Hunting Equipment You Do/Don’t Need (and How to Save Money)
Alright, I’m going to talk about hunting equipment in this post. But before that, a quick story…
Have you ever walked into something so blindly that, looking back, it’s downright comical? Maybe it was overwhelming at the time, but now you just laugh your ass off about it?
Naturally, mine occurred in college. I took a rock climbing course to fulfill a physical elective. Let’s be clear, I knew absolutely nothing about rock climbing.
I was really excited about it, though, so I walked into an REI to check out some of the equipment. As I was sorting through the harnesses and carabiners, I must have looked out of place because a sales associate basically sprinted my way to offer some advice. It turns out I didn’t know much at all about it.
Luckily, my rock climbing course started us off with the basic concepts, safety considerations, and belaying procedures. Through baby steps and careful coaching, I got better and better. I got to be familiar with the equipment, discovered good climbing body postures, and learned how to strengthen my forearms. Over time, I was eventually cleared for lead climbing. But I never would have got to that point without the advice and instruction early on.
Hunting Equipment for Beginners
This is even true with hunting gear choices. If you’ve never gone hunting, how would you know what to take deer hunting? As a beginner, you just don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s completely OK!
I felt ashamed and embarrassed about my lack of knowledge. Though I wanted to try rock climbing, part of me was afraid to ask for suggestions. I felt like I already looked like an idiot at the store, so I didn’t want to be that guy asking stupid questions.
If you’ve felt this way about learning to hunt, don’t worry. There are no assumptions or judgment here. My primary mission is to provide the resources you need to understand how to hunt. For this particular post, we’re going to talk about hunting gear, specifically what equipment you actually need in the field and what is a waste of your hard-earned money.
Most of the beginning hunters I’ve talked to say that walking into a sporting goods store can feel overwhelming. With aisle after aisle full of camouflage clothing and hunting accessories, how do you know where to even begin?
You can start by downloading this free beginner hunting gear list.
Beginner Hunting Gear Recommendations
I’ve broken the hunting equipment choices down into basic categories below for easy reference. Keep in mind that these are recommendations for a beginning hunter who is just looking to get into the field with minimal hunting equipment investment. As your field experience grows or if your budget allows, you can also get the other items if you wish. They will make you more comfortable in the long run. But right now we’re focusing on baby steps, since it’s more important to start than to wait until you have every piece of hunting equipment.
Scroll down through the hunting equipment list to see which items you absolutely need to include in your hunting backpack and which ones you should leave on the shelf to snare someone else.
What Kind of Hunting Clothing?
I’ll state up-front that good hunting clothing can make or break your hunting trip. The times I’ve been most miserable in the outdoors were because I didn’t bring the right hunting clothes with me. It doesn’t matter if you hunt in hot or cold conditions, having the right hunting clothing and boots will be critical to keeping you comfortable and in the woods longer. With a few brand exceptions, cheap hunting clothes usually indicate poor quality. For that reason, you will probably need to spend more in this hunting equipment category than any other. That being said, if you do any outdoor activities during hot or cold weather, you probably already own some of these items. You’ve got to celebrate the small wins, right?
There’s one overall rule of outdoor clothing: avoid cotton. It’s pretty much worthless for keeping you comfortable outside. It doesn’t wick your sweat away from your skin. So you stay hotter in hot conditions and colder in cold conditions. If you’ll be hunting in moderate temperatures and don’t need to walk far, you could probably get away with it for now. But buying a good base layer of merino wool or synthetic polyester material should be a near-term goal. This includes underwear, a tight-fitting bottom and top, and socks. For me, this was one of the best purchases I made to keep me comfortable in the woods. I specifically use and recommend:
The next insulating layers are more forgiving, though the long-term goal should include the materials discussed above (e.g., wool, polyester) as well. For now, you can get by with sweatshirts, fleece jackets, and blue jeans – whatever you’ve got in the closet that will keep you warm. It’s good to have several different layers so you can regulate how warm or cool you want to be. When you start to sweat, strip down to your base layer. As your body temperature cools down again, add the layers back on until you’re comfortable. A merino wool sweater or jacket can be pricey, but it’s a great investment if you plan to hunt deer or ducks in cold weather.
Outer Shell Layer
As far as the outer layers of your hunting clothes (e.g., hunting jackets, pants, etc.), the pattern will depend on the type of hunting you’re doing. For a Minnesota example, you’ll generally need to wear a certain amount of blaze orange clothing for upland bird or firearm deer hunting, but you can wear camouflage clothing for turkey hunting or archery deer hunting.
The key to these layers is the material. You need something that’s water- and wind-resistant, which will help seal in the body warmth that the insulation layers are holding. Slightly larger sizes are better than too small, as air space helps hold heat better than if your hunting clothing is tightly constricted. As with almost any garment, most hunting clothes for men will be built differently than hunting clothes for women.
