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backpack hunter with rifle

10 Essentials For Backpack Hunting | What You’ll Need

A backpack hunt can be a great way to get in touch with nature and turn a hunting trip into an explorative adventure. However, you need to bring the right gear for a hunt like this to have a comfortable and successful time. Below are 10 pieces of gear that you absolutely need to have on your next backpack hunt.

1. The Right Backpack For The Hunt

This seems like an obvious choice but choosing the right backpack is essential. It’s still important to address, though, because nothing is going to ruin your hunt like a backpack that’s uncomfortable or difficult to wear once it’s full.

Needless to say, not just any backpack will do. There are a few main things you want out of a backpack.

First, it should offer enough support and room that you aren’t struggling too much even after you’ve filled your pack.

Additionally, it needs to be durable. If you’re halfway through a backpack hunt only for one of the straps to break, that’s going to make the rest of the hunt much more difficult.

Many hunters find that frame packs help them carry everything that they need without wearing them down too much.

When you’re choosing the size of your pack, don’t forget to consider that if your hunt is successful, you’ll be carrying your game in addition to what you brought with you.

hand holding rifle and scope
Using a scope on your hunting rifle, as opposed to just iron sights will increase your chances of success on your hunt.

2. Your Rifle and Scope

If you’re hunting with a rifle, it goes without saying that you need to bring that rifle with you. But, what’s important is that you remember to bring the accessories that go with that rifle as well.

One piece of equipment that you’ll want to invest in regarding your rifle is a scope. The main reason you’ll want to do this is that it helps enhance your vision on the field.

You can get a much clearer picture of what’s happening when you take a shot rather than trying to squint and rely fully on your natural eyesight.

When it comes to scopes, though, you have a lot of options. This can make it a little intimidating to try and find something that works for you and fits your gun. Luckily, there are plenty of resources like OutdoorBest.com that will help you with taking these in and finding the best scope for your rifle.

Note: If you are a bow hunter, in addition to your bow, be sure to pack accessories such as broadheads, arrows, an extra release, etc.

3. The Right Wearables

When you’re going on a backpack hunt, it isn’t all about what you carry. In addition, you also have to think about what you’re going to wear.

First, make sure you have the warm hunting clothes you depend on during the season. This includes gear like insulated pants and a parka if necessary.

However, you’re also going to want to be prepared for inclement weather which means rain gear goes in your bag as well. The last thing you want is to be caught in the rain only for you and your gear to get soaked through.

It’s a good idea to invest in waterproof and water-resistant gear rather than just throwing a flimsy rain poncho into your bag. It’s also a good idea to bring an extra pair of shirts and paints just in case.

You also need to invest in a good pair of boots. These will help keep your feet safe and dry as well as comfortable. While your boots shouldn’t be old, it’s a good idea to wear a pair that’s already “broken in.” There’s a lot of public hunting land out there to be explored, and you don’t want to have to accommodate for blistered feet while you’re hiking your way through it.

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4. First Aid Kit… A Backpack Hunting Must

This is an important piece of gear to remember. Anytime you’re going on any type of outdoor excursion, no matter how much risk is involved, you’re going to want to keep a well-stocked first-aid kit on hand. This will allow you to take care of anything like a scrape from a fall or take urgent methods to help get a more seriously injured party member to help.

There are two parts to making sure your kit is as useful as possible.

man holding hiking poles
Hiking poles are a must on a backpack hunt, as they will help you maintain good balance and take pressure off your legs and knees.

First, you need to have the right supplies. A well-stocked kit has more than just a few spare bandages and antibacterial wipes. It should be much more comprehensive including items like non-latex gloves, antibiotic ointment, gauze, tweezers, and more.

The Red Cross has a handy checklist of what should go in your kit. You should go back through this checklist before every outing.

Secondly, those supplies are only so helpful without the knowledge to use them. It’s a good idea to study up and make sure you have a first aid guide in your kit to help you out.

5. Hiking Poles

Hiking poles – also referred to as trekking poles – are a must for a backpack hunt. This is because there is a lot of hiking involved in backpack hunting and you want to be as smart and safe as possible.

Hiking poles can help take some of the pressure and impact of steep hiking off of your legs and knees. These poles are also praised for keeping your hands raised rather than at your sides which is better for circulation. This improves your stamina.

While there are a number of other benefits to go on about, another one of the biggest things that hikers often call on their hiking poles for is balance and anchoring in tough conditions. This is particularly useful in backpack hunting since you’re carrying a large pack that could throw your center of gravity off, especially when you’re carrying large game back.

backpack hunting knife
A knife is an invaluable tool on any backpack hunting trip.

