If you are headed off on a DIY deer hunt away from home, there are a few simple things that can make or break your success. Here are 10 you may not have thought of.
An hour after sunrise in a Kansas hot spot, I was flooded with optimism. I heard a deer walking through the leaves towards me and quickly grabbed my bow off the hanger. As I clipped my release to the string loop, I heard a mysterious clink on my treestand platform, but I didn’t know what caused the noise until I put a little pressure on the string. The release came apart. The strap was around my wrist but the trigger was hanging loosely from the string. The metal pin that held the gadget together was now on the ground 25 feet below me.
Fortunately, when the buck appeared I breathed as sigh of relief as he was just a yearling, but I spent the next hour twisting a piece of old wire off a fencepost and attaching it to my release. The next day I shot a good buck with that makeshift release. That’s the very first item on my checklist of things that could make or break your hunt.
1. A spare release
That episode scared me to the point I never go to the stand without a spare release. What if that yearling had actually been the buck I came all the way to Kansas to shoot? Equipment can fail and when it does, it seemingly has a knack for failing at the worst possible time. A second release identical to the one I use in my daily hunting may be buried in the bottom of the pack somewhere, but it is there if I need to dig it out. Not surprisingly, I have actually had to use it once.
2. A boot dryer
I confess that I have walked through water a bit deeper than my boots were tall. I have been on hunts where my feet sweat from long walks to the stand or just sitting still for long periods, and on hunts where my feet were cold from the moisture condensation caused by warm feet on the inside and cold air on the outside. Nothing I can think of will make it more difficult to spend the necessary long hours on stand more than cold feet. The boot dryer I use is simply and old-fashioned hair dryer with a blower and a hose—you know, the kind with the plastic hat. I stick the tube down inside the toe of the boot and put it on high. Using this method, even the wettest boot is dry in 20 to 30 minutes. I snatch them up whenever I see them at garage sales because they wear out after a couple years of hard hunting. The small comfort of putting on dry boots every morning cannot be overstated.
3. A can of Fix-A-Flat
This probably sounds crazy, but driving on gravel roads while hunting the backcountry can be hard on tires and one or two cans of tire inflater/sealer can be a lifesaver. Cell phones don’t work everywhere I hunt, and it can be long walk to the nearest farmhouse. A working spare tire is a must as well, but often a can of sealer will often get you through a few days of hunting rather than having to take a half-day out to sit in the lobby of a tire repair shot.
4. A bow kit
I carry a small tacklebox with extras of about everything you can think of for repairing a bow. I do not carry a bow press, but I have an extra string in case I can’t find an archery shop that has the right one. My tacklebox has extra broadheads, peep sights, sight pins, kisser buttons, nocking pliers, and other basic bow adjustment tools. It sits in the corner of the back of the truck and I rarely get it out during a hunt, but it’s comforting knowing that it’s there if I need it.
5. A really big cooler (or two)
I often hunt multiple states without going home between trips. If I am hunting just one state, I usually field dress the buck and fill the body cavity with ice, then wrap it in a tarp before heading home to process it. But sometimes it’s a couple of days by the time I get my stands down and make it home. In that case I will quarter the buck and put it on ice in a cooler. A nice rack and cape will take up a lot more room in a cooler than you may realize. I rely on the venison and I prefer to process my own. A big cooler or two will allow me to get the meat and cape home in good shape. Today’s cooler designs like the YETI may be spendy, but they ensure that you keep that valuable meat in great condition.
6. Laundry detergent
I try to plan out my clothing well before I leave, but a guy really never knows what to expect for weather. I hate not having clean, scent-free clothing when I hunt so I change often, especially when it is warm and I am working hard. In 2010, I shot a buck in Iowa on the 12th day of a seven-day hunt. Without Scent Killer Laundry Detergent, I don’t know how I would have kept my clothes clean and walked to the stand with confidence each day. I was hunting very hard and moving stands a lot, so I washed sweaty clothes three evenings during those 12 days.
7. Truly mobile treestand equipment
Speaking of that buck I shot in Iowa in 2010, I was splitting my time between three stands on two pieces of public ground. The location I finally shot my buck was the third tree I put the stand in within 100 yards. I kept tweaking my location little by little until I was right on target. A light stand and climbing apparatus like the ones made by Hawk Hunting are keys to moving quickly and silently. If there is one thing that’s true about hunting public land, it’s that you have to be willing to move often. A stand that goes in and out easily with climbing sticks that are easy to transport and attach are very important to have. I do use a climber at times, but it seems more often than not, a climber is more of a handicap than a help. Going up and down is noisy and it is often hard to find an easily climbable tree in the exact right spot. I feel the stands I use offer a balance between comfort and weight, but if you have to choose one or the other, choose comfort every time. Your backside will thank you after a 13-hour, all-day sit.
8. Treestand accessories
Speaking of long sits in the stand, a small handful of accessories will make that vigil more bearable. A pack with a hydration bladder with plenty of water can make or break your hunt. Little things like a haul rope, bow hanger, hooks for hanging a pack and other gear, and a seat cushion that is easy on the bottom will have you alert and ready to make a move when the buck you have been waiting for finally appears. Have a system for storing the gear you will need—rangefinder, grunt call, binoculars—within easy reach. If you are holding a book or a phone in your hands when the buck appears, do you have a plan so you can get rid of it and get the bow off the hook with a minimum of noise and movement? The right accessories make all the difference.
9. A big plastic sled
Most public hunting areas do not allow the use of ATVs, but there are all kinds of ways to get a deer out of the woods. I have push, pulled, and dragged them out on carts, cots, and ropes but in most cases plastic sleds like the ones used for ice-fishing seem to be the most versatile. Even with a buck in a sled, I can usually get a treestand and some other gear in with it. The one I use the most is four feet long by 30 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Snow on the ground makes transportation easy with the sled, but even on dry ground I have found hauling a deer in a sled much easier than wheeling a deer around obstructions with a two-wheel cart or unhooking branches and saplings from the deer’s antlers. I wish someone would design one with a pointed front end.
10. A Crock-Pot
If I’m hunting on a budget, eating at a restaurant every day is a budget buster. A Crock-Pot allows me to come in from the cold after a long day of hunting and sit down to a hot meal. I create entire meals ahead of time and put them in plastic containers, then I drop their contents into the Crock and set it on low before I head out in the morning. When I return after dark, it smells terrific as I sit down to a meal of pot roast and potatoes, BBQ ribs, pork loin, stew, chicken, or meatballs. I eat well when I am hunting because it makes it easier to be away from home for long periods, and keeps my energy and enthusiasm at a high level. I have a long list of slow-cooker recipes that I have collected over the years and these meals are some of the highlights of each trip.
There you have my top 10 items to take along. These things or the lack of them can make for a comfortable and enjoyable hunt rather than have it cut short due to breakdown or misery. Consider making these items the basis of your own list and add to it as you become a more experienced DIY hunter.
Images courtesy Bernie Barringer