Additionally, you don’t want something that makes a lot of noise when you move. Think of a cold puffy coat – it makes a ton of noise when you rustle your arms together, right? That is a big no-no in the woods. You’d think that would be obvious to hunting equipment manufacturers, but it’s not. So I recommend putting on a garment at the store and walking around in it. It will be much louder in the cold, quiet woods, so get the most silent one you feel comfortable buying. And run from anything that has velcro pockets!
For warm, early season conditions (archery season usually), I always use a Scent Blocker Knock Out Jacket, which is very quiet and comfortable. I still use it as a layering option in colder weather, but transition to more insulating layers and heavier jackets on top.
Hunting boots are critical on your hunting equipment list. They are something you should definitely not skimp on either, especially when deer hunting in cold fall weather. In colder weather, try to get a pair with lots of insulation (i.e., 800 grams insulation at a minimum). Similar to hunting clothes, get one size up from your normal street shoe so you can add several wool socks and still have room to wiggle your toes. Tight boots will constrict your feet and make them colder faster. And cold feet will send you back to the vehicle faster than almost anything else. I have worn Rocky hunting boots for many years and love their durability and performance.
Other Hunting Clothes Accessories
Don’t forget the other hunting accessories either, such as hats, gloves, scarves, or face masks. Face masks and scarves aren’t necessary unless it’s going to be very cold. Again, wool works well for these items since they are warm and silent. Some people find wool too scratchy to be comfortable. But there are different types of wool. Fine merino wool or wool with fleeced interiors is just as comfy as a fleece blanket against your skin.
What is the Best Hunting Weapon for Beginners?
There’s a lot of debate over the best hunting weapon for a beginning hunter. Some argue that compound bows are the way to go, but it does take more practice to get proficient with a bow. You also need to be close (i.e., 30 yards away) to an animal before you can shoot, which produces all kinds of nerves for new and old hunters alike. I still shake like a leaf when I get a deer that close to me.
While bow hunting is definitely an addicting pursuit, I believe new hunters should start with a firearm for several reasons. First, it doesn’t take nearly as long to become really accurate with a shotgun or rifle. Second, you have a longer effective range with these weapons, which increases your chance at putting some wild game meat in the freezer. Don’t get me wrong – I love bow hunting. And if you’re dead-set on learning archery, here’s a guide for you.
Hunting with a Firearm
Next (assuming you take this path), you’ll need to decide if you should get a shotgun or rifle. Depending on your state’s hunting regulations, you may be required to only shoot shotguns (many eastern states don’t allow rifles). If you’re not sure, check out this site, which has a list of state laws and hunting regulations. If you’re going to take the shotgun route, there are two clear choices: the 12 and 20 gauge. The 12 gauge is more powerful than the 20 gauge (and has more of a kick when you shoot), but they are both very versatile hunting weapons. You can use buckshot ammunition to hunt birds (e.g., grouse, pheasant, ducks, geese, etc.) or small mammals (e.g., rabbit), and switch to slug ammunition to hunt deer.
If you can hunt with a rifle, I’d highly recommend a .243 (two forty three), .270 (two seventy), or .30-06 (thirty ought six) caliber rifle. I started with a .243, which has very little kickback when you shoot it, and has the power to ethically and quickly kill a deer. The .270 and .30-06 are both lifetime guns, meaning that you could truly use them the rest of your life with good maintenance, and on a variety of wild game, from deer to bear to even elk.
No matter what type of firearm you choose, you’ll need to also get a case to transport and protect it, and a cleaning kit specific to that caliber or gauge. To make your hunting weapon last as long as possible, you should try to clean it after each day of use, or at least after a weekend of use.
For more information about buying your first hunting firearm, check out this first time gun buying guide.
Tree Stands/Ground Blinds
If you plan on deer hunting, you should also think about investing in a tree stand or ground blind. They’re not completely necessary, but hunting stands and blinds will absolutely increase your chances at seeing more deer. I use a Summit Tree Stands Viper climbing stand, which is fantastic if you’ve got the money. You can skip most of the tree stand accessories at this point though. You could also use ground blinds to hunt turkeys in the spring or fall. But if you’ll mostly be grouse, squirrel, or rabbit hunting, you don’t need a hunting blind or tree stand.
If you do hunt from a tree stand, you absolutely need to get a safety harness! The harness keeps you connected to the tree in the very rare case your tree stand fails. I have always used a Hunter Safety System harness. I’ve thankfully not had to test it out yet, but it’s very comfortable and easy to use.
Other Necessary Hunting Equipment
Finally, there are hunting accessories; you know, the other 50% of hunting equipment filling the shelves at sporting goods stores. Some of them are pure gimmick, but there are a few things you’ll definitely want to bring with.