6. A Knife

A knife is a must have on a backpack hunting trip. While there is some debate over whether a fixed blade or folding blade is the best choice, there’s no debate that having a knife on hand can be a lifesaver.

Of course, a knife comes in handy for standard tasks like field dressing your game, but knives are one of the most versatile tools to keep in your pack and can help with anything from first aid to preparing your nightly meal.

Because your knife is so important, it’s a good idea to keep a sharpener handy too. This way you don’t end up having to struggle with a dull knife. There are plenty of handheld models, so you don’t have to worry about losing a lot of storage space by taking it along.

7. Gear for Sleeping

backpack hunters
Travel as light as possible while still bringing what you will need to sleep on and in.

Without a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent, your hunting trip will probably be pretty short-lived. If you’re going backpack hunting and plan on staying a while away from hotels and homes, you’re going to need to be just as ready to camp as you are to hunt.

Also, be sure to take clothes to sleep in that are appropriate for the weather. A hat and warm socks will help you stay warm in a tent when the temperatures drop.

While you’re choosing your camping gear, remember that the general rule of thumb that you’ll want to follow is to travel light. After all, whatever you want to bring will be on your back most of the time. That’s why it’s a good reason to lean towards lighter, simpler tents rather than an excessively expansive or luxurious tent.

8. Food and Water

Once you have your shelter accounted for, you’re going to need to consider your other basic needs: food and water.

First, let’s look at water. This is one of the most important things you put in your bag because your body can’t operate in top condition without it.

It’s crucial to keep plenty of water on hand because you aren’t guaranteed to find a fresh, clean water supply while on your trip. It’s also a good idea to keep a way to purify water on hand. Iodine tablets or small, handheld water purifiers are popular among campers and hikers.

As for food, you have a lot of different options as to what you can bring to eat. You can rely on all of your campfire favorites including everything from made-for-camping freeze dried meals to your favorite coffee, as well as non-perishable snacks like trail mix and granola bars. As you learn your way around backpack hunting, you can get creative and find out what unique campsite meals you love.

When on a backpack hunt, the campfire is a critical piece, so don’t forget to keep a fire starter kit on hand just in case.

9. A Source of Heat

Whether you’re cooking or just staying warm at the end of the night, you’re going to need a way to get a fire started on your campsite. Matches and a lighter are good to keep handy but it’s also a good idea to have a fire starter kit on hand. This way, you won’t have to struggle trying to get started from scratch without help.

Don’t forget that you have to make sure any campfire you set has to be put out safely before you pack up for the night. It can go a long way to study up on or even keep a copy of the USDA Forest Service steps to extinguishing a campfire.

10. Game Bags

When you’re going to be carrying game long distances, you need a reliable way to do so. Your best bet here is to invest in game bags to carry your game in after you field dress it. This will help you make sure that it makes its way from the spot you took it down to your dinner table back at home.

Backpack hunting can be a unique and rewarding experience but you need to be well-prepared. So whether you’re after elk, mule deer or other big game, having basic essentials like these, you can be more prepared for what is hopefully a successful backpack hunt!

josh montgomery of minute man review
Josh Montgomery of Minute Man Review
various deer antlers

Types of Deer and How To Tell The Difference

You’re driving down the road when you see a deer in headlights… But, what kind of deer is it? After all, there’s more to deer than just antlers.

Otherwise known as Cervidae, the deer family is pretty broad. In fact, there are 43 species of deer.

But with members ranging from whitetail, elk, reindeer, red deer, and every dear deer in-between, how are you supposed to tell the difference?

Let’s explore the fundamental differences between 9 of the types of deer you’re likely to either encounter or hear about.

1. Whitetail Deer

whitetail buck in velvet
The whitetail is one of the most sought after deer by hunters in North America.

This medium-sized mammal is native to the Americas, weighing in at anywhere from under 100 lbs to over 300 lbs.

Doe (female deer) can weigh anywhere between under 100 lbs to 200 lbs.

White-tailed deer can sometimes be challenging to identify at first glance, as their coats change color seasonally. They can be found with reddish-brown coats under the summer sun, trading these in for more grayish-brown substitutes as winter closes in.

The white-tailed deer, usually referred to simply as the whitetail, earned its name thanks to the prominent white marking under its tail. (If a whitetail deer has piebaldism, it can lead to some unique and stunning markings.)

While the whitetail’s tail is primarily used to warn fellow deer when danger is near, this white marking also helps explorers and hunters distinguish the whitetail from other deer.

This particular deer is also unique in terms of body language. Whitetails are known to showcase various postures, including the “ear drop” to send other deer away, the “hard look” to show anger, the “antler threat” to display dominance, and the fighting stance to prepare for battle, so to speak.

