Personally,I prefer early season archery and muzzleloader hunting because the weather is better. The older I get, the less I enjoy those bitter cold temperatures and late-season snow storms. But, I also love to hunt and I want to extend my season so I've had to find ways to make those late hunts more enjoyable. I get cold relatively easily and a lot of my late season gear list is built around keeping me warm. Insulated clothing pieces are the key to keeping me comfortable and in the field. A lot of hunters succumb to hiking out to a warm truck or base camp to avoid the cold, but the longer you can remain in woods, the better your chances will be of finding success. My clothing system is similar for early season to late-season hunts but I do often add a layer to provide extra warmth for these hunts. I start with a long sleeve synthetic base (dries quicker) then add a mid layer (Sitka Core Heavyweight Hoody), an additional midlayer (Sitka Ambient Hoody), and then an outer insulated puffy jacket. There are some great options on the market, some of my favorites are the Stone Glacier Cirque Jacket, Stone Glacier Grumman Down, or Sitka Kelvin Lite Down Jacket. One of those coupled with a rain shell for snow or windy cold weather and I can remain warm in most any condition. The Cirque from Stone Glacier is not as packable as the down options because of the synthetic Primaloft, but it remains lofty when wet and has pit zips for dumping extra heat while hiking. Overall, a good insulated jacket is a requirement for any late hunt.
Several years ago, I purchased a pair of down pants and they rarely are not in my pack. On late hunts, they are critical for long glassing sessions. It’s hard to stay in the game when your legs are freezing and down pants have been a game changer for me. I highly recommend keeping a set in your pack and putting them on for glassing sessions and when you are back at camp. They can also add some extra warmth to your sleep system during bitter cold snaps. My favorite have been the Western Mountaineering Flight Pants. They are lightweight, pack down to the size of a softball, and are extremely warm. Another couple great options are the Stone Glacier Grumman Down Pants and the Sitka Lite ¾ Kelvin Pants.
In recent years, I’ve been using down booties on my late season hunts. My feet get cold easily, even in insulated boots to add on to my insulation layers. Long glassing sessions were often cut short by cold feet, but that rarely happens since I started using down booties. A pair of Outdoor Research Tundra Aerogel Booties weighs about 9oz and doesn’t take up too much space in my pack. I carry them in my pack and when I find a glassing point, I take my boots off and put the booties on. This has allowed me to glass longer and be more effective. The Western Mountaineering Flight booties are even lighter at 3-5 oz. Insulated booties have been one of my favorite new additions to my pack for late season hunts. Along with those, a quality pair of down mittens are fantastic for keeping your fingers warm while glassing. The key to finding a big buck or bull is being in the field as much as possible and staying warm is key.
The longer you can glass, the better you will do on a late-season hunt. The bulls are no longer bugling and big bucks are either timbered or slowly making their way through transition ranges to where they will eventually rut. The best method to find what you are after is to identify likely habitat, the best glassing points to scan those areas, and to put your time in with binoculars and a spotting scope. A glassing pad is a great addition for a late season hunt due to the fact that you will be spending so much time sitting and scanning the terrain. A glassing pad will keep you more comfortable and dry. I’ve found that sitting on rocks or the ground for long hours over the space of several days gives me back and neck pain and I seem to get headaches, oddly enough. A glassing pad with foam padding and insulation makes a big difference. I like the StHealthy Hunter Glassing pad. We also have the Therm-A-Rest Lite Seat and Big Agnes TwisterCane Foam Hiking Seat that are all good options in the gearshop.
As previously stated, glassing is the best hunting method for mid to late-season hunting. A tripod, tripod head, and binocular adaptor is quite possibly the best investment I ever made in hunting gear. I could not believe how much more I was seeing when I began glassing from a stable tripod. The slightest bit of movement, an antler tine, or a bit of hide that I would have never seen while glassing from my knees was suddenly jumping out to me. There are several options for a tripod setup, but one of the best I believe is the Sirui ST-124 VA-5 CF Tripod Kit. The quality is excellent, carbon fiber legs cut the weight down, and the tilt pan fluid head makes for smooth steady glassing. I prefer fewer legs sections, (the ST-124 has 4), twist lock legs, and a center post. I regularly use the center post for quick height adjustment to view a new area. Recently, I started using the Aziak Equipment Bino Clamp and really like it. It has a built- in Arca-Swiss plate that easily slides in for quick mounting. It’s also extremely lightweight. I was able to drop over 4oz of weight and didn’t lose anything in functionality. It’s actually quicker to mount since it remains on my binoculars at all times.
Gaiters keep your boots and pant legs dry when the snow begins to fly. Even after a hard rain or when the vegetation has a good dew buildup, a set of gaiters are important to help keep you warm and dry. There are a few things about gaiters that I am particular about. One is that they have to stay up on my calf and the clasp at the top has to remain clasped. Nothing bothers me more than having to constantly cinch the top of a failing strap on my gaiters. Second, the gaiter has to fit well and conform to the boot and my calf. I strongly dislike a lot of slop in the gaiter. Lastly, the gaiter has to keep me dry and it has to be durable. I’ve tried many on the market and for me the Stone Glacier SQ2 Alpine Gaiter is my favorite. It conforms well, moves with me, keeps me dry and it stays tight around my calf. It’s also really durable. A close second for me would be the Sea to Summit Quagmire Gaiter. I’ve had great luck with both pairs. Brady, on the other hand, loves the Peax Storm Castle Gaiters due to their slightly taller height.
