It's a big topic that everyone loves to talk about, rehash, argue over, and who knows what else. Our culture likes stuff, regardless of the activity. While the gear itself is not the end-all-be-all, it does of course play an important role.
As a new hunter, it's a bit of a daunting task to select your gear the first time. It can also be a pretty large investment, especially if you subscribe to the "buy once, cry once" philosophy as I [usually] do.
I've had a few folks ask me about the gear I chose and why, so I figured it was time to put together a quick post about it.
I've used pretty much the same gear for Spring Bear as I am during this fall bear/deer/elk season. So let's break it down.
Weapon, Ammo, & Optics
My rifle is the Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint, chambered in the venerable 308 Winchester. I opted for the carbon fiber wrapped barrel and non-adjustable comb, though if I had to do it again I would buy the adjustable comb instead of trying to save those ounces.
So why this rifle and why 308?
It's Springfield first foray into bolt-action rifles and it landed in the market to rave reviews alongside a 3/4" MOA accuracy guarantee. At the end of the day, it's a factory rifle with a lot of custom rifle features at a price point that comes in under custom rifle cost. Yes, it's a bit pricey... but buy once, cry once remember? Initially I thought I was going to go with this rifle chambered in 6.5 PRC. However, I bought the rifle during the peak of the pandemic ammo crunch and there was literally no 6.5 PRC ammo available anywhere. I also figured as a new hunter, I wouldn't be taking shots much beyond 400 yards anyway and 308 performs just fine at the ranges I'm comfortable shooting. So far, I'm extremely happy with the rifle.
I eventually hope to get into hand loading, but for now it's factory ammo for me. After trying a lot of different loads, I ended up choosing Nosler Trophy Grade Accubond 165gr for my hunting ammo. It shoots extremely well out of my rifle and gives me the most energy down range for larger animals.
For my scope I went with the Tract Toric UHD 3-15x50 BDC. Tract is a direct-to-consumer brand that uses top quality glass manufactured in Japan. I have been incredibly impressed with the quality, clarity, and light transmission of this scope. After purchasing, they eventually came out with an illuminated reticle version which I would have preferred to have, but that's a minor detail. I'm not sure Tract can be beat on quality for price. I'm also running a quick throw lever on the magnification ring and a level as well.
I also went with Tract for my binoculars, picking up their 10x50s. Again, very impressive optics. Granted, I don't have a ton of experience with other optics to compare to but most reviewers online seem to agree... and again, for the price, hard to beat. I paired up the binos with the Marsupial Gear enclosed bino chest pack along with their rangefinder pouch and zippered pouch.
For my rangefinder I chose the Maven RF.1. Maven is another direct-to-consumer optics brand bringing high-quality glass straight to consumers at more affordable prices. The RF.1 is packed with features like a 5-4500 yard effective range, angle compensation, and a Forest mode to help you range through thicker timber and brush.
This was definitely a splurge with the goal of getting close up video of animals during my hunt. A lot of the areas I hunt in Oregon are too thick to make a spotting scope an effective tool for locating game. That being said, I ended up with the Vortex Razor HD 27-60x85 angled spotting scope. To be honest, I'm still not 100% sure how I feel about it. To me, it seems like there is a bit of clarity lacking and it has a decent amount of chromatic aberration (color fringing). I don't know if it's isolated to just my copy, nor do I know how it compares to other spotting scopes. I'm currently trying to get my hands on some loaner scopes to do a comparison. I purchased this scope from GoHunt during a Vortex sale they were running so for the price I've been happy with it so far.
Bipod & other rifle accessories
One of my main goals with my rifle build was to keep everything as lightweight as possible. My goal as a hunter is to do extended backcountry backpack hunts and in those scenarios ounces equal pounds. The Spartan Precision Javelin bipod came up time and time again as a high-quality, super functional bipod at a tiny fraction of the weight of some of the more popular bipods such at the Atlas.
I'm also using the Beartooth comb riser kit to give me a better cheek weld with more repeatability in achieving the proper sight picture rapidly. Had I gone with the adjustable comb version of the Waypoint, this would be unnecessary.
Clothing, Boots & other wearables
When it comes to clothing, it's my current opinion that the big hunting brands are a bit too proud of their camo and "technical" gear. I think the majority of hunters, especially rifle-only hunters, can get away with more basic clothing or technical gear from non-hunting brands that are just as good, if not better. Rather than list out every single piece of clothing, I'll highlight a couple items and provide some general suggestions.
Merino wool is, in my opinion, an absolute necessity as a baselayer. It's lightweight, it regulates temperature extremely well even when wet, and you can wear it for days on end without it stinking up. One critical flaw of merino is its strength, so it's very important to purchase garments that are blended with synthetic fibers for strength. I would recommend a maximum of 80% merino, otherwise you risk the garment falling apart quickly in real hunting conditions. After a lot of research, I went with a couple Kuiu pieces as they had the best price-to-weight ratio. That being said, the Ultra Merino 120 is a bit too delicate and I had holes in it after just 7 days of filming a hunt.
