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    You mentioned narrowing your caliber selection down to .308 and .30-06 but not why you decided to ultimately go with .308. What made you decided to go with .308?

    • Andrew Skurka on December 13, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      For elk and deer, either caliber will suffice, and the relative effectiveness will have much more to do with shot placement and distance than caliber.

      The 308 uses a short action bolt, so the rifle is a bit lighter. 30-06 has a bit more power, but also more kick back. Both are widely available and about the same cost.

      Maybe someone who subscribes to these comments will chime in with more detail. IMO, it matters little.

      • Greg Storey on November 26, 2018 at 12:06 am

        I think the Tikka has one action length so there is no advantage of getting the 308 over the 30-06. If you check your magazine you will see a filler block at the back. The 30-06 can be reloaded about 150 ft/sec faster and has the case capacity for handling heavier bullets better. With factory ammo there is less difference. No Fly’s on the 308 but I have the same rifle in 30-06 and IMO it’s a more versatile choice.

  9. William on April 19, 2018 at 10:26 am

    This is a great post! I have sent this to a couple of buddies who are getting into hunting and looking for ideas about how to pick a rifle.

    Maybe some additions;

    Kifaru gun bearer or Stone Glacier gun bearer can be added to any pack, why not use it with your sierra?

    Have you seen the solohunter rifle cover, great scope and rifle protection for backpack rifle hunters.

    The correct answer for ammo is 13… joking, but 3 in mag and 10 in a standard belt pouch or on the stock (PIG rifle pouch) is a great idea. Hopefully you will need just one but things happen. You walk 5 miles in, slip on snow and drop your rifle and need to sight in again 3-5 rounds, take a shot on a deer and miss 1 round, take a shot on a second deer hits a bit back it runs you take a follow up and miss, third followup it’s running miss again, track it and need to finish it off, that’s 9 rounds.

    Also, and especially if you are backpacking it’s a good idea to carry a cloth with gun oil on it in a zip lock and a bore snake. Hardly any weight but a trip saver if you drop your gun, or if you are hunting in the rain or snow.

  10. Sandy D on February 3, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    I became a Skurka disciple after your talks at Neptune Mountaineering in 2011 – cut 20+ pounds off my backpacking weight. Good to see that you have taken up hunting. I started hunting in 2003. A few thoughts based on my experience:
    – The best thing for steadying your rifle is practice. The Army taught me to shoot, but I shoot 40 to 60 rounds over a couple sessions every fall before the seasons open: load a round – flick safety on – walk a few steps – sit, kneel, or lean against a tree – flick safety off – acquire target – fire a round or two. Get up. Repeat. A lot of people practice from a bench at the range, but I have yet to find a bench in the field.
    – Also, I use a Ching Sling. Heavy, but it really locks the rifle and arm in.
    – I switched to all copper ammo about seven years ago after finding a chunk of lead as I was prepping my burger meat to grind. Copper is just as accurate and drops the animal as well as lead. I use lead for practice.
    – Carry more ammo. Of my 16 elk, most elk have died with one or two shots, but I have had to shoot as many as four times when the elk was down on the first shot. Last year I watched a guy wound a pronghorn and chase it for half a mile, shooting seven times in all from prone. Every time he got within 300 yards, the ‘lope would get up and run another 50 yards. We all hope that never happens to us, but it can.

    • Andrew Skurka on February 4, 2019 at 7:47 pm

      Sounds like you’re a local. Where do you go shooting? I’ve always sighted in my rifle at Greenmill, but I’m well aware of how unrealistic those conditions are. But I’m also wary of going shooting in most places in the Front Range. If you want to PM me, that’d be fine.

      Good other points, thank you.

  11. Eric B. on April 3, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    Interesting section of the Blog. Informative.
    I compete in the Precision Rifle Series occasionally with a 6.5 Creedmoor Ruger Precision Rifle and much of the gear PRS shooting implies.

    Since moving from the woods of Pennsylvania to mountainous Nevada I no longer use my favorite .308 Savage 99 lever gun. First I had a 6.5 Cm Ruger American Predator bolt gun (thicker barre)l. But sold it B/C it had NO bolt lock and as a result I lost cartridges two times on a Mt.Moriah hunt.

    The Browning X-Bolt Pro in 6.5 Cm is now my “keeper” mountain rifle for western hunting.
    WEIGHT: 6 lbs. 1 oz. “naked”
    It not only locks the bolt when on safe but by pressing a small square button at the root of the bolt handle I can open the bolt and remove a chambered cartridge with the rifle Still On Safe. Thank you Browning!

    Browning X-Bolt Pro Features:
    1. stainless steel barreled action
    2. fluted 22″ barrel W/thread cap or radial muzzle brake
    3. fluted bolt and bolt handle
    4. carbon fiber stock
    5. burnt bronze Cerakote on all metal and the CF stock
    6. factory lapped barrel
    7. excellent adjustable (to 3. 8 lbs.) “Feather Trigger”
    8. tough, glass-filled polymer rotary magazine

    SCOPE-> SWFA 3 – 15 x 42, FFP, mil/mil reticle and turrets, side focus knob
    RINGS-> Talley burnt bronze Cerakote W/ bubble level in top half of rear ring
    ACCURACY-> 1/2″ @ 100 yards W/Hornady 143 gr. ELD-X cartridges. As good as my RPR competition rifle – but only for 7 to 8 rounds, until the barrel heats up, then 1 MOA.

    Hoping for an antelope tag this year. Fingers crossed…

    BTW, I HIGHLY recommend the Kifaru “Gun Bearer” for carrying a rifle with a pack while using walking poles. Plus it is almost instantly available for a shot with one QR buckle at your shoulder.
    **Sling it across your front at an angle to keep the barrel lower and away from your face.

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