A couple of smaller items that shouldn’t be overlooked are a rifle scope cover and an ammo carrier of some sort. We recently developed a GOHUNT Ammo Wallet that holds ten rounds. It folds out, protects the bullet tip and has a clear plastic sleeve for storing your tags and licenses. It’s also available in Blaze Orange so you will be less likely to misplace it. It has a tab that allows you to wear it on a belt or pack. I typically pack mine in an accessory pocket on my pack hipbelt. It’s a no frills well built piece that does the job.
Keeping your rifle scope clear is important for late season hunts. There are several options for scope covers, including the GOHUNT Scope Slicker, Vortex Sure Fit Cover, or the StHealthy Hunter Rifle Cover. The StHealthy cover is a complete system that protects your scope, end of your barrel and stock, and it has a handle. It’s a great piece of gear and if you are carrying your gun on your pack often, I recommend it. Whatever cover fits your needs and budget, get one and use it always. There’s nothing worse than having the opportunity at a shot and not being able to see through your scope.
Game bags are important for any hunt to keep your meat clean. We’ve come a long way since the days when we were using cheese-cloth roll top bags. Today, there are many great options for game bags. Caribou Gear makes an excellent game bag, as does Argali, and Mystery Ranch. The new Mystery Ranch game bags are perfect for hunters who already own a Mystery Ranch Pack on the Guidelight MT frame. Their bags have built-in sleeves on the corner of the bags that slide over the frame which fit great and help to support the weight of the bag on the frame. It’s a very nice system. Argali game bags are a bit lighter than the others noted and do provide good protection for your meat. The Caribou Gear game bags come in a variety of kits for the type of game you are hunting and I’ve found them to be durable, breathable, and easy to use. All of these bags are reusable. Once I get home and have processed the meat, I simply pop them in the washing machine and run them through a couple cycles with cold water.
The days are shorter during the late-seasons and it seems like I’m doing a lot more hiking in the dark. A reliable headlamp is a great piece of equipment that everyone should have. I recently got a Peax Backcountry Duo headlamp and have been very impressed with it. For starters, it provides 1,000 lumens, so it’s very bright. It also has the brightest red light feature which is important for me so that I don’t alert animals to my presence while hiking or camping. The battery is rechargeable, although I rarely have to charge it due to its long battery life. It’s comfortable enough to wear and it’s machined from 6061 aluminum so it’s more durable. There are other good headlamps in the shop as well, a few I might note are the Black Diamond Storm 450 and 500-R which has been a staple for many years for me, and the Petzl Swift RL. All of those are great options. I also always carry a small backup headlamp and the Petzl Bindi is lightweight, small, and has proven reliable for me.
Is this a shameless plug for our own maps? Yes it is, but it’s also a key piece of the puzzle to help you find success. For a lot of late season deer hunts it’s imperative that you have maps with a public and private land layer. As mule deer move to lower terrain late in the season, they become more difficult to hunt due to the complexity of the private land that exists in the lower elevations. Knowing where you can hunt and how to access the public ground is very important. Off the top of my head, I know of a public section that is accessible by hiking along a very narrow piece of public land that sits between two larger private sections. There is very good hunting on the backside, or adjacent to private areas and in many cases with some research and in the field map work you can find those hidden gems. In addition, the other layers included like the fire layer, roads/trail, and water along with the terrain analysis tool (on your desktop) can all help you to plan and execute on your late-season hunt. Maps have likely had the biggest impact in big game hunting over the last ten years, if you are not using them to help you find animals, and hunt, you’re missing out on the single most effective tool available to you.
Sleeping pads each have an R-value associated with them. The R-value is a gauge as to how much that pad will resist body heat lost to the ground. The higher the R-value, the more it insulates. Late-season hunts can be very cold and although you may have a great sleeping bag, you can still sleep cold if you do not have a pad that resists the loss of your body heat. I’d suggest a pad with at least a R-value of 4 for mid to late season hunts and there are some with even better ratings. The Therm-A-Rest X-therm has an R-value of 6.9 and the regular sized version is still only 1lb. It’s hard to beat those specs for a sleeping pad.
A sleeping bag is one piece of gear I don’t mind dipping into my pocket and spending a lot of money on. A quality bag will last 20-30 years if cared for properly and a good night’s sleep is everything when you are hunting hard day after day. A few of my favorite options for mid to late season hunts are the Western Mountaineering Versalite, Badger and Kodiak. The Stone Glacier Chilkoot 0° bag is also a great option. The Stone Glacier bags repeatedly have great feedback from guys that want a little more room in their bag. The Marmot Lithium is another good 0° bag that is at a slightly better price point.
Trekking poles help to reduce fatigue and lessen impacts on joints. In addition, they aid in balance on uneven and slick terrain which I find is the greatest benefit on late-season hunts. The ground is often wet and slick and having three or four points of contact with the ground will help you stay on your feet. During late-season hunts, it’s important that you protect your gun/scope and the sure fire way to ruin your hunt is to take a fall that knocks your scope out of alignment. I highly recommend using trekking poles at all times on late season hunts. If you do have some luck and fill your tag, trekking poles become even more important to help you navigate rough terrain with a pack that will likely be in excess of 80lbs. In a pinch, I’ve also used trekking poles as a rifle rest by sticking one in the ground and sliding the barrel through the wrist strap or by crossing them and making a quick front rest for my gun.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does give you a sense of what I think is important to have with you on your late-season hunt. If you enjoyed this article or have any tips yourself, please leave a comment.