What do you really need to go hunting? Will O’Meara slims his kit set-up down to the absolute essentials.
Where is an obsession with kit and equipment. How much more effective does it really make you? Well, it probably depends on the equipment in question and the type of hunting. It is my own opinion that you can do a lot with very little, especially if we are talking about straightforward morning and evening-style hunting in forestry or farm land.
When we get into multi-day hunts in mountain terrain with serious weather, the stakes go up, and in turn so does the need for suitable, reliable, equipment. Be appropriately prepared.
My own feeling is that your equipment can be tailored to the environment you hunt in. High performance kit really only starts to matter when it’s a case of staying on the mountain or heading for home. The performance of this equipment will come to the fore when things go wrong, and risks such as hypothermia become a real and frightening possibility.
In this article I am going to lay out what kit and equipment I use for normal day-long hunts. This is gear that I have built up over the years. A lot of it is chosen to perform in the harshest of environments for weeks at a time, but more usually it gets used for a day’s hunting on the hill.
While the capability of your rifle system is, in my opinion, the most critical factor, I am not going to address that here. Instead we are going to look at what I take with me for a day’s hunting in the mountains in Irish winter conditions (usually wet and cold – no surprises there). This kit can vary depending on where I’m going, how I’m getting there, how far I’ll be walking, how many animals I plan to take and the weather forecast. So let’s say that the plan is as follows; a day long hunt in the Wicklow Mountains in late December, forecasted for 4 degrees Celsius and possible showers. The target quarry is a mature sika stag.
My planning considerations for a hunt like this are all processed in a few minutes the night before the hunt, and as it’s familiar territory I am usually ready to go in a few minutes. For the purpose of the article I am going to dive into the finer details to paint a complete picture.
Let’s start with boots, which on a mountain hunt that involves a round trip of up to 12km are a serious element to pay attention to. The fact that the plan is to pack the stag out compounds the importance of a suitable boot. I currently use Meindl Island Pro GTX, mostly because I know they are a good fit to my foot.
Over the past number of years my feet have gained a half size and it seems that I now need more room in the toe-box area of the boot. I look for a boot that is fairly rigid (B/C classification), provides good support and is in around normal height (8 to 9 inches high). Other boots that I’ve used and have proved very good include Scarpa and Hanwag; Hanwag have a similar fit to the Meindls, and the Scarpas are a bit narrower.
I pay a lot of attention to how I lace my boots, and they get little or no care or treatment bar a belt of the hose each evening and a wipe of Meindl Sport Wax sometimes. I am a believer in good socks and you get what you pay for. I have offerings from Meindl, First Lite and Smartwool and my rule of thumb is usually, the colder it is the thicker the sock – here it’s the Smartwool Trekking Medium Crew.
Next is my old pair of Swazi Putties; these are fantastic for keeping water out of your boot and preventing moisture wicking in via the top of your sock. The footwear system is topped off with a pair of Kuiu Yukon Gaiters – I find these to be light, breathable and waterproof. Previously I used the Berghaus Yeti Gaiters and found them excellent, but their new model is prone to curling up the front of my boot, so I have changed for now. Maybe I’ll revert in the future – we’ll have to see.
When rain is forecast I use waterproof trousers; when it’s forecast to be dry I will run a non-waterproof offering such as the Kuiu Attack pant or the slightly warmer Stone Glacier De Havilland trousers. Both of these are well vented, stretch nylon trousers that dry quickly and I find really good in the hills.
For a day such as outlined, however, I will don my trusty (and expensive) Gore-Tex Norrona Douvre trousers. These are super breathable, waterproof and light. If I were to look at a more affordable pant I’d look at the Ridgeline Trousers; while I see the design as having room for improvement, the material certainly performs well in cold and wet conditions.
