If you’re a big game hunter like me, you’ve probably amassed a pile of “necessary gear” that you’re eager to pack out on your hunt, regardless of whether it’s something you need. You will always take it for that “just in case” scenario. As my old granddad used to say, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it”.

So, without further ado, I’ll be going over some of my preferred key pieces of gear for big game hunting.

1: Rifle and Ammunition

Obviously, a rifle and ammunition are a must. What are you going to do, kill a deer with a stick? My go-to rifle is a 7mm Remington Magnum. I know, I know, somebody out there is going to say “that’s way too big for deer”, or “My grandpa’s 30-06 is the best thing since sliced bread”. I don’t care, I love the capability of my 7mm. To take this one step further I also pack a backup rifle with me because you never know what you’re going to encounter while hunting. If you happen to take a fall and your scope plays the buffer between your rifle and a boulder, it’s a good idea to have a backup. If you think all you need to take is a box of ammo for your hunt, you better take two. You can be the best shot in the world, but if your scope gets knocked off, it’s going to take a bit to get it shooting true again. Not to mention some people have a hard time controlling their nerves. You may be a sniper on the range, but once you have that animal in your crosshairs you suddenly develop a temporary case of the shakes.

Elk Hunter with Bull

2: Binoculars

I am a firm believer in high-quality optics. I recently picked up a pair of Vortex Diamondback Binoculars, and I absolutely love them. They are lightweight, extremely clear, and I can focus on small objects at distance without eye fatigue. This is another must-have item for your hunt. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a hunter off in the distance and when they stop to glass, they are using the scope on their rifle. That is a great way to find yourself on the wrong end of a bad situation. According to the latest information from the International Hunter Education Association, The U.S. and Canada suffer from roughly 1,000 hunting accidents each year. Nearly 10% of those result in a fatality.

3: Backpack

I will always have a backpack with me. It doesn’t matter if I am hiking 3,000 feet to the top of a mountain or riding a four-wheeler to overlook a big draw. A backpack is essential for keeping all your small items together in a safe place. I recommend one big enough to carry all your necessities, but not too big that you have more room than you need. If you are like me that extra space is a great place for extra snacks and water. Before you know if you are packing around enough supplies to feed a small army for a week. I always have 10-20 rounds of ammunition, high-protein snacks, water, my tags, a knife, a small first aid kit, fire starter. And of course, the most important thing, toilet paper! You will find yourself in a sticky situation if you need to wipe, and the only thing around is pine needles and a cactus. Can you say goodbye socks?

Idaho deer hunters with Vortex Optics binoculars

4: Pack Frame

So, you successfully harvested a big game animal. How are you going to get it out of that canyon it rolled down into? You could go down there and take out each cut of meat individually. Better take a knife and a fork down there too because that’s going to take you a while. A good pack frame will reduce the amounts of trips you have to make when you’re hauling out your harvest. Using a pack frame I can get a mature elk carried out in four (maybe five) trips. I also keep a few game bags with my pack frame, just in case I need to bone out the animal.

5: Emergency Equipment

As I mentioned earlier, anything can happen when big game hunting, so I always carry a first aid kit and fire starter in my backpack. My first aid kit is nothing fancy. I have some gauze, band-aids, burn cream, Neosporin, ace wrap, a space blanket, and a couple of cold compresses. My fire-starting kit is comprised of flint and magnesium, some matches, pine sap, and a little premade pack of Vaseline, and a cotton ball wrapped in aluminum foil. A good headlamp, or flashlight, with extra batteries for those afternoon hunts waiting on the outskirts of a timber patch until dusk. After all, you’ll need to see where you’re going for that three-mile hike back to the four-wheeler.

6: Knife

I bet you’re reading this saying “of course I have a knife! Am I supposed to gut my deer with the stick I killed it with?” It is a small item that is easily forgotten if it’s not right in front of you. You don’t want to just have a knife. You want to have a good knife with a quality blade that will hold an edge for the entire process. It’s annoying to stop halfway through field dressing and elk to sharpen your Walmart brand knife because it was a great deal at the sale price of $1.99. Personally, I prefer Gerber knives, but that’s my opinion.

