Photo credit: Zach Condon
Rifle season is here. The guns are dialed, gear meticulously packed, the truck is running smoothly and it’s time to rock. On a recent hunt helping a buddy with a mountain goat tag, the statement was made “I can’t wait to get up on the mountain and realize what I forgot at home.” This happens all the time and depending on what you forgot, could cost you money, time or maybe even your hunt. I have always told myself that as long as I have my weapon of choice, a knife, and my license I can make my hunt happen. Although mostly true, without some of these “unforgettables” that are easy to forget, you could have a much harder, if not impossible hunt.
I was lucky to start hunting over 20 years ago with my dad in Montana when I was 12. I still remember busting out the old maps that covered the entire kitchen table and looking for the little yellow and blue pieces of BLM and State land to hunt. Digital maps right at your fingertips have changed everything. There are not many things much more aggravating than heading out on your hunt and realizing you forgot to save your Offline maps to use when you lose cell phone service. Fortunately I’ve never had to go completely without but on more than one occasion I have had to spend a considerable amount of time on the drive downloading my maps. Make sure before every hunt your GOHUNT Maps app is updated to the most recent version in the App Store for iPhones or Play Store for Androids, and that you have saved all the maps you need for your unit. That is both your state layers and your satellite and topo maps. Luckily we have gigantic, high-resolution maps so you won’t have to worry about lining up and saving a whole bunch of smaller, medium-resolution maps on your next hunt.
These are two items that should just be in your truck at all times. Like most people, I like to use electrical tape when tagging my animal. I typically keep a roll in my kill kit but somehow, one way or another, it seems to find its way out every now and again. One trick my dad taught me 20 years ago was to reverse wrap it. This makes it super easy to remove when you get home. The same thing goes for paracord. I find uses for this nearly every time I go hunting, whether it’s hanging meat and game bags or tying down tents and shelters, there is always a need for it somewhere.
Two years ago, I went out on the second to last weekend of the Montana archery season in search of elk. I was not able to find any elk that trip but I did find a black bear. This bear was not in a spot I could get to with my bow but certainly killable with a rifle. I did have a bear tag however I had left it at home. Fortunately, I was able to get back in there the next day with my rifle and tag in hand and find the bear. However, I spent the entire day before kicking myself for not having everything I needed and wasting that time. There are lots of units across the country where permits and tags for multiple species are valid. Don’t be an egg-head like me and make sure to take everything for every species when you head out on your next hunt.
Ziplock bags go along with electrical tape and paracord. On that same mountain goat hunt a few weeks ago here in Montana and we spent the first three days wet. It rained the first day which turned to snow at night. The next day when it warmed up, the melting snow from the pine trees came raining down on us. I have a Stone Glacier Rain Cover on my pack and wear the Stone Glacier M5 top and bottoms when I’m not moving but there are still things that need to be kept dry like cell phones and cameras, and a ziplock can save the day. The nice thing about zip locks is you that can still use your cellphone to check your GOHUNT Maps while your phone is in the bag.
My view of headlamps is that you can live by the rule “one is none and two is one.” I learned in the Army that if you head into the woods with only one headlamp it’s pretty much a guarantee that it’s going to fail you. I don’t get too fancy with my primary headlamp and just use a Black Diamond Spot 400 Headlamp with fresh batteries. New to me this year is the Petzl e+Lite Headlamp, a recommendation from our Head of Partnerships, Matt Ashley. This little thing is awesome and can save you in a pinch. It is super compact (fits in the side of my bino harness) and with 50 lumens, it has enough to get you where you need to be.
This is an absolute must during rifle season. Whether I’m starting a campfire, lighting up my stove or simply starting a small fire while glassing, I’m always around a fire during October and November in Montana. Sometimes, I still go with the classic cotton balls and vaseline but that is only if I run out of Pyro Putty. It hasn’t happened to me during rifle season yet but you never know when you might get stuck out in the elements during a long pack out late at night and you need to start a fire to stay warm. I always follow the “P for Plenty Rule” when it comes to lighters and throw several in random pockets and bags while packing for my hunt.
As a married guy with three little ones at home, it’s critical I keep in touch when I’m hunting. For the last couple of years, I have used a Garmin inReach Mini with mixed success. Since it is so small, it is one of those things that can be easily forgotten when packing. Having this provides me peace of mind while hunting. Unfortunately, depending on where you are hunting you might have a hard time getting a message to go out. Another similar option in the gear shop that I will be transitioning to after this season is the Zoleo Satellite Communicator. Don’t leave your family wondering how you’re doing when you don’t have service and don’t put yourself in a worse position should you get into an emergency or life-and-death situation.
Some people can’t keep track of their knives. I am one of those people. Anytime I pony up and buy an expensive knife, I lose it somehow. For the last four years, I have stuck with the Outdoor Edge Razor-Lite EDC Replaceable Blade Knife. Their only downfall, in my opinion, is that the blades don’t really last as long as I would hope. I’ve handled a mule deer buck on one blade but my bull elk this year took five blades to finish. For the price point of the knife and replaceable blades, that is not a deal breaker to me. I love that the knife is orange so I don’t lose it and as long as I remember to keep a healthy stockpile of five or more blades in my kill kit I never have to worry about having a sharp knife.
No matter how experienced you are or how much time you have spent hunting, it is easy to forget the little things when packing for a big trip. There is nothing more frustrating than getting out on your hunt and realizing you forgot something you genuinely need. I have a whole other list of must-have bigger pieces that I believe are a must for a cold rifle hunt ranging from my boots and gaiters to my jacket and pack. Weather during the rifle season can be annoyingly unpredictable and it is critical to be prepared for anything.