First, you’ll need a backpack to carry your hunting equipment with. If you already have a black, brown, gray, or green backpack, you can use that instead of buying a new one. But if you want to get a specific hunting backpack, there are lots of great brands out there, including Badlands, Tenzing, ALPS OutdoorZ, and more.
You’ll definitely want to have a hunting knife with you. Basically, any fixed or folding-blade knife that has a short (about 4 inches) blade works great. You’ll need this for field dressing your animal and marking your hunting license; plus it’s just handy to have around. I was given a folding Buck knife when I was younger and it has performed perfectly for 20 years.
Miscellaneous Hunting Gear
I’d also recommend picking up a small headlamp to use in the early morning or late evening hours. You don’t want to get caught in the dark, and a hands-free headlamp works so much better than a flashlight. I’ve had Petzl headlamps and love them. Having a short length of rope or paracord in your backpack is useful for dragging a deer out of the woods or safely pulling your unloaded firearm up into your tree stand. Pack a few pairs of latex or nylon gloves with in case you do get to field dress an animal. You will avoid any potential infections from diseases or parasites and stay cleaner.
Additionally, stock up on a few other hunting equipment essentials that never leave your backpack. These items include a small first aid kit, compass/map for your area, matches and tinder, and toilet paper. You may not need them on any given hunting trip. But when you do, you’ll be overjoyed you have them with. Trust me…
As far as the other hunting gear you find at the store (e.g., animal calls, scents, scent elimination, decoys, binoculars, etc.), you can skip them for now. They can definitely make a difference in the long run. But I wouldn’t focus too much on them when you’re just starting out.
Want a Free Hunting Gear List?
Hopefully that helps clear up a few questions you had. But that’s still a lot of things to keep track of. To make your life easier, I’ve created a free deer hunting gear list that you can print off now and bring to the store with you. No more hand-scribbled notes on the back of a piece of mail. The hunting equipment list is divided into hot and cold weather hunting conditions, and it can double as a packing list once you finally get out on your first hunt!
To download this free hunting equipment list, simply sign up for my newsletter below.
Download this FREE PDF checklist for hunting gear recommendations that you can use right away.
Bernard Clyde says
It’s true that, like you said, your hunting clothing can make or break your trip. It’s important to know just what you need for your hunting trip and to leave prepared with those things. Plus, it makes for a much more immersive experience if you don’t have to leave nature to get the right clothing or things. You can keep your head in the game by having the right supplies and staying!
Great point Bernard! When you’re not prepared, you won’t enjoy the experience or just won’t be there in the first place. Thanks for the insight.
John Linchon says
Here is very excellent hunting gear. Good quality hunting equipment is very need for real hunter. We should consider it’s feature, quality and durability before buy it.
Interesting article. Enjoyed the read.
Fortunately for me, I’ve been camping enough to know all about proper laying and clothing, but I am totally clueless about the gear I need for hunting. So grateful for this. I use Amazon but do you recommend any stores? I went to a Cabela’s once (for a youth bow) and it was…intimidating…
For physical stores, I do go to Cabela’s, local stores, or even fleet farm stores (all probably too often), and there are lots of others (Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc.). You’re right though – it can definitely be intimidating. If you’re not sure, just ask an associate for help and explain you’re new and need the basics.
Sam Watson says
Thanks for sharing your outdoor hunting experience.
Jesyka Ana says
This is a very good resource about hunting. thank you.
Matthew Behnke says
I got my first deer this year (second hunting season) and found that the most important tool in my arsenal was the 7 day free trial of On X maps. It gives public land info, topo map, landowner info and so much more. Until recently i recreated it with usgs topo maps, google earth and county landowner info, but it is nice to have all of that on your phone in one place in the field. Especially so if you are not adept at being in the woods as you can track your path to find your way out! Also there are a plethora of deer huntimg specific podcasts, Wired to Hunt being my favorite for whitetails. I also like the Meateater guys for hunting ethics, conservation issues and chasing game all over the world.
Congrats on the deer Matthew! I 100% agree with all of those. I love onX maps, especially since I mostly hunt public land. It allows you to explore new places so easily. Wired to Hunt and MeatEater are both great resources for all hunters. Thanks for the comment.
Rick Frees says
Please explain how a 12 gauge is “more powerful” than a 20 gauge ?
The potential “power” of a 12 gauge is larger than a 20 because the internal diameter of the bore is bigger, which allows you to use larger shells. But depending on which shells you use, a 20 could be more “powerful” because of the length, load, and shot size. For example, a 20 gauge shooting buckshot would be more devastating than a 12 gauge shooting #9 shot.
Thanks for writing this article!
I am a 55 year old newbie to hunting.
This is definitely helpful
This is very good point raise in the article. I appreciate this post. Thank you for the post.