Idaho deer hunters with two bucks

7: Boots

If you are going to be putting on the miles blazing the mountainside, you’re going to need a good pair of boots. For many years I used Irish Setter hunting boots. They are very comfortable (after you break them it), and they hold up to a lot of the elements I put them through big game hunting in Idaho. After last season I made the switch to a pair of Danner Pronghorns. They still provide the same support as any good hunting boots, but after seeing how they hold up for other people I figured I would give them a try.

8: Clothing

Protective clothing is a must! I tend to overpack when it comes to hunting clothing. By overpack, I mean everything in my closet that is hunting-related goes in the duffle bag. Idaho weather in the mountains can be extremely unpredictable in the fall. I’ve sat on a hillside waiting for elk, and seen sunshine, sleet, hail, snow, fog, and sunny again. All of that happened in the course of about 30 minutes. I make sure I always have a good supply of underlayment as a base layer. Plenty of pants, shirts, sweatshirts, light jackets, heavy coats, beanie, ball cap, rain gear, a few different pairs of gloves. I don’t carry all of this on the mountain with me each day. Who do you think I am, Jason Momoa? But it is in camp, and I will carry what I feel I need according to what the weather looks like. Layers are the key for me. I can add or take off what I need depending on the situation.

9: GPS

Every year in Idaho I hear about multiple people going missing while hunting or enjoying the outdoors. Having something as simple as a GPS unit will help eliminate the majority of those. As a kid growing up hunting with family, I would always be asked which way is camp. For a long time if I oversaw the directions we would have gone in the opposite direction. Even though I am a lot better with directions now, I still keep a GPS with me for those just in case times, or if I am hunting in an area that I am not familiar with. If you don’t know the area it is very easy to get turned around. On a side note, if this does ever happen, make sure you keep calm and don’t lose your shit. Once you start freaking out, you risk putting yourself in a worse position than you started out with.

Deer Hunting

10: Side Arm

Any time I’m in the wilderness I always have a firearm close by. I’m sure you have seen the video of the hiker in Utah that recorded a video of a mountain lion following him up a trail while he walked backward away from it. I’m sure he was wishing he had something to protect himself from that big cuddly-looking kitty. I carry a semi-auto .40cal pistol with me as well as my rifle. Idaho has enough predators in the wilderness that I would not leave anything to chance.

11: Two Way Radio

I always keep a two-way radio with me. If something ever happens, and I don’t have anybody close by, I know I can use my radio to call for help. It’s also a good tool if you get something down to let everybody know it’s time to grab the pack frames and eat their Wheaties, cause it’s fixin’ to be a long, but fun, night.

Idaho Deer Hunting

12: Rope

Rope is a very useful tool in camp and out on the hunt. From securing tarps to a tree or hanging your animal to keep it off the ground, rope has many purposes. A couple of years ago, my son and I were elk hunting, and I managed to harvest a cow. Unfortunately, she was in an area that we couldn’t get a four-wheeler to her, and I didn’t have a pack frame (hence why it is now on my list of must-have items). We had enough rope to hook her to the four-wheeler and pull her up to where we parked. Without rope it would have made for a much longer day than it already was.

13: Hunting Plan

Although this isn’t necessarily something you take with you on the hunt. It’s good to have a hunting plan set up. I make sure somebody (usually my wife) knows the dates I plan to be gone hunting. I will also let them know the general area I plan to be camping and hunting in. I don’t always get the best cell phone service where I hunt so I may be able to get a text out, but not a phone call. If somebody has all this information and God forbid something happens, they can inform the proper authorities of my whereabouts.