I use both synthetic and merino baselayers and the choice normally depends on the weather, I use First Lite Hunting Merino, unless it is absolutely torrential, in which case the Under Armour Synthetic is the choice. With base layers I normally go for the lightest I can get and build up the layering system from there. For a late season outing with high windchill factor I usually go for the slightly heavier 200 weight merino quarter-zip from First Lite Hunting. I like this high collar piece because it has a good warmth, breathability and fit. At the start of the season I’ll usually hunt with just a base layer and a jacket, waterproof if it’s raining or a fleece/windstopper jacket if it’s not. Later in the season I add a gilet to the layering system.
I found the Kuiu Peloton 200 sleeveless to be an exceptional way of keeping warm, but still breathable and with not too much additional bulk. For the jacket itself, I favour a hardshell-type material for the rain – along the lines of the First Lite SEAK Stormtight. If I’m going ultralight and there’s only a slight chance of rain, my Kuiu Chugach will go in my bum bag or the lid of my pack. The benefit of a hardshell rain jacket is that it doesn’t hold the rain and stay wet like a soft-faced ‘silent’ fabric will.
The little items can make all the difference and those items take the form of hat, gloves and neck gaiter. For me it’s Kuiu for the gloves and First Lite for the merino neck gaiter. I get lots of slagging over my brown beanie, which seems to be a constant feature.
It’s just an inexpensive fleece beanie from Condor; I have a half dozen of them! It is these little items that I mostly shed or don as layers to stay at the right temperature. I’ll take them off as I climb and put them back on when I summit or stop to glass. I have tethers on the gloves that attach to my wrist so I don’t lose them.
Next on the list is binos. I use the Leica Geovid HDR 8×42. Why? Because I had my previous pair for 12 years; I bought them second-hand and sold them for the same money. At one point Leica repaired and serviced them for free. I got the Leicas again because the price was right. In the future I’d like to do a side-by-side comparison to see which brand best suits my eyes – it is my belief that all of the premium binos are of very similar performance and it’s just a case of finding which ones suit your eyes the best.
I carry my Leicas in a Kuiu bino Harness. In this harness I also carry other ‘essentials’: tissue/lens cloth, latex gloves, folding knife and a Geoballistics wind meter. This means that once I have at a minimum my bino harness and rifle, I can hunt and recover an animal.
The next capability to address is the recovery of animals. Depending on the ground I am hunting I will bring either a bum bag with a drag rope or my Kifaru pack and guide lid. If it is in forestry or land with vehicle access, I will bring the bumbag; if it’s a long haul on foot I will bring the pack.
The contents of the bumbag are mirrored in the lid of my pack and include a drag strap, first aid, spare ammo, water, food and my little power pouch. The power pouch contains a head torch, power pack, and cables to charge phone and torch. In my pocket is the phone, which doubles as a GPS, camera and an interface for my wind meter.
If I need to capture some nice photos for you to look at, I bring my camera – this sits in a holster on the hip belt of my pack or bumbag. I also bring some variation or other of my Spartan Sentinel; sometimes it’s just as a monopod hiking pole, sometimes as a long bipod, more usually it’s as a tripod or quad stick. The modularity of the Sentinel means I always bring it in some form or other.
On my wrist I have a Suunto Traverse Alpha that has a GPS and compass function. This is good as a backup if my phone GPS fails. I also have a little compass in my pack should I need some reassurance on a packout in darkness.
So for this theoretical hunt in late December I have my pack because there is no vehicle access and we’ve a lot of country to cover. I’m happy packing out the biggest of mountain sika, which rarely go above 50kg. I use the layering system with a hard-shell waterproof outer and I have my camera, which can double as a spotting scope.
This is important if I am being super-selective about a stag, and if I am guiding in this situation I will often bring a spotting scope instead of the camera. The spotter will go in the lid of my pack and I’ll mount it on the Sentinel in tripod format. At any point during the hunt I can drop my pack, mark its location on my GPS and continue on, knowing that I have all I need in my bino harness.
I may stick my drag rope in my pocket or just make a kiwi back pack – either way I have options. Light and fast, or carry a little extra and pack out in comfort. Well, relative comfort.