If deer hunting was easy I wouldn’t go, and most of you hunters probably wouldn’t either.
But once a hunter qualifies for AARP membership, hunting smart becomes the rule. Here are some gear suggestions that can make the experience somewhat easier, but no less challenging.
by Leon Pantenburg
I remember being young and learning everything the hard way. When it came to deer and elk hunting, I was so addicted that my planning ended at the successful shot. Then the work started, and sometimes it was really hard work.
Two years ago, I shot a big seven-point buck right on the edge of a brushy, thorn-filled ravine. Naturally, the buck plowed downhill through about 100 yards of brambles, and bushes before expiring. I had to stomp a path through the brush, then gut and remove the lower legs. I dragged the carcass uphill six inches at a time. Then I quartered the carcass and carried the meat over the muddy field. Everything was piled on a tarp, and I dragged it another half mile to the road. There was plenty of time to figure out a better way of doing things.
Let’s assume you have your rifle or bow already, and a basic survival kit, tailored to your area. Here are some additional items that can make deer hunting easier, for us seasoned hunters and you youngsters.
Sled: Dragging out a deer is a good way to bring on a heart attack. An average-sized whitetail may weigh right around 150 pounds, and dragging one to the nearest road can be quite a job. Where I hunt in Mississippi, it is generally about half a mile to the nearest road, depending on the weather. When the roads are really muddy, it can be further.
A sled is a good choice in this situation. A wheeled cart might get bogged down in the mud, or might not be legal. A sled is legal everywhere. The animal can be put on the sled and dragged to the nearest access point. The sleds work really well in the mud, though they don’t take all the work out of it. On snow, a sled is the best choice. A hunter may be able to carry part of the deer long distances, but that same hunter can drag the whole carcass on a sled. Get a good one – you will be using it a lot!
Cut resistant gloves: You’ll never have a better chance to cut yourself than gutting and skinning a deer by the light of a flashlight or head lamp. All it takes is a slip of the blade, and your hunting trip can turn into a survival situation. Cut resistant gloves can reduce those odds, and they are not expensive. Toss a pair into your daypack, and use them!
Don’t forget to include vinyl exam-style gloves for field dressing. They fit nicely under the cut resistant gloves and provide a barrier against bacteria and germs found in blood or viscera.
Knives: A good hunting knife is indispensable. A cheap one is a waste of money and it will also waste your time. Do some research on what you need and get the best hunting knife you can afford,. Remember, going on a hunting trip is probably the best chance you will ever have to need a survival knife, so choose wisely.
Head lamp: I always seem to be gutting or skinning after dark, working only by the light of a headlamp. A hand held flashlight can be a pain. I had to gut a deer once holding a mini maglite in my teeth like a cigar. Never again.
Get a good headlamp, preferably with different intensity settings. You’ll never go back to a hand-held light.
Bags: These include plastic and cloth. For meat that is going right into the cooler on ice, the plastic Ziploc style bags are great. A complete elk liver will fit in a 2-1/2 gallon bag, and a deer liver fits in a gallon bag.
The breathable plastic bags, such a rice come in, protect the meat while allowing it to breathe while it cools down. A 55-gallon contractor grade plastic bag can be an emergency shelter. In a pinch, it can be split and made into a small tarp. This will be used as a place to put meat while butchering in the field, and it helps keep the meat clean.
Daypack: A comfortable way to carry your gear is really important. If the pack is uncomfortable, it may be left behind. Inevitably you will need something in that pack. And Murphy’s Law states that the more badly you need a piece of equipment, the further away it will be.
I’ve been using the Kelty Elk Horn fanny pack for about 15 years, in high desert and swamp hunts. It is big enough to carry all the hunting gear I need, but small enough to not get in the way. Do some shopping and think about where you will need the daypack, and what you will need to carry.
Hand wipes: These can range from small, individually-sized hand wipes to packages of large size wipes that can be used for a sponge bath. I carry a variety.
Alcohol wipes can be used to clean and sterilize a wound or scrap. If you get into some poison ivy, sumac or poison oak, a quick wipe down may prevent a rash. They also work well for cleaning up your gear. Wipe your knife blade with an alcohol pad after gutting a deer, and the chances of corrosion are cut dramatically.
Soap and water wipes are great for cleaning up your hands after doing field work. In desert hunts, the only available water may be in your canteen, and cleaning up after field work may be difficult. The large wipes can be used to freshen up after a hard day in the field. On long, cold hunts, these may be the only way to clean up.
Disinfectant wipes: These are for cleanup and sterilizing after field work. The disinfectant aspect is a plus.
Army style canteen: When I started backpacking in Iowa in the early 1970s, good outdoor gear was hard to find and expensive. Also, I was a perpetually-broke Iowa State University student and couldn’t afford anything. Subsequently, most of my gear was excess military issue from Ames Surplus.
I used the Vietnam-era plastic canteens for decades. I like them better than the round quart water bottles because they are easy to put in the side pocket of a daypack. Also, they didn’t roll around when they were tossed onto the passenger side floor of the pickup.
Last year, Nalgene came out with a tough, colored see-through canteen based on the military model, so I bought three. This new model fits in my old canteen cover, and in the sidepocket of my fanny pack. These are filled and ride in my vehicle as part of my Get Home Bag.
Table: I do all my own meat processing, and a cutting table is a necessity. I got a four-foot plastic top table with extendable legs from Costco™, and it is my mobile meat cutting table. The table legs fold down, and the table can fit behind the front seat of my vehicle. Most importantly, the legs extend to 36 inches, which means I can cut and wrap meat without bending over.
This table is always along on camping trips, and it is used for a multitude of things. Sanitize the top and it works really well as a butchering block.
Cooler: After the animal is quartered, the meat needs to be cooled as quickly as possible. This is one critical aspect that will help you make sure the meat doesn’t taste “gamey.”
A good chest cooler can hold ice for several days, depending on the outside temperatures, and this can be a real plus on longer hunts where there is no access to a walk-in cooler or way to cool the meat.
This season marks some four decades of deer hunting for me. I never get tired of the hunt, even though I get tired more quickly on the hunt! Even as a senior hunter, I still have trouble sleeping the night before opening day, and my heart still beats faster when I see a nice animal through the binoculars. And I hope I never get over this.
(Never forget to leave a note telling where you went hunting, expected time back and other important information!)
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