14: Food and Water

It’s best to take more food than you think you’ll need. It would really suck to have to cut a hunt short because you are hungry with nothing to eat. I know I always look forward to elk hunting because we eat better in that 1-2 weeks than we do the rest of the year, and we always have food leftover that we take home. Staying hydrated is HUGE when hunting. Hiking not only burns a lot of calories, but it also makes you sweat. If you get dehydrated it can make you disoriented, cause painful cramps, and headaches. The bottom line, stay hydrated.

15: Cot and Sleeping Bag

If you are camping in a trailer, you can disregard this one because you are already covered in comfort. If you are hunting out of a tent a cot is a great idea! After all the work you are doing during a hunt, you want to be comfortable when you sleep. A cot is a great way to avoid direct contact with the ground. We use bunkbed-style cots when hunting out of a sheep herders’ tent to maximize the little bit of space we have. That combined with a good quality sleeping bag will ensure a great night of rest to tackle all the hunt has to throw at you the next day.

16: Spotting Scope

Although a spotting scope isn’t something you absolutely have to have it is nice to have around. With a spotting scope, you can look at a lot more areas for a single location. Not to mention with the increased zoom over a pair of binoculars you can not only find the animals easier, but you can count how many ticks are crawling around on its back. Vortex makes a great spotting scope that is very reasonably priced for the quality it has.

17: Bungee Cords

“Did he just say Bungee cords?” I sure did, Scooter! These are great tools that come in handy as much as if not more than rope does. I have been lucky with most of my hunts. I have been able to get my four-wheeler close enough to load the animal right on the racks and haul it out. With that being said, securing that animal can be a chore depending on the size. If it’s a deer, I’m not too worried about it as I’ll just slap it up on the front rack. An elk, however, is going to require both racks, and sometimes another four-wheeler. But how do you secure it to the rack? Bungee cords of course. When using rope, you can’t quite get it completely tight to the rack. With the stretching ability of a bungee cord, it is simple as it can get. When transporting big game on the rack you want it to be completely secure. I’ve watched a four-wheeler roll over because half an elk shifted on the rack while traveling along a creek bottom. The less that extra weight can move side to side during transport, the better off you will be.

18: Tarp

A tarp is a very useful item to take with you on your next hunting trip. There are many things you can use a tarp for. Any time we camp out in the backcountry, we need to set up a sheep herders’ tent. A canvas tent is great to help keep the elements out, but if you are hunting where you have a chance of a lot of snow dumping on you, a tarp can be run over the top of your tent. The smooth and slick surface allows the snow to come off the top easier than it would if it was directly on the canvas.

If you are somewhere that there is absolutely no chance you will be dealing with snow because it’s way too warm. A tarp can be used for shade, protecting items from rain, or keeping your harvested animal clean and free of flies. I have been on deer hunts when it’s still in the 70’s during the day. That is not a good temperature for hanging meat. I will wrap a tarp around my field-dressed animal and hang it in a shady spot if I have one. When the temperatures drop through the night the tarp will help keep that cold in. The second benefit to this is if you can wrap it and tie off the end, it will keep the fly off the meat and you have less chance of them laying eggs.

There are obviously more items that you might believe should be on this list, or you could be saying I’m high as a kite and don’t need half of this stuff. Either way, it is a good starting point for any new hunter that is getting into this amazing sport that we all love so much.

If you do think I missed a crucial item or have an idea that you want to hear more about, drop your thoughts in the comments below. Have all your items but want to learn more about hunting? Check out our review on the Bitterwater Hunting School!

About the Author

Jason isn’t just a writer for Hunt Bums. He is also a safety trainer for the largest roofing distributor in the country, as well as owner/operator of Ackley Outdoors. Born and raised in the great state of Idaho he has plenty of opportunities to get out in the wild to enjoy hunting and fishing. His passion is hunting waterfowl, but he is no stranger to chasing deer, elk, turkey, or the occasional predator.

Jason resides in Nampa, ID with his wife, two children, and his Labrador Retriever Ackley.