During the breeding season, or “rut,” bucks (males) can often be found making violent antler contact, testing each other’s strength for the right to breed receptive does. This battle normally ends when one deer is too tired to continue but can also end in the death of one or both bucks.

Sometimes when fighting, bucks can get their antlers entangled with each other, unable to break apart. In these instances, bucks can even die if they cannot get separated.

Whitetail deer are a highly sought after game animal by rifle hunters as well as bowhunters.

2. Blacktail Deer

blacktail bucks in field
Blacktail deer have distinctive black tail with a white patch underneath.

Normally found across the hills of Central California and the mountainous region of Alaska, the Columbian black-tailed deer is a sub-species of the mule deer.

The blacktail is slightly smaller than most mule deer or his white-tailed cousin, though. Like white-tailed deer, blacktail also change their coat colors, from a reddish-brown in summer to a brownish-gray in winter.

Blacktail are normally easy to spot by their ears, which move independently. This particular deer’s broad tail is totally black or dark brown at the top, with a white patch underneath. This would make him easy to confuse with the white-tail, were it not for his distinctive dark brown antlers with symmetrical branching and easily-identifiable stocky bodies with long, slender legs.

Black-tailed deer weigh in at about 130 pounds, but can reach closer to 200. While blacktail males have antlers, their female counterparts do not – and male fawns start growing antlers at about 6-8 months old.

Blacktail can normally be found in forested mountains on the pacific coast, where the climate is mild and cool with plenty of rainfall. Blacktail live off a diet of acorns, fungi, lichen, nuts, berries, and shrubs

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coues deer buck
Coues deer bucks have main beams that curve forward.

3. Coues Deer

This specific kind of white-tailed deer is among the most commonly found across the South-Eastern mountains of Arizona, especially during the rainy summertime.

Coues can be found in woodlands where there is plenty of oak, chaparral, and pine.

Coues deer are known for their distinctive antlers. The coues’ mean beam curves forward, and more mature coues have 3-4 tines on each side.

When it comes to coat, the coues is normally grayish-brown with specks of “salt and pepper,” and white patches underneath. The coues’ most distinguishing trait is his long and broad tail, which is grayish-red-black on top and white underneath.

Coues deer are normally quite small, and fawns are known to stay close to their mothers for longer than other deer.

4. Mule Deer

mule deer bucks in field
Mule deer bucks have distinctive white patches on the backs of their hips and males have forked antlers.

Mule deer are commonly spotted in deserts across North and South America, flaunting large ears that first granted them their name.

The mule deer’s tail appears to have been dipped in black ink, and his antlers are forked.

You’ll also find a distinctive white patch on either hind side, which easily differentiates the mule deer from any other deer in America. The mule deer sports a grayish-brown coat, making it easier for him to adapt to his unique climate in desert areas.

Mule deer, often referred to as muleys, normally range from about 3 feet tall at the shoulders to a towering 7 feet (including antlers), weighing up to 280 pounds.

In addition to the whitetail, the mule deer is also one of the types of deer sought after by hunters.

5. Red Deer

These large land mammals (Britain’s largest, in fact) can weigh anywhere from 90 kg to 190 kg (around 100 to 225 lbs). They stand up to 1.37 meters (4-1/2 ft) tall at the shoulder, and can normally be found in wooded lowland areas.

red stag
A male red deer is called a “stag.” The stag’s antlers are branched.

But, the part of this deer’s anatomy that sets it apart from other deer so distinctly, is its noticeably large head and wide-spaced brown eyes.

A male red deer is called a stag. His antlers are perhaps his most distinctive feature – highly branched with multiple points on each.

The red deer’s antler branches increase with age at an angle. Another unmistakable trait of the red deer are its hoof prints, otherwise known as “slots.” These are often mistaken for sheep or goat’s marks.

Red deer are mostly found in forest habitats across England and Southern Scotland, and graze on grass and dwarf shrubs. They generally breed from the end of September to November.

6. Chital / Axis Deer

The Chital Deer, otherwise known as the axis deer, boasts unique characteristics that set it apart – one of which is the white spots that never go away. These speckled dots stay in place from youth through to adulthood, normally covering the entire body and spanning down the legs too. These spots make the axis deer one of the most easily recognized types of deer.

axis deer in a field
Axis deer have spots resembling those of a whitetail fawn, but they do not go away as they mature as the whitetail do.

The Chital Deer also has a rather long muzzle topped off with a dark black nose. The axis deer normally weighs anywhere from 60 pounds to 170 pounds, depending on the region and habitat.

An interesting feature of male axis deer are their antlers, which normally have six points. However, more dominant bucks are found with more than this, making them significant trophies.

The axis deer were introduced in the United States in the 1930’s. The state of Texas has the highest population of axis deer in the U.S.

The axis deer is normally found living in secondary land areas, around glades where there is plenty to eat. The axis deer’s hoof shape prevents them from walking well on rugged terrain. So, they tend to avoid these types of areas.

The axis deer tend to be more social than other types of deer.

7. Elk

This member of the deer family is found primarily in the Western United States and Southern Canada.

bull elk bugling with cow elk
The elk was nearly killed off by early U.S. settlers, but now thrive, especially in the Western United States.

The elk’s history is complex, with most being killed by Western U.S. settlers by the early 1900’s. The sole survivors were found mostly in the region just west of the Rocky Mountains.

Thankfully, reintroduction efforts were successful, and the elk can be found in many areas today – towering tall at 4-5 feet high at the shoulder. Some even reach up to 9 feet or higher, counting antler height. You can spot an Elk from a distance, with a copper brown coat. This can change to light tan during the Fall and Winter months.

Elk are also easily noticeable by their rump patch, and short light-brown tail. Elk can be found feeding on all types of plants, mostly grass. Although, elk also enjoy twigs, forbs, fir, juniper, aspen, and chokeberry. They also love shrubs, particularly during the cold winter months. Elk predators include cougars, wolves, coyotes, and bears, which often kill calves and sick adults.

8. Reindeer

This Christmas “legend” is actually a real deer. The male reindeer is unique among the rest, easily identifiable mainly by its antlers.

reindeer
Reindeer spend much of the deer grazing.

Other distinctive characteristics include his broad hooves, wide muzzle, and extra-thick brown fur.

These majestic creatures are a medium-sized member of the deer family, found across forests, mountains, and arctic tundra in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Northern China. Reindeer normally travel in massive herds and live in the wild for about a decade.

More domesticated reindeer are herded by Asian Artic and European peoples.

Reindeer are herbivores, and spend most of the day grazing. During the cold winter months, Reindeer can be found grazing on moss and lichens, leaves and herbs.

9. Vampire Deer (Musk Deer)

Otherwise known as musk deer, these “vampires” are actually quite shy and prone to voluntary solitary confinement.

musk deer
The musk deer, or “vampire deer,” has long fangs, but no antlers.

These gentle, nocturnal creatures differ from other cervids, due to their lack of antlers and facial glands. They earned their name through their distinctive sharp vampire-like “fangs.” The over-sized canine teeth are impossible to miss.

vampire deer skull
Vampire deer skulls are instantly noticeable due to their fanged teeth.

While their name and long fangs might scare you off, this unique Asian deer is actually harmless. You’ll normally find him in mountainous regions, like the Himalayas or Siberia.

Take note of his over-sized ears, exceptionally short tail, and lack of antlers. Traits like these make the vampire deer one of the easiest kinds to spot. His coat is grayish-brown, and his hair long and brittle.

deer jumping fence

Torn Britches, Fence Posts and Deer Intel: Scouting Fence Lines

By Jerald Kopp

I consider myself a 365 hunter. That means, among other things, that I do a lot of scouting during the off-season. This goes for familiar and new hunting properties alike and it’s always paid dividends. In my mind, it matters.

Shortly after the whitetail season, I carefully seek new buck bedding areas and check known ones. Likewise, I look for new trails. Sure, there are those known heavy paths that deer traditionally travel on properties. However, it’s always common for new ones to surface. It’s the new ones that need learning on an ongoing basis.

property fence line
When it comes to deer hunting, fence lines do far more than simply mark property boundaries. They could hold valuable insight into deer travel patterns.

You don’t need deer sign to shoot a buck? I disagree. Sure, you can study aerial property views and hunting apps, but there is no substitute for putting your eyeballs on the hard facts.

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Remote Control

Whether a 20-acre micro-property or a ten thousand-acre hunting mecca, the reflex action is often to seek and study heavy timber, thick creek basins, and ag field-hugging woodlots. And often these places are in the thick of things. That is, in the middle of the ranch and in hard to reach places.

This is, where the mature bucks are. These have to be the honey holes, right? There is certainly a mystique about these remote deer havens.

Though hunters differ in how much they are willing to pressure these areas, most will walk them; or at least areas adjacent to them. It’s in these sections where trails, rub lines, scrapes and bedding areas are discovered or confirmed.

Optimal Setups Determined

Finding these heavily visited and traveled areas leads to deer stand location strategies. Most of us already know this. It’s no shocker that we often see old rotted boards within and atop old trees next to heavy game trails.

Whitetails, especially bucks, tend to follow the path of least resistance. And, unless you hunt an extremely large property, free-range deer commonly cross food sources, draws, and fence lines. The latter seemingly is often ignored. So…

Don’t Ignore Fence Lines

It seems that we often fail to see the elephant in the room – or in the case of deer scouting, the worn dirt found through property boundaries. Whether because we think we already know all the crossings or it just doesn’t cross our minds, it’s too valuable a piece of intel to overlook. These days, on regular and known grounds, I annually walk the fence lines for travel sign.

Whitetails create new routes all the time and, for that matter, can disregard old ones. The latter can happen for a variety of reasons such as new hunter pressure. In fact, I recently walked the boundaries of my latest property (in June) and found two new trails; and one of them lead directly to a bedding area not 150-yards from one of my tree stands.

Score.

It’s for this reason that it’s a great idea to follow through by following such trails as far as you can (or they remain noticeable). Similarly, you can often reverse things and follow interior trails to fence line crossings.

deer trail near fence line
Don’t ignore scouting fence lines on your hunting property for deer travel sign. These fence lines often provide a funnel where deer move along as well as cross to get to and from food sources and bedding areas.

Finally, once the fence line funnel has been identified, set up 200-300 yards away, watch, and verify. Physically witnessing early morning and late evening deer movement through these paths is bowhunter gold.

The only step left at this point is to find a logical location closer to the action. In fact, the early season is a great time to cash in on fence line paths. During this stage, some whitetails are still in their more predictable patterns. There are also still some bachelor groups around.

Why Did the Buck Cross the Fence?

I can’t think of a punchline, so here goes…

There are various reasons why fence line recon is valuable. Obviously, if there are food and nutrient sources across properties, deer will regularly traverse accordingly. This is common in free-range areas.

Did you ever notice that you see a lot of rubs and scrapes along fence lines? I have. The fact is that even in more open country, fence lines have structure. Trees and other brush typically grow there. Birds drop seeds there and so on.

It’s sweet edge structure.

Maybe the real question is, other than seeking what’s on the other side, why do whitetails like fence lines?

Deer are naturally edge creatures, hence, preferring edge cover. This is, for example, common in parts of Texas where structure is a logical threshold from which to hit crops or the next brushy section. It’s deemed a safe transition area.

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The Property Line Maestro

Among other things, this all means that, as hunters, we can capitalize on existing cross-property travel patterns.

But what If no natural fence line funnels exist? Simple, create one.

Here we have a chance to do a little behavior modification. Specifically, use the mini woodlots and strips of cover along property boundaries to lead deer to routes favorable to us as hunters. For example, direct them toward grain field edges, small openings, or even open country.

Do some selective brush cutting along the fence. Better yet, lower the fence itself by loosening the top wire and attach it to the next lower one. Cable ties or pieces of wire work well for this. Remember, the path of least resistance. Utilizing these methods may be what it takes to get deer making tracks where you want them to go.

The Blind Has to Go Here

We know it when we see it. You know, the pocket of brush just inside of a shadowy oak canopy or a natural spot within a clump of cedars. Plus, in smaller woodlots such as these, there are often few choices for blind placement.

For bowhunters, in particular, this allows us to lead whitetails within range of where we want to sit. Also, note that this tactic is particularly effective during early season when some deer (even some bachelor groups) are in their more predictable summer patterns.

Hunting Etiquette and Backpedaling

A couple of qualifiers; First off, this article was written primarily with bowhunting in mind. Secondly, I don’t condone baiting property lines (even where legal). In such states, I don’t even condone placing game feeders within sight of the fence.

At least in my case, scouting and modifying edge structure takes place on cross-fencing within properties, as well as true property boundaries. For the latter, tread lightly and with courtesy.

I can’t define the parameters around property boundary hunting etiquette. There a lot of different ideas out there. In Texas, I was always told that it was bad hunting manners to place a blind within 100 yards of the fence. Admittedly, the vast majority of these hunters were gun hunters.

Obviously, hunting property boundaries is a volatile topic – and for good reason. Hunters have an age-old tradition of preserving acceptable behavior in the woods, and I’m not suggesting anyone should violate it. This tactic has little to do with hunting fence lines. However, it has everything to do with scouting, as well as modifying and capitalizing on whitetail travel patterns.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of torn jeans and shirts at the hands of barb-wire fences and the brush around them. As a whitetail hunter, I think it’s been well worth it. If you haven’t already done so, walk the perimeter and develop a plan of action. It just may pay big dividends this deer season.

jerald kopp of first light hunting journal
Jerald Kopp, of 1st Light Hunting Journal and Empowerment Outfitters

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