The fall hunting season might feel a long way away at this point, but it’s the perfect time to be helping your friends who are new to hunting get ready. If you help them prepare now, they’re more likely to be successful this fall and you’re more likely to enjoy mentoring them. I’ve already got an elk hunt planned with two first time hunters. There are a lot of things I’m helping them do to prepare, including getting licensed, conditioning, shooting, and planning. But when it comes to gear I’m telling them to keep it simple. Here’s what I’m recommending for them:
The most important thing if you want to enjoy your western big game hunt, by far, is having comfortable and tough boots. Blisters are the quickest way to ruin your hunting season and have a miserable time. I personally wear Kenetreks, and the same pair has already gotten me through three seasons without any sign of slowing down. New hunters don’t necessarily need to drop $400+ on boots though, they just need to have a pair that is built tough enough to handle rough terrain and is comfortable. Then they need to be broken in with lots of walking on terrain similar to what you’ll be hunting.
It’s a weird year to buy a rifle and ammunition given the shortages happening in virtually every caliber. Thankfully hunting rifles aren’t as hard to come by as other types of weapons right now, and you can still get something reliable. Budget is going to determine what rifle you end up with, but there are three things I tell my friends to focus on when getting their first gun. First off, pick a caliber with good ballistics that can handle every animal you ever want to hunt. My top choices are 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm WSM and .270 WSM, but classic cartridges like 30-06 and .270 Winchester also work great. Second, buy a gun that is either stainless steel or has a weatherproof coating so that it can handle the elements. And lastly, weigh the tradeoff between weight and recoil. If you can handle recoil well without sacrificing accuracy, a lighter gun will make it easier to hike further. But remember that if you’re afraid of your rifle’s bite, you probably won’t shoot it well.
A rifle might be the thing that gets the job done on your hunt in the end, but you’ll never find your quarry in the first place if you don’t have good optics. For most western big game hunters, a 10x42mm binocular is the perfect combination of power and portability, and will help you find everything from wolves to mule deer to moose. Our Perception HD 10x42mm binos will be the perfect setup for a new hunter to have success in the field.
I wear First Lite merino wool layers pretty much from top to bottom when I hunt, but that’s not what I’d recommend new hunters do unless they are flush with cash to spend (I wear almost a thousand dollars worth of clothes when I hunt, and it took me a few years to collect it all). For a rifle hunter, camouflage isn’t nearly as important as people think, I’ve killed elk wearing a shirt with bright blue stripes. What’s more important is having layers that work for you to keep you sheltered from cold and weather, but that you can also strip down easily when you are hiking hard. Most people will actually have most of what they need already: Wool socks, cargo pants of some kind, a combination of short/long sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt or two, rain jacket, gloves and a warm hat. Just remember that whatever you wear in the woods is going to get damaged, so don’t pick your favorite shirt.
An Exo pack is another thing I put a lot of money into years ago and absolutely love, but again wouldn’t necessarily recommend to the new hunter. Any backpacking backpack will work, and many people already have something that will do the job. Lining it with an oversized heavy duty trash bag will help keep it free from blood.
Hunting can easily become an expensive hobby. For someone like me that spends an enormous amount of time in the woods both looking to fill my own tags and help others fill theirs, it’s easy to justify the investments in expensive gear. But if your goal is just to fill your freezer and not spend weeks every year looking for animals, you can get by a lot more simply than most people think. Hopefully the above suggestions get you started down the path!