As we are well into the new year, it’s time to get your gear sorted, fixed, and ready for upcoming hunts. Hunters know that outside of taking “the shot,” a lot of preparation goes into getting there. That comes down to what you carry in the field, but more importantly, the safety measures you take to ensure you are effectively prepared for time in the backcountry or your next mission.
Our North American Hunting Sales Manager, Tim Hoffer has done is fair share of testing MYSTERY RANCH out in the field. Read on to discover his areas of focus for ensuing a safe and successful hunting season, as well as his preferred gear list that stays on him at all times.
Written by: Tim Hoffer, MYSTERY RANCH North American Hunting Sales Manager
Those two words carry weight when heading into the backcountry, and ensuring you have what you need to stay safe and get home in one piece is the first step. One key area that can help improve your readiness is your survival or first aid kit. Being early in the year, now is a great time to review what you are carrying, restock items or update gear as needed. These kits can be simple or complex, and I break my kit down into three categories – first aid/medical, survival and gear/weapon repair.
Category 1: First Aid / Trauma Kit
Hunting is unique in that it uses “tools” like broadheads, firearms, and wicked sharp knives that can cause serious injury if mishandled. The primary purpose of my trauma kit is to control bleeding until help can arrive or you can get out, and when deep in the backcountry, that could mean hours, a full day or longer. The right gear and acting quickly is critical. Think tourniquet, hemostatic (blood clotting) gauze and wound packing gauze to address an injury such as falling onto a sharp object like a broken branch, a deep cut from an errant broadhead or knife while quartering an animal or the worst-case scenario, a gunshot wound. Lastly, consider investing in a satellite messenger like the Garmin InReach so you can call for help once the injury is stabilized or you need to get out ASAP.
I remember reading about an injury that occurred when a backpacker slipped crossing a slick log over a small creek and fell directly onto a broken branch, piercing his hamstring. The puncture wound was nearly three inches deep and bled profusely. A quick acting partner, gauze and tourniquet likely saved his life. I realized looking at my paltry first aid kit I could get a Band Aid on that wound or maybe some duct tape but had nothing to truly address and control a major bleeding injury. My trauma kit now goes with me every time I am out in the woods.
The secondary skills hunters should have is knowing how to treat lesser injuries like blisters, small cuts or scrapes, or a minor burn from a camp stove. As with anything, the right training goes hand in hand with the right kit. Look to local Search and Rescue groups, online courses and Wilderness First Aid classes. Learn the basics and get your hunting buddies to sign up too. My FAK is pretty simple: 8-10 different sizes of band aids, small roll of K-Tape for blisters, antiseptic, small gauze patches, and some Ibruprofen and Benadryl.
Category 2: Survival Gear (AKA “Unplanned Camping Trip” Gear)
This is the stuff that will allow me to start a fire, purify water, and if needed, hunker down for a night in a lightweight bivi sack. That’s it. I always have my pack with me when hunting, so in addition to this kit, I will have some high-calorie food and a puffy jacket, hat, gloves, or rain gear, so roughing it for a night really isn’t the worst thing imaginable. Sure, I’ll miss my nice warm sleeping bag and tent if I get stuck out overnight, but the point is to carry the bare minimum to get you through it in one piece.
A few things to consider:
Keep your spare layers, gloves and a hat in a waterproof or water-resistant stuff sack. Putting on damp clothing defeats the purpose of staying warm.
Practice using your fire-starting kit – like a flint and steel striker – before heading out if you have never done so before. I carry a ferro rod and striker, fire-starting putty, two mini-Bic lighters as well as a few WetFire tinder packets all sealed up in a Ziploc bag.
I use AquaTabs for water purification (as a backup to my main filter) and have two, 2-liter collapsible water reservoirs rolled up and stashed away. An SOL emergency bivi sack and a spare headlamp rounds out the kit. Consider this your “unplanned camping trip” gear and keep it in the bottom of your pack every time you head out.
Category 3: Gear/Weapon Field Repair
I have luckily not had to use much of this kit over the years but being able to field repair a bow sight, rest or rifle can be the difference between being successful or heading home early. A damaged D-loop, loose sight pins or plugged barrel can cause major issues and misses.
Grab the bare minimum of Allen wrenches sized for your rest and sight on your bow. Pack away about 20 inches of D-loop cord (doubles as drop away rest cord), two extra broadheads, a field point (if you need to re-sight your bow in the field), two or three extra arrow nocks and a two-inch woodscrew. This last one may seem odd, but if you break off a nock and can’t pull out the busted section stuck down in the arrow, you can screw down the woodscrew into the broken section until it ‘grabs’ and pull it out cleanly. Then just replace the nock and your arrow is ready to go. Lastly, I carry a small broadhead wrench, small Super Glue tube, duct tape and a spare waistbelt buckle for my pack, and a few zip ties. Lastly, bring a spare release!
Rifle Hunters: don’t forget to tape the end of your barrel to keep dirt, snow and mud out of your muzzle in case of a fall or a dropped rifle. Use a scope cover to keep it dry and free of dust and dirt.
This “category” may be the most valuable, and weighs nothing – proper training. This includes learning how to make in the field fixes to your bow or rifle, start a fire anywhere or patch your rainfly with duct tape. More critically, a good wilderness first aid course to cover the basics is the first step in being prepared to handle injuries when things go sideways. Even online courses like Stop The Bleed are a good starting resource, but try and find in-person training whenever possible. There are lots of local courses out there and having the right training might make the difference in the field when faced with a serious injury. Start now and you’ll be trained and ready when fall arrives.
GEAR I DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT
When it comes to packs, my go-tos for dawn to dusk excursions are the SAWTOOTH 45 and POP UP 30. Both provide the right amount of space for essential gear, food, extra layers, and optics, and are equipped with the OVERLOAD® shelf, so I am prepared to haul out an animal if everything goes right. The SAWTOOTH 45 is a good choice when you need a bit more volume and utilizing the GUIDELIGHT MT FRAME™ provides a burlier option for heavier pack outs like a big spring bear way back in the mountains.
The POP UP 30 is a more streamlined pack and is a great choice for turkey hunting where you are covering a lot of ground, but don’t require as much gear. The OVERLOAD® shelf works perfectly for storing collapsible decoys and a compact, portable ground blind, and the adjustable frame does double-duty as a rest for your shotgun when calling in a big tom.