Mountains, altitude, less water and unique species–hunting in the West is definitely different than east of the Mississippi. For big game, shots are often made at much longer ranges, and distances to reach hunting grounds are often greater, resulting in backpacking and riding horses. The influence of Native Americans and Hollywood also are ever-present. These are some of my suggestions for outfitting the Western hunter in your life, based on my 40 years of living on the West Coast.
Better Safe Than Sorry Gear
In the wild West snow may fall 12 months of the year and soils are highly alkaline. Clay, especially caliche, turns into lard when it’s wet. These are my handy “better to be safe than sorry” picks.
- A Hi-Lift Jack. These tall, extremely durable jacks weigh about 30 pounds and can lift up to 7,000 poudns to get your vehicle out of the deepest hole, and can be used like a winch. Hi-Lift Jacks come in different sizes. They start at $82 on Amazon and can be purchased through many hardware stores and most off-road vehicle stores.
- Much cheaper than a winch is a Come-Along, which is a hand-operated ratchet lever winch that runs $37.97 at Home Depot.
- Some stocking stuffers: tire chains/cables (get some for all four wheels if you have four-wheel drive), tow rope, shovel, axe, first-aid kit, space blanket or wool blanket, thermos, signal mirror, fire starter and a box of energy bars.
Chuck Stapel has been custom-making knives for movies and their stars for over 35 years, including such famous knives as Tom Selleck’s “Quigley Down Under” bowie knife. Stapel is currently making knives for the Sons of Anarchy TV series and his knives are featured in the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film, Django Unchained. Chuck’s knives begin at about $250.
Small, lightweight, easy to use, durable, and inexpensive, Epic Cameras shoot stills or video in HD. Use them like any camera or you can mount one on a horse, your hat, your bow and/or gun, and make your own hunting videos. Each camera comes with:
- Strap mount and 2 Straps 12” and 24” long;
- Contoured adhesive mounts:
- Elbow mount, and
- 3 AAA Energizer lithium batteries
You can get anywhere from 35 minutes to 3.5 hours recording time on the Epic Cameras, depending on the size of the memory card. They all come with audio, and all will fit in the palm of your hand. Prices are very reasonable. The EPIC 1080P HD Carbine is $219.99. Others are less than $100. A clear waterproof case that runs $29.95 is available for all the HD Epic cameras as well.
You can get Epics from stores like Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain, and Dicks, or directly from the GSM website.
Smudging to Mask Scent and Clarify the Mind
A tradition among Native Americans for thousands of years is that before embarking on a hunt, a hunter lights a bundle of some dried herbs and directs the smoke to himself and his equipment to mask his scent and improve luck and safety in the field. If you can’t find smudges locally, then Taos Herbs in New Mexico is the place. Handmade in the traditional way by Native Americans at Taos Pueblo, these sage and cedar 8″-9″ sticks are $3.95, plus shipping.
Good Luck and Inspiration
The Museum of the North at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks is a treasure chest of art by native artists that have a hunting theme; including the ulu knife, ivory good luck charms, soapstone sculptures of hunters, and for ladies the Indian eagle design silk scarf.
Getting Your Gear In and Out
Cabela’s is the place of dreams for outdoor sportsmen. After talking with two friends at Cabela’s headquarters, we came up with two items that seem especially suited to the needs of the western hunter.
Cabela’s Bow and Rifle Pack. Weighing 4 pounds, the brand new Cabela’s Bow/Rifle Pack is designed to carry all the gear you need for a successful hunt. The durable CT450 Plus material is soft, quiet and retains its supple feel and quiet characteristics in temperatures well below zero. The ergonomic back panel is lined with mesh to dissipate body heat and sweat. Two attachment straps securely hold a bow, rifle or crossbow. The fold-out bow-cam/buttstock support is adjustable through a wide range of lengths. A large main compartment offers 2,200 cubic inches of storage space and features a mesh organizer panel. There are two smaller zipper-closed pockets on the sides, including one with a pass-through slot for toting longer objects, such as a tripod or shooting sticks. The removable Summit Pack is the perfect size for packing essential gear when you need to lighten the load. It has two interior zipper-closed mesh pockets, a divided mesh organizer and a zipper-closed exterior pocket that hides a blaze-orange cloth safety panel. A two-liter hydration bladder is included. MSRP is $169.99, now on sale for $139.99.
Auburn Leather Fleece-Lined Scabbard. Cut from premium harness leather and lined with soft fleece, this tough scabbard handles the abuse of the trail and protects your firearm from shock and abrasion, which is always a concern when you are traveling through rugged back country. It’s handcrafted to fit bolt and lever-action rifles with standard barrel lengths and scopes (even large variable-power models). It includes heavy 36″ straps for attachment to saddles, an ATV, snowmobile or motorcycle. $109.99.
Books about hunting are common. Good books about hunting about as rare as white deer. Here are three favorites.
- Hunting in Alaska: A Comprehensive Guide by Chris Batin, $24.95. This is the sine qua non of Alaskan hunting books. Species, methods, maps, locations, and stories are blended together into a fact-filled odyssey of over 400 pages.
- Hunting Oregon by Gary Lewis, $20. This beautifully-illustrated guide by Gary Lewis, Scott Haugen and Duane Dungannon, will take you afield in the Beaver State and lead you to when and where to hunt big and small game, give valuable advice on how to take trophy animals, offer tasty recipes to turn the harvest into delicious and nutritious meals, and ultimately how to prepare your prize for taxidermy.
- Chasing the Hunter’s Dream: 1001 of the World’s Best Duck Marshes, Deer Runs, Elk Meadows, Pheasant Fields, Bear Woods Safaris and Extraordinary Hunts by Jeff and Sherol Engel and James Swan, originally priced at $19.95, right now it’s on sale for $7.98 at Amazon.com. Okay, this is a little self-promotion, but there’s nothing else like it. Co-written with Jeff and Sherol Engel, hosts of the award-winning television series Engel’s Outdoor Experience, the book presents personal experiences of hunting around the world. Organized by location, this book includes priceless advice on equipment, outfitters, safety, recipes, trophy care, and more. Think of this book as the hunter’s ultimate print fix.
Bow and Rifle Pack image courtesy Cabela's, all other images by James Swan