Aim for the Vitals

big game hunting montana

Essential hunting gear.

In every corner of the outdoor industry, there are companies or brands doing their best to separate outdoorsy folks from their hard-earned dollars. Hunters are a particularly targeted group, mainly because “success” as a hunter is tangible: a critter on the ground and meat in the freezer. Each and every one of these companies wants hunters to believe that their products will play a key part in that success. But after a few decades in the field—two of them spent working as a big-game guide—I’ve come to realize that a lot of this gear isn’t actually necessary. The following list is the bare essentials of what one should have on his or her person when heading out into the field, regardless of the type of hunt.

I don’t hunt for anything without my binos. A good-quality pair of binoculars are a must-have. Not only do they aid in spotting game, but they can also be quite valuable for scouting terrain before beginning a hunt. Spending a little time glassing will often save a hunter hours of walking.

A sharp knife is essential for cleaning your kill. Spend some money up front to get a good, reliable knife that holds an edge. That said, a small sharpening stone should be stashed in your pack, too. Unless you’re planning to drag your kill out whole, pack a few game-bags as well.

First Aid & Survival
A compact, basic first-aid kit in a waterproof pouch is another essential. When putting together your kit, think of the injuries or ailments that are most likely to occur on your specific hunt. Pack items like gauze pads, band-aids, anti-bacterial ointment, clotting agents, and emergency medication. Your waterproof pouch should also contain matches or a lighter, a flint and steel, 50 feet of parachute cord, a mylar survival blanket, and a couple of sets of handwarmers. In addition, always carry at least one bottle of water, several calorie-dense snacks, and a headlamp.

While the puffy jacket has become a bit cliché when it comes to folks in the outdoors, you need one in your kit. Puffy jackets are highly packable and have an amazing warmth-to-weight ratio. Your other key piece of insulation should be a wool, or wool-blend, beanie.

A multi-tool is one thing that should always be in your kit or on your belt. Drop the coin and get a good one. These things can help make quick repairs on your hunting vehicle, bow, or rifle, and can serve as a back-up skinning or field-dressing knife.

|I always keep a photocopy of my hunting license, driver’s license, emergency contact info, sunrise & sunset table, and small roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag. Not only do I know exactly when I can or cannot shoot, but I will also have some dry paper should I need to start a fire.

Kurt Dehmer owns Dirty Kurty’s Guide Service in Bozeman.