- Base shirt - Kuiu Ultra Merino 120 crew long sleeve
- Base hoodie - Kuiu Ultra Merino 145 zip hoodie
You can never have too much merino. For a slightly heavier midlayer I went with the First Lite Kiln hoodie. It's 95% merino so it does suffer from a bit of fragility, but I do love how its performed otherwise so far. Kept me warm during a sweaty, cold evening during spring bear season!
The best-kept secret in hunting apparel, especially if you live in or close to Oregon: Columbia Sportswear and its brands (Prana, Mountain Hardwear)
If you've ever been to Oregon, you'll probably notice how just about everyone seems to be wearing Columbia gear. Well, they are based here after all... and it's pretty easy to score a guest pass to the Columbia employee store where you'll get up to 50% off retail prices and during sales up to an additional 30% off! Columbia, Prana, and Mountain Hardware have some great items that can compete with any of the hunting brands on technical capabilities and absolutely crushes them on price.
My go-to hunting pants for spring and I've also used them exclusively so far during this fall season: the Prana Zion 4-way stretch pants. With great solid earth-tone colors, these pants have been amazing. 4-way stretch is a MUST for any pant and these deliver on that and comfort. With a sale at the employee store, I got these pants for less than $50/pair.
Back on the midlayer side I also use the Columbia turbodown vest and puffy jacket for insulation layers. I'm not 100% sure if Columbia's OmniHeat technology is pure marketing fluff but anecdotally it seems to work very well in retaining body heat. I also have, OmniHeat longjohn pants/shirt for those super cold nights and use the Royce Range pants w/ OmniHeat for those colder days.
I'm currently rolling with Columbia's Titanium OutDry pants and jacket for my rain gear. These are great, extremely high-functioning pieces that have kept me dry in super hard downpours. The only drawback is they aren't as tough as some others out there, so you do need to be careful in thick brush, blackberries, etc.
Boots & Insoles
When I first saw the prices of hunting-specific boots I thought to myself, no freaking way am I spending that much money on boots. Then I tried to hunt in my lighter weight hiking boots and quickly found that once I was off-trail, I needed a lot more ankle support that my hiking boots were providing. I ended up biting the bullet and going with the Crispi Nevada non-insulated boots. So far, these have been great even though the cost was a bit hard to swallow. Paired up with some Sheep Feet custom orthotics, I haven't had any foot issues while out hunting. If you're not using custom insoles in your boots yet, you really need to make that happen asap.
After looking around at what was out there, the obvious choice was Peax Equipment Storm Castle gaiters. From all my research, these appeared to be the most rugged and highest quality out there.
Backpacking & Camping Gear
I decided on the Exo Mountain Gear K3 4000 system. Expensive? Yes... but it had the right combination of weight, meat packing capability, and general versatility to win my vote.
I am a huge fan of trekking poles, and not just because I'm a big dude. They are proven to reduce wear and tear on your needs and just about every experienced hunter says they are a necessity for those heavy pack outs. I went with the Peax Equipment Sissy Stix Backcountry Z poles. I liked the idea of a lightweight carbon fiber upper paired with a strong aluminum lower section. They are some of the lightest trekking poles on the market. During my spring bear hunt I did end up breaking one pole when I slipped climbing up a super steep slope and all my weight came down on the one pole. Peax immediately sent me out a replacement, no questions asked. Great customer service!
Most of my other camping gear I simply carried over from what I already had from general backpacking and camping.
On my backpack hunts I'm using the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 2. It's an extremely lightweight dyneema tent that uses trekking poles for its support. Expensive, but so light you hardly even notice it. I do run it with the internal nest as I prefer not to sleep with creepy crawlies. I am looking to potentially pick up a Seek Outside Cimarron w/ titanium stove for late season hunts when my budget allows.
As a side sleeper, I've switched from sleeping bags to quilts and haven't looked back. I'm currently using the Sierra Designs Nitro Quilt 800 20º quilt and love it. It's incredibly warm and comfortable to sleep in. The only drawback is that it's a tiny bit too small for me, so occasionally if I'm rolling around a lot in my sleep it can get a little drafty. For more regular sized people though I would highly recommend this quilt as the warmth/weight/price ratio is very, very competitive.
After a lot of trial and error with other pads, I've landed on the Sea to Summit Etherlight XT. If you're a side sleeper, you owe it to yourself to try out this pad. It's also insulated for that extra warmth, packs down nice and small, and comes with an inflation bag integrated into the stuff sack so you don't have to blow warm, wet air from your mount into the pad and risk interior mold.
This is another are where I tried to keep things as light as possible.
- Toaks 500ml titanium pot
- BRS ultralight stove
- whatever small fuel canister
- Toaks titanium spork and spoon... always have an extra spoon!
Ok, this post ended up being not-so quick! I'll cover my basecamp / overlanding setup and gear in another post. I'm sure I'm missing something as well so if you have questions feel free to ping me on Instagram @wildfoodoutdoors or Facebook.