Three gear items to never skimp on for a Western hunt

We are now staring directly in the face of application season! Many are already in the planning stage and looking forward to some incredible memories. Others are gearing up for several winter hunts. Part of that preparation involves acquiring some new gear. And it’s no secret that this stuff can really rack up a bill over time, especially if you buy the latest and greatest of everything. So, it’s likely in your best interest to pick and choose what you’ll “skimp” on and what you’ll pony up the most dough for. Some gear items are just more important than others and have a greater impact on your overall experience. I’m going to narrow down those items to what I call the “Big Three.”

Boots

“You smell that? I just got a whiff of javelina.” On a cold February morning here in Arizona, a friend of mine and I were out glassing on a javelina hunt. The country looked perfect, but until my nostrils just filled up with javi stench, it had been a slow start. We got the wind and started making our way towards where we thought the smell was emitting from. Long story short: we ended up walking way farther than we’d intended, didn’t find the pigs and the sole of my damn boot peeled off. My hunt was over and it was gonna be a long walk back to the truck with my sole tied on with boot laces. Never would I skimp on boots ever again.

For a western hunter, boots are high on the list of importance. We do a heck of a lot of walking through demanding terrain and our boots need to be as ready as we are. Our bodies can be as ready as possible, but if boots aren’t up to snuff, it can ruin a hunt in a hurry. A boot that is cheaply made can fall apart as discussed above. Boots that don’t fit or provide proper support can cause rubbing, hot spots, blisters and increased foot fatigue. The rub here (no pun intended) is that all of our feet are different, so we really need to try on a ton of boots to find what works for us. Going off of a recommendation from someone else is not enough.

A great way to look at boots is like we do tires. Would you trust a cheap tire on an off road vehicle? I think not. Boots are no different.

Backpack

Through the night, we trudged our way across snow-covered landscapes with elk meat on our backs. My dad had just shot a bull hours beforehand and we were finally making our way back to the trucks. Halfway through the hike we had to stop. Dad’s backpack wasn’t performing and was leaving him falling way behind in pain. So, between the four of us, we divided up what he was carrying to lighten the load. My dad is a hard dude. Strong. I knew it wasn’t him. It was the pack. Things don’t have to be like that in the hills.

Early on, I went through the whole save money on a backpack thing. I was a young kid trying to figure out how life worked without a whole lot of resources. After all of that “saving,”  I ended up spending way more in the end than if I would have just bought a good backpack from the start. I would have saved money as well as saved myself from the painful hikes I had with lesser backpacks. This is an item that you’ll wear most of your hunt similar to boots. It is what will carry all of your gear and, hopefully, your game meat back to camp. Having a subpar pack is a great way to create misery, decrease hunting drive and can even cause injury with heavy loads. A pack that isn’t distributing weight properly will put undue stress on your body, undoubtedly affecting your mobility. Good backpacks cost what they do for a reason.

As expensive as they may be, another thing to pay attention to here is to make sure that backpack is truly fit to you and your body. The performance of a backpack will suffer if this isn’t taken into consideration.

Optics

It was late winter and a buddy and I were out glassing for deer in the deserts of Arizona. Glassing was still somewhat of a new thing for us, so our optics weren’t the greatest by any means. After hours of trying to find deer, both of us were just over it. Headaches and heartache is what it was. Each time we’d go to look through our binos, it was agonizing and would fuel the thumping pain in our heads. Glad I brought some Advil with me that day. I sure did need it. I also needed to buy a good set of binoculars for next time.

And now for what can be the most pricey of them all. Optics are the pinnacle of credit card swipes. At least for good optics it is. And in the West, good optics turn up animals. The longer you can stay behind the glass, the more critters will walk through them. For spot and stalk hunting, it doesn’t get much better than watching an animal for hours on end doing their thing. It allows us to construct a calculated plan of action while the animal is undisturbed. This is a huge advantage. However, it doesn’t come by way of cheap optics. The only things cheap optics give is a sore neck, headache and a wish: a wish that you’d snagged some better glass.

It may hurt when the card gets swiped, but it’s 100% worth it.

Final thoughts

Each of these things, while simple and basic as they may be, can put a damper on your hunt in one way or another, which is exactly why I chose to cover them. There can be an argument made for not skimping on all gear items, but where the rubber meets the road is where I wanted to focus. Insufficient boots can leave a hunter dreading each one of the steps ahead. Bad backpacks will make you feel far less capable than you truly are. Not to mention the possible injuries that could happen from insufficiently carrying heavy loads. You wouldn’t haul a mobile home with a Radio Flyer Wagon. And then there are optics. It isn’t as simple as just throwing the binos up real quick for seconds at a time. Hours of meticulous glassing are very normal for western hunting, which goes by much more swimmingly and productive with quality glass. In the end, you need to find the animal, get to the animal and pack the animal out. These items cover the majority of that. Happy hunting out there